Sunday, July 20, 2014

Maputo re-bound (or my journey home)

I’ve been putting off writing this last leg of my journey for two reasons.
         One: I didn’t want to sound like a whiner.
         And two: It was so traumatic... I’d mostly blocked it out.

It all started innocently enough.

I had arranged to stay at the Maputo guest house throughout the day, even though I was checked out. I drank coffee, caught up on some correspondence, and traipsed off to the artisanal market down the road to see if I could find some treasures.

I did.

However, the most important trip that morning was getting (all the way across town) to purchase my bus ticket home. I’d done it so often, it’d become routine.

Depending on traffic and the competition stuffing themselves into the public transportation (aka: chapas), the trip can take 40 minutes... or 2 hours.

That morning it took 2 hours, a near knock-down-drag-out with an overly aggressive woman in tight jeans and even tighter braids, and about 45 cents.
    -- Yeah. Public transport is pretty cheap here!

The bus depot sits just outside the city limits on a round-about. It’s gated and always crawling with travelers, ticket masters, and merchants. The buses wait under small overhangs until departure. Small panels indicating their final destination are perched on the dashboard.

The bus for Chimoio sat in its usual spot. As I approached, the ticket master and driver both smiled. In Chimoio, I have to buy the tickets directly from them. But in Maputo there is an official stall. I know this... but avoided the stall until I could get a better look at the bus and drivers.

I had already decided that if it was the last crew I’d hang out in Maputo a day or two longer and spare myself the heartburn.

Fortunately, they were not the last crew. In fact, I knew them and they knew me.
-- “Hola!” the ticket master said in greeting, “Your going to Chimoio, right?”
-- “Yes." I smiled in greeting. "How are you?”
-- “Fine. Thanks,” he smiled back and reached out his hand. “It’s been a while. How are things at the clinic?”
I reached back to shake his hand. This was Joseph. I’d traveled with his crew many times before, and he was always interested to hear any updates on the clinic.

I tried not to grimace as I explained things were still not open and updated him on the latest paperwork saga. He shook his head knowingly at my reports of delays, frustration, and general difficulty.
-- “E-pah!” he said sympathetically. “These officials are a mess!”
I agreed with him, but didn’t trust myself to say more. Instead, I turned the conversation back the trip home.

-- “I’m so glad it’s you guys,” I started, “You would not believe the trouble we had coming down earlier this week.” I complained to him briefly about the endless delays and he nodded knowingly.
I continued on. “I’m so glad to see this is an express bus. Will we be arriving on time?”
-- “Oh, yes. It’s an express bus....” I could see he had more to say, but didn’t. So I picked up the string of conversation and said, “Okay then. I’ll go buy my ticket and see you guys tonight.”
He waved goodbye and I promised to fill him in on more of the details when I returned.

I bought my ticket then hurried back to the guest house for my things.

When the day was done and dinner at the guesthouse was winding down, I gathered my bag and made my way back to catch another chapa. Two ladies who work at the guesthouse kindly walked me to the chapa stop, prayed for safe travels, and waved goodbye through the tinted glass.
    -- What dears! Little did I know how much I needed those prayers.

But even at 9 p.m., the chapas are quite full. Men in wrinkled suits and woman in 2 inch heels doze on the commute home. Those unfortunates who have to stand in the aisles, dive and dip each time the bus screeches to a halt or revs off in a cloud of exhaust fumes.

I stood most of the way, clutching my bag in one hand and a metal rail in the other. People pushed and elbowed their way past as they loaded and unloaded, but eventually a seat opened up. I sat in relief and tried not to doze. It was past my bedtime and my stop was just a few minutes away.

This time when I got off the bus, the fruit stands and street vendors were packed away for the night. Only the road was choked with commuters; the sidewalks were clear. Weary travelers, carting bundles on their heads and suitcases under their arms, zigzagged past.

I joined the march and soon found my way back to the bus. I was not the first to arrive. One man was already asleep opposite my seat. He leaned over his bags protectively, snoring lightly.

I settled in for the night and tried to doze as well. The flood lamps were not making it easy --nor did the chatter from the vendors just outside my window.

Piles of water bottles, soda cans, and bread rolls were for sale. Woman stacking oranges in bundles of three, adjusted their babies on their backs and called to passers-by to come buy from them. Men smoked, joked, and watched the steady flow of travelers come and go.

Somewhere between the noisy mother of two bumping her way in to the bus at 10 p.m. and the raucous laughter of the smokers below my window, I slept. But I didn’t sleep long.

At 3:30 a.m. exactly we drove off. By then anyone who was not on the bus was left behind. Comforted that the journey had officially began, I finally slept deeply.

I didn’t wake again until about 8, when the screeching brakes informed me we had stopped. I lifted the blanket off my head and noticed sunlight. Lots of it.

A dozen men were already outside relieving themselves. Women and children were further down. The colors of cloth tied in their hair made them look like flowers in the yellowing grass below.

I closed my eyes again and slept.

Hunger woke me up the next time. I munched on snacks and asked the man next to me how far we’d come. He didn’t seem to know... or care.

Rested by this time, I decided to read a bit and watch the coconut trees pass. Hours flew by in a blur of villages and brightly colored kids playing on the road.

By 11 am, we’d made it to Xai-Xai where the mainline buses always stop for food.

I remember thinking we were late in arriving... but not overly concerned. I was hungry and exited in the mass of flesh. I was one of the first to order a chicken to-go plate and a juice.

I stretched a bit before making my way back on the bus. Ten minutes later we were on the road again.

The afternoon light beat down on me as we rode north. A new man had taken the seat beside me after the first reached his destination. This man was headed to Chimoio too and asked me questions... but didn’t flirt.

I knew from previous trips that we were running late. The convoy (or police escort through rebel territory) took off between 2 and 3 pm when heading North. I started worrying my lip at the thought of missing it. Why didn’t anyone else seem concerned?

When 2 o-clock arrived and we were still miles off, I considered asking the driver for an update. But I hesitated. Pressuring them never worked. So I waited, read, and prayed.

We didn’t arrive to Rio Save (aka: the start of the Convoy) until after 4 pm. We’d missed it by hours. Why?

I waited until the bus completely unloaded before I approached the driver.
-- “Did we miss the convoy?” I asked confused.
-- “Yes,” he admitted.
-- “But why didn’t we drive faster? Couldn’t we have made it in time?”
He laughed at my confusion then explain that things had changed since the last time I had traveled with them. There was only one convoy a day... and it was at 11 am. We would have never made it in time. This is why he didn’t bother rushing. Then he explained that the afternoon convoy was no longer available.

As he spoke, it finally occurred to me that I’d be sleeping on the bus again and there’d be no North-bound progress until well into the following morning.
-- “How long has it been like this,” I asked, finally understanding.
-- “Oh... about two months. Since the last attacks.”
I did the mental math and realized that my last trip to Maputo was right before the attacks. I had no way of knowing it’d changed. It was probably best that way... as I wouldn’t have bothered to come if I’d known.

At this point I decided the best thing to do was to eat, charge my electronics in the nearby restaurant, and settle in for another night on the bus. Little did I know what that night would be like.

Sadly, I have nothing good to say about the things I was forced to listen to that night. Let me just say, it involved loud, drunk men, boisterous and calloused woman, and demanding children trying to make themselves heard over the raunchy repartee. They were unsuccessful, albeit persistent.

By 11 pm I was ready to start knocking heads but could think of no way to get them to quite down. I briefly contemplated stealing one of the soldiers AK-47s and marching them off the cluttered bus. Would I have to blind fold them before I subjected them to the firing squad?

By midnight, I was exhausted but 95% of the bus had settled by then. Only the most determined flirts and raunchiest drunkards bellowed on. At this point, I turned to the guy next to me and asked, “How do we get them to be quiet?” He was Mozambican. He had to know how.
-- “I’m sorry... I don’t know what to do,” he confessed. “Perhaps when the bus driver comes back....”
Unfortunately, I knew that the bus driver had rented a room for the night and was not coming back until the morning. That was a no-go.
-- “Humph!” I complained. There was nothing else I could do. I could yell at them but what would that solve? Nothing. They’d probably just yell back.

I don’t know when they finally shut up. But I can say that when they did, the relief in the bus was deep. I settled in for the second night, but slept fitfully.

By dawn, street vendors were heating water for coffee and selling bolos (fried donut holes). I desperately wanted to brush me teeth but no one was selling water at that early hour. I’d have to wait.

And wait I did.

Dozens waited with me.

Semi-trucks and mainline buses littered the roadway. Trash from the evening before was piled randomly about. A herd of goats sauntered up to investigate but they were startled soon after by a child, and ran off.

Not a dog was in sight.

Everyone seemed to clump together, milling about. Some smoked. Some ate. Some talked on cell phones. All waited.

That morning's wait was the hardest for me. Perhaps it was the lack of sleep the night before, or the massive migraine jabbing the back of my eyes. Either way, I was tired.

What made it worse is I had no way to get any decent food. The buses would take off by 11 am and the restaurants wouldn’t open before then. It’d be hours before I would be able to find anything but a tangerine to eat.
        -- Not good.

By 10:30, the buses revved and everyone piled back on. The passengers were subdued --probably due to lack of sleep-- and the bus driver took us over the bridge. We had to wait another hour on the other side of the bridge for the military convoy to arrive, turn around, and escort us North again.

The trouble was... with all the added precautions, by the time we took off we were made to crawl along at a snail’s pace.

At one point, in the middle of the attack zone, we were forced to park for over an hour and wait. I can only assume it was so the military could patrol a troubled spot. But this is just a guess.

A trip that usually takes about and hour, took three.

Eventually we made it to the end of the convoy. We made a quick stop to load up on water (which I needed desperately by then) and more tangerines. Fortunately, I found a cashew seller who determinedly ran alongside the bus until I could get the right change to pay him. I slipped him the money through the window quickly grabbing a bag of nuts, as the bus drove off.

I ate nuts for lunch.

From there, the trip was more or less typical. We drove quickly in an effort to make up the lost time. And I arrived home by around 6 pm.


When I walked in my front door, I realized that I didn’t have water or electricity due to power failures that day; a shower was out. So instead, I loved on my animals, brushed my fuzzy teeth, and fell into bed.

The next morning, I was finally able to do the mental math. A journey that usually takes about 17 hours had morphed into roughly 46 hours.

It has taken me most of this week to recover.

The up side, of course, was that I got there and back safely. Nothing was stolen and no one was harmed... unless you count that aggressive woman in Maputo who tried to steal my seat. She still might have bruises.

And now... as this particular saga has come to an end. Let me just thank you for praying for me. Please know that I love you all dearly and need those precious prayers desperately.

Please keep praying that my papers in Maputo come through! Pray also for renewed strength, joy, and peace as I tackle the next paperwork obstacles. And pray that I would not lose heart. Thanks.

***Pictures to follow once I figure out how to download them onto my computer.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Maputo Bound (Part two... or how my papers moved)

So.... the saga continues.

That first night in Maputo was cold and noisy. The feral dogs antagonized the neighborhood guard dogs.

Barking ensued. Lots of barking.

After breakfast, I caught a city bus (or chapa) for the government offices in charge of my paperwork. It takes 40 minutes or so by bus and is a bit of a circuitous trek off the beaten path.

I made it by 10:30 am only to find the doors locked and the lights off.
    --What? Was it a public holiday?

I looked around and found people watching me jiggle the door handle in dumb confusion.

I turned to them and asked, “Isn’t this the place where I get my Equivlencia?”
-- “No, they moved.” The man looked at me kindly and with much more patience than I deserved. I could see he had had this conversation before.
-- “Moved?” I toyed with the tone in my voice and opted for flat. “Where?”
-- “You have to go back downtown.... then it’s around the corner from the Department of Education.”

I pressed him for clearer directions after insisting I was not a local, but all he could accomplish was to write down the exact same information above. Sigh.

So with a new destination in mind, I retraced my steps to the center of town (another 40 minutes back) and I found the new building. But by this time, it was dangerously close to lunch and I was not sure any staff would even be there.

The building was beautiful. Be-UTE-i-ful. Beautiful!

It shone with the glow of tile wax and chrome. Its steps were covered in well-edged tile and its walls were smudge-free. The furniture looked like it was cut from a magazine --modern faux-finish accented with chrome.

I looked down at my (now) dusty sandals --ineffectively hiding chipped nail polish-- and smiled a little. I was going to dirty up their polished interior. 

As I entered the main office, a clerk was hammering out the finer points of the equivilencia process to a woman in tight jeans and platted hair. She had a beautiful degree stenciled with Arabic calligraphy and bright colors. I spied it over her arm, but the only word that made sense was ‘Qatar’. I smiled at her impishly and waited.

When she left, the clerk asked what I needed and I handed him my file number. I wanted to see how things were progressing, I explained. He handed off my identification number to an underling, who took it and walked woefully to a long row of file cabinets.

I sat down to wait.

Would I have to wait two days for them to find it like last time? I wondered.

Twenty minutes later, I was called up to the desk. The clerk looked confused, my file open in front of him.

-- “We have your file...” he started, “but I don’t know what it means.”
I waited silently. Praying. He obviously had something more to say.
-- “You need to speak to my Chef... but he is at lunch.”
-- “Can’t I see what it says?” I asked, reaching for my file.
-- “No... no. You must talk to my Chef.” He shifted the file slightly away from my hand. A flash of fear in his eyes at the thought I might take it by force.
-- “Did they refuse it?” I asked after a long, pregnant pause. My hands obediently by my sides.
-- “Come back today at 3 pm," he offered. "My Chef will be back from lunch by then.”
Clearly, he did not want me to touch my file or know the secrets it held, so I relented and agreed to return at 3 p.m.

I confess my hopes were not high when I left. My last diploma was rejected... and I was starting to think this one would be as well. Ugg.

I returned to the guesthouse deflated, ate lunch, and napped. But as three-o-clock ticked ever nearer, I found myself back in the shiny, waxed office.

Once the clerk met my eyes, he asked me to take a seat and wait. He had to find his Chef do departemento, he explained. But after looking for awhile and making a few calls, he learned that the Chef was in a meeting. I’d have to come back in the morning.

-- “Can’t you just tell me the results of the file?” I pleaded.
-- “Can you please come back in the morning?” He (almost) pleaded. “Come at 9 am.”
-- “What time does the Chef come in?” I asked.
-- “He gets in at 9 am.”
-- “What time do you open?”
-- “7:30 am.”
-- “I’ll be here at 7:29 in the morning...” I stated flatly.
He nodded that he understood completely, and I left him with a smile. Or was it a leer?

The next morning, I was feeling half nauseated (must have been the chicken I ate on the bus), half nervous (what if he denied my degree?) when I entered the office doors.

I was not there a minute before the clerk called me to the front of the line. (Yes, there as a line at 7:30 a.m.!)

-- “The Chef is not in the office today...” he informed me.
-- “Is there someone else I can talk to?” I queried. “I need to help clear up a misunderstanding.”
-- “Yes. Yes. Let me get her,” he mumbled quietly and scurried off.

While I sat, I prayed. It had been 7 months of this. I’d been filling out paperwork and shuttling back and forth to Maputo for 7 months... and they still had nothing. Why, Lord? What is the hold up?

Eventually, a round-faced woman in a polyester skirt suit called me to the front desk. Her purse was on her shoulder... and I could see she had to leave any minute.

-- “The Ordem de Medicos (or medical board) insist you are not a doctor,” she explained. Lights were going on in my brain.
              --They thought I was a doctor? Oy! Vey!

I nodded to show I understood and waited. She continued to outline that every office they had sent my documents to (two different offices at the medical university and the medical board) all were at a loss as to what to do with me.

I continued to wait.

-- “The Chef has a meeting to go to... we are late,” she confessed. “But I’m going to ask my second in charge to take over this case.” She paused a minute, then added, “There has to be an answer.”

I thanked her and went to wait a bit longer. I couldn’t help but wonder if I had made this journey in vain. Would I have to return to push on this paper in a few more weeks? When would this merry-go-round stop?

Ten minutes later a thin man in a pressed, white shirt and olive green trousers called me forward. My file sat open before him. He seemed genuinely nervous... almost chagrined.

-- “Senhora, we don’t know why the medical board refused your degree...” he explained. “We are going to send it to the Ministry of Health for a review and get back to you as soon as we can.”
-- “Sehnor,” I interrupted kindly. “The medical board is right. I am not a doctor... nor do I pretend to be. The confusion is due to the Portuguese word for midwifery. I am a midwife. My degree is in midwifery. But the word in Portuguese for Obstetrics... is the same for Midwifery. There is no other way to translate this degree.”
As I explained his eyes lightened with understanding and he allowed me to continue without interruption.
-- “I spoke with the doctors in Chimoio,” I explained. “My equivalencia should be for a degree in nurse-midwifery not obstetrics.”

He smiled in relief as I explained and promised to send the file off that morning for approval. He apologized that I had to come so far and especially being that I had to travel through insecurities to get there... and even offered to send my documents directly to Chimoio via courier once they were ready. That was a first.

We exchanged numbers and I left. This has been my 5th trip in 7 months... and I hope it will be my last. My fingers are crossed that the courier will actually work out, but I’m not very optimistic. I suspect I’ll have to return to Maputo again. The question is when.

From there, I was tempted to leave back to Chimoio that night but I was booked for another night in the guest house. I wasn’t sure if I should stay or go. I opted to stay that night and left the next day.

But... the trip back is a story unto itself. I’m still exhausted from the trip... and would rather write when my mind is clearer.

More to come.

Please pray that my documents (no doubt on someone’s desk at the ministry of health in Maputo right now) are approved, stamped, and signed off in record time. Thanks.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Maputo Bound! (Or... How I got stuck on a chicken bus).

My bus ride down to Maputo started out innocent enough. I drove into Chimoio to buy my ticket. (To buy a ticket, you have to walk up to a waiting bus with “Maputo” clearly marked in the front window, find a bleary-eyed driver and pay the fare. It’s not complicated. Each bus leaves promptly at 3 am.)

However, when I got to Chimoio to buy my ticket, the bleary-eyed mister was missing. I asked around as the bus sat empty and closed. Finally, I found one of the drivers who assured me a seat, we exchanged numbers (this is to track me down if necessary), but he didn’t want to take my money just yet. He didn’t have the official ticket booklet. So, I promised to pay when he picked me up that next morning. Everything was set.

Or so I thought.

I got back to Maforga in time for church, lounged around all afternoon trying to motivate myself into packing, then got a phone call.

-- “Sorry, Miss,” squeaked out a thin voice. “The bus isn’t going tonight.”
-- “What? But I was there this morning and you said it was leaving.”
-- “Sorry. You’ll have to come in again and get a ticket for tomorrow night.”
-- “Okay,” I sighed. “See you tomorrow.”

Tomorrow came.

I returned to Chimoio. Repeat. Wash. Spin. And dry.

But this time, there was no call to cancel. So I got team members to agree to get up at the unholy hour of 2:30 am and drive me to my pick up site. There was a bit of a wait. So we watched a restaurant guard sweep up trash in an effort to stay awake and listened to the feral dogs fight.

Gondola (my pick up site) is depressing at 2:50 in the morning. The pale street lamps paint the main street a dusty taupe. Nothing but the sidewalk sweeping man moved. Not even the wind.

My bus arrived. Brakes hissing in protest. I grabbed my bag, thanked my friends, and hustled without a look over my shoulder. If the bus driver doesn’t see you running, he generally starts to honk. It’s annoying.

When I boarded the bus, I was told to take my seat but I couldn’t. A clean-shaven, barrel chested man was sitting in it.

-- “Sit down in your seat,” the ticket master instructed, absentmindedly tying the door shut with a cord.
-- “I can’t. Someone is in it,” I said flatly.
-- “Go sit down,” he repeated. Obviously not listening.
-- “Where? That man is sitting in my seat,” I repeated sourly gesturing toward the intruder. In protest, I sat down in his seat instead.

He looked at me in irritation, the bus lunged forward, and we were off.

Once we were well underway, the ticketmaster shuffled us about and I took my seat next to a nice man from Zimbabwe. He didn’t talk much but he clearly wanted my seat. The view was better and he kept poking his head around to spy oncoming traffic. For reasons still unclear to me, oncoming traffic really interested him. Halfway through the trip, I offered to swap seats with him and he eagerly jumped at the idea. I slept better from then on, and whiled away the hours reading.

We stopped from time to time to pee alongside the road. (Pee breaks are hilarious. The rush to exit reminds me of elephants stampeding. Pushing. Stomping. Cries of protest. Woman tend to veer one way, men the other. I’ve gotten pretty good at the whole semi-squat while wrapped in a kapulana thing. I think I’d be a fierce contender if it were ever an olympic sport.)

The bus was old. It wheezed and coughed up even the smallest hills. When we tried to pass Big Rigs snailing in front of us, the engined protested loudly. Rarely did we succeed.

As a result, we doddered about inching our way to Maputo. 

Every other village, the driver and ticket master stopped to pick up passengers. The stop and go made our travels even slower. Morning faded into late afternoon. Evening blurred into night. More villages. More random passengers.

The passengers started grumbling. Each hour we delayed they grumbled louder.

-- “Why do you keep stopping, Driver?” asked an irritated man from the back.
-- “Yeah,” joined in another, “Is this a Machibombo (a passenger bus for long distances) or a Chapa (a rickety bus, usually topped with chickens and chairs)?”

The driver grumbled to himself and drove on. The passengers grumbled louder but nothing came of it. Their complaints (and mine) were powerless to move the aging mass of steel even one kilometer faster. And the driver could not pass up picking up more fares along the way.

I read some more, stretched cramps out of my neck, and chatted with the passengers around me.

At one point I woke up to find, the Zimbabwean was no longer sitting beside me. In his place were a set of dirty sneakers. I followed them down a narrow passage way between the seats and found my neighbor sound asleep. Miraculously, another man slept beside him! How? I still cannot fathom.

It’s about then that I noticed the chicken. Yep. It crackled in protest each time the brakes squealed. She was close. Somewhere under foot.
    Sigh. I guess I was on the chicken bus after all.

My friends in Maputo (awaiting my arrival) texted in a fit at half past twelve in the morning. Why hadn’t I arrived? What was going on?

I was irritated to have to hop over two sleeping men, a chicken, and 6 bags of junk to reach the ticket master. But I made it.

-- “My friends are worried,” I informed him. “When do you think we’ll arrive?”
-- “We are going... we are going.... “ he mumbled with a faux-smile and diverted eyes.
-- “I know we are going. I can see we are going,” I answered irritably. “My question’s not if we are going but when we expect to arrive. I need to give my friends an answer.”

More maddening teethy grins, shifty eyes, and mumbles.

-- “What? I can’t hear you,” I continued, obviously not impressed. “When? When!? When do we arrive?”

When I realized it wasn’t my accent or lack of Portuguese vocabulary that silenced this fool, I pushed him aside and crawled my way over to the driver.

-- “Your ticket master does not know when we’ll arrive,” I complained. “Can you tell me?’
-- “We’ll arrive soon,” he said a little too quickly.
-- “Soon?” I interjected. “We are already 5 hours late! When will we arrive?”
-- “We are near the city....”
-- “I can see that. I want to know how many kilometers we have to go. I need to inform my taxi driver when to pick me up.”
-- “It’s only 25 kilometers more.”
-- “And how fast are we driving?” I pushed for more answers. “It feels like we are driving 10 kilometers an hour. How fast are we going?”

I tried to look over his dash but it was not lit. I was tired, hungry, and clearly not able to do even simple math in my head... so why I bothered to badger him about this baffles me. But I did.

He never did tell me how fast we were going but insisted it would be only 45 minutes more.

He was wrong.

We didn’t arrive until 2 a.m.

But by then, even the on-call taxi drivers weren’t picking up their phones and the city buses were powered down for the night. How was I going to get to the guest house?

When the bus finally parked for the last time, I shouldered my backpack and hurdled toward the door. The ticket master had it barely untied and I was out like a flash.

Two taxis waited nearby. I’d have to take my chances with unknowns. It wasn’t my first choice, but it was what God supplied. So I prayed and picked the face with the kindest eyes.

-- “I need to go ____,” I told him as I settled into the back seat. “How much do you charge to go there?”

He gave me a price and I haggled.
-- “That’s too much. The price should be lower.”
-- “But you are paying more... because of the hour,” he reasoned.
Smiling at his obvious logic, I nodded that it was fine. And he drove on.

The problem was, I was not completely at ease. I was alone in a cab, in a strange city, with a guy I did not know, and a lot of cash in my pocketbook.
        What could possibly go wrong here?

I prayed as we rode down empty streets and through construction detours. I didn’t recognize the route he was taking, and I asked him about it nervously.

-- “Why are we going this way?”
-- “The other street is blocked off with construction,” he offered with a polite smile. I’m sure he could sense my frayed nerves.
-- “I don’t know this road... are you sure we are in the right neighborhood?
-- “Yes... this is where you need to go.”

He was patient with me. I was frazzled. And by God’s grace, my fears were in vain.

But once at the guest house, no one answered the buzzer. I knew they were expecting me... but no one came to the door. I rang twice, saw curtains move, lights blink on, but still no one opened for me.

I asked the cab driver to wait with me (as the guest house isn’t in a very safe neighborhood for 2:30 in the morning) and he did.

Bless him.

We chatted about world cup results and I stamped my feet in the cold.

Eventually, the guard popped around a bush, key in hand, and opened the gate for me.

The next morning, I learned that the guard was fast asleep and was the only one with the gate key. The guesthouse staff had to first find him, then wake him out of a dead sleep before he could let me in.


The  journey continues... but my eyes are drooping. To sleep, I go.

More to come.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

First Step.

A journey of a thousand miles always starts with that first step.

And my journey --of opening this clinic in Moz-- has begun.


The first step is complete.

I have the signature! (And I did not have to pay a bribe to get it!!!!)

I can open!

As I look back over all the waiting, praying, pushing, and crying I’ve done in the process of taking this first step, I’m both horrified and relieved.

I knew starting a work in Moz would not come easily. But with God’s promises that it would (eventually) come, I held on.

I’d be lying if I said that through these long, strange months my faith was always strong.

More often than not, I was shaken.

I have been discouraged... and often frustrated.

        Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!

But now as I lift my other foot and stretch it in faith for the next step, my heart soars in gratitude.

        Praise Him! He is faithful!

He guides my steps. He goes before me and behind. He surrounds me in His love!

So what now?

Great question.

Now I have to take 4 more steps.

  1. I need a document called an AVORA, which will allow me to purchase medicines for the clinic. (I started this process today!)
  2. Then I need to restart my ‘equivilencia’ process which will allow me to legally practice as a midwife. (I’ll have to go back to Maputo for this... pray for the right timing.)
  3. I’ll also need to start actively interviewing nurses and putting ads on the radio station for interviews. (I’m not sure when to do this. Pray for wisdom!)
  4. Lastly, I’ll need to finish all the unfinished construction projects at the clinic to make it inspection worthy. (Because this takes SO LONG, I’m starting this process today. I will be interviewing a new construction crew to help me complete it faster. Pray for discernment and enough funds for the projects.)

Thank you awesome prayer warriors! Thank you faithful friends! Thank you!

Keep praying.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

My Papers.

This week has been ... well... interesting.

To say the least.

I went to Maputo in search of answers. My papers. I needed my papers. The broken record in my head stutters over these two simple words.

My papers.

You, who have followed my adventures these last few months, know well that I’m in need of My Papers to open the clinic. But I have not explained what it means and why it’s so important.

Forgive me for that.

Now is the time to explain.

I’ll try to be brief.

Last October, it dawned me that I’d have to get my midwifery degree approved in Mozambique in order to practice. So I stumbled through the paperwork process, trying to decipher the litany of stamps, translations, and certifications needed to submit it.

My Portuguese was not as good then ( 6 months ago), and I was uncertain as to how to proceed. But I eventually mustered through them.

However as I tried to submit them locally, the Minister of Education encouraged me to instead go directly to the source --Maputo.

“Everything is done in Maputo”, he said looking highly distracted. “You’ll save months of waiting if you do it there.”

Why? Was he just too lazy to help? Or was he right?

I wasn’t sure. But I decided to believe him and so sent my documents with a friend to Maputo.

But once in Maputo, my friend was scolded for having done them wrong and was informed they’d have to be redone to include an even longer list of criteria.

So I went back to the drawing board, reworked them, and then submitted them again. But this time I went in person.

Unfortunately, I’d lost a good month in the process.

But even after re-working them like mad, I’d apparently done it wrong again. I had to stay several days running around Maputo finding even more stamps, photocopies, and signatures.

Not easy.

(Since I was at it, I decided to get both my diplomas recognized and submitted my Theology degree alongside my Midwifery degree.)

After a number of days, they finally accepted my documents, instructing me to return in a week to follow up.

-- “Really?”, I asked in excitement. “They’ll be done in a week?”

The woman behind the counter looked at me like I’d been hit with the stupid stick more than once and hissed lowly, “No. But come back anyway. We might have problems with your application and need you to fix it.”

-- “But I live 17 hours drive away,” I pleaded. “I cannot come back next week.”

Not even trying to hide her annoyance, she suggested: “Just stay in a hotel then, and come back next week.”

-- “Hotels are too expensive...” I argued on stupidly, “I’m a missionary. I cannot afford to live in Maputo for a week only to be told if my application is correct or not. Can’t you give me a number to call so I can follow up from my province?”

Sighing in a deeper annoyance than before she spat, “No!”, adding tersely, “You’ll just have to come back in a month!” Then she quickly turned her gaze to the woman standing behind me, stack of papers in hand, and asked, “Neeexxxt?”

I left a bit dismayed by her attitude, grumbling the words “Functionary!” under my breath. But I couldn’t help but feel relieved. After two months of sweating over these documents, they were finally submitted!

A month went by... and I returned to check on the papers.

The 17 hour bus ride there was not easy. Cramped. Hot. Stinky. But I made it back to this nation’s capital intact and ready for anything.

Well... almost anything.

I didn’t know I was so doggedly optimistic about getting approved, until I walked into the same small office and found the same disgruntled functionary behind the desk.

When she told me that neither of my degrees had been decided on yet and that I should come back in another month, I balked.

This was during a time of rebel activity and it had been unsafe for me to travel by bus in the first place. Rebels were bombing vehicles along one stretch of the road... and I could not keep coming back only to be told to wait... and wait some more.

-- “Can’t you, please, just give me a number to call?” I begged. Then I explained the distance and insecurities of travel for a single woman.

She seemed more inclined to help me this time. And after some deliberation, finally agreed to give me the number for their office.

I thanked her, then left that night. The 17 hours it took for me to return was starting to get a bit easier. I made friends along the way. I took in the sights. I was even able to sleep sitting up.

But once back home each time I called to follow up, no one answered the phone. This went on for weeks... a month.

Finally, frustrated and annoyed now, I returned once again to Maputo.

When I walked into the cramped office for a third time in so many months, I was deeply annoyed that the woman seemed smug. She asked a bit haughtily, “Aren’t you the one from Chimoio?”

-- “Yes. That’s me,” I said trying to keep the distain from my voice.
-- “Why are you here?” she asked pleasantly. “I thought you were going to call? Didn’t you say last time it was unsafe for you to travel?”
-- “Yes. It is unsafe to travel... but I didn’t have any choice,” I explained. “Each time I called, the phone just rang and rang. Then after some time, it said that it was not connected.”
-- “That can’t be,” she protested. “You must have been dialing the wrong number.”

I repeated the number to her and she nodded that it was correct, looking confused.

Another woman, sitting further back behind stacks of folders popped her head around to throw in her two cents. “It must be your phone,” she argued. “Try calling it now.”

I did as I was asked and my phone flashed once again that it was an invalid number. I showed it to her, not hiding my smug expression. Did she really think I didn’t know how to make a call?

Then I watched her pick up the phone, switch it on underneath, then insist I call it again. I did what she asked and found the number rang.


The phone of a whole department had been turned off --literally turned off!-- for a month.

Oh! Mozambique!

Okay... okay.... I know I’m taking a bit longer than I expected. I guess I have more to say than I realized.

Please bare with me. I have more... but not much.

Long story short, I was informed once again that my papers had not been done and that I’d have to return. But this time, they gave me two numbers to dial instead of one.

Dejected and more than a little frustrated, I journeyed home to once again report nothing had been done.

But by this time my relationship with local Ministry of Health official was better, and he decided to help me push this through.

So when it came time to call again for a answers, he called for me.

But would you believe it... both numbers they gave me were false! Neither worked even though his secretary called every few hours for two days.

He did not seem surprised.

-- “You’ll just have to go back again,” he told me with a sad shake of his head.
-- “Really?” I sighed. “There is no way for you to get different numbers?” I knew I was reaching, but I had to ask.
-- “Nope,” he sighed back with genuine sympathy, “Sorry...”
-- “Okay... but what can I do differently?” I asked desperately, “Can you offer any advice?”

He hesitated, rocked back on his chair, then smiled. “Yes, I can offer you some advice.”

Then he quickly explained the ‘White skin factor’ of such delays and encouraged me to get the secretaries’ boss involved. The plan was simple. Go over their heads... but do it politely.

Bus trip number four.

Still cramped. Still stinky. Still hot. But somehow easier... almost routine.

This final time was earlier this week. I managed my trip so I could walk in to the cramped office bright and early on Monday morning.

The functionaries were rushing about and obviously busier than usual. Once it was my turn, I was told to wait a bit while they searched for my file.

I waited... and waited.

And waited.

I wasn’t annoyed though as I could see they were systematically flipping through a long wall of file cabinets, and asking others to help search.

An hour went by and she finally called me up to the desk.
-- “Your file is lost,” she almost whispered.
-- “Lost?” I asked incredulously, cocking my eyebrow up for emphasis.
-- “Please give us today to keep searching,” she pleaded in hushed tones. “If you give me your number, I’ll call you once it’s found.”

I gave her my number out of curtesy never once believing she’d call. Then I added, “But either way, I’ll be here tomorrow morning for my file.” The warning in my voice was clear.
She nodded gravely and I left.

The next morning, I arrived to find that they had not even searched again. Asked to take a seat and wait, I watched two men slowly make their way through folders stacked in clumsy piles amid battered boxes.

Another hour went by.

And I prayed and prayed....

Sometimes I prayed that my files would be found.... but mostly I prayed that I would not reach over the desk and gouge out the functionary’s dark eyes.

Yes. I know. Not very kind of me. But true.

I didn’t want to shame Jesus by even using a harsh tone in my voice.... so I guess it’s a good thing I had an hour to pray!

Eventually, I heard her call for ‘Stephan’ (most Mozambicans forget to add the last syllable) and I jerked my head up in response. Our eyes met and she called me over.

-- “This is one response,” she said dryly, handing me a stamped paper. “You’ll have to sign here,” she added, pointing to the top of the page, “to say that you’ve received it.”

My heart jumped. Was this it? Had I finally done it?!

My eyes scanned the paper.... something didn’t seem right. So I read it quickly, my heart sinking as the bold script screamed denied.


I read it again. And again...

It was my Theology degree results. They refused to recognize it, claiming my school was not accredited.

“Hogwash!” I thought to myself but I didn’t say that. Instead, I nodded that I understood and signed where she had indicated.

I had been sure my Theology degree would be approved. Sure! The fact it hadn’t honestly frightened me. Could this be? Would they really deny my education? Not possible!

Once I calmed down a bit, I stared at her with determination until she met my eyes again. She looked uncomfortable. Really uncomfortable.

I think she expected some kind of argument.

But I didn’t argue. I didn’t really care about my Theology degree. What mattered was my midwifery degree. What were the results there?

-- “What about my other degree?” I asked flatly.
-- “They are not done yet.”
-- “Not done?” I asked incredulously. “But it has been over four months!”

She looked dejected but somehow also sorry for me, then said, “I don’t know, Senhora.”

A long pregnant pause.

She made no effort to explain or apologize further so I leaned in closer.

-- “Very well,” I said calmly, “In that case, I’ll need to speak with your boss.” This is what my minister friend had instructed me to do.

She didn’t even bat an eyelash. Instead she nodded gravely, called an office assistant over, and instructed him to take me to the boss immediately.

Ten minutes later I was sitting at the boss’ desk, appealing for help. At first he seemed irritated with my requests for aid, but with time his frosty demeanor warmed.

-- “Please, Senhor,” I pleaded. “I really need your help... four months for an answer seems too long. Something is wrong.”

He hesitated, seemingly puzzled as to what to do, so I waited for him to think it through. But even then, he flipped it back on to me.

-- “What should I do?” he asked innocently. I honestly wanted to laugh in response. Was he really asking me how to do his job?



I told him what I thought was to be done. He listened kindly. I continued on, detailing possibilities and options. He thought about them, distractedly shuffling papers about his desk.

Then I sat silently and waited.

A few minutes later, a decision was made and he enthusiastically went about getting it done.

First it started with curt orders to the secretaries. “Write this and that! Sign it there!”

Then it was fruitless phone calls to the other departments. “Why don’t they answer? Call again!”

Then it was long explanations of detailed plans to make it happen, all his secretaries listening intently and nodding deferentially.

Finally, he turned to me and promised answers the following day.

I thanked him and left.

But the following day, the secretaries barely looked at me entering before they called for another office assistant to take me to the Boss.

This was not looking good. The dread in my stomach ate acidly up my throat.


Was this going to be another denial? Would I have nothing to show for this 6 months of labor but a bad story? Really?

Once in his office, I tried to smile but failed. I could only coax my lips to press in a tight straight line -- the dread barely caged behind my teeth.

Before he spoke, he shook his head in disgust almost as if in warning. A full minute passed while he busied himself with a stack of papers needing signatures.

I waited silently, not trusting my teeth to hold back the dread.

But when he spoke, I was relieved to learn that I was not denied --not yet at least. No.... in fact, it was more a matter of incompetence. And he was not happy to admit one of his departments had dropped the ball.

-- “Senhora Stephanie,” he started, “The paper was sent to the medical university for approval.” I nodded. He continued, “They didn’t know what to do with it and refused to decide.” I nodded on but a look of confusion clouded my eyes and furrowed my brow.

-- “What do you mean?” I asked.

-- “They referred your degree to the specialist department of the medical university for review. But they never actually took it there. So... it’s been sitting on someone’s desk for over a month and a half. Just sitting there!”

I was flattered by the indignant tone in his voice. He seemed as upset about it as I was. They had obviously dropped the ball.

-- “I’ve managed to get it sent to the right department yesterday, but you’re going to need to push it from Chimoio.”

I listened, nodding periodically. He spoke so quickly and used such high Portuguese that I was at a loss several times. Fortunately, his irritation caused him to repeat himself often. Eventually, I got it.

He instructed me on the best way to proceed, but it requires lots of favor. Lots. This is where you all come in. I need your prayers.

I am now back in Chimoio, and tomorrow I head in to speak with my friend at the Ministry of Health. I have to ask him to get involved again, but this time I need him to do more than make phone calls.

I’m not sure what he’ll say. Frankly, I’m worried. We have a good relationship, but I now have to ask him to send a delegate from the Min. of Health in Maputo to lean on the Min. of Education medical department in Maputo.

This apparently is the only way it’ll happen. Sigh.

But more than that... the hang up seems to be more about me being “Just” a midwife. I need his delegate to explain what an expert midwife is. They don’t have a category for one here it would seem. And I need to ask them to make a new category.

I might as well be asking for the moon.

If not, the likelihood of me being denied is high. Too high for my comfort.

My heart doesn’t know what to think. My brain just turns circles. My body would like to scream... or maybe run away screaming.

Yeah. That.

I want to run away screaming while my head turns and my heart bursts silently.

Okay... that might be a bit much. Actually, I’m mostly at peace... with periodic bouts of panic.

If you would... if you would only please, pray for:
-- My relationship with the Min. of Health to be strong enough for me to ask for the moon.
-- My diploma to be approved as is... or a new category to be made for me if need be.
-- For this labyrinth of paperwork to finally come to a close. I’m dizzy from all the blind alleys and dead ends.


I love you awesome prayer warriors!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Urgent Prayer.

Tonight I take a bus to Maputo. The goal? My papers (equivalencia) needed to open the clinic. They are still not ready and the secretaries at the ministry of education have quite literally turned off their phone. There is no way to check up on them, except in person.

I'm sick of waiting and waiting...

While discussing this long delay with our local minister of health recently, he clearly explained they were waiting for a bribe.

-- "They see your white skin and think, 'If I hold on to her papers, she'll have to pay up!'", adding with clear disappointment in his voice, "It should take no longer than 15 day."

-- "Fifteen days? Really?" I asked with incredulity, remembering how the secretaries were adamant it could take a few months. I've been waiting for four months already.

-- "Yes," he went on to explain. "By law, it should be only 2 weeks."

-- "What should I do? They aren't answering the phone... even for you?" I pleaded.

-- "You must go in person, ask to see their director, and not leave until it is arranged. I'm sure it's sitting in their desk drawer."  He then detailed the kind of formal request needed to follow up on such incompetence. He was clear and specific -- so much so that I feel encouraged.

So tonight I start my journey South. Please pray with me for favor... much favor. Please ask God to release these papers and allow me to open the clinic. Please pray for my words and my body language to be kind when I know it's just corruption and greed I face.

We fight not against flesh and blood, right?

Please fight with me in prayer. Much prayer.

I'll keep you posted.

City Market...

The murky puddled road forced the crowd to line up and slowly hop --ginger footed-- from muddy patch of squishiness to oozing mound of trash.

Peaking up now and again to take in the mass of bright bins and bobbles tucked tightly under rickety stands still dripping from the morning rains, I marched on with them passing neatly stacked Chinese soap atop cigarettes and phone chargers.

Pushing past the young boy selling plastic bags and the woman underfoot selling piles of peanuts from bamboo baskets, I found myself in ‘Tennis Shoe’ plaza.

Used sneakers and Keds, scrubbed and polished until painfully bright under the noon sun, sat high on wooden pallets waiting for the next shoeless Joe to come ‘buy’.

Three large women with highly oiled mocha skin, watched me with interest from the alley over.
-- “Come and buy from us... blankets? Baby clothes?” one called over the din. 
-- “Ya! Come sista!” another offered, “Look!”

I tried to ignore them, sneaking my sunglasses higher on the bridge of my nose, as if this would hide me. But hiding is not so easy; this pale, freckled face cannot be hid by glasses.

Instead, I hopped over to the third alley, turning instinctively left into the shade. The afternoon heat chased me deeper in until the open-air alleys morphed into concrete stands, sporting poorly painted bars pushed back for business.

Each over-stuffed stand pedaled more wares, but I couldn’t see much until my pupils adjusted. I was evidently now in ‘Electronic alley’.

Old VCRs stacked precariously upon dated T.V.s, each blared out competing channels at the highest volumes possible. I sped past the yelling boxes only to find myself assaulted by more.

Deftly hidden radios screamed from blown speakers under a table of pirated movies, carefully sandwiched in individual clear pochettes.

Despite the crackled screaming urging me on, I hesitated to inspect the wares. Dozens of faded photos of obscure ‘B’ movies compiled in multi-movie deals waited my approval. Only 3 dollars.

I smiled and turn quickly away before the vendor made eye contact. I didn’t want to have to scream my disinterest over the neighboring stalls.

The angry noise chased me on... and on. Speeding forward as fast as my soaked sandals would take me, I suddenly found myself free.


I stood for a moment --squinting again in the glaring light and concentrating on quieting my heart. It raced chaotically in my chest.

I had to take two deep breaths before I could move on... and before the blood racing in my ears finally slowed.

Leaving the broken speakers around a bend, I zigzagged backwards down another alley.

Bottles of badly stored white wines and suspicious looking brandies lined the whole right side. So, I trained my eyes on the left.

Sadly, there was not much to see. More neatly stacked pallets, selling hair bands, tooth paste, and hair extensions.

I walked on half-heartedly focusing on the state of my shoes more than the shops until two large, neatly polished pool tables caught my eye.

They seemed somehow out of place.

A handful of young men --pool sticks mid-shot-- stopped to silently survey my passing. As I finally turned the corner, I could hear them snickering loudly.

Perhaps, I was the one out of place. 

This new alley was immediately different. Narrower than the rest, it forced me to line up in a slow moving conveyor belt of flesh. On mass, we weaved down it slowly, trying not to knock anything over.

Just over the shoulder of the woman in front of me, I could see a heavy set woman washed rice off plates in two sudsy buckets. Further on, another woman grilled chicken wings over low glowing coals. She had to fan them with cardboard to keep them hot.

More puddles. More holes.

I inched on to come face to face with a man, his face unmasked with surprise, scrubbing pots. Another man, crouched low on his heels, eyes downcast, looked to be sleeping... or passed out. He didn’t move at all when I stepped gingerly over his outstretched legs.

The noon-day grumble in my belly begged me to stay --to enjoy the chicken-- but no one welcomed me with their eyes. So, I walked on, immediately missing the delicious aromas as a slight breeze carried them off.

I hesitated at the end of the alley. I wasn’t sure if I had already passed this way. But as I stood dully at the alley exit, the conveyor belt continued to spit out person after person behind me.

They excused themselves politely as they passed, even though I was the one being rude.


I looked left but it didn’t seem promising. Boarded up and empty, it seemed ominous for some reason. I looked right and noticed that the human flow of flesh seemed to be moving that way.

I followed.

But the crowd emptied me back into ‘Tennis Shoe’ plaza and so I stopped again. I didn’t want it to end. I wasn’t ready to leave.

So I turned around, searching the cul-de-sac carefully for something. Anything.

A capulana (traditional cloth) shop, tucked off to one side, caught my eye. I’d missed it on my first pass.

Sauntering up, I searched the hanging fabrics for turquoise material. I had clinic curtains to make.

A lovely turquoise and white capulana jumped out and beckoned me to speak.

-- “The blue and white one... Can I see it?” I asked the expectant face in the shade.

He pulled it free from the shelf and unfolded it carefully. A smile on his face. The pattern was inviting, accented with a swerving splash of brown. I loved it immediately but twisted my lower lip in hesitation.

-- “Do you have any rolls of this material... ones that are not already cut?” I asked, feigning disinterest. 

At the prospect of selling so much, he eagerly patted the stacks of fabric but did not find what he needed.

-- “Wait one second...” he gently instructed with another smile, then disappeared into the back.

Returning quickly, clearly pleased with his efforts, he held out a neatly folded pile of brown, turquoise, and white.


I smiled my delight, pulling out my wallet. The deal was sealed.

Material now stuffed in the oversized purse I carried, I ventured slowly back out of the market. I was sad it was at its end.... I missed the buzz and the smells. I missed the bright bobbles and muddy alleys. And my stomach sadly missed the chicken.

But mostly, I was sad because I’d left my camera at home.

I’d be back. And next time, I’d be ready.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

These days...

These past few weeks have flown by in a flash. The workers I hired are indeed working out well and as a result the clinic... and most importantly the chicken project... is well under way.

On that topic, I'm happy to say the chickens should arrive in a week and a half. I confess, I'm a bit nervous; I'm told they are a bit temperamental to raise. I guess we'll see if this is true. In time.

The clinic was making leaps and bounds... but now it's inching forward. This is due in no small part to the fact the electricity has been out for days.

It's surprising how many activities require electricity to complete!
The ceiling tiles can't be hung, because we need the drill.
The wood for the ceiling can't be cut, because the saw needs juice. 
The curtains for the clinic can't be sown, since the sowing machine is electric.
The curtain rods... also need the drill... etc. etc.
You get the idea. 

The worst part for me is the pump can't run, which means we have no clean water. Plus, the open well was left uncovered and a bunch of frogs died in it.

Yep. Dead frogs floating in it.

Fortunately, the same storm that knocked out the electrical transformer in the region, has been sitting over us for four days. So this means we have rain water... it's just full of leaves and the like.

That means my dishes and clothes have been washed in rain water. The toilets are flushed with rain water. And soon, once I get stinky enough, I'm going to wash this mud-crusted body as well. I just hate the thought of being so cold!

Truly, I'm starting to think I'm allergic to the cold!

Pray the electricity gets sorted soon. Thanks!