Saturday, August 25, 2012

Mozambican Welcome.

As the plane touched ground then bounced down the runway, I soaked up the sights of this new land. From my plexiglass window, the first thing that struck me was the massive amounts of concrete coating everything.

Strange, I know. But there you have it.

This airport had an honest to goodness tarmac! I’m so used to the half-paved and pot-holed messes often found in South Sudan, that I was deeply impressed with this hardened, grey facade.

Once the seatbelt sign switched off, I scrambled out of my seat, grabbed my back-pack, and bumped down the airplane aisle, pushing past the deep blue seats and scattered newspapers on my way.

As I deplaned, my first breath of Mozambique was curiously cold. At a whopping 8 degrees Celsius, I immediately knew I’d packed optimistically light.

I fished my (one and only) sweater from my bag and hugged it tightly around my shoulders. This surprising drop in temperature was welcomed, however, as it has been ages since I’ve been cold.

As I walked to the main terminal the wind picked up, carrying whiffs of petrol, bon fires, and dirt. Later I would learn that even though Mozambique is just finishing up with its winter months (June, July, and August -which are supposed to be wet), the rains never came.

These unusually dry months have yellowed the grass and stripped the trees, leaving the land wind swept and parched. Plus the water table has dropped dangerously low, much like the gloomy smoke-filled haze that sits just above the horizon.

It’s not good --not good at all.

I’m also told this is the ‘Season of Burning’ which is when the locals torch their fields to clear the land for planting. Often these fires take on a life of their own. And sometimes more than the fields are destroyed.

Day after day, I’ve watched Roy our director get calls to inspect reports of fires heading our way. It’s a constant battle. And today, I learned one of our guard’s homes was burned to the ground.

They burn to clear the lands, but they also burn to hunt for rats. At first I thought the rat hunting was to keep them off their lands and out of their food storages, but I was wrong. Apparently, they like to eat them.

Roughly the size of a kitten, these rats dig tunnels underground, and as a result they must be coaxed out of the ground to be caught.

I’ve yet to see one, but I’m not looking forward to the day. Rats of all shapes and sizes have the honor of being the lone item on my phobia list. Frankly, the idea that they are hunted and eaten here locally makes me cringe deep in my gut.

Lord, please. May I never be asked to eat one. Ever. Amen.

Wait... wait.. How did I get on the subject of rats? Forgive me. I’ve digressed in my tale. Let’s see. Where was I? Yes. My arrival in Mozambique. That was my point.

I landed (on tarmac), slipped on my sweater (for the cold), then stood in line for my visa.

The airport official, a short coffee-colored man with smiling eyes, took my index fingerprints, sixty-six dollars, and my picture before he handed me back my passport. In it he’d pasted an elaborate visa (which included my mug shot!) and the words “Visto Republica de Mocambique”.

Passport in hand, I walked excitedly up to the only Muzungus (white people) waiting outside of customs. They were hard to miss.

A taller than average blond with soulful eyes and a pleasant smile wrung her hands as I approached. So I smiled back and asked, “Are you Trish?”

-- “Oh.Yes. I’m Trish,” she started, then signaled for her husband to join her. “This is Roy.”

-- “Great to meet you both! I’m Stephanie.”

-- “Stephanie! Oh good. For the life of us, we couldn’t remember your name. So it’s “Steph-an-ie”?” she asked slowly, stressing my name into three long syllables.

Surprised I blinked a few times, then nodded.

I couldn’t help but wonder at our odd greeting. This couldn’t be a good sign, could it?

As we shook hands and politely chatted about the flight, my mind raced with questions. Had I really just flown half-way around the world to meet up with people who didn’t even know my name? What had I signed up for?

Nevertheless, Roy took my bag and we headed for the truck; we had to get on the road quickly, or we’d run out of daylight. As we drove the 3 hours back to Maforga, Trish regaled me with stories of Mozambique and asked me questions about my work in South Sudan. Roy, being more of the meditative listener, was happy to drive and listen to us talk.

Roy and Trish are celebrities of sorts in these parts. They started the work at Maforga 27 years ago and have seen more than their share of adventures. In the past few days, I’ve watched them juggle so much that it’s easy to see how they could forget silly things like names.

This week they’ve introduced me to the various government and social welfare offices to see about opening a birthing clinic. And if things go well, we’ll meet with the Ministry of Health in the coming weeks. There is even talk of gathering a number of midwives together for a meet and greet.

Please pray for these meetings as they are essential to any future medical work in this country. Naturally, I want God’s perfect will for my future, so I’m asking God to grant me extraordinary favor with the Ministry of Health if I’m to start a work here. But if He wants me to move on, then to close these doors tightly and show me where to go next.

Will you please join me in this prayer?

Also pray for me to meet up with and interview the midwives of the area, as well as a group of women and several of the village pastors. Thanks.