Connecting local responses around the world
It is winter in Mozambique. The sky is blue, with no clouds in sight; still the air is fresh and crisp. In this neighborhood of South Matola, 35km away from Maputo, we walk on the sandy track along the small houses bordered by euphorbia hedges. Women sit next to their stalls, selling a wide range of daily life necessities. Here and there they display heaps of clothes for second hand sale.
Our SALT team is on its way to respond to the invitation of a woman whom we just met during a conversation about life and AIDS and we are about to enter her yard. It is clean, the sand combed afresh. The lady welcomes us in front of the small concrete house with its door and one window, closed by a wooden shutter. Corrugated plates cover the house. Big stones prevent the sea breeze from blowing the plates away. What would happen to the roof during a storm, I wonder?
The lady brings white plastic chairs out of her home, and while the SALT team members are being seated, I explore the fruits trees in the yard. The setting is thousands of miles from Lower Congo where I used to visit people 35 years ago, but I feel like I am back to my second home….
The conversation can now begin. Our host, a mother of two sons is seated to our left. The younger one, maybe 18 years old, sits on a plastic container, slightly below her. His hair is unkempt. Sand covers his body. He looks clueless and sad. Sad however doesn’t even begin to describe the mother’s expression. There is something dramatic in her eyes. She would fit in an antic tragedy and we will soon know why. The conversation is in Ronga, the local language, and I request Nelson, my interpreter to give me the essence of what she shares. Both sons are mentally challenged. They can be very violent. "The boys broke everything in our home", she says, "They even set fire to our mattresses!" She describes her torment in such dramatic terms that Nelson stops translating, captivated by her story.
Here comes her second son. His tall, slender, fit body is covered with sand and his rolling eyes express fast changing emotions, sometimes gentle, sometimes violent. He goes to sit on the sand, right across from me. We establish eye contact, and silently greet each other. As he says a few words in English, we exchange our names. His name is Ben.
As the mother continues to tell her story, the group becomes more and more tense. Visitors can’t take it anymore. Giving way to their stress, they stop looking for strengths and revert to the old mode: they give advice. “You should look for your husband”, says a man. – Well of course she has one that! “You should join a self-help organization!”
Ben meanwhile gets up, cuts a flowered branch, and offers it to me. He places 10 cm long sticks at my feet, like pencils in a box. He gets military boots from the home and disposes them next to the sticks. No one else pays attention, engulfed in the drama shared by the mother. The younger brother looks more and more withdrawn.
The tension becomes unbearable. Ben takes position in front of us and gives a military salute. The conversations stops, people wondering what is coming next. Now that everyone is paying attention, Ben starts demonstrating his Kung Fu skills! This is Jackie Chan at his best! His feet fly just a few cm from our faces. Ben then leaves the compound while we recover from our surprise.
I decide to intervene. Should we not go back to the basics of SALT and explore the strengths of everyone, including those of the boys? Would we maybe engage the conversation with them? The team members agree and start talking with the younger boy. The tension eases immediately. A faint smile lightens the boy’s face. While he starts telling his story, Ben comes back and joins the conversation. I can see that the mother relaxes as well… The next day a team member shares her reflection with the 60 participants to the knowledge fair. “Yesterday, I have experienced SALT at its core. When we started the visit, we did not greet the boys. Because we did not consider them as humans, we saw no hope in the situation. But as soon as we greeted them and sought out their strengths, we all could see that there was hope. There is a way forward!”
A SALT visit stimulated new connections between a family and community members of South Matola. With a little accompaniment of the local facilitation team, two young men may recover and move on. Their mother may come to relax and enjoy again the beauty of life.