In Mozambique, people use different titles to address others. These titles are dependent upon their age. A young man is called “mano”, meaning brother, and “mana” for a young woman, meaning sister. As a person ages and reaches about 30 years of age, they become “pai” or father and “mae” or mother. A person over 40 is called a vovo, which literally means grandparent but in actuality what they are saying is that you are just plain old. Technically, I am a vovo but I don’t let anyone call me that. I make them call me Mama Terri!
Some time ago, Berta told me about two vovos that her 13 year old daughter Amanda was helping. Amanda would see this man and woman sitting outside their homes on her way to and from school each day. They were old and unable to walk. They had no one to care for them. So Amanda took it upon herself to bring them food from her family’s own meager supplies and to clean and mop their one room homes. I was impressed by Amanda’s care for them, but not surprised. She has the heart of her mother who runs a community project for 39 orphaned and vulnerable children as well as a preschool for 80 needy children and helps many families with their needs.
In my frequent drives through the community while going to Berta’s, I finally spied two vovos who appeared to be the older people Berta had described to me. Berta confirmed to me that these were indeed Amanda’s vovos. She told me the woman was the mother of the man. I didn’t just want to go walking up to two strangers! But now that I had seen them with my own eyes, my heart also was touched seeing them sitting in the dirt outside their little homes.
Our relationship started out slowly. I would wave as I passed by and they would wave back. I was never quite sure if the woman could see or hear me. Her son always saw me first and would point me out to her. She then would wave in my direction. I wanted more than just to wave at them, so I stopped by one day with food for them. The son spoke a little Portuguese. He has a speech impediment and is difficult to understand, but we make do. His mother understood Portuguese but spoke Shongan, but we make do as well. Pretty much what happens is that I “talk” at her and she “talks” at me. I used the little bit of Shongan that I know, which impressed her thoroughly. As you can see, our communication was a bit stifled, but that was just fine with the three of us. We simply enjoyed each other’s company. I even learned their names. The woman is Teresa (my name..Theresa!! How cool is that?! We all had a good laugh over that one, and it seems to increase our bond to each other). The man is Bento.
Their warm acceptance of me during that first visit emboldened me to go further and stop by more. Yet I did not want them to get the impression that I would bring something to them every time I drive by…I go up and down that road multiple times a day. They would get fat and I would go broke! So sometimes I stop with food and sometimes I just wave. I have taken them food many more times, as well as clothing and shoes. I brought a new capulana for the woman one day, which thrilled her!! (In fact, I see that she has it around her shoulders in the photo above.) It makes me want to take her one every day from here on out! Our communication remains a bit limited, to put it nicely, but we still get along just fine. Sometimes there are other ways to communicate than with words.
I must admit I was also a bit nervous what their neighbors would think about a white woman stopping in their area so much. It is a tight dirt road, so I have to pull up onto someone’s property in order to be out of the way. I worried they would begin to ask me for things as well, which puts me in an uncomfortable situation. After all, as much as I would like to, I can’t help everyone. And I even worried they may just not like me being there. Yet despite my concerns, I have received a very favorable response. They already recognized me because I was forever driving by, but now they knew I cared enough to stop and care for these two people who do not have the capacity to care for themselves. During one visit the cheffe of the area (like the mayor) came to see me. He introduced himself to me and thanked me for taking an interest in these two people who live in his zone. So now I am not just a passerby. They are happy to see me come and stop.
My stops have also opened up somewhat of a relationship with the neighbors. One time as I was getting back into my car, I saw a tiny girl with capulana wrapped around her foot. This is their version of a BandAid. I asked her what her name was ( Emilinha) and if her foot was hurt (Yes). She said she had a ferida (skin problem). I asked her if I could take off the capulana to see it. She shook her head yes. As I did, I asked her to call her mother over. Her mother came and explained that the girl had burned her foot about a week ago. Removing the capulana confirmed what the mother had said. She had a wound on the top of her foot and it seemed to be healing nicely. I asked permission and then cleaned it with some antiseptic, put some ointment for burns and infection on it, and wrapped it up. I asked the mother to bring her a little sock to wear so that the would the bandage would stay semi-clean and in place. I instructed them to leave it on for two days and I would return to treat it again. For two days, little Emilinha waved at me and showed me her sock as I drove by. On the third day, I returned to clean and treat her little foot a second time. For two more days, she smiled, waved, and showed me her sock. On the following third day, the sock and bandages were removed to reveal a nicely healed foot. No more sock or pain for her.
As I treated Emilinha’s little foot, another mom came over with her baby who had a mild ferida on his arm. I cleaned it and put ointment and a BandAid on it. She walked off as happy as a clam. Sometimes all people want is to be noticed. To know that someone sees them and cares about their needs. I was happy to be that person for them.
Curious children tend to gather around my car when I stop. They like to see what I am doing. We chat as I return from my little visit and climb into my car again. Sometimes I bring them a candy or a balloon. But again, I don’t want them to think they will get something every time I come!! So sometimes all they get is a pat on the head. Even so, I get treated every time I come. They treat me to smiles and waves. What began as a kind act of simply waving as I passed by two elderly, forgotten people has now turned into a fun relationship with the vovos, their neighbors, and the children. I may not treat them to something each time I drive through, but they never cease to treat me to their smiles and waves. I have said it before and I am saying it again…I am blessed!