The Day I Met Tereza
By Oxfam’s Amy Christian
I twist my bare feet in the sand where I stand and look around Tereza’s home. Since her husband died, Tereza has lived alone with her four children. At night, they sleep in a small round hut with mud walls and share just one blanket between them.
The kitchen is a fire made of logs, stones, and one tin pot. A tree holds a makeshift shelf where cutlery, plates and knives are stored. Life here is very basic; Tereza lives from day-to-day, not knowing where her family’s next meal will come from.
She turns to me and slowly smiles, but her eyes give away the pain of her thoughts. Bending over, she picks up a long stick and begins to beat the bag of grass by her feet. It sounds like a delicate drum — rhythmic and certain.
The seeds that fall from the grass are her children’s dinner tonight.
“I would like to be able to give my children bread and tea. I know they would like those things but I don’t have the money to buy those things for them,” Tereza tells me.
She has a field in which she grows maize but it isn’t enough to last her all year. When food runs low, she burns charcoal and sells it by the side of the road to make ends meet. Making charcoal is tough work and it’s making Tereza sick. She tells us she has pains in her joints and coughs all the time.
I fight an overwhelming sadness talking to Tereza. I ask about her life, about hunger, about survival here in the dry lands of Mozambique. She answers thoughtfully, her voice a whisper as she tells me about her lost husband, her children, and how she’s never eaten anything that tastes good.
“This year it didn’t rain throughout the year and I didn’t have any food so I had to carry a bag of charcoal to the roadside to sell. The problem is no-one bought that bag of charcoal within a week so the shop keepers refused to give us another loan. I had to come back home and sleep hungry,” said Tereza.
“Sometimes, when I haven’t had enough food the previous night and I have to plough the field, I am not able to because my stomach is aching and I feel dizzy when I bend over. If I drink water, it causes pain in my stomach because drinking water on an empty stomach makes me want to vomit.”
The sun continues to fade, dimming the light and telling us we have to leave. I reach out to Tereza and hug her thin frail body against mine. She smiles and thanks us for coming.
As we leave, I turn back and see Tereza wave and smile. I wave back.
Thanks to Oxfam supporters, Tereza has been selected to join an Oxfam project in the area.
She will soon receive tools and seeds, and will be able to access a small garden where she can grow nutritious food for her children.
She has also received goats, which will provide her with another income and help her survive the hardest times of year, when her crops have run out and the charcoal doesn’t sell.