There are 800 babies on the nutrition program at the clinic. Each baby is so precious and sweet, many of them smiling despite being half their expected weight, stunted, with wrinkly thighs, anemic, HIV+, and various bacterial and fungal infections. I’ve held back tears a couple of times for babies who should be dead – skin and bones, mouth full of thrush (fungal infection), sores on their skin, bloated bellies, long dirty nails, big sad sunken eyes, hardly even able to cry, just wimpering. On the other hand, a majority of the children are very healthy despite being HIV+. ARVs are available at the hospital, so the children and their parents can get them, provided they are able to get to the hospital, which often means a 15km walk in blistering heat, torrential rains, or both, along the highway, with no shoes, on an empty stomach, and losing a day to earn money for dinner by working in the fields. Their growth charts of the children on the program are just amazing, to see how far they’ve come, gaining weight so fast to catch up. It’s so lovely to see the mother’s face light up when we tell her the baby has had a good weight – it gives her hope that her child may not die as she had been expecting. And it’s even more wonderful to see a child laugh and dance with chubby legs, knowing from what state they’ve come. It’s also quite amazing to see the nurses interacting with the child – they care SO much! A couple of infants have been brought in that the nurses sent to the hospital on their last visit to the clinic, fully expecting the child to die. The love they have is so apparent, so tangible; they act as if it was their own child that they had lost but suddenly found again. Very heart-warming. The clinic has very complicated algorhythms for treatment, but basically the caregiver of children older than 6 months (most of them) is given dried milk, sometimes with oil, sugar, and/or crushed peanuts as supplements to the child’s diet of corn porridge, called sudza (like grits), mangoes, and bananas. They also receive counseling on healthy infant feeding practices, milk preparation, and clinical consult for the child and caregiver. The clinic can treat most of the presented ailments, but sometimes they are referred to the hospital for treatment. The cost of a hospital visit, excluding transport costs but including consult and any prescriptions, is 5 meticais, which is about 14¢.
It has been raining a lot, sometimes all through the night. The rain comes and cools everything off, so it is welcomed. The corn crops are becoming ripe, which means hunger season is nearly over. The harvest season is approaching, which means lots of corn, avocado, lichis, more bananas, more pineapple, and papaya. We also have lots of beans and potatoes, too. Everything is alive and growing, even all the bugs! My good roommates are lizards and spiders who eat all the other bugs. There are ants swarming all over the ground in many areas on the base, and they bite! (not poisonous or stinging but just a good chomp). I’m always too dirty for comfort by the afternoon, usually hot, sweaty, dirty, feeling like there are bugs everywhere, with various unknown foul smelling fluids from holding babies and kids on my lap. The babies have little towels for diapers, if anything, and they usually leak. The children are carried on the caretaker’s back with a sirong or wrap, called a capulana. They get sweaty, and dirty, and who knows what else…smelly. Many children don’t have shoes so their feet are quite dirty and the toddlers crawl around in the dirt and sticky mangos.
Last week, I participated in all the other programs that the missionaries are engaged in. I helped J paint some shelves in her new pre-school building, with oil-based paint, which we then cleaned off of ourselves using gasoline… not the healthiest, but TIA (this is Africa). I also went with her to the Muslim village behind the school house where we found a brood of children to accompany us to a particular student’s home. The trails were narrow, up and downs hills, crossing a stream, through corn plots, past a small shop, covered with fallen mangoes, and lined with many beautiful flowering bushes. Two of the children were small (about 3 years old) and had trouble keeping up, so we carried them. When we got the home, a young son brought chairs outside to the shade for us, and J suggested we take a video of the group singing a song about hygiene. So fun! Of course, all the kids were very interested in seeing the video afterwards. After our visit, we took them to play on the swings at the school house. The young girl I carried became quite attached to me and fussed when it was time to say goodbye.
I also visited the prison this week with Pastor R, a missionary from Zimbabwe who speaks at least English, Portuguese, and Shona. Pastor R looks like a black WWF wrestler – he’s tall, and super-duper strong! His personality, however, is gentle, humble, quiet, and caring. I think I could go anywhere with him and feel safe. We took the chapa, the local “bus” system, which has no schedule, or regulations, I think. The chapas are caravans with roof racks. They are used to transport people, charcoal, corm, goats, or whatever else that can fit in or on it – and they load it up! I felt like a contortionist trying to fit in the place they wanted me to sit! At the prison, we were sat on the porch of a small building with a woman in her upper 30s wearing a bright lime green skirt suit, holding a handgun in her lap, looking out over the compound. There was no fence around the perimeter of the prison. They didn’t make Robert and I register our visit, nor did they check our belongings. I know Robert and the organization has gained considerable favor among the government officials, but I hardly think that is the reason for the lack of formalization. There were about 100 male prisoners and 2 female prisoners, each accompanied by a toddler, kept in 2 separate sides of the prison. There were no cells or bars; they are simply locked into one large room together. R and I entered and all the men began to sing worship songs (Mozambican style), as we greeted each one individually. Everyone was engaged as R taught a lesson from the Bible. On the wall is a large mural of a path leading into the rising sun behind some mountains. Along the path is a cross. As R spoke, I thought about how much it felt and looked like I was sitting in a church, rather than a prison. I wondered if the men in this prison are actually more free (in Christ) than many of the people in the surrounding city, who are bound by Satan’s schemes of poverty and illness.
Next, I visited the ladies’ Bible study group with missionary U, who does a wonderful job at acting out the scenes from the Bible. In attendance were over 60 mothers and grandmothers (vovo’s), with their children. They also sang and danced for a long while, many beautiful songs about Jesus. It is so lovely that there is always someone in the group who steps up to lead the group in song, without any prior planning! The women were happy and engaged as they related to the stories, of the lying and betraying brothers of Joseph, and of Potifer’s wife seducing him. Many of the Bible stories are much more similar to their way of life than that of most Americans. They seem to understand much better and sympathize with the people.
This week, I will be starting on a public health project. More on that at the end of the week.
Lastly, I will share the story of my first load of laundry here. I made several mistakes which turned the whole thing into a fiasco! I was very happy to find out that there is a washing machine available here. Mistake #1: I put the soap in the wrong place, despite the clear instructions, written in English, and accompanied by pictures, because I ignored them entirely. Luckily, someone caught my mistake and I was able to spoon out the dry detergent from the wrong place. After the load was finished, I took them to the line to hang. The line already had some pieces on it, which were dragging on the ground. Following the example of a missionary that I helped to hang her laundry earlier, I tried to wrap the line around the post one more time to get it taut. As I did this, the pole, eaten out by termites, started to fall down on top of me! (Mistake #2) I held it up trying to think about how I can keep it up, but obviously, I just had to let it down. Then, I scrambled to pick up all the laundry that was hung, in addition to the load I was already carrying (without a basket because I thought I could handle it). The multitudes of ants underneath the lines are very quick so I was trying to save the clothes from them as quick as I could, piling them on my arms and around my neck. Next, I took them all over to the next section, past the second pole. As I was hanging a towel up, the second pole began the crack and fall (Mistake #3), so I caught that one, juggling it with the piles of laundry precariously layed on me. I laid that pole down and again picked up all the laundry from those lines, piling them on top of me. So there I am with no empty lines, and practically 3 loads of laundry piled on me in the hot sun. I pitifully walked over to F and U’s home to ask what to do. They advised that I use their drying rack and their extra line out back to the right of the house. I folded the laundry that was dry, hung some on the rack, and then had two sheets left for the extra line out back. Later that day, I was advised that I had hung the sheets on the electrical line from the house to the pavilion, not on the laundry line. Mistake #4. I hope you’ve had a good laugh!