I woke up this morning to pounding rain. I realized I had actually been hearing it for awhile, and I finally perked my head up to have a look. I could barely see across the field behind the apartment. My mind immediately went into problem-solving mode: How would I get into town for my Portuguese lesson? I could walk, but surely I would get soaked, even with an umbrella. Also, the roads were bound to be somewhat flooded. I could walk to the main road then get a chapa (mini-bus), but even by then I would be soaked, as would all the others crammed into the chapa. I could call someone to give me a lift, but I was determined to figure it out on my own as at some point I’d be in a situation where friends with cars would not be around. I also thought about calling a taxi but knew that my host family probably didn’t do that so didn’t want to seem more wealthy than I probably already do.
As I pondered my dilemma, a sudden image flashed in my mind – walking through Muchatazina a few days ago. Muchatazina is a slum community on the edge of Beira. Days earlier I had visited Manga, another “suburb” of Beira that felt very rural – dirt paths running between small tin-roofed houses. I had been impressed with how clean it was, how well-swept the dirt yards were, how peaceful it felt walking beneath fruit-laden mango trees.
Muchatazina appeared to be Manga’s evil twin. The layout was the same, but instead of spotless paths, the paths of Muchatazina were filled with half-buried trash and broken glass. Half-naked children with distended bellies splashed in puddles of stagnant gray water and defecated on the paths. But they smiled and laughed and followed us to the church where a community club meets.
Oasis works with churches in communities all around Beira with children’s and community clubs. In community clubs, local Oasis staff and church leaders teach adults basic life skills, including aspects of health, hygiene, and the environment. This particular group had been learning about environmental ways to prevent malaria by eliminating mosquito breeding grounds by filling in puddles with sand and cutting long grass. The week before, they had discussed these methods, and this week we brought tools for them to cut the long grass around the church. (An interesting side note: Unlike in Central America, here women do all the manual labor, so it was all women, some with babies strapped to their backs, who were whacking at the grass with machetes.)
As we walked through the neighborhood back to the car, I was told that this community and another one, Munhava, are the roughest in Beira – crimewise but especially healthwise. Malaria and cholera are common, leading to many deaths. When it rains, all of Muchatazina floods, mixing with all that trash, stagnant water, and feces. It enters homes, and people move their foam mattresses from the floor to sleep on tables. This is their life every rainy season. This was the image that flashed in my mind this morning.
My dilemma about getting to work didn’t seem like one at all anymore. I would find a way. Even if I got soaked, I had a clean place to wash and dry off.
I’m left pondering a much bigger dilemma…