Sunday, October 19, 2008

Ghosts of Mozambique

I glance through the doorway of the dimly lit hut, observing her shallow breathing as she sleeps on her floor mat. Her head is covered with crusted sores, hair falling out in patches. A ghost of who she once was.

Turning back to the courtyard, my eyes adjust to the bright sunlight. Our brothers toddle in the dust among the chickens and goats, giggling and discovering stones. I half-smile at the sight and then check the position of the sun. Soon a group of neighbor kids will be rushing by, squealing and chattering and gossiping and playing pranks, as usual. And I'll try to wake Anna so we can join them.

Normally I would be in school right now, but Anna was feeling too weak to go this morning, and I decided to stay with her. Anna is my best friend.

We learned to walk and talk together while our mothers carried water and cooked over charcoal fires and scrubbed clothes together. When our baby brothers were born, we quickly mastered the art of carrying them on our backs as we played.

Then Anna's mother and father both got sick and died. She and her brother moved in with us. We learned how to cook and clean for ourselves when my mother got sick, too. Soon my mother was gone, and my father died not long after.

Some neighbors from church offered us a spot on the floor of their hut to sleep. The lady was happy for our help with the housework, but she soon made it clear that there was barely enough food for her own family to eat. Anna and I snuck portions from the cooking pots for our brothers. We climbed mango trees for green mangos, checked out trash heaps, and begged food wherever we could.

Then a man came by and told us about a center opening up for AIDS orphans, where they would provide food every day for lunch! We ran to the site and found men working on an unfinished cement block building. Some of the village ladies there who knew us signed us up on their roster and told us to come back the next day after school for a meal.

So we've been going there every day. We sing songs and pray. They serve soup and bread and fortified pap. Some days they give away used clothing or school supplies. And so we survive, unless AIDS takes us away.

I think Anna will die, just like our parents have. Many of our friends at the AIDS orphan center are sick, and some have died already. I've been watching both of our brothers by myself, and I think my brother is getting sick, too.

I'm one of the lucky ones. I don't have any symptoms. Since the orphan center has opened, I've been feeling stronger and more energetic.

And I wonder why. Why me? Why not Anna? Why not my mother? What am I supposed to contribute to this world?

The group of chattering orphans comes by our hut. They call for Anna and me. I quickly rouse her, helping her up and staying close by to support her. If she can get some food today, she will feel better. For a little while. Our brothers toddle behind, some of the other kids prodding them in the right direction when they get distracted.

At the center, we sit in orderly rows as the village ladies start the songs. I look solemnly at the cold, unfinished walls surrounding us, at the other orphans. This room is haunted, filled with memories of lost fathers and mothers, broken homes and wounded hearts.

Filled with the ghosts of Mozambique.

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This post has been submitted to Scribbit's Write Away contest. The characters are fictitious, but based on reality. Come back on Wednesday for the story behind the story in our Wordless and Wordful Wednesday posts.

24 comments:

Pam said...

This just breaks my heart. It is so well written and while I know it is fiction- I know it is based in reality and that makes me cry.

Heather of the EO said...

I hope you just won (again) :)

You are so good at this writing thing. I love how you tell the stories behind Mozambique so well. Beautiful!

dani said...

what a beautifully written story of unspeakable tragedy...
love,
dani

Summer said...

Wonderfully written, heart wrenching story.

SarahHub said...

Oh. Sigh. Oh.

Growin' with it! said...

what a very moving post. you have such a way with words that impacts my heart. thank you!

JanMary said...

Strong powerful writing.

Very moving.

One Mom said...

The images you've created will linger for a very long time. I'm sure they are all too real for you.

Elouise82 said...

Any words that come to mind regarding this just seem so trite, as I sit surrounded by plenty, with my healthy daughter singing to herself when she's suppose to be napping. Thank you for the reminder--even fictional--of the everyday tragedies that face so much of the world. We need perspective so badly!

angie said...

This is so powerful....beautifully written! How could you NOT win with this submission? The situations you encounter and have to deal with in Mozambique amaze/humble me.

Sandra said...

As someone born in Mozambique, you have me in tears. This is just so beautifully written.

Kori said...

Some froends of mine went to Africa two years ago-Nairobi, I think-and worked in one of these orphanages. I would SO love the chance to pair your "story" with their photos; it is so heartbreaking and yet there is beauty as well. This is amazing, and I think you are amazing.

Damselfly said...

Wow. I'm glad to hear this is fictitious, but sad to know this is all too real. Good luck in the contest!

Scribbit said...

It hurts to read it--who can't think of those children and not want to make all of that go away and take them home to care for them?

And while I'm noticing comments that say this is fiction I just can't see it that way--there are too many that are going through this to have it really be fiction.

Debra said...

I want to wrap my arms around them and make it go away.

May it make us all pause & remember them in prayer.

Blessings to you, my friend.

grammy said...

I really enjoyed reading your post (story). Thankyou. If nothing else it makes me remember how incredibly blessed I am. When my daughter was in Afganistan, I always heard stories of her adventures. She is here in the states now, but her heart is always 'somewhere else'. She works for an organazion called 'Sharpening your inner personal skills' She travels overseas some and loves it. I will be back to visit.

DysFUNctional Mom said...

What a haunting story.

ZJ said...

I know of stories similar stories as that here in Cambodia. It's so heart-wrenching. I hope the governments all over the world increase their efforts in combating this disease efficiently and effectively.

Robin said...

This broke my heart, and will haunt my thoughts.

perilloparodies said...

I... Have NO Words. Only tears. Praying...

Christie O. said...

beautiful, heartwrenching story. you have an amazing way with words. you tell this in such a way that i feel like i am there. thank you for taking us there.

Alana said...

Wow. Great writing. I have no words.

beth - total mom haircut said...

Thank you for sharing this. I feel silent and thankful and heartbroken.

Danielle said...

that breaks my heart. beautifully written