Maines Ngoma is the widow in this picture. She is the mother of Christine Khosi, one of our widows that passed away back in August 2010. Maines lives on the corner of the street that comes into Chikumbuso.
A couple of weeks ago, Gertrude told me Maines had come to Chikumbuso. “You see me,” she said, falling on her knees, “I’m starving. Isn’t there something Chikumbuso can do for me. Look, my grandchildren - they are wasting!”
“We have to talk to you about Christine Khosi’s mother,” Gertrude opened. “She is coming and coming here, asking us to help. She has been doing very poorly since Christine died."
Maureen chimed in, “Yes, every day I wish I could build a fly-over to walk past her house. Every day, every day, she sees me, and she comes out to ask me if we can do something for her. She even knows that I try to pass her house without her seeing me. Now, she is telling me she knows I’m avoiding her. What can we do? We have to do something.”
Maureen had one bag of roller meal left from sponsorship handouts. Every child except one had shown up to collect their monthly food distribution. Maureen had made sure that all the children knew they were to come and pick up their food by a certain date; that child did not come and here was Maines, starving and begging. We sent her home with a bag of roller meal, of course.
When I arrived home that day, I received an email from a couple wanting to sponsor a child and a grandmother. Coincidence? I don’t think so. When all our hearts were united in prayer for her deliverance, suddenly our prayers were answered. Suddenly, someone thought, “I’d like to sponsor a grandmother with Chikumbuso so I’m going to send an email right now.” That is nothing short of miraculous as far as I am concerned.
I think that Maines considers it nothing short of miraculous, too. We went to her house first thing to tell her the good news. “I have nothing for you to sit down on, but we must at least get out of the sun,” she said to Gertrude, motioning us into some shade. Squatting under the eve of the house Gertrude began to tell her that her prayers had been answered - she had a sponsor through Chikumbuso. We gave her a chitenge. Gertrude explained that she would now be receiving food, candles, etc. every month. She seemed overwhelmed. I asked her questions about her children - she has two children still living and four of her five grandchildren live with her. She’s lived in Lusaka so long all she remembers about coming there is that it was during the colonial times. She has no idea how old she is. I asked her if she voted in the recent elections. She replied, “I’m too old for politics now. My vote is for Jesus.”
When we rose to leave, the reality that she really had a sponsor sunk in. Tears flowed as she shook our hands, kissing us and hugging us, and crying and blessing her new sponsor, “Now I have a new daughter to take care of me since Christine has passed.”
What is a miracle, anyway? CS Lewis, in his book, Miracles, writes about that which is Super-natural. Nature would have predicted a slow demise for Maines. The breadwinner dying, naturally should have led to her orphaned grandchildren being offed to other family members and her own slow, hungry death. Instead, something Super-natural has happened. Someone wholly unconnected with Maines has now become a new daughter to replace the one that was lost. I think it qualifies as a miracle.
Violet is one of our grandmothers. She joined Chikumbuso's grandmother project in 2009. Violet's husband died eight years ago, shortly after he retired from his work at the University of Zambia. Violet herself used to sell cooking oil and other items at the local market while her husband was at work. They had 10 children together, but only two are still alive today. Both children live in Ng’ombe, as Violet, but they do not come to see her very often. In total Violet has 18 grandchildren. The four who live with her are from one of her children who passed away. She lives in a two-room house without electricity supporting her four grandchildren. The rains are beginning again, the weather cooling, and the fuel efficient stoves make a big difference not just in cooking, but also in warming their small house.
Yesterday Gertrude and I were talking about electricity. Gertrude had the opportunity to visit one of the local dams providing electricity in Zambia. She now appreciates how the systems work and when the 'brown outs' happen locally, she knows that at this time of year it is because the water table is lowering throughout the dry season and so our electricity becomes scarce. Ng'ombe is dealing with outages nearly every night from 5pm to 11pm - the cooking hours. Thank God our grandmothers have their stoves to manage dinner!
Our Grandmothers are really benefiting from their new stoves. It gets surprisingly cold here in Zambia. The construction of the homes in Ng'ombe don't offer much protection either, basic block construction, no insulation and a metal roof. The rocket stoves create a bit of warmth on a cold evening. The temperatures dip down to the low 40Fs. One can imagine how that cold could really cut through an old woman. After cooking her meal for her family, our grandmothers can feel cozy around the remaining warmth from the firebox without the dirt and smoke from firewood or charcoal.
A growing family is generally something we say congratulations for. Sometimes for us, the growing of a family is a moment to be sad, though. One of our dear widows, Brenda, has a growing family with the addition of a new baby. The blessing is mixed because the reason of the baby's coming is a sad one, the death of her mother.
In Zambia, grandmothers carry a heavy load. They bear children, take care of husbands, and then here is Zambia, the bury husbands, bury children and then raise and care for the grandchildren, the nieces, the nephews, and more.
For Brenda, she has been mourning her sister, while welcoming this new little one into her large family. One day, Linda came in and had baby formula for Brenda and Maureen (both caring for infants) and they danced, and danced with grateful laughter. So we see that even while we're sad, we can smile, we can have joy, we can see the blessing in the mix.
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