Mozambican Odyssey #5: The Rich Dog and Ernesto

Ollie and Bob, 18 x 24 inches, Oil Pastel on Pastel Paper by Susan E. Brooks
Ollie and Bob, 18 x 24 inches, Oil Pastel on Pastel Paper by Susan E. Brooks

The Rich Dog and the Ernesto

Let’s just say giving dogs a flea bath, then drying them with a towel, then giving the dog the towel because it is gross after drying a flea-covered dog—not my favorite thing to do!  I didn’t have many towels to spare, I was thinking, and towels here are so expensive.

The kids wanted a dog, and it seemed like a good idea for security, but it wasn’t working out so well.  We had heard about a full-blooded German Shepherd puppy that was for sale, so we said we were interested. We sent the money for the dog, and it arrived completely covered in fleas and sores.  We bathed him in flea soap, and seeing him pitiful and shivering with cold, we dried him with one of my old towels.  After that, I let the puppy keep the towel because it was filled with fleas and flea medicine.  Then, as luck would have it, we found out we had the wrong dog!

We were supposed to get the female puppy, and this was the male.  The owner of the puppies brought us another flea-ridden, scabby puppy, and left with  our clean puppy.  We went through the clean up routine all over again, ruined another towel, and the puppy ended up with two of my bath towels.  I wasn’t thrilled about this, but I had nothing else to use for him.  There isn’t the abundance of rags and materials available here that I had back in Kentucky.  In addition to two towels, it so happened that the dog had also claimed one of my washcloths; maybe it had fallen off the clothesline or something, so he had his own collection of linens, too disgusting  for me to reclaim for the family’s use.

During that time we employed a young man to work in our yard.  When we first hired Ernesto, I thought he was about 14. Then I learned that he has 3 children, the oldest as old as Kirk.  We had no mower, and not much grass, but the tradition was to hire a local man to cut the weeds with a machete, and he also did some simple landscaping for us, planting flowers and plants that we wanted to have in the yard.

Naturally, Ernesto had been watching everything that was happening with the puppies.  One day he got my attention, showed me the dog’s towels and washrag and said,

“I need one of these,” all in Portuguese, of course.

I thought maybe he intended to wash the car or something.  “For what?” I asked.

“Para mim!” he answered, which means “for me,” in Portuguese.

He went on to explain that all he had at home to dry off with was a capulana, which is a very thin, colorful piece of fabric that Mozambicans use for everything from a skirt to a picnic cloth, and, as I am learning now, for a towel, but a very sorry towel it would be.

Like a punch in the gut, it hit me that my dog is richer than my yard worker.

Ever read the stories in the Bible like the one about the rich man and Lazarus and identify with the poor man?  I used to always identify with the poor characters mentioned in the Bible, never the rich.  I couldn’t be the rich guy storing things up in barns or the rich man with the beggar just asking for some crumbs from his table, could I?  But now I realize that I am the rich person, and  I am haunted by that realization to this day.  Try reading the New Testament and putting your name in where it says “rich man.”  It will make you squirm.

Mozambican Odyssey: Babies Carrying Babies (Excerpt #4)

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

Lately I’ve been going through old photos from our time in Mozambique.  The photo that this artwork is based on reminded me of an eye-opening experience I had after we first moved to Mozambique, when my daughter was only 3 or 4 years old.  We had hired a young mother to help me with the housework and with learning the language and culture.  One day she needed to bring her children to work with her, and she brought her little daughter who was the same age as ours, 3 or 4, but strapped onto the little one’s back was a baby!  That little one, very much a baby herself, I thought, was expected to bounce that baby and keep her happy while her mommy worked.  I couldn’t believe it.  I watched as she entered my house, carrying that heavy load, and I worried about the little head bobbing up and down as big sis–tiny big sis– carried her around.  The little girl walked through the kitchen, and then she caught sight of my daughter’s bedroom.

At this point I feel the need to say that my kids left so many of their toys behind in the states, and there was very little around Maputo that we could afford to buy for them, or even that they would want when we first moved there.   Hannah did not have very many toys compared to her friends back in the states.  But when that little toddler entered her room, still with the baby on her back, her eyes got huge!  It was as if she had walked into Disneyland.  She had apparently never seen so many little girl toys, baby dolls, etc., and she just wanted to play in there all day.  That she did, as I recall, occasionally stopping to comfort her in-the-flesh baby sister on her back, as she played with the dolls.

It was another of many such moments in which I realized that I was the rich white American, and my employee’s kids could not imagine living like we did, despite the fact that we felt we had given up so much to move to Mozambique.

I’ve been processing this stuff for years, and I still don’t have many answers.  Being ashamed of having more than someone else is not helpful, but I do think we need to struggle with what can be done about income inequality and find ways to be compassionate.

Micah 6 : 8 comes to mind.  “And what  does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

I need to be concerned with justice, mercy, and humility.  These three are so needed, now more than ever.