Mozambican Odyssey, #13: Sharing One Cup

Tanzanian Queen, 24×18, Oil pastel on pastel paper, by Susan E. Brooks

Sharing One Cup 

One of our early church experiences in Maputo, Mozambique was a stretching one for me.  Having grown up in the protestant churches, we always had lots of individual little cups for the communion service, and those were filled with grape juice and passed around for church members to take, along with the wafers or crackers that represented the body of Christ.

We had not been in Mozambique long when one Sunday we traveled out to the village, out from town a bit, to attend church with other missionaries and locals.  We were honored as special guests and seated on the front rows, which did not thrill introverted me at all, but we did as we were instructed to do.

There was energetic singing, dancing, and preaching which I enjoyed, but when it came time for communion, I started to squirm.  They were passing around one cup of wine, and everyone was watching us on the front row, so we had to take our turn, drinking after a bunch of strangers.

My mind spun with all of the different diseases in Africa that we had never been exposed to before, and one of my greatest fears about going had been one or more of us dying of some exotic illness.  All kinds of tragic scenarios ran through my mind as I sipped, fearing that we would catch something horrible.  I could imagine the headlines:

“Missionary family dies from ebola after drinking communion wine.”

I don’t even know how one gets ebola or if they have ever had it in Mozambique, but you get the idea.  It doesn’t seem like a big deal now, especially since we didn’t get sick, but back then, it was frightening for me.  I sipped and prayed that we would not become ill, and we didn’t.

God protected us so many times, and he still does.  How often are we exposed to deadly germs?  How many near wrecks do we have?  How many times do we nearly fall, but we are caught just in time as children, or even adults?  How many illnesses do we recover from if we do become ill?

We take countless mercies for granted every day.  God has rescued us from so many terrible fates that might have befallen us.  When I am discouraged, I need to look back at all of the fears that God has delivered us from, and then I can hope and expect that He will do it again.

This Artist’s Life, #8: My First Plein Air Paint Out

Morning Sunlight on Beargrass Creek, 12×12, Oil on Canvas, By Susan E. Brooks

Creativity takes courage.”      —Henri Matisse

I was so nervous about my first plein air paint out.  I wasn’t going to do it, and when I mentioned it to one of my artist friends, she said,

“I never do competitions!  I tried once and I froze up.  It was awful and I’ll never do it again!”

That kind of spooked me.  A plein air paint out means a bunch of artists go outside and paint something in the landscape, and then the work is publicly displayed, judged, and prizes are given.  This paint out was part of a celebration at the Regeneration Fair for the opening of the new Botanical Gardens at the corner of Frankfort and River Road, here in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.

I have been going out weekly since last June, to paint with the Plein Air Painters of Kentucky.  I enjoy that, but it is understood among us that some  days it turns out well, and some days it doesn’t.  A paint out is something different.  What if I froze up or just had a bad day?

Not for me, I decided. But then as I ran into friends in the local arts community, I was urged to participate.  After some consideration, I said to myself,

“This is not about you.  It’s about celebrating the new botanical gardens and raising money for the Children’s Free Art Classes offered by the Louisville Visual Art Association.”

Some of my students have benefitted from those classes in the past, and I even taught one of those classes a long time ago.  Kids who would not normally be able to afford special art classes can take them through this program.

The night before the paint out, I was exhausted from the week and whining about the fact that it was going to be only 40 degrees or so for the 8am paint out arrival time in the morning.

“Why did I sign up for this?” I groaned.

As is often the case after I get so worked up about something, the event was anticlimactic and fun.  I did have to jog a little bit and jump up and down to keep myself warm as I painted.  But as the sun rose over Beargrass Creek, it lit up the trees from behind into a yellow-green glow.  I loved it!  I was able to enjoy myself and to paint something that I liked, so I didn’t mind much whether the judges would like it or not.  I didn’t freeze up, although I almost did just from the cold!

When I put my painting down among all of the others, I was happy.  There were so many beautiful paintings spread out, and I was just happy that mine didn’t stick out like a sore thumb.  I survived–not only survived– enjoyed my first plein air paint out.

Congratulations to my fellow member artist at KORE Gallery, Anil Vinayakan, for winning first place!  You can see more of his work and mine at KORE Gallery at 942 East Kentucky St. in Louisville, Kentucky.  My plein air work will be on display at the Jane Morgan Gallery at 4838 Brownsboro Center, with the next show opening December 4.

Mozambican Odyssey, #12: “The Thousand Natural Shocks”

“An African Madonna” by Susan E. Brooks, 20 x 30 inches, oil pastel on mat board

I love that line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet for some reason.  Whenever I struggle, I think of the “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.”  We all struggle with a thousand things, but in the beginning of our time in Mozambique, there were so many shocks, literal,  emotional, and intellectual.

The electricity in Mozambique is 220, compared to our 110 in the US.  I don’t really know what that means, but I know that getting shocked is more serious with 220!  For some reason, we would get shocked if we touched the faucet in our newly built home when we tried to wash the dishes.  We had to wear shoes if we were to be in contact with the water, whether in the kitchen or in the shower.  It’s a wonder we are all fairly normal after getting shocked so many times.  It became a joke among the missionaries on the compound.  Maybe that’s what’s wrong with us!

In addition to the literal shocks in our house, there were the daily shocks of seeing how a different world operated.  My son saw a lady at the market selling roasted rats and bats.  I don’t know about the bats, but the rats were common.  They say it’s a vegetarian rat.  What exactly does that mean?  Is the rat picky?  He won’t eat his mashed potatoes with beef gravy? Or is the rat somehow how okay for vegetarians to eat? Does rat meat not count as real meat?  I have no clue, but I didn’t want any, vegetarian rat or not.

On the way to town one day we passed a pet baboon.  I don’t know what else to say about that.  Then we were again shocked at the high prices at the supermarket for anything that my kids might have eaten, such as boxed cereal.  The local people ate a lot of corn meal mush, but my kids wouldn’t have anything to do with it, and to be honest, I didn’t care much for it either.  So I was spending a lot of time in the kitchen, trying not to get shocked at the sink, and learning how to make chicken nuggets and fries from scratch.

Looking back on all of those shocks, I think perhaps I should have lowered my expectations of myself and others.  I now know that culture shock is difficult and demanding, and though I did enjoy some aspects of the newness of everything, I wish I had rejoiced in it more, and learned to go with the flow.  Instead, I often felt guilty about all of the things I wasn’t getting done, wasn’t eating, wasn’t enjoying, etc.

Isn’t it ironic that we can feel guilty for not enjoying something enough?  It kind of kills the joy when I’m always critiquing myself on how I am handling life.  “Never good enough” is a refrain that keeps coming back for me.

But when I listen to the right voice, I know I am enough because I am loved by my good God.  He knows I am human and loves me still.  That is enough.

This Artist’s Life, #7: Capture the Moment

Sycamores on the Ohio, en Plein Air, Oil on Canvas Panel, 11×14, by Susan E. Brooks.

Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand, as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love.  — Claude Monet

The sky was so blue, the sun was dancing on the water and dappling the sycamore trunks with light and shadow, and I was so lucky to be out there, just soaking it all in, loving the moment, trying to capture it in paint.

The idea of plein air painting, a French term meaning to paint outside, is to capture the moment, the fleeting light and shadow, and to express in paint the feeling or mood of a outdoor scene as experienced by the artist at the time.

Some days it doesn’t go so well for me, and I stress about the painting, or about other things in life, and I’m not able to inhabit the moment.  At the restaurant where we were painting last week, they were blaring loud, throbbing rap music, which is not what I would choose for a peaceful painting atmosphere, and it bothered me at first.  But after a few minutes, I was able to just enjoy the beauty of the day, the river,  the trees, and the sunlight, loving the colors and the process of painting out of doors, and the blaring music faded out of my consciousness.

What I am learning from plein air painting might be relevant for other areas of my life as well.  I  need to forget about the distractions that could annoy me and  just look for the beauty in each moment, focus on the gift that is this day, this task, this few minutes with a loved one or friend, enjoy the time, and love.

(My plein air work will be available at Jane Morgan Gallery, 4838 Brownsboro Road – Arcade, Louisville, KY 40207.  Exhibition dates are Dec. 4, 2019 – April 30, 2020.)

Monet quote is from https://www.azquotes.com/author/10263-Claude_Monet

 

Mozambican Odyssey, #11: The Witch Doctor’s Drums

Coming into the Light, Oil pastel on paper, 24 x 18 inches by Susan E. Brooks. Available at KORE Art Gallery, Louisville, KY

The Witch Doctor’s Drums

It may not have been the very first night.  I suspect the first night in Maputo we were so exhausted that we didn’t hear a thing after traveling from Chicago to London to Johannesburg, South Africa, to Maputo, Mozambique, with 3 children, 14 tubs, 6 carryons, and countless goodbyes.

But I remember the first night that we heard the drums.  We were told that these were the drums of the witchdoctor.  As I sat on the porch, and listened to the sound in the distance, it felt as though we had traveled back in time or even to another world–which, in a sense, we had done.

I wondered what the drums meant.  What exactly did a witchdoctor do in Maputo, Mozambique in 1996?  Were the drums sending a message?  Was it about us?  Were they beating out,

“Let’s meet to go slaughter the new missionaries at 2am”?

I had no idea, but at the time I was not afraid.  It felt like a mysterious adventure, and I felt that God was with us.

Looking back sometimes I wonder at myself.  I am not a brave person.  I am a shy person afraid of many things. I can only explain going to Mozambique as God’s giving me peace and strength for what I was supposed to do at the time.  I know we made many mistakes, but I would not trade the experience for anything.

Maybe I need to take a lesson from my old self.  If I could survive moving to Mozambique and living there for 3 years, which was both wonderful and extremely difficult, maybe I can face today’s challenges.  I just need to trust.  Maybe you can too.