With a tilt of her head and eyes on the floor she told me that she had not seen her kids since January 17th. And that she would not see them again until December, and even then it would be only for three weeks. Our casual conversation turned quickly into something too painful for one person to bear alone. Which is why I believe in God's timing. I was there in that kitchen with her, at a time when she was ready to share her burden. And by God's grace, I will help her carry it.
I learned that her children are at home, in Zimbabwe, with Jennifer's mother. Because of the civil war and political turmoil, Jennifer was granted asylum into South Africa to look for work. At home, there is no food or work, so when her daughter was just four months old, Jennifer left. Look at a map. Cape Town and Zimbabwe are a 3-day bus ride away from each other. That's three days away from her babies. Her son is 6, her daughter 3. That's right, Jennifer has been apart from her children for 3 years.
"My first year, I cried everyday, but now, this is a good place, a good job," she says. Her first year she does not speak about, but she was rescued from a township lifestyle and is fortunate enough to work for a partner of Living Hope. Even though they pay her fairly, provide a safe place to live and treat her well, it doesn't erase the longing of a displaced mother.
Can you imagine what your life would be like if you were forced to leave your son and daughter and move to a different country in hopes of survival? The money that Jennifer earns she sends back home to her children and mother. And waits for the precious 3 weeks each year she spends with them.
"When I left, she was not talking, but now I can talk to her on the phone sometimes. My son will be in grade 2. My other sister left to go to Zambia for work. She left in July. She hasn't come back."
I know my tears did not help. But I had no other reaction than to weep for Jennifer and her sister and ultimately for all mothers separated and displaced. There are some things in life that should not be. There are things in life that make me angry.
|Joy and Kim see their father once a year.|
Why must a mother suffer in silence? What can I do? She saves up her money all year for the 3-day bus ride across the country. For three days she will ride an unsafe, crowded, foul smelling bus across the country. She won't fly because the money would better be spent on the children rather than herself.
Do you want to know the price for an airplane ticket? $600. She's never been on a plane. It would take her all year to save. It will take us a few weeks. I'm willing to forgo souvenir shopping if it means I can help her out. Big deal. What else can I do? What can WE, the privileged moms and dads who hold and kiss their children every day, do, for women who don't have that luxury and for children who have yet to feel that luxury?
The frustrating fact is that Jennifer is not alone. Abigail also works with Living Hope in Cape Town. She and her children fled Zimbabwe while her husband stayed to work. Her daughters, Joy and Kim, see their father once a year at Christmas. Can you imagine only seeing those beautiful faces once a year?
People are suffering. Children, mothers, fathers. We could do something. We can't save everyone. But we could help someone. And that someone is a beautiful, quiet woman who should have the chance to see her children, tuck them in at night, and wake them with a kiss. One mother, one child, one family at a time.