I often am tempted to attempt to put into writing the daily frustration we face in trying to get anything accomplished in our work here in Mozambique. I was tempted when I went through the deliriously tedious process of getting our Sunshine Children registered for private school education this past December and January. I am tempted every time I deal with a construction project here and it takes me full days of searching and searching and searching for the needed materials before we can start, only to go to the site each day to hear, “Mama Terri, I’m sorry but we also need…” I am tempted when I want to pull off a holiday party for the children and am searching far and wide for the simplest of materials to make it special. (Oh, what I wouldn’t give for a Dollar Store here in Mozambique!!!) I am tempted when I go through the incredibly lengthy process of getting permission and authorization from every level (national, provincial, and district) of both the Departments of Health and Education just to get in a team of dentists and dental students to teach school children how to brush their teeth and eat well. Each day, we are hit from all sides by delays, distractions, problems, frustrations…I could go on but you get my point. I always hesitate to write such a blog because I wonder who would really want to read it?! Yet after walking through the process of getting surgery for a little boy in our children’s project, I can no longer keep quiet. I write this not for you to feel sorry for me and what I have to go through to transform lives. I write this for you to feel sorry for the people here and what they must go through to simply live. I have advantages that they do not… like a car and money. I seriously cannot even begin to comprehend how in the world the average person here can get things done, or remain healthy, or get an education, or anything else!
Api is a very handsome boy of 9 years. He is a good boy. He is very respectful and helpful to his mother. His mother, Louisa, has no employment and, as is often the sad case here, sells herself in order to get the money needed for her to survive. Api has two younger brothers, Junior and Boane.
All three boys have different fathers, whom they will never know. Api is often found caring for his brothers in his mother’s absence. He is really good with them - attentive to their needs, protective, and playful.
I first met Api in January 2016. Berta called him to my attention. He had a ferida (wound) on his lower right leg just below the knee. It caused his leg to be swollen twice the size of the other leg, and it was very painful for him.
I immediately contacted my Australian friend Kit, who is a nurse, to come to his aid. Kit began treating him with antibiotics and creams. We went three times each week to change his bandages and apply more cream to the wound. Kit said that it would take at least a year of such treatment in order to heal this wound because it was so deep. We continued treating him together until Kit left Mozambique in June 2016, leaving me with her instruction and guidance to continue caring for him on my own.
Over the course of this past year and a half, the condition of his leg did improve but his leg has not healed, The wound still was seeping blood and pus, and he still had pain in his leg. He still could not run and play like a little 9 year old boy should. This is a battle I will not lose. Let me share why…this is the story the Api’s mother shared with Berta when she was asked about how this wound began.
When Api was 7 years old, he was playing with a little girl. While playing, he knocked her down. When she fell, she lost the money she had been given by her grandfather. When the grandfather found out about what happened, he was very angry and went to Api’s house. He put a curse on Api and told him he would not like what was going to happen. That very night, Api had pain in his right ankle and when he woke up the next morning, he had a wound on his ankle. His mother took him to the hospital when it did not improve. She was told to wash it with soap and it would be fine. It continued to worsen. In desperation, his mother went to the man who cursed Api and returned the money that his granddaughter had lost when Api knocked her over. She asked him to remove the curse. He said he would not remove the curse and that Api would die from this wound.
I have complete faith that Api is going to be a testimony to his entire community that God is more powerful than any curse or assignment from the enemy. Api knows the Lord and is a child of God. He will be well, in Jesus’ name. Every time I treat his leg, I pray over it as I clean the wound, apply antibiotic ointment, and put on the bandages. Api closes his eyes and prays along with me as well. In fact, at times, all of the children in Vovo Berta’s Project surround us and pray for him. He is going to be a testimony of God’s faithfulness. I am fighting in the spiritual realm by covering him in prayer and in the natural realm by committing to do whatever needs to be done to heal him.
Last month, I decided that enough is enough. I took him to the private hospital in Maputo to see a doctor. This is a privilege few people here can afford. We started by paying for a consult with a pediatrician. She referred us to another doctor, which meant another consultation fee. This doctor was very concerned when he saw the wound. He ordered an immediate x-ray and blood tests. We paid for these tests and had them done right away. We returned to his office a few hours later with the x-rays. The x-rays confirmed his grave concern. The infection had entered on his right ankle, it traveled up the bone in his leg and exited out just below the knee where the blood and pus had been seeping out. He referred us to an orthopedic surgeon. Another consultation fee was paid and in we went to get his guidance on what to do. He looked at the x-rays and told us that if Api did not have surgery to remove the dead and infected parts of the bone, he would lose his leg. Treatment would require surgery plus 10 days in hospital where he would receive strong antibiotics to fight the infection. The quote to have this done at this hospital was $4,500 USD. Phew! I was prepared for anything…but this was a lot! When faced with spending money, I must always weigh the amount being spent and how many lives it is transforming so as to make the most effective use of our foundation’s money. But how could I stand by and see him lose his leg?
This is where Sebi began a search. Sebi works for our Sunshine Nut Co. We recently asked her to come alongside me and assist me with our foundation’s work as well. She agreed and has been an immense help to me already! I sent Sebi to search out quotes from other hospitals, both public and private. We wanted Api to have this surgery at the best possible hospital at the best possible price. We finally decided upon the Veteran’s Hospital in Maputo. The orthopedic surgeon there gave the same treatment plan as the first surgeon, yet at this hospital, the cost would be affordable, about $1,000. A date was set for the surgery and we moved forward. His mother gave approval for the surgery and was told to organize a plan for someone to stay with Api during his 10 days in the hospital.
The day before Api’s surgery, he needed to go in for blood tests and a consult with the doctor. Sebi made arrangements to meet them at a grocery store near their home an hour before the consult so they would have time to arrive in the city on time. She arrived there at the appointed time, and after waiting 30 minutes for them to show, she drove back into their neighborhood to their house only to discover they had not even started preparing to meet her. With great patience, our slightly disturbed Sebi waited while they pulled themselves together. She hurried them into the city, to the hospital, and they arrived late to the appointment but were still able to be seen. At the end of the day when she dropped them off at home, Sebi again reminded his mother to organize someone who would stay with him during his 10 days of confinement. She also informed her that we would pick them up at our meeting point the next morning at 5am to get Api to the hospital in time for his 6am consultation before the surgery. Our plan was to pick them up at 5:30, so by telling them 5:00, we knew they would be “on time”.
The next morning, Sebi arrived at my house at 5:15, we headed off in my car and arrived at the meeting point at 5:25. We waited 5 minutes and knew that they were not going to show. We headed off into the dark neighborhood, parked the car, and walked down the still dark road to their house. We knocked on the locked front gate. They were still in bed sleeping! They all got up very quickly and set about getting ready. We overheard Louisa telling Api to go take his shower, to which Sebi and I both called out, “No shower this morning! We must get going!” Louisa wrapped herself up in a capulana, grabbed the baby and tied him on her back in another capulana; Api brushed his teeth and grabbed his bookbag. We were off!
This delay set us back greatly as now we were not only 40 minutes late, but we would be in the midst of the morning rush hour traffic heading in to the city. We prayed for safety and favor and arrived at the hospital at 6:40. This in itself is a miracle- ask any fellow commuters here. It literally could have taken us hours to get there. We scurried in and took a seat on the benches in the hallway. Fortunately for us, the surgery ward nurse, Susana, arrived late as well. Susana got her uniform on and came to invite us to see the room Api would be staying in and to put his things away. He had a private room with a television, his own bathroom, a ceiling fan, and an air conditioner. He would also receive three meals a day (I’m not sure he gets even two meals a day at home). After seeing all of this, I thought to myself that he might not want to ever leave! Sad, but true. Susana went off to find a suitable surgery shirt for Api to wear because they only had adult shirts. She returned with the smallest one she could find. It was an adult man’s shirt that consumed our little Api, and it smelled of body odor as well. I wondered to myself if it had even been washed since it was last used.
We were then directed to head over to the surgery waiting room.
Here we waited for about an hour. We passed the time by watching children’s shows on the old TV that made everyone appear green in color and playing with SnapChat.
A man came in and ordered Api to redress in a surgical gown and gave him cloth “boots’ made for an adult to tie onto his feet. We all laughed to see him come out wearing these grossly oversized clothes!
It wasn’t long until the operating room nurse came to the door. She looked at our little Api with a stern face and in an emotionless voice simply said, “Come with me.” Api dutifully got up and started walking towards the door. The mother in me caused me to jump up and cover him with one last hug, a prayer, and “I love you. It will all be fine,” before I could let him go. I stood in the doorway and watched him follow the nurse down the hallway to the surgery room…his head bowed, looking at the floor. This nurse did not say anything to encourage him, nor did she touch him. She just walked ahead of him. I almost burst into tears for him. What a brave, brave little boy he was to take this walk to surgery on his own.
Sebi and I then headed outside to wait with Api’s mother until the surgery was completed. Waiting while someone is in surgery is endless. You wait for what seems hours, only to look at your watch and see that 5 minutes has passed. You pray and you wait. You wait and you pray. After about two hours, the surgeon came out to tell us the surgery was a success and that Api was in the recovery room. We were all relieved. About an hour later, a stretcher was rolled down the hall with our Api sound asleep under a heavy blanket. It covered him up so much that I had to strain to even see if it was him or not.
He was taken to him room and put into his bed. The nurse came out and asked if we wanted to go in and see him. Sebi and I leaped up from our bench ready to go. Api’s mom did not move. We turned and asked her if she would like to come see Api. She calmly replied, “No thank you.” Sebi asked her to please come as she should see her son. She got up and came with us. We entered his room and stood at his bedside.
I restrained myself from going to Api first...this was a privilege reserved for his mother, not me. Yet she just stood back and listened as the nurse talked about the surgery and how he would now be cared for. She did not even look at him! I moved in and rubbed his arm, beheld his sweet sleeping face, held his hand, smoothed the course hair on his head, lifted the blanket to take a peek at his leg, and kissed him on his forehead. All the while, his mom showed no sign of being interested in him at all. I could not understand this. But I often think like the American that I am, so I brushed it off. Maybe I was “missing” something. After we left the room to return home, I gave her enough money to use the public transport to come visit Api every day and to get herself food along the way. I knew that she did not have the extra money to afford this, and I wanted her to have the freedom to visit her son.
We then asked his mother what arrangements she had made for someone to stay with Api for the next 10 days. She gave us a blank stare. We asked her again. She said she did not make any arrangements. We were stunned. We asked her what the possibilities were. She could not stay with him because she has an 11 month old son that she is still nursing. She suggested that maybe her sister would come stay with Api. We asked the nurse to please watch over Api and that someone would come shortly to stay with him. We took Louisa home so she could go ask her sister for help. Her sister came to meet with us and said she was not able to help. She lived on the property of her husband’s family. They would not like to have other people’s children there running around and making noise while Louisa stayed in the hospital with Api. She could not go in and stay with Api at the hospital either because her husband would not allow it. At this point, Louisa and her sister got up and walked off. No goodbye. No thank you. They just headed back home, stranding us…and Api. This is when our Berta stepped in to save the day. We asked two of the men who work with the children’s project to take day and night shifts. Elsidio, who oversees the sewing project, agreed to take the night shift. Arlindo, who oversee the garden project, agreed to take the day shift. I gave each of them money and food for the next five days and wearily headed home.
I was up early the next morning after a sleepless night and off to the hospital, anxious to check on Api and see him awake. I was rewarded with his bright smile when I entered his room, the television blaring with cartoons.
He had woken up late the afternoon before, eaten his dinner and his breakfast that morning. He had no pain and was feeling well. I was so happy. I unloaded a bag full of juices, snacks, crayons, books, puzzles, and toy cars for him. I also gave him a blanket I made for him to keep him warm and cozy at night. While I was there, the surgeon came in to check on him and change his bandages. I wasn’t so sure I was prepared to see the wound, so I was very grateful when he only removed the outer layer of bandages and replaced them with clean ones. I was given a prescription for antibiotics that Api would take four times each day. It was critical he start them right away to prevent infection. The only problem was that the hospital did not have any of this medication in stock. I gave Arlindo money to go buy it at the pharmacy at the end of the street. He returned to say that he went to two pharmacies, and neither one had the medicine. I took the prescription and headed off to the private hospital. Surely they would have this antibiotic. I arrived and waited in a line for an hour. The woman went and searched the shelves only to return shaking her head. They did not have the medication either. I went on to pharmacy after pharmacy until it was suggested I go to the other side of the city to Farmacia Luis Valente. I was told that if this pharmacy did not have the medication, no one would. I called Don at home, crying to him because I was so frustrated and had no idea how to find this pharmacy. He looked it up on his computer and gave me directions. I dried my eyes and drove off. I found the pharmacy, parked my car, and entered in. When the man behind the counter told me that they did indeed have the medication, I had to restrain myself from leaping right over the counter and hugging him!! I purchased the medication and returned to the hospital to pass it off to Arlindo who was still with Api. I then returned home weary again.
Over the course of the next days, Api’s recovery process was up and down…keeping me awake and praying at night. My biggest concern was that the medicine was to be taken on an empty stomach. This made him sick and he would throw up. What good could it do then? So after messaging Kit in Australia, she confirmed that it would be better for him to take it on a full stomach and keep it down than to take it on an empty stomach and throw it up. This has been very successful. The only other issue we faced was that Api’s mother did not come to visit him even one time while he was in the hospital.
We received a call on Wednesday afternoon that they were going to release Api from hospital, four days earlier than we had expected. He was doing well enough that he could return home. Since it was late in the day, they agreed to keep him until the next morning. Nurse Susana had become quite fond of Api. She said they would keep him one more night and put new bandages on him the next day at no additional cost.
Our plan was to have Api stay at Berta’s during his recovery from the surgery. Berta would ensure that he would get his medication at the required times and that he was fed well. His mother came to tell Berta that she could not accept this. Her reason…her family thinks she is irresponsible, not a good mother, and that she is not “right in her head”. So she wanted to do this to show them that she can be responsible. While I am all for her improving her life, I am not interested in her doing this at the risk of Api healing properly. Yet she is his mother and we cannot go against her will.
Thursday morning, Sebi and I headed to the city to bring Api home. On our way, we picked up a beautiful bouquet of yellow flowers for nurse Louisa. She was so thrilled when we gave them to her.
We packed up Api’s belongings and he received his first lesson on how to use the crutches we purchased for him. He was unsteady but determined to master walking.
After going down the hallway, out the door, and toward the parking area, he was exhausted. I decided to bring the car to him. As we left to fetch the car, the guard at the gate said that it would cost us 10 meticais to go in to get him. 10 meticais is not much money at all, but seriously?! You have to pay to go in and fetch a patient who can’t walk to the car?! Clearly this guard would be using the money to buy himself a refreshment later in the day. Jokingly, I asked Sebi if he would also require us to pay 10 meticais to leave as well.
We drove in and found Api slumped on a bench, waiting with the attendant. He was so exhausted that the attendant carried him to the car. We headed out toward the main gate to leave the hospital. Instead of lifting the boom, the guard approached our car window. I thought to myself, “No way! He IS going to ask us for money to leave!” Indeed he said, “You must pay 10 meticais.” Sebi told him that we had already paid him. He questioned us, “You paid 10 meticais to enter?” Sebi responded that we did. Then he smiled wide and said, “Oh yes you did. I had forgotten your faces!” Now seriously, how many white women did he have pay to enter through that gate in the past 5 minutes, let alone the past month!! He lifted the boom and we waved kindly as we passed him on our way out.
We brought Api to his house and gave all the instructions his mother would need to care for him. We gave her instructions for administering the antibiotic, telling her she would have to get up at midnight and 6 am in addition to the 12 noon and 6 pm times. She has no alarm clock or phone to set to wake up to give him his meds. She said she would leave her television on all night so that she could wake up and see the time. We gave her the vitamins and calcium pills to take in the mornings and the iron supplement to add to his water once each day. We gave her milk for him to drink and food and snacks for him to eat. Api sleeps in a separate building on the property from her bedroom. Thankfully she said that she had already determined that he would sleep with her. We gave her the doctor’s note to take to the school to notify them that Api had surgery and would not return until May 26th. We asked her to find a tutor for him and we would pay for this fee so that he would not fall behind in his classes. Once we exhausted ourselves of everything we had to tell her, we left Api in her care. We again returned home, more weary than ever.
Sebi and I were back at Api’s house the next day on Friday, not to be snoops, but to take him to the health clinic for the daily changing of his bandages. We took him along with his mother, in case we needed her permission to do something. I wanted to see what they would do to clean and dress his wound as this responsibility would be mine over the weekend. The clinics are not open on Saturday and Sunday. We went to the clinic nearest his home and helped Api navigate his way across the road. It was packed with men, women, and children lined up on benches and standing along the walls, waiting to receive care. Sebi sought out where we needed to go, only to be told that they did not have any bandages. They directed us to try another clinic. We drove to this clinic and again Api struggled in on his crutches and again we were told they did not have any bandages. How? How? How do people here get proper care? Clearly, they don’t. At this point, I told Sebi that we were going to the local private hospital and would pay to get the bandages changed. Surely the private hospital would have bandages.
Thank goodness we were forced to do this. We arrived, paid the fee, and went back into an examining room with a nurse. He removed the bandaging on Api’s leg and for the first time we saw the wound. We were stunned and tears stung our eyes. It was horrible! We expected the incision to be a long one, and it was. It went all the way from below his knee to just above his ankle. But we expected to see a clean wound, stitched shut and healing. What we saw looked like something from a Frankenstein movie! The stitches were about an inch apart, therefore leaving gaping openings between them. The lower part of the wound was already white with infection. This did not happen over one night! How could they have changed his bandages each day in the hospital and not seen this? Had they not been using antibiotic cream to prevent infection? This nurse was joined by another nurse. Both of them stood looking at his wound in disbelief. Meanwhile, Sebi moved into action, taking a photo and messaging it to the surgeon along with a few questions. He responded that he was out of the office for the next week and that we would need to make an appointment with his colleague and see him next week if we are concerned. The nurse proceeded to do a very thorough job of cleaning his wound with two disinfectants, slathering antibiotic cream from one end to the other, and bandaging him back up again. We took him back home, stopping on our way to buy a phone for his mother so that she could know the time, set an alarm to give him his medications, plus be in touch with us. We finished by again reviewing with Louisa her instructions for his care, and wearily headed home yet again.
Today, Saturday, I took Api to the hospital again for his bandages to be changed. It is not cheap to do this, but it must be done in order for him to heal properly. I am so glad to have chosen to do this. While it still looks bad, I could see slight improvement since yesterday. We had a lovely nurse named Sophie. She talked with me about it all and told me that most likely the doctor put the stitches this far apart to allow blood and any remaining infection to drain out. She assured me that if we kept up with the oral antibiotics and antibiotic cream, that we could drive out the infection. She was so kind and helpful. I left feeling better. Still weary, but now hopeful.
As we continue forward, I am weary but grateful for so much…I am grateful that I am able to be here for Api. I am grateful that I have a car to transport him to hospital each day. I am grateful that our foundation had the resources to provide this surgery for him. I am grateful for the help of so many people- Sebi, Elsidio, Arlindo, Berta- without them, this opportunity could not have happened. I am grateful for my loving husband who was there to meet me in the driveway as I returned home each night with a comforting hug. I am grateful for Alice Lee, who came along to covertly take these amazing photos and kept me company. We are now "partners in crime". I am grateful for many others who are holding Api in prayer for complete healing. If you are reading this, please do keep Api in your prayers. And please keep his mother in your prayers as well. I would like to believe that she will take the necessary care that Api requires right now. I would like to believe that this will be the catalyst she needs to turn her life around. I would like to have the faith that she will do this. I would like to encourage her and not doubt her intentions. Maybe I need the prayers more than she does?! I have done everything I possibly can to help this little boy. He is now in the hands of his Father.