Tag Archives: Mozambique

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.

Mozambican Odyssey: (2) “But they live in mud huts!”

Curious children were everywhere as we settled into our new home in Mozambique.

Getting off the airplane, it felt as though we had traveled back in time.  Mozambique was said to be the third poorest country in the world at that time, and they had just survived 30 years of civil war.  Kentucky seemed like a bright, shiny Disney Land compared to the devastated country we had just entered.  Many people lived in mud huts and cooked outside on a fire.  War had ravaged the countryside and further impoverished the people.  There was the feeling of “You’re not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy.”

As we bumped over the asphalt roads, and then the sand roads on the way to our compound, we saw that some Mozambicans did live in apartments or houses of concrete, and others in houses of mud and sticks or grass.  I had been told that an American missionary had built our house, so I was expecting, not anything fancy, but an average, finished house.

Upon arriving at the compound, I discovered that the house wasn’t finished to the level I was expecting.  The floors were concrete, and I was told that I would need to wax the concrete floors before we could move in, or maybe I could hire someone to help me with that.  There was no mention of tile or carpet or anything of that sort, just

“Wax the floors before you move in so you won’t be sweeping up cement dust every time you sweep.”

And this had to be done on hands and knees, and then the wax had to be buffed off, by hand.  Finished, to me, meant floors and ceilings.  There was no ceiling either.  We looked up at rafters and the underbelly of the roof.  A friend later commented,

“Your house is like living in a bath house, with the concrete floors, no ceiling, etc.”  She was right.

Nothing brings you face to face with your own self-centeredness and  presuppositions like moving to another culture.  I had just arrived, and nothing was like I had expected it to be.  This was hard—in so many ways— hard concrete floors, no furniture, no air-conditioning, and unreliable electricity.  Yet many of the Mozambicans lived in mud huts.  In the US, I never had to struggle with wealth inequality.  I was nearly always surrounded by people of about the same socioeconomic status that I have, and I felt comfortable being kind of in the middle.  I had enough, but not a lot more than those around me; and many of those around me had a lot more than we did, so I felt righteous enough, at least when it came to material possessions.

Then I moved to Mozambique, and the rug was pulled out from under me, landing me flat on my hard, soon-to-be-waxed concrete floor.  What was I to do? Complain to God and my coworkers that this was not what I expected, when I could easily walk to a dozen or more mud huts in our neighborhood?  Maybe I should have tried to buy one of those huts to live in, but then we would have starved if I had had to cook everything on a fire that I had built, since my fire-building skills are laughable or non-existent.  Then too, we probably would have all died of cholera or malaria if we had not had a house with screens and running water that we purified with a water purifier.  I could go on and on, but you get my point.  Do we all need to plunge into poverty, or can we lift up the impoverished to a higher level instead?  Does God have enough to go around?

I think God does have enough, but I also believe I should learn to be content with a simple lifestyle.  God loves the homeless, the refugee, and the individual living in third world countries as much as He loves me.  He hates greed.  What does greed look like? Having a floor and a ceiling?  What does it mean to be greedy in light of the suffering in the world? I wrestled with these questions  as I waxed my floor, down on my hands and knees.

Mozambican Odyssey (an Excerpt)

“All the World” by Susan E. Brooks, 20 x 30 inches, oil pastel on mat board

 

Every day is filled with incredible stress, guilt, and fear.  My husband nearly died from an unidentified illness, and I fear for the health and safety of my kids almost all day, every day.  It’s easier just to stay on the compound with the other American missionaries, but that’s not why I came.  God, help me get through this.

The women here are so strong and persevering.  They work incredibly hard everyday, many with absent husbands, caring for children in addition to working a job if they can find one.  Most prepare their food over a fire and carry water some distance from a pump.  Their lives seem like constant struggle and pain to me, and yet they sing and smile and are so beautiful in their laughter.

I am a pampered child who cannot handle much stress, apparently.  Many days I wonder what it would be like to have a nervous breakdown.  How can you tell if you’re about to lose it?  What are the signs?  I can’t talk to anyone about this because they’re all stressed too, and I’m supposed to be a hero to the people back home.  What a crock!  I’m a wreck.  The kids are the only ones who seem to be okay, most of the time.  I try to hold it together for them.  I keep my  inner turmoil  hidden.  God does help me and carry me through, but I wonder if He will keep us safe.  I wonder if all 5 of us will make it back home to Kentucky.

I know that God is good.  I see it in nature and in the beauty of children and in the Mozambican people all around me.  How can the creator of such beauty not be good?  But I also see the suffering around me.  Children are dying from cholera all around.  I saw my 20 year old brother suffer and die of cancer within a few months.  My dad died at age 63, just before retirement, as a result of a car wreck.  Life is suffering, beauty, and glory, all mixed together.  Sometimes I could hide from that back in Kentucky, but not here in Mozambique.  Extreme poverty slaps you in the face as children beg for bread every day; but at night, the stars crowding the sky seem so close you could throw a rock at one and send it crashing down to earth.   This beauty is also undeniable.

Looking back in 2019, I did survive 3 years in Mozambique, but one of my teammates did not.  He was shot and killed by armed robbers that entered our compound one night.  I did not feel free to write about how difficult it was for me back then, but now I am free of the pedestal and the expectations that were put upon me at the time.  I don’t know why I am safely back home, and my friend is not.  God allows suffering, and He is is good.  These truths I have to hold in tension, and probably always will.  I hope I can live in such a way as to celebrate the beauty and goodness, and at the same time, maybe I can alleviate a little of the suffering, or at least, stand in solidarity with those who suffer, as Jesus does.

Solo Show of Oil Pastel Portraits in July, 2018

Tanzanian Chidren, 16 x 20, oil pastel on paper, by Susan E. Brooks

A Celebration of Color: Oil Pastel Portraits by Susan E. Brooks will be on display at the Open Community Arts Center from July 2 – July 27, with the closing reception on July 27 from 6-9pm.  The show is comprised of 16 oil pastel portraits completed within the past two years, including the very recent works created for the “KRM We Create” events for the World Refugee week Festival in June.  Ten of the 16 artworks are available for purchase.  Come out and  see the work, and if you would like to meet me there, let me know!

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Update on My Children’s Books

Reading with Poppy
Reading with Poppy, oil pastel painting by Susan E. Brooks. Prints available at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/reading-with-poppy-susan-e-brooks.html

When God invented grandchildren, He outdid himself — forgive me, but all of you grandparents know what I mean.  I couldn’t be more crazy about mine!  They have changed my life forever, as a matter of fact, because I wanted to write books for them.  After writing books for them, I was able to get a paid writing job for a local children’s book publisher.  One good thing led to another, and I have my amazing grandchildren to thank.

Just recently, the company that will be publishing my book later this summer was featured in Insider Louisville Magazine.  Here’s a link to that article https://insiderlouisville.com/lifestyle_culture/louisville-based-baxters-corner-creates-fun-interactive-childrens-books/.  Baxter’s Corner is a great local company that is focused on creating children’s books that promote healthy values.

Meanwhile, I’m working on writing and illustrating the third book inspired by my grandchildren, which is a surprise that cannot be revealed until it’s finished.  If you’re interested in seeing the first two books, go to http://www.lulu.com/shop/susan-e-brooks/ariel-princess-of-the-forest-mischievous-cheetah/hardcover/product-21832502.html.

 

Celebrating a First

This is the cover art for my book, Ariel, Princess of the Forest, Oil Pastel on paper
This is the cover art for my book, Ariel, Princess of the Forest, Oil Pastel on paper

In recent years especially, I have felt almost a burning desire to write–about my life, about my thoughts, about funny and interesting things that happen at my job, about the goodness of God, about experiences with internationals–stories slap me in the face nearly everyday and demand to be written!  Writing for me is a wonderful way to really savor your life, to be able to live the fun parts over and over again, and even to invent some fun in your mind if you’re running a little short.

In the summer of 2014, I was inspired to write and illustrate a children’s book for my granddaughter.  That was way more work than I ever imagined, but I also found that something intuitive or imaginative happened when I started to write: the story took a direction I never thought of in the beginning, ideas sprang out of nowhere, and the creative process, a mystery to me, made writing that book,  Ariel, Princess of the Forest, an adventure. 

I figured out how to publish it with an online company called lulu.com.  Presenting the book to my granddaughter and her parents and seeing her giggle about the illustrations of her favorite stuffed animal going wild,  was about as good as life gets for a grandmother.

Once I started for one grandchild, I was committed.  Apparently my children think I need to keep busy, because they’ve since added two more grandchildren to the count, for a grand total of six children’s books due so far!

The next summer I created a book for my grandson, Joshua’s Journey: The Secret of the Chameleon, loosely based on an experience our family had in Mozambique.  After going through the grueling work of self-publishing again, I decided that it would be nice to find a publisher.

One thing led to another, and thanks to a sweet friend pushing me to go to a writer’s meeting, I made some connections with a local publisher.  The publisher wasn’t ready to republish my books, but she was impressed with them, and decided to hire me to write for her children’s book series!

I have just completed my first book for Baxter’s Corner publishing company!  Baxter’s Corner’s goal is to create books that will teach  healthy values.  They hired me to write about one of their characters, Ellema the elephant.  Ellema and the Big Rig will be published early next year.  Baxter’s Corner already has an established illustrator for the series, Mary Ellen Stottmann, so I was hired only for the writing.  I appreciated working with the “Chief Pencil,” author and editor Linda Baker.  By the time my third and final draft was accepted, I was relieved, happy, and ready to do my victory dance!  I was paid to write!  A dream come true!  God is so good!