Thursday, November 07, 2013

Stepping over cracks


When we were kids and walking along a sidewalk, one of us would invariably pipe up with, "Step on a crack, break your mother's back; step on a nail, put your father in jail." At this, we would adjust our stride and nimbly step over any pavement cracks or nail heads in boardwalks, all the while keeping a beady eye on the steps of others lest they slip up. If you did accidentally step on a crack, a chorus would rise, "Aha! You broke your mother's back!" or "You put your father in jail!" It was fierce but fun competition, and anyway, we were looking out for our parents' welfare! Thankfully, even though I probably slipped up many times in the game, neither calamity came upon my parents :-)

The cracked pavement above, which I think is actually quite pretty, is one of many on the veranda floor of the getaway beach spot we are at for just over a week. We have been coming here once a year for about 10 years, and each visit is unique in itself. One year, we arrived to discover that the wind had eroded the sand to the point where several thatched installations had collapsed and their reconstruction in a new location was underway. Another year, it was so stiflingly hot we could hardly bear the heat. The next year it was so unseasonably cold and windy we could hardly enjoy the hammocks on the veranda. Then there were the years where we had to deal with rat infestations, and the year where an arsonist almost burned the entire place to the ground. Yes, there are many stories to be told!

I wish I could say that this year's story is just about sand erosion, rats, or the weather. But it's not. This year's uniqueness has to do with recent political turmoil that has disrupted life in some way for just about everyone living in Mozambique. There have been many repercussions for us too. One of these was that we needed to take an alternate route south for this trip rather than take the in-country main highway where the military convoy has been the target of recent attacks. 

We took the convoy less than 2 months ago while on a business trip to South Africa. It was safe then, but things have since deteriorated and shootings and attacks are common. So we made the decision to get to our southern Mozambican destination via our neighbouring countries Zimbabwe and South Africa. Talk about taking the long way though. It was a 3 day trip as opposed to a 9 or 10 hour drive.

It has been a long time since we have been to Zimbabwe, and after paying $75/person for single entry visas, not counting other border costs, it's no wonder. There are now also several toll charges of USD $1 each to drive the main road south.

After our long, drawn out trip, we were weary and very happy to arrive at our destination! As I write this, we are concerned for Mozambique and her people. After 20 years of peace and development, the country has recently been plagued with hot spots of  civil unrest, fighting, and increasing violent crime.  There is a serious breakdown in communication and goodwill between the ruling and opposition parties, and much like our childhood's crack in the pavement, it is bringing calamity and pain to people. The country, especially youth, agonizes over events as they unfold. Just when things were going so well! Municipal elections are being held in less than 2 weeks and this does little to ease tensions, of course. We are keeping abreast as possible of the situation and so far in our area, things have been quiet and life goes on as usual. We do trust that once elections are over, things will settle for everyone and that this December will be one in tune with the season--that of renewed peace and hope.

Otherwise, for me, life has been a blur with the busyness of things. A key staff member left to pursue his career further north recently and it landed a heap of student photo taking and data collecting in my lap. I am training one of the health workers to take on most of this, but first he has to learn to type. So yes, there is much learning to be done yet! All in all, about 400 records needed to be updated (current student info, photo, and letter), but we have now completed that so we are rejoicing. I am so thankful for the enthusiasm of all those who work alongside us. 

This is what my desk and life have been occupied with primarily for the last few months. Reading the students' letters to their sponsors has been heart warming though.I love the attention and detail they put into their artwork...what a great avenue for creativity and expression it is. Like the mirror of one's heart. 

                       "Me taking pictures of students taking pictures of me." Fair's fair. 

For now though, let me sign off. There is a break I must enjoy :) 

Take care, and keep Mozambique in your thoughts and prayers.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

A boy, a mouse burrow, and a snake


Last night, right after supper, I got a call. It was one of the health workers. Someone had come to his home and asked if he would give a 9 year old child with a snakebite an injection.  The bite was 3 days old and the first shot had been administered at a hospital. Knowing he lived too far to come back each day for subsequent shots, they sent the vial home with instructions to find a health person to administer them. He hadn't received yesterday's shot and had cried from pain all the previous night, so they were desperate. Since health workers aren't trained to give injections, they called me. 

It was dark already so I picked up one of our guards to accompany me along with the health worker who received the call. We drove along a wide dirt path that wound through the huts in the local community. After taking several left, then right, then left again turns along the path, and where the trail by then was very narrow, we stopped.  From there we walked to the home where the child was. The guys with me used their cell phones to light their way. I had brought my MAG light and in a community that has no electricity and is very dark at night, I was the brightest beacon for miles around.

When we reached the child's home we found the family in the yard huddled around a small fire. This is customary here. The fire in one's yard is central to all evening activity since it provides both heat and light. This is where food is prepared, then eaten, and where evening socializing occurs until bedtime. 

We greeted the adults then called for the child with the snakebite. He got up from amid the group and walked slowly toward us. All eyes were on us from the darkness as we worked in the beam of my bright light.

The boy's hand was very swollen from the wrist to the fingertips and he had a draining gash on the bitten finger. Apparently he had been out hunting field mice so he could have some meat in his stew. (Meat is an absolute luxury in these parts.)  He found a mouse's burrow but when he put his hand in to grab the mouse, discovered a snake instead (which was probably there because it had eaten the mouse).  

 I asked why his finger had a gash instead of puncture holes from a snake. I was told that per tradition, the puncture site had been cut open to remove possible fangs left behind by the snake. I know about this tradition, actually. So I launched into my usual explanation that the chance of a fang being left behind is very, very low while the chance of the wound becoming infected is very, very high. Rather just leave it alone. But I know letting go of long-held traditions and beliefs is difficult. I have some myself. We all do. And even though my explanation is received with subtle skepticism, I give it anyway. I am convinced that things can change over time if we are patient yet consistent.

Anyway, to wrap things up... We decided on the best course of treatment, gave him medicine to help bring the inflammation down, and prayed for him. Today, the boy and his uncle stopped by for a check up. The boy reportedly had slept soundly and his hand was visibly less swollen. He was in much better spirits and chattered away with me while I cleaned and bandaged his finger. 

We'll closely follow his recovery and trust we can keep damage to a minimum. When they left, I told him that next time he's out mouse hunting for meat for his "caril" (stew), rather probe the holes with a stick than his hand. And I couldn't help but restate the part about not cutting a snakebite open to search for fangs. He's young, and impressionable, and I hope he remembers. I also hope that when he tells his friends his story, he includes that and the part about using a stick to probe the burrow instead. Maybe we can save someone else needless injury and pain.

A hand is far too high a price to pay for a bit meat.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

A Family Wedding and a whole lot more!

The last 8 weeks or so have been very busy for us as we went to Canada to attend primarily our son's wedding and just got back home to Moz a few days ago. As always, there were plenty of other things to attend to besides wedding activities, so I'll try to give you the nutshell version in photos.

The weekend we arrived back was a great time to connect with our family and kids and their significant others. 
Turns out it also was a great time to stay up until 3 a.m. catching up on lost chat time! We enjoyed every minute we had with our kids. Their lives are very busy too-our daughter is a full-time high school teacher, and our son is just finishing his Master's in Biomedical Engineering. 

 Our son's at-the-time fiancee was participating in a Ukranian Traditional dance festival so we enjoyed the colorful sights and sounds of the day. The sunshine was wonderful although there were so many mosquitoes we feared we may be carried away. Thankfully someone remembered to bring repellent, thankfully also (even more so) these mosquitoes don't transmit malaria. :)

We set a week aside to visit our daughter who is now a full-fledged highschool math/chem/science teacher. It was an awesome week. 
And do you spot a proud dad pointing out his daughter's name on the sign?

The end of a busy school day, the classroom is cleared and made ready for the next day's classes.

Fort McMurray is an oil boom town with big "trucks", and lots of them. Construction also abounds.

Although we were not on furlough, we took the invitation to share with the church in Fort Mac on Sunday since we were in the area. They are key partners of the work of the mission, and their generous offering that Sunday topped the project funds we needed to purchase a truck (pick up) to serve the school, orphan, and clinic work in Mozambique. We were so honoured and so thankful!

Week 3-ish: participating in SAM Ministries' strategic planning meeting.

Part of the activities during the meeting included jotting down our thoughts/vision on poster paper. 
It was a good day of looking back at where we came from, and projecting forward to where we want to be.

During our time at home, we also took in the SAM Ministries annual banquet and Global Care a Thon walk. In the photo below taken at the banquet, Carole Argo describes the quilt that she made to the winning couple (the wife is blind).

 Moving along to the wedding...

Weddings are a time of great excitement, family gatherings, but also of lots of work and planning. It's impossible to capture everything, so the above photo of us decorating the wedding arch at the church will have to do to represent all the other preparatory activities that took place, many of which took place before we even landed. The bride's family did an absolutely amazing job and things turned out so well! I was also privileged to prepare the wedding slideshow which was great fun to work on despite the hours of sifting through and organizing photos and music!

The bridal party right after the ceremony. 
The weather cooperated wonderfully and we had a nice and cool but sunny day where everyone felt comfortable, even the guys in suits.

Russell and Melodie

Stealing a quick shot while the photographer was otherwise engaged.

Amanda and Russell (our kids)

 With my mom and mom-in-law. What a wonderful chance to be together and celebrate such an awesome occasion!

Jon and Amanda, pleased at winning both the bouquet and garter toss :)

 Me with my mom and sister and our daughters.

The Lagore side of the family several days after the wedding. Missing a few members but it's hard to get everyone together!

The week following the wedding was a time of sad family goodbyes and fevered packing to return to Moz. We are now back home in the bush recovering from jet lag and preparing for intensive seminar which starts tomorrow. I'll do my best to keep posting here!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Dirty Letters

Written last week, before leaving for Canada to attend our son's wedding, SAM Ministries' annual banquet, etc.:

After a considerable degree of effort, the teachers at the school and I managed to get the kids to fill in letters to their sponsors. These letters aren't complicated or lengthy. Mostly, they're a drawn or colored picture. Maybe a circled or written word or words, depending on what grade they're in. Depending on their level of ability.

It can be very hard to connect this world with other worlds. This world is rather basic. We have bugs and dirt and low-end technology (when it works). Other worlds are super-hygienic, bug-free (a luxury where, as my daughter put it, is to ask oneself "how did that bug get inside??") and have high speed internet. I'd like to say that the term "high speed" in Moz is used in some capacity, but that's not characteristic of most of life here. That's not good or bad. It's just different. Where we live, it is buggy, dirty, and has slow-end technology. It's a part of the world that tugs at your heart. It's a tough place to live, but I love it.

Anyway, back to the letters. Lots of them were soiled by the hands of children who don't have running water in their school yet. I had thought to pack plastic basins, water, soap and towels, but forgot since my time was taken up with packing food to keep tummies filled, sight words for the next week, medicine for the school clinic, etc. Sending dirt-smudged letters is never our intention, but it seems an inevitable and normal part of life in Africa. The dirt is as hard to avoid as the oxygen we breathe.

Tomorrow is my last day here before I head for a different world with the luxury of running water, fast internet, and being shocked to see a bug or dirt anywhere but outdoors where they belong. But part of me is sad to leave the "real" world behind. There is so much humanity and value in a hand written note, though it's smudged with dirt and erased misspellings. Those are the elements that shout, "Real people with real needs live here!"

I would like to keep these letters before me as a constant reminder that the fast, developed world is good, but there is another world that calls my name. It's the world that is still struggling to develop; the one that suffers hunger, poverty, and death from treatable illnesses--things I don't want to experience, but others must. Lives I can impact as long as I don't shrink back.

This is why these dirty letters mean what they do to me. Each one represents a sweet face, a unique personality with its own quirks, mischief, and vulnerability. A loving heart, and a life full of potential, still "under development", that hopes for change. Most importantly, a life that can be changed.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

In honor of my mom on Mother's Day

I thought I'd post a few pictures of my mom. These are taken during my childhood and are the few I have with me here in Africa.

This one was taken, I believe, before our lives got crazy (aka we moved to Dallas, Texas, then later to Brazil).

Here, we were your average Canadian family at a family picnic. My mom comes from a big German family of 14 surviving children, so I think our picnics pretty much took over the entire park :) When I was young, I thought all normal families consisted of 100-ish people... Anyway, this is us. My older sister, our sweet younger brother, mom, dad, and me (the tow-head at the back, left).

This photo is of my 11th birthday (I think). It was my first birthday in Recife, Brazil.

 It had been a very difficult year for us as a family adjusting to a drastically different country and culture. If someone had handed us return fares during the first year, I think my parents would have happily hopped on a plane to return to their normal world! That option didn't exist right then, and oddly enough even when the opportunity eventually did roll around, they decided God had called them there to stay and fulfill the calling on their hearts: care for abandoned and needy children. So even though there wasn't much "feel-good"factor in those early years, they stayed. I don't even know how to place a value on the impact parents have on their kids when they don't quit--when they refuse to run away from difficulty--when they stick through the tough times.

Back to the party though, there was a good mix of my American and Brazilian friends at my birthday party. I recall that my mom really knocked herself out to make this birthday a huge smash. She even did my hair in an up-do (yep, that's the back of my head). It's pretty sweet how my little brother is looking at me and smiling and clapping his hands :)

This last photo was taken several years later, after much adjustment and assimilation. After our lives and family grew to accommodate a number of children who had no family and who needed to be sheltered and loved. I remember the names of over half these kids. They were my first "additional" sisters and brothers. I like to tell Mozambicans that I have black brothers in Brazil. :)

The little girl in the front had health issues and her spine was fused when she was very small (you can tell by her posture). She came to stay in our home for awhile and was she sharp as a whip! That was an interesting adjustment. I was about 17 at the time and she loved to snoop through my drawers and test my make-up and chew the Wriggley's gum sent to me especially from Canada. After I left home to study nursing in Canada, she and my little brother became good friends and thick as thieves. It was cool that they had each other, and that together they kept our parents on their toes. Several years after that, my brother (in striped pants on right, above) got sick and, sadly, lost his life. Later on, the little girl did too due to complications from her condition.

In a perfect world, children should not be abandoned and suffer the break-up of their families, and they should not die. But this world is not perfect. It is made a better, however, by the love and self-sacrifice of moms who are willing to love their own, and to love those of others as well.  

Thank you, mom, for the love you shared and for the example you were to not only me but to the many children who are and were part of our lives and family as well. My prayer is that this legacy will be passed on many times over. May the generation to come be a big one with hundreds in the family.

That is normal after-all :)

I love you, Mom. Happy mother's day!

Thursday, May 09, 2013


We went to the school yesterday and took pictures for the kids to color. We started with Grade 1 and 2. I managed to capture a few moments of the fun so I'll post them here.

This first picture isn't real sharp but it was the best of this boy (on the left) performing for the photo by stuffing crayons in his mouth.

He is one of my "best" Grade 1 friends. I've taken care of him a time or two at the clinic, and as a result, I have his undying love and devotion. When I go to the school, he is often the first one at the car door to grab me by the hand and walks everywhere with me. And if he can't do that, he carries my bag of supplies for me in and out of every classroom. Anyway, this seemed to be where the focus on crayons started.

Here I got a cute wrinkle-headed smile and and pointed at with crayons.

Then, a row of girls held up their crayons for the shot.

But that wasn't good enough, so they held them higher. (And I never did manage to focus on the crayon tip.)

Next row, same thing...

And so on

This little boy didn't bother. I guess he figured his winning smile was good enough :)

Kyra and Jackson helping out and catching the action on video.

The kids loved Sharon's attention!

Dwight helping distribute sweets and brightly colored pipe cleaners when they were all done.

There may be noise and dirt and goofing off and mayhem at times at the school, but you can't help but love these kids.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Tetanus, Rabies, Youtube, and QWERTY

We were supposed to have our monthly health worker meeting today but two of the health workers couldn't make it so we postponed it until Thursday. While we were all sitting around chatting, the topic of typing came up because a new health worker needs to learn computer skills. I drew a diagram of a keyboard and he filled in the keys he could remember. He did well considering he's only on day 3. We then went on to discuss what QWERTY means and how cell phone dial pads differ. I thought this may help him a bit as he learns to type. Mostly, it's just kind of interesting to me.

From keyboard layouts, we went on to discuss dog bites (which we've seen recently), rabies and tetanus. Although we've all learned about these conditions, no one has ever actually seen someone with rabies or tetanus. There are only pictures or rough sketches in medical textbooks. So I had a novel idea...look up videos on youtube. There are a surprising number of videos of actual rabies cases, considerably fewer of tetanus cases, but still, enough to get a good visual so it would be recognized more quickly if ever witnessed. These aren't fun to watch, but the essential things in life aren't always fun. They do tend to be very useful, however.

My other task (while Bob and Dwight had a meeting, Kyra painted ox carts, Jackson worked on Joao's roof, and Sharon did laundry) was to figure out just how to merge a Word document with an Access database table. This is a huge learning curve for me, and oh how I dislike huge learning curves while I'm going through them! If I can't figure out the merge procedure, Kyra and I will be doing lots of hand printing of preschooler and Grade 1 kids' names on their artwork pages tomorrow before heading to the school to get them working on them! I'm thinking close to 100 names--that's lots of writing. So pray my mind can wrap its way around this learning curve real fast. Don't suppose QWERTY knowledge will help with this one.

Friday, May 03, 2013

A baby, a puppy, and prayer

We were sitting in a circle having a chat with some dear people the other night while a cute baby with beautiful, bright eyes played on the rug in front of us. He was wearing a bright red sleeper, the all-in-one neck-to-toe kind, but the sleeper was having a hard time keeping up with the busy little body within. It sort of stuck to the rug as the baby inched his way forward. The toe and foot compartments, left flat and empty by the baby's forward movement, followed along obediently. Whenever the baby lay down or roll over, the empty sleeper toes twisted and flopped nonsensically. This attracted the attention of a cute little puppy that was romping on the rug as well. At 6 weeks old, the puppy was cute as a button and small as a bug. He had been minding his own business until the jerking motion of the floppy red fabric caught his eye. That was about the point in time when we were called to prayer. As I closed my eyes, I noticed the baby headed my direction with the puppy in hot pursuit of the red cloth trailing behind him. I only closed my eyes momentarily in compliance with the group, but opened them again quickly in order to intervene in what was coming. 

The baby got to me quickly and I reached down to help him stand just as the puppy caught up. The baby turned and took a playful swipe at the puppy, and the movement made one of the empty sleeper toes flip tauntingly. This was too much for the puppy and as he poised to pounce on it, I hoisted the baby up.  I wasn't quick enough though and the puppy caught the tip of the empty sleeper toe firmly between his teeth. I didn't want a tug of war to ensue, so I lowered the baby and tried to "shoo" the puppy away from his new toy. He relaxed his grip a bit and I lifted the baby again. But that puppy was quick on the uptake and grabbed the sleeper tip before it got away. I decided to set the baby on my knee so I could free one hand for dealing with the persistent puppy.  But as I lifted the baby higher, the sleeper fabric stretched, and that stretching brought out the puppy's reflex to lock all 4's, pull backward with all his might, and swing his head from side to side like only a determined dog will do. The baby's mom, sitting next to me, stifled a snicker. Everyone else managed to ignore the circus and kept on praying. Thankfully I managed to lean over and pry the puppy's jaws open quickly and release the now fairly stretched empty sleeper toe. I pulled the sleeper toe and leg back into proper position on the baby and tried to bounce him quietly on my lap. But he was too far into the game by then and was reaching and kicking for the puppy on the floor--who by then had moved on to chewing on my purse's strap. Seeing the puppy was distracted, I decided to try and set the baby on the rug again to crawl. But as I did so, the puppy bounded toward the baby again and the baby's eyes sparkled with delight! I quickly pulled the baby back to myself and realized this wasn't going to be an easy game to quit. People were still praying (somehow) so I decided the best policy was to hand baby off to mommy.  Thankfully that settled things down for a while so I could put in at least a few moments of earnest prayer.

That's what life is like. Some moments don't have a "stop goofing off now--this is serious" button. And that is probably what saves our sanity. I'm sure glad God hears our hearts either way. 

Paul, we miss you. And these and many other fun and fond moments like them remind us of you. We will see you again one day.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Today I gave a first typing lesson to someone who has hardly used anything electronic (or electric) in his entire life. He is not accustomed to cell phones and touch screens. His hands are calloused from swinging a hoe and an axe for subsistence survival--the norm in these parts. Teaching him to set his fingers nimbly on the keyboard seemed counter intuitive to all his life's experiences to date. His touch on the keys was too clumsy for the set "repeat" rate, and there were several runaway "D"'s and "S"'s. His spaces and returns were half intentional, half accidental. But he is excited to learn. And it's a start.

We are down an office member these days and need lots of help. Primarily, this young man is earmarked for the health program as a health worker. He has come up through our school and sponsorship program and completed 11th grade, which is more than most of our current staff have. He is sharp, knows the local area and its people well, and seems to have a good heart. Those are essential ingredients. Typing and further skills can be learned.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Church and Massa

We attended and shared in a church today just up the highway from us. Last time we were here, they were still meeting in a mud hut but busy making bricks by hand for this building. Now their building is up and even has a tin roof. It's wonderful to see progress! 

When we arrived, the song service was already well underway. There is no such thing in Africa as a "dead" worship service. They're all loud and vibrant with beating drums, moving bodies, clapping hands, and shaking shakers. The shakers used in this church were made of tin cans, filled with seeds, then placed end to end on a stick (you can see the very end of one just beyond the song leader's white gown). They also had shakers made from gourds. All in all, it's was loud. No one got bored or fell asleep. It also took awhile after the singing was done for my hearing to key down enough to hear normal sounds again. Sort of like after a noisy concert.

This is the building. Every brick, individually made by hand from mud, patted into a form, dried in the sun, then baked in a fire. Every brick carefully brought to the site and set in its place and cemented there with precious cement that was brought all the way from town. There seems to be no part of life here that is easy or convenient. Everything comes at a high cost in one way or another, and this building certainly testifies to the commitment and hard work done by this congregation.

 As is the custom, we were fed after the service. This is a year of poor crops, and hunger, but still they prepared a delicious meal for us. The meal was massa (cooked, ground maize) and chicken done in a tomato, onion, and oil sauce. The massa is prepared as a stiff porridge that is dipped into the sauce and  eaten with the fingers. We north americans aren't entirely adept at this type of eating. I'm pretty clumsy at it though I do manage to get the food into my mouth (all over my hands, some on my skirt, etc.).

Lunch at the Pastor's house with Dwight, Cara Bob and Sharon, Jackson, Carlito and his brother, Kyra, and Joao. 

 Dwight shared that what makes us "rich" in Christ is that we have Faith, a Father, Family, and an eternal Future. We felt so honored and blessed by the time spent with this part of our Family today. We are rich, indeed.