Beira is in a constant state of death. I’ve been living here in the second-largest city in Mozambique for over a month now, and there’s constant death all around us. In the last month, I’ve been staying with my country representative, Melanie, and her daughters in order to work more hours than I’d like to count and on more projects than I’d like to remember. In some ways, it’s been a death to our social lives. We read in the paper about how many people throughout the country have been swept away in flooding from the super heavy rains of the last month. Our colleagues tell us of how they need to take more time off work for the tenth funeral we’ve heard of this month. The salty sea air and swampy marsh ground nibble away at all of Beira’s buildings so that every other structure looks as dilapidated and mournful as some of those who dwell within them. Trash rolling in the ocean waves never ceases to disgust me as the pollution keeps killing little pieces of the environment and of me. Rumor has it (since data is often faulty) that the HIV/AIDS prevalence rate in the Beira corridor—the transport vein that runs from Harare, Zimbabwe to the Indian Ocean—has jumped to 38 percent, dwarfing the national average of 14 percent that already was unacceptably high. Childhood and education die for the girls of one of our partner organizations as their parents view 14 years old to be a sufficient age for marriage and classroom discontinuation. Food prices continue to increase, thereby continually diminishing some Mozambicans’ dreams of diversified diets. I’ve had to put to death the paralyzing notion within myself that Mozambique’s issues are too overwhelming to even developmentally dent, so that I can still get out of bed in the morning and go about my small life praying that somehow someone benefit from my effort in some small way.
But this death doesn’t mean that people stop living. In fact, it’s quite the opposite in these parts. I have found more community, more love, more beauty and more friendships represented by Beira than in any other part of the country I’ve visited. I never stop feeling grateful for the cool evening breezes, enamored by the incredible clouds that sweep in from the sea to land and humbled by the generosity of friends from various countries. One night, a few weeks ago, I was dwelling on this agape kind of love I was feeling God draping over Beira while sitting outside admiring the stars, conversations and food of the evening. We were attending a braai (a South African barbeque) at Melanie’s daughters’ school which began with the intention of allowing space for parents and teachers to socially mingle and ended with South Africans bickering over whose steak was grilled better. I realized that I felt completely at peace and entirely filled with joy. Previous Mozambican moments had given me happiness, but this was a sense of pure joy of not wishing to be any other place or worried about anything.
When the braai began I was talking with our friend Ruth and her husband and son. Ruth is a sweet English woman who boosts my awareness of friendship and love in Beira. But she’s been struggling a lot these last few weeks. She has fiber myalgia that she says makes her “legs feel like they don’t belong” to her and chronic back pain that makes each movement excruciating as her medication wears off. But the worst pain of all of her is her inability to do her nursing work to her full potential. One of her projects is distributing powdered milk to infants whose mothers either are HIV+ or lack the nutrition to breastfeed. She told us of how her previous week had been just awful as the bridge to one of her milk recipient communities washed away, leaving no way to access the mothers and giving Ruth guilt that some babies would now die. Another of her endeavors is an orphanage of HIV+ children to whom she gives medicine and check-ups. Ruth began to break down as she explained the story of one girl with stage four AIDS who still had not received ARV treatment. When Ruth called the local government to demand distribution of the free medication to the orphanage, the officials on the other end of the line lackadaisically said they would be there by the end of the month. She knows these kids don’t have that long.
So there we sat. The joy, the tears, the heartbrokenness and the love all hovered there in the air around us, mixing together and getting hazy. But the weirdest thing was that it was totally okay. Pain held hands with beauty, and joy pulled up a chair next to sorrow. And there we all dwelled. I didn’t feel guilty for the laughter we had a few moments before her story, and the breaking of Ruth’s heart in no way diminished the love it still contained. I still knew that I was exactly where I should be, and despite all of the death around me, I didn’t want to be anywhere else. Around this same time, a dear friend from home shared with me a quote from a pastor of the church we used to attend:
“Ultimately our gift to the world around us is hope. Not blind hope that pretends everything is fine and refuses to acknowledge how things are. But the kind of hope that comes from staring pain and suffering right in the eyes and refusing to believe that this is all there is. It is what we need—hope that comes not from going around suffering but from going through it...It is in the flow of real life, in the places we live and move with the people we're on the journey with, that we are reminded it is God’s world and we’re going to be okay.”
And I think this is what hope means to me. Sure, babies still cry, funerals still occur and the water still inexplicably goes out in the middle of a dinner party. But the sun still rises every morning and joy is still available in the presence of utter destruction. And I think God stands in the messy middle between suffering and bliss and says “it’s alright. I got this.”