Mozambican Odyssey, #24: Cholera epidemic, Corona, and Grief is a wolf

“Grief is like a wolf we keep locked in the basement.”– Shelby Forsythia,* Artwork by Susan E. Brooks, 24 x 18, oil pastel on paper.

As I think about our time in Mozambique and what we’re going through now with the corona virus, I remember the cholera epidemic that we experienced back then. There was no internet, we hardly had television, and what newspapers we had, were all in Portuguese, so it was a struggle to read them. One huge difference between that and this Covid thing is that you can’t deny it or get away from hearing about it.

In Mozambique, it was not unusual to see toddlers carrying babies on their backs.

But somehow, back in the late 1990’s, we learned that there was a cholera epidemic in Maputo, Mozambique; and many people were dying, including children.

It was terrifying for us, and there was very little we could do. So many people living around us didn’t have running water or flush toilets; and neither did they have clean drinking water, so they were getting it through their water, if they didn’t boil it. I remember we printed up some flyers to pass out explaining the importance of boiling water and washing hands.

Other than that, we felt that all we could do or should do, was stay home and keep our kids healthy and away from the epidemic. I remember feeling frustrated with some cross-cultural workers, who were not medical professionals, who went around as if they were invincible, in the name of trying to help, but maybe spreading the disease, and putting all of our children and ourselves at risk.

It’s always hard when the thing to do is to do nothing, but it’s not about us, it’s about the community, and our friends and family around the world, getting through this.

This time has felt so sad and overwhelming for me, and I know others are suffering more than I am. We need to allow ourselves to grieve during this time. I came across this good advice in a devotion earlier this week:

revealing your feeling is the beginning of healing, so simply acknowledging or naming our disappointment to God is an important move. This is especially important because many of us, if we don’t bring our disappointment to God, will blame our disappointment on God, thus alienating ourselves from our best hope of comfort and strength. . . .  
—Brian McLaren
**

In this time of crisis, go ahead and let the wolf of grief out of the basement. It’s okay to cry, and please, talk to someone. Let’s not alienate ourselves from our best hope, but rather pour out our disappointments to Him, and find comfort and strength.

*Quote from Shelby Forsythia was heard on The Robcast, by Rob Bell **Quote from Brian McLaren was from Richard Rohr’s email devotions this week

Mozambican Odyssey, #23: Malaria, Corona, and House calls

Joseph always took care of his little sister.

From my journal written in 1996, Maputo, Mozambique:

A couple of weeks ago Joseph, our 6-year-old got a mosquito bite on his leg and it started bleeding a little. He got quiet and tears started to form in his eyes.

“What’s wrong, Joseph?” we asked.

“People die from mosquito bites here. Does this mean I am going to die?” our little son asked.

Wow. How much stress are we putting the kids through? Is it worth it? This is so hard.

We assured Joseph that one mosquito bite was not a death sentence. But as his mom, I worried, because I knew there was a remote chance that any of us could get malaria and die before we left Mozambique. I lived with a constant, low level dread and fear that I might not return to Kentucky with all 5 of us, that one of us might die of malaria.

Thousands of African children die of malaria every year. Oil Pastel on paper, 24 x 18, by Susan E. Brooks.

Malaria was a real risk, but every mosquito bite didn’t mean certain death. We were able to use mosquito nets, and we sprayed the kids with repellent, and we had access to treatment and medical facilities if we needed it; but Joseph was not totally wrong to be concerned. Malaria killed many children in Mozambique every year, and it still does.

Yesterday I was caring for my granddaughters, ages 4 and 6, when they decided it would be hilarious to jump up and down in the bathtub full of water to see how slippery it would be. I found myself panicking, thinking,

“I don’t want to have to take you to the emergency room for stitches in the middle of this crisis! What if they don’t have room for you?”

We are probably not there yet, but if we’re not careful, we could be soon. Now is the time to do something about it. Please “hunker down” with your family and do what’s necessary to protect the elderly and our children, who will not die from Coronavirus, but they may fall in the bathtub and need attention in the emergency room!

My granddaughters, demonstrating how not to act during the coronavirus outbreak.

And here’s another option if you’re in the Louisville area and need healthcare. That smart, sensitive little son in the picture has grown up to be a nurse practitioner in a medical practice that sends out nurse practitioners to your home. They are now accepting new patients. Here’s a number to call them if you need medical help, but don’t want to risk going to the doctor’s office or the hospital. Call 502-327-9100 to set up your appointment.

More than ever, we need to care for each other; and for now, for most of us, that looks like staying home and not hoarding hand sanitizer. Joseph’s group has already had to ask the community to help by donating cleaning supplies from their homes, because their medical personnel were running short. Let’s trust God to provide for the future, stay home, and wash with soap and water.

Mozambican Odyssey, #22: When Our Son was attacked

When I write it like that, it sounds so terrible, and it was, but it could have been a lot worse.

Our son Kirk was 12 when he was attacked in Maputo, Mozambique.

Over our Thanksgiving holiday we had traveled to Nelspruit, South Africa, for our Christmas shopping because there was very little in Mozambique that was suitable or affordable at that time. We all chose some items that seemed special to us; and Kirk, our 12-year-old, had picked out a nice wrist watch.

When we returned to Maputo, Mozambique, Kirk was wearing his watch and enjoying it. After school one day, he and a friend were jogging around the school, just running around the block for fun and exercise.

Our kids attended an international school located in downtown Maputo, run by a mission agency from the states. We all loved the small school, and the staff became some of our closest friends for life.

As the boys were running, a local boy ran after Kirk and grabbed his arm. Kirk’s friend ran on to the school for help. The boy pulled at Kirk’s necklace and burned his hand with a cigarette, as he stole our son’s new watch. His main Christmas present was stolen, and worse, he was traumatized by being grabbed and burned.

He rushed into the school to tell us all about it, breathless and teary-eyed. I was glad he wasn’t hurt worse, “and he seems to be okay,” I wrote in my diary back in 1997.

I guess he was okay, but traumatic experiences can have a profound effect, and I still wonder if we should have done something more for him.

As I think about it, I wonder about so many children in the world who have had traumatic experiences so much worse than what happened to Kirk. Not to minimize what happened to him, but the fact is that countless refugees around the world have overcome incredible trauma, and a few of these courageous, beautiful overcomers have come to our city, Louisville, KY, to find a safe home.

Kentucky Refugee Ministries is an organization that helps resettle refugees that arrive in our home town. How can you help? Come to the opening reception to my solo show at KORE Gallery on April 11 from 6 – 8:30pm to learn more about Kentucky Refugee Ministries (KRM). You will have opportunity to donate to KRM, and a percentage of all artwork sold that night will be donated to KRM. KORE Gallery is located at 942 East Kentucky St., Hope Mills Building, Louisville, KY 40204. Hope to see you there!

Mozambican Odyssey, #21: A fever Of unknown Origin

This is my husband Martin, reading to our granddaughter Dorothy. Oil pastel on paper, 24 x 18″ by Susan E. Brooks

Realizing that your husband, your high school sweetheart, father of your children, and best friend for life, could die at any moment, has a clarifying effect. All of the unimportant pressures you were concerned about—job, money, paperwork, laundry piled up, appointments, and deadlines— disappear from your consciousness and you are focused on one thing: Is he going to be all right?

Missionary friends brought us food and took care of our children, while I just sat in the small clinic beside my husband’s bed, praying that he would be okay.

After a trip to the villages in the north of Mozambique, Martin became very ill. It came on suddenly. He could barely get out of bed. We took him into town to see a Nigerian friend who was a doctor. The doctor immediately put him on an IV and did blood tests which showed a raging infection.

We still don’t know, but we think it was from something he had eaten while spending a week out in the villages. There he was, all hooked up to an IV in this clinic that seemed to have very little besides beds for the sick, IV equipment, and a metal chair for me. The doctor didn’t have the medicine he needed on hand, so I sat with Martin, and waited.

We spent two nights in the clinic. Cecil Byrd, our friend and teammate, drove all over town to different pharmacies asking for the medicine that was needed. He eventually found the drug the doctor wanted. That drug seemed to do the trick, and we were back to our compound with the kids and the team after a couple of days.

When we returned home, we called our doctor back in Kentucky to discuss the illness, which had been diagnosed as “a fever of unknown origin.” When we told him the name of the medicine given to Martin, he said that it was no longer used in the US because it kills too many people!

Nevertheless, Martin was better. God kept him from dying from the illness and from the sometimes lethal drug that was administered. We didn’t know exactly how he got sick or how he got better—still don’t, but God healed my husband.

I don’t want to go through that ever again, but there is something about the clarity that comes in the face of death that can help us savor life. Life is a glorious gift. Yes, it is filled with suffering, but also with joy. Some days I have no choice but to grieve, but most days, I can embrace life and choose joy. Today, I choose joy because my best friend still lives, and God is with us, even if we are diagnosed with “a fever of unknown origin.”

Mozambican Odyssey, #20: Swaziland Safari

African Queen, Oil Pastel on Paper, 24 x 18, by Susan E. Brooks

Safari in Swaziland

Swaziland is a fascinating mixture of African traditions and western civilization. As we drove into the country, we saw a man in full tribal feathers walking along the road, carrying a brief case while talking on a cell phone. So cool! I wish we Americans were more like that. I want to wear a hoop skirt and a feather hat while talking on my cell phone.

Swaziland is a small country that is landlocked between the southeastern border of Mozambique and the country of South Africa. We heard that one could go to Swaziland and have an overnight safari for a reasonable price. A sweet friend offered to keep the kids while we went away for a night, so we decided to go for it.

The safari was in a white rhino reserve. We rode around in an open Landrover jeep, seeing elephants, large lizards, colorful birds, and of course, rhinos. At one point, a rhino came up and started sharpening his horn on the front bumper of our jeep! Granted, maybe the rhinos in this reserve were slightly tame, but still—this guy could have easily flipped us over. He could have hooked that big horn under the bumper, and we would have gone flying out. We sat still, holding our breath until he finished the sharpening and went on his way. That was a bit scary.

After a short afternoon safari and some supper, they took us to our accommodations for the night. Picture an Arab princess tent—not sure that even exists—but it was luxurious. Inside the huge tent was a soft, comfortable bed with a proper frame, covered with a thick white comforter, situated on a wooden floor with a table beside it. This tent also had a private flush toilet and shower inside. We were warm and cozy through the night, and in the morning they brought hot tea and toast to the bedside table. I could live in that tent!

The best time, however, was when we all gathered around an open fire where they cooked all of our meals. That was an African tradition that I loved. That night we gathered around the fire and discussed witchdoctor stories and local fables about the rabbit, the hippo, and the elephant. The rabbit was always the clever one. I asked our African guide about the practice of sitting around the fire at night. He said,

“The grandmothers used to tell stories around the fire, but now there are no more stories. Now we go in and watch TV, and I have to get away and go find some quiet.”

How sad for us, East and West, that the TV has taken the place of story-telling around the fire or around the dinner table. Maybe we can choose to be different. Maybe with our families and friends we can sit together, facing each other, sharing a meal and sharing our stories. Maybe we could learn a lot from the African grandmothers.

Mozambican Odyssey, #19: Baptism in Mozambique

Joseph was baptized while we were in Mozambique. Baptism in Mozambique, 24×18, Oil pastel, by Susan E. Brooks

Baptism in Mozambique 

On March 23, 1997, my husband Martin was very happy to baptize my son Joseph in the baptistry on the mission property in Maputo, Mozambique.  The baptistry was a concrete box that we filled with water just outside the church.  Joseph was seven, but quite intelligent and mature for his age.  He was also small for his age, so in some ways he reminded me of a little drowned rat when Martin held him up, dripping with the baptismal waters, but he was a lot cuter than a rat.

He is the only one of our three who was baptized in Mozambique, Africa, and it was so different from any baptism I’ve ever seen in the US.  We were outdoors, and local children and were pressing in around all sides, so excited to watch the event.  There was no stage, and no safe distance between the spectators and the baptism.  There we were, all smashed together, a vibrating mass of humanity, with a man and his son in the middle, and the little boy saying I want to follow God and have a new beginning.  In his seven years he probably had not done much to be forgiven of, having always been a kind, sensitive child who looked after his little sister and adored his older brother, and never complained, even when his mom accidentally gave him chili powder toast instead of cinnamon toast.

Whether he was too young or not, whether we did everything right or not as we tried to raise our kids, I don’t know—I doubt it.  But I do believe God’s mercy is great and that He will honor our trying.  I think He will honor your trying too, because His grace is big enough to cover us all, and He knows we are made out of dirt.

Just a bunch of dirtbags trying to get by, and yet there is also something divine about humanity.  We are made in the image of the divine at least, and I saw that day, dripping with water, sparkling in the African sun, one of God’s kids declaring his love for his Creator, and all of the glorious God-made people pressing in close enough to touch him, and I think that’s as it should be.  We need to press in close at times, and open our eyes to the glory of God in each other, and celebrate the sacred moments when we get a chance.

Mozambican Odyssey, #18: Carried Out, Kicking and Screaming

We saw this young boy relaxing with his donkey as we traveled through Burkina Faso. 30 x 20 inches, Oil pastel on mat board, by Susan E. Brooks

Carried Out, Kicking and Screaming

He told us he had been threatened with a knife.

I don’t know if this has happened for anyone else, but it seemed like whenever Martin needed to travel, the craziest things would happen while he was gone.  If Martin left, one of the kids would spike a fever of 105, armed robbers would storm the compound, or some kid would say he was going to die if we didn’t let him move in with us.  I wish I were exaggerating.

I may have mentioned before a young boy who became friends with Kirk. We had been happy to have him visit in our home with thoughts of discipling a future church leader. I had studied the Bible with him and taught him a little English at his request. He seemed like a wonderful boy, but that week we found out he had some problems.

He started by telling us that his family was going to kick him out of the house.  We were skeptical, but with all of the street kids and orphans around, we knew it could happen.  We told him we would help if he got into a bind.  Kirk was all torn up, begging us to take him in.  The story became more questionable when he said we shouldn’t talk to his family, or they would beat him.  Kirk was beside himself, believing that his close friend would become a street kid if we didn’t help him.

Then one day he came and said he had been threatened with a knife.  He was in tears.  Martin had gone to Nelspruit for the day. Now what was I supposed to do?  I consulted the other missionaries on our team, and we decided that his family had to be confronted.  We found out that he had told many lies, and that his very nice family wanted him to come home.

He was at our house with Kirk, and he refused to even go outside to talk with his aunt, who had come to fetch him.  It turned out that  this boy of about 14 had to be literally carried out kicking and screaming by one of the men!  He wanted so badly to stay with us. What a scene!

It seemed that our young friend so wanted to live with us that he devised a scheme to accomplish that end.  It’s not so surprising really.  At that time, everyone wanted to go to America, and we had so much more of everything than he did.  No doubt he was hurting.  It was difficult to tell him that he had to go, but of course, I couldn’t kidnap him from his family— not that I wanted to.  It was just hard.

Kirk learned that you can’t trust everyone, a tough lesson at age 11, but his friend survived and seemed to be fine.  Later he came back to help Kirk make kites and learn the culture in many healthy ways, and nothing like that ever happened again with him.  Many Mozambicans seemed very happy with the little they had, and put me to shame, but poverty is a scourge that I have never had to suffer.  I have no room to  judge those who cannot escape the vicious cycle of poverty.  I don’t blame him for trying.

Mozambican Odyssey, #17: Kids Are Terrifying

Judith loves life and loves everyone she meets! She looks a lot like her mother did as a child in Mozambique.

Kids are Terrifying 

Little children have always terrified me.  Yes, I have 3 grown children and 9 grandchildren, and I know that sounds crazy, but this is why I never taught elementary or younger children if I could help it.  You never know when they might do something crazy and die.  They might drink bleach or fall out of a tree, or run in front of a passing truck, or pick up a poisonous snake.  One negative aspect of having an artist’s imagination is that I can imagine all kinds of terrible things happening.  Add that to losing my 20-year-old brother to a rare form of lung cancer, and later losing my dad because of a car wreck, and well, I am terrified of a lot of things. When each of my children reached 18, I was relieved that at least they had lived to adulthood under my watch, and now it was up to them to keep themselves alive.

As I continued reading my journal from Mozambique, I realized that something else scary happened on the same trip out of town when we lost the tire on the car, and the Hulsey family had to drive us around. (You can read that story here.)

After losing the tire, we stayed at a hotel in Nelspruit, South Africa, for a couple of days while the men tried to get the car repaired.  The hotels in Nelspruit are clean and comfortable, and I was enjoying having carpet, a bathtub, and tiled floors—things I had taken for granted in the US, but did not have in my house in Maputo, Mozambique.

One morning at the hotel, Aleta Hulsey and I thought we would let the little ones, her nearly 4-year-old Zach and my barely 3-year-old Hannah, play in the little swimming pool in the hotel lobby.  It was such a small pool that we thought the kids could play around the edges and be fine, so we didn’t plan to get in with them.  We ladies were talking, and then Aleta stopped short and motioned toward the pool.  Hannah was floating in the deep end of the pool!  I dived in, fully clothed, and rescued her, of course, but good grief!  Little kids are really scary, always trying to get themselves killed or drowned or something stressful like that!

I went dripping back to my hotel room, kind of embarrassed, and yes, thankful that I didn’t lose a child in addition to losing a tire off the car on that first trip to Nelspruit.

God rescues us and our children from disaster so often, and I tend to take it for granted.  Just the other night I lost track of my one-year-old granddaughter for a minute, but we soon found her sitting in the bathroom, holding my toothbrush in one hand and my razor in the other.  Kids are terrifying—and so precious.

Mozambican Odyssey, #16: Car Trouble in South Africa

 

Here we are after losing a tire on the road in South Africa.

While Martin and Don haul the tire up out of the ravine, 6-year-old Joseph finds a tree to climb.

Car Trouble in South Africa

“Divine love is incessantly restless until it turns all woundedness into health, all deformity into beauty, and all embarrassment into laughter.”  — Beldon Lane*

By October of 1996, in Mozambique, we had managed to buy a small used car to get our family around until we could get something better.  Shopping in Maputo, Mozambique was very limited, so we wanted to travel to South Africa like our coworkers did for supplies and groceries that we could not find in Mozambique.  Our good friends, the Hulsey family, decided to go with us to show us around, and to make sure our little car could make the trip.

We waited about 2 hours just to get through the border between the two countries, and then, about 20 minutes into South Africa, we heard a strange sound.  All of a sudden, one of our tires flew off, speeding down into a ravine on the side of the road, and then launching back up into the air and disappearing again over the side of the road!

We were able to get to the side of the road without injury, and the Hulseys pulled over to help since they were following us.  My poor little 3-year-old Hannah was nearly hysterical, and I could hardly blame her after waiting 2 hours at the border and then this.

“What are we gonna do now? she wailed. Our car is broken!”

I wanted to wail too, but I didn’t.

We found the tire down in a ravine beside the road.  Don Hulsey had the always-prepared-seasoned-missionary-equipment in his car, lots of rope and hooks and such.  He held the rope as Martin rappelled down into the ravine by the rope to retrieve the tire.  I am glad I was not watching.

After the men hauled the tire up through the brush with the rope, we then piled both families of 5, yes, 10 of us, into the Hulsey’s landrover and went in search of a mechanic.

Today we laugh about this adventure, but had the Hulseys not been with us, it could have been horrible and dangerous.  There were rumors about little kids being kidnapped and used for “parts,” and the crime rate in South Africa was very high.  Had there been cars coming, the tire would very likely have caused a wreck.  God has protected us so many times through situations that could have been disastrous, and he has turned our “embarrassment into laughter.”*

This week in November, 2019, in Kentucky, again our family is having car trouble, but I am thankful that we are all safe.  Once again, I am so thankful for lifelong friends like the Hulseys who have been there for us so many times.  I am also thankful for my family, and how we take care of each other.

Finally, this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for a God who “turns all woundedness into health, all deformity into beauty, and all embarrassment into laughter.”*  I am still waiting on some of this to be completed, but I am also trying to focus on how much God has already done for me.  Praying you will experience the goodness of God this holiday season.

*Beldon Lane. Quoted in Tattoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle

This Artist’s Life, #12: Working with our Hands

 

Ancient Cedars in the Summer Sun, Oil on Canvas, 11 x 14 inches, by Susan E. Brooks will be on display at the Jane Morgan Gallery from December 5 – April 2020.

 

“Where the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art.”*

—Leonardo Da Vinci

I have to admit that I do not know exactly what Leonardo meant by these words, but this quotation is thought-provoking for me.  As usual, I am feeling a little sad with the approaching of winter and even the holidays.  I need some encouragement.  One way I can find encouragement, is to work with my hands.

I was having a conversation with an artist/teacher friend the other day, and we agreed that there is something healing about creating with your hands.  I find that whether it’s painting, drawing, or making a pie for Thanksgiving, I feel better and breathe easier when I’m working with my hands.

Too often, I am just “in my head,” worrying over the grandkids’ health or the latest car trouble, and I need the healing that creative work brings.  We sometimes act like we are only vehicles meant to carry our brains around while they do all of the important work.  The reality is, we are body, soul, and spirit, all connected and created to act as a whole.

Perhaps this is what Leonardo meant when he said the spirit needs to work with the hands:  Sometimes, when our hands are able to create what our spirits are needing to express, what results is art–something that goes beyond just one person’s expression and becomes universally true and impactful in unique ways to the viewer.

Simply working with our hands can be healing and helpful, but when the spirit shows up expressing truth through beauty, this is art.

 

*  https://renee-phillips.com/art-and-artists-statements-by-famous-artists/

Artist, writer, teacher