Saturday, January 30, 2010

Being odd and out of place while in the right place.

We went to the private clinic this week, Paulo and me. He’d been to several other places already and in my judgment as a nurse, this was the place he needed to be right then.

It’s a 45 minute drive into town and when we arrived, we stopped and got out. I walked and Paulo hobbled with his walking stick up the path to the reception door, then we went inside. Inside, it was wonderfully cool and nicely decorated: black leather chairs, hardwood wall paneling and a white shiny floor. The reception staff were friendly, helpful and sharply dressed. One, a pretty young woman in a slim black dress and high heels, busied herself with a stack of papers. There was a young couple with us in the waiting room as well. The woman wore a flowing red skirt and high heels. I noticed her fingernails and toenails matched her outfit. The gentleman with her was well groomed and wore crisp new jeans. They busied themselves on their cell phones.

Paulo and I sat and took in the whole scene quietly since we didn’t really have anything to busy ourselves with. It was like suddenly stepping into a new world. We come from the bush and in this place, felt oddly out of place (probably more he than me, all things considered).

He and I looked more or less as you see us here during a home visit last week.

The grass mat we’re working on is his bed and the crude stick on the floor is his temporary walking cane. There’s a world of dirt beyond the cement floor of his home, and water is lugged, 25 liters at a time, by hand, a long way from the community pump. It’s terribly hot here for most of the year, too. Because of this, and for a great many other reasons, few people who live in the bush look crisp and polished. Pretty is nice, but survival is much more important.

Water jugs in front of Paulo and his family's home.

So there we sat, me feeling frumpy in my “practical-for-bush-living” clothes, and Paulo in his thread-bare play clothes. His crude walking stick rested on the chair beside him and as one tip rested on the floor, the other tip pointed toward the hardwood paneling as if to point out their differences as well.

After a long wait, we were taken to a consulting room. The Dr. we saw was Cuban and spoke what he claimed was “Portañol” (a mix of Portuguese and Spanish). He was nice and was concerned about Paulo, but his Portañol, and the speed with which he spoke it, made him nearly impossible to understand. I had Cuban friends years ago though, so my ear just needed a few minutes of retraining and in fairly short order we were communicating. “Quiero hacer esta cirurgía hoy!” Surgery today then, ok.

As we chatted with the Dr. and clinic staff, we discovered commonalities like mutual friends, a common faith, and of course a desire to see Paulo get better. Paulo had to be admitted for a few days, so here’s hoping things started to feel a bit more familiar for him too!

Other news this week:

Rain, and reckless wind, captivates these little ones.

Our rainy season has returned and for this, we are thankful! Although some people will replant their fields, many simply don’t have the resources to do so. Even now, there is hunger.

Here, Pastors from remote districts meet with Dwight and Francois to help find a solution to the hunger in their communities. People are reportedly eating grass seed and any fruit they can find.

The socorristas took the health bike to its “home base” this weekend: the health post. Now it will be handy for urgent trips they have to make. “But first”, I said, “it needs to have some identifying marks on it (since ALL the other bikes in the community look just like it). Maybe yellow paint on one of two of its bars…” When it was done, I couldn't believe my eyes and had to get a picture of it when Simon came to pick it up. The guy who did the paint job put splotches over the entire bike! (Beauty is in the eye of the beholder?) So we've decided to call it “The Leopard”. One thing’s for sure, no one will mistake it for another bike. looks far too odd!

I’d best sign off for now. I was going to write about someone who is an inspiration to me but this entry is already long so, next time? ☺


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Hands that Help

(Great helpers, Carey and Tito, compare hands)

The overwhelming destruction from the earthquake that hit Haiti last week is unimaginable for most of us. Millions around the world grieved as we heard of and watched scenes of human suffering. Thankfully, amid those were also reports of the overwhelming response by the rest of the world: help was on its way! Apparently, the Canadian response was such that web sites/servers crashed.

Help is love in action. Helping one another is both a privilege and a responsibility, and what’s wonderful about helping is that we can do it pretty much anywhere, anytime, to anyone, and in many different ways. And even though the help effort here hasn’t crashed any websites that I’m aware of, there has been a lot of it anyway!

Between December and January, over $20,000 came in as Unique Christmas Gifts (Mozambique and Brazil combined). And I’m pleased to say that the funds came in for finishing the Chitundo Health Post.

The Chitundo community will be overjoyed! Imagine—no more walking for hours to reach basic medical help.

Continued student sponsorships and an annual Care-a-thon keeps the mission school and feeding program running. Want to change a community? Help a child ☺

Here is an update from Francois on current school news.

On a more personal note I must say that this week, I had a chance to really appreciate the help I (we) have. First, the week started off sort of crazy when amid the busyness of annual budget and reports preparation, working on my statistics course, further health manual preparation, helping organize sponsorship information, etc., one of the mission’s sponsored orphans got sick and had to be taken to the hospital and I came down with a double whammy of flu and malaria.

(Keren and I on a home visit. Home visits always draw a crowd!)

I don’t like melodrama so, having said that, let me just clarify that I was nowhere close to dying. But I didn’t feel any too great either so my bed saw more of me than usual for a few days. In the meantime Keren, a volunteer nurse, was busy about her work which includes a whole host of activities from helping prepare school health curriculum

(Cover of Unit 1: "What makes us sick?")

To interacting and sharing ideas with local birth attendants

To doing sick-home-visits when needed. So, while I was in bed trying to be productive while at the same time trying to feel better (come on, you do it too), it was comforting to know that things carried on without me.

And of course, we aren’t just one or two people. There is an entire team—all those on the ground here as well as all those far away who help in other ways--working together to get things done. Yes, help is a good thing!

So to each and every one of our helpers, both near and far…thank you!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

#1 Challenges

Top ranking this week: malaria and (attempted) theft. These are two common “#1 Challenges” for us, but there are others too depending on the week, month or season. And “challenges” is pluralized because you seldom have a definitive and solitary challenge. Right? Life would be so much easier to contend with if that were the case.

Challenge #1.A. Malaria.

We’ve had quite a bit of that lately between ourselves and with the mission staff. Malaria is endemic (meaning high season all the time) here and nasty for anyone, but it’s especially bad for the non-immune (aka foreigners. Us.) And yes, we do what we can to prevent it but, even so, malaria happens. We’ve learned some important things about malaria.

1. Treat early. As in, as soon as you “feel icky”. Untreated malaria is very unforgiving and at best, you’ll feel “very, very icky” if you let it go untreated for more than, oh, a day or two. That’s the near-best-case scenario. (Worst case scenario, well, malaria kills.)
2. Negative blood tests are no reason not to treat anyway. Famous Dr.’s quotes over the years include:

a. “You’re negative but you live in a malarial area so take the treatment anyway. You don’t want to mess with a possible false negative.”
b. “The test result is inconclusive, so drink your pills, dear. Definitely.”
c. The test is negative but the ultrasound of your spleen…wow.” *Prescribes the “forte” treatment* (a recent team member’s experience, not my own). Thankfully, we’re all on the mend.

Challenge #1.B. Theft. Africa is rife with theft and we’ve been robbed on numerous occasions over the years. It’s like malaria—you do what you can to prevent it, but it still happens. Theft in South Africa (as opposed to Mozambique) is generally worse because it’s often violent, as in armed theft. Case scenarios, from best to worst, would go roughly like this:
1. Attempted theft, no violence (yikes but phew!)
2. Theft, no violence (argh! But thank goodness)
3. Theft + violence (this would be difficult to deal with)
Armed robberies are common in South Africa and many victims lose their lives over a mere handbag or a vehicle (click here for another blogger's related story).

In light of that, our brush with attempted theft on Friday in Nelspruit, South Africa was in the “yikes, but phew” category. In brief, we were all packed up and headed for Mozambique but needed to stop quickly so Dwight could get something out of the back seat. It didn’t take him more than 1 minute and as he hopped back inside and was closing his door, a young man appeared by his window, “warning” him about the vehicle’s back tire. (We’ve heard this line before “Oh, there’s something terribly wrong at the back of your vehicle” while they grab whatever from wherever while you have a quick look). At that precise moment, my door opened from the outside. Instinctively, I grabbed the handle, glanced up to lock eyes with the guy who had opened it and pulled it shut as Dwight hit the automatic locks and we immediately pulled away.

It all happened so fast. I guess those types of things always do. You can analyze it, talk about it, replay it in your mind for hours and days afterwards. But the actual event takes mere moments. Part of our reaction was mentally pre-rehearsed from all the stories we’ve heard plus our own past experience, which is becoming richer by the day. As we drove away, we pieced our individual stories together and figured there were several guys who’d surrounded us. We have Mozambique license plates—an attractive target vehicle for theft because there are usually lots of purchases, cash and laptops inside. We're thankful for the timing of everything and since nothing came of it, we were able to continue on our journey with everything intact.

With that, I’ll sign off. Our 2 day trip home went well but we were saddened to just how dry the countryside is. It hasn't rained in over a month and kilometer after kilometer of maize crops are withering and dying.

Which is another #1 challenge in Africa: drought. Drought and the resulting hunger. Please pray with us for rain.

Blessings and do take care ☺

Sunday, January 10, 2010

2010--Busy times!

It was time to quit eating so much and kick life and work back into gear again on the Monday after New Year’s. Besides routine work for the first part of 2010, some priorities were to focus on finishing up a few orphan/widow homes, completing data entry (on new program) for school kids, planning for mission’s Annual General Meeting preparing departmental budgets and reports, finishing the health manual and sending it to print (me and Keren), and so on. Things were abuzz.

Then we heard that the government had moved up the date for the first day of school from early February (the norm) to January 18th!

Now, we have a lot of kids in school--both in the mission school plus those with sponsorship who attend other schools beyond grade 5--so there was some serious student registering/accommodation searching/parent meetings/last minute organizing to do!

Students at Chitundo, where many of the mission's sponsored students transfer to.

To add to the chaos, we were told that some of the kids could not transfer to the usual school we transfer kids to (Chitundo, where we have things more or less in place) because a new school nearby had expanded its capacity and they needed to transfer there instead. The new school is closer to the mission so, in many ways, that works better for us too. But it was the last minute scramble starting from scratch in a new school and finding housing in a new area that added a little touch of “crazy busy” to the mix. And all this while Dwight and I had to leave on a trip south. We’re very thankful for a capable home team!

It seems I’ve written volumes about this topic already but every time we have to travel the EN1, Mozambique’s only national highway connecting north to south, there's always another comment or story to add. This highway is in a perpetual state of both repair and disrepair, where the speed of repair somehow never overtakes disrepair, despite numerous work crews and contracts.

Right now there is a new outfit contracted with rebuilding long portions of the road.

They’ve done a terrific amount of earth moving which is a bit disconcerting considering the apparent lack of progress they’ve made since they began and considering the chaos with which the job seems to run. Heavy rains reduced certain sections to a nearly impassible quagmire in November.

This detour road has only one proper lane to drive in, and no flag people to direct traffic, so what you end up with is vehicles having head-on meetings where the only safe place to veer off is the portion under construction (evidenced by the branches on the road).

The engineers don’t like this very much, of course, and tell people to “get off of there!” Ok…but to where?

And get this: the new highway’s base layer of pressed dirt is already undergoing repairs. Yes, they’re repairing potholes in the sub-tar layer. This is not a good sign.

Here's a shot of the highway as it enters Maputo, the capital city. There are 2 paved lanes here with only dirt shoulders, but the norm is for the traffic to be 4 or so lanes wide regardless. So watch out pedestrians! And watch out motorists...a lot of cutting in and out goes on.

Anyway, we’re currently in South Africa on business for about a week. While here, we’re working on (besides the immediate tasks at hand) coordinating our schedule for the next few months. There are several teams slated to arrive fairly soon, plus individual volunteers as well. After that, there will be more teams, some from South Africa and two from Prairie (Canada) between May and July. So, busy times ahead. Good, but busy.

And with that I will close and get back to work!


Friday, January 01, 2010

Resolutions and moments

I remember how awestruck I was when I first learned what New Years Eve was all about. The idea that one year was gone forever and a brand new one was about to begin fascinated me. I sat practically on the edge of my seat waiting for midnight. And when it came, it seemed appropriate that firecrackers went off, people toasted and hugged each other, etc. It also seemed the right occasion to make resolutions—major commitments that were just so difficult to do at any other time. As if starting a difficult task on a certain date somehow made it easier to tackle than at another time.

That was then. And even though New Year’s Eve is still a time when I enjoy looking back at what has been and looking forward to what could or may be, that sheer awesomeness of the moment has faded quite a bit. Now, I find I’d rather be peacefully asleep in my bed than wide awake when the clock strikes midnight. Yes, we say farewell to the old year and stand expectantly on the brink of a new one, but is that really just cause to ruin a perfectly good night’s sleep?? It’s really just about moments, one after the other one, right? And even though I believe that New Year’s resolutions are better than none at all, I’ve discovered that if I need to make a commitment to some sort of action, it’s best done, well, at the moment!

Now, just so you don’t think I’m a total New Year’s Eve bah-humbug, here’s a shot of our New Year’s Eve celebratory dinner table (artistic talent: Keren).

Done in one of my favorite themes: Guinea Fowl. Thanks Keren!

After dinner, when the clean up was all done, and we’d talked to any of our family who were online, and when my husband (who was sick with ?flu ?malaria that night) was tucked into bed and asleep, and since my mind wasn’t ready to switch off yet for the day anyway, and since it was nearing midnight, I decided to see the New Year in outside on our veranda. The moon was beautifully full. Apparently we had a “blue moon” that night which means the 2nd full moon in one month. The crickets chirped, I think the neighbour’s cow mooed once or twice, and guinea fowl squawked restlessly in the trees below our yard, near the river. Midnight came and went, and with it that awesome changeover from one year to the next, all in peaceful quiet in the African bush under the bright, silent moon. No fireworks, no bells tolling, no “woot’ing” or music.

So did I make any resolutions for 2010, anyway? Well, sort of. One was: “Get to bed and go to sleep as soon as possible.” The other, was: “Enjoy the moments. Seize the moments.”

I'll close with a few shots of the week:

We've had a fair share of health related calls this week, one was the first-ever delivery of a baby at the health post. The mom was trying to make it to the nearest hospital but local transport drivers refused to take her since they figured she was in advanced labor. The traditional birth attendants and Keren worked together to ensure a safe delivery.

Magnum waits to seize a few moments of play with Mushu. Mushu not so sure...

This is the friendly agama (dubbed George, by me, for no reason whatsoever) that hangs out in our yard. He's had a few lucky moments this week since he was caught first by Magnum, then by our cat. He was rescued unharmed. Here's hoping 2010 is a kinder year for him.

Best wishes for 2010!