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.