As Good As It Gets

In one of my favourite films, the irrepressible Jack Nicholson, whose character is a famous author with an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, tries to visit his psychiatrist and gets turned away because he has no appointment. He walks through the waiting room and says glumly to the waiting patients, “What if this is as good as it gets?” Obviously, this is the title of the movie – and of this blog entry.

It’s funny and yet full of pathos at the same time. What if life has so little to offer? What if it is all about coping with loneliness and sickness and fear? What if there really is nothing better to come? In actual fact, Jack Nicholson’s character discovers that things can get much better when he embarks on an unusual and touching romance with a waitress who is also a devoted single mum.

For some reason, the words came back to me as I sat on a veranda in Pretoriuskop Camp in Kruger a couple of days ago: “What if this is as good as it gets?” But, unlike Jack Nicholson, I thought it with a smile. We had got up at the crack of dawn to go out and watch a pair of lions in love; we had seen the early clouds clear and the sun come out over verdant bush with wandering elephants, strolling giraffes and snuffling warthogs; we had swum in the natural rock swimming pool of the camp and then watched the monkeys playing in the trees around us; now we had a drink, pleasant company and a matchless view of the long shadows stretching across the sun-setting savannah while impala grazed in front of the cabin. If this is as good as it gets, I thought, then it’s very good.

The Loving Couple

These special moments happen in everyone’s life – and they often have nothing to do with the actual circumstances of a person’s life. Whether you are married or single, old or young, childless or with children, perfect moments can come, unexpectedly, to warm your heart and make you smile or sigh with pleasure. The important thing is to look out for them – to be open to them.

To me such moments are a gift from God – a break from the pain, the grief, the disappointments or even just the monotony of everyday life. They are also a glimpse of heaven. For that is where it really will be “as good as it gets“.

Tranquil scenery at Pretoriuskop

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The D.I.Y. Nativity

This was a new one on me – when we went to the service at Overton last Sunday morning, we were all invited to dress up as a character from the nativity story, ready to act out our various parts. The church gradually filled with shepherds, angels and more … but the poem tells the rest of the story! And by the way, for those pedantic apostrophe-watchers, when you write the plural of a name like Mary or Joseph, you have to use an apostrophe. I know. I checked.

The D.I.Y. Nativity

The D.I.Y. Nativity,
A very curious thing:
A score of shepherds listening
To random angels sing;

Those angels all line-dancing
Most reluctantly,
(Their ages probably ranging
From three to seventy-three);

A dozen Mary’s dressed in blue
All quite serenely vow
To bear the holy Son of God
(We really wonder how?);

A dozen matching Joseph’s,
Some large, some very small,
With tea-towels on their heads,
Agreeing to it all;

One Mary has a baby,
A tiny, dark-haired boy,
(And everyone agrees that
It is certainly not a toy);

Twitching through his three-week dreams
In slumber soft and deep,
(Not even dancing angels
Stir him from his sleep).

Up march the group of stately kings,
Their cross-eyed camel heads
Attached (well, more or less) to sticks
They hold between their legs.

My father comes as one of these
Dressed up in gold of course,
(His camel noises really sound
A lot more like a horse);

And when they reach the chancel,
These wise women and men,
They bow their white-haired heads before
The Babe of Bethlehem.

Except for one (the one I know),
That old one over there,
Who bends a wobbly knee and holds
His pose as if in prayer.

To my surprise, tears flood my eyes
To see my father so,
I seem to see the future,
And without doubt I know

That one day, when he leaves us,
This is where he’ll be,
Before the Lord, the King of Kings,
On humbly bended knee.

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Protected: Alzheimers – a Family Affair

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What a performance!

James Lovett Trio - and yes, there are four of them!

It’s been a time of performing by the Davis family recently. Last weekend, MICF Sunday School put on the church’s Christmas play, ‘The Christmas Angels’, which we did years ago in St. Arvans (and yes, Will was the Angel Gabriel again!), and Will also performed with his band recently at Maputo International School’s annual Food Fair. ‘Statement’ did four songs this time, and quite an audience gathered to hear them perform – when we hear the screaming girls and the wild applause it’s hard to believe that they’re still only thirteen!

Will performing at MIS, November 2011

Statement performing

Also very recently, we were very excited to hear about Ben’s band, back in the UK, getting through to the final heats of a competition to perform at the Hop Farm Music Festival. Over 1,500 bands/musicians entered the competition, and the James Lovett Trio made it to the final 18! We think that’s an indication of the quality of their music. Although they sadly didn’t get through the next round, they won free tickets to the festival and they still have a chance at performing an acoustic set. We’re so proud of you, Ben – and all your band. If you want to hear some of their excellent music, you can hear it by clicking here. And if you don’t believe they’re good enough to listen to, read this BBC review right here first!

Okay, so I don’t have the performing gift that my two wonderful sons have! But having taken the traditional Alice in Wonderland story and rewritten it (with the help of some African legends) as Alice in an African Wonderland, it was exciting to see the resulting story come to life with the children of Grades 4 and 5 in AISM. Here is the review that was written for the school newsletter (leaving out the names of the children and teachers for reasons of privacy and security):

The lights dimmed, the conversation stilled and the narrators were spot-lit in their rustic corner, dressed in brightly-coloured Mozambican capulanas.

“Welcome, welcome to our show!

There is a tale that I’m sure you all know,

Of a girl who popped down a rabbit hole,

Without any thought for the good of her soul…” 

And they were off. It was the first primary school production in the new auditorium and expectations were high, but mixed with apprehension. Would the technical team remember to change the sounds and lights at the right time? Would the children be overcome with stage fright at performing in a real ‘theatre’ for the first time?

The worries were short-lived. ‘Alice in an African Wonderland’ proceeded, and the audience had the feeling that they had entered a magical world and were watching professional actors on a stage, not just little children doing a little play. Alice brought to the main part a wonderful, clear voice and an enthusiasm and dedication that were way beyond her years, and she deserved every round of applause that came her way.

The Mad Hatter dances on the table

But a successful play is not just about the main protagonist – it depends on the whole team. And what a team of players this was! There was the perfectly cast manic and forgetful Scrub Hare; The Mad Hatter who brought the house down; the Tribal Queen (replacing the Queen of Hearts), who roared “Off with her head!” so well that she frightened the little children in the audience; the Caracal who grinned his way through the play as the African version of the Cheshire Cat; the Monkey, who just totally became a monkey on stage, and had us all in fits of laughter; the grumpy Caterpillar, whose wonderful voice raised the roof as she sang an adaptation of ‘The Circle of Life’; the excellent articulation and dancing of Selham, the snake charmer, who brought her part to life; the actor who changed from narrator to Leopard to Executioner with such ease and skill that we hardly realised it was the same actor; and so many more, all bringing to their respective parts remarkable enthusiasm and adaptability as they changed from narrators to actors to singers as required. 

The Tribal Queen

We mustn’t forget those behind the scenes who added to the magic: the parent helpers who gave up their time to assist with make-up and costumes; the teacher whose magnificent costumes and props made the African dream a sparkling reality; the teachers who supported the acting, singing and dancing at every turn; the stage craft crew who did a marvellous job with scenery, sound, lighting and props; the script-writer who adapted a traditional English play into a culturally relevant production; and the director, who turned a group of grade 4 and 5 children into those stunning little actors and actresses that impressed all who watched them. 

Grade 4, who were responsible for promoting their play as part of their unit of inquiry into ‘How We Express Ourselves’ probably deserve much of the credit for the sold-out tickets – we’re so sorry to those who were not able to enjoy the play first-hand.”

All in all, we’re really quite proud of ourselves as a family at the cutting edge of performance right now! Watch this space for more on the ever-developing musical and acting careers of our boys – and if you are interested in the script of a successfully adapted Alice in Wonderland with an African twist, let me know!

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A Blessed Day Out – Inhaca Island

In nearly two and a half years, we have only been out on the Indian Ocean by boat once before, in December 2009, when Will and I joined some friends for a trip to Portuguese Island, 37 kilometres away. The reason? Lee gets seasick! He would always rather get in a car than in a boat. However, I finally just took a chance and booked us on to a trip to Inhaca Island (right next door to little Portuguese Island) for a day trip. Lee has been travelling a lot recently and would have been happy just to stay at home, but Will and I have been going back and forth between home and school for weeks, so we needed a little get-away. And, after the event, even Lee agreed that it was truly a blessed day, in spite of the boat trip. We had excellent company, as we went with our new American/Canadian friends, the Ratigan family, and the weather couldn’t have been better – clear blue skies and hot, but not too hot due to the fresh sea breezes.

Arriving at Ponta Torres conservation area

If anyone is wanting to do the trip to Inhaca but is unsure about the best way to do it, we found the Vodacom ferry (leaving from Porto do Pez, costing 1500 metacais per person for a return ticket) to be efficient, reasonably comfortable and, above all, quicker than any of the other alternatives (i.e. the local ferry, which we passed on the way, or the catamaran, known as the Scooby-Doo, although the latter is a good option if you want a private trip). We did have a major stroke of luck on the ferry when we met an Inhaca resident (a Mozambican of Portuguese descent with a strong South African accent!), who offered to take us across the island to the conservation area on the other side, where we could snorkel in comfort.

Overtaking the local ferry (taken from the Vodacom ferry)

The sea changed from murky green around Maputo to vibrant blue as we approached Inhaca. It’s a much bigger island than one expects, and the beaches are clean and sandy, with plenty of little boats dotted around, both for fishing and for cruising. The locals rush to help you off the boat and offer their services, and there is the Pestana Inhaca Lodge right by the landing jetty if you are wanting to stay in comparative luxury on the island.

After our own boat journey (about two hours – more than normal because of the choppy seas), we all paid our island tax (as residents this was 100 metacais each, but tourists pay 200) and then climbed aboard Vergilio’s jeep and made our way across the island. The roads were thick with sand and would have been impassable in anything other than a sturdy four-by-four. For Lee and myself, this drive felt like returning to Sri Lanka, with the rustic shacks, grinning children running after the jeep and the palm trees of a tropical island. It’s a beautiful, unspoilt island, and Vergilio told us how there is no fresh running water on the island and how the locals rely on rainfall, wells and the mangrove’s ability to convert salt water to fresh water.

It took about half an hour to get to the other side of Inhaca, but it was well worth the effort. Suddenly we were in a miniature tropical paradise, with a living coral reef, glorious beaches and bays and amazing snorkelling. Once again, a fee was required to swim here (200 mets per person) but we are never reluctant to pay a conservation fee that helps to preserve this unique coastal environment. There is no restaurant on this side of the island, but we had taken our own picnic lunch and thoroughly enjoyed the feeling of seclusion that Ponta Torres had to offer.

Ponta Torres conservation area

For two years we’ve been searching for a place where we can snorkel safely and productively – we need search no longer! We can’t wait for Ben to come out and enjoy this with us next time he visits: we saw angelfish, octopus, stonefish, gobies, giant clams and many creatures that we don’t know the names of, including goldfish, long, thin yellow or grey fish that seemed to have eyes at both ends, little fish of startling flourescent purples and blues, and many more of every shape, size, pattern and colour you can imagine. We just wished we had had more time to spend there before rushing back to catch our ferry home.

With thanks to Vergilio and to the Ratigan family for their help and company – and thanking God for a near-perfect day out. Next time we go, we intend to stay for longer!

Lee and Terry on Vodacom ferry

Will on the Vodacom ferry

Travelling by jeep across Inhaca

Will on Ponta Torres beach

Crystal-clear waters at Ponta Torres beach

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Humbling faith

Pastor Sammy Gumbe (right)

Our return to Mozambique, after the long summer break, brought with it such sad news. Our dear Pastor, Sammy Gumbe, was critically ill in hospital with lymphoma cancer. When we had left for the UK, we knew only that he was unwell and losing weight drastically, but that doctors had been unable to discover what was wrong. Yet within a few days of our first hearing about the cancer, Sammy passed away.

The shock to the whole church community, and to his friends world-wide (of whom there are many) was huge. Sammy was a tall, big-hearted, passionate Christian, so full of life and a wonderful sense of humour that it seems impossible that he is no longer here. The mission work he did in Mozambique was well-known by all, and he would often bring back amusing stories from his travels – tales of journeys that were fraught with difficulties and dangers, which he always imbued with humour and, above all, with the assurance that Jesus had brought him through it all.

Sammy leaves a wife and three young boys, and our hearts go out to them. Yet throughout this time, both before and after Pastor Sammy’s death, his wife Christine (with whom I shared a Bible study group during our first year in Mozambique) has been posting on Facebook the most uplifting and faith-filled messages.  Before he died, she posted: “It is not about me or the situation I face, its all about God and how He chooses to implement His Will in the situation I face.” And later, “When you put your situation in God’s Hands, He will put His peace in your Heart.” A friend of mine who spoke to Christine at that time said that she had expressed her total peace with whatever was to happen to Sammy – whether he lived or died, she would rest in God’s love and the belief that His will was done.

The next day, Christine posted the following: “He has fought the good fight of faith, he has finished his race.”  Sammy had gone home to Jesus. And as the messages of condolence poured in to her Facebook Wall, from those who loved Sammy and his family, she responded to their sadness with words of comfort. In her own time of grief, she has still found the time to support others in theirs, truly “mourning with those who mourn.”

She continues to post messages that show the depth of her love for Jesus and the strength of her faith in Him. “In his death may all see YOUR GLORY as Isaiah saw… Isaiah 6:1.” And just a few hours ago, she posted this message: “Christine Gumbe is singing, “We glorify YOUR Name as we honor YOU, YOU are wonderful, YOU are the messiah…”

As it is Sammy’s Memorial Service at our church, MICF, tomorrow, I wanted to write a tribute to Sammy, yet it seems just as important to share this humbling example of faith under the most difficult of circumstances. How each of us would respond to a similar situation we never know until it happens. I suspect that I would fall to pieces. But I hope and pray that, like Christine, I would be able to say, “The Lord gives, the Lord takes away – blessed be the name of the Lord.” Our thoughts and prayers are with you, Christine, and with your lovely boys. May the Lord bless you and keep you.

You can read another tribute by someone who knew and loved Sammy well by clicking here.

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Turning thirteen

Will had been planning his birthday for many weeks – in fact he’d been talking about nothing else! In addition to the arrival of presents that he had anticipated for so long, he also planned – for the first time – a pool party involving 13 friends. Appropriate when turning 13, although his parents were a bit worried that our poor pool might struggle to hold such a large group.

Saturday 16th arrived, and rain was forecast, but the weather was warm and balmy and the drum-kit was brought down to the veranda in preparation for Statement’s third public performance. The band arrived an hour early and started practising; a couple of tempers frayed in true rock band fashion; the new microphone (early birthday present from Nanny) was tested and proved to work fine.

'Statement' get warmed up

At three pm, the guests started arriving, and after a rather subdued beginning – quite normal for the start of a party – clothes were soon thrown off and bodies hurled themselves into the pool.

Games

Owald and Will discuss tactics

Soon screams and yells pierced the afternoon and we pitied the neighbours as raucous games continued in the pool for over an hour, followed by a short ‘concert’ by the boys. The ‘fans’ stood and screamed and clapped, waved their arms and generally were a great audience. The band ended with “Expectation”, their most well-known song, and several girls were heard to comment, “Oh, I love this song! It’s my favourite!”

Statement and fans

Veranda performance

Following the entertainment on the veranda, Will rallied the troops into the house to watch another early birthday present, the film ‘Spud’, a South African film starring John Cleese (based on the book series by Jon van de Ruit) about a teenage boy starting boarding school for the first time during the year of Mandela’s release. Soon laughter was echoing through the house.

The rain arrived while Lee was preparing the ‘braai’, but it held off long enough to barbecue the food. The kids finished their movie and then munched chicken and steak sandwiches and left their plates and cans all over the living-room! The delicious chocolate birthday cake, made and decorated by Isabella (who else?) was enjoyed by all.

Finally, another film (scary this time, brought by one of Will’s friends) ended the evening, with thunder and lightning as a backdrop, and torrential rain now pouring down outside. The guests practically swam home, and everyone had departed by 10pm.

Parents collapsed, exhausted, into bed. Will, tired and happy, and with the knowledge that his presents were still to come on Monday, also fell into bed. Ben, Jess, Darcy and the cats heaved a collective sigh of relief at the removal of the guests, and took over the house again.

Parents watching the fun from safety of living room!

Ben and Jess, who helped out all day. Thanks, guys!

18th April, 2011. Happy Birthday, Will!

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