Mozambican Odyssey, #7: Chongololo Racing

Our son Kirk, back in 1996, being friendly with an African Giant Millipede.

Chongololo Races

(from an email dated Dec. 21, 1996)

Kids are so creative.  It’s our first Christmas away from the states. It is not like any other Christmas we have ever had, but the kids are enjoying the little things, like  Chongololo races.  A Chongololo is an African giant black millipede that our boys find in abundance around our house.  I am not exaggerating when I use the word “giant.”  They are sometimes as long as 15 inches, and they are the world’s largest millipede.

The other day the boys made tracks in the sand and had Chongololo races. I keep my distance from any millipede, no matter how friendly he seems, but I am happy that they have found a way to entertain themselves.  Who needs television or store-bought toys?

Our son Joseph in 1996, playing with a chongololo.

Now in 2019, as I was looking up how to spell Chongololo, I discovered that the term “Chongololo” has been used as a derogatory term for a person who is obsessed with Western culture. (from https://masukam.blogspot.com/2014/05/are-you-chongololo.html)  “Chongololo Races,” takes on a new meaning when I think about it that way.  You’ve heard of the race to “keep up with the Jones.”  How about the race to keep up with Western culture?  Let’s call it “Chongololo racing.”  Many things about Western culture are good and I am thankful, but maybe we should stop  racing each other to have everything the culture suggests that we “need.”  Maybe we could learn a few things from Eastern culture, such as taking time for family and the people in our lives, and slowing down instead of “racing” around all the time.  Think about it.  Chongololo racing.

This Artist’s Life, #1: The Gate into the Unknown

 

“The Gate into the Unknown” Oil on canvas panel, 11×14, Plein Air Painting, Anchorage, KY by Susan E. Brooks

When people ask what I am doing, I tell them I quit my teaching job to pursue my art, and they don’t seem to understand my answer.  I get it.  Rarely does one meet a fine artist, as opposed to a commercial artist, who is making a living with her art.  People assume that I have “retired” from teaching to kick back and enjoy the grandkids and dabble in art as a hobby.  The fact is that I do enjoy a little more time for the grandkids, but I have no retirement package, and I’m too young for social security.  I have made a leap into the unknown, and it is yet to be seen whether I can replace my teaching income with income from my art and writing.

So how do I spend my time?  So many different art and writing deadlines are looming that I’ve had to make a spread sheet which I update each week.  The columns are for things that need to be done “this week, this month,” and in the “near future.”  It also has a place for a shopping list.  Here’s a link to the weekly planner I made for those who might like to use it: my one page weekly planner

To keep up with the demands of the two galleries that represent me, KORE Gallery and the Jane Morgan plein air gallery, I need to do at least 2 large oil pastels per month, and go out every Thursday to paint “en plein air,” which means painting outdoors.  In addition to creating work to sell at these galleries, I have juried invitational shows and art fairs for which to create work and a solo show coming up next year.

On the writing front, I am working on a book of stories about our time in Mozambique.  From emails and journals that I wrote while in Mozambique, I publish a devotional blog story every Wednesday, which is a short excerpt from the book. Here’s a link to the first of those posts if you are interested.  Mozambican Odyssey, #1.  I am also sending off articles and stories to publishers each month.

What makes me think I can do all of this and maybe make a little money at it?  I ask myself that all too often, but when I need encouragement, I remember the words of a beloved college professor of mine.  Many years ago, when I studied art in college, the professor in charge of the art department called me into his office one day.  He asked what I wanted to do with my life.  When I told him I wanted to be a fine artist, he said this:  “I tell most of my students that they should go into commercial art because so few can make it as fine artists, but you could make it as a fine artist.  You can do whatever you set your mind to do.”  That dear man died of cancer a couple of years after giving me that encouragement, but I’ve never forgotten it.  It has taken me about thirty years to get around to trying it full-time, but I think that professor is watching from heaven, cheering me on.

 

 

 

Mozambican Odyssey #6: They All Said Yes

A Light Has Dawned, 17×20, pastel on paper, by Susan E. Brooks

I asked if any of the children wanted to accept Jesus and be baptized, and they all started shaking their heads “Yes”!

“Wait a minute,” I thought, “let me make sure they are saying what I think they are saying.”

You see, I was still learning Portuguese, and Portuguese is also a second language for these children.  They speak Changaan at home, but school is taught in Portuguese because Mozambique had been colonized by the Portuguese.  I had these illustrated Bible story posters with the story written in Portuguese on the back of the big, colorful illustration.  I would practice reading the stories in Portuguese, and the other missionaries told me my pronunciation was good, so they asked me to teach the children on Wednesday nights.  The truth is, I could read the words and pronounce them well,  but at times I didn’t comprehend what my own mouth was saying as I read the story to the children.

Sometimes having good pronunciation can get you into trouble because people think you have better language skills than you actually do.  The other night for example, two babies came to class with their older siblings, who looked to me to be about 6, and just as the class was starting, a baby toddled out into the dark night.  I tried to ask the children to go get her, but in my panic, my high school French popped into my mind instead of Portuguese, and the children all just looked at me blankly!  It’s as if my brain has a foreign language switch, and when I’m panicked, trying to think of a word in the new language I’m learning, instead, my brain supplies the word from a language I haven’t studied for years, sometimes a word that I wouldn’t be able to think of if I were trying!  I’m curious as to whether this happens to other people, or is my brain broken?

After I realized that I had used French instead of Portuguese, I corrected myself, and the big brother went to retrieve the baby.  After the story ended, I asked if any of the children wanted to accept Jesus and be baptized.

They all started nodding their heads and saying, “Yes!”  I was super excited, but not quite sure they understood.  It would have been great to just baptize them all and report the wonderful results to our supporters; but instead, I questioned them further, finding out that many of them had already been baptized, and things were not exactly as they seemed on the surface.

Most of the time these days, I’m not trying to communicate in a second language, but do I still make the same kind of mistakes?  I make a judgement, based on someone’s brief response, not really taking the time to ask questions and make sure they understood what I meant, and maybe I plow forward based on mistaken assumptions, not taking the time to get to know people or listen to them because I have an agenda for them.

Jesus, on the other hand, took the time to walk, talk, and eat with people.  He didn’t push an agenda, but he asked what they wanted, sometimes even when the answer seemed obvious.  He spent time daily with his disciples, teaching them by example and with stories and conversations.  I need to be reminded to slow down and listen to people.  It’s not all about my agenda for them.  Maybe they don’t need what I think they need, and I won’t know unless I let go of my agenda for them and listen.

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.