Learning…together…


Recently I left the kids on the front verandah doing school (it was much cooler outside) and went inside for a few minutes to find what the little ones were up to (playing with the neighbour’s son). Returning, I found that in my absence a group of the kids’ friends had arrived and were ‘helping’.

Our lives are full of interruptions, most of which we adjust to fairly well (we’re generally very flexible people),  but this day I confess that I was just a little frustrated. It’s hard enough to get a full day’s school done with the others things that come up, but to have friends come to play on their days off (when they all know we do school in the mornings) isn’t very helpful – our kids would love to be out in the bush (up the mountain, climbing rocks, making cubby houses, building fires, shooting arrows, getting dirty…) all day every day, they don’t need anyone else reminding them of the fun they think they’re missing.

So back to that day. I was on the verge of sending the kids away but compelled me to pause and observe for a moment.

One boy, a good friend of the kids, had sat down to do Levi’s maths worksheet. Although he’s the same height, this friend is actually older and in a higher year level at school. The activity was a struggle for the boy, but he was keen and determined and persevered for a long time through the problems on the page.

And as he persevered, what happened around him made my heart full. I watched as Levi patiently taught him what he needed to do and asked questions to help this friend get to the right answer himself. I saw the other boys crowd around encouraging him, suggesting ideas and providing answers (of varying helpfulness and correctness).  A worksheet that I’d hoped Levi could do in five minutes took this boy far, far longer, yet he continued to the end.

And at the end there was real joy – the boys all cheered, my kids insisted he’d earned stickers and the boy in the middle held up his work for me to see with a quiet smile on his face that said “I did it”.

I thought I was teaching a maths lesson,  but what happened was so much more than that. There was teaching (by someone else). But there was also motivation, encouragement, collaboration, belief and perseverance.

I saw empowerment at work and the joy it brought to everyone involved.

And ultimately, I think I might have been the one who did the most learning.

 

 

Someone to love us…

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Sometimes we just need someone to love on us. Someone to be there, to tell us that we’re ok. Someone to give to us or do for us the unexpected. Someone to see us and in that moment, show us that we matter. 

Last week Scott took a friend and his wife to a hospital across the border in Malawi. She’d been sick for many many months, progressively  becoming more housebound and unresponsive. We’re not doctors and are completely unqualified to ‘diagnose’ anything – but after them getting little assistance locally due to lack of resources, we decided we could take her to a better hospital and seek further testing. So off to Malawi, in the pouring rain, they went.

Someone cared enough to take her in the car to another hospital to try and find answers.  

The doctor met them there when they arrived, having been lined up by our good friends who have been many times before. He spoke gently to the woman, wanting to hear her story and not simply talking over her to her husband. They did what tests they could – power outages and broken machines made it a little more lengthy and difficult than hoped. Then another doctor talked again with the woman, privately, sensitively.

Someone showed her love and wanted to hear her story. They treated her as important, a woman not a child. 

After leaving the hospital they were hungry, it now being afternoon and them not having eaten since 5am. They stopped at a small roadside restaurant for some food. The woman hadn’t been eating much at home, but at the restaurant she ate.

Someone provided for her immediate needs.

Calling in at other good friends of ours on the way home, the woman was looked after, talked to, prayed for.

Someone noticed her. Someone shared that God too noticed her, loved her, cared about her needs. 

On the way home, Scott noticed that the woman talked a little more to him. Smiled a few times. Even gave a small laugh.

Sometimes we just need someone to love on us. Someone to be there, to tell us that we’re ok. Someone to give to us or do for us the unexpected. Someone to see us and in that moment, show us that we matter. Jesus noticed people, he loved people. Jesus notices us, he loves us, he meets us in places and ways that no one can. 

 We’re not God but we can show who He is to others.

How could we do any less than love others?

 

Storm Power

WhatsApp Image 2017-12-21 at 10.05.23 PMWhen a storm comes through that rattles our windows, blows down our fences, uproots trees and throws chairs around the yard…. we know there must be some serious strength in the wind gusts.

When we look out the window and see just white, nothing visible beyond the verandah and all we can hear is the pounding on the tin roof…. we know the amount of rain falling is significant.

But when those two things come together in a couple of hours of storm fury – lashing rain and violent wind – all we can think about is our friends’ and neighbours’ homes, which likely cannot withstand such an onslaught.

I cannot imagine how people must have felt that evening, huddled in their homes, or whatever shelter they could find, hoping, praying it would pass them by. Then in the lull that finally came, how they dealt with the devastation around them yet hoping that more was not still to come that night.

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As we surveyed the damage the next day it was clear this was no ordinary storm. Roofs were gone. Houses destroyed. Fences flattened. Trees strewn around.

WhatsApp Image 2017-12-21 at 10.05.23 PM(1)There were a few reports of physical injuries to people from walls collapsing and roof sheets flying around, but given the severity of the storm it’s surprising that most walked away in one piece. Physically anyway. Emotionally, who knows.

Saturday morning there was a chance for us to visit with people, help clear the many trees and debris strewn around. We’ve been able to get a few basic things into people’s hands since then to help with their recovery – some plastic for roofing, dry blankets and food.

IMG_0001(Photo courtesy Cam Beeck)

People here are amazing though and many have bounced back already. It was amazing to watch in the days that followed. Roofs being repaired, fences back up. But for some the price is very high. Some who had invested in their bricks and mortar, only to lose it all are struggling to move forward. People are tired, from fixing things up again while still maintaining their farms. Even those who didn’t lose homes and roofs have had to deal with flooded houses, wet bedding and food. As one chief said to us, ‘Some people are doing well. Some will not be good for a long time. Depends’.

But through it all there’s been a sense of community. A joint facing of the storm together. People are talking about how they felt, damages done and who was hardest hit. In a village this week I was asked about our place.  I said it was just our fences that blew down, not a big deal to me – but the women disagreed and showed a high level of concern for our loss and discussed how and when we would put them up again. It was heartwarming to be included in their community and cared for.

There’s discussion too of what the cause might have been  – was God angry, did the spirits speak, was a tree cut down in a sacred grove? People want to believe there could be a way to avoid this happening again, yet deep down it seems that there’s a resignation too of this being the life they live and the uncertainty they face on a yearly, monthly, daily basis.

Being able to stand with people, sit in their loss, grapple with uncertainty, help practically and work alongside is something we’re thankful for. It’s been a full week, but we wouldn’t have chosen to be anywhere else. And we look forward to continuing to walk with people, and them with us, in the coming days and weeks.

**On a practical note, the Education Department, with whom we’ve previously partnered on a number of practical projects, lost the roofs off both their office buildings in the storm, exposing their equipment, resources and files to the elements. On top of this, serious damage was sustained to roofs at both the large primary and secondary schools in the area. Without options for repairing these buildings and school restarting in January, they’ve requested our help towards restoring functionality again. Go to the Global interaction website or click here if you’re interested in knowing more

http://www.globalinteraction.org.au/support/projects/yawo/massangulo-emergency-relief

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**To read Cam Beeck’s storm reflections (and see more pictures) go here

https://beeckbrief.com/2017/12/22/the-december-deluge-pt1/

and here https://beeckbrief.com/2017/12/22/the-december-deluge-ptii/

Tears. Pain. No Words.

Hope LoveSometimes life and injustice just hurts.

Sometimes I just find myself without words. I try to speak but only tears and groans of despair come out.

 

Last week hurt. A whole lot.

Expectant joy turned to deep sorrow for friends of ours.

Tragedy arrived.

 

It was a day that for them started 24hours earlier. Or maybe nine months earlier if you count the sickness and uncertainty, yet building anticipation they felt towards their new child.

For me though, it started with an early morning phone call followed by a recklessly fast drive back to Massangulo.

 

I’ve replayed that day now in my mind many times over the past week.

 

The way time seemingly stood still to me as I watched my friend labour until her strength was almost gone. For her every second was excruciating, filled with pain and uncertainty.

I can see the hope in her eyes when I arrived to take her to the hospital in the city, followed by despair as we waited on the doctor and she realised it had become too late for her to be able to safely travel the two hour bumpy road.

I see her husband sitting outside waiting, ignored and unimportant. Eagerly jumping to his feet every time I walked outside hoping for news of his wife and child.

 

I look around and see the lack of resources and the tragedy this contributes to. An ambulance sits waiting but there is no driver to be found so they had to call me two hours away. There is no option of surgery or really any other birth assistance. No pain medications. No heart rate monitor. No oxygen for the baby. There isn’t even enough beds for the four women crammed into the tiny birthing room – two lie together on one bed, with the three beds separated enough only for a nurse to walk between.

The nurse seems uncaring, the doctor unavailable. But maybe on reflection that’s their own way of coping with the heartache and lack of resources they face every day. They themselves are understaffed and lack options.

 

In my mind I wonder what if. What if the small, perfectly formed baby boy that I held in my arms came into this world full of life and strength? What if he breathed? What if he cried? But what I actually remember is that no tears or breath of mine could will his lifeless body to live. No groans of agony from his mother brought him back.

It was touch and go for both of them that morning. In the end she held onto her life, but in losing her son she lost a part of herself anyway.

 

Perhaps one of the most replayed moments in my head is that of the look on people’s faces after the beautiful boy’s eyes were closed for the last time. Each looked at me as I turned from him – my friend, her family, her husband – searching desperately for the joy they hoped to see, yet I know in my eyes was only soul destroying sorrow.

 

And this was not the end of the story. What followed was almost as hard.

A battle between the grieving about whether a baby not alive 24hrs should or could have a funeral. The anger. The blame. Both humanly and divinely directed. There’s a searching for truth happening in their hearts, a demand for answers and future hope, but right now these thing can’t be found. It’s painful.

 

Sometimes life and injustice just hurts. Sometimes fragile hope crumbles in the face of circumstances.

As they weep, we too weep for the loss, the despair, the fear, the resignation.

And as they sit broken, we too sit sharing space and grief.

These are our friends. And this is their struggle.

Remember them.

 

The Impossible Happened…Twice!!

Scott in cockpitThe plan was to fly out of Lichinga on the Tuesday morning.

Flights were booked, organisational reports were in hand to deliver to National Offices in
Maputo. Travel onto South Africa was planned to acquire new visas. Medical appointments were made.

 We just needed to get onto that plane – seems straightforward right? Things are rarely straightforward here, and the moment you assume they will be you get into all kinds of tangles. Like we did that Tuesday.

 The problem? As we were going to be leaving to get new visas, we had to surrender our old visa cards and get substitute stamps in our passports to authorise us leaving the country without valid visa cards. All clear so far? Sounds simple?

 Well we thought so. But it seems that we didn’t completely understand the process – often the case. And the information we were given at different stages appeared to change – again not unusual as different people have different levels of authority to authorise different processes to happen.

Anyway, long story short, Scott was still standing in the immigration office as the kids and I raced to the airport to get on the plane. (Thanks Ben!).

The reasoning? The next plane out of Lichinga was scheduled for Thursday (it’s currently Tuesday) and the low likelihood of getting six tickets for our whole family in two days time (let alone the cost) meant we needed to be on that plane.

 So after stalling at the airport as long as possible, I boarded the plane as the very last passenger with: four crying kids who didn’t know where Dad was, a small handful of cash that my teammate Ben had in his jacket pocket, no passports and all the luggage. It was such a frantic mess that the baggage scanning guy let me run straight through – I think he must have taken pity on me so laden down with semi-hysterical kids and oodles of bags that he didn’t even make me open anything or take the computer out!

All the while Scott stood in immigration and then watched us fly away.

That’s the mess. Here’s the part where miracle #1 happens.

I’d left Scott’s jacket at the airport for him to come and pick up. It was in a bag and I figured he might get cold in the two days before I saw him. He wouldn’t have clean underwear but he would have a jacket to wear.

So Scott & Ben headed to the airport to collect the jacket. Where there was ANOTHER PLANE DEPARTING. This is Lichinga. This doesn’t happen. Ever. Planes go every couple of days. Not two in one day. Turns out there was some convoluted story about planes being diverted and rescheduled the previous day. But there was ANOTHER PLANE and he got on it.

Miracle #1 – There was ANOTHER PLANE. Wow God. Just wow.

There was a catch though. That plane would only get him to Beira, at which point the flight was full to Maputo and he would be on standby.

So he went to Beira and sat and waited. Others checked in and boarded and Scott was still sitting. Finally he was called over and told he had a seat on the plane and would be heading off shortly. Ready to walk across the tarmac following other passengarers, Scott was told he needed to be accompanied by a staff member as he had a ‘special seat’.

Where was that special seat, you ask –in the cockpit!!

Led up the stairs and into the cockpit, Scott was seated on a small fold down seat between captain and co-pilot. I don’t think he could believe it. Apparently hearing Scott’s story of trying to get to us all, the pilot authorised him to join them for the flight.

Did you get that miracle # 2? – Scott had A SEAT THAT DIDN’T EXIST !! Thanks God.

Seriously. It was an amazing unbelievable day where the stressful and then the impossible happened.

And Scott’s still on cloud nine from that once in a lifetime flight in the cockpit – apparently it’s all very interesting and the view out the windscreen was amazing!

What’s Her Story?

Wedding photo under cloth
When I’m around people I often find myself wondering why, what and how. Why are they doing what they doing? What are they thinking? How did they get to this point in their life? What’s their story?

Last week we attended a wedding in the village for the niece of a friend. On the surface it was a joyous occasion, full of laughter and dancing. Family coming around to celebrate a new couple, new potential. As a family ourselves, we too greatly enjoyed the occasion. An opportunity to socialise as a family, the kids played around the village, lots of conversations went back and forth and round and round.

But throughout the afternoon and into the night, I found myself wondering about the bride. Why was she getting married now? What was she thinking and feeling about this day? How did she get to this point?

I knew part of the story and it wasn’t children’s reading. The bride was in a relationship with her father that had resulted in a child. This baby, of course, made the relationship somewhat public, whispered around the village. The baby then had died before it’s first birthday, prompting rumours of poisoning or curses and witchcraft. It seemed that many were of the opinion the death of the baby was ‘for the best’. How heartbreakingly sad. The last we’d personally heard of her was at the time of the baby’s funeral. Some months later our friend invites us to this wedding. His niece, this niece, is now getting married to a man from a nearby village.

So I spent the wedding wondering. I wondered why during the ceremony the Imam asked them if they’d had relations with anyone else – everyone there knew she had birthed a child. I wondered about her father sitting silently next to Scott, what was he thinking, what was his story? I watched and wondered how her mother felt about the whole thing. I wondered if the groom knew and how or if it shaped his view of his in-laws. Mostly I wondered about her, the bride. I wondered how she was feeling, hidden away under a cloth where no one could see her face. As we danced around her did she experience joy or wish we would just stop. I wondered if she was excited at the future, hopeful, feeling resigned or even despairing inside. I wondered what her story, from her lips, would be.

I’ve heard more of her story from others in the days since the wedding. I’ve heard her father arranged the match with a man from a nearby village that people seem to barely know. I’ve heard that she’s happy enough with the groom and being married. I’ve heard the man’s family paid the bride’s mother what’s considered a pretty high bride price.

But I want to hear her story, from her. See I know that my assumptions and wonderings are from my perspective, my worldview, my experiences. I know the questions I ask are shaped by my reality. And I want more than that. I want to hear her heart, her joys and fears, her journey, as she wants to tell it. I want to to know this woman. I want to be invited into part of her story.

And she’s not the only one. As I look around me, life is filled with people who have a story. The man building a wall for Scott, the women who walk past our house to collect firewood.  Friends, neighbours. Colleagues, supporters in Australia. We each have a story that’s unique to us, influencing and moulding us in ways unseen.

I find myself doing this more and more. Sitting back, watching, listening and wondering. Asking questions. I don’t know if it’s getting older and feeling more reflective about my own thoughts and feelings, or just that I’m becoming more and more aware of all the myriad of (largely invisible) factors that interact in our lives to shape us. And how little of that we know and see when we judge the surface.

I want to be a collector of stories, not so I have a collection of good stories to share, but so I can really know people. I want to take the time to sit and listen, to be a trustworthy recipient of people’s hearts. I want to get beyond the surface and really understand. I know I have a long way to go in this (I don’t think I’ve done this well in the past at all), but it’s something I’m more and more committed to doing well.  Listening with my whole being. Making the effort to really hear and know people.

We all have a story. If you see me sitting back looking at you I may just be wondering…

– What’s your story?

Road works…

Road Signs
Drive these roads often (or even once) and you will understand the excitement behind these photos… the much promised roadworks have started!!

This means that one day we really will be able to drive away from  our house and arrive somewhere else without bananas being bruised, eggs broken, heads cracked on windows, whiplash, tyres blown, getting stuck and just sheer exhaustion from concentrating so hard! It might take another few years (they are optimistically saying 30 months of work) but our hope of a new road is alive!! Road works - MachineryRoad Works - New slip road

Maize harvest…


What do you do on a Sunday when your friend rings to say that the truck he’s organised to collect his harvested maize has broken down? You take your car and join the fun! 7 hrs, 3 trips, countless arm/bowl/sack-fuls carried into the car, a little bit of sunburn, lots of conversation, a couple of tired and hungry Falconers when they finally got home after dark. Good times. IMG_2560IMG_2541 IMG_2613 IMG_2618 IMG_2622

A local hospital experience

img_7056**Warning over-sharing contained below. May refer to bodily functions.

We’ve often said that we personally wouldn’t go to the local hospital here for much beyond a malaria test. Of course that’s because we self-medicate and have a choice to get in the car and drive to Malawi (or even fly from there to South Africa if serious). Our local friends don’t have that choice so they go to the hospital and hope that the staff can diagnose and treat whatever is going on for them.

A couple of weeks ago we broke our own rule and I went to the local hospital…

It began in Malawi, where I came down sick, really sick. I was out at a birthday party when it started, just some diarrhea and vomiting, a bit of fatigue, a small headache. All going to pass I thought. Oh boy was I wrong. That night I slept in the bathroom, caring less about the mosquitoes and more about my proximity to the toilet bowl. Morning came and we packed (well Scott & our teammates did while I lay on the floor groaning and crawling to the bathroom) and then headed home to Mozambique.

Why, I hear you say, did we do that and not go to the more decent hospital found there in Blantyre? Honestly right now I’m not sure what the decision making process was on that one (perhaps none, I was sick remember) – just sticking to our plans, desperation to get home I think (we’d been away a few days) and hoping/believing that it would pass.

It didn’t pass. The normally six-hour drive home became a whole lot longer as Scott stopped the car beside the road with regular frequently

There’s such a tension between stopping quickly when required but also trying to avoid heavily populated areas so there isn’t an audience….or you can take the other approach of finding suitable houses to ‘borrow’ their long drop but have to balance that with possibly being required to then sit and greet whoever is present in the yard which slows you down. 

I thought we were going to be travelling forever. We finally arrived home and I went to bed. Apparently Kath (neighbour, colleague, friend) came in and saw me – I don’t remember. Apparently I talked incoherently – I don’t remember that either.

The next morning I knew I needed urgent help so Kath took me to the local hospital. By this time I wasn’t stringing words together or even able to stay upright. Poor Kath, she had to talk to the hospital staff (find someone to see us, answer questions, sometimes tell them what to do), get me to and from the toilet (a fair distance through the rain from the ward), supervise treatment and just sit waiting all day. We both knew I was improving when I was finally able have a conversation in the early evening with her. That was after two different IV canula insertions (the first one was terrible and eventually fell out), non-stop drips and a couple of random injections (still not exactly sure what they were). Even that sick I can tell you that a little more bedside manner – like warning someone before you stick a needle in their arm (not to mention telling them what was in that needle) – would have been appreciated.

I went home to sleep that night, against medical advice. Didn’t fancy sleeping in a small shared hospital room overnight without a mosquito net and two beds over from an elderly man who hadn’t stopped coughing all day.

As an aside we almost didn’t get home, the road was so bad from the rain that Kath had to negotiate in the dark past a truck stuck on one side of the road and a car that had slid off the other side as it tried to pass the truck. Seriously slippery.

Oh and to make an awful few days worse, while in the hospital my iPhone, which had been a gift, got smashed, leaving me communication-less and unable to do anything about it. 

Next morning Scott took me back there hoping for the promised tests. No luck. More drugs, same other patients to commiserate with, same nurse doing a 36hr shift, same guessing game of what was wrong with me. When that afternoon the IV blew the vein and my hand swelled up, we opted out of them reinserting it again and self-discharged.

While I greatly appreciate the medicines I was able to receive and the rehydration that happened which was so desperately needed, there are good reasons we don’t use the hospital here and would be very reluctant to take any of the kids there. Limited testing (they didn’t do any), limited drug availability, lack of information, lack of well-trained (or interested) medical personnel, lack of bedside manner, high risk of catching other diseases, risk of infection (I got one from the IV line). No running water, no power for most of the time.

To be fair, I was offered lunch the second day, but then the offer was withdrawn when they realised I didn’t have my own dish to put it in.  Apparently it’s BYO bowl. Probably worked out best for others anyway, as I noticed the amounts they were given were very small and the talk was that the food had run out before all received some. 

A number of local friends who visited me in hospital and since, have expressed great surprise that we would even have gone there. Would we do it again? Yes, if it was absolutely necessary, but it certainly wouldn’t be our first (second or third) choice.

I’m still recovering – finishing a course of antibiotics for an IV line infection and dealing with extensive bruising up one of my arms. But I’m alive, almost well, and thankful to have received the help I needed.

Perhaps the biggest lesson in this all is next time we’re sick in Malawi we should just stay there.