Friday, 19 December 2014

Zimbabwe and Mozambique

It had been a long stretch of Monday-Friday, 8am-5pm office time for both Byron and I. For me, it had been months and months since I last visited one of our communities or did a home visit. We always say how important it is for us ‘office rats’ to stay connected to the work we do by going out into the community, doing home visits and spending time with the children and Care Workers at our community based organizations (CBOs). But, if we’re not careful or intentional, it can be easy to go months without stepping foot in the community. Perhaps this would make a great New Years’ Resolution for Byron and I ….

When we were asked to be part of a team that would travel to Zimbabwe and Mozambique to support our Service Centre in Mutare, we were stoked, to say the least! Finally, an opportunity to spend an entire week out of the office, building into relationships with our Service Centre staff, and to visit our Care Workers and children in the CBOs. The purpose of our trip: to support the Service Centre in finishing off 2014 well – helping them set plans and priorities for the remainder of the year and to begin budgeting and planning for 2015.

The whole gang!
As with most trips we take with Hands, our time was short. We drove three days, there and back, to spend six days on the ground. In Zimbabwe, we spent a couple of days having meetings with the local team in the Service Centre office and one day in Pimai, where one of our CBOs is located. Pimai is in a region called Honde Valley – a secluded, rural, farming area about two hours’ drive from Mutare. How amazing it was to take in the beautiful, picturesque scenery, to do a home visit with one of our local African leaders, Jackie, and to play with the kids at the Care Point. My heart felt so glad to be there with Byron and, again, I was reassured of the exact reason why Byron and I were in Africa – to help care for and provide hope to children. Here are some photos of our time in Pimai.

Beautiful views as we drove from Mutare to Pimai
The Care Point 
Jackie, a Kenyan who serves with us in South Africa
Tyler, Farai, John and Byron. Farai and John are part of the Mutare SC. Tyler is a fellow Canadian volunteering with us in South Africa
Walking to do home visits
Kids at the Care Point
The kids are SO adorable when they eat!
Byron and I always like befriending the kids who are in the corner by themselves!
We arrived in Macadeira, Mozambique, on a blistering hot day. A few of the children were finding shade under a large tree in the middle of the courtyard, playing in the dirt with sticks and stones (literally). A few Care Workers were busy cooking, preparing the daily meal that would feed 50. Little free-run community pigs were also having their meal in the large garbage pit in the middle of the Care Point, beside where the children play and the Care Workers cook.

As we got out of the car, we braced ourselves for the swarming of children that was inevitable. Macadeira, unlike many of the communities we have visited in the past, is relatively ‘untouched’. It really hasn’t been exposed to or visited by many ‘mzungus’ (white people, or yellow, in our case). As expected, we were immediately greeted by little hands grasping to touch our skin and smiling, curious faces trying to make sense of this different type of mzungu they were seeing for the first time. Some of the littlest ones were so terrified of us they would start crying as soon as we looked at them!

The Care Point in Macadeira, Mozambique. The Care Workers cook in the hut on the right and kids find shade under the big tree
Two of the little ones, Maria and Rosario (they're twins!), that we are caring for in Mozambique
Byron and Papaito! Possibly one of the cutest kids we've ever met!
That night, Byron and I did a community stay in the home of a lady named Rosalita and her two sons, Antonio and Juan. As I think back on that night we spent at Rosalita’s home, I can honestly say that it was one of the most difficult and challenging experiences that Byron and I have gone through in our time here. It was challenging not only in the physical sense, which was to be expected, but the experience stretched us much more emotionally and mentally than we were expecting.

There were massive language barriers – the family spoke not a word of English, only Shona and Portuguese; we had no running water, electricity, or toilet; the shower was made from branches and vines attached to a wooden stick structure; the hut we were to sleep in was made of mud and had a spider-infested, grass-thatched roof; there were no mats to sleep on. On several occasions, I remember both Byron and I saying that it was going to be a struggle to get through the night. The realization that, there we were, standing in the one of the most vulnerable homes, in one of the poorest communities, in one of the poorest countries in the world just kept smacking us in the face.

The sun was setting quickly as we arrived and I was acutely aware that we had little time left to spend with the family. It’s typical that people go to sleep shortly after sunset because it becomes too dark to do much else. In an attempt to help get dinner started, through sign language and simplified English, I tried to communicate that I wanted to help cook. Well … that didn’t work out quite as I hoped. Without even realizing it, I became the head chef of the night and was left to embark on a two hour cooking adventure (I use ‘adventure’ as a massive euphemism here). I had to cook all by myself … in the dark … using the dirt floor as my kitchen counter … over firewood (which is a lot harder than you think) … all while Byron was outside singing and dancing with the kids. As my eyes stung and my throat burned from all the firewood smoke I was inhaling, I couldn’t help but feel so grumpy, so cheated out of my opportunity to be with the family, all because I offered to help. And why wasn’t Rosalita helping? Couldn’t she see that I obviously had no idea what I was doing? It’s a terrible way to feel – I should have been more than happy to suck it up and make the meal, right? Yes. But in that moment, I didn’t feel happy. I was grumpy.

When I finished cooking, I called Rosalita over, pointed to the food, then pointed to her, her sons and Byron and I. Rosalita looked at me, then looked at the food and said, “Nada”. I replied, “Antonio, Juan?”. She said, “Nada”. Crap. I immediately felt sick when I realized that she thought I was cooking for just Byron and I. I felt even more awful thinking that because I ended up cooking that night, I actually prevented her from making her own meal and the family would go to bed hungry. What a disaster! So, there I was, standing in the dark with all this rice and cabbage that Byron and I couldn’t possibly finish ourselves (because I thought I was cooking for five, not two). After a bit of back and forth, I think we managed to work out that the family doesn’t actually eat rice for dinner. They like eating sadza, which is the African staple that resembles a thick, dense mashed potato like dish made of ground-up corn, because it keeps them feeling fuller, longer. In the end, after much insisting, Rosalita allowed me to dish up five servings, one for each of us. Later on that night, as I aired my frustrations to Byron, he astutely pointed out that even though I was trying to communicate that I wanted to help cook, the concept of ‘help’ wasn’t actually being communicated by my hand motions and so Rosalita just thought I was motioning that I wanted to cook my own food. Lesson learned for sure.

The time we spent with Rosalita and her sons was tough because we couldn’t help but feel so out of our element. We were frustrated that we weren’t able to communicate with the family, stressed about how we were going to sleep and whether we would get Malaria, and grumpy about the whole dinner fiasco. Worst of all though, as we caught ourselves feeling frustrated and stressed, we felt ashamed. This was the every-day reality for Rosalita, Antonio and Juan. It surprised us how easily frustrated we became and how insensitive we were to how this family lives day-in, day-out. Our night with Rosalita exposed us and revealed how easily we create barriers between us and those who we say we are called to care for and love. We long so much for our creature comforts that we find it difficult to stand in solidarity or even empathize with those who have so much less than us. It was definitely a tough pill to swallow.

Although our time in Mozambique was short, Macadeira left such a deep impression on us and captured such a huge part of our hearts. We came away with our tails tucked between our legs, so to speak, humbled by the night we spent sleeping in Rosalita’s home and the many children we met. We loved our time in Zimbabwe and Mozambique and always feel grateful for the experiences that help us mature and grow in enabling us to see beyond ourselves.

Arriving at Rosalita's house with our entourage of community kids!
Cooking in the dark
Byron with Rosalita, Antonio (in red) and one of their neighbours in the morning

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