A young man called Rachid wants to change that. Rachid is the young pastor of Hope Church for the Deaf, and he is involved in ministering to groups of young people with various disabilities. Rachid conducts weekly church services for the deaf community in Beira, communicating Biblical messages to them using Mozambican sign language. He is also passionate about helping deaf young people to be more empowered within society, with a greater awareness of their own value and respect for themselves and each other as God’s creations, made in His own image. As a result, AMAC and Hope Church have recently joined together to provide a series of legal education seminars for the deaf community in Beira. The intention is for these young people to become aware of the law and that each of them has both fundamental rights and a loving God.
To begin, a discussion group was held so that AMAC could listen to the deaf, and understand their issues. Some of those mentioned included being used as cheap labour, being falsely accused of a crime, being sexually harassed and abused, conflicts within relationships and marriage, and being disinherited by family members. One man had been wrongfully accused of theft and was then held on remand, awaiting a trial. He languished in prison for 18 months because the court was unable to find an interpreter who could sign for him during the hearing. He was the sole breadwinner and during this time his family had no income, sliding further into poverty. Eventually he was released when Pastor Rachid and the Director for the local Deaf Association intervened on his behalf.
In September the first seminar was due, but it almost didn’t happen at all. The venue for the seminar had already been agreed. However, when it was learned that an NGO with international connections was coming, the price of using the venue rose from non-existent to exorbitant. Pastor Rachid openly told us that the venue’s owners wanted a slice of all the foreign money they imagined AMAC to have. However, Rachid was not deterred. He called around his friends and, the day before the seminar was scheduled, a church offered its building for free.
The seminar was a great success. An AMAC lawyer spoke on the subject of marriage and cohabitation and both Pastor Rachid and AMAC worker Felizarda communicated the information in sign. Some visual materials were used to aid understanding. In response the room soundlessly exploded in communication with a flurry of hand motions. One young man related how he visited his family in the village. Whilst there, another family offered their daughter to him in marriage and he accepted. She was only 14 years old and they separated shortly after marrying, but he had no idea that his marriage had not been legal until this seminar. Many others communicated that they had thought they were married, but now realised they were only cohabiting. There were so many questions and discussions that the session overran by hours. It was clear that these young people did not only lack basic knowledge on rights and the law, but also frequently fell into conflicts in which they inevitably suffered a power imbalance due to communication barriers. Through its legal aid programme AMAC may also be able to help when they come into conflict with other people and with the law, preventing them from being exploited and enabling them to achieve a fair outcome.
Collaboration between AMAC and Hope Church has the potential to transform lives within Beira’s deaf community. AMAC is in the process of organising further seminars and is also following up the issues brought in the first seminar. Hope Church has also been invited to lead AMAC’s monthly fellowship in October. Those of you who pray, please do so for the continuation of this work, that AMAC and Hope Church can help to place justice in the hands of the deaf young people of Beira and that in turn AMAC will grow in understanding of the lives of the people we seek to help.
Set in Delhi, PINK is about three young women who accept an invitation for drinks and dinner from three boys they meet at a rock concert. The boys make assumptions about the girls’ availability that leads one, Rajiv, to force himself on one of the girls, Minal, who then retaliates by smashing a bottle over his head in self-defence before escaping the scene with her friends. However, these initial events are not revealed until the closing credits. Instead, the film’s opening cuts between an injured Rajiv being rushed to hospital and the distraught girls fleeing back to their apartment. The girls’ situation deteriorates when Minal registers a complaint against Rajiv with the police. Rajiv is from a privileged family, which then launches a campaign of harassment and assault against the three girls before bribing police to ignore Minal’s complaint and bring charges of attempted murder and prostitution against the girls. Whilst Minal is languishing in her urine soaked police cell, a reclusive elderly neighbour who has witnessed some of the harassment of the girls arrives at their apartment. He turns out to be Seghal, a former advocate suffering from depression, willing to come out of retirement to offer his expertise at no cost. The following trial sequences, together with the film’s ambiguous opening scenes, test the audience’s own preconceptions, as the girls are subjected to an aggressive cross-examination that poses questions about the morality of their characters and motives.
Many of the injustices experienced by the girls in the film resonate with attitudes and behaviours we have witnessed in the course of our work. Negative attitudes towards independent women, the stereotyping of women from certain backgrounds, the assumption that women who drink alcohol or wear certain clothes or are out late at night are prostitutes, the belief that men are powerless in the face of such women and lack capability to restrain their own desires. The film provoked considerable discussion within our fellowship. A particular segment of the film saw the defence lawyer expose a corrupt police official who had written a backdated report. This incited much laughter and knowing smiles, with one AMAC member stating “this type of corruption is something that happens all the time here”. Another admired the defence lawyer, who he said “was always looking out for injustices, whether he is in court, at home or walking in the park, and doing something about it”. It was agreed that women go through many injustices and that they must stand up and take action, to be lawyers that make a difference in society. Another young man highlighted the need to improve lawyers’ professional skills to provide high quality representation for vulnerable people. One law student said that he “hurts deeply and cries inside when he sees injustices around him in society”. As the session closed, a request was made for members to pray for victims of gender based violence, some of whom are AMAC’s own clients.
For those of you who take an interest in matters of justice, and in particular those with a passion for fighting against gender based injustices, I enthusiastically recommend watching “PINK”. There are many standout moments in the film, but the one that resonated most with me was far more understated than the dramatic scenes unfolding in the court room. As the elderly lawyer Seghal is walking in the park with Minal, a passer by comments “hey, isn’t that the girl…”. Minal instinctively pulls up her hood to cover her face, hiding her shame. A moment later, Seghal notices and gently pulls her hood back, revealing her face again. The meaning behind his action is clear, you have nothing to be ashamed of. Although PINK is not a Christian movie, that short scene formed a profound metaphor for what God has done for his people. We feel ashamed, not only of our own sin but also the shame imposed upon us by the assumptions of others in society. It is natural to want to hide away from the world. Yet God lovingly pulls the hood away, exposing us to the light and says, “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”.]]>
How about a visit to your pastor?
The Bible encourages Christians not to take each other to court, but to resolve the dispute within the church (Matthew 18: 15-17, 1 Corinthians 6:1-8). It is widely believed that these verses relate to matters of civil law where one party has been wronged by another and is seeking some kind of compensation from them. Yet pastors in Mozambique and other Sub-Saharan countries find themselves handling an array of legal matters and different conflicts including theft, witchcraft accusations, domestic violence, and child abuse.
The Association of Mozambican Christian Lawyers (AMAC) has completed a report on a research done with Mozambican pastors that considers their experience of conflict and legal disputes. To someone coming from a developed country with a functioning justice system and the rule of law, the results are quite startling. More people are going to pastors for help with legal issues than to courts. 107 pastors were surveyed, and in the previous 12 months they had personally handled:
The reason why these injustices were coming to pastors was clear. In Mozambique, access to the law courts is compromised by high costs, corruption, few courts and a lack of human and financial resources. Pastors are trusted by their church and in the wider community, and can provide a confidential, quick and free form of conflict resolution on your doorstep. Typically, the pastors would sit down with the parties involved and attempt some kind of mediation and reconciliation. In the absence of an accessible court system, this type of justice is a pragmatic alternative that could be described as a ‘good enough’ justice.
It is true that pastors lack the skills and knowledge of a legal professional, and most are without basic mediation skills. This is where the lawyers of AMAC can come in. We recently joined the Christian lawyers in Maputo as they hosted a conference for 147 pastors. Andrew Caplen, a Christian lawyer and former President of the Law Society of England and Wales, spoke on access to justice and the rule of law. His wife Lindsay, a Baptist pastor, delivered a message challenging God’s people to live ethically in order to fulfil God’s mission of blessing all nations. AMAC president Mateus Mosse impressed that one of AMAC’s primary roles was to partner with the church regarding justice issues. Dr Carlos Mondlane, the President of the Association of Mozambican Judges, spoke about cultural perceptions of domestic violence and his experience of these cases in court. The findings of AMAC’s research were also presented. Many of the pastors had never before realised that they were dealing with matters of law. An important conversation has started between Christian lawyers and pastors that can help improve access to justice for the poor and vulnerable in Mozambique. Christian ministers may not be lawyers or judges, but to the people facing injustices on a daily basis the justice offered by the pastors they trust within their places of worship is ‘good enough’.]]>
Despite the Miller family’s recent close contact with the bureaucratic complexities of Kampala I wouldn’t dare to point a critical finger at the authorities here in Uganda. So, instead I have decided to create a set of driving directions for my commute from our house in Kirinya to the Uganda Christian Lawyers Fraternity office (UCLF) in Wandegeya. I call it the alternative AA Route planner (alternative as the AA in this case stands for ‘Accident Avoidance’, not Automobile Association).
The AA Route Planner
From Kirinya, Bweyogerere, Kampala to Wandegeya, Kampala via Northern Bypass.
32 minutes in theory, anywhere between 45 minutes and two and a half hours in reality.
0.0 Leave home (unless heavy rainfall has washed away the road outside your house) and navigate the narrow, uneven murram roads. Take care to drive slowly over the large, protruding rock outside the primary school so as to avoid another scrape on the already scored and dented undercarriage of the car. Beware of scattered and distracted schoolchildren.
0.1 Turn left onto Kirinya-Bukasa Road and continue. Moderate your speed to drive around multiple potholes and roadkill. Ignore passing vehicles that attack the aforementioned potholes at speed as if they were a challenge to the driver’s masculinity. Also pay attention to the temperament of the local roadside cattle herd. If they are docile, proceed as normal, if they appear restless give the ambling bovines a wide berth by passing on the opposite side of the thoroughfare.
1.1 Turn right onto Kireka Road whilst eyeballing the lines of roadside boda bodas (motorbike taxis) for any sign of movement. Be sure to observe in all directions at once whilst proceeding forward as a motorbike could and will appear from any direction. Please note, motorbikes appear always to have right of way, no matter what direction they are travelling.
1.2 Turn left at the Industrial Area Road and approach the railway crossing. Do not look for lights or signal, you will need to look down the track to see any approaching train, which will also announce its arrival via intermittent blasts of a horn. Clear the crossing and continue.
1.3 Turn left onto Namboole Road. Continue to follow the road around the Mandela National Stadium.
2.0 Approach the first of many roundabouts with caution. There are no regulations for roundabout use in Uganda or if there are, nobody appears to know them. Try to join the roundabout swiftly to avoid antagonising the drivers behind you. Once on the roundabout be prepared to brake quickly. Informal rules dictate that vehicles attempting to join the roundabout at high speed always have right of way and you will need to stop sharply to avoid a collision. Do not use your indicators to signal that as these will probably be ignored. A flailing arm out of the window is a more recognised signal of your intent to turn off.
2.1 Pray for protection and mercy as you join the busy Northern Bypass. Watch for the waves of minibus taxis (matatus) lapping to and from the verge. Continue, both to pray and to navigate the bypass. Follow the Northern Bypass for 7.6 miles.
9.7 Hit the inevitable traffic jam at Kalerwe. Continue at tortoise pace whilst continually rotating head 360 degrees to anticipate numerous boda bodas darting in front of your vehicle from several directions. Practice a meditation-like mindset to quell the rising road rage. At the roundabout take the first exit onto Gayaza-Kampala Road.
9.8 You have nearly reached your destination…or have you? Proceed incrementally through the heavily congested market area whilst taking care to give way to bicycles, hawkers, customers, street preachers, children, goats and chickens. Retract side mirrors if you wish to keep them intact. Amuse yourself by marvelling at the objects that can balance on the back of a boda boda – cages full of hens, a windscreen, a metal gate, goats, a sofa.
10.8 After the longest mile of your life take the 2nd exit at the next roundabout. Continue down Bombo Road, past Makerere University and…
11.2 Congratulations, you have arrived whole and healthy at the UCLF office.
Although my morning commute has been given a light-hearted treatment, many accidents occur every day. In 2013 alone 2,937 people were killed in motor accidents in Uganda. In truth, I give a little sigh of relief and thank God each time I arrive at my destination. But I have come to realise that I am not immune to a little careless driving myself. Just as a driver can become more negligent in an environment of poor governance, so those entering into a reckless driving environment can become influenced by it. I did small things at first, cutting up a taxi or using a big 4 wheel drive to bully other drivers on a roundabout. I can recall feeling a flicker of smug satisfaction at blocking other vehicles that were jostling for position with me. Then came angry gesticulations and insults uttered under my breath. It may be that external things such as corruption influence bad behaviour on the roads, but the responsibility for how we choose to respond in any environment is individual, and we need to own it. In this moment I need to commit to driving responsibly and with integrity, as a testimony of my faith. So if you see me traversing the streets of Kampala, dodging potholes in Beira, or gliding over smooth tarmac in Eastbourne please let me know, how am I driving?
Being a British ‘dad’ is at times far removed from the Ugandan expectations of being ‘taata’ (meaning father in Annet’s native tongue of Luganda). Annet and I are parents to a child that will be raised in a household of two distinct cultures and, once back in Mozambique, will be living in a third. This also has implications for our daughter’s sense of identity, and recently we have taken to calling her ‘Muzungu Muganda’ to reflect her combined heritage. Muzungu is a word widely used by Bantu peoples to refer to a white person, and a Muganda is a person belonging to Annet’s own tribe, the Baganda people.
I have included below for your amusement and/or consternation, some of the Ugandan contributions that have recently surprised Taata Patience:
Of course we bear the above comments and practices with good humour and sometimes a friendly explanation as to why we cannot follow that particular piece of advice. We have been blessed by a great number of visitors who come bearing gifts and good wishes. I have also noticed glimpses of respect from relatives and friends who observe the active interest I take in my child. As I aspire to be a good father I realise I must incorporate and balance both British and Ugandan elements in my parenting style, and Annet also faces the same challenge as Maama Patience. Only then will our baby daughter grow to appreciate and even revel in her dual cultural inheritance. Only then can she be Muzungu Muganda.
Reconnecting with UCLF has been exciting, but so was the opportunity to talk and share with our Kenyan and Rwandan colleagues. A conference arranged by the British based Lawyers Christian Fellowship allowed Christian lawyers from Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Mozambique and the UK to meet at Jinja, Uganda for seminars and fellowship. From this conference I found myself invited to Kigali, Rwanda to visit the Lawyers of Hope.
Red dirt and rolling hills, tranquil papyrus fringed lakes and terraced tea plantations formed the backdrop while our Jaguar Executive Coach chugged up hill and down slope trailing puffs of diesel. The serenity outside of the window revealed little of Rwanda’s traumatic past. Upon crossing the border from Uganda, first impressions show this diminutive country to be well organised and debris free, in contrast to its larger neighbour states. Indeed, Rwanda’s reputation for litter free landscapes, verdant valleys and precipitous peaks has earned it monikers such as ‘land of a thousand hills’ and ‘the Switzerland of Africa’. Much of East Africa’s perennial bustle was absent despite intensive farming and the presence of hillside toiling labourers. No roadside food vendors, no honking taxis, no begging children and belligerent hawkers. Arriving in Kigali by dusk further enhanced this impression, as the coach glided to the bus park on perfectly tarmacked streets bordered by pristine pavements. There were even street lamps! I found myself wishing that other African countries could come and learn from Rwanda.
Yet it is easy to allow the appearance of order and cleanliness to obscure some of the injustices that lie below the surface. A visit to Kigali’s Genocide Memorial was a sobering reminder of how swiftly injustice can accelerate. When I did meet with some of the Lawyers of Hope (LoH), they were quick to remind me of the issues they have to deal with on a daily basis. Child rights abuses, gender based violence, inheritance disputes, detainees’ rights ignored and land wrangles are all frequently occurring and LoH run a number of well organised projects to address these injustices. In particular, LoH focus their resources on protecting children from abuse, neglect and exploitation by empowering local communities to establish child protection committees and supporting existing community leaders and institutions. You can read more about Lawyers of Hope on their website including some stories of people they have helped here. I am thankful to Safari, Egide and Juves who welcomed me so warmly and provided so much stimulating discussion and inspiring ideas. The time spent with LoH, UCLF and the Kenyan Christian Lawyers is valuable and prompts the realisation that we are all working as part of God’s greater justice mission.
After spending several days in Kigali, the novelty of order and regimentation began to fade. I found myself almost yearning for the lively, noisy, dusty roadside chaos of the rest of Africa. As the return coach meandered through coffee crammed valleys I was able to reflect on the promise and challenges of Rwanda. It has taken time and hard work to develop to such a high level following the genocide of 1994. Given more time and the efforts of our kindred spirits at LoH it is my hope that Rwanda will be an increasingly impressive example of social justice to its larger sub-Saharan peers.
“Of course, our lives changed dramatically following Annet’s positive pregnancy test. We attended a local clinic for antenatal appointments, waiting for some hours on the clinic veranda alongside capulana-clad women for our turn in the midwife’s office. I was the only man in attendance and the gathered women couldn’t help themselves from openly staring. Annet’s pregnancy progressed normally, although she was advised by a UK based doctor to take medication to prevent a blood clot occurring, Annet having previously suffered from a clot after a flight in 2012. This was complicated as, after meeting with several different medical professionals it appeared that the medication was not available in Beira.
We managed to secure an appointment with one of Beira’s handful of obstetricians via a friend who is a trainee doctor. Our friend guided us to the maternity ward of the central hospital where she regaled us with stories from her own experiences. With a smile she told of her previous shift during which a large crab had been discovered scuttling between beds on the ward! When our time came we entered a very basic room with an ancient, gel-encrusted ultrasound machine. However, we will not forget the kindness and professionalism of the obstetrician, whose demeanour put us both at ease. We knew that all was well with the pregnancy before returning to the UK for the baby’s birth.
The day after the UK held its EU referendum we arrived at Heathrow Airport. We never could have anticipated what happened next. At passport control Annet was questioned vigorously by Heathrow Border Force and then detained for five hours. She was eventually released and given weeks to leave the UK. The Border Force mistakenly believed that Annet would abuse public NHS funds and so they cancelled Annet’s five year visitor’s visa to the UK. We appealed but, although the Border Force admitted that there was no intention to misuse the NHS, they still did not want to reverse the decision. Simply put, it was clear the Home Office did not want our baby to be born in the UK. As a result, we had to board a flight to Annet’s native Uganda and we arrived in Kampala on 1st August with only eight weeks to go before Annet’s due date.
We felt very disappointed with the way Annet was treated by the Home Office in the UK, yet we saw God’s provision in abundance during this difficult time. We found time to get lost amongst a labyrinth of cotton and muslin in Mothercare, making some essential purchases for the baby along the way. Annet was also able to access the medication she needed. The encouragement given by our friends, family and supporting churches during this difficult time was incredible. Such people made Annet feel very welcome in the UK. Yet our enforced removal also reminded us of another story, long ago, of a soon-to-be mother who was told that there was no room for her. Luke 2:7 tells us what happened next ‘And she gave birth to her firstborn, a Son. She wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn’. The Son of God was born in basic surroundings and laid in a manger used to feed animals. He went on to fulfill a ministry that reached out to rejected and vulnerable people at the margins of society. Despite struggling with feelings of rejection, we knew that God would be with us in Uganda and He would bless us no matter where we are.”
…And so, satisfied with the above summary of the rather dramatic last few months, I put down the laptop and resolved to edit the following day. However, I never made it that far. Our story was to take yet another unexpected twist…
“Annet, I think your waters have broken”
“No, I haven’t felt any pain, no contractions. It’s probably just something normal.”
I stared at a growing puddle on the tiled floor…“Annet, YOUR WATERS HAVE BROKEN!”
Cue blind panic (from me) and desperate calls to midwives and relatives. We arrived at Nakasero Hospital on the evening of 24th August. A feeling of dread crept over me as the emergency doctor immediately sent Annet for an ultrasound scan. The images revealed that the baby was fine but had barely enough fluid to continue that way. If any more fluid was lost there could be trouble.
The next morning, Annet was put on a drip and labour was induced. It was still one whole month before our baby was supposed to appear. We prayed, as we had done many times before, for a swift, uncomplicated delivery. I then disappeared for an hour to eat sausages and cogitate upon impending fatherhood. I had often heard mention of 48 hour labour marathons where dads-to-be linger aimlessly around the wards before being sent home to return later. As such, I shuffled back to the maternity suite with no expectation of any real progress. I couldn’t have been more wrong! In fact I returned just in time to see my wife being assisted into the delivery room. Shortly afterward, we were proudly holding our baby daughter, Patience Michelle Miller. Although premature, she weighed a healthy 5lb 11oz and we were left thanking God and the incredibly professional medical staff. In all, Annet’s labour had lasted only 90 minutes. Never underestimate the power of prayer!
My friends, as Annet and I sit up at 3:00am marvelling at the noisiest member of our nascent family we thank you for your prayers and support. We have a precious gift, and the story of her arrival is a special one. God has provided and now we can look back at the all the drama of the last few weeks and not feel any bitterness or disappointment, because we have been blessed in the most profound way.]]>
These words introduce the blog of Andrew Caplen. Andrew is the Immediate Past President of the Law Society of England and Wales, a dedicated advocate on Access to Justice issues and, most recently, our guest in Mozambique. Since late March he has been travelling Uganda and Mozambique to witness how Christian lawyers organisations are impacting the lives of the poor, vulnerable and marginalised. The Beira office of AMAC was the last port of call on this extensive expedition.
Our visitor was only in Beira for three days but much was accomplished during such a short period of time. This included visits to two universities to speak to law students on Access to Justice, sharing Andrew’s testimony with local Christian lawyers over lunch, multiple meetings, and a seminar on inheritance law with a women’s group from Manga Baptist Church. However, it is Andrew’s own words that best describe his experiences here and in Maputo and Uganda. Therefore, this blog post is dedicated to the blog of another. Please follow the link to Andrew’s blog, called “Justice Matters”. On its pages you will find powerful testimonies of how God is working to transform the lives of those suffering injustice.
Andrew’s visit has been a great encouragement to us. Please pray for him as he returns to the UK and shares his experiences, insights and the importance of justice to God’s kingdom.]]>
The challenges in undertaking these seminars are striking. To start with being a man, educated in the British system, speaking to African women with little in the way of formal education, I am aware that my background could not be further removed from those of the participants. In addition, law finds its meaning in the very precise language that defines it. The use of language is crucial to any legal system in the respect that lawmakers typically use language to make the law, and courts typically use language to state their grounds of decision. Taking a legal principle and turning it from a construct of language into something practical and relevant is difficult, and requires multiple strategies including stories, illustrations, discussions, drama and more. Yet even with knowledge of the law and their rights, the vulnerable and marginalised are hard pressed to receive justice in legal systems marred by corruption and lacking resources. This may lead you to wonder why all this hard work is worth the bother.
We like to describe community legal education as a set of tools that can be added to the existing tools people use in the resolution of their conflicts. The legal awareness tools may not work in all situations for all people, like trying to use a hammer when a saw is required. However, for some it is the right tool at the right time, a hammer for a situation when nothing other than a hammer will do. During one legal education session a young lady approached Annet to discuss the father of her child, who was refusing to pay any child maintenance. Following the session, she found the courage to initiate a complaint in the court against the father. The court ruled in her favour, ordering the father to pay child support for his son. The right tool was used at the right time, and the young lady had the confidence to use it. Another woman who recently received help stood during a discussion to address her church women’s group, saying “I am hurting, my heart is injured. My reputation has been spoiled in my community because of the accusations of witchcraft that have been made against me. I am a believer and I have never been involved in witchcraft. I went to AMAC and now they are helping me with this problem in court”. Knowledge is power, and a little learning can help to amplify the voices of those at the edges of society.
The key protagonists in legal education seminars are our “illustrious” friends, as they are referred to within legal circles here. The Mozambican legal professionals and staff of AMAC who contribute their knowledge and expertise in a way us mission workers cannot. Their valuable input ensures that the tools we are bringing appear familiar to local people, using local language and lending context to difficult concepts through anecdotes and examples. A legal concept thoroughly explained in Portuguese still often results in perplexed participants glancing at each other in confusion. Fortunately, this is often remedied by a few well chosen words in Sena or Ndau and the collective enlightenment that follows is palpable. The Christian lawyers are passing on the tools they have acquired through years of study and experience, in an environment where people often jealously protect their own knowledge in order to gain influence and status.
AMAC is looking forward to further community legal education seminars in the coming months and we are well aware of the challenges and opportunities before us. The sustained contribution of Mozambican Christian lawyers is essential in what lies ahead. Please continue to pass the hammer, saw, spanner or whatever other tools you may have, my illustrious friends.
The suffocating heat extended to the AMAC office where thieves had broken in last August, pilfering AMAC equipment, computers and spitefully making off with our only fan. Thankfully a new fan has been bought and we are in the process of replacing the other missing items, thanks to the generosity of our friends and supporters. As we continue our desk-bound labours we can now enjoy some respite from the elevated temperature. This has afforded me space to consider other changes that occurred in our absence. One of these is the onset of mango season, heralded by an occasional dull thud as a matured mango departs its leafy haven and splits its saccharine contents onto the dirt outside our window. This simple occurrence constitutes a claxon call for a whirlwind of activity that I have come to call the ‘mango wars’. I have enjoyed standing at the office window following another thud, waiting with anticipation to see who will be the victor of the latest mango war. Passing schoolchildren guiltily survey the scene before leaping the wall and stuffing the ripe fruit under their shirts. But not always, sometimes the security guard spots them early and, as the students run laughing from the scene, he also performs a swift reconnaissance as he hides the mango in the hollow of a breeze block. At times one of the local mothers will happen to pass at the right time and seize upon a falling mango to deliver to her waiting family. However, my role shifted from spectator to participant once Annet told me how romantic it would be if I were to run outside and bring her back a ripe, juicy mango. Now I find myself embroiled in a war not of my choosing, competing with children and adults alike for the tree’s next offering.
I also sensed another difference in our office environment upon our return. As I wrestled with translating yet another document into Portuguese an unnerving feeling tugged at my consciousness. I felt the unsettling sensation of eyes upon me. I spied shifting shadows out of the corner of my eye, dark shades darting around the room’s borders. As evening arrived it became clear that the lingering presence belonged to a family of furry squatters that had moved in to the office whilst we were overseas – rats. Only what had at first appeared a family then revealed itself to be more like a community. A brief survey of the filing cabinets uncovered files decorated with incisor marks and dirty pellets. These unwelcome visitors are currently in the process of being evicted.
So the heat, mangos and rats have ensured that our first month since returning to Mozambique has been a sweaty, sweet and dirty experience. There are some of you I know who would be thinking of something else when you first read this blog title, but I’ll say no more and leave you to contemplate the nature of your own imagination!]]>