Team Leader: Sandy McDonald, Registered Nurse
Team Type: Plastic Surgery – Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate
Campaign Summary: The team triaged 400-500 patients (mostly children) and operated on around 60 of them.
Friends of Sandy McDonald — Portland, Oregon
Operation of Hope — Lake Forest, California
Sandy McDonald, Nurse
Ten Other Medical Personnel Associated with Operation of Hope
By: Sandy McDonald, Registered Nurse
Friday – July 15, 2011
There are twelve days until I leave. My “to do” list is getting smaller. I have a pile of supplies the size of Mt. Hood. I will learn how to post my blog on Facebook soon.
Saturday – July 23, 2011, One of These, 200 of Those.
Well, the Mt. Hood pile is now neatly packed into two heavy duffel bags – one weighing 53 pounds and the other one 60 pounds. May Lufthansa look kindly upon me and the mission to Zimbabwe. (There is typically a 50 pound limit for suitcases!) Five days and counting. Thanks to Jane, Clare and Rozina for helping do the inventory and packing.
Wednesday – July 27, 2011 Departure Day
After packing two heavily laden medical bags and one small personal carry-on and checking and re-checking, I will head to the airport shortly. Zimbabwe bound after 36 hours of traveling. This year’s route takes me from Portland to San Francisco to Munich to Johannesburg and finally Harare arriving Friday at 12:24 pm.
It is such a privilege to be invited into the world of other cultures in Zimbabwe. The trick on return visits is to leave yourself open to surprises. Last year there was such a sense of wonder at seeing Africa for the first time. The unexpected came in the form of a seven year old boy named Tinotenda or Tino for short. (picture 1) I fell hard in love with this little boy. Many of you know I am hopeless when it comes to children, so it was not difficult. What will this trip bring? What will our challenges be? Whose path will I cross? The first 12 days my colleagues and I will be in Harare Central Children’s Hospital. I then will visit Tinotenda for a few days in the L’Arche community he is living in. Then it will be off to Makumbi Mission, the Jesuit Mission in rural Zimbabwe. It includes a high school, primary school and a children’s home for about 110 orphans. I will spend about two weeks volunteering there. Then making the “Oh so long” journey across the pond back to the USA. Tune in for updates!
Friday – July 29, 2011 Arrived Safe and Sound
So I’m just saying Africa is very far away and it is not Kansas Toto. Smooth sailing, all flights left on time and arrived on time. For some unknown reason, I am wide awake, go figure. The team separated out stuff by function. We will set up tomorrow and do screening on Sunday.
Saturday – July 30, 2011 0100 Dark Hundred Day 1
Well, it is 0300, which is a bit early (but only an hour earlier than I rise in Portland). I arrived in Zimbabwe yesterday around 12:20 pm safe and sound and strangely not very tired???
It took a very long time to get my visa and get through customs. Unfortunately, one duffel bag did not make it yet. The director recommended we do not say we are a medical team, hence, NO POKER FACE SANDY was asked to lie. The customs officer, I’m sure knew that the 67 pound duffel was not all clothes. I thought I was toast, but he waived me on.
We are staying again at York Lodge, a very nice place. I have already been making the rounds hugging the “help”. Zimbabweans are so kind and gracious. When the sun rises, four of us will head out for a morning walk, return for breakfast and then head over to Harare Central Hospital to begin the M.A.S.H. set up.
Sunday – July 31, 2011 Screening Day – Tino and First Day of Surgery
We hit the deck running today, up at 0600. A great breakfast buffet. Then we piled into the trucks and vans. We arrived to an empty waiting room. The emptiness scared all of us. We thought for a moment we had traveled very far for nothing. But the Zimbabwe staff had relocated the prospective patients and families to another location. We divided and conquered – some of us were working in screening clinic and some of us were finishing the set up. My obsessive compulsive disorder drove me to the PACU to make sure it was set up the “Sandy” way. As mission trips in developing countries go, things just don’t work, i.e. no functioning suction machines, which translates into taking a 20cc syringe and hand suctioning. The wall oxygen had no pressure so it cannot fill a Jackson Reese bag. To the lay reader, this means most of my emergency equipment is non-functional.
The screening days always turn up some interesting cases, so today, no exception. We identified two toddlers with wide open PDA (holes in their hearts, which never closed from birth). So we were unable to do their cleft and palate repairs. Unfortunately, there is nowhere in Zimbabwe for poor babies with heart conditions, so things don’t look good for these kids.
The highlight of the day was going down to L’Arche Zimbabwe to visit Tinotenda. For those of you who did not follow last’s blog (you can look at his story as it developed last year) Tino is a boy who was abandoned at the hospital at three months. We encountered Tino at the hospital last year. He was in a crib in a room by himself. I fell in love with him and made it a habit to visit him each day. As time went on, I inquired about the long term plan for Tino and learned that he could be cared for until he was 18, but then he would be turned out to the street. Tino would have died or been abused if left on his own. This reality was unfathomable to me. So long story made short, Tino moved into the L’Arche Community on November 17.
Sunday afternoon after our screening day, I went down and saw Tino in his new home. Three other team members from last year joined me. Jess who is a news journalist for CNN International filmed the occasion for me to have as a memory. As we walked across the path, we were greeted by Tino standing at the window gazing out, a scene we witnessed many times last year at the hospital. As we continued on, he let a screech of excitement out. I, of course, burst into tears upon seeing him. This surprised the visitors, but no one seemed afraid and also excited the other children. I held my hand out to see if Tino felt comfortable coming closer. Soon he was greeting all of us and pulling us one by one into the room. One of the assistants suggested that he show us his room. He took my hand and walked down the hall until we came to his room and he sat us down on his bed. He then showed me the chapel which had many African drums and instruments. I would drum and he would follow – it was a heart wrenching and heartwarming visit. I so look forward to a longer visit when the medical mission has completed.
Monday – August 1, 2011 How Did That Happen?
We had our first day of surgery. (pictures 2 and 3) We got through it and had our fair share of bumps in the road. Bottom line, all the patients did well. We had a fire. At first, we were told the roof was on fire and though the operating room and PACU filled with smoke, the fire was outside in the grass. We had to stop operating in one operating room for an emergency bowel resection, a 4 hour delay. Needless to say, we operated late, with no complaints from families. They are so grateful to have the opportunity to get surgery. Our first case was cancelled because we could not intubate as the baby. It had a tracheal stenosis airway. There were two stressful recoveries complicated by my lack of Shone language skills. We left the hospital at 9:45 pm. My blood sugar bottomed out at 8:00 pm and I was shaking like a leaf�and maybe just a little cranky. But the good news, my luggage came. Yahoo! Intact with nothing stolen!! Now I have scrubs and food and a few other things as well. Peace out from Zimbabwe!
Tuesday – August 2, 2011 Sandy’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU)
Well, many systems fell into place on Day 2, as they frequently do. We did get bumped for an emergency appendectomy, which is legit. No fires and things went smoothly. I did have a 6 hour recovery which really translates into SANDY’S PICU. Prior to going to the Zimbabwe version of the Intensive Care Unit, my little 4 months old patient with a cleft lip definitely had an upper respiratory infection brewing. He had a huge plug during surgery which actually prompted an early removal of his breathing tube. He was impossible to wean off oxygen and ended up in the ICU. Mom looked scared, but even with a Shona interpreter, it was difficult to explain what was happening. He was doing well when we left the hospital at 19:30. The baby looked like he was seeing a ghost. I’m sure I was the first white person he had ever seen. Pretty bad, since I kept pinching him much of the time to keep him breathing. I’m sure his mom thought I was a crazy woman because I was making her baby cry, or throwing him over my knee and banging on his back. All in a day’s work in Zimbabwe! I’m tired in a good way, long days but good work!
Wednesday – August 3, 2011 Water Boarding PACU Style
I felt like I spent many hours torturing beautiful African children into breathing. I was pinching and flicking their cute little feet. I’m sure they have been scarred for life and will never trust another white person again with good reason, not to mention what the moms are thinking as I somehow think it’s a good idea that their babies cry.
My little guy from yesterday was still in PICU with a full blown pneumonia, but the three doctors who thought they were staying the night with this baby, just came home so he has improved. Another 6:30 am till 9:30 pm day. We are all feeling the long days. This is when I realize, I am not 20 something any more.
Week 1 Stories For 5 Days and a Weekend – Lite Reading
The pace of this year has prevented me from daily posts. We worked over 72 hours in 5 days. Each day produced some excitement or a heart rendering story.
Day 1 – We had a fire outside which filled the recovery room and operating rooms with smoke. We had to abort a surgery because we were unable to intubate (get a breathing tube) in a baby whose airway was stenosed.
Day 2 – My little baby who most likely had some kind of upper respiratory infection brewing during pre-op developed a full blown pneumonia. He remains in the quasi intensive care unit. The poor little guy is breathing 50-60 times a minute, has sternal retractions and cannot keep his O2 levels above 90 on 4 1iters of oxygen.
Day 3- “Life”, “God knows”, “Wonder”, “Perfect” all names of children we have cared for this week. It is common in Zimbabwe to name children a name that describes an event or feeling of the moment. So a mom named her son “Life” because she did not think he would survive. She had never seen a baby with a cleft lip and palate. Her village believed the mother and child were possessed so they were ostracized.
Day 4 – Kenny presented himself to our team last year in October. He had a softball size lipoma (fatty tumor) on the back and side of his neck. We were unable to do his surgery last year due to severe high blood pressure. So he returned after eight months of triple drug therapy, still with a very high blood pressure. The team decided to proceed using local numbing and conscious sedation. Kenny was so happy. He said, “I will finally be able to sleep laying on my back.”
Day 5 – My little guy still remains in PICU. We changed his antibiotics, and are still doing chest percussion and albuterol treatments. Another little guy, 5 years old, comes for palate repair and also has 3+ tonsils which causes airway obstruction. He had a hard recovery which lasted five hours. He did fine in the end.
Some much needed R & R. Ten of the 18 member team headed off to Victoria Falls for the weekend. (pictures 4 and 5) We hired a pilot and chartered a plane to Victoria Falls. I am not a fan of flying. It reminded me of my days in Alaska and flying in small planes only with white knuckles for take-off and landing. The pilot buzzed the Falls three times. What a spectacular view! After we landed, we walked along the Falls’ edge for about a mile. Then we headed off for an evening game drive and dinner.
Sunday morning we went on a sunrise Elephant ride. (picture 6) ELEPHANTS are freaking big especially when you are on top of them. Our elephant was named Tattoo; she was the matriarch so she took up the rear. I only freaked out when she decided to kneel down unexpectedly and eat a tree. This was followed by a walk with the lions. (picture 7) We went to a lion conservation program where the lions go through a four stage re-entry program to get them back into the wild. It’s an attempt to increase the numbers of lions in Africa. We walked with a brother and sister for an hour. OH Wow! This was so cool. They were 14 months old and about 90 kg. The feet were already 6-7 inches wide – NO KIDDING. In the next stage, they will have no human contact, then increased wild life conditions and competition for prey, and finally re-introduced into the wild.
Friday – August 12, 2011 Tinotenda’s New Life
From 3 months old until 7 years old Tino spent life in the ward of Harare Central Hospital. In late November, he moved into an L’Arche community. While at the hospital he mostly lived in a crib in a room by himself. Now he has made amazing strides. In just 8 months, he now feeds himself using a spoon. He is mostly potty trained. He can walk without assistance and can follow simple commands and has developed some routines. Today, after finishing his Sadza for breakfast, he brought his bowl to the sink to be washed. When another child had dropped a spoon, he noticed it and picked up and place it in the sink as well. When I arrived today, the assistants and core members were filing out of the chapel and he saw me and came walking as fast as his legs would go and gave me a big old hug. His life is so much richer and who knows what potential he has. So yes, I have fallen love with him all over again.
Saturday – August 13, 2011 Simple Life of Makumbi
7:30 PM here now. A quiet day. I went to a wedding ceremony just to hear the music and find cute kids. A very cute 2 year old boy sat next to me. I put my hand out and he looked spooked, but his mother put his hand in mine. A bit later he fell asleep against me and I slipped my arm around him. His mom noticed that he was asleep and jerked him awake.
I spent most of the afternoon either chatting with a 16 year old orphan who cornered me for English conversation and shared his hopes and fears for the future. He already realizes that life after Makumbi looks dismal. He hopes somehow I could help him. In reality all I can do is encourage him to continue to work hard in school and dream of a future to work for.
There is a young couple here doing marriage preparation for their wedding in September. (picture 8) They too have been sharing about their lives and African traditions surrounding marriage. The husband to be, still pays a bride’s prize to the family of the bride. A concept pretty inconceivable to most of us in the U.S. It is usually money and a beast. Any acquired belonging the bride has, are given back to her family. I told them when I got married, we requested no gifts and that donations be made to a charity. They could not believe that.
I am mostly resting, taking walks, knitting and listening to folks tell their stories. I am again on the simple rural Zimbabwe diet: SADZA, SADZA, AND MORE SADZA. Sadza is a cornmeal mush and it is the staple food of Zimbabwe. Yum? Not so much, but while in Zimbabwe do as the Zimbabweans do.
Sunday – August 14, 2011 Rural Hospital
I walked over to the Makumbi Hospital, which is just outside the mission. (picture 9) It is like space travel, back in time, like pre-World War I. They refer to nurses as sisters here in Africa. There were two on duty and there were three patients. Outside, there are about four Tuberculosis huts for isolating patients. (picture 10) I definitely DO NOT WANT TO GET SICK HERE!
Brother Ben was talking to a mother outside of church today. She told him her four year old has blood in his urine. Ben is a nurse here at Makumbi mission. He was trying to convince the mom to take her son to the hospital. SCARY! Again it matters where on the Planet you land in life.
Monday – August 15, 2011 Pace of Life
I’m trying to adjust to having nothing to do. It’s difficult for an attention deficit disorder person. It’s good for me to slow down. There is plenty to reflect upon here in Zimbabwe. I’m struggling a bit with feeling guilty that I get to walk away and return to a luxury lifestyle. Many people in the States are puzzled by (1) that my lifestyle could be categorized as luxury because by U.S. standards, I life a pretty basic life and (2) my feeling guilty because more importantly for the fact that 90% of Zimbabweans, there is no way out. In the U.S., education is frequently a ticket out of poverty, but not so here. There is a failed economy and there are no jobs. There is 96% unemployment – a staggering statistic. Elections have been postponed, while an end to the current regime is desired, there is little hope of fair elections. Most of the talent of Zimbabwe has fled the country creating a huge refugee population and a void of professionals and brainpower. Industry is at a standstill and what will attract a company to invest in Zimbabwe? Even practical issues like electricity are a problem. Since leaving the hospital in Harare, the electricity has been out for at least part of every day. On Sunday, we had electricity for most of the day allowing me to take a hot shower. Some say there is limited capacity; others say it is political control. Yet, my encounters with the folks out here in rural Zimbabwe always involve me meeting kind and gentle people living a life they carve out of little resources. If you could only hear the singing and watch the swaying to the beat, you can feel the energy. I do not feel any threat here at the mission or surrounding villages. I know there are many places where I could be beat up or killed just because I am white. So the Zimbabweans come to me are orphans, teachers, or folks which come to the Makumbi Mission.
Exploring Zimbabwe is not a safe option. I do feel a bit captive, but even that is cause for reflection. The only things I can do is listen to peoples’ stories and respond at a very personal level to those I encounter with kindness and compassion. But even here in Makumbi, life is harsh. Two weeks before I arrived, one of the boys from the Children’s Home died. He had heart disease that sounded like a rheumatic heart disease with worsening congestive heart failure. The nurse here at the mission said he was receiving a penicillin injection once a month. He died in his room immediately after receiving this injection. Brother Ben is sure a mistake was made at the hospital and he died of anaphylactic shock. Another girl in grade 9 committed suicide. She had become pregnant and was afraid of her father’s reaction. Two lives lost. I also worry about the boy who is the father. Another boy has sever high blood pressure and is on five medications at 15 years and his treated blood pressure is 158/110. I’m not sure who decided what medications he should take or if a doctor even prescribed what he is taking.
Sorry if this is a downer Blog, but these are the realities of life here in Zimbabwe in which I am immersed.
Tuesday – August 16, 2011 I Live for Days like Today…
I met Chengerai and Angeline at Chengerai’s family home just outside the Makumbi Mission at 7:30 am. (picture 11) They were to be my guides up to the bushman cave about 6 km away. They just got married on Saturday so this was their honeymoon with the American. We had some good laughs.
First though, I was introduced to the whole family. Luckily, I have learned a few Shona greetings and was able to say good morning. It is a sign of respect to slightly bow and clap cupped hands together. There were about 15 people for me to greet. Chengerai kindly translated. It is such an honor to be invited into an African home. Most of the huts are about 20 feet in diameter with a cement floor and cement insides and brick exterior. There is one door and one window. The roof is thatched. In the center is an open fire for cooking and heat. (picture 12) It has a grill over the fire. A big pot of Sadza was cooking. There are no bathrooms so the great outdoors becomes a latrine. There is a wooden rack for drying dishes in the yard. The yard is fenced with barbed wire. The chickens, dog, and kids run freely. There is a separate often square building for sleeping.
We headed out on our 6 km walk and along the way at every hut, the people of the village greeted us. The last � mile was scrambling up a granite face and we crisscrossed until we reached the mouth of the cave. It is a long slit in the mountain. (pictures 13, 14, and 15) There were folks camped out holding devotions all night. They were burning a fire, which over time has covered the bushman paintings with carbon. The only visible paintings were at the mouth of the cave. So cool and painted in the Stone Age.
Above the cave, there is a huge cross in memory of a Jesuit priest who fell to his death in 1939. (I’m happy to say, I did not leave a cross behind!) I shared some American protein bars and organic fruit leather with my friends then headed down, which was much scarier than climbing up.
When we arrived back at their hut, they invited me in for tea and bread baked over the open fire. When the wind shifts and the smoke blows at you until your eyes and lungs burn, it can be very uncomfortable.
Tuesday is the night they have Mass in the Children’s Home. Picture 80 squirming 1-16 year olds crammed in your living room singing and swaying. There was a 2 year old near me, climbing, poking, and jabbing at anyone he could reach. The African sisters were glaring at his antics, I had all I could do not to bust out laughing.
Friday – August 19, 2011 500 Zimbabwe Youth – That’s Energy Makumbi 2011
500 youth from all across Zimbabwe descended upon Makumbi last evening. The singing and swaying and ENERGY was incredible. One has to place the hope of Zimbabwe in their hands. Zimbabwe once was considered the jewel of Africa. Its people are paralyzed by fear, yet the spirit of the common Zimbabwean person, especially the young is undeniable.
There has been a 17 year old man from England here since Tuesday. James is a delightful young man. (picture 16) One who comes from considerable privilege. Yet he made great connections with the kids. We accompanied seven kids from the orphanage to a hospital for their monthly check-up. They are all HIV+. (picture 17) James had the energy for fantastic games of keep away. James also joined me for dinner last evening with Polly. (picture 18) He was very touched by Polly’s recounting of her husband’s last days and proclamation of his love for Polly. James’s Granny as her refers to her, has connections to the Makumbi Mission.
James’ aunt, uncle and cousin, Luke, came today to retrieve him and take him back to Harare. His Aunt Debbie is the British Ambassador to Zimbabwe. She and her family just arrived one week ago for a three year appointment. You just never know whom you will run into for lunch in rural Zimbabwe.
Tomorrow I will spend the afternoon with the pre-school teacher I worked with last year. I stopped by earlier in the week and her two year old, Simba, told his Mom a “marungo” (white skin) stopped by and took a “FOTO”. I already feel my time at Makumbi slipping away.
Saturday – August 20, 2011 Barefoot Soccer and Cute Babies
I watched a village soccer match. There were only 11 guys, so there were no substitutes. They had incredible foot skills and were fast. Half of the players were barefoot!!
Sunday – August 21, 2011 – Water, Water Everywhere
Well, I thought it would be a fine idea to take a shower today. My first attempt was at 6:30 am and ended when no water came out of the faucet. Oh well. I went and made a brief internet connection, returned for breakfast, then made the second attempt. This turned out to be a bit more disastrous. The hot water knob came off in my hand. Since I was merely checking to see if water flowed, I was still fully dressed and fully soaked. I tried to no avail for 20 minutes to rethread the knob and washer back on. Then I went looking for a shut off valve. Otillia sent someone to help as water was shooting out of the wall. Drought season was about to begin. Moses was also unsuccessful, but Otillia did find the shut off. So I might not be invited back. Not to mention it is the third day without a shower. I am fitting right in.
Monday – August 22, 2011 Sweets, Goodbyes and a Drum
This morning I walked down to the small store just outside the Mission to buy some sweets. Yesterday at church my little friend, Ian, who is 2 years old, asked me in Shona for a sweet. A lollypop is 10 cents and I bought all 20. I headed to Chengerai and Angie’s hut. Chengerai’s mother, Mrs. Dzapasi, told me Ian was at the garden and she led me there. (picture 19) We walked through fields for about 15 minutes. The women were at the well washing clothes in large tubs. (picture 20) They will carry the wet clean clothes back to their huts on their heads.
Chengerai and I went down to his family’s garden where he picked greens for lunch. (picture 21) They are very lucky since the well never dries even in the hot season. We then crossed over to his mother’s garden. The cows had broken through the gate and eaten most of her greens. She is 60 and two years older than me. She is a mother of eight – four sons and four daughters. There was a well about 20 feet from the garden. To help his mother, Chengerai stepped into the side of the open well and was tossing buckets of water down a small trench to transport the water to where his mother was. (picture 22) She was bent over with a small bowl scooping up the water and tossing it on the vegetables. She waters the garden each day.
As Chengerai and walked home, one by one, the children appeared to greet us and were so happy to get a sweet. Each child clapped his hands in the thank you fashion before taking the lollypop.
Chengerai also told me the story of the celebration, which is held in October before the first rain. Families pool resources and make homemade beer. They climb up a nearby mountain, Gomo in Shona, to a cave and let the beer ferment overnight. Then the next day they drink and celebrate. They are careful to carry raincoats, because the “ancestors” always send the rain for the trip back to the village.
Chengerai asked a friend to make me an African drum, which we are to pick up at 1:30. (picture 23) Chengerai’s friend brought 4 huge drums for me to look at. I chose the smallest, even though we had to cut it in half for me to carry back to the USA. (picture 24) Now I just need to keep it out of Sampson’s reach, since he ate the drum I brought back last year! )
Tuesday – August 23, 2011 Last Full Day in Makumbi
Well, I just finished dinner. I walked across the plaza by the well to the Satellite dish. As I gazed up, especially since there is no electricity, there are ten Bazillion stars in the sky… Big and Little Dipper, Milky Way, Orion. The sounds of the African night are alive.
I did my wash in a tub. It takes 6 rinses to get clear water. My day started with walking Hannah, the delightful young woman, to the hospital for a stitch in her ear. The curtain rod in her room fell off the wall and lacerated her right ear. I thought about doing it myself, but I did not have any local anesthetic and could not bear doing it without it. So I supervised! Then I went down to say goodbye to Polly, she is the force behind the women’s Co-Op. Then some boys gave me a drum lesson. I’m pretty bad, but it sure was fun.
The orphans have Mass on Tuesday evening at 5. Here I was sitting in a room of adorable children who all are orphans and whose future is really bleak. I burst into tears with nowhere to hide. The children were all staring and I can’t stop sobbing with my face in my hands. Finally, I stop and realize a 2 year old had fallen asleep on the floor within reach, so I scooped him up and without waking him and hugged him for dear life. He snored but I felt better.
More goodbyes – I now want to get the goodbyes behind me. The hardest yet to come – TINO – and then survive the long journey home. (picture 25)
Sunday – August 28, 2011 First Day Back – Last Blog Entry – Zimbabwe 2
My incredible one month trip to Zimbabwe has come to an end, but its effect lives on. My understanding of its impact will be in process for a while.
It’s difficult to know where to begin or how to put the month into a summary of words. One can describe the stark beauty of the place, or the endless sky of stars, or an African sunrise, or would the sunset be better? The subtle and not so subtle smells, sounds, or images? All these create parts of the whole, but the incredible and life hanging part come in the human encounters.
Some of you might not choose to travel to a developing country. Some of you have yet to have the opportunity. Many of you could tell your own stories. For me, there are two important realities that make my opportunity possible. First, I’m a nurse and this has opened so many doors for me. There is never a day that I regret the great privilege that I have in being a nurse, both in foreign lands and here at home. And second, I have a community of family and friends who love and care for me, whom encourage, and support me including financially. Without this, these mission trips would either not be possible or would be immensely difficult. I am so grateful and know how blessed my life is. Thank you.
Either in emails or in Facebook comments, a number of people have said “you are amazing”. I tend to want to run when this is said. In reality, I feel rather un-amazing. Not worthy of that label. Time after time in the midst of a simple Shona hut, among some of this earth’s poorest people, I was treated like I was someone special. Yet I felt like it was always my honor to be invited into their world. Really, these folks who eke out a meager subsistence life are the truly amazing ones. I have mentioned two people in the blog already and in telling their stories I hope you can appreciate how I am humbled by their lives.
Mrs. Dzapasi is a small woman of 60+ years, although you would have guessed her to be 70+. The harsh realities of Zimbabwe have taken a toll. She is the mother of eight – four sons and four daughters. Three of her sons live a stone’s throw away in adjacent huts. The daughters have moved to their husbands’ villages. It is the custom in Zimbabwe to carry children on your back. In one smooth swoop, they seem to hoist the child up off the ground and on to a stooped back. The child is then wrapped in a blanket, towel or whatever available cloth they have. On many occasions, Mrs. Dzapasi had a grandchild on her back as she went about her daily chores of life. Little girls begin doing this for their younger siblings and cousins at a very young age. In fact it is a rare moment when a woman is not carrying a child or something on their head. My memories of Mrs. Dzapasi capture her in motion. After hiking to a cave with her son and new daughter-in-law, she in fact had a grandchild strapped on as she knelt over an open fire baking bread and making us tea. (picture 26) They always freely shared out of what they hardly had. Then there was the trip to her garden. We walked for about 20 minutes through the dusty fields where we first found her daughters-in-law hoisting water up from the well and hand washing piles of laundry in tubs to be carried back on their heads. Another 10 minute walk brought us to the family garden. Each day she makes several trips to pick fresh greens for lunch and dinner or to water. Today she finds that the cows have broken through the gate and eaten all her greens to the ground. She must wait for them to grow or replant. Luckily her sons have large gardens to provide for her. The garden is positioned about 20 feet from another well. Once a day she dips a 10 gallon size bucket into the well and heaves the water down a small trench towards the garden. When enough water has reached the garden she then repositions herself over the water and with a bowl throws water at the garden plants. Life is purely or ganic – one rises with the sun, eats what you grow, live with those 16 families which make up your village, sing, dance and celebrate and grieve what life brings your way and sleep when the sun sets. We from the western world might be tempted to take pity, but in fact, there is something very rich about the life these folks live. They find happiness despite significant hardship and poverty or material goods.
AND POLLY. . .
I had the chance to share many cups of tea and an evening meal with Polly. On one of these occasions, she told the story of her husband’s recent death. Mike had heart disease and died of congestive heart failure. Mike taught for 35 years at the Makumbi Mission. He and Polly raised their four children there. All four children have left Zimbabwe to make a living – two in Germany, one in Brazil and one in Mozambique. This is a common realty now in Zimbabwe given the complete lack of employment opportunity, but runs counter cultural to traditional family life in Africa. Polly struggles with loneliness since Mike’s death one year ago. As we sat on straw mats in her one room dwelling, she took me through the details of Mike’s last days. As I embraced her and held her hand, I realized the magnitude of our sameness, despite my whiteness and her blackness. Despite my life of privilege and her life of poverty, despite my home in the U.S.A. and her’s in Africa, we were humans being touched by our willingness to be in relationship. I am unable to fully put into words the experience of sitting and holding Polly. It was powerful and deeply real and intimate.
So it is these moments that capture what it was like to live in Zimbabwe for a month. The stories are many, Sr. Dominica, Thomas, Fungi, Sarah, Melody (picture 27), Brother Kizito, baby Jowa, Team Warthog, the orphan kids, Moses, the 500 youth singing and my Tinotenda and life in L’Arche. So many memories. Thanks for the many ways you offer support and friendship. Until my next trip� (pictures 28 and 29)