(WHO HAS YET TO MASTER THE LANGUAGE)
Sept 30th: Official Handover Ceremony
I made the mistake of eating a small breakfast. I did this in anticipation of the large “Copo de Agua” banquet we were to have at lunchtime…or so the schedule stated. My error came in the relying on the schedule. In true African fashion, the breaking of bread was only three hours after the intended time slot. Normally the audible indicator of mealtime is welcomed, however as I was seated in between a retired Bishop of the Mozambique UMC and the District Director of all the Hospitals, my stomachs verbal discontent was less than appreciated. Combined with a complete mistranslation of the schedule and a perceivable lack of cultural savvy made for a complete comedy of errors. But, we managed through and after two speeches in Portuguese and an awkward moment when five of us held hands to cut a cake (ceremonial) the handover was complete. Perhaps they assumed giving me the folder of information would instantaneously prepare me to be adequate in the position. I took the weekend to relax and prepare for my first week on the job!
Oct 3rd: First Day at Work in full capacity
Arrived to work in time to join the morning medical and announcement debrief. I struggled my way through informing the group of another mandatory meeting I was hosting the following Tuesday. Afterwards I plopped down in my office chair, sweaty and exhausted from the immense amount of effort to converse coherently, the natural African heat, and the cultural refusal to use the air conditioner unit.
Glancing at my watch I note it is only 8:15am and there is still so many miscommunications to have, but it’s ok because I’ve been thinking, praying, planning for this first day and all the methods, tactics and procedures I will be able to put into place, right? Yeah, no. As if on cue the Hospital Administrator knocks on my door and as the bearer of all things unholy informs me of the backing up of the sewers in two of the Hospital wings. So, with a face of incredulity, we set off to take a look at Internal Medicine and Surgery’s crappy situation. Sure enough, there’s waste spewing out, fortunately, only on the exterior, but the bathrooms are unusable. At this point I remember during my orientation walk I came across a tractor and a tank which sole purpose is the sucking up of human waste. The “honey truck” was owned by the hospital. An easy fix right? Not if you do not have anyone trained to drive the tractor, or even operational hoses to hook up and suck up the yucky…in the end we hired someone with the exact same equipment the hospital has, but with the knowledge to use it (I have since identified and initiated the training program for the drivers to learn the tractor way.)
To clear my head I walked the grounds, attempted to conversant with patients and staff, I took time to visit the many on-going construction projects I inherited. That is when I made the discovery of the flooding Maternity Wing, more specifically, the new addition to the Maternity Wing. My eyes scanned the room to find the stores of concrete, trash, building supplies to all be inundated with three inches of water….and the one thing I did not see were the workers who were not only suppose to be constructing the building, but at least cleaning up the flood from the undefined source. At that point I was done. I told the people who could do something, and then I hid in my office like a crab scared to emerge for fear of losing control of everything. I passed the time planning and meeting with people ensuring me I did not have to internalize this stress as we all work together.
Oct 4th: Peace Day
Peace Day, a holiday, all non-mandatory personnel get the day off! It marks the signing of the Peace Accords, which ended the civil war. I called it a day to stay in my pajamas and contemplate the mountain ahead. More importantly it was much appreciated time spent with my family. In the first three weeks of October, there have been three holidays…I think I could get use to this work to holiday ratio.
Oct 5th: Getting into the groove
Semblance of a normal day! I walked the grounds, I made some positive conversations, and I still tried to wrap my head around the information I had received during the handover. I was in my bread house; excel spreadsheets, cash flow analyses and credit/debit assessments, human resource evaluations. I was in and around familiar territory. At quitting time (3:30pm here) I climbed into the questionably safe double cab Isuzu truck that was “mine” during the time here and headed home to my family. A smile on my face and faith renewed. Another week of days like this and I would feel adequately informed and prepared to tackle this elephant, one bite at a time.
One thing I like about where we live is it is in walking distance of everything we need. Grocery stores, clothing stores, anything the city has available is easily reachable within a ten-minute walk. It had been a goal of mine to live in a place where a car wasn’t necessary and I could easily shop for my meal each day. I will be honest, in my daydreaming of this the area it looked more like Paris and less like sub Saharan Africa, but we all have our reality checks. As I was purchasing that night’s chicken for dinner, I received a call from the aforementioned district director…why he seems to always be associated with food I do not know. In my broken Portuguese and his obvious mounting frustration, I ended the call believing I may have to travel the following day for a meeting of hospital directors. However, the time, location, and distance were still unknown to me. As this call came in way past working hours, I resolved to handle it the next day.
Oct 6th: Derailment of the week
Thursday morning had the air of a good day. Rolling off the successes of the previous day I saunter into the office with a game plan. As I am beginning to understand, plans are great…in theory, but in reality, I am just passenger on this airstream of life. I was met with the news that I did in fact have a meeting in the touristy town four hours away. I would be leaving that day and I would be in a meeting all the following Friday. At that point, old plan out, new plan in. Family vacation to Vilankulos! Beach town with lots of fun activities…if you don’t have an all day meeting. But for my three ladies, fun was planned. We loaded the car and headed north stopping only once, pulled over by the police for speeding.
I will not contest that I was in fact speeding, and I was in fact going almost 20 km over the speed limit. But when the policeman in good English beckons me to come over to his car and “receive my punishment” I couldn’t help but laugh. It felt like the awkward moment in the movie Animal House and I was mentally repeating “Thank you sir may I have another.” Presented with a 2000 meticais fine, I stare blankly at the man and remember reading something about corruption within the rank and file of the police. This begins the bargaining process. He starts with the his amount and a ticket, I counter with wanting a recent and showing him my missionary ID card, he says maybe we can work something out, I tell him I don’t have the money he wants, we parry back and forth and settle on an under the table amount one quarter the initial request. I get back in my car, but not before passing a small deer lying dead by his truck, what I can only guess what someone else’s attempt at negotiating their fine. The rest of the trip is thankfully uneventful and we arrive at our wonderful beach side accommodations and settle in for the night.
Oct 7th: What did he say?
A dawn stroll down the beach lightens my mood as I head into the day full of meetings in a language I still do not understand fully. I resign myself to the inevitable headache I will have from complete linguistic brain overload and enjoy breakfast with my loving and fantastic family. On our way out to the meeting we pass two UK Missionaries we had briefly met upon first arriving in Mozambique. We were all surprised to find that of all the beach resorts in all the towns of Mozambique we stumbled unknowingly into where they call home every time they are in the country. A pleasant surprise! As they were heading into the bush and I to a meeting we agreed to meet the following morning for breakfast.
I arrived at the meeting a little before time, so I can be seated and ready when the schedule start time arrives. You would think I would anticipate the systemic propensity to run behind schedule, but no, optimistic me am ten minutes early. After an hour and a half of sitting in my chair burning through my cell phone battery and data, the meeting begins. There is standing, clapping, singing and then the introductions. This marks the first of two times I am to give a speech in Portuguese, on the fly to a group of my medical contemporaries and superiors. The second opportunity to stand up and inform everyone on the status of the hospital, which I realized literally about one minute before it was my turn, occurred shortly after the introductions. As I attempted to listen and understand the requests being sent our way, I casually leaned over to the man I had just met, thankful he spoke a little English and asked “What did he say?” Confirmed in the requirement to report, my mind raced with not only the words to describe the condition of the hospital, but worse, the translation of the words to a coherent stream of Portuguese. The African heat again taken a toll on my internal temperature and as beads of sweat adorned my brow and I stumble through what little I knew in the two days I had under my belt as the official director of the hospital. I think it was well received as the senior official allowed a slight smile and a comment about needing to learn Portuguese. I managed to keep my head down and my ears mostly open for the rest of the meeting. Friday ended with lovely dinner and family walk down the beach…and only a slight headache.
Oct 8th: Blessed Assurance
My wife and I peered through the curtain as the sun broke the plane of the Indian Ocean. A comfortable red orb emerged with the blessings and promise of a new day. This tiny miracle set to the soundtrack of the rhythmic breathing of our two, sleeping daughters. In that moment, in the haze of transition between asleep and awake, I was at peace. Thankful and renewed we met our friends for breakfast.
Connection is found and lost at the table. Entire spans of communication are realized through the sharing of a meal. Uncomfortable beginnings transition to intimate moments and conversation binds us together or tears us apart. Perhaps this is one reason I search for that perfect meal. When we travel, I do not seek souvenirs or tangible representation of experiences. I hold onto the time spent together. My questions for any who return from a trip is always “What was the best thing you ate and drank while away? What was the worst?” For me, this is a glimpse of who and how you are. The breakfast shared with our new friends will be remembered as divinely placed and definitely needed.
After discussing what each of our mission fields resembled, we shared our call to ministry/missions. We shared our frustrations, our surprises, moments of realization and the working of the Spirit. It was good and so very much needed. It was confirmation through dialogue and prayer at a time when I questioned my ability to effect positive change. The Holy Spirit was present and the assurance of God’s provision was realized. For this I give thanks.
Starting with a meal, a time to nourish and caffeinate, in unforeseen opportunities and experiences, God is there. Whether it is a café in Normandy, a beach in Mozambique, or the broken chairs in Cedar Grove, God is there. When you feel undeserving and unappreciated, God is there. When you are lost and unable to understand the language, God is there. And when you cry out “enough is enough,” God is there for you.