Tag Archives: Africa

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

Mozambican Odyssey, #15: Sometimes We Cry

Window to the Soul, Oil Pastel on Pastel Paper, 14 x 11, by Susan E Brooks

Sometimes We Cry

The adjustment from one culture to another is called culture shock.  I had no idea what that was like, having never even been out of the country before the move to Mozambique, except on an anniversary cruise to the Bahamas.  Trust me.  Moving to Mozambique is no trip to the Bahamas.

The thoughts and feelings below are from my journal in August of 1996, just after moving to Mozambique, Africa:

I was excited to move into our house yesterday, but it has a few problems.  The toilet leaks sewage across the floor and into the shower stall.  I’m exhausted, and between a stressful team meeting last night and the toilet issues, I found myself in tears again last night.

(from 8/29/96, 3 days later)

What a week!  I tried to use the electric skillet, but it blew out the transformer.  All of our appliances from the states have to be plugged into a transformer to work on the 220 electricity.  Sometimes the transformers overheat, and it ruins both the transformer and the appliance.

We are supposed to have 220 electricity, but it fluctuates.  It’s really strange.  The lights suddenly become dim and flash on and off like a scene from a horror film.  This is also hard on appliances.  Our new refrigerator shut down after one of these episodes, so we called the electrician.  He pronounced our 5 day old refrigerator dead.  Desperate, we prayed, and tried one last time to get it going, and miraculously, it started running!

I needed that miracle.  Earlier today I was crying, again.  At that point we were nearly out of food, out of currency, no refrigerator, no vehicle, no way to manage.  What were we thinking, moving here sight-unseen with three kids and no overseas experience, at least none for me?  The tears flowed.

Somehow, by grace, by the end of the day we had a little money, and one of the local women agreed to walk to the market for me.  (She wouldn’t get swindled at the market like I would have.)  She came back with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, and we had a meatless spaghetti meal for supper.  We invited a veteran missionary couple to eat with us and were comforted by their company and their sage advice.

Now in 2019, back in Kentucky, I still cry, but not about electricity or money or food.  I would not trade our time in Mozambique for anything, but neither do I want to relive it.  A quote from Dicken’s A Tale of Two Cities describes it better than any words I can invent. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” but God got us through.

Last week, I cried over the fact that my little grandson was diagnosed with diabetes.  I hate it because, barring a miracle or the discovery of a cure, he will face that disease for the rest of his life.  But I know that God is faithful and gives us the strength to handle whatever comes along, even though, sometimes we cry.

This Artist’s Life, #11: Inspiration from Fellow Artists

This is one of the few animal paintings I’ve created. I’m now inspired to try more animals. 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

Open Studio Weekend is an event sponsored by LVA, Louisville Visual Art, and by the University of Louisville Hite Art Institute in Louisville, Kentucky.  During this special weekend, scores of artists around town open their studios to the public, and LVA sells tickets with maps and information about all of the studios.  I did not sign up as an artist this year; instead, I enjoyed visiting the studios of fellow artists. It was an inspiring weekend for me.

The first artist we visited was Helen Merrick.  Helen uses bright colors to paint just about any subject you can imagine.  Helen inspired me to think about painting subjects that I don’t usually paint, such as animals or historic sites, and to try different mediums, such a watercolors or alcohol inks.  Thank you, Helen!

The next artist we visited was Anne MacCracken Borders.  She showed me that  I could open up my back porch studio area to visitors, and reminded me that I have traveled to many interesting places around the world that I could paint.  I will be digging into my travel photos soon!  Thank you, Anne.

On Sunday I stopped at KORE Gallery to hang out, both as an artist and as a visitor to my gallery owner’s studio.  I had never taken in Don Cartwright’s studio, which is filled with beautiful abstract paintings.  Abstract painting has not been my purview, but sometimes I feel that it takes more creativity than working from life or photos.  Thanks, Don, for sharing your creative imagination with us through your painting.

Our last stop on the Open Studio tour was at Debra Lott’s studio.  I love her colorful, haunting, floating figure paintings and portraits! She inspired me to think about how I can communicate powerful messages and advocate for justice with my art.  Thank you, Debra.

Thank you, LVA and  U of L Hite Art Institute for a great weekend of art!  Perhaps I will invite you all to my place next year.  Meanwhile, here’s my next big event:

Mozambican Odyssey, #14: Battling Monsters in Mozambique

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

Battling Monsters in Mozambique

Moving to Mozambique, Africa, with three children was difficult for many reasons, not the least of which was that the insects in Mozambique seemed prehistoric in size and structure.  As if to confirm that impression, when I looked up “chongololo,” the name for the millipedes in Mozambique, the article said, “The giant African millipede can grow up to 15 inches in length.”*

Of course!  Just my luck.  Mozambique would be the home of the “giant” millipede.  We saw dung beetles the size of a young child’s fist, crickets that looked like a prehistoric armored version that could carry off a young child—okay, not quite.  But the worst were the baboon spiders that looked every bit like huge tarantulas!  Big brown furry creatures that hung out, literally, on the ceiling of our porch just outside the door.  They were terrifying.  I do not care if they were said to be harmless; those hairy monsters were nightmare fodder.  Having so many oversized insects in Mozambique, which were impossible to keep out of the house, was the bane of my existence, not to mention the mosquitos that carried deadly malaria.

We moved to Maputo, Mozambique in August of 1996 to do mission work.  I taught at an international school, and my husband helped start a pastoral leadership training program.  Living in our newly built house was described by one of our American friends as “like living in a bath house.”  We did have screens on the doors and windows, but we had no ceilings and only a concrete floor. Picture a bath house at a campground having three bedrooms, a kitchen, and a living room.  The roof leaked whenever it rained, and we placed buckets under all of the leaks, not knowing how to fix the type of roofing that was used.  Though we had screens, there was no keeping the insects out of that house, nor the geckos for that matter.

One time I was sitting in the bathroom taking care of business, when something came crashing down from the ceiling toward me.  I screamed and jumped up, not able to flee because of my state of undress, but it was just a gecko.  Geckos were crawling on our walls and ceilings constantly, but since they ate malaria-carrying mosquitos, we learned to consider them our buddies.  The insects, on the other hand, I could not stomach.

In my fervor to keep bugs out of our food, I would look for any container that might be airtight.  Containers were important.  Sometimes we would buy cookies that were sealed in a metal can that had a tight fitting top, similar to the tins we sometimes use in the states to give homemade Christmas cookies as gifts.  If I found cookies in a tin, that meant maybe they were fresh and not bug infested, and then I would save the container to use for storage after the cookies were gone.

One day I could not find my cookie tin where it was supposed to be in the kitchen.  I had looked everywhere.  I went looking around the house, and I found it on my oldest son’s shelf in his room.

“What is Kirk doing with my cookie tin?” I thought.

Nonchalantly, I opened the top.  As soon as I opened the tin, big hairy spider legs crawled over the edge, and I lost it.  I screamed bloody murder and flung the tin away! Out came one of those furry, tarantula-looking baboon spiders, followed by a huge prehistoric cricket, and who knows what else was in there, as it went flying out of my hands, clanging upon the concrete floors.

Hearing my scream, my husband came running.  He had a split second to decide whether to smash the big baboon spider all over the bottom of his boot or let it escape under the water bed where our son slept.  He smashed it, fearing none of us would ever sleep again knowing that it had escaped under the waterbed.

After the screaming and the slaughter of the monster, we laughed hysterically.  I learned a lesson: never open a container on a boy’s shelf without first inquiring about the contents!

* from https://www.animalstown.com/animals/m/millipede/millipede.php

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.

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.

This Artist’s Life, #5: Purple Trees and Blue Ladies

“Strength in Blue” sold at KORE Gallery back in the spring. Oil Pastel, 20×24 inches by Susan E. Brooks

“Color is my day-long obsession, joy and torment.” ~ Claude Monet

Someone was looking at my painting the other day and asked,

“Why is the tree purple?”

“I feel like most trees should be purple,” I replied, and I don’t really know why this is true.

Experimenting with color is part of the mystery and the magic of creating art for me.   I realize that most trees are gray or brown, but in those grays and browns, I see shades of violet, and blue, and pink, or at least the light seems to suggest those colors to my mind.

I love color, and most of the artists I admire used color in creative ways.  Monet used all kinds of unexpected colors: he painted orange haystacks, blue and orange cathedrals, and if you look at his series of Poplars, even purple trees.  Mary Cassatt used blues and greens and violets in her flesh tones with beautiful effects.  Picasso had his blue period–maybe this is my purple period.

It is fascinating to me to see the unique styles of various artists.  I hope you can come out to the Portland Art and Heritage Fair this Saturday to see the many different interpretations of the the theme, “Life on the River.”  Mine will be the oil pastel painting of the river with the purple trees.

Mozambican Odyssey, #10: What’s in the Box?

Hero’s Journey, oil pastel portrait, 20 x16 inches by Susan E. Brooks

What’s in the Box?

We had just arrived in Maputo, Mozambique, and it was our first trip into town.  A bunch of us piled into Don Hulsey’s Landrover, and we bounced over the sand roads until we came to the asphalt roads that led to the city.  The sights were like nothing I had ever experienced.  I saw houses of sticks, people hanging off of pickup trucks catching a ride, and women and children dressed in colorful clothes, carrying baskets and bowls on their heads.

At one point we had a bus in front of us that was carrying packages on the top.  A box fell off the bus in front of us, so we pulled over to save the package.  After the bus pulled over, the man who owned the box ran back to us, and our teammate Kevin handed him the package.

Don invited him to ride with us, which was better for him than dangling precariously from the side of the bus, and worrying about his package falling off again.  The grateful man jumped up into the truck with his box, and Kevin had to squish into the gear shift in the middle.

We were already giggling in the back seat when suddenly the box started squawking!  It struck us as hilarious that the two-seater front cab was overflowing with Kevin, Don, and a stranger with squawking chickens in a box.  When we looked up at the bus still in front of us, we saw a baby goat, standing, riding on the top of the bus.  We were not in Kentucky anymore, we were in Africa now, a whole new world.

That incident reminds me of the scripture that says God gives us good gifts.  Sometimes the gift is not what we expected, but it is good.  We do not know what will be in the next box that falls into our hands, or what the future holds, but we know that God is good.  He will not give us a snake if we ask for a fish (Luke 11:11). He is a good Father, who answers our prayers with good things.  He may even give you a box of chickens when you need a good laugh!

Mozambican Odyssey, #9: First Easter in Mozambique

 

Hannah’s First Easter in Mozambique, age 3

First Easter in MozambIque

(From an email written April 1, 1997)

We watched the sun come up over the Indian ocean this morning.  It was breathtaking.  We celebrated the resurrection with believers from around 14 different nations, all gathered on the beach for Easter Sunday morning.

After the glorious sunrise and Easter activities with our kids, the dishes were all piled up in the sink from much cooking and eating all weekend, candy was scattered around, and we were resting, recovering from getting up at 3:30 am.

Scheduled to teach the local children at 3pm, I was exhausted, and did not feel like speaking Portuguese for an hour.  Battling a bad attitude, and asking God to help me, I went down to the church to teach.

About 40 children from the local orphanage filed into my classroom with their caretaker, and I felt panicked having her and all of those children awaiting my Portuguese.  Hurling a desperate prayer toward heaven, I started off.  God showed up for me.  Those children listened intently as I taught a lesson from John 3. They even quieted the children who came in late so that they could listen.  I did stumble over my words some, but it didn’t seem to bother these children.  They seemed captivated by the illustrations and the lesson.

Afterward I gave out some simple questions, written by my little helper, Gerito.  Honestly, I didn’t think the questions were such a great idea, but I wanted to encourage Gerito, who had worked so hard writing them.  He had the idea that we should write questions, have the children answer them, and turn them back in.  I thought I would never see those papers again.

But I was wrong.  The children were excited to get those papers!  After the class, one child at a time proudly came and presented his paper, all filled out correctly.  Tears came to my eyes as I stood and read each paper—I had to, they each stood there waiting for my approval. I patted each one on the back, and told them what a good job they had done.  This seemed to make them truly happy, and after that they looked with fascination at my Bible picture book.  My heart was full as I watched their delight over a simple picture book.

Later that night something struck me. The first question on the paper was “Who is God?”  Every one of those orphaned children had answered “O Nosso Pai,” our Father.

They had no earthly fathers, but they believed God is their father.  How would you have answered that question?  Who is God to you?   I want to be like those children, who believed in God as their good father, and rejoiced over the simple gifts that came their way.

This Artist’s Life, #3: Picasso or Warhol, Striking a Balance

“The Sudanese General” is on display at KORE Gallery until until Sept. 14. Oil pastel on paper, 24×18 inches, by Susan E. Brooks

Maybe I should destroy my art work if I don’t like it.  I heard that Picasso slashed some of his paintings into shreds with his palette knife because they didn’t measure up to his standards for himself (1).

I’m not quite as intense as Picasso, but I’m also not quite as relaxed as Andy Warhol, though I aspire to be.  He’s what he said:

“Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art” (2).

This month I am showing my art work in two different group exhibitions in Louisville, Kentucky, and it’s always inspiring to me to see the work of so many different artists.

Looking at all of the art work on display, I sometimes wonder how other artists choose what to submit for these invitational juried exhibitions.  (Artists send photos of their work to the gallery and hope to be accepted into the show.)

“An African Madonna” is  on display at the Tim Faulkner Gallery for the month of September.  By Susan E. Brooks, 20 x 30 inches, oil pastel on mat board.

I have three categories of work, at least.  Work that I love, work I’m unsure about, and work that I don’t like.  I have a closet full of such pieces, work that didn’t turn out so great, and you’ll never see it, unless maybe you’re one of my kids sorting my stuff after I die.

Sometimes, I know that a painting or a drawing is bad, and I won’t show it.  Other times I have trouble being objective about my own work.  At those times, I try to think like Warhol.  Let everyone else decide if it’s good.  While they are deciding, I’ll just keep making even more art.

  1. From Steven Pressfield’s book, Turning Pro.

2. https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/507023-don-t-think-about-making-art-just-get-it-done-let