As promised, here’s an amazing story of hope and healing. I’ve really written it for myself. It’s super long and full of lots of mundane details. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, the beauty is often in the mundane details. If you do want to read it all, you are very welcome! And please feel free to engage with some of the side notes, questions or anything else that doesn’t really make sense. If you just want to know what happened… skip to the third last paragraph, I won’t be offended.
Back in March, when parts of Mozambique were being devastated by cyclones, there was another tragic story unfolding in a village not too far from us. A perfectly healthy 2 1/2 year old boy named Hussein woke up one morning almost completely paralysed. He could hold his head up a little but had no muscle tone at all in his arms, body and legs. Aside from that, he was fine – eating, drinking and talking well and didn’t have any other symptoms like fever.
Hussein is the firstborn child of my friend’s (Baba N’s) sister’s daughter. His family are reasonably well off compared to some in our area. They live in a mud brick hut with a tin roof in the same fenced area with Hussein’s grandma (Mama). They have an electric light in their backyard and his mum has a phone. They get water from a well in their backyard which, even during the dry season, seems to be filled. They have an outdoor bathroom, separate from the house, which has a hole in the ground toilet and an area with rocks on the ground and a bucket of water for bathing.
Hussein’s village is located on the main road at an intersection and so every Saturday, there’s quite a big market where people can buy blankets, buckets, capulanas and food. About two kilometres from his house, there’s a small health clinic where people can get malaria tests done and receive treatment for that and other minor illnesses. There’s also a small maternity section – just a couple of beds – only really equipped to deal with the most straightforward of deliveries.
The village is dotted with mosques. I know it quite well as it was the village in which the chief enthronement ceremony for Baba N took place last year. Nothing like pulling an all nighter with people to help break into a community. It was at that ceremony where Cam and I were asked to pray for Baba N as he took on the new role.
It was a Tuesday morning when Hussein’s mum woke to find her baby unable to move from his mat on the floor. She didn’t take him to the hospital that morning, or the next, or the next. Most of my friends in Mozambique seem skeptical at best and terrified at worst of our local hospitals. A lot of the time it seems people wait until they’re on their deathbed before seeking help and when they reach the hospital, it’s all too late and they die. Oftentimes, the hospital can help and many of the staff do the best they can but the truth is corruption is rife and the lack of staffing, equipment and supplies makes it incredibly difficult for even the most dedicated people to do their job well.
Medications that should be available in the hospitals are sold and show up for sale in the local market by vendors who have no idea what they’re offering. Cleaners extort money from desperate family members who only know that their family member needs a blood donation (not that it should be offered free of charge). Ambulances are either out of fuel, out of service or out ferrying just about anything you can think of excluding sick patients.
Two days later, on the Thursday, Hussein’s mum and grandma made the decision to take him to the hospital just across the border in Malawi. It just so happened that our family was heading to Malawi that same day. All of our staff (including Baba N) knew that so I didn’t think it was any coincidence when his sister (the grandma) arrived along with Hussein and his Mum.
They had arranged with a family member to take them to Massangulo (where our house is). It’s a 30km journey which at that time of year was horrendous – a slippery, muddy, hair raising balancing act with 3 adults (granted, the 2 ladies are quite small) and Hussein strapped to his mother’s back. So by the time they arrived at our house, they were quite exhausted and their day had barely started.
I’d been busy finishing off some schoolwork with the kids, ticking a few jobs off my to do list and packing for a weekend away in Malawi. I always like to clean out the fridge before we go away and give away any food that we’re not going to eat so it doesn’t sit going to waste. Packing for a weekend away is one of my least favourite things to do… we have to cross the border meaning we need passports, different currency, Malawi SIM cards, a comprehensive shopping list of all the things we can’t get in Massangulo (pretty much everything except tomatoes). We try and pack all of our stuff into boxes so that it doesn’t get too filthy dirty with all the mud and dust and we take a ridiculously large, thick-walled esky to bring back some meat, cheese, yoghurt and frozen berries.
As lunchtime approached, I was getting through my list pretty well and was keen to make a quick get away after lunch knowing that the roads would be hectic (with mud, not cars) and that we’d get to spend some time with Tim and Mel in Mangochi. It was in that headspace that Baba N asked to speak to me and explained that his sister had come with her daughter and grandchild who was sick. He told me that they were sitting out in the guard’s hut. What he really meant was – “Mama can you please come out to the guard’s hut and have a look at my sister’s grandchild who is really sick and maybe help us decide what to do?” But people never really ask questions that directly in Mozambique! Thankfully, after years and years, I’ve learned to read between the lines a bit better and suss out what’s really being said.
Scarily, some people in our district think that I’m a doctor. I always make a point to tell people I’m not. There are some really terribly situations (some occurring right now) where westerners have come to African countries and worked well outside of their areas of expertise and have got themselves into a lot of trouble, and rightly so! I always try to encourage people to go to the local hospital (which pains my heart sometimes knowing that it’s not always the best). We occasionally consult with some Dr friends in Malawi or my friend who’s a nurse in a town about 60km away. via Whatsapp and make sure that the people we’re talking to know that the advice they’re getting is from a real doctor or nurse. I don’t know that we’ve convinced everyone but we’ll keep trying.
So I don’t think that Baba was asking me to offer medical advice per se, I think it was more logistical advice and probably really hoping that I’d offer them a lift… but in this case, I couldn’t help but get involved. I don’t like to do that very often, especially where people have their own plans already, but I’m a little bit a part of their family already and in Yawo culture, everyone in the family gets to throw their idea into the mix… doesn’t mean it will stick, but I wasn’t overstepping.
I went out to the guard hut. It’s a small structure that the guards have erected just outside of our back fence. At night time they sleep in there (they’re not technically supposed to sleep – it’s a night shift and they’re supposed to be guarding – but they do and we don’t really mind). Three and a half sides of the hut are closed in with bamboo and grass fencing and the roof has some black plastic and grass. Inside, there’s almost always a fire going and there are a number of small bamboo and wooden stools to sit on. There’s also the upturned tray of an old wheelbarrow that serves as some more relaxed seating for those wishing to recline (Cam’s favourite).
As I approached, I said, “Odi.” It’s a bit like saying, “knock, knock,” – there’s no door and you know you can go in but it’s just the polite thing to do. Someone told me to come in and handed me a stool and I sat down next to Baba’s sister. We greeted each other – we’d met before and I recognised her face, but we hadn’t spent a lot of time together. People are often a little reluctant to talk to me at first, not really being sure of how much I understand. And actually, in this case, it was really Baba’s role to explain to me what was going on.
In a Yawo family, one of the most important positions is that of the brother/uncle of a woman. So if a woman is married with children but has a brother (ideally an older brother) – the brother (the children’s uncle – only on the mother’s side) is the one who gets the most say in what can happen in the lives of those children. So in this case, Baba was really feeling the weight of responsibility to help his sister’s family. Particularly as he is the chief of their family / village too.
So as we sat there next to the fire, Baba started explaining to me that 2 days previously, Hussein had woken up not able to move. He was talking and eating fine and didn’t have a cough or fever but he couldn’t do anything for himself. His Mum had been carrying him around like a baby for the last two days – strapped to her back in the capulana. As we talked, Hussein sat on his Mum’s lap eating puffs and aside from being a little terrified of the strange white lady in the room, he looked like he was responsive, conscious and not in any distress.
Puffs are a horrible little snack (that my kids love) that are a bit like really gross cheezels – they look a bit like cheezels (perhaps a little less yellow) but they taste more like cardboard. Sometimes we buy them when we’re driving to Lilongwe (it’s an 8 hour drive so we get a little desperate if I haven’t packed snacks for the trip) and I find myself repeatedly sticking my hand in the bag for just one more… each time being convinced that I must have just got a bad one the last time and then disappointed again that no, they just really do taste like cardboard.
After I’d heard the story about Hussein and sat and chatted with Mama a little more, I started running through potential diagnoses in my mind and how he could best get those investigated. A couple of side notes… when I say chatting, it’s often somewhat awkwardly worded questions in my third language (Ciyawo) which usually serve to highlight to me my rather gaping hole in the area of anatomy, specific words for movement and medical terminology. When we first moved to Mozambique, I spent a year or so pretty intensely learning Portuguese. I didn’t find that too hard and I can still speak it pretty well which I consider a small miracle seeing as almost none of my friends in the village speak any Portuguese (beyond a basic greeting). I’ve been learning Ciyawo for about 5 years on and off now and while I’m definitely making progress… it is just a long, slow slog and there’s always so much to learn. When I say running through potential diagnoses – no I’m not a doctor but I did study physio and worked in ICU / ED / Neurology so I actually sometimes do know some things although I am no longer registered and by no means keeping up to date.
I asked Hussein’s Mum if I could hold him – I wanted to see what his muscle tone was like. I was pretty impressed with him that he didn’t mind being passed over to me (even though we’d just met and I’m sure he was terrified). I sat him on my lap and started checking out his muscle tone – nothing in his legs, nothing in his arms and nothing in his torso… he was even struggling to keep him head up – he sat with it resting against my chest. As I held him there and thought things through I prayed for healing and wisdom. What could they do?
Baba explained to me that his sister wanted to take him to a fairly small hospital across the border in Malawi. From our house, it’s about a 30km drive south and then a taxi ride (as in a 49cc motorbike ride) or walk just a couple of kilometres across the border into Malawi. In the village there is a hospital which has a fairly good reputation. While still far from wonderful, the hospitals in Malawi are vastly better than ours in Mozambique. As he explained this, I started running through some options in my mind. Going there wasn’t the worst one but I knew they wouldn’t be able to do any of the investigations that he would need if they ever wanted to find out what was going on.
After a while, I excused myself and went inside to get Hussein a drink of milk. I’m not sure why exactly… it’s not really something that people drink very often. I just wanted him to stay hydrated and he’d already been on a pretty long trip and people don’t often drink water unless it’s right after a meal or out in the field on a really hot day so milk it was. It also gave me a chance to explain what was going on to Cam and to talk through what I was thinking and to Whatsapp my friend Carla (who is a nurse) and get her opinion and my Dr friend (Gift) and see where he thought the best place to go would be.
After doing all of that, I went back and talked to Baba. I asked him what they were thinking and then told him that I thought that they really needed to go further to the bigger hospital in Mangochi (still across the border in Malawi but a much longer trip). Without scaring him too much, I tried to explain as gently as I could that what Hussein had was a really serious problem and that they really should go somewhere where he could be looked after properly.
The hospital in our provincial capital, Lichinga, could probably have done the tests that they needed but they don’t really have family there and it was just as far as going the other way. The border between Mozambique and Malawians for citizens of those countries is pretty porous. I’ve never heard of a Malawian coming into Moz to go to the hospital but it happens the other way quite frequently. It’s the same people group, same language and often (as was the case with Baba), people have family across the border so it’s actually the more doable / less scary option.
If we try to take Mozambicans across the border, it turns into quite a task requiring passport photos, payments and identification documents but on their own, people seem to be able to cross either at the smaller border posts or just in the bush where there is no physical border with no problems at all. So I talked to Baba saying that we could offer them a lift to the place they had originally wanted to go to (an easy border crossing) and that they could still start at the hospital there but then really begged him to encourage them to keep going on to Mangochi. We were planning on being there on the Saturday so I said I could come and meet them at the hospital and help them get seen properly if they were having any troubles.
He passed all of that information on to them and they gratefully accepted the offer of the lift. They waited in the guard hut while I finished off my jobs and we packed up the car. We headed off a little after 2pm. We had a Toyota Hilux 6 seater with a canopy on the back. The kids often roll their eyes when I say we’re taking people with us (I usually tell them if they whinge and complain they’ll be in massive trouble). They often end up squished in with people they don’t know at all, many of whom aren’t used to travelling in cars and don’t do it well. Did you know, capulanas can also be used as a spew bag in an emergency? So they kind of have reason to not be over the moon about it. But when travel is as difficult as it is in our part of Moz, it’s pretty awful not to help out. So we squished in – Cam driving, Tilly in the middle, Sydney on my knee, Jack, Hussein, his mum and Mama in the back.
It’s only a 60km drive from our house to the border – how hard can it be right? Well lately, that drive has been taking us about 2 hours. About 3/4 of the road is a dirt/gravel track (the national highway) which in March is very muddy. The other 1/4 was once a stretch of tar but is now more pothole than tar (I’m not even kidding) and is actually painful to bounce along. This day, it took even longer.
As we drove through the village of Matamanda, I did point out to Cam the group of rather friendly guys standing at the T junction motioning for us to stop but he sailed right on by. About 5kms further on, we realised what they were going on about. There’s a part on our national highway where, depending on the season, you have to drive through a river… up to 1m (maybe more deep). We had reached that spot and found a truck, precariously positioned on a diagonal, facing up the hill, blocking most of the road. He’d made it through the river but lost traction on the up hill and had started sliding into the ditch next to the road. There was no way that we were going to make it around so we then had to reverse up the slippery hill, also trying to avoid the ditch, and find another way. When we reached higher ground, we got out to investigate the options and some guys coming through on a motorbike told us that if we backtracked to the previous village, there was another road through the bush.
So we turned around, drove back, waved to the friendly guys at the T junction who were having a bit of a giggle at our expense and headed off into the bush! I was a little nervous… actually maybe more than a little nervous. I don’t mind a bit of adventure and 4WDriving but after years of it getting in the way of where you really need to be, it wears a little thin. It turned out the bush track wasn’t so bad and we made it through there, somehow crossed the river and ended up in the village on the other side… where we got stuck again.
A medium sized truck had also taken the bush track but couldn’t make the sharp turn required in amongst the village houses and down the steep embankment to get back onto the main road. We hopped out again to investigate. As we were stopped looking around, a cunning traveller spotted his opportunity to get off the truck heading nowhere and into the protection of our canopy. In Moz, there’s always room for one more! After pleading for quite a while, Cam relented and we rearranged our luggage and made him a cosy cubby in the back. In the meantime, we’d found another way around the truck and we were back on the road again!
The rest of the trip to our drop off point at the border (a mere 30km from home) was no less eventful. The mud was knee deep, up hills, around corners and past trucks that had been bogged for days and a number of times I closed my eyes and hoped for the best as Cam manoeuvred his way through. The ladies and I all had a good laugh about how scared we were.
When we finally reached our first destination, Hussein’s Mum hopped out of the car and put him back on her back in the capulana and together with Mama they thanked us and started on the next leg of their journey. Before they left, I gave them a 1L carton of UHT milk and a cup… again, what’s with the milk?!? I gave them my Malawian number and again pleaded with them to make it all the way to the hospital at Mangochi.
We continued on to the border, dropped off our extra passenger and began the process of leaving Mozambique and entering Malawi. It’s a bit of a complicated procedure that involves a ridiculous amount of time waiting at the Malawi side for a 10000 Kwacha (about 20 AUD) permit to temporarily import your car and a payment of $20 USD to use the roads. It’s usually fairly hassle free, it’s just annoying that it takes so long and it’s really hot there and hectic (with people coming and going and trying to get you to exchange USD for Kwacha). This day, we had no hassles. We headed on through and made it to Mangochi just in time for dinner with our lovely team mate Mel & her boys.
The following day, on Friday, we had to drive to Lilongwe (another 4 hours but on pretty good roads) to go to the orthodontist and do some shopping. We spent the night in a guest house in town run by the American Southern Baptists and then headed back to Mangochi the following morning. We went straight back to the Global Interaction guesthouse to drop our stuff off and then left the kids there to play with their mates while Cam and I headed back out. Cam was off to do a bit of shopping and I planned to go to the hospital. I’d never actually been to the hospital in Mangochi before and was a little overwhelmed at the thought of trying to find Hussein and his family (if they had indeed made it there) in amongst the crowd, but I went anyway.
I was dressed in havaianas, leggings, a skirt, a capulana (if you’ve been wondering the whole time what that is – it’s a 2m / 1.2m piece of cloth, hemmed at the end that is worn like a sarong over a skirt/pants/leggings that pretty much all the women in Mozambique wear day in, day out), a t-shirt and a scarf wrapped on my head. Women in Mozambique will often wear a scarf when going to an event such as a funeral or celebration, or when they go to visit someone. It’s not a requirement, you could get away without wearing it and in fact in Malawi, women often wear a long skirt without the capulana. All that to say that when I arrived, some of the women were giving me the once over and commenting amongst themselves about how well I was dressed.
I headed into what I thought looked to be the main entrance and then pretended I knew where I was going as I scanned the signs for something about children. I’m pretty introverted and while I’m getting better at it, I’m definitely the kind of person who would prefer to just keep going and hope for the best rather than stop and ask for directions. This time, it totally worked – I found a sign pointing right to the paediatric ward and headed on in. The corridor snaked around to the left where the nurses station was and then the right where the ward was. It was wall to wall beds, wall to wall mums, wall to wall sick kids and countless other family members. I had a bit of a deer in headlights moment wondering how on earth I would ever find them in amongst all the people!
One of my least favourite questions to answer (anywhere in the world) is, “Do you remember me?” It takes me a long time to figure out where people fit in and to remember their faces and in this instance, I wasn’t feeling super confident that I’d even remember what my friends looked like! Terrible, I know. But that’s when being 5’10” tall and white comes in handy. I faked it past the nurses station (they were disturbingly undisturbed by my waltzing into the children’s ward) and then stood just inside the door scanning the room for Hussein. I needn’t have worried, within a minute or two, Hussein’s Mum had found me. She’s tiny so I missed the fact that was in a line to receive medication and was walking right towards me. I’m not sure who was more relieved to see who. I was so glad they’d made it safely and had clearly been admitted and she was so glad I’d come good on my word and met them there.
Hussein and his Mum continued in the line and called over Mama and her sister! The sister lives in Mangochi and had received word that they were on the way and had gone to meet them there. Mama told me all about their journey. They had been to the hospital near the border on the Thursday afternoon but the Dr there told them that they needed to go to Mangochi for more tests. They spent the night there with some family friends and then hopped on the back of a truck early the next morning.
It was so great that the sister had met them there. The staff at the hospital seemed to be only speaking Chichewa which neither Hussein’s Mum or Mama could speak very well at all. I think they would have been too frightened to go there without having her to translate and show them the ropes. Hussein had been seen by the Drs on the Friday. I managed to sneak a look at his medical notes while his Mum was in the line for medication and saw that they were querying whether he might have a certain neurological condition. A lot of his test results were normal and they’d ordered a number of others tests to be done. It looked to be a really comprehensive assessment and I was pretty encouraged.
While Hussein waited with his Mum in line, Mama and her sister and I sat catching up. I was asking her about where they lived, how long she’d been there, how many children she had and where everyone fit in order with their siblings. They knew that I knew Baba well but were super impressed when they talked about their other brother and I also knew his name. It was a sweet bonding moment where I think I somehow proved my love for them? Funny, because names aren’t really used in conversation but it seems it’s important to know them regardless.
It turned out that Mama had had some problems putting my number into her phone so I did that for her and put some credit on to her phone as well just to help out a little. After that we just sat waiting for Hussein to receive his medication (they lined up for more than half an hour to get half a panadol). It seemed like total chaos to me but I’m not sure there’s a better way to do it? Each Mum would take her sick child, along with their notes, and form a line that snaked all the way through the ward and then out and around in the waiting area by the nurse’s station. One nurse sat at a desk and as the children filed past, she would check their notes and administer meds – some were getting injections and some were getting tablets. I don’t want to judge because I can’t even imagine what it would be like to work in that environment but it often seems that hospital staff are lacking a little in the compassion department. Other kids, seeing those in front being jabbed and crying, started to scream before they’d even reached the nurse. It made my heart hurt a little thinking about how my kids have not one but two nurses giving their shots simultaneously to reduce the trauma of it all and then they get jellybeans! There certainly weren’t any jellybeans in Mangochi that day.
Once Hussein had his panadol, we moved back through the ward, squeezing past the beds and people to the very back where Hussein’s bed was. We milled around there for a while and then a host of singing nuns rocked up! They were there with trolleys full of food – providing an amazing meal to all of the patients and their caregivers. It was pretty impressive. With all the action going on there and knowing that my kids were desperate for us to meet them at the resort by the lake with the pool – I told Mama that I was going to leave.
Another side note… yes, we were off to a resort by the lake that has a sweet pool. We weren’t even just going to swim. We stayed there the night too, to celebrate Sydney’s birthday. Not that I feel the need to do it for you, but just so that you’re aware that the question is never far from my mind… how do we rationalise / justify spending time and money lazing by the pool when our friends live in such desperate poverty just kilometres away?
She and her sister walked me out to the front car park where I had arranged for Cam to pick me up. He met us near the door and we all had a great chat. One thing I love about Cam is that he’s really not afraid to talk to just about anyone. He’s always all in with conversations and relationships – people know straight away that he loves them. I’m a little hesitant, trying to get things right and I know it comes off a little stand offish. I do care and I don’t care… I figure the people who are willing to give me the time will soon know how much I love them. But I’m always thankful that Cam covers some of those gaps for me.
So we stood there and had a pretty hilarious conversation about the fact that these ladies had eaten better in the last few days than at just about any other time in their life. The nuns were bringing them beef stew! They couldn’t ever remember eating beef before and they were totally blown away. We also talked about Hussein and what the Drs had written so far and what tests they were planning to do. Knowing that escape in never far from a Mozambicans mind when in hospital (no matter how good the food is), I implore them to stay until Monday at the very least knowing that it was unlikely that many of the other tests would be completed over the weekend. I told them I’d be back to visit again the next day.
We headed out to the lake and had a really lovely time with a bunch of our fellow missionary friends – it turned out that a couple of others were also celebrating birthdays. We ate lunch together and played in the pool. After a relaxing stay that night, the following morning on the Sunday, we headed back to the guesthouse in Mangochi. There was a combined fellowship planned for that afternoon at our friend’s house so we’d already decided we’d stay for that and spend some time with our colleagues before heading home on the Monday.
I had originally planned to go back to the hospital at midday and see how Hussein was going but we all got chatting and time was running out and I wasn’t feeling inspired so I decided I’d go later in the day. Fellowship was really great, it’s always nice to be encouraged by others who are on a similar journey. One of the girls had made a gorgeous cake for Sydney so we all celebrated together again! At about 5pm, once everyone had headed back home, I returned to the hospital.
Feeling way more confident this time, I strode into the children’s ward and headed straight for the place where I last saw Hussein. He wasn’t there. I scanned the room hoping that he’d just been moved but I couldn’t see him. I asked a few ladies if they knew where my friends had gone – some stared at me blankly, others said that they thought they had left. I was a disappointed, but not surprised.
I went back outside and called Mama on the phone. “Mama, where are you?” I asked. She replied saying she was in “Ce Namalaka.” Clearly that information entered my head but the significance of it didn’t quite hit home. I was trying to use my logic, piecing it together with her information, not listening properly and coming to the conclusion that she must have gone back to her sister’s house. I asked her repeatedly whether or not the Dr said she could leave or did they just leave without having done the tests. She gave me a few different answers neither confirming nor denying anything (a special skill Mozambicans have). I then stupidly asked her (thinking she was close by) if she would come and meet me the next day at my friend’s house. We’d talked fairly extensively on the way to Mangochi about the location of their house so I was confident she’d find it. She sounded confused but not wanting to say no (not really the done thing) agreed and then I hung up.
I don’t know quite what triggered the lightbulb moment in my mind that made me suddenly remember the part of the conversation where she said, “Ce Namalaka,” but something did. It’s the name of a village north of Mangochi along the shore of Lake Malawi. Probably a couple of hours away on foot/public transport. It was the village to which my nurturer’s family had escaped during the war of independence – fleeing Mozambique for the safety of Malawi. There was no chance she was coming back to visit me the next day, no chance that Hussein was going to get the tests the Drs had ordered and no chance of getting an answer. Though in reality, even with all the investigations, that might not have provided any helpful information.
I called her back a while later to clarify and find out for sure what her plan was. She explained that Hussein’s Dad was from that village and that they all planned to stay there for a while before returning to Mozambique. Fear of the hospital and a general mistrust / lack of understanding about western medicine is rife. I don’t know exactly what they were doing in the time they stayed at Ce Namalaka but there’s every chance that they were seeking alternative treatments from traditional healers.
I called Baba that evening and explained to him everything I knew. I told him what they’d done at the hospital – not much at all really. I told him how they’d left – I said I didn’t know for sure but I suspected they’d left before they were supposed to. I suspected that he’d be a little disappointed about that but if he was he didn’t tell me. Perhaps he was ashamed that they hadn’t followed his or my suggestions, I’m not really sure. I told him they were in Ce Namalaka and that they were planning to stay there for a while and then I hung up.
After that call I was feeling a little down. I wasn’t upset with Hussein’s family – while I don’t fully understand the reasons for it, I can kind of grasp some of it and I fully respect their decision and love that they clearly didn’t feel pressured by me enough to change that. I also have been in a situation where I feel like I haven’t pushed hard enough and a child died and while I know that’s not ultimately my fault… I often feel a little bit torn. Maybe I didn’t explain the seriousness of it all well enough? Maybe I could have done more? I guess it brought back memories and had me second guessing… again.
I tried to follow up with one of the expat Drs at the hospital the following day. Asking if there was any chance I could get access to his notes or if she could. She was keen to help but it just wasn’t possible. We left Mangochi, headed for home, back across the border realising there was nothing I could do but keep praying and hope that everything would work out ok.
A few weeks later, I had a dream. I was working as a physio with a lady that had been paralysed down her right side but was starting to recover and was able to move her arm again. The following morning, I got up early and headed out for a walk and as I walked I prayed. I prayed, “God, please let that dream be about Hussein. Please heal him!” I walked about 3km north on our main road and then turned around and headed back just as the sun was rising over the mountain. As I passed back through the village about 15 minutes walk from our house, I saw Baba walking towards me. We stopped on the path, greeted, chatted about where I’d walked to and then he said to me, “I spoke to my sister last night. They’re back home in their village. She said that Hussein is doing ok and has started to move his arms a little bit.” I just looked at him with a stupid grin on my face and told him about my dream.
Later on that month, about 4 weeks after the onset of Hussein’s initial symptoms, a friend of ours and expat Dr who has lived in Mozambique for many years was staying at our house for a few days. We were away in Lichinga trying to renew our visas and running our annual ski camp (as in super fun water skiing / tubing / kneeboarding camp for all of the youth group aged missionary kids in our area – yes, it’s as fun as it sounds). So while our Dr friend was staying, Baba chatted to her about Hussein’s problems in the hope that she had some ideas. She was spending some time training some of the hospital workers and mentioned it to one of them and that got the ball rolling on getting a polio screening done on Hussein. My Dr friend didn’t think that he had polio but it’s a requirement that any child presenting with those types of symptoms be screened. I’m not sure how often that policy is ever acted on, it became fairly clear not far into the process that our main doctor was not very experienced in the process.
I lined up a good time to come in with the hospital staff and Baba talked to his sister and worked out that I would go and pick them up (it’s only 30km but it was pretty rough, about an hour long drive), take them to the hospital, help them get their tests done and then take them home again. How hard could it be? It was a Thursday, the 2nd of May. I took a friend (Mama L) along for the ride – she’s related to Baba’s family on his wife’s side and knows his family quite well. We arrived in the village and found (to my surprise) that they were expecting us and ready to go. Baba must have really hammered them, people being ready at an agreed time and place is a pretty rare occurrence in our neck of the woods.
We all piled back in the car and started the trip back to our local hospital. Despite being there numerous times, our hospital remains a bit of a mystery to me. It seems like each time I go, there’s a new place to line up to get a consult. We lined up in the wrong one for a while and then someone steered us in the right direction. We ended up in the section where all of the women gather to weigh their tiny babies. It’s often freezing – perched on top of a hill, walled on one side only, fully of naked babies being placed in a cold sling to check on their progress and none of them are very happy about it!
I went straight to the door and manoeuvred (pretty much pushed) my way to the front of the line with one foot in the room, blocking the way of everyone else, guaranteeing that I would be the next person seen to. Another side note… I considered playing that, the whole what I call “pushing in line” thing doesn’t really sit well with me. The first time my friend did it at the hospital, I was appalled! But then I realised everyone else was doing the exact same thing and if I didn’t join in I would never be seen. It still doesn’t sit well with me though and I’m fairly confident I get away with it more than others would just because of the colour of my skin and that’s another question that’s often at the forefront of my mind. Before the previous patient had even stepped out, I stepped in and explained Hussein’s situation to the hospital worker.
The guy I was speaking to wasn’t too sure about the process but he soon went and found another guy and he proved to be extremely helpful and kind to us over the following three days! Yep, it took three days to get the polio screening done. First of all, we spent quite a while waiting for the one and only Dr to be available to fill out the assessment form. He’s a nice guy but he’s not from Mozambique, doesn’t speak Portuguese terribly well, doesn’t speak Ciyawo at all and his bedside manner left me a little unimpressed. Thankfully, his assistant was on hand to guide him through the process and we finally got the assessment form filled out.
There was much confusion and telling off when the Dr realised that Hussein’s mum hadn’t brought his healthcare booklet along with her. She explained that it had been damaged in a storm when it rained so hard that it basically melted her mud bricks and the house collapsed around her. I hadn’t checked that she’d brought it (people seem to be pretty good at remembering that) and I certainly wasn’t going to drive 60km to go and pick it up. We managed to convince the Dr to proceed with the screening, assuring him that we’d have a family member bring it the following day. By this stage it was getting late in the day. Poor Hussein was well and truly tired of sitting and waiting and being poked and prodded. That was when we found out that in addition to the assessment and form filling out, we needed to submit not one, but two stool samples!
I talked to Mama L about what we should do. It was just so much effort to take them home and then arrange for stool samples to be brought back over the next two days so they all decided that they’d stay in Baba’s village (near our home and fairly near the hospital) and wait until the samples were done and then go back. I felt a bit bad for them because they hadn’t packed thinking they’d stay overnight but that never really seems to bother anyone. Incredible hospitality is one of the great things I love about Yawo culture so it was no big deal at all that we headed back to Baba’s house and they stayed without any warning for 2 days.
While we were still waiting at the hospital for the forms to be completed and stool sample request form to be filled out, I remembered that Ben and Sam were heading on their way out of Lichinga and going past the village where the healthcare booklet had been left behind. I called Ben and asked if they would be able to stop and pick it up and then arranged for someone to meet them near the T junction. It didn’t quite go as smoothly as that but that’s a whole other story and in the end, we got the card to Massangulo.
The following morning I received a message from my friend, “The sample is ready.” There wasn’t really a need for me to personally go and pick up the poo and deliver it to the hospital but if I’m honest, I was feeling bad that they had to go through this whole stupid polio screening process and I wanted to make it as easy as possible. I also really like to see things through and I felt like I’d started something with these guys and wanted to finish it well. I went to pick up the poo, Mama L (she was really just in it for moral support at this stage) and headed into the hospital. We also took the healthcare booklet and the assistant very kindly transferred all of the details to a brand new one.
Along with the poo sample, I had a bag full of Anzac slice that I’d baked the previous night. It was a gift for the assistant at the hospital who really had been quite kind and helpful to us the day before. It’s not always the way and I just wanted to say thank you. Being sure to not mix the bags up, we dropped the poo at the lab and the slice with our new mate and then headed back home again.
The following morning I received another text message, “The second sample is ready.” Again, I headed to the village to collect Mama L and the poo. I parked the car on the edge of the village and walked in to Baba’s yard. I called out at the gate and they all invited me to come and sit down. After sitting down and greeting everyone, Mama emerged from the hut with the second sample. There was a bit of a giggle as everyone scrambled to find a bag to put the little container in. I’d already thought through this awkward moment and had a black bag ready in my handbag so we popped it in there.
The second stool sample drop off was significantly more complicated being a Saturday. We’d taken the assistant’s number the day before and arranged to meet him near the main market and go together to the hospital. He was again super helpful and it all went smoothly. It did leave me wondering how anyone without the money for transport or motivation to tick boxes would every get through the entire process. It seemed a little ridiculous.
After dropping the assistant back at the market, Mama L and I headed back to Baba’s house to pick up Hussein and his Mum and Mama. They said their farewells and we all hopped back in the car for the hour long trip home. We were all a bit tired by that stage, it felt like it had been a long three days. Once we arrived in the village, we entered the backyard and all flopped down on stools and mats and various family members filed in to welcome Hussein and his family home. All of Hussein’s mates gathered and it was so lovely to see that he was clearly relieved to be back with his friends and family.
I took advantage of the opportunity and sat him on my lap to do an assessment of my own and see how his was progressing. I was really encouraged to see that he had regained some movement back in his arms and a little through his torso. He still wasn’t able to sit by himself but there were encouraging signs. He sat on my lap happy and sang what he thought was a hilarious song about “dinyonyolo” (okra). We played a few sneaky games so I could see just what he was capable of in a fun rather than scary way. As he sat there and played, I just kept praying that God would continue to heal him. After a while he was getting tired so I handed him back to his Mum. We talked about things that they could do to make sure that he wouldn’t get injured or too sore and games that they could play to encourage him in his recovery. I started making plans to find or make him some wheels so that he could at the very least be with his friends if not up and walking and kicking the ball. I wondered whether he really would continue to recover or whether this was as good as it was going to get. He still couldn’t do anything for himself. He couldn’t even get his hands to his mouth to feed himself.
Being a Saturday, the big weekly market was on in Hussein’s home village. Mama L really wanted to see if she could buy some leafy green vegetables so we headed out with Hussein’s mum through the back alleys and popped out near the market. We checked out all the produce but there didn’t seem to be any on offer. Mama L asked around a bit which led to a bit of a wild goose chase and some time spent sitting in some completely random person’s yard while someone else went off looking for greens. A little bit different from walking into Woolies (or your much nicer local F & V shop) and getting pretty much anything you want. We came up empty handed so we headed back to Hussein’s house to get our things, say our farewells and head back home.
We walked back to the house, sat back down (you can’t say goodbye properly unless you’re sitting down) then hopped up to leave. We weaved our way back through the village laneways and onto the main road, back past the market. As we approached, Mama L asked me if I wouldn’t mind stopping so she could get some lemons. She asked me if I wanted to just wait in the car. Sensing she didn’t want me to join her, I told her that was fine. She was relieved and told me she’d get much better prices without me! She also told me that I just drew too much attention and how when we’d walked through the market earlier, everyone was telling stories about how I’d been at the chief enthronement ceremony last year and had stayed up all night celebrating with everyone. Shame, it must really be hard sometimes to be friends with us. I was glad she felt she could be honest.
Just a few days later, on the 9th of May, I returned to visit Hussein. Sally and I were on our way to meet Ben and pick up Ruth and Simon Warwick and had to pass by Hussein’s house so I thought I’d just drop in and do an impromptu physio session with him and get some of his measurements for a wheelchair. I didn’t have a wheelchair, or even have access to one but I had seen some crazy plans for one made out of PVC pipe and if nothing else came up, I was going to attempt that.
We went their first before picking up our visitors and we were pleased to find Hussein and his Mum at home. Mama was out at the farm but was expected back soon. We sat and greeted everyone and had a really lovely time hanging out and playing with Hussein while everyone cheered him on. It was a real family affair with his Mum, grandma and both great grandparents (great grandad was 4 days off his 100th birthday!) present as well as lots of cousins and aunties.
I was encouraged to see that even though it hadn’t been long at all, Hussein has a little more movement in his arms and with just a bit of help, had enough strength to hold the ball. He was almost able to reach his mouth! We played soccer – he sat on my knee and I helped him kick (he had a tiny flicker of hip flexor activity) and he just thought that was great. I saw his personality emerging as he confidently and enthusiastically called his friends and cousins over to join in. It was adorable!
I’d grabbed a tape measure to take some measurements for my PVC pipe wheelchair creation. But then I remembered that I must have put it on my lap and it had fallen out when I stopped way back near home to check why the wheel was making such a funny noise (I’m a little paranoid since I lost a wheel which flew off at high speed, went hurtling through a village and crashed into a house making a sizeable hole in the wall). Anyway, I didn’t have a tape measure so I pulled out some bit of grass from the fence, snapped them to length and then took a video to remember what was what. Horrified that I was going to carry the “dirty” grass home in the car (it had some black soot or mould maybe on it), great grandad sent someone to get me some clean grass and then re-did all my measurements. After a while, Ben called saying that he was not too far away with the Warwicks so we said goodbye to everyone and I promised I’d be back before we left for Australia (we only had a few weeks left).
We didn’t get back to see Hussein until just before we left Mozambique. It was the 26th of May and we were heading back from Lichinga after having spent the weekend there visiting various people and saying goodbye. In Lichinga, we picked up a stroller from the Goods. Our whole family dropped in to Hussein’s and found that everyone was home. After sitting and greeting, Cam went back to the car and got the stroller out. I showed Hussein’s Mum how to use the various features and then we sat him in there for a test drive. He was pretty chuffed and everyone made a big deal out of his “new car.” His friends started pushing him around straight away. It wasn’t perfect but it gave him Mum a well needed rest from carrying him on her back and gave Hussein the opportunity to play with his friends.
As we sat there and chatted, Mama told me that Hussein was continuing to recover slowly saying that been doing lots of exercises with him and that he was now able to eat by himself! A huge milestone. We rejoiced together and told them that we would keep praying for him. Then we had to say goodbye. Again I wondered if the recovery would continue? I was so impressed with his family – they were clearly doing an amazing job taking care of him in very trying circumstances. I knew that they’d be ok whatever happened – their love and care for each other was evident. I knew between them and God, he was in the very best hands.
Early in August Sally stopped in to visit Hussein as she was going past on the way to Lichinga. She said that he was doing ok but still wasn’t able to walk at all and was very weak. In the last few days, we received a message from the Falconers. Baba had told them that Hussein was doing well and he asked them to go and visit and take a video to show us. Here it is…
That’s Hussein’s Mum speaking and his grandma walking with him and they’re saying – Mum: “Turn around and come back this way. Come here. Walk.” Grandma: “Let’s go!”
Isn’t that just amazing! I got the message as I was sitting in the carpark of the International School in Chiang Rai, Thailand, waiting with my sisters to pick up Liz’s kids. I couldn’t stop watching it and I couldn’t stop the happy tears from pouring out. Praise the Lord! He’s not perfectly healthy yet – he’s still very weak and a bit sore from having to work so hard to control those legs but he’s almost there and it is just so, so good.
As soon as I saw it, I knew I wanted to write this story out from start to here (it’s not the end). If you made it through the whole thing, you probably should win some sort of award! If you skipped to the end, I totally get it. That’s ok, it wasn’t really for you. It was for me, to remind me of a few things and to challenge me on a few things. I won’t share them all, perhaps just a few. Hope is powerful! Our presence and God’s presence with people as we sit and listen and wait together and share our hope are incredibly powerful. God is good.