Thursday, December 25, 2008

When hope is all they have

I have had a wonderful Christmas Day with the house filled with love and laughter, good food and wine, lots of gifts and, above all, the family. Millie and her parents have gone back to their holiday cottage on Exmoor, Great-grandma has been taken home, the house is tidy and quiet once again. Husband and son have settled to watch Wallace and Gromit so I am here thinking about Christmas.

Last night, I went to Midnight Mass at the nearby Royal Marine base, just as news came in that one of their men had been killed in Afghanistan, the second young man from the base in just a few days. At least two families will have had a very hard day today. My thoughts were with them and all our troops and their families as we celebrated the birth of the child of hope.

Conversation at Christmas dinner always turns to stories of past years and Mother-in-law usually holds centre-stage with her stories of life in Zimbabwe. It is impossible for her to grasp what is happening there now; the country she lived in was the most prosperous in Africa and now the people are dying of disease and starvation. For once, we were glad that she has very little consciousness of the present, her long-term memory is still fairly sound and all of those memories are happy ones.

When I came to my desk just now, I found my email alert for the latest edition of the Bulawayo Morning Digest, containing a Christmas message from Mags Kriel. It tells of yet another instance of the suffering of the people of Zimbabwe but it contains the spirit of hope, courage and determination that we associate with Maggie:


Living in Zimbabwe my entire life I have an inordinate fondness for the humble

This is undoubtedly the most useful implement in life in the Third World.

I mean look at its uses, apart from the obvious garden work, the humble wheelbarrow in
Africa is used to move food, water, crops, fertilizer, one's earthly goods and chattels ...

Such a common sight, the sight of hundreds of people frantically pushing wheel barrows
up and down the roads of Matabeleland North and South where food aid is so desperately
needed. Empty barrows on the way to the growth points where food aid is distributed by
Christian Care, World Vision, FAO, WHO and the many amazing people who bring hope to
the starving.

The wheel barrow posture on the way to collect food, is desperate, hopeful, desperate,
hopeful, will I need my party card ? Will they give me maize, will they recognize me as a
member of the opposition party ?

And yet once the precious grain has been collected, the mood changes to elated,
euphoric, ebullient and excited.

But that same wheel barrow is also a people carrier, a receptacle to actually move human
beings !!

It was on the Beitbridge to Bulawayo road that I saw the most heart rending sight..... a
woman, heavily pregnant, but obviously desperately ill, being ferried by means of a
wheelbarrow, across the border to South Africa, for medical attention.

She was not a large woman, quite a small frame, she had her hand over her face so we
could not see her age, but the young man who was pushing the barrow, was sweating
profusely and in great distress both mentally and physically.

What was her plight ? Cholera perhaps ? In labour possibly ? Her thin legs were drawn up
awkwardly beneath her to avoid their being dragged on the rough bare ground. Her
clothing was drab and splashed with mud, a filthy cloth was clutched at her face and pain
racked her emaciated shoulders with every revolution of the barrows wheels.

It was nearly Christmas in Beitbridge, Zimbabwe December 2008. The rest of the world
had lights, carols, beautiful windows festooned with holly mistletoe and tinsel, Beitbridge
2008 was heaving with dysentery, cholera and squalid filth.

Mrs Wheelbarrow, name unknown , possibly just another statistic in the WHO records,
babe in tum, was being ferried to an unknown destination just as Mary was ferried on her
donkey so many years ago.

It is unusual to see a pregnant woman in Zimbabwe these days, babies do not come as
easily as they did in days gone by for some reason known only to Mother Nature.

Was a new life beginning in a wheel barrow on the dusty Beitbridge Road ? Or was a
precious life ending, due to lack of medical care, lack of any facilities at all, no drugs, no
rehydration tablets even the simplest of life giving facilities, let alone the necessary sterile
settings one gets afforded for a birth in the First World, the epidurals, the anesthetics, the
blood transfusions etc.

My mind wandered off to a similar situation over 2000 years ago, but that time it was a
slim patient donkey bearing The Pregnant Woman, not a rusty dusty wheelbarrow with a
squeaky wheel.

When we eventually got home, I decided to try it out , the wheelbarrow I mean, HEEHOO
refused point blank but I prevailed upon one loyal fellow called Sebastian who loyally and
manfully indulged my idiosyncrasies by pushing me around the garden in our trusty rusty

Now there are two types of wheelbarrows, there is the flattish open one and the more
narrow and deep variety which is possibly used to move cement or soil. We fortunately
have the former because there is no way my ample derriere would fit into the latter !!

It was a nightmare, even with a blanket placed strategically to cushion the nuts and rivets
and rusty bits. What does one do with one's legs for example, they dangle painfully in all
directions. Within minutes the blood flow has stopped and pins and needles make their
way rapidly up to the knees.

Elbows and arms are another obstacle and the head rattles and bashes against the lip of
the barrow so badly that ones neck feels like it is being mashed by a thousand whips.

Any yet there is hope ... there must be hope for all of Mankind.

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices;
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, the night when Christ was born.

God Bless you all this Christmas, may Peace and Love and Happiness overwhelm you
totally, and may there soon be an end to suffering and hopelessness and despair in

I've had a wonderful Christmas Day and I don't feel at all guilty about my enjoyment. I don't intend this to be a melancholy post, I'm just voicing my hope for next year: that many more people will be able to celebrate in peace and security.


  1. I'm glad you had a good Christmas, so did we, quiet but pleasant, and I really share your hope...

  2. This post made me weep, for those soldiers' families and for those in Zimbabwe. The story was beautifully written. He is our hope when all other hope is gone.

    I have some friends who left Zimbawe just before the troubles really set in. It is heartbreaking for them to see what is happening there.

    Glad you had a blessed Christmas. I'm just about to watch good ol' Wallace myself.


  3. Val and Sarah
    I know that many people share that hope for justice and peace in the world. I think the more joy we can spread in our homes and neighbourhoods and, now, across the internet, the more chance there must be of bringing about that hope.

    Enjoy the rest of your holiday.

  4. What a lovely, sweet post. I am so sorry for the family that lost their son. They will be in my prayers.
    I look forward to news from Bulaweyo through your blog. The writing is insightful and emotional and helps me make some seense of the situation in Zimbabwe. It is definitely a more intimate view from your friend than what we get on the news channels here.
    Now that Christmas is over, I wish you a very happy New Year. May peace and joy be your constant companions in 2009. :)

  5. Thank you, Karin. I wish you peace and joy in 2009, too.


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