Well, I can honestly say I have never been on a holiday like that before. As Melissa said something similar to; we have been from the slums of Zambia to the top of Table Mountain, Cape Town. Africa had never been on my list of places to go and see. But we went and we saw.
Our first visit to community, just out of a town in Zambia was very challenging for me. Honestly I am a bit of a germaphobic, so to be swamped by what felt like 100’s of children was very overwhelming. The first thing I wanted to do was to wash all of their faces and blow their noses. This swamping by the children was happening whilst walking down a narrow red dirt road which was covered in litter and had large crevices in each side, where the rain constantly eroded it in the rainy season. It was hard to find flat places to place each foot. Every child there wanted to greet you individually, and shake your hand and practice their English with you, by the time you had done this a dozen times, there was enough dirt on your hand that no more dirt could even touch your skin, even if it tried. But as soon as you looked into each and every set of eyes, none of that really mattered anymore. Each and every child just wanted to be looked at, recognised, acknowledged, and spoken to and, to touch a Muzungu (a white person). The absolute craving to have an adult’s attention, even if only for a minute was immense. As we slowly moved forward and the greetings slowed, both my hands were held by half a dozen small warm hands as they jostled each side of me, one letting go and two more joining on, and holding on for as long as possible til someone else pushed in. As the children were left outside we entered their school building and met some of the most amazing people and care workers that work with these kids every day. One of these amazing people Reuben a father of 5 or 6 children himself, a care worker and teacher at the school. If even half the men in this community were like him it would be a totally different place. One of the things that disturbed me the most was the amount of bars in this community. The loud music would pump out from them and the drunks falling out of them and fighting in the streets in the middle of the day. Some of these kids would have to navigate this every day of their lives. Another thing that really stood out to me were the roofs of their small huts, corrugated iron, but they all had huge rocks, stones, or anything heavy on them. As you would ask, as I eventually did, why? Not a good plan as far as I could see. They would eventually bring the roofs down. Did they not like each other and throw them? Mind you they would have to be superman to throw them. Apparently they don’t have money to fasten the roofs down normally, so they weight them down so they don’t blow away in high winds. Little did I know, later that day we were going to a house where this had happened. This lady sat in the doorway of her home cooking things to sell for her family’s income. She had 3 children of her own and had taken in 2 orphans, there appeared to be no husband. She spoke of how good God is to her. There was an awning out the front of her house, (2 rooms). We sat in extreme heat in her home, a room about 2.5 x 2.5 metres square, a dirt floor, there was a rug on it but it was a similar colour to the floor as were the chairs. There were large old chairs on each side of the room and only a small standing place in the middle of the room, the 7 of us crammed in. Some chairs had fabric on them but it was hard to see as it was so dark, there were no windows, the only light coming in was from the front door. The front awning had collapsed on her, luckily she said, as she had just sent the children out to buy candles. So it was only her under the awning and she had been picked out of the rubble by the neighbours and the children. They were so happy she had survived, they had all thought that she had been killed.
The second community came at me from a very different angle. Maybe it was because it had been one of my mum’s names or a similar name to the baby my sister lost at 10 weeks old, but this little girl, only about 4 years old stole my heart. I had heard a sad story last year about a mother with a baby on her back that had been struck by lightning, and they both had died. I never imagined I would be sitting outside their mud brick hut with a thatched roof, surrounded by failed maze (corn) crops with the grandmother (Gogo) and the four children that had been left behind. The mix of dust and wild grass seeds was heavy in the still air. The crops were only a few feet from their home, which would not stand a chance if a wild fire went through this area. As we walked on the way to our visit we heard other stories of other houses which had been lost to fire. We sat as honoured guests on wooden planks made into a seat, close to the ground, outside their hut. The Gogo and an interpreter sat on a hessian mat which had been hastily set out on the dirt in front of us. We listened as the interpreter asked was there anything that the Gogo needed. She dropped her head down and to the side, as she squeezed back tears, only a few escaped and were quickly wiped away. She spoke of the loss of her daughter and the baby. I just wanted to hold her and cry with her, we were meant to be bring a word of hope, not buckle under incomprehensible despair.
The Gogo had had to leave her husband to come here to look after the children. The eldest boy about 11 years had an amazing voice and sang for us, this lifted the mood as we all joined in. The Gogos main concern was the next boy about 9 years, after having meningitis he was almost completely deaf, he needed a special school to learn sign language to be able to begin to communicate with everyone around him. The next little boy about 7 years seemed to be closest to the little girl about 4. It was very hard to even raise a smile from her. As we were leaving the 9 year old started to cry, but he could not explain why and no one could communicate with him to understand why. This was very hard to leave this very sad situation.
We walked through the shoulder high dry golden grass back to the feeding point. Then through some woody clearings, about a ten minute walk. As you were walking along children would appear from nowhere just in front of you, the grass double their size. They would say hello and disappear again into the grass on their way through to the feeding point. The children we visited arrived shortly after us at the feeding point. There was the precious little 4 year old again, not a smile in sight, this time with an arm full of treasures. Her 7 years old brothers flip flops for safe keeping, a piece of broken blue plastic, and a bit of a broken metal belt buckle. Some of these things must have been found on the short walk through the dry grass. She stood aside. All of the children were playing, she was very conscientiously holding on to these items very tightly for safe keeping.
Most people know the Lord’s Prayer, and my recent focus had been the bit about ‘forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us’. How quickly we can pick up an offence, get angry in traffic, inpatient in queues, to forgive as we are forgiven. But after this ‘your will be done on earth’. What is that will? That God will do it, someone else will do it? How is Gods will fulfilled here and now? I have come home with many more questions than answers.
On a lighter note we met so many wonderful friends of Melissa, they come from there and all around the world. They have the same incredible gift of fulfilling their God given compassion for these orphans and vulnerable children every day. While we were there, just about every night we were invited into these people’s homes, for beautiful meals, and into their incredible hearts. There is an incredible richness there that I cannot put into words.
Reflecting on how lucky we are to live in a country without electric fences all around our homes, and to be able to walk around our streets without a second thought. Then ironically, to see programs about China, who have built all these cities on the outskirts and they have no-one to live in them!
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.
With Reuben in the first community
With Gogo and the 4 children she is now caring for
Top of Table Mountain at sunset