Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Settling in Pemba, starting in simplicity


Our first two weeks in Pemba was one of the hardest times we’ve had on our journey so far. We arrived fairly exhausted after our overland trip from Cape Town & we were met at the airport bus stop by the base leaders Katie & Jacinto, who took us to our new house. We hadn’t known where we were going to be based until we arrived. There are two bases in Pemba – one is the main base where all the children live & all the departments work – and the other is staff accommodation and is about 15 minutes walk along the beach. This smaller base is where our new house was – and although it wasn’t big, I think we were overjoyed that it was more than one room after being used to hotels for so long.

We agreed that we’d settle in for a week or two before deciding exactly what we were going to be doing at Iris. We had come to do micro-credit – helping people set up and run businesses through small loans – but Katie had asked us to consider helping with one of the areas that was particularly understaffed. Hardly anyone speaks a word of English, so our first task was to start language learning – Cate decided to focus on Makua (the main local African language) & I decided on Portuguese (spoken across the country). Every day we walked in the baking heat & humidity along to the other base to have our lunch in the dining hall and we’d sit and chat to people and learn the simplest phrases. At 5pm it would be dark & after supper we’d sit in our dimly lit house and play a game of Bananagrams, still hungry after the day’s food. We realised that without money, we were cut off from so many of the things that could make our lives easier. Going to a restaurant, buying extra food, having a car to drive around. We tried twice to go to the beach to relax and both times gave up and went home as we were denied any personal space.


And so our initial two weeks were long and testing. Our days were hot and shapeless, our bodies hungry, our house not feeling yet ours, our nights quiet and empty. Our bank balance hovered around the zero mark, before a couple of unexpected living costs dipped us into the red. For nine months we had been surviving entirely by praying to God to provide for our needs – and it had been a beautiful adventure of always having enough! We prayed, but we sank a little deeper into debt and began to ask questions. Were we still only to pray? And is it supposed to be this hard? The latter question became particularly acute as I would occasionally dissolve into tears over beans and rice (again).

Our route of prayer for finances began to isolate us. Friends would e-mail us asking how we were, and we would reply ambiguously that we were facing challenges. I sensed God begin to whisper to me. ‘Be honest, be open, be vulnerable. Don’t be proud, admit your need.’ So we e-mailed some close friends, and following that our parents, to ask for their wisdom on our money situation. Awaiting response and sitting in our little undecorated house trying to work out how to move forward. It was difficult, but it also was a time that taught us much. One day we bought some cheap grilled chicken, and I have never been so grateful. I began to understand the frustration of not having money, the jealousy that I felt as I saw others enjoy simple pleasures – and also beautiful things; the intimacy that came with drawing near to Him in the stretch, the dependence, the opening of my heart to another world of people unlike me.

It was not forever. In fact it was only to be two weeks, but it felt a lot longer. An American couple asked us to housesit (and dog-sit) while they returned to the States for two months. Delighted to be in a beautifully furnished, comfortable home, we accepted. A cheerful dog, a spacious yard, a fridge full of food – what a treat! Meanwhile, e-mail responses full of love and sincere counsel flooded our inbox, and we felt so held and cared for. Since then – through some of those precious ones, and through others too – abundant provision poured in, and has done ever since.

I can see the beauty of what we learned during our testing trip north, and our first fortnight in Pemba. But sometimes we are open to learning even more when hardship is chosen. Enforced simplicity can stir up a gritted-teeth, hardened-heart approach – this route says I have to do this, and it is hard, but I will do it. On the other hand, chosen sacrificial love has better fruit – that route says I will go without because I love you. Nonetheless despite our somewhat imposed simplicity, we managed to waver between these two routes and it was a humbling beginning in Pemba. And, sitting at the table of our air-conditioned home we were to housesit for two months, we seriously enjoyed our first bite of a homemade pancake.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Delightful Cape Town, Difficult journey

Cape Town was a blur of many beautiful memories. We began in Constancia with friends of Bill & Joyce, welcoming the latter with much excitement! After four months we were very happy to be with family again and sped off for lunch on a farm surrounded by pecking chicks. Our stay in Contancia was lovely, and we had some good conversations too.

We hired a car and our next stop was Newlands, staying in a very pretty cottage with the majestic Table Mountain watching over us. We took a very untaxing cable car to the top and witnessed stunning views of the beach below, with seemingly tiny ants sunbathing and moving around in miniscule metal cars. Braving an explosive ocean, we made it to Robben Island which for me was as solemn as it should be, but also inspiring as to what a person’s heart and will can achieve. We also ran around Kirstenbosch and there we drank the sweetest, deepest, thickest hot chocolate on earth.

Cape Town’s other side didn’t hide itself during our trip, for which I am glad. In fact visiting our friend Pete in Manenberg was a sheer delight, painting his house in bright colours and bible verses. Despite much fearful advice from people who look like us saying we mustn’t venture into the infamously dangerous Cape Flats, we met the friendliest Capetonians there and had a lot of fun. We also ate local African food in an informal settlement, met the children in the local nursery and asked ourselves questions. It takes forty minutes to drive on one road from the glossiest of wealth to the very hungry. Why on earth does Cape Town look like this? Why does the world look like this? Who will wade into this dynamic, be unafraid of its mess and love unceasingly? Am I willing to face these questions and not flinch? Are you?

We finished at Fishhoek, one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, perched at the bottom of the earth. Surrounded by sea views, I spent much time snuggled in a rug on our veranda watching waves crash in the wind and drinking coffee. It was delightful to be with Bill and Joyce, who always love us so well and make us laugh. We had real conversations and thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company. It is really these rich days together, full of time and talk and sharing, that make up for the distance.

Our time together came to a close and a long journey north hung in the horizon. We had to make it all the way back to Iris in the Northern Mozambican town of Pemba, our chosen place to settle. Cape Town to Bloemfontein was the first stretch and we arrived at 1am into Bloem. Praying for a safe taxi, we had to trust a stranger with an unmarked car to take us in an unknown city to an unknown hostel. Considering all this, we arrived safely into a dingy warehouse and slept for five hours in a room with things like ‘Chris loves Stacey 2002’ ebbed in black marker pen on the wall.

Regretting our unrefreshing stop and vowing next time to sleep on the bus, we were back on a new bus to Johannesburg. We arrived drained to a perfect and invigorating stay with friends of Bill and Joyce. They looked after us so thoughtfully, fed us delicious food and sent us to Maputo cheered up with a gigantic bag of snacks.

Across the border to Maputo we felt a surprising sense of relief. Relief from what is still a great divide in South African – although there are differences in Mozambique, the stark separation is gone and in its place the warmth of mixture. In Maputo we checked into a backpackers and celebrated Nick eating fish again by going to a smart poolside restaurant and ordering the cheapest fish on the menu.

It was the following day that we realised we were very much behind on bookkeeping. The concerning conclusion was that we barely had enough money to eat, never mind make it to Pemba. Suddenly immeasurably grateful for the big bag of food our friends in Jo’burg gave us, we sat down to the share a little spinach salad in our hostel, and went to bed wondering what on earth we were going to do.

Quickly our imagined beachside amble north to Pemba, stopping in at little lodges to snooze, was forgotten. Our goal was to get to Pemba fast (because fast meant fewer hotel bills). We spent the next day brainstorming in the local bus company’s office. At 3am that night we boarded the bus to Beira, alongside weeping wives waving goodbye to working husbands, and 17 hours later we emerged at Beira utterly exhausted. I’m sure many enjoy their stay in Beira. What we read about it was it was a malaria hotspot and had an unpleasant night scene. What we experienced was a long and hungry day wandering around, with not a lot to eat, hoping someone might hand us a wad of cash. (Before you all start to worry, we are doing much better financially these days, but forget I told you for the moment, so you can really enjoy our tumultuous tale.)

Another middle-of-the-night awakening and another 17-hour bus journey awaited us. By this time we were really having to pull ourselves on the bus, pull ourselves north. The bus was unbearably cold with the AC pulsing freezing jets all night long, so I wore my scarf wrapped around my head for pure warmth and again felt grateful for the nuts and raisins to nibble on through the night. Finally in Nampula, friends of friends kindly took us in and fed us hot bean stew – and I am unsure if I have ever been so thankful for a hot meal! We spent a day resting at their place as I was feeling a bit unwell, and the next day spent seven hours on a bumpy ride up to Pemba. The last seven hours of a much longer trip that took seven months: England, France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, South Africa, southern Mozambique, central Mozambique, northern Mozambique… Pemba. And this time to stay.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

A Playful Month in Zimbabwe

The school finished in dancing, celebration and glory on December 19th, 150 students racing out of Pemba believing they really could do anything. We raced out among them, but we knew we were returning in a month or two to this beautiful little Mozambiquan seaside town. Yes, during our stay God had spoken to us about staying, but more on that later.

Twenty of us jammed in the back of a truck, we left Pemba early in the morning. Zimbabwe – a land birthing stories of unparelled beauty and also pain – awaited us. An uncomfortable seven hours later, we emerged grubby and tired on a stunning farm outside Nampula, a town a little further south in Mozambique. Towering orange mountain rocks encircled us, and we spent a happy day playing in the greenery and running away from unnaturally huge insects. There we met two easygoing Zimbabweans who were driving to Harare the following day, and offered us a lift. Unbelievably helpful for us, we said yes please.

We broke for the night in a delightful guesthouse near the border of Mozambique and Zimbabwe. However the ‘superbugs’ (as we called them) we came across on the Nampula farm paled in comparison to the creatures that surrounded our little room. Great lizards, enormous crickets and cockroaches in the sink all competed for the ‘most alarming’ prize, but our winner was surely the baby scorpion hanging happily on our curtain. We fearfully informed the lady preparing our room, who calmly pinched the curtain with her bare fingers, killing the little intruder in two pinches.

We arrived in Harare and had a strange couple of days. We foolishly accepted a lift from a stranger (I know, I know) and felt a little shaken afterwards, as it brought back some unpleasant feelings from Dar. It felt almost like a ghost city – once a hub of art, life and richness, our snapshot was of countless vacant hotels, slightly sad Christmas lights and angry men. Happy to leave on the bus to Bulawayo we met our wonderful friend Ezra who took us in at his farm for what ended up being a month.

And what a fun month it was! We remember that month full of good conversation round his huge wooden table, long mornings with coffee, worship music always playing on the ipod, lots of delicious food, rambling around the farm with his two enormous puppies, making new friends, jumping on the back of Ez’s pick-up. We enjoying glimpsing Ez’s daily life, visiting ladies outgrowing chickens in his project and meeting some of the Zimbabwean leaders he works with – and even visiting Ebeneezer, a beautiful stretch of land where youth learn to farm in a similar way to how God cares for the land. Seeing the land bursting with food brought hope to our hearts and portrayed a bright alternative to the British media’s desolate depiction of a bleak nation. We absolutely heard horrendous stories during our trip; no doubt many Zimbabweans have witnessed a terrible degree of suffering. But the inspirational people we meet, the crops waving in the breeze and the faith of many stirred us with excitement.

We spent Christmas spotting elephants and hippos, and saw the unspeakably beautiful Victoria Falls. Our first wedding anniversary was celebrated over a veggie lasagne in a cafĂ© – not exactly five star treatment, but full of good conversations, laughter and love – the good things of life! We even got to catch our dear friend Chris before we set out south.

And set out south we did, waving goodbye to our friends from the Bulawayo – Pretoria bus. South Africa here we come! I had never been before and this country of lions and landscapes, famous for countless reasons, held much allure. And it was only a night bus away…

We woke exhausted after a bad night’s sleep on the bus to Pretoria. (Picture it being the middle of the night, having to walk for ages carrying all your luggage. It was at this moment I remember saying to Nick in quite a cross voice ‘Why do we travel like this?’) Anna, our friend, came to collect us and hosted us in her beautiful house for what was an oasis of rest. We were still reeling at any Western food, and loved roaming around Western shopping complexes – we had seen nothing like this for months. Onwards to Cape Town - 24 hours in a train, but absolutely worth it for who awaited us there: the one and only Bill & Joyce Lear!