Mozambican Odyssey, #26: Stuck Between Two Countries

Some of us feel stuck now, waiting for the chance to get on with life. Window to the Soul, Oil Pastel on Pastel Paper, 14 x 11, by Susan E. Brooks

One of the best things about living overseas was having groups from the US come to visit. They brought excitement to our lives, and the groups were generally encouraging and generous to our family. Our kids especially loved the group visits because it meant trips to fun places we didn’t normally go. One of our favorite trips was to a game reserve just across the border in Swaziland.

This rhino used our bumper to sharpen his horn! That was a little nerve-wracking.
The elephants also came very close during the safaris in Swaziland.

I remember one such trip that turned out to be a little too exciting! Mkhaya Game Reserve boasted white rhinos, elephants, and a beautiful setting for a safari ride in close proximity to the animals. A group from Kentucky had arrived, and we loaded them onto a bus for the trip across the border into Swaziland.

At the Mozambican side of the border they checked all of the passports and sent us on across with no problems, but on the Swaziland side we ran into a snag. One of our visitors had a Mexican passport, and they said she would not be allowed to cross. We were stuck between the borders. As much as I wanted to do something to help, I could do nothing but sit and pray. Our leaders negotiated while the rest of us sat on the bus and waited—for hours. The reason they finally let us enter is a mystery to this day.

In some ways, what we are going through now feels like that time when we were forced to wait between two countries in a kind of “no man’s land.” Going back was not an option, and moving forward was not allowed. Now we sit still, mourning the past and fearing the future.

It’s a difficult place, but in these times God can do something new if we remain quiet and listen. Richard Rohr explained it this way:

The very vulnerability and openness of liminal space allows room for something genuinely new to happen. We are empty and receptive—erased tablets waiting for new words. Liminal space is where we are most teachable, often because we are most humbled.*

Eventually, God made a way for us, and we entered the land. In time, we will be able to move into the next phase of our lives, but while in this liminal space, maybe we can look forward with expectancy, “receptive—erased tablets waiting for new words.”*

*Rohr, Richard, “Between Two Worlds,” Center for Action and Contemplation, April 26, 2020, https://cac.org/between-two-worlds-2020-04-26/.

Hacks for the Toilet Paper Crisis of 2020

Young Girl Wearing a Capulana, Oil Pastel on Paper, 24 x 18, by Susan E. Brooks

I find it amusing that we are so worried about toilet paper right now, and in the spirit of fun and laughter, I thought I’d share a few TP hacks that I learned in our travels overseas.

The Capulana Shuffle

First, we have the Capulana Shuffle. The young lady in the pastel above is wearing a capulana. Fortunately, for women in Mozambique, there were these big rectangles of brightly printed fabrics that were inexpensive and available everywhere, called capulanas. Women and girls used these as skirts, table cloths, picnic blankets, dresses for little girls, towels, baby carriers, and the list goes on.

While traveling in remote areas in Africa, I was taught by the veteran missionary wives that one can do the “capulana shuffle” if there’s no toilet around. So you tie the capulana around your waist, over your normal clothes, and you go outside where you can’t be seen, and squat, keeping your capulana around you as a shield while you do your business, and you use whatever biodegradable wipe you have or can find as your toilet paper, just make sure you don’t use poison ivy leaves, as has happened to somebody I know. I was never very good at the capulana shuffle, I confess.

Another hack I learned from our African travels is this: You could also dig a big hole in your backyard, about 2 x 4 feet, and pretty deep. You put two wooden slats across the hole for squatting, some kind of wall around it, and carefully do your business there, again using any biodegradable wipe you can come up with, but be careful, people have been known to lose their underwear forever in this type of outhouse situation. Just sayin’.

And with these hacks you can use any paper substitute instead of TP. In Mozambique, Martin learned this the hard way. He worked so hard to learn to preach in Portuguese, and when he did preach, he had to print off his sermons word-for-word, so that he could have the Portuguese in front of him.

One Sunday, after delivering a 10 or 11 page sermon, one of the Mozambican church leaders asked if he could have Martin’s sermon notes. He was flattered, thinking they wanted to study his sermon and remember the inspiring Bible verses he had shared.

A little later, Martin and his friend and coworker, Don Hulsey, traveled to visit that church leader at his home. After a trip to the outhouse, Don let Martin know that his sermon was shoved onto a nail in the outhouse, being used as toilet paper. Thinking there was surely some mistake, Martin checked it out for himself. There it was, all of his hard work and inspiration, being torn to pieces, strip by strip, and put “where the sun don’t shine.”

The Middle Eastern Watering Can
Some places where we’ve traveled, such as Cyprus, do not need toilet paper because they use water—no, not a bidet, but a much less expensive option, the watering can.

You can just put the watering can that you use to water your flowers, filled with water, beside the toilet, and rinse off with that. There you go. I honestly have never done this. I’ve just seen the cans in the bathrooms, so you are on your own as to how to dry off, etc.

The Portugal Plumbing Predicament

Back in 1999, we spent 6 months in Portugal, studying Portuguese, because it was the official language of Mozambique. Portugal was beautiful, with mosaic tiles, historical monuments, and castles everywhere, and we loved our time there in many ways, but they had plumbing issues.

In our apartment building, and I think in most places in the country, we were not allowed to flush toilet paper. Portugal was quite modern with flush toilets, but you had to have a trash can lined with a plastic bag beside every toilet, and that was where you put the TP.

So if you run out of TP, just get a trash can, preferably with one of those lids you can open with your foot, and put your used paper there. It doesn’t have to be toilet paper. Any paper will do if you’re not flushing it—you can even ask your pastor for his sermon printouts.

Transformation and Resurrection

Embracing Grief, Oil Pastel on Paper, 24×18, by Susan E. Brooks

Easter Sunday

Embrace your grief, embrace the cross, and know that God is in the business of transforming that grief and resurrecting you as a new person, full of compassion and hope for the future. Because of the resurrection we have hope. We have hope of seeing our lost loved ones again, and we have hope that those dreams that have died, or may feel like they are dying, will be transformed and resurrected by God in the future.

It’s an Easter like no other, but if we can focus on the new life and resurrection that is coming, in so many different ways and in so many areas of our lives, we can celebrate today. Much grace, peace, and resurrection hope to all of you dear ones today. Happy Easter!

Mozambican Odyssey, #22: When Our Son was attacked

When I write it like that, it sounds so terrible, and it was, but it could have been a lot worse.

Our son Kirk was 12 when he was attacked in Maputo, Mozambique.

Over our Thanksgiving holiday we had traveled to Nelspruit, South Africa, for our Christmas shopping because there was very little in Mozambique that was suitable or affordable at that time. We all chose some items that seemed special to us; and Kirk, our 12-year-old, had picked out a nice wrist watch.

When we returned to Maputo, Mozambique, Kirk was wearing his watch and enjoying it. After school one day, he and a friend were jogging around the school, just running around the block for fun and exercise.

Our kids attended an international school located in downtown Maputo, run by a mission agency from the states. We all loved the small school, and the staff became some of our closest friends for life.

As the boys were running, a local boy ran after Kirk and grabbed his arm. Kirk’s friend ran on to the school for help. The boy pulled at Kirk’s necklace and burned his hand with a cigarette, as he stole our son’s new watch. His main Christmas present was stolen, and worse, he was traumatized by being grabbed and burned.

He rushed into the school to tell us all about it, breathless and teary-eyed. I was glad he wasn’t hurt worse, “and he seems to be okay,” I wrote in my diary back in 1997.

I guess he was okay, but traumatic experiences can have a profound effect, and I still wonder if we should have done something more for him.

As I think about it, I wonder about so many children in the world who have had traumatic experiences so much worse than what happened to Kirk. Not to minimize what happened to him, but the fact is that countless refugees around the world have overcome incredible trauma, and a few of these courageous, beautiful overcomers have come to our city, Louisville, KY, to find a safe home.

Kentucky Refugee Ministries is an organization that helps resettle refugees that arrive in our home town. How can you help? Come to the opening reception to my solo show at KORE Gallery on April 11 from 6 – 8:30pm to learn more about Kentucky Refugee Ministries (KRM). You will have opportunity to donate to KRM, and a percentage of all artwork sold that night will be donated to KRM. KORE Gallery is located at 942 East Kentucky St., Hope Mills Building, Louisville, KY 40204. Hope to see you there!

Mozambican Odyssey, #19: Baptism in Mozambique

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

Baptism in Mozambique 

On March 23, 1997, my husband Martin was very happy to baptize my son Joseph in the baptistry on the mission property in Maputo, Mozambique.  The baptistry was a concrete box that we filled with water just outside the church.  Joseph was seven, but quite intelligent and mature for his age.  He was also small for his age, so in some ways he reminded me of a little drowned rat when Martin held him up, dripping with the baptismal waters, but he was a lot cuter than a rat.

He is the only one of our three who was baptized in Mozambique, Africa, and it was so different from any baptism I’ve ever seen in the US.  We were outdoors, and local children and were pressing in around all sides, so excited to watch the event.  There was no stage, and no safe distance between the spectators and the baptism.  There we were, all smashed together, a vibrating mass of humanity, with a man and his son in the middle, and the little boy saying I want to follow God and have a new beginning.  In his seven years he probably had not done much to be forgiven of, having always been a kind, sensitive child who looked after his little sister and adored his older brother, and never complained, even when his mom accidentally gave him chili powder toast instead of cinnamon toast.

Whether he was too young or not, whether we did everything right or not as we tried to raise our kids, I don’t know—I doubt it.  But I do believe God’s mercy is great and that He will honor our trying.  I think He will honor your trying too, because His grace is big enough to cover us all, and He knows we are made out of dirt.

Just a bunch of dirtbags trying to get by, and yet there is also something divine about humanity.  We are made in the image of the divine at least, and I saw that day, dripping with water, sparkling in the African sun, one of God’s kids declaring his love for his Creator, and all of the glorious God-made people pressing in close enough to touch him, and I think that’s as it should be.  We need to press in close at times, and open our eyes to the glory of God in each other, and celebrate the sacred moments when we get a chance.

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, #12: Working with our Hands

 

Ancient Cedars in the Summer Sun, Oil on Canvas, 11 x 14 inches, by Susan E. Brooks will be on display at the Jane Morgan Gallery from December 5 – April 2020.

 

“Where the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art.”*

—Leonardo Da Vinci

I have to admit that I do not know exactly what Leonardo meant by these words, but this quotation is thought-provoking for me.  As usual, I am feeling a little sad with the approaching of winter and even the holidays.  I need some encouragement.  One way I can find encouragement, is to work with my hands.

I was having a conversation with an artist/teacher friend the other day, and we agreed that there is something healing about creating with your hands.  I find that whether it’s painting, drawing, or making a pie for Thanksgiving, I feel better and breathe easier when I’m working with my hands.

Too often, I am just “in my head,” worrying over the grandkids’ health or the latest car trouble, and I need the healing that creative work brings.  We sometimes act like we are only vehicles meant to carry our brains around while they do all of the important work.  The reality is, we are body, soul, and spirit, all connected and created to act as a whole.

Perhaps this is what Leonardo meant when he said the spirit needs to work with the hands:  Sometimes, when our hands are able to create what our spirits are needing to express, what results is art–something that goes beyond just one person’s expression and becomes universally true and impactful in unique ways to the viewer.

Simply working with our hands can be healing and helpful, but when the spirit shows up expressing truth through beauty, this is art.

 

*  https://renee-phillips.com/art-and-artists-statements-by-famous-artists/

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: