Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Broken Hearts and Broken Bones

I woke up this morning at 4:30 by our puppy needing to go outside. I pulled on wool socks and a flannel shirt over my pyjamas and brought her out into the yard. I stood on the step and it was a crisp, clear darkness around me. The dog is content to wander around the frosty grass for a few moments so I sat down and wrapped my arms around my legs to wait. The nightly train rumbles past about a half kilometer away and startles the dog who stands quivering staring in the direction of the noise. She goes back to wandering about the yard and I think of the warm house that waits behind me to welcome me back to bed. My thoughts return to Mulenga, as they do so many times a day, and I am once again, aware of how fortunate I am to have a warm house to retreat to and I wonder how my friends are this day, coming into the rainy season in homes that can only loosely be called shelter.
I am thinking about Gitness. She is one of the women that we met in Mulenga who volunteers her time to care for others in her village. Gitness is a widow and lives alone in a small room that she rents in a small cement house. One morning, I went out with Gitness on home care visits in which we were visiting the sick and those who were dying. As we were walking through the lanes of Mulenga, I noticed that Gitness was favoring one foot and I asked her if she had hurt herself. She explained that eight months before, she had broken a bone in her foot and that it had not healed properly and was still very sore. As we waited in the yard of a home we were visiting, she showed me her foot and it was very swollen with the skin very tight across the top of her foot. She had no money to see a doctor and she knew that she had broken it but had no choice but to walk on it and hope it would heal. I wish I could convey how far these volunteers walk daily to visit the people who rely on them. The roads are rough and filled with garbage, split by water and sewage, and they wind back and forth between the haphazardly built shanties. It's not an easy walk on good days, never mind on a broken foot for eight months. I realized how important these visits were to Gitness and how she valued what she was doing, that she would set out daily to serve others when she herself could be one of those being attended to.The days since I returned from Zambia have been very busy ones. I'm trying to reenter a job that calls me to care for people in many different ways and I admit, I tire of it easily these days. I see a different side of poverty here in my city, a poverty that doesn't always mean lack of material goods or access to care. I'm in constant transition in my brain between the needs here and those I saw in Mulenga. I can't reconcile the two other than the common denominators that God cares for the poor and calls me to do the same. Poverty is defined differently here and I'm finding out that serving and giving are as well. Giving and caring in Mulenga is sacrificial, to care for someone else when you yourself have nothing to give is the purest form of caring. Most often here, I see my giving and caring comes from excess. I can donate clothing or food because I myself have more than enough for my own needs and the needs of my family. Time is our biggest sacrifice but only because we've entrenched our value in being busy...regardless of what we are busy doing. Money and material things, even when we are stretched for dollars, are still in a ready supply. I've been very fortunate, I've never had to make a decision for my children to eat though it meant giving up my own meal. I've taken that for granted and I sure hope I won't anymore. We worked alongside volunteers who spent time doing difficult hand labour to ensure that the community garden they planted was being cared for so that they were able to sell the produce to raise money to feed the orphaned and vulnerable children in their village. I saw volunteers come in to the morning meeting times when they themselves were feeling badly, fighting their own illnesses or lack of food, to go and care for others in the same circumstances.This night, with morning just a few hours away, I come back into my warm house and know that my family is sleeping upstairs, safe and well fed, each in their own beds and I am asking for the ability to care deeply for those in my city who are not in the same comfort that we are. I'm asking for a renewed compassion for those around me who may not be physically poor but have a spiritual or emotional poverty that needs attention just as urgently. I'm asking that I be able to give the way that Gitness gives to others. And I'm definitely continuing my conversation with God on how this all works when I am here and I know where she will sleep tonight, on a small couch in a cement room in a shantytown that I can't get out of my head or heart.

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