Some memories stand out pretty sharply from my time in Mozambique. One is of the time I was leading the team and was brought to see a pregnant woman who was in some kind of distress. I really felt powerless in that situation and wished I had specialised in obstetrics instead of peads! I thought the best thing to do was to bring her back to the orphanage where we could get her more help. As it turned out there wasn’t anything else we could do for her, so she had a good rest at the orphanage for a few days and then we had to get her back to her village. Its amazing how similar all the little villages look from a helicopter!! Especially when the pilots stop at several each day and don’t return to the same one again for a week or so, except to pick a medical team. it took a long hour or two and one refuelling stop to return her. So in fuel alone that trip cost around $2000. Everyone was really nice, the pilots were great about it all, but I still beat myself up when I remember that story!
Another adventure we had was when i headed off to a community with another doctor and a nurse. Because this one was further away, we planned to stay for a couple of nights, so we could have two full day of clinics. This community was right on the coast, in fact we stayed in what remained of a holiday resort. Each day since the floods had receded, they had watched a couple of feet of the coast line disappear into the sea, they lost many of their buildings in the process. I recall driving along a track that had flood debris left in the trees 10 feet above ground level, this area had had it bad.
We actually ended up staying a couple of extra nights because we had been left off the flight schedule for the helicopters and then the next day they ran out of day light flying hours! In the end Roland Baker flew his own light aircraft to come and get us, it was the first time he had been able to since the floods because airstrips were all damaged. Meanwhile we had a fun couple of days quad biking on the sand dunes, and watching the local soccer tournament (we had run out of medical supplies and so couldn’t run any more clinics)! I recall taking off in Roland’s aircraft, it was dark by the time we left so a couple of the resort staff had to station the quad bikes strategically with the lights on to mark the end of the run way!!! We also didn’t have enough seats in the plan and one of us had to sit in the back on the floor…. Hmmmm!
Mozambique was also the first place I had come face to face with the arrogance that bred and was bred by apartheid. I recall sitting in a truck with a certain gentleman from South Africa and my stomach turning as I listened to him reduce this massive natural disaster to a matter of just deserts due to inferiority of race. I had no idea that I was later to discover the treasure of knowing countless heroes when I would one day live for a time in South Africa, a beautiful land with many deep, sacred wounds.
You may recall in early 2000, Mozambique was devastated by floods. The combination of rains, released dams in neighbouring countries and a small scale tsunami wreaked havoc on the coastal lands of the country. I was part time Assistant Editor for Soul Survivor magazine at the time, living in Oxford, and doing regular locums in paediatric departments across the midlands. A friend from church called me one day and said they were looking for medics to go and help with the crisis in Mozambique, this was just a few days after the floods had hit. I couldn’t think of a reason not to go and I was glad to be able to lend a hand. So about 10 days later we were both on a flight to Mozambique – we scored “cost” fares from TAP airways as we were doing volunteer aid work.
I recall, as the plane was making its decent into Maputo, realising with a certain degree of amazement that I was returning to Africa! For years I had said I had no interest or desire to visit the place, I told myself that my time in Morocco had been enough. The negative attitudes and associations I felt with Africa from growing up there were strong and I didn’t want to give it the time of day! Yet here I was about to spend two weeks in Africa as part of the international effort to help the flood victims of Mozambique. It had all happened so fast from Michelle’s phone call, fund raising, getting all our travel gear together, immunisations, finding flights… I remember smiling to myself as I realised that God had done a fast one on me! in all the preparations it had never occurred to me that I was going to Africa, all I knew was that it was right to go and lend a hand!
SO here I was, in Maputo the capital of Mozambique, it was March 2000. We were based at Iris Ministries, an orphanage run by Heidi and Roland Baker. A handful of others had travelled in to lend a hand, some medics, others just willing to do whatever was needed. There was plenty to be done and the regular staff were stretched beyond reckoning already. The orphanage itself held at least 100 kids, if not 200, of all ages, some with aids, others with learning and physical disabilities. It was a full time job caring for them all medically, but in addition we ran a clinic for the neighbouring communities as well. I wasn’t involved with much of this stuff, not until my next trip later in the year, but that’s jumping ahead!
Each day the medics (docs, nurses and assistants) would split into two or three teams depending on how many of us there were. Each team would head out early in the morning with one of the helicopters delivering WHO food supplies to the stranded communities. The helicopters were all military craft and operated, from a range of different countries joining in the relief effort. We would stay for the day in the community, tending to their sick, teaching them how to purify their water and prevent diseases spreading in the current conditions, then in the late afternoon while it was still light, the helicopter would return and collect us.
To be continued….