Tag Archives: portraits

Mozambican Odyssey, #18: Carried Out, Kicking and Screaming

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

Carried Out, Kicking and Screaming

He told us he had been threatened with a knife.

I don’t know if this has happened for anyone else, but it seemed like whenever Martin needed to travel, the craziest things would happen while he was gone.  If Martin left, one of the kids would spike a fever of 105, armed robbers would storm the compound, or some kid would say he was going to die if we didn’t let him move in with us.  I wish I were exaggerating.

I may have mentioned before a young boy who became friends with Kirk. We had been happy to have him visit in our home with thoughts of discipling a future church leader. I had studied the Bible with him and taught him a little English at his request. He seemed like a wonderful boy, but that week we found out he had some problems.

He started by telling us that his family was going to kick him out of the house.  We were skeptical, but with all of the street kids and orphans around, we knew it could happen.  We told him we would help if he got into a bind.  Kirk was all torn up, begging us to take him in.  The story became more questionable when he said we shouldn’t talk to his family, or they would beat him.  Kirk was beside himself, believing that his close friend would become a street kid if we didn’t help him.

Then one day he came and said he had been threatened with a knife.  He was in tears.  Martin had gone to Nelspruit for the day. Now what was I supposed to do?  I consulted the other missionaries on our team, and we decided that his family had to be confronted.  We found out that he had told many lies, and that his very nice family wanted him to come home.

He was at our house with Kirk, and he refused to even go outside to talk with his aunt, who had come to fetch him.  It turned out that  this boy of about 14 had to be literally carried out kicking and screaming by one of the men!  He wanted so badly to stay with us. What a scene!

It seemed that our young friend so wanted to live with us that he devised a scheme to accomplish that end.  It’s not so surprising really.  At that time, everyone wanted to go to America, and we had so much more of everything than he did.  No doubt he was hurting.  It was difficult to tell him that he had to go, but of course, I couldn’t kidnap him from his family— not that I wanted to.  It was just hard.

Kirk learned that you can’t trust everyone, a tough lesson at age 11, but his friend survived and seemed to be fine.  Later he came back to help Kirk make kites and learn the culture in many healthy ways, and nothing like that ever happened again with him.  Many Mozambicans seemed very happy with the little they had, and put me to shame, but poverty is a scourge that I have never had to suffer.  I have no room to  judge those who cannot escape the vicious cycle of poverty.  I don’t blame him for trying.

Mozambican Odyssey, #17: Kids Are Terrifying

Judith loves life and loves everyone she meets! She looks a lot like her mother did as a child in Mozambique.

Kids are Terrifying 

Little children have always terrified me.  Yes, I have 3 grown children and 9 grandchildren, and I know that sounds crazy, but this is why I never taught elementary or younger children if I could help it.  You never know when they might do something crazy and die.  They might drink bleach or fall out of a tree, or run in front of a passing truck, or pick up a poisonous snake.  One negative aspect of having an artist’s imagination is that I can imagine all kinds of terrible things happening.  Add that to losing my 20-year-old brother to a rare form of lung cancer, and later losing my dad because of a car wreck, and well, I am terrified of a lot of things. When each of my children reached 18, I was relieved that at least they had lived to adulthood under my watch, and now it was up to them to keep themselves alive.

As I continued reading my journal from Mozambique, I realized that something else scary happened on the same trip out of town when we lost the tire on the car, and the Hulsey family had to drive us around. (You can read that story here.)

After losing the tire, we stayed at a hotel in Nelspruit, South Africa, for a couple of days while the men tried to get the car repaired.  The hotels in Nelspruit are clean and comfortable, and I was enjoying having carpet, a bathtub, and tiled floors—things I had taken for granted in the US, but did not have in my house in Maputo, Mozambique.

One morning at the hotel, Aleta Hulsey and I thought we would let the little ones, her nearly 4-year-old Zach and my barely 3-year-old Hannah, play in the little swimming pool in the hotel lobby.  It was such a small pool that we thought the kids could play around the edges and be fine, so we didn’t plan to get in with them.  We ladies were talking, and then Aleta stopped short and motioned toward the pool.  Hannah was floating in the deep end of the pool!  I dived in, fully clothed, and rescued her, of course, but good grief!  Little kids are really scary, always trying to get themselves killed or drowned or something stressful like that!

I went dripping back to my hotel room, kind of embarrassed, and yes, thankful that I didn’t lose a child in addition to losing a tire off the car on that first trip to Nelspruit.

God rescues us and our children from disaster so often, and I tend to take it for granted.  Just the other night I lost track of my one-year-old granddaughter for a minute, but we soon found her sitting in the bathroom, holding my toothbrush in one hand and my razor in the other.  Kids are terrifying—and so precious.

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:

This Artist’s Life, #10: Only One You

We are each one of a kind. Stachelle, 12×16 inches, oil pastel on mat board, by Susan E. Brooks

There is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost.

—Martha Graham

I love this quote, and it fits as I try to encourage myself to keep going.  We are created with unique creative minds and souls that are constantly coming up with ideas that no one else in the world is having in exactly the same manner, and if we don’t free ourselves to express and create, that unique expression will be lost.

We can get blocked, however, so what can we do when that happens?

I am writing these helpful hints to remind myself, and I hope you can benefit from them as well.  From the wonderful series of books beginning with The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron, these are some things we can do when the creative juices don’t seem to be flowing.

  1. Free write for at least three pages daily, in the morning if possible.
  2. Get out for at least an hour a week, and go somewhere different just for fun, such as a fabric store, museum, pet store, art gallery–somewhere that feeds your imagination and makes you smile.
  3. Go for a walk weekly, if not daily.  Walking gives a fresh perspective and helps you process your thoughts.

There you go.  Three easy steps to jumpstart your creativity and mine.  Thank you, Julia Cameron.

This coming weekend our city offers Open Studio Weekend, and for one small price you can visit lots of art studios in town.  One stop on the map is KORE Gallery, where you can see my work and the work of many other talented artists.  I plan to spend part of my time there, and also tour other artists’ studios.  This is a great opportunity to experience new ideas and get inspired for your own work.  Hope to see you around the studios this weekend.

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, #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

Mozambican Odyssey, #8: Celebrate the Toads

 

Joseph was baptized while we were in Mozambique. Baptism in Mozambique, 24×18, Oil pastel, by Susan E. Brooks

“And I have caught a pregnant bluehead lizard that has already had one egg.  Soon it will have more eggs.”

–Joseph Brooks, October 21, 1996

Joseph always took care of his little sister.

When we first went to Mozambique, our son Joseph was 6.  As I sort through old emails, I came across a letter that he dictated to Martin to be typed into an email to send to his friends back home. It reads like this:

“Everywhere you walk, there is sand.  Most of the time it does not rain even though there are dark clouds.  We have tall thorns around the whole compound as a fence.

“It’s more exciting here because every day you have friends to play with, and you don’t have to go far to find any.  Most of the time we play marbles or play with a hacky sack or we play soccer which is really called football here.

“And I have caught a pregnant bluehead lizard that has already had one egg.  Soon it will have more eggs.

“And also, there was this hole in the flower bed, and I accidentally shot a marble, and it went down the hole.  As I was trying to dig it up to get it, a head popped out of the hole.  I thought it was a snake at first, but then my gardener told me that it was a frog.  So I ran and got a jar and caught it while my gardener watched it.  And I still have the toad and the lizard.  The frog is as tall as my finger and as wide as my fist.”

Joseph always was, and still is, a happy person.  Maybe it’s because he focused on the toads.  Too many times in life we are expecting a snake, and God gives us a toad instead, and it’s wonderful, but I tend to just say, “Whew! That was close.”   I forget about it, and go on looking for the next snake.  Instead, like Joseph, I should run and get a jar, and celebrate the toads!  How many times has God given me a toad when I was expecting a snake, but I just move on, forgetting all of the good times God has given, and all of the times I have been rescued, and I go on looking for the next snake to bite me, instead of being happy about the all of the toads.

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: 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, #1: Culture Shock and Stress

“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.