Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Christmas Preparations

It certainly does not feel like Advent has started or that it is the Christmas season. Shoprite (the South African grocery store chain) decorated for Christmas before the end of October. Last week I saw a small artificial Christmas tree in a store front window. Sunday, November 25th was the first Sunday in Advent; however no one at our church mentioned it. I thought about it but figured that it would be greeted with a “oh, yeah?” from the Pastor (because he’s probably never heard of Advent) and they would not know what more to do with it. On the whole it seems that Mozambique is oblivious to the upcoming holiday.

So, in commemoration of our missing the trimmings of Christmas in America, we decorated our house. We chose to decorate on a cooler day close to the beginning of Advent. I like the idea of taking the whole month to prepare for Christmas and when it is regularly reaching 36 degrees Celsius, the Christmas decorations help remind me of the season. So we decorated…MCC had a small meter-ish high artificial tree and we brought with us a Nativity scene and some paper stars from Ten Thousand Villages. We hung a few ornaments on our tree and improvised for other decorations—stringing sequins, making decorations out of cardboard and tinfoil, and Joél even made tinsel from tin foil.

We do not have many decorations but it does remind us of the upcoming season. It helps, too, to follow the Advent devotionals that MCC provided. We have begun to listen to Christmas music, though hearing “I’m Dreaming of White Christmas” or “I’ll be home for Christmas” are a bit hard to hear when we are sweating our pores out on a different continent than what has been home for most of our lives. Joél’s started playing Christmas carols on his guitar and that is pleasant.

I find that I frequently forget the miracle of Christ’s coming to earth in the form of a baby human in the busyness of life. That God wanted us to know his love for us so much that he became like us to show us who he is. That like the prophets foretold about Jesus, that he would be Emmanuel, God with us. To me the Advent season is so powerful because we have a whole month to concentrate and reflect on God’s love for us. This year I am looking for ways to see Emmanuel in my context here. Where am I seeing God in this place where the Bible stories have come to life in a different way that before because the culture is much more similar to the Bible-times culture? Where do I find God at work when life is completely different than I am accustomed?

We hope as you in North America (and other places around the globe) prepare for this Christmas season that you can find moments to enjoy the decorations that remind us of this season. The decorations are not the meaning of the holiday but they help remind us. May you find God, Emmanuel, who is present in all of our lives, in a real and meaningful way this season.
Our Veranda

We’ve taken to sitting out on our veranda in the late afternoon. The sun hits it in the morning and so when it is hot everywhere else, the veranda has shade and a bit of a breeze. We’ve made it home with plants, two chairs and a small table. Often we like to have “tea” – a cup of tea and sometimes with a small snack. It is a good opportunity for us to talk, work or life. We also enjoy watching the world around us. Here are some of the things that we see on a regular basis (small pickup truck with lots of people in the back, chapa (minibus) loaded with people and goods, our neighbors picking leechies from their leechie tree).


We celebrated Thanksgiving with of our fellow MCCers. Jenny celebrated twice – once in Beira with the Country Representatives and other Americans there and once in Chimoio with the rest of team and a few Peace Corp workers—Joél was at the celebration in Chimoio. We enjoyed our celebrations. We had pumpkin pie and some of the other traditional trimmings—sweet potatoes, stuffing, turkey (in Beira only, chicken in Chimoio). Here are a few pictures from our celebration.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

I am beginning to understand why pioneer women wore bonnets. I half feel like making myself a bonnet, but I think I'll opt for buying straw hat. The sun is so intense here that any sort of shade is welcome. Additionally, the slightest bit of wind begins to play with my hair so by the time I have arrived anywhere, my hair, which was neatly put back in a pony tail or twist is in wisps all around my face. The pioneer women on the prairies of North America, combating the wind and sun would have had a bonnet to protect against the sun, provide some shade and keep their hair neatly pinned back. I've taken to wearing scarfs every time I ride in a vehicle for a substantial amount of time. It helps prevent the fly-away look (is much more attractive than a bonnet) but doesn't protect against the sun (wearing sunscreen helps that). Joel often wears a straw hat. People laugh initially but when we don't have anything on our heads, they tell us to wear a hat (any hat seems to do, no matter what time of year it is, we see people in stocking caps, just because it is a hat to protect against the sun).

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Race Against the Rain

November 10, 2007
The rush to get the sand dams before the rains come for good continues. Anthony, Jenny and I went up for a few days to join the work that is continuing in the communities. We wanted to be present to answer questions and assist in what way possible. We left on Wednesday and returned late Friday night. The first day we were on our way to Thangera and it poured. We were in the lowland fields close to Thangera and at times were quite frightened we would get stuck but the truck was faithful and the ground solid enough that we made it to Thangera. We waited out the storm until there driving on to Tchinda. The amount of water passing by on the ground concerned us. We were seriously concerned that the rain would ruin the sites. Fortunately Tchinda did not get the rain that Thangera and because it has been so dry the ground soaks up what ever rain it can and the rest quickly runs away. The huge scoop hole in Thangera had been completely filled with water and debris (A picture of this hole was posted earlier this year on our Blog Site for you avid readers). Fortunately the work was continuing Tchinda. The storms continued to pass each evening but we only received a few drops in the mornings. This is the second time it has rained in Thangera and Tchinda. It has yet to rain in Mandie and it is still dusty and brown but the surrounding communities are greening up beautifully and the landscape is transformed into a garden.

We are extremely excited about what is happening. Tchinda has been working hard. They had filled about two meters of the deepest part of the trench with cement and rock and when we left they had filled the span of the river channel up about to the level of the river bottom. They had done all this in only three days of work and are progressing quite fast. They have been using 10 to 15 sacks of cement a day which is quite a lot for one day. We all spent Friday morning working and watching at the dam site. On Friday and Saturday Jenny and I spent time hauling wood and nails for the cement forms from Mandie to Tchinda. They had needed them sooner than planned because of the speed at which the work is going. We left Anthony in the community to continue helping with the work.

It is exciting to see that the project is starting to take off now with less of our help. We have spent so many weeks trying to help the Christian Council of Mozambique get the project started and get the workers in, get the communities organized and mobilized that it was nice to see things kind of take off. It felt like we had to haul the row boat down the sandy shore to get it going on the water which is a lot of work. But once the ship hits the water and the rowers begin to row you let it go and it floats away without any more need of your help. I want to be clear that we see this as a good thing. We all of a sudden have less work to do and really had only to stand around and watch and to answer questions when needed. The extensionists have good experience and knowledge and they are learning fast and moving forward directing things. There are still things to be done but it feels like CCM’s capacity is growing daily and is taking on that role. It will be important for Anthony to continue working alongside the extensionists and visit the dam sites to continue training. Each dam will be a little different in some aspects so Anthony’s presence will be needed. Moriane talked with Jenny and I about starting to put our forces into the Food Security project in the next few weeks and pulling us back from the Sand Dams work. We know this is a good thing but at the same time it is a little sad. It means we will be spending less time with the sand dams which we have thoroughly enjoyed participating in and would like to see it through to the end. We will still be checking in from time to time and seeing how things progress but we know that our skills are needed elsewhere at this point.

We are still rushing the rain but it feels like the speed of the project is picking up and the more cement we can get into the ground the less likely we will have problems. At least one dam will be constructed before the heavy rains. We arrived home in pouring rains in Chimoio and Gondola. We could hardly drive. It been raining quite frequently and is shaping up to be a rainy year. It is a reason to celebrate because people will have good crops this year. People will not go hungry.

Water Shortages

We hear that parts of the US are facing water shortages. For many people here in Mozambique that is part of the annual seasonal change. The water in Gondola and surrounding area is not complete gone, but personal wells are drying up, meaning that people who have a well in their yard may be pulling up only 1-2 buckets of water a day instead of unlimited or not have any water from that well. So they are having to walk a little farther to find water.

This is affecting our house as well. We arrived home a few weeks ago to discover that the well outside our house that is shared between the four apartments in our building, the chicken coops out back and a few other neighbors is only giving a few buckets of dirty water a day. Because the owner of the well is also the owner of the chickens, they get first priority; then whoever is next, from what I can tell. So we are last in line because we send Novencio get water from the well after he has fetched the drinking and cooking water. Consequently, we are now using that water for washing clothes as well because often Novencio gets back too late for there to be any water clean enough to even want to use.

Thus, we are learning more how to conserve water. Noemia uses about 2 20-liter jugs to do any laundry. Because of our experiences in Mandie with the sand dams project, we have learned to take lean bucket baths. We can each bathe with about 3-4 of water in a 5-gallonish size bucket, though a nice amount for me is about 6-7 liters using the solar shower my mom sent us. We reuse water a lot. Much of it means collecting the water we used to wash dishes or our hands and then using that to flush the toilet. Joél uses rinse water from the dishes to water our plants.

It’s not always easy to be calculating how much water I can use until the next time Novencio comes. I think that if I conserve water now, it will mean that we might have water longer. I dream of a day when I can take a 10 minute shower, adjust the temperature to what I want and not even care how much water I use; but that is the dream of a person from the developed world.

The rainy season is beginning. We have had a few good rains that came down slowly and lasted all day. The farmers that we talk to are excited because some of them have corn coming up that is already up to their knees in their low lands. The start of the rainy season promises to fill the underground streams that fill wells. However, as much as I would like it to mean that the wells are filled immediately when it rains, that just doesn’t happen. We have heard people predicting good rains because of the quality of rains and how early they are arriving. This is also Gondola—land that though we saw it turn brown, never was really brown and completely dry like Mandie.

Mandie had rain two weekends ago. Fortunately it did not flood or fill in the trenches the communities dug. The clock is racing. The cement arrived two weeks ago, so we hope that under the guidance of the Extensionists, the communities will be able to build solid walls. If the sand dams are completed and it rains, the dams will begin collecting sand and thus water. Until then, people here in Mozambique continue to walk for and face the lean months of food and water as they anticipate good rains and their harvest to refill their storage bins.

Written Nov. 6, 2008

Monday, October 08, 2007

A side note from Mozambique...For those of you who know my brother, he's engaged. He started dating his future wife, about the same day as Joel and I arrived in Mozambique. It's a little strange to be welcoming a sister-in-law to my family when I have never met her. But my parents say that she's nice and that she's a good fit for him and he's very happy. Here's a picture of the happy couple at a Luau party. Congratulations Loren and Doreen!


Today as we were going to our meeting I saw a kid swinging from a rope swing in a tree. Occassionally we come across playgrounds with swings, climbing bars and merry-go-rounds (the one in Gondola creaks for half the village to hear). But I haven't ever seen a rope swing. Today I did. It made me smile.

I guess because of the war, it is not rare to see someone with a missing appendage--leg or arm. We frequently see people getting around in wheelchair that they "pedal" with their arms. The wheel chairs have three wheels--one in the front, two for the seat. The hand powered pedals are above the front wheel. Most people that I see using them are able to get around quite well. Today, I walked passed a man on a bicycle, only on further observation, he had one foot on the pedals and a crutch on the other side. He used his crutch to get momentum before he one-leggedly pedaled off. I smiled with awe at his ability to get around.

Summer is coming. The heat is increasing and we are beginning to sweat more. But with summer comes the anticipation of mangos. I've been seeing green mangos for sale on the street. Today, I saw small mangos that had fallen from trees. I had forgotten that there are at least two types of mangos until I saw the fallen immature fruit. I am looking forward to the coming rains and mangos, which (unfortunately) do not come without the heat. Perhaps this year I can smile through the heat?

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Our last trip to Mandie went well, but with a lot of adventures. We left Chimoio on Wednesday the 26th. Moriane wasn’t feeling well when we left and by the time we went to bed in Mandie, he wasn’t feeling well at all. At 10 PM Tony and Mick (pronounced Mickey) rushed Moriane back to Chimoio (arriving at 3 AM). Joél and I remained in Mandie with all the stuff. It was fine—we took the day to clean up plates and organizing our kitchen stuff. The only gliche was that they left in such a rush, that we didn’t have any matches, silverware or pans for cooking, so all we ate was bread! So, Mick and Tony returned around supper on Thursday and on Friday, we went to all the four sand dam communities, dropping off plastic drums for water storage and letting them know that a delegation of MCC higher ups was coming. On our way back to our campsite, our oil filter got punctured so at sundown, we carried all our bags 4-5 KM back to Mandie. We were stranded in Mandie for the next three days until the MCC delegation arrived with a new filter. We lazed around in the sun, read, waded in the Luenha river, and waited for our filter. The MCC delegation arrived at 3 PM and we set off to fix the car and off to the communities. We visited 4 communities in one day and talked with the leaders and visited with them about the progress of their sand dams. It was a good trip—good to see other MCCers, good to show the progress, good for the communities to show what they are doing. On the way home, one of the cars had a tire blow out, which only added to the adventure of the trip.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Here's an interesting map dealing with access to water:
Population Without Sustainable Access to an Improved Water Source (Percent)

To see additional information about sustainable water stats accompanying this map, check out Globalhealthfacts.org at: http://www.globalhealthfacts.org/topic.jsp?i=82

Monday, September 10, 2007

I wonder why…

…the man on the bike that just passed my house has a car battery strapped to the bike. Does he think it will help him go faster? Or is he carrying it to a car that needs it?
…our neighbors below us play their music so loudly. They don’t go very far from the house and so don’t need it all the way to the bakery. I wonder if they know it gives me a headache.
…the school day is so short. But I guess it accommodates all the students. They have three sessions a day: 7-12, 12:30-4:30, 6-10 from what I can tell.
…my housekeeper turns Joél’s white socks inside out to dry and not our colored shirts. She initially turned everything inside out, but now generally only the socks.
…the acacia trees lining the streets in almost every town have been pruned so much that they only have branches and no leaves. Almost every town has trimmed their trees. Granted they grow back quickly and the trees that were trimmed here in Gondola in March now have leaves, but in a society that loves shade? And why did they trim them so severely just before the president arrived in town?
…our neighbors always ask us where we are going. Do we live such a different life that it’s interesting to find out where we are going? Do they think we are so strange that they wonder what we do all the time? Is it a way to start conversations and we’re so dense we don’t know what they are asking?
…the men at church really encourage the women and youth get together and on Sundays perform a song and dance but barely meet together themselves. Isn’t the purpose of meeting for edification of the church, so when each group meets and shares what they did, it edifies everyone not just certain ones?
…the men working on the rail road tracks are dressed in bright yellow coveralls. Does it help a train conductor to see the workers? Doesn’t yellow show dirt easily?
…many people have roosters. Do chickens need a rooster in order to produce eggs? Are other people annoyed by the roosters crowing whenever they feel like it (all day and all night)?
…it seems like women at church whose husbands do not attend are able to talk more than women whose husbands do attend. It almost seems like a disadvantage to have one’s husband at church (in terms of equality).
…kids who have never seen a camera are drawn to them and automatically smile.
…many women wear two skirts at the same time. Generally they wear a skirt and then cover it with a capulana, sometimes two if they need somewhere to put the capulana that they carried a child with.
…so many kids gather around us when we drive into the communities where we are working with sand dams. Our colleagues say that it is because of the cars, but if it were, why do they linger so long and then the adults come and watch us?
…I am so bothered by people always watching me or asking me what I am doing?

Sunday, September 09, 2007

We have added quite a few posts recently, so if you have not read our blog since July, there's new material. Happy reading!
How do you spell savings? V-I-S-I-T

Our savings group is up and running, sorta. It took several months to explain the concept of working together to save individually and collectively. The members of the group seemed to understand how it works but when it came to carrying out the actual savings we had difficulty. Some people never came to meetings, other people did not bring their money, and others talked about fines more expensive than they can afford!

So, we arranged to visit several savings groups in the Gorongosa District, where our friend's organization oversees a number groups. People are always up for a trip and free food, so the combination of a ride in our truck with breakfast, snacks and lunch provided was enough to convince the members of the savings group to go.

Everyone gathered at our house at 5:30 AM to eat breakfast and pray before setting off on our road trip from Gondola to Gorongosa. We left at 6:45ish (amazingly on-time!) and arrived promptly at 8:30. We drove through town, turned on a gravel road and before long turned onto a foot path rarely frequented by motor vehicles with four wheels. Through the grass, pot holes and steep ravines we drove and arrived at our first group.

This group began meeting in January 2007 with 25 members. They were a good group to observe because they follow the prescribed procedures of how to run a savings group. It was eye opening for our group from the minute the meeting started. The president called the meeting to order and asked the fiscais (fiscal agents) to open the box and begin counting the money in the box to check if it corresponded to the secretary's accounting. Out came the money--13,000 meticais in all and it took several minutes for the fiscais to count. In the meantime, our group's eyes widened to see how much money this group of peasants had saved in 8 months. The meeting continued, our group continued to be in awe.

At the end of the meeting we had a bit of time for questions. One of the question that the hosting group answered was how being a part of the savings group had changed their lives. Several answered that it allowed for them to save money, whereas before they had tried to save by putting some money in the thatch of their houses or elsewhere but always they had not been able to accumulate any funds. The savings group allowed them to put their money in a place unaccessible to them or anyone else who might arrive at their doorstep asking for money (here the custom is borrow money and whoever's need is more immediate has claim on the money). It also provides a way for individuals to take out small loans with minimal interest for business ventures and in case of emergencies.

After lunch, we visited another group. This group had just begun their third cycle. During their first cycle, they put in small amounts (10-20 meticais) but after they distributed the money, they realized how valuable saving collectively and offering small loans. So their next cycle, they put in more money and at the end of 8 months their group of 12-13 people had accumulated 57,000 meticais (approx. $2300 USD).

This opened the eyes of our group and the questions flew out of their mouths. They talked about how to administer a savings group. One of the interesting things that happened in this group was that women spoke. Ordinarily women do not speak in front of men and in this group, as our group asked questions, the women answered them freely with approving nods from the men. I asked how the women's husbands had responded. One replied that initially he had forbidden her to attend but she continued going and at the end of the cycle, when she brought home her savings, he changed his tune to "My wife is a good woman!"

One of the best quotes of the day was from our secretary. He said, "I can see now that we are no longer poor, we just do not know how to use our money well." Joel and I are quite excited to see how our group develops after this trip. They returned to Gondola very encouraged and ready to begin saving together. We see possibilities with them to begin thinking about how to plan for money (budgeting). Furthermore, this group is comprised of the leaders of the church and they can influence the rest of the congregation. If we do talk about and begin helping them to budget their own household expenses, we can potentially think about how to increase giving to the church through budgeting their tithe.

At the end of the day, the group was excited about participating in the savings group. Several said that they are no longer going to save in their pockets but put their money in the box. The president of the group told me that he understood the theory but now he has seen how savings groups work and is committed to participating with confidence.
For more information in case you are really interested in some of the issues we encounter here....MCC has several resources available that deal with water and food security. Both are major problems here in Mozambique and the focus of the sand dam project and the future food security project that the Christian Council of Mozambique is going to start in January 2008 with MCC's assistance. Here are the resources available from MCC's on-line resource catalog. If you are interested in studying these topics, contact MCC to buy or borrow them. MCC's resource catalog is located at http://www.tng-secure.com/scripts/mcc/catalog/index.php:

WaterWorks Toolkit (quoted from MCC's on-line resource catalog)
WaterWorks Toolkit 4 sessions Curriculum and DVD Primary to adult Mennonite Central Committee 2004 Borrow from all offices Across the globe, one in six people do not have access to clean water. This toolkit is for churches, schools and other groups who want to learn about water and MCC water projects around the world. Includes a four-session curriculum, children's activities, a DVD, a poster, stickers, a WaterWorks Giving Calendar and more.

FoodBasket Toolkit (quoted from MCC's on-line resource catalog)
This toolkit is for churches, schools and other groups who want to learn about food issues and MCC food projects around the world. Includes a four-session Adult/youth curriculum and also a curriculum for children. Includes a DVD with the videos "Food: A Plate Half Full," "Coffee, Corn and the Cost of Globalization" and "The Miracle of Giving: Mozambique." The children's curriculum includes activities, a Fun Page, a storybook, poster, stickers, a Giving Calendar and more. For primary grades to adult, this toolkit can also be purchased from MCC in Akron, Pa. and Winnipeg, MB for $35 Cdn./$25 U.S
The Children

Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2007
I am unnerved by the children. When we drove into Canhama yesterday afternoon, children from all parts of the village ran to where we parked, swarming around the trucks. They don’t talk to us.

I have to wonder what they think. We drive up and begin to unload plastic containers, multicolored bags and from each container or bag, we pull out assorted things—tents: total 3, one yellow, one green and one tan/green; pots and pans; food. Moriane starts a fire, Tony and I search for firewood, Joél sets up the tents. I start peeling and cutting potatoes, carrots, peppers and tomatoes for caril; Moraine prepares the meal. All the while the children stand clustered, slightly off to the side, saying nothing or occasionally talking to each other or giggling. At dusk they go home.

When I come back from the bathroom in the morning, a few children have arrived at our campsite. I try to perform my morning routines of washing my face and putting on moisturizer without noticing the kids watching. But I do. I find myself turning away, not wanting the stares or wanting to engage them.

Joél and I prepare breakfast. Actually, Joél does. I feel frozen by not knowing what to do. Last time we were here, our colleague offered our left over rice to children. We never saw anything like it. Children were piled up on top of each other to get a bite to eat.

It’s two weeks later and two more weeks into the hungry months. We eat our breakfast, struggling to know what to do. We arrived here in order to help the communities so that they can achieve food security. How do we who have food security work in communities where there is none? What do we do with the silent crowd of witnesses, watching our every move, every bite?

The children have been distracted. I guess the visitors to their community have gotten boring. A different skin color, house and mode of transportation no longer holds their interest this sunny Tuesday morning. But I am still unnerved by knowing that though they left for now, they or other children will be watching. What does it mean to share?

Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007
The children surrounded us almost all day. They left only for a little bit and at lunch they were practically sitting on our esteiras (grass mats). We had to ask them to go home so that we could eat lunch and take an afternoon rest. I wish I knew how to engage them but not encourage them.

I realize how North American I am when I am here. We certainly do not like to be too close to our neighbors and definitely do not like to be stared at.

Friday, Aug. 24, 2007
Last night we discovered five girls age 8-13 that walked from Canhame to Mambue (15 km) to carry water for their families. They hadn’t eaten anything since leaving Canhame and weren’t planning to eat anything until after they had arrived home. They arrived to get water but hadn’t succeeded yesterday because the lines were too long. They were spending the night in Mambue. All they had with them were an extra capulana each. They didn’t have shoes and we supposed that they were going to carry 20 liters (we found out this morning that they were only going to carry 5 liters).

We gave them some bread and meat to eat. There were other children around but we gave a full meal to these girls because they had come so far and were not with their parents.

Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2007
The children here in Thangera (and all the communities) do not speak much Portuguese. When we arrived they were all in the school yard and then swarmed around our cars. It took several times to get them to give us space to eat our lunch and back to school. Afterwards, there were only a few that hung around our campsite.

I feel so conscious of Jesus’ words, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these”.

Thursday, Aug. 30, 2007
We arrived home last night. My house on the second story is removed from the stares of any children. It’s a comfort to not have to be the zoo exhibit or village entertainment.

I continue to struggle to know how to relate to the children as we will enter the communities over the course of three years. Through the course of our trip, I tried to interact more with the children. In Canhame, I saw several girls crocheting; Tony had given me a crochet hook for my birthday. So my crochet hook in hand and some string, I went over and asked them to teach me how to crochet. They showed me but because I don’t speak Nungue and they don’t speak English or Portuguese, we didn’t talk much.

In Mambue, there were about 5 girls that followed me around. I took their pictures and showed them. That brought lots of giggles and smiles. When we left Mambue, we found out that one of the girls who we fed hadn’t gotten her water yet (see above picture, she is second from left). Her older brother is the community liaison between Canhame and Mambue and us. He did not seem concerned that she would need to walk the 15 km by herself. What we consider normal is so different here.

In Tchinda, we didn’t see the children much. They gathered around our campsite but when we went to eat, they removed themselves to give us space. The dam site is 2.5+ km from the community so no children followed us there.

In Thangera, only boys hung out at our campsite. We camped under a tree with large exposed roots. We talked with some of them and found out their names. The girls only watched in the mornings and afternoons before and after school.
Living on the road

We have been spending quite a bit of time on the road with the sand dam project. In August, we took two trips - one for a week and the second for 10 days. Living on the road is dusty. We take bucket baths and as soon as we walk out of the "casa de banho" (house of bath) our feet are immediately covered in dust. We sleep on grass mats (esteiras) with blankets and other assorted things—MCC has two sleeping bags which Joél and I put under our blankets for additional padding. We take all our food and water. The communities have limited access to water so we don’t like to get water from them, plus it’s terribly dirty. So we buy ½ liter and 1 ½ liter bottles of water to drink and take 4-20 liter water jugs with us for bathing and cooking. It’s not enough and we stop at the Zambezi River to refill mid-week and if we go through Mandie, we refill our water jugs with water from their clean well.

Saturday, August 11

Well, we are now “home” in the land of luxury—water in our house, food in the fridge (made by Noemia in preparation of our arrival) and mattresses to sleep in, no chickens, goats, pigs, cattle or guinea hens (known as chickens of the bush here) walking through our campsite or any children assembled standing silently watching the white people do their crazy things.

Our week went well. We met with the same four communities that we met with three weeks ago. They are very excited and half organized to get the project going. The communities are DESPERATE for water. One of the communities has to walk 15 km to one of the other communities to get water and that well is going to dry up between now and October. Several of the communities are planning to go to the Zambeze River (20+ Km) with a cart and cattle to get the water needed to mix with the cement.

On Monday, we traveled from Chimoio to Mandie (pronounced Man dee a) and slept there. Tuesday, we visited all four communities and let them know when we would be back to talk with the entire community, not just community leaders. Wednesday we visited two and Thursday we visited two. Tuesday and Wednesday nights we slept in two of the communities and had to carry our own water in (in the back of our truck) because of their lack of water. When we met with the communities, Moriane did most of the talking and when someone in the community didn’t speak Portuguese or wasn’t comfortable translating Mick translated. Joél and I asked questions to the community about how they work together, agriculture and past projects they have done. Tony measured potential sights so he can calculate approximately how much concrete we’ll need for each dam and how much sand the dam will be able to hold. One of the communities between Tuesday and Thursday had begun collecting rocks to put in the dam and had two substantially-sized piles.

Saturday, September 1

The communities have begun working. We left Chimoio on Monday, August 20th and drove straight to Canhama. Along the way we stopped at two of the communities to let them know when we would be working with them. We spent two days in each community. The first day, we talked with them about how to organize the work and marked out where the actual dam would be. Tony did some measurements based on the communities knowledge of where the water comes during the rainy season. The second day we had the communities begin carrying rocks and digging the trenches for the dam.

We took machetes, two types of hoes, pickaxes and shovels up with us to leave with the communities. All four of them had begun digging their trenches and collecting rocks for the dams.

We had to ask several of the communities if they really wanted to do the work because though we gave them several days notice of our arrival and time of community meeting, they were really late. So we had them consider if they wanted to do it or wait. All decided in favor of it because they are so anxious for water.

The communities

Canhama (can yam a) has to walk 15 km to get water and that well goes dry in October. They apparently had a decent harvest but are dry, dry, dry. They keep their cattle at the Zambezi River 20+km away where sometimes crocodiles get their cattle. The community began digging and though we expected to hit rock within in a few feet, when we left, they had yet to hit rock and were digging through hard soil. The children even got involved in carrying rocks. (see picture below)

Mambue (mam bwe) has a well 2 km away but its the same one that Canhama and 5 other communities use and so have to use a well 5 km away when the well goes dry in October. They did not have a good harvest. Ironically, they offer us food--massanicas (small apple like fruit) and corn whenever we visit. They had begun gathering rocks after our first visit. This dam will be the longest--close to 50 meters in length. Fortunately it will be able to collect alot of sand behind it.

Tchinda (tcheen da) walks a ways for water. Their river is almost ideal for a sand dam because it is wide, full of sand and has rock walls see above picture). During our first visit in August, we encountered a delegation from the government talking with the community about their situation. In a letter that the community addressed to the government, they identified three major problems--water, hunger and the school. I hope that our project with the sand dams works and helps them get water which in turn will aid in being able to grow crops for themselves.

Thangera (tan jer a) is the community with the huge hole that they dug out for water. Though they have water close, they share it with five communities and the water is limited and dirty. This dam will be the smallest but the digging will be more difficult because they have to carve out crumbly rock.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Carrying things

Mozambicans seem to not like to carry things in their arms. Their prefered mode of carrying something is on their heads. Common things we see being carried on people's heads include - a bundle of firewood, 20-liters of water, 25 kilos of rice or corn, basins full of vegetables or fruit to sell at the market. It seems like women are more likely to carry things on their heads; men use bicycles more. But both genders do carry things on their heads. Occasionally we see something more unusual--a small pumpkin or bottle of Coke.

If someone is not carrying an object on their head, sometimes they strap it (if it is small) in a capulana and carry it on their back. Often we'll see a mother with a small baby on her back and a 10-year old girl carrying a toddler in a capulana.

Chopas (minibuses) are often seen with lots of baggage on top of them. People transport goods to sell at markets or corn to take to the mill. Frequently we see goats on the top of chopas or strapped to the back of a bike.

This woman is carrying a hoe.
Chickens, goats and farm animals
When we camp in the communities where we are working for the sand dam project, we get to experience the farm yard up close. Chickens, guinea hens, goats, pigs, dogs, an occasional cat and cows roam freely around. Chickens and goats both just their heads forward to walk. Pigs seem startled to find someone in their way. It’s a free for all for food and so at any given time one or several animals are trapsing their way through our campsite, nose to the ground, looking for food. And we’ve been woken up a few times by a snort right next to our tent, as a pig looks for something to eat.
Mozambicans like music.
They play their radios really loudly and have them on most of the day. When we worked with communities on their sand dams, several of them made sure that they brought along their radios for while their worked. Music appreciation is not only limited to radios. They sing a lot. Moriane is constantly humming or singing. In the grocery store, you can hear people singing along with the background music. In church they sing loudly. While we still lived in Beira, I asked Augusta why people sing so loudly in church and she replied, “So God can hear us”.
Poverty is relative…

Mozambique is a poor country, rated by some experts as one of the 10 poorest in the world. People we meet here talk about being poor but for the most part, the people we come in the most direct contact are well fed (because they grow their own food in their fields) but may not have enough money to have super nice clothes (but their clothes are clean) or a house made of cement (but many have tin roofs on sun-baked brick houses). Many adults are taking advantage of educational opportunities available for adults to continue their education that might have been cut short because of the war, early marriage, the need to work in their family’s fields or other life events. They may not have a lot of money to put into the offering plate on Sunday but they seem to be happy—surrounded by their families and friends, living their lives. In a discussion about poverty during our MCC orientation, the presenter, a former director of Ten Thousand Villages challenged us to look at what poor people do to generate income. We daily see people making a living with small business ventures—cutting hair, selling fruits and vegetables by the road, selling clothing on sidewalks, baking little cakes and selling them, collecting money on the chopa (mini bus), or buying live animals, butchering them and then selling the meat.

What does poverty really mean? I read once that poverty is a lack of options. That certainly seems to resonate here. Each place we visit seems to be lacking something—good roads, adequate rainfall, adequate building materials, transportation, food, education. Each group of people we come into contact with us tells us that they are poor. It seems to be a chronic condition here. But what I am learning is how we all interpret our own poverty (generally economic) differently. One person may say that he/she is poor because he/she can not afford really nice clothes, while another can barely afford the chopa fare to the next town but has enough to eat, while another lacks access to clean water. For each person who says he/she is poor, it seems like there are others lacking more than he/she. I am challenged to rethink all the times I considered myself poor—was I truly lacking when I was in graduate school?

In the midst of all this, we see so much hope. We see Mozambican society working to make a difference in itself. All over there are signs of support for those who are affected by HIV/AIDS. On World AIDS Day, students wore shirts and participated in marches to educate the public more about HIV/AIDS. Municipalities are fixing roads—filling in potholes, repaving streets, paving side walks. We see public gardens being maintained—weeded, new plants germinated, trees trimmed, parks landscaped, tree trunks painted. Every morning individuals sweep their section of the sidewalk next to a street and their yards. We know quite a few people who are going to school. Women are attending school and some are learning how to drive. Many people have radios (even those who do not have electricity, have a battery operated radio) and regularly listen to it. (We get our news through our friends in the church!) They know a bit about the world and current events. They know what is happening in their own country. Immediately after the flooding of the Zambezi river, a call was put out to churches to help with relief materials. People gave, albeit it was not much, but they did give to help others.

Now as we are working in the Distrito de Mandie (Mandie District – pronounced man dee a) with the sand dam project, we are given yet another glimpse into what poverty is. I hear people in Gondola and Chimoio toss around the phrase, “absolute poverty” as a description for their condition. It’s a phrase I heard in graduate school and it seemed a good description at that time. Now that I live here in Mozambique, I’m not quite sure I like the term. Yes, it does describe some of the conditions that people experience on a daily basis but it is a very negative term. It lacks dignity and sometimes is trapping, as if when people use the phrase to describe to themselves, they have given up. While I was working for DOOR, I heard of a story that a child had hung out with a group of volunteers and enjoyed himself. He didn’t notice the economic differences between them until the last day and someone said something about poor people. He didn’t know that he was poor until that moment and it suddenly separated him from the people he had come to love and respect. Hearing from them that he was poor suddenly took away his dignity and said that something was lacking in his life when before he wasn’t lacking.

I’m not saying that people here are not poor, but I wonder about the words we use to describe. How can we describe poverty that shows people’s dignity? When we asked the communities that we are considering partnering with to build sand dams, what they would do with access to water, almost all of them said that they would use it to bathe, wash clothes, grow vegetables, and water their cattle. The sand dam project is designed for the communities to take ownership of the dam and eventually of the water that will come. For them, the potential of having water close by year round is an answer to prayer and I hope that their involvement in building and maintaining the dam will add to their dignity.

In the meantime, as we work with groups in Gondola and Chimoio that use the phrase “absolute poverty”, how do we not become trapped by the description, to not have it be a self-fulfilling prophesy but only a proscription, not a prescription? Not only for us who are outsiders working with communities but also for the communities themselves? As I wrote previously, I see many positive things happening and I think it is important to remind people of what they are doing and how they are not trapped by the phrase. It seems to me that people who are continually trying new things are moving, growing and taking risks to see the world in a new way, are battling the label.
Life in the Igreja Evangélica Menonita is always interesting as the church continues to learn and be faithful to the call of Jesus in this community and the life of the church. Being a fairly new church they are learning much and trying to reorganize their lives such that they can walk faithfully. In Mozambique the laws are such that to be recognized as married you have to be registered which is quite expensive for most people. Also with the custom of having huge weddings with hundreds of people, food and a fermented drink made from corn and lots of sugar called “Muheu” (pronounced “moo-hey-oh” and non-alcoholic for those that are worried) it is too expensive for a major part of the population. Thus people just move in together because they can’t afford it or do it the traditional way which is exchanging gifts between families and the groom’s family comes to the Brides families house to take her away bringing gifts. In trying to be faithful to the Bible our Associate Pastor, Saide, and his wife, Noemia, decided to get married so that they can in turn marry the rest of the church, serve communion with a good conscience and lead by example. The rest will follow as funds permit and the church can help make it possible.

The following is a short account of the festivities:

Jenny had been commissioned to make the cake. We were told that it would just be one small cake and one larger one and fairly simple. However, two days before the wedding the other women of the church found out and came with all their opinions on how it should be and fairly soon we had a three tiered cake on our hands. We had quite a weekend trying to make the cake, finding the equipment to do so and preparing our house to host our CRs, Cheryl’s parents and our colleague, Brooke, as well. After burning one icing to the consistency of hard taffy, making a second icing that looked like runny milk and destroying two cakes, we finally completed the task. It was quite beautiful in spite of the circumstances. The weekend went quite smoothly and was enjoyable.

The festivities began at the church with people gathering and making food in huge pots, in a grass enclosure beside the church. I drove our MCC vehicle with singers singing all the way to the registration building in the center of town. Noemia and Saide arrived in a truck with all her family in the back. Everyone sang and threw rice as the couple walked to the registration, Saide in front and Noemia following, neither one smiling. They registered and left the building to much singing and entered our vehicle and I drove them and their Padrinhos (God-Parents) all the way to the church honking the horn with kids running and singing all around the car and the rest of the people following and singing behind.

I will explain what we understand about the Padrinhos. They are an older married couple that gives direction to the couple about how to be married and the also leads the couple through the ceremony. The couple cannot smile, talk or do anything for themselves until after the reception. The Padrinhos have to help them cut the cake, put the rings on and all the other activities. They do this because it is such a serious occasion in their life to smile or talk does not respect the seriousness of it. We actually were able to get Saide to smile a little when I gave him a thumbs up halfway through the wedding. It is so different than our American weddings were if we are not smiling people think something is wrong with us.

After arriving to the church they entered with rice flying and there was much singing and dancing. They sat on chairs in the front with two flower girls for the ceremony. There was a presentation of singing by the youth from both churches followed by a young women singing and dancing in front of the church. It kind of reminded me of someone doing interpretive dance for those who are familiar with that, but she was singing at the same time. Jenny and I read some of the verses that were presented at our wedding. Noemia and Saide were then married by the Associate Pastor of the Mennonite Church in Tete who had come down for the occasion. It was the first time he had ever done a wedding ceremony so it was a good thing for the Mennonite Church.

A few weeks ago I had posed a question to some of our Mozambican friends. “Do Mozambicans kiss?” I had never seen them kiss so I wondered if they don’t or if it is just out of the public’s sight. They kind of laughed and said that it is not really present much in their culture but that outside influences from Brazilian TV and the West are changing that. However, my answer was confirmed after the marriage ceremony as they kissed in front of the whole community. It was a better kiss than Jenny and I had at our wedding. The couple then came to the front and cut the cake and fed it to one another as well as a glass of Fanta (the soda, for some reason they always use it in weddings).

We then went outside where there was a man dancing on a table and singing and shouting with people all dancing around him. Evidently he is the entertainer who was to present the gifts that the bride’s family had brought for the couple. We were told he is an evangelist and we can see why. He was quite animated. To our eyes he seemed quite crazy. But I guess it is a thing they do at all weddings.

We then had a meal of “Sadza” (corn porridge) chicken, goat and cake. When all was done we drove the couple back to their home where the relatives of the couple carried them from the car to their house and we all retired to ours. What a day for them, the church and for all of us who were experiencing it for the first time!

Monday, July 16, 2007


Water…it’s necessary for every living thing. Our bodies are composed of mostly water. There are foods, like lettuce, that are mostly water with a bit of green. The earth itself is covered more in water than in land. Yet there are so many places that are suffering from lack of water. It’s hard to comprehend the enormity of how we desperately need water to live and how the really dry places survive most of the year without water.

The sand dam project is beginning. We, along with a group of people from the Christian Council of Mozambique (CCM), the local, district and provincial government, and two other MCCers journeyed to Mandie in the northern-most part of Manica province to scope out potential communities for sand dams.

We visited four communities…each with different needs but all with a similar problem—the lack of water. We visited to talk with community leaders about the possibility of building sand dams in their communities. We also looked at places where might be good locations for sand dams. We traipsed through underbrush, dry stream beds and rocks to look at spots where communities find water when they are desperate. Those who went to Kenya on the Sand Dam Tour were looking for good places to anchor a dam, where sand and water could collect and how close it was to a community. The rest of us followed, listened, and asked questions about the communities and about the process.

The communities were receptive to the idea. They are concerned about their lack of water. One community moved their animals (cattle and goats) about 15 km away so that the animals could find places to graze. Another community had a small harvest and so was concerned about how much food they would have. Another community has to walk 15 km to fetch water. Another dug an enormous hole—about two stories deep, 20 meters in diameter. They built steps to the bottom in the dirt with posts to hold onto. At the bottom were about 5 scoop holes where they get their water. They share this water source with another community about 40 km away. Several of the communities had lovely looking closed wells with pumps on them. But none of them were used because the water is too salty.

So, now the challenge is to help the communities to organize. They do all the work—digging a trench for the dam, collecting big rocks, carrying water to make cement, pouring cement (with the help of a hired mason), cooking for the workers and deciding who will be able to use the water generated by the sand dam. Our role is at the moment is working with CCM to organize the communities. Tony, another MCCer, and Joél will work a lot with the communities to build the actual dams. We will begin to spend quite a bit of time in the Mandie locality—dividing our time between Gondola and Mandie.

There are risks and challenges. There is the danger that the dams will not be completed before the rains begin around November 15 (they take approximately 3 months to complete in Kenya, but these are our first). There is the challenge of mobilizing communities to work together on a project where the results are not visible immediately (yes, they can see the dam, but the collection of water begins slowly and the dam “matures” several years in the future). There is the challenge of constructing the dams so that they hold and are not washed away by the water when it comes. And there is always the challenge of communicating cross culturally and in other languages.

But it is exciting. It is exciting to think how if this works, these communities can be transformed. That they might be able to bathe more frequently than once a week. That they will be able to raise crops to feed themselves year round. That their animals can be close to them where they can care for them. That children might grow up with clean water and not have to fight water born diseases as much. But that is all in the future.

In the meantime, so much to do…

View more pics at Flickr.

Bvumba Mountain Vacation

Our Room through the Garden

Ndundu Lodge

We took a vacation to Zimbabwe the week of July 1-7. We left Sunday and rode the “chapas” to the border. Taking a chapa anywhere is always an adventure and this didn’t disappoint us. We thought that leaving our house at 7 AM might be the time when the chapa from Gondola to Chimoio would fill quickly. Wrong. It took about an hour. Then when we got to Chimoio, we had to wait for a second chapa. On both chapas, we had to hold our backpacks on our laps (normal) and didn’t have any leg room (also normal). The chapa from Chimoio took about another hour to fill. It took longer to get out of Chimoio than the trip from Chimoio to the border (about 90 km).

We were told that it is better to have foreign currency in Zimbabwe because the currency is always changing in Zimbabwean dollars and we knew we could pay for our hotel in American dollars. We exchanged a small amount of our Mozambican Meticais for Zimbabwean dollars. We didn’t have any trouble crossing except for the $60 US visa charge into Zimbabwe. We didn’t know it would be so expensive. I guess the government has raised the visa’s recently. We caught a taxi into Mutare and spent the morning looking around and ate lunch. Jenny and I both decided that Mutare and the surrounding area was more developed than Shickley, Nebraska, or even York, Nebraska. Mutare is the third largest city in Zimbabwe but for a third world country it was very developed. They had huge supermarkets, nice multi story buildings, people were dressed to kill, nice stores, beautiful houses and very well laid out. The stores were beautiful, there weren’t bars on the windows, people’s outfits matched and not every woman over the age of 14 was carrying a baby on her back like here. It made us realize how poor Mozambique really is.

We caught a taxi up to the Bvumba and our hotel. The taxi’s ended up costing a lot more than what we were told so when we got to the hotel we decided to count our money. We realized, even though we had tried to be careful, we had exchanged $80 US dollars at the border and only received $60 dollars US worth of Zimbabwean dollars. We also realized in talking with people that the taxis had charged us two or three times the normal rate. The thing was that we were unable to know what the exchange rate was in order to guard against this because it is always changing. Another MCCer had been to Zimbabwe the previous week and said that they were exchanging informally at $200,000 Zimbabwean dollars to $1 American dollar but evidently the Zim dollar shot back up and so this week it was $150,000 Zimbabwean dollars to every $1 American dollar. The border exchange people gave us $100,000 for every 1 American dollar we realized. Everything was more expensive. What made things worse is that those prices are the black market prices, or informal prices, and it is illegal to change money outside of banks however the banks run at the government rate which is $250 Zimbabwean dollars to $1 American dollar. To put that in perspective, it means if you pay for toothpaste in Zim dollars at the black market rate you pay about $2 American dollars. If you pay in American dollars at the official government rate it would cost over $900 American dollars. We couldn’t believe it. Fortunately the hotels charged the unofficial rate of $150 Zim dollars to $1 American dollar however for meals it was $3 dollars more expensive to pay in American money. We kept asking people what the rate was but no one can tell you because every day it is changing. Jenny and I sat down to figure out what we did have and realized that any way we looked at it we didn’t have enough money to stay the whole week like we planned. We were pretty disappointed. We realized that we had American dollars which meant we would spend more, not enough Zim dollars to pay for meals and meticais which we though we could change at banks but because of the official rate it was worth nothing (maybe a few cents). Once we had it all figured out we stayed until Thursday and with a free ride from the worker at the lodge we made it back. It was kind of strange to be in this really beautiful, more developed and educated country and all we could thing of was how in Mozambique we knew how much things cost, how to get places, the money worked and everything is stable.

Anyway, the rest of the time was glorious. Our lodge, Ndundu lodge, was modeled after an English stone house with thatched roof but decorated with a definite African style with carvings all over. It had a lounge with a fireplace and a small restaurant. It was very cold most of the time but we had a fireplace in our room which we sat around in the evenings talking, took nice hot showers and ate really nice meals. Outside the lodge was lush and beautifully landscaped with trails into the cloud forest (a type of rainforest). Just up the road was a tea shop that was also modeled in the English style but the interior was not African with a stone fireplace, fancy chairs, artwork and beautifully large windows and landscaping. They had about a hundred different teas and wonderful chocolate cake and the owner was quite pleasant. He told us that he had been given notice that he needs to move. We are not sure if it from the government or not. We heard of a lot of farmers being told to leave in the area that are of European descent. We spent the first day hiking down the road to Leopard Rock Hotel which is a very fancy, expensive hotel, surrounded by lush cloud forests, world class golf course, beautifully landscaped lawns and an animal reserve. We saw three or four monkeys on the way and watched them for a little.

Golf Course at Leopard Rock Hotel

It was so nice to get out and walk and not be bothered by people watching us or asking us for money. In fact people didn’t look at us at all like they do in Mozambique. We felt normal again.

The second day we took another trail through lush rainforests and along a stream for the first part of the day and than we hiked to the top of a peak overlooking the other mountains and into Mozambique. It made us feel like we were in Colorado again. The mountains look about as large as the foothills of the Rockies and are much bigger than the Appalachians. The views were beautiful.

Views into Mozambique from the trail

Wednesday we went to the Bvumba Gardens which was a gift to the governor of Rhodesia before Independence. It was comprised of a few lakes, beautifully landscaped lawns with Mazes through Azaleas, beautiful landscaped rainforest with thousands of ferns of different varieties and Aloes with wonderful red flowers. It was very peaceful and we could hear the birds singing all around.

On Thursday we headed home and spent a few more hours in Mutare looking around in the stores. On Friday, for the rest of our vacation, we took the car and went out to eat West of town and bought some plants for our house. We also stopped by a nursery run by a Portuguese man who had beautiful plants and flowers. It was fun to talk to him because he loved to talk about plants and how to grow them. He said I should stop by sometime even if I just wanted to talk about plants.

It was good to get away, to visit another country, to speak English, to hike, to be in nature. We were able to relax and to play like we can’t do in Mozambique.

You can see more vacation pics at our Flickr website.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The White Girl Sits Alone

Some days I feel like I am playing the children’s game “Duck, Duck, Goose”. Only I am always the goose and no matter how hard I run I can never catch the person. Sometimes I am sitting in the middle of the circle, not knowing how I got here. Living here in Mozambique is like trying to figure out the rules of the game “Duck, Duck, Goose”. I desperately want to play the game, so I sit in the circle and I watch how people run around after tagging someone. Then someone tags me and suddenly I’m running how I’ve seen others run but for some reason I end up being put in the center without understanding why.

So, once again, I spent an afternoon sitting on the mound of dirt next to the door of the church. By this time, as many times as I’ve sat here on Thursday afternoons, I should have worn a butt mark in the mound or memorized which letters are missing from the letters of the name of the church on the door. I don’t have either done. Instead, I sit, waiting, half hoping no one comes so I can go home, but always glad when someone does arrive. I have learned to bring a book or a magazine with me. Sometimes the neighbor kids come up to me, to look at the pictures in Newsweek. The neighbors have become accustomed to me sitting here each Thursday afternoon. But passer-byers still “whisper” to each other mzungu (white person) when they see me. Depending on my mood, I will greet them with a Boa tarde! (Portuguese) or Maskati (Shiutewe) for good afternoon. Today I made people laugh by saying Maskati and knowing the proper responses afterwards.

I am an anomaly here. I’m still a girl in many people’s eyes here. I am two and half months shy of my 30th birthday but because I do not have children, I am still a child. Though, ironically, I am called mae (mother—used to address all women childbearing age and older) in the market. Sometimes I want to ask the speaker if they see any children with me and why they used “mother” to address me. I guess the common assumption is that all women have children, women being defined as age 14 and older. I’m asked if I have finished decima secunda (tenth second) the equivalent to 12th grade. It is a major accomplishment here for someone to finish decima segunda. How do I even begin to explain that most people in the United States have finished high school? I try to, I try to explain that because we haven’t had war in our country for years, most people have finished high school, but it is such a different concept to them that it almost doesn’t make sense to them. I don’t even begin to explain higher education.

I frequently do not know what to do. The only thing I know to do is show up. I am realizing that my Mennonite upbringing, thanks to my parents who at times dragged my brother and I to church every time there was a meeting, instilled that in me. I imagine that someday I will do that to my kids. So I go. Joél and I go to church when we do not feel like it; when we know that we will be sitting outside the locked church looking silly waiting for people to arrive. But we go because all we know to do is to show up. We wait a lot, once again trying to understand how we got to be sitting in the middle of the “Duck, Duck, Goose” game circle. Mozambican time is different. It’s never on time, though they desperately want to be on time. It seems like it is generally at least a half hour to an hour late and then they surprise us by showing up a half hour early randomly. Whoever arrives first (after we’ve been there since on time) complains how everyone else is late, with no apology for how late they are.

I wait for the women of the church to come. But today they don’t. I’ve sat on this red earth in three different positions for over an hour and I have lost feeling in my feet. No one is coming today. It’s after 3:30. Women’s Meeting didn’t happen today. I am the goose sitting in the center of the circle but all have left before we even got to play. I’m going home and will show up next week to play again. Maybe someday I’ll learn how to play the game.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

June 16, 2007

Mozambique ABCs

  1. “A final?” a frequent expression we hear that literally means “the end” but is used as “really?”
  2. Bicycle. The only real farm truck around. People carry everything from their fields with this contraption. I once saw a man with his son on the front and his wife on the back with the baby. It must have been the whole family.
  3. Capulanas. The traditional 2 meter length of fabric used as a skirt, head covering, baby carrier, cover for food, blanket, etc.
  4. Delton. Noemia’s 18 month old son who is constantly peaking over her shoulder when he is on her back. He’s beginning to feel comfortable in our house and is beginning to get into things. We have a few toys for him and after he leaves we find wooden blocks in places we didn’t even think he was in.
  5. Elephants. Apparently they exist in Mozambique, but not where we have seen them. Gorongosa National Park is supposed to be a haven for them. There are also lions, baboons and other monkeys in the park.
  6. Fourteen. The hour when most everything occurs in society, stores reopen, meetings are held, the hottest part of the day is subsiding, it’s okay to visit someone at that time.
  7. Glass. I took a chocolate cake to a women’s function in a pyrex baking dish. The women were surprised that there is glass that can withstand heat.
  8. Hair. Women do their hair in so many different ways. As I walk, I often see several women or girls sitting together doing each other’s hair. When people have disposable income, they buy extensions and make little tiny braids. I’m told that women can not grow their hair long so they use extensions. Men go to a barber and get it shaved. Joél went a few times and they used the electric razor on his hair too. It didn’t look as suave as Mozambican’s hair.
  9. Ice cream. We have found a few places that sell ice cream. Granted, it’s not Liks in Denver, but one place in Beira has vanilla ice cream that tastes how I imagine God wanted vanilla to taste. It’s a good treat once in a while.
  10. Jovens. Youth group at church. They meet every Saturday afternoon at 14:00. They study the Bible and prepare their songs for the next day. Sometimes they visit people in the community to evangelize.
  11. Kites. Children make kites out of paper bags, twigs and strings. As we walk to church we frequently see children flying their homemade kites or fixing them
  12. Loud. This is the loudest place I have ever lived. There is rarely silence. Sometimes I try to count all the noises that I hear. Once I got up to 7. Usual noises are roosters crowing, goats bleating, dogs barking, people yelling, tractor trailers driving past, flip flops walking past, neighbor’s radios, women washing cloths, women pounding corn, babies crying, grass burning (controlled burns) and the chapas attracting business by beeping their horns. I thought it would be quieter in the middle of the night, it is but once I was up at 3 AM and people were still talking outside and roosters were still crowing.
  13. Massa, shima, sadza, the name for the corn meal mush that is a staple in Mozambican’s diets. It’s served at every church function that involves a meal. People ground their corn into flour and make it with boiling water. There is an art to it, which we are still discovering. You can’t use a metal spoon and you have to know just the right amount of water and flour or it’s not right.
  14. “Nada” the response used when there isn’t something. It’s actually used more frequently than “não” (no).
  15. Occupations. In our MCC orientation in Akron, PA, we were challenged to make a list of occupations or how people make money for themselves. The presenter told us that poor people do a lot of work earn money. Here’s some occupations we encounter in the community and in the church: barber, butcher, housekeeper, fruit seller, water carrier, shop keeper, chapa (buses here) driver, cobrador (collects the fare on chapas), tailor, baker, grass mat maker, teacher, farmer, vendor in the market, and many more.
  16. Peace Corp We are getting to know a few Peace Corp workers. One lives down the road from us; another lived with a fellow MCCer in Chimoio. It’s been good to get to know other people committed to living in the community, doing service and learning all they can.
  17. Questions. We have so many questions about how to do our work. We want to make a difference and to be servants, but also have questions of empowerment, dependency, sustainability. What does it mean to be generous in a place so different? How do we understand the ways culture impacts people’s relationships (ours included)? How do we form positive relationships across difference?
  18. Running Water Gondola, though a substantial sized town, does not have a public water system. The few houses that do have running water have a large black tank on the roof or a nearby tower that is hooked up to a pump into a well that gives the house running water by gravity. For the rest of us, it’s carry 20 liter water jugs. I’m so thankful for someone who carries it for me.
  19. Shona. The mother language of Shiutewe and a predominant language in this area. We are trying to learn some of the local dialect but it’s difficult because Shiutewe is a conglomerate of other languages. We’re probably going to end up learning Shona because we can find some books to study. It’s one of the predominate languages in neighboring Zimbabwe. As we meet more Zimbabweans, we find out that few speak Portuguese but they are still able to get around in Mozambique because of Shona.
  20. Telenovelas. Mozambicans who have a television like watching Brazilian telenovelas. They are different than soap operas in the States in that they are only run for about 3 months with a definite beginning and ending point. While we lived with our host family, we bonded with them by watching one of the current ones just before supper each night.
  21. Umbrelas. It’s not the rainy season any more but I see just as many umbrellas. They are used for shading women as they walk with their babies or keeping the sun off fresh fruits sold by the side of the road.
  22. View. The view out our back porch is breath taking. On really clear days we can see a very distant mountain range. Most mornings we wake up to seeing a cloud of fog settled over the valley descending from our house (we live on a top of a hill). We overlook much of Gondola and can see the church from our veranda. (A few times we have used binoculars to check if people have arrived before we leave our house for church.) At night, because most of Gondola doesn’t have electricity, we can see the stars well.
  23. War. Mozambique suffered many years of war from the mid-1960s to the early 1990s. People are still recovering. They don’t talk about it a lot and many people we know were small children when it ended. People older than 25 talk more about it and how the country side suffered. We sometimes see buildings that still have that “bombed out” look. However, people are making strides to recover what was lost. They have hope for a better future and know that the suffering caused by the war was too much to repeat it again.
  24. Xixi Portuguese for the letter “x” pronounced “sheeshee”. Used to signify the topic or thing or amount in question.
  25. Yellow, teal and blue. The two cell phone companies seem to have a competition to see how many buildings they can get painted with their colors and ads. It certainly brightens buildings up between a fresh coat of paint and bright yellow and teal or royal blue.
  26. Zimbabwe. We live about an hour away from the Zimbabwean border. People tell us that there are more Zimbabweans coming into the country and settling around here (probably because they can communicate in Shona). Most MCCers in Mozambique go there for vacation.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Rio Savanne

This weekend we loaded up the cars on Saturday with all the MCCers as well as the country review team that has been spending the last two weeks with us in Mozambique and headed north to one of the many beaches on the Mozambican coast. This beach does not have the bluest waters of the beaches in Mozambique but it is not as well known and we had the beach to ourselves. We traveled an hour and a half through the palm forests and grass lands on a dirt road to a river. We crossed the river on a wooden boat. On the other side of a river was a bunch of buildings and wonderfully landscaped coconut groves. There was a restaurant, bungalows, cabins and places to camp all set in the midst of coconut trees, palms, flowers and miles of deserted beach. We were about the only ones on the beach in the afternoon. We had a little coffee in the morning and spent the morning on the sand and in the water. Jenny, Tony and I spent an hour developing systems to defend Jenny’s castle against the waves, failing in our attempt but finding much entertainment. The temperature was very moderate with a good breeze. The water was very comfortable for swimming and the waves were excellent for riding and playing. We ate a dinner of fresh shrimp and squid and spent the afternoon relaxing as well.

A bike and a little helper

We may have talked a little bit about our helpers around the house. We now have a few pictures to show you. Novencio is our water boy. We told a few people that we would have running water. We just didn’t know if it would be on it’s own or a boy “running” for it. Novencio comes every other day and carries four containers of water unless we have company when we ask if he would carry two more. He also carries any water that Noemia (our house help) needs for cleaning or washing clothes. Novencio is the oldest son of our Pastor here in Gondola. We are helping each other to learn Shitewe (the local dialect) and English along the way. I am also helping him to learn to type and to use the computer.

We also have another helper around the house (when he chooses to be). Noemia’s son, Delton. He is 18 months old and he goes around the house and shuts the doors and all the cupboard doors for us as well as rearranging the furniture for us. It has taken him a while to get used to us but now he finally comes to us when we call instead of running away to his mother.

Last week I finally bought a bicycle. I spent the following afternoon tightening bolts and adjusting the brakes to get it into top shape. We don’t have a car so it is important to have a bike in order to visit farmers’ fields that are a long way away or any other place we can’t reach by bus. We only have one bike so I am going to have to learn how to carry Jenny on the back like the other farmers or vice versa. She might have the stronger legs of the two of us. I am sure it will bring a lot of laughter, however, from all the people who watch us as I don’t see a lot of women carrying men on the back.

Joel’s Work

Gondola Typing School for Men – For anyone of you who have read “The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency” (A great series I would recommend) the fourth book is named “The Kalahari Typing School for Men”. I am doing just that. Teaching men how to type. Men of the church that is. On Mondays I am teaching typing to the leader of the Youth as well as another young man from our church. There seems to be a real lack of typing skills here in Mozambique and I see many people in the offices and even government who type with their index fingers. It costs people in Gondola one meticais every minute to use the computers at a store where they can type and print things. The young man is learning to type while he makes documents for the church. My hope is that in the future they can make their documents in less time with less cost because it is extremely expensive for the church. He also said that the church has more respect in the community if it can make type written documents instead of handwritten ones. They seem to be learning fast and are very interested in the rest of the computer.

Christian Council of Mozambique - My work as of now consists of helping the director put together written proposals for two projects that we will be starting in the next few years. They are both in the same area. One is a food security project which includes introducing new drought resistant crops, terracing land, AIDS and health education, introducing fruit trees, better farming techniques and much more in order to build the capacity of the community to withstand the next drought and feed themselves. We also have a second project to put sand dams in the same area to help with water needs. I have written more about sand dams and what they are in an earlier blog entry. Once we weed through the paperwork we hope to receive funding from Canadian Food Grains Bank and MCC and we will take a trip to the area (which is 5 hours away) to see the site and begin work.

Agriculture Work in Gondola - In Gondola I have had the time to visit a few farmers’ fields to see how they do things and to talk about their dreams. I have helped one farmer with a loan to buy seeds and a watering can so that he can grow more vegetables. Seeds are cheaper in the neighboring town of Chimoio but it costs money to get there so it is not always an option for farmers here. At times I bring things from Chimoio where they are cheaper.

Pastor Fernando and I have plans to start growing a few new plants for seed and experimenting in a little part of his field. It will help me to know how they do agriculture as well as to see what may work here in the future to help improve soils and crop production.

Igreja Evangélica Menonita - I continue to participate in the church and look for opportunities to support them in their growth and to walk alongside them as they try to follow Christ and grow. I preached for the first time ever and it went fairly well. Expectations do not seem to be quite as high since everyone is fairly young to faith and is learning at the same time. They have a time where the sick can come forward and we pray for them and I am often asked to do this.

We continue to look for ways to be involved. It is slow being in a new position but we ask that God would continue to show us how to serve.

Sewing machines, savings groups and slow-shows

I (Jenny) work with three different groups at the present time: a women’s group in Chimoio associated with the Christian Council of Mozambique, a group of people from the Mennonite church who are forming a savings group for themselves and the women of the church at the Mennonite church. Each group is vastly different.

CCM Women’s Group—This group of women meets every Saturday afternoon at 2 PM. Usually, it is me, the officers and a few other women, for about 8 women total. We take time to pray, to sing and someone usually shares a scripture and a brief message. The purpose of this group is two fold: to generate income for the women who attend by making and selling things and then to also make things for people (like orphans). We are in the process of getting sewing machines for them to further their work. They hope that by having several sewing machines that they will be able to make more things to sell and make some money.

They fear that not many women come because they are not doing a lot of activities. Their hope is that when they have the sewing machines then more women will join their group. We are working together to create some structure—like a calendar of activities, planning ahead for the sewing machine, and coming up with activities to do. My challenge has been learning how to ask good questions for planning.

The Savings Group—This group is in the beginning stages of this group. A savings group is a group of persons (usually 10-30) who gather together weekly to save money. Each week people bring a small amount decided on by the group to put into the savings pot. From the collective savings individuals can take out loans for about a month small business ventures. The group runs 8 months to a year and at the end, each person receives back all the money they saved plus any interest from the loans paid back (divided equally between all members). This is a way for communities to provide credit options for themselves when banks charge high interest rates or do not give small loans or loans without a prior credit history. Savings groups begin with outside help facilitating the meetings, but after one cycle are “launched” to independent groups who can decide to reconvene and start a new cycle. It is a way that people can save money for a significant event (wedding) or upcoming expenses (school supplies) without having the money in their house where they might use it or someone might ask for it from them.

The group at church has met a few times to understand the process of how savings groups work. They are at a point where they are going to talk with people and when they get a group of committed people together they are going to come back to me and we will begin the group. The process of explaining how savings groups work has used all my social work group facilitation skills as well as all my Portuguese vocabulary. I’m still amazed that they understood what I said and caught the vision!

The Mennonite Church Women—Each Thursday afternoon, women across Mozambique gather in their churches for a mid-week meeting. From what I understand, these meetings are for Bible Study, singing or teaching a craft or household things. The Mennonite Church in Gondola, too, tries to meet each Thursday. Apparently since the beginning of the church the women have not been able to consistently meet each Thursday. My experience has been generally one or two women come and we wait for others to come. A few times we have had about 6-8 women, we sang together, had a brief Bible study and prayer. Once they asked me to lead it. The topic they chose was how to respect their husbands! It was hard to know how to plan because I had only just arrived and barely knew their culture. We did a few dramas about how to show respect and they talked about what respecting their husbands means for them. They seemed to enjoy it.

I have enjoyed getting to know individual women as we have waited together for other women to come. It has been frustrating going, waiting, and some Thursdays no one comes. I am learning patience, to always take a book or something to do while I wait because often the women are arrive later than the 2 PM starting time. But like everything in the church, it is God’s group and we need to keep praying for guidance.

(Photo-a group of women walking past our house to the market to sell fruits)