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.