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.