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Africa 5 – “Well done, well done” and Meeting Otillia, our sponsored child

March 11, 2007

Richard Mumba, our escort, picked us up at 5:15 am and we began our journey to the Gokwe ADP (area development project). 2 hours later we picked up World Vision staff members Patricia, Gamuchirai, and Sai Nai Taurro in Kadoma. These people work so hard on behalf of the poor and were wonderful hosts to us.

Their office is set up in a modest house that by American standards could use some attention. This is not because they are careless, but because they are passionate about directing all their resources to help the children who are under their care. (Side note: at the end of the day, we returned to the office where Taya and I learned that their work day has to end at dusk due to the fact that many of the rooms in the house have faulty wiring, including the bathrooms. We had to use matches when we used the restroom that night just so we could see. I burned the tips of my fingers twice in the process, trying to hold a match while I.. er.. tried to not miss the target zone). Seeing their working environment made me respect them all the more.

In Kadoma that morning we also stopped at a market to get necessities for our trip. The market was dirty, crowded with the poor, and a place of wonder to me. We picked up some peach juice, bottled water, and a warm loaf of bread, deciding to pass on the chicken feet from the fresh meat counter.

We drove four more hours deep into the bush, passing little townships with dilapidated shops where people would come to get supplies or seed. These townships resembled old west ghost towns to me, and every one of them had a bottle store, what we know as taverns. The roof was caved in on one of them and we asked what had happened. “The Lord intervened.” Richard told us with a smile. “It was a place where men waste their money and their hearts”

Monkeys would frequently run in front of our vehicle, as well as goats and cows. Richard and company were amused at how delighted we were every time we saw a monkey.

After several hours of driving off-road across the Zimbabwe countryside, we finally arrived at Otillia’s village. How Richard navigated us through the bush without a road is still beyond me, but we rounded a bend and there among the trees was a non-descript little cluster of huts and about 60 people who jumped to their feet as soon as they saw us.

As we came to a stop, the whole village had gathered to welcome us and began to sing the words “Well done, well done. Well done, well done,” over and over again. Taya and I were speechless and overwhelmed with joy and an uneasy gratitude.

Well done. Well done. Those are the words that every Christian hopes to hear at the end of their life. “Well done thou good and faithful servant.” To hear those words here, in the heart of Africa, sung to us by the poorest of the poor.. It’s a humbling experience, let me tell you. We didn’t feel worthy, which I suppose is the appropriate response. Our gift of $35 a month for Otillia’s sponsorship all of a sudden felt so very modest.

And yet, “well done, well done..” was the song we were greeted with at her village. From their lips it’s as if Jesus Himself were singing to us .. Jesus who identifies himself with the least of these and hides Himself among the poor .. and it will remain as one of the sweetest memories of my life, I’m sure of it. It makes me want to live up to it.

MEETING OTILLIA

We were led to a shaded area where we were seated as we were introduced to the different leaders of their community. They offered speeches filled with praise and gratitude, and I stood up and tried to speak a blessing over them for their hard work and faith. Following the speeches and formalities, different groups of children came forward and sang and danced for us. It is one of the most memorable experiences of my life .. they honored us as though we were royalty and blessed us with the music and dances of their village.

Following one of the songs, we were told that they wanted to play a little game where we had to step out among the children and pick out Otillia. Now, we love Otillia, pray for her and her family daily, and have her picture posted on our refrigerator, but the picture is three years old, and to our American eyes, most of these kids looked like they could be her. Taya wrangled Otillia’s identity out of Patricia just in time, and when we stood up with all the young girls seated on the ground, Taya explained through the interpreter the idea of duck, duck, goose (or duck, duck, gray duck if you grew up in my neighborhood).

Taya walked among the girls seated on the ground touching each of their heads and saying “duck…duck” and then “goose!” when she got to Otillia, and the whole village started ululating and whooping like they had just been called down to be a contestant on the Price Is Right. A couple of the lady elders ran out and did a little jumping dance with Taya. Great joy.

After all the excitement died down, we were ushered into a little hut to spend time with Otillia and her family. The men were seated on a bench inside the hut and the women were seated opposite on the floor. Otillia’s father was a man old beyond his years who told me that this was a happy day for him. He told me of his struggles to grow mangos on his few mango trees to support his family when animals would continually come and steel the fruit. Water, too, is a problem .. it is one of the chief problems for many Zimbabweans, exacerbated by the recent seasons of drought. We’d read about the drought in the news, but to see the dried up water beds is something else entirely.

Otilia’s teacher was there and we got to look at her school books. Her papers had high marks and we marveled at the advanced math she was learning as a 10 year old in the African bush. It cast a new light on the growing criticisms of our falling standards in American education!

As we looked through her books, we were surprised when women came in to pour water over our hands and bring us food. A sense of dread came over us as we remembered the two people in our party in Lesotho who were hospitalized with food poisoning – and that was while we were on the leg of our trip with our team leader Bruce Cripe going ahead of us to make sure food was prepared properly! Out here we were on our own and were frantically asking ourselves “what would Bruce do?!” It made us appreciate Bruce’s leadership so much now that he wasn’t there.

Our imaginations ran wild as we thought of all the different parasites in the water that was poured over our hands. Then we were handed a large metal plate heaping with sadza, a mash made with sorghum that resembled day old cream of wheat, and also a green vegetable relish made of.. well, I’m not quite sure.. swimming in peanut oil. We also had chicken.

Taya had started to get sick a couple days earlier in Johannesburg, so the look on her face was priceless when they handed her her plate. Taya is usually quite an adventurous eater, so it was good fun for me to see her squirm.. That is, until they handed me my plate.

Taya’s sister got violently sick with e coli a few years ago when she was in the peace corp, so there was definitely a sense that we were risking our lives to share this meal. It was like the scene in Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom where they are served a plate of earthy looking food at the little Indian village. You’re scared to eat it, but to refuse it would be such an insult to the people who are trying to honor you as their guest, plus you know that more than likely they serve it to you at great expense to themselves .. it may be more than they eat over the course of a couple of days. And because we were honored guests, they gave us large portions.

So do you insult your host by refusing to eat? Or risk your life, knock it back, and hope for the best? I prayed earnestly over my meal and I’m proud to say that I ate down almost my entire portion.

It wasn’t all that bad. I was trying to act like I really liked it, but Otillia’s dad was on to me. “I think you are not used to our food,” he said with a sly laugh.

Though I’ve been so grateful to have Bruce look out for my health and well-being on my two previous excursions into Africa, it was another kind of blessing to have a completely unsheltered experience and (quite literally) have a taste of the wildness of Africa deep in the bush of Zimbabwe. Great memories. And the good news is that I didn’t embarrass myself by gagging (whew!) AND neither of us got sick. In hindsight, we may not have had that much to be worried about, but it was scary in the moment.

Read next: Africa 6 – Victoria Falls: The Beautiful Wound 

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