Rosita is a twelve year old girl who came to live at Iris Matola-Rio about two months ago. She was brought to Central Hospital in Maputo by her uncle. She was very sick- extremely malnourished, sores all over her body, and swollen feet. The hospital psychologist was concerned about allowing her to return to her home when she was ready to be released. Upon questioning the uncle, her concerns were confirmed. Rosita lived with her grandmother near the Swaziland border. Her grandmother was very poor and had no food in her home for her or her granddaughter. Her parents are both deceased. Because of this, Corrie, the director of Iris Matola-Rio, was asked to take her to live at the center. At the center, Rosita has become healthy and happy and is making new friends. But she has missed her grandmother and worries about her. So Corrie invited me to come with her to find her grandmother. We had no address to use and no directions to follow. We would have to depend on 12 year old Rosita to guide us to her old home.
Because she lived near the Swazi border, we headed out towards Boane. Our first obstacle was when we came upon a bridge that was washed out over a year ago and is under construction. I had recently been this way before with a friend and knew that it would require driving through the river in its most shallow spot. So we followed a truck in front of us and did just that, only to discover that once through the river, the path back up to the road is now blocked with large boulders. Apparently they are discouraging people from using this road. So we had to turn around and traverse back through the river past women washing their clothes curiously looking at us again. We were told that we could go further on and find a road that would connect us in the direction we needed to go. So off we went- way, way far out of our way. The drive, however, was beautiful. As we headed out into the bush, we were all impressed with its beauty. Recent rains have kept everything nice and green. We had to frequently pause for cows, goats, and chickens who were crossing the road. We passed school children who had miles upon miles to walk to get to their school. The entire time, Rosita was on the edge of her seat- eyes scanning the scenes around us for a glimpse of something that looked like home to her. After over an hour more of driving, we still had not come to a place she recognized. We still had not found a person along the roadside who even ever heard of her village, Nevenuane. But we had to go on, hoping against hope that we would find her village and her grandmother. After another hour of driving, we stopped to ask a man with two goats and a machete for directions. He took off his hat and approached the car, glad to have the attention of people and someone with whom to talk. He was the first person we encountered who did not look puzzled when we mentioned the name of her village. For the first time in three hours, we had hope! He spoke to our driver in the local language of Shongana and made gestures with his hands. We headed off in the direction he gave us trusting that he did indeed know what he was talking about. We continued on the paved road and finally reached a dirt road. After 15 miles on the dirt road, we came to Nevenuane!
Rosita directed us through the village, past the medical clinic and the school, to a mud home where her grandmother, Avo, was sleeping on the ground outside her home. I opened the door and jumped out of the van to allow Rosita to exit, fully expecting a joyous reunion filled with hugs and tears. What I saw really astounded me. This culture is so different from our own. Rosita came before her grandma and there were no tears, no hugs, no smiles; they simply shook hands and nodded at each other. Her grandmother went inside her home to bring out a grass mat for us to sit upon.
She rolled out the mat and we all sat down. It was a bit awkward at first as no one knew what to say. The grandmother shared with us that she did not know whether Rosita was alive or dead. Rosita had never returned from the hospital, so she had no way of knowing what happened to her. Rosita’s grandmother survives on the little she is able to grow on her property- which to me appeared to only be cassava- a root that is kind of like a potato. The past harvest was not a good one, and she was hungry. I sat across from this woman, carefully observing her hands, feet, and face, worn from years of hard work under the hot African sun. She wore the traditional capulana and an old oversized shirt. Her gray hair peeked out from under the capulana that was wound around her head. I find the older women here to be so honorable, and I am held captivated by them as I ponder the life that they have led. They are so regal and beautiful in their own way. As I sat on the old worn out grass mat outside the mud home of a woman who has no food to eat and does not even know when or how she will have food, I realized that we have absolutely no concept of what it is like for the poor of this world. No concept at all.
Rosita also wanted to see her uncle, so she led us to his home. Here we were greeted by him along with his wife, daughter, and grandson. They offered us their plastic chairs to sit in while they sat on the grass mat on the ground. The conversation at first was a bit stiff, but as Corrie shared with them about Rosita and how she was doing, it loosened. While we were talking, Rosita's uncle nodded to his daughter as to direct her to do something. The daughter and her son got up and went to the garden area and began digging up cassava.
Tears came to my eyes as I realized that these people who have absolutely nothing were going to offer to us a gift of the only thing they could- a part of their meager harvest. Rosita’s uncle had just told us that the soil in their area did not produce good harvests, but they did the best they could. Because everyone in their village is so poor, they had no money. Therefore, they trade what they are able to harvest for the things they need. This family seemed to be pretty well off because I also saw ducks and chickens roaming around on their property. They also had a little puppy, so thin that you could see every rib on his side.
Rosita’s family truly seemed happy to see her again. As they relaxed with each other, and us, they chatted with her and learned about her new life with 36 new brothers and sisters at Corrie’s center. Her family was glad to see her looking so healthy and well fed. Because all she had to eat when she lived there was mainly cassava and some vegetables, she never had proper nutrition to grow well and to be healthy. They gave Corrie 100 meticais (the equivalent of three American dollars) to buy something for Rosita. This was a very precious sacrifice for them to give. It was a clear demonstration of their thanks that their Rosita was now well cared for. They wanted to offer something to her to express their appreciation and love. Corrie also shared about God with them, and we were able to pray with them as well.
Right before we were about to leave, the uncle’s daughter’s daughter came home from school. I waved at her as she came into the yard. She immediately hid her face in her sweater. She was so shy. She went inside their mud hut and changed out of her blue school pants into a skirt that didn’t even have a waistband to hold it up. She came out and hid behind her mother. Her mother directed her to greet their guests. She was so obedient, and despite her shyness, she immediately came to shake our hands and kiss our cheeks. She then crumpled next to her mom in a fit of laughter. She was so excited and said, “I have touched a white woman!” We were the first white people she had ever seen, let alone touched. This little girl was absolutely beautiful and had the most adorable dimples I have ever seen on a child. Assuming she had never had her picture taken before, I asked her if I could do this. After she gave permission, I took a picture of her and showed it to her in the view finder. I was then rewarded with the biggest smile and explosion of laughter. So I then took a picture of her with her mom and was again treated to her joyous laughter at seeing herself. She was just adorable!!
It was time for us to go, so the uncle led us back to Rosita’s grandmother’s house again. We then gave Rosita the gifts of food we had brought for her family and she passed them on- fish, rice, beans, oil, sugar, flour, cookies, and washing powder. Rosita shook her grandmother’s hand to say goodbye. I noted that they did not even make eye contact with each other. We climbed into the van with the bag of cassava, waved goodbye, and pulled away. The tone in the van took on a completely different feel. It did a complete change from anticipation and excitement to a somber and quiet sadness. Rosita sat with her head and eyes down. She knew it would be a very long time until she would be able to see her family again. She may now be in a center where she has food, a bed, an education, health care, and sisters and brothers, but clearly none of these things make up for her being with her family, even as poor as they are. My heart ached for this child sitting next to me. We simply sat in silence; Rosita sandwiched between Corrie and me. There was nothing we could really say. They say that time heals all wounds. I am not sure if that is exactly true, but as we continued on, Rosita eventually began to accept her situation. Corrie offered her a chocolate bar, and I gave her cookies. Corrie laughed as Rosita gobbled them down commenting on the fact that who would have ever thought that this little girl who was so malnourished from eating only cassava would now be spoiled with cookies and chocolate. She is a blessed girl indeed. She has the love of a family in the bush, where she can always return to visit. And she has the love of a new family at the center that can provide what she needs to thrive and grow into the young woman God has destined her to be. And as for me, again I am privileged to share in an experience that has forever been etched into my mind and my heart.