Tell me.

On Friday we travelled to Massangulo to visit the Falconers. We took along my friend Isabel along with her two youngest children. She was going to bring back her cousin’s (let’s just call her Mary’s) granddaughter.


It’s always so difficult to understand who fits in where in a family here. “Cousin” doesn’t always mean the same things that we (Aussies) would take it to mean. The other thing that makes it confusing is that women (girls) often start having children at 13 years old and continue well into their thirties. That means you can quite easily end up with 40-year-old great grandmothers. It’s not always the birth mother that gets called Mum. Often they are referred to as sister and the grandma is called Mum. It’s enough to give you quite headache if you spend too long thinking about it. I’ve learnt to just nod and smile when people try to explain to me all of the links in one sitting and then try not to feel too bad when I ask for the hundredth time “Whose child is that?”


Back to our trip… After dropping Cam and the kids off at our teammates house just out of town, I headed out with Bek, little Katelyn and Isabel along with her two children to drop them off in the town centre. We were met by a bunch of Isabel’s extended family who were very pleased to see us all and welcomed us in for a chat. Various people dropped in to say hello and after hanging out for a while, we were fare welled with instructions to return on Sunday with our husbands and (other) children so that we could visit each of the family’s homes in town.


And I’ve gone off track again… a bit like life here really. It’s all a bit complicated and hard to understand. Let’s just go back to the beginning… Isabel was going to bring back Mary’s granddaughter…


… Isabel had spent part of her childhood living in Massangulo with Mary and despite living far apart for many years, their connection remained strong.


Ok, bear with me, I have to just take another little detour otherwise the significance of what I’m about to tell you will be lost. Isabel is a 33-year-old single Mum. She has 4 children of her own (15, 12, 7 and 3) and a one-year-old grandchild. She works and goes to school.


She offered to take over the care of Mary’s granddaughter Lucia (also 7 years old) after Mary’s daughter passed away a couple of months ago. In addition to leaving behind Lucia, she left a precious 6-month-old girl. The mother had been unwell ever since giving birth, no one ever knew why. To complicate matters, Lucia’s dad was electrocuted and died in a work accident last year. The 6 month old’s dad is around and helps out when he can but the care of the child is left up to the mother’s family.


Mary has other children of her own to care for – I think there are six still alive, some older and living out of home but some still primary school age. She has other grandchildren too that she helps take care of. She’s a single Mum, her husband left and she doesn’t have a job. She normally works a small plot of land for food for her family but with so many children to take care of, that is difficult.


So while at first glance, single Mum with “5” kids, a job and school commitments doesn’t seem like the ideal new carer for orphaned 7 year old Lucia, it’s all relative. Single Mum with “8” kids, no job and struggling to make ends meet isn’t a great option either. I don’t know that I would be so selfless and courageous to take on the responsibility of another child if I was Isabel – it’s pretty incredible.


Back to our visiting… we returned on Sunday afternoon with our entire families (minus Jack) in tow – much to the delight of everyone we met. We sat at Mary’s house for a while waiting for some children to take a bath. While we waited Mary came to me to show me the baby girl drinking from a bottle I had brought for her. She was so thankful for the little bit of help. We went from house to house sitting, greeting and making small talk with each of the four cousins that live in the town. We also visited with Mary’s mother. She was suffering with difficulty breathing and chest pain and she gladly accepted our offer to pray for her.


After a few hours of some wonderful time making new friends, we all (Cam, Tilly, Sydney, me, Isabel, her two boys, Lucia and another cousin’s daughter along for the ride) piled into the car for the long trip back to the big smoke. Aside from a rather disturbing experience with our canopy flying off towards the end of trip – it was quite uneventful. It was the first time the Massangulo kids had been in a car and their first trip to the city. Thankfully Lucia took to Isabel like a duck to water and was quite settled from the get go. I thought she would have been terrified.


After dropping them off home, we finally arrived back at our house at about 8pm on Sunday night. I was exhausted. I could have done with a straightforward Monday at home – but that’s not usually how things work around here. When it rains… On Sunday morning, I had received a message from another friend to say that her grandma had passed away. Instead of the chilled day I had been hoping for, I spent an incredibly hot, intensely sad day at a funeral in the village.


I made it home by 2pm and made plans to have a nanna nap on the couch… but that didn’t work out either.


Let me just digress a bit again… just to say that I am pretty much useless at realising when people are pregnant here. It’s a real taboo subject so no one says a word and women who are pregnant often hide it quite well with their capulanas tied up high over their boobs. Between all of that hiding and the overwhelming onslaught of new faces and places out in Massangulo, I honestly could not have told whether any of the women I had met that Sunday were pregnant.


But one was… Mary. She was apparently pretty much full term and everything was going well until that Sunday night, after we’d left. She started bleeding heavily. She went to the local health post where they kept her until noon on Monday before finally sending her by ambulance to Lichinga (an 1.5 hr trip) for an emergency caesarean. It was too late for the baby. It didn’t survive.


Isabel called me late on Monday afternoon to tell me the heartbreaking news. She planned to stay there all night at the hospital with Mary to make sure that she didn’t fall out of bed. There are no bed rails and the nursing care is atrocious non-existent extremely basic.


I offered to take Isabel some dinner and in doing so had the opportunity to visit with Mary briefly. She was barely conscious – the effects of the anesthetic were still wearing off and she had lost so much blood. I prayed with Isabel for Mary and then returned home, leaving Isabel to spend the night on a hard metal chair fighting the mosquitoes off the two of them.


I returned to visit today and spoke some more with Isabel. She said that Mary woke up at midnight last night and for the first time since the operation asked where her baby was. Overcome with sadness Isabel tried to avoid responding, hoping that Mary would go back to sleep, but she didn’t. She said “Tell me. Do I have a baby or did my baby die?”


Overwhelming sadness.

5 thoughts on “Tell me.

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  1. Great story-telling of heart-wrenching situation. So glad you are present in their sorrowing, though may get overwhelming. Rest well. CC

  2. Ouch, only Gods heart is big enough to hold and give the love that’s needed. Here is trusting his grace is sufficient to enable his rivers of living water and unending boundless love to fill and overflow you with all wisdom sop your feeble frame also gets the rest it needs even as he empowers you to be what only he can be – love!

  3. Wow! Quite blown away by your story on so many levels. I quite enjoyed the rambling nature – I really felt like I was traveling with you. Your descriptions lead my mind on a virtual journey which immersed me in the complexity of your lives intertwined with the complexity of those around you. I am amazed at how different every culture is, and yet I see occasional threads of familiarity with other cultures. You really got across the humanity of lives out there. Boy do we live in an environment of materially rich insulation from the lives of others. Now to wipe the tears off my iPad. Thankyou Cath.

  4. Dear Cath, Thank you for sharing the very moving story with us. God is certainly using your ability to convey His love. I feel for those dear folk with such big hearts. What an important role you are playing in making His love known, and giving yours so freely.
    May He bless you, and refresh you.
    Much love, Fay Christian

  5. Oh Kath, such a sad story and yet sadly not an uncommon one in Africa. Thankfully Mary didn’t die too as is so often the case! Your words crossed out about the nursing care being ‘atrocious, non existent’ is also unfortunately such a problem and. Leads to the deaths of many mothers and babies. I have a sense that when you’re back in Perth, we’ll have to have a conversation about how Living Child can be involved in some way to provide training in Lichinga for the nurses and midwives… God be with you as you grapple with this sad and unnecessary loss, and with Mary as she grieves her stillborn child.

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