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