Meet Mona Lisa By: Janine Maxwell

(Mona Lisa is the woman standing in the middle with the red shirt and head scarf).

When I arrived in Swaziland last week I immediately asked Kaleli Mulli (our Farm Director) if I could meet with Stula’s mother and her children to tell them how terribly sorry we all were to hear about Stula’s death. He immediately made arrangements for that meeting and this is the story from that meeting.

The young woman who died in childbirth two weeks ago was named Stula. She was the second born of a woman named Mona Lisa (no, I am not making this up). Mona Lisa is 61 years old, four-foot nothing (as we say), weights 80 lbs dripping wet and is feisty, loving, determined and very very sad. Her husband died 26 years ago and she was left to care for and raise 5 children, living in rural Swaziland surrounded by abject poverty.

When Project Canaan began in 2009 both Mona Lisa and Stula sought employment from Kaleli and have worked there for the past 18 months.

Every day Mona Lisa leaves her house at 5AM and walks for two hours to arrive for work at Project Canaan at 7AM sharp. She is a good and faithful worker. At 5PM she leaves work and arrives back home at 7PM to begin preparing a meal for her grandchildren. It is very cold and dark during an hour of both walks as it is winter here in Swaziland and the sun rises late and set early. Now that Stula has passed away Mona Lisa makes the long journey alone.

Mona Lisa says that Stula was her “rock”. Stula was a hard worker and provided for her own four children as well as helped her mother provide for three of her sisters children who have been left with them. With Stula dead, now Mona Lisa must provide for seven grandchildren – an almost impossible task. They range from four to thirteen years of age.

The whole family lives in single room mud hut with a grass roof that has a very big hole in the top of the roof where termites have built large nests and will gradually consume the entire roof. When it rains the water pours on to the mud floor where the children sleep and share only two blankets. The children get themselves up in the morning and leave for school at 6AM. They have a 90 minute walk EACH way, to and from school, and arrive home to wait for Mona Lisa to return from her long day of farm labor.

They must fetch the water from the local crocodile inhabited river (a short 10 minute walk away) and then fetch wood to start the fire on which they boil the river water to cook the maize flour, which will be their meal. While the story is heartbreaking and tragic, it is the same story for MOST Swazi’s in rural Swaziland today.

The point of this blog is not the hardship that they are enduring or the lifestyle in which they are imprisoned, but rather a simple statement made by Mona Lisa that was awe-inspiring and life-changing.

I sat with Mona Lisa on an old tree stump and passed on our condolences for her loss, offered to help provide clothing for her grandchildren and promised to visit and bring food the following day. But I had a burning question that needed asking. I had to ask why and how the family could name Stula’s dead baby “Thank you God”, when both mother and child had died during child birth? Mona Lisa looked at me, and without a moment for pause she said, and I quote, “we must give thanks to the Lord God Almighty. He gives us everything we have and we must thank Him for all things. If God wanted Stula and the baby to live, they would be alive today. He chose to take them away two weeks ago, and His plans are best, so we give thanks.”

I have so much to learn from my soon-to-be neighbor. I may have more food and clothing than her, a nicer home with a whole roof, a kitchen and convenient water supply, but I can only hope and pray that one day I will have the faith of a Swazi grandmother, like my new friend and sister Mona Lisa. May we all give thanks to the Lord God Almighty for He is good and His plans are perfect.

Janine

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