Thursday, December 18, 2008
It’s Thursday afternoon and they started Monday during the night and have basically not stopped since then. It’s a good soaking rain. During the periods when it hasn’t been raining, people have gone out to their fields and planted. The rains are good because it means that we’ll have rain this year and people can plant their corn (staple food) and will not have to fight hunger as much this year. Thank you God for hearing our prayers!
Sunday, December 14, 2008
We ask your prayers for the country. Beira, Tete and Chimoio (Gondola) have not received rain and it is dry. The rainy season normally begins in with a few good showers in October, some more substantial ones in November and December so that by January, we are regularly receiving rain. It has maybe it rained once but not enough. The seeds are dying in the ground and the corn is dying. People say that if the rain does not come by the New Year that it may not come at all or the corn will not have enough time to grow before the rains end. This would be devastating, I cannot imagine it. People are already hungry because of a poor harvest (due to too much rain last year). Please pray for rain!
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Sometimes the truth is shocking, shocking to the point of shaking the soul. Dividing the mind and spirit as the Bible puts it. There are those moments when the truth hits you and you wonder why you have never seen it before. “How could I have been so blind?” you think. I am reminded again and again how complex the world is and how little our human minds can really understand. It reminds me how much we need God and to trust him and his wisdom.
Where does this come from? Since coming to Mozambique I have had to confront on a daily basis the children that come and ask for money, for food, for candy or for pens. It is a constant question, do I give, or not. Why should I or should I not. Other missionaries will tell you, does not give to children. But, why not? It is a question that never ends or has good answers. We have trusted the advice of our missionary friends, at least most of the time.
Over the past few months I have come across candy in various ways. Why not give it to the children as I pass on the road. Give them a treat. I do not have food, but all children like candy, right? I pondered this over the last few weeks after having given to a few children. I started thinking about what we tell our children in North America. “Do not take candy (or other things) from strangers.” But surely in Africa we can give to children we do not know. They will be grateful, right? After all, they have nothing.
It just so happens I was having a conversation with a missionary that has been here for many years in Mozambique. She was telling us that she does not give candy to children. I asked why not. She said she does not want to train them to take things from strangers because hundreds of children are taken by strangers and sold into the sex slave industry by people who do that very same thing. She told the story of a pastor she knew who had lost a very young girl that very way. Fortunately she found her way back five years later, praise God!
The truth hit. Why would it be any different to accept candy from strangers here than in North America. There is no difference. But I am not a stranger, I am a good Christian man, I am not dangerous, I came from North America to help people in poverty, especially children. But to them there is no difference. I am a stranger. I am a foreigner, not to be trusted. By my giving I am just preparing them for the next person to come and offer a candy and take them away, destroying their life.
This also brings up other questions. Why would I do things in Africa that I would not do to in North America. Sometimes there are good reasons for this. Other times it is because we often do not really care about Africans. People are hungry, let’s get a shipment of food to them, meanwhile careless food distribution depresses the price of grain in the market putting farmers and merchants out of business and crippling them after the food distribution stops. What would happen if someone came to Nebraska and started giving grain to cattle farmers freely. The grain market would go down and the corn farmers would go out of business. There would be no-where to sell the corn. The market would be undercut. The grain farmers would be in uproar and it would cripple the local economy.
Granted this is a worst case scenario and I do not claim to know everything about farm economics in rural Nebraska. But this happens in Africa when we are not careful how we give. But they are poor we say. Yes, they are. But do we do in Africa what we would not do in our own communities. This is the big question for me. And when we do is that?
Maybe there are better ways to give.
God we need your wisdom to do your will in this complex world.
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
Sunday, December 07, 2008
What struck me most about the learning tour was...
This was one of the writing prompts (slightly adapted) that I gave the participants as a reflection exercise. The point was to just write whatever came to mind over a five minute period. So now as I reflect on the parts of the learning tour that I participated, this is what struck me most...
I was struck by the genuine concern of the participants for the people who they met. I had to remind myself that these are adults who chose to come, some doing fundraising in order to finance the trip, who have a vested interest in CFGB's activities because they donate money to CFGB and are not, as my past experience with short term trips, are teenagers coming to DOOR for a week (though in defense of youth groups, I had many enjoyable times with youth group reflections at DOOR). I was struck by the depth of their reflections that began to see the multi-faceted aspects of poverty and food security that exist here in Southern Africa.
I was struck how they prayed for the people and grappled with how best to give. I was struck by their reflections of what they will take home with them...stories of walking with their host families to fetch water, stories of spending a few nights separated from the group to live with a host family in Zambia, stories of their reaction to Tete's heat (coming in at 43 degrees celcius = something really hot in farenheit), stories of the hope they feel from the sand dams projects, how they wrestle with connecting what they have seen here with their communities back in Canada, and much more.
I was struck at how they shared where God met them. Showing them direction for their lives, to continue to be involved in CFGB Grow Projects.
I was struck by the laughter of the group. Joel had told me that they weren't really happy in Tete because of the heat (understandably so when coming from the cold of Canada a week earlier) but as our reflection time progressed, participants' senses of humor returned and we shared quite a bit of laughter (which was good for Joel and I because we tend to be too serious too much of the time). They were able to laugh at their miseries in Tete and uncomfortableness in their host families and see the good in those experiences.
I was struck how after the first morning of reflections, my immediate thought was this was worth it. Just being a part of the reflections, to hear what people were thinking, to hear what they experienced, to listen to their struggles as a group was worth all the daily headaches that I had endured since October when planning intensified and then in early November when Plan A was ditched for Plan B and the week prior to the trip when Plan B was ditched for Plan C and then while I worried in Beira how Joel was faring on Plan D. The reflection time was what I looked forward to the most throughout the planning process, the time of getting to know people, hearing their stories of what brought them to the learning tour, listening to what struck them and being able to offer a bit of what I've learned these past two years. The interchange between the community members and the participants, the interchange between the participants and the hosts-- CCM and MCC, that was what I looked forward to and that is what made it all worth it.
I was struck how the group was comprised of members of various churches. That they were unified in their prayers and care for one another and for the people they met, including us MCCers.
Now as they are on a plane back to Canada, I pray that they will be able to process all they have seen and heard and experienced and be able to communicate it to others, so that others have a better understanding of what life is like here in Zambia and Mozambique. I pray that they will share the hope that they saw along with the hardships, that they will be able to portray the dignity of the people that they met so that others see that too. I pray that God will continue to move in their lives and continue to call them to act justly, love mercy, and to walk humbly with their God.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
Back in April, I was asked to take part in organizing the Mozambique side of a learning tour for Canadian Food Grains Bank (CFGB-the organization that funds the sand dam projects). So over the past six months, I have had quite a few meetings with the CCM offices involved in hosting the group. In one of the emails between myself and the coordinator on the CFGB side, he asked on behalf of participants if we have any ideas for gifts that people can bring for the communities. I replied that I would talk with the CCM extension workers and get back to him.
So, in October, Joel and I sat down with the extension workers to plan the visit in to a sand dam community. I brought up the question of appropriate gifts and after a long discussion, the consensus from the extension workers was that it would be better if the group did not bring any gifts. Gifts, they thought, would complicate their working relationships with the community members and any future interactions between the communities and foriegners (including MCCers). They also said that gifts would cause division in the communities because those who did not receive a gift would be jealous of those who did and could harm relationships between community members and outside workers in the communities.
This week the learning tour is here. Due to some health issues, I am in Beira for the time being and Joel with the MCC rep are leading the tour. Joel texted the other day to ask if I would lead a discussion during the ending retreat about how giving is not always good.
Giving, we are taught, as children is good. It is better to give than receive. So how can giving not be positive? In North America, we give for all sorts of things...Christmas presents to the person who delivers our mail, collective gifts from staff to a boss for his/her birthday, checks to charities during a crisis, food to soup kitchens, hostest gifts when we go to someone's house for dinner or a weekend, not to mention, birthday and christmas and wedding and anniversary gifts to loved ones. Giving is part of our culture. So, it seems so counter intuitive to not give, especially when we visit another country, especially one that does not have as much as ours.
Joel and I struggle to know what to do with our tithe. Our annabaptist upbringing tells us to give it to our local congregation where we are involved. However, after almost two years with this local congregation, we've stopped giving our tithe there. The money (just a part of our tithe) that we put in the collection plate was four times larger than the rest of the offering. Our offerings allowed the church to do things that they would not have been able to do if we were not there and based on comments we heard, we ascertained that without a foriegners' offering, the church did not carry out its duties.
A comment that we have heard from visitors is that this is the only time I am here and so it is the only time I can give something away. It's hard to come from North America and be confronted with the poverty that is here in Mozambique. It's hard not to feel guilty about it and yet, is guilt a reason for giving? It's a reason, but is it honoring to God or to the person who will receive? Do we give to ease our conscience or to better others' lives?
How do we be generous in the face of poverty? We struggle with that question so much. How do we give in a way that will not perpetuate oppression? How do we give in a way that works at alleviating larger issues that create difficult situations for individuals? Will we be asked why we did not give to beggars when we stand before Jesus? I wonder that when I say no to a beggar because I'm in a hurry or just don't feel like giving that day.
For those who are on the CFGB learning tour, I want to thank you for coming. Thank you for coming and seeing what life is like. So that you can go back home and tell others. Thank you for donating money to CFGB so that it can fund projects like the sand dam and food security projects, that will impact a large number of people's lives and make systemic changes for the better. For those who give to your local congregations, thank you! Thank you for believing in the church and your church's ministries, whether locally or those that they send to missions. For those who give to organizations like MCC, thank you for giving money so that we can support projects like the Anglican education project that supports preschools in rural Mozambique where preschool children learn their alphabet before going to school, or projects like the United Church of Christ's savings group project, where the women's groups of various congregations are starting savings groups to better their own lives and reaching out to people in their communties.
It's a continual struggle. How to be generous and not create dependency or false expectations for the future or ease my guilt or give into the system that keeps people poor.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
It's been a while since we last posted anything here. We've been busy traveling, hosting guests, planning for a Canadian Food Grains Bank learning tour. There hasn't been a lot of quiet and I know myself well enough that without quiet spaces, there's not much room for reflection.
The past year or so, our schedule has been chock full of travel. Our neighbors probably think we don't like our house, we're gone so much. It's the nature of our work--working directly with communties and organizations that have interest in bettering their community's lives and that we as MCC can come along side them and support them. Unfortunately in a country as vast as Mozambique, it means ALOT of travel. Almost every foreign worker I know travels to some degree to work with communities, whether doing pastor trainings, development work, HIV trainings, etc. And all the MCCers travel.
So, over the past year, Joel and I have gotten to know the road to Mandie well, now lately, the road to Tete, the road to Beira and the road to Sinhara (where my savings group is). The idea of traveling for work is exotic. But after my previous job where I had to travel, it quickly got old here because travel in Mozambique, no matter, how nice your vehicle is, the trip is always full of precautions--people walking along side of the road, goats wandering in the lane of traffic, potholes, slow drivers, large tractor trailers taking up too much of their side of the road. At any rate, whenever you arrive somewhere, you are Tired!
In October, we traveled to Cape Town, South Africa for a conference on Program, Monitoring, Evaluating and Reporting. First off, air travel is the way to go. We got there with more energy than we do after driving 3 hours to Beira! While we were there, though it was an intensive seminar, we got more rested than we do in a normal week at home in Gondola because it was quiet--no roosters, no loud music, no neighbors talking late into the night and then yelling at each other before 6 in the morning, space to take walks without being noticed.
One of the concepts that was discussed at the seminar was the idea of what the presenters called a "Home Week". It's a week where they as an organization are all at "home" in the office. No is traveling, and they intentionally sit down and reflect on their activities and what they are learning. From those conversations they set their direction for the future. It appeals to Joel and I who have a full schedule traveling to various ends of the nearby provinces. A week of quiet; a week of reflection; a week of intentional reading. We scheduled several reflection days for ourselves over the next six months. Perhaps, we'll have more blog posts out of those days!
It reminds me of Isaiah 30:15
This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israels says: "In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength"
After the learning tour is over, we are determined to slow our life down. Not so many trips, not always on the go, and more time to just be. The culture here doesn't do well with always being busy. And frankly, neither do we. We need the quiet to find our strength and time to reflect. We need to slow down to take care of ourselves (because if we don't, no one here will) and we need the time for quiet to connect with God.
My body craves the quiet. If I go too long without quiet, I feel it in my shoulders and neck muscles. I can not think connectedly. I can not journal to refresh my soul. Ironically, here in Mozambique, the city is the quietest place, the country is the noisest. I am learning to carry ear plugs with me on my travels and the formerly dreaded white noise of a fan, drowns out interuptions when I want to sleep. Unfortuately, it is also hot here, so closing the windows to noises is not always feasible.
Thus our travels to South Africa rejuvinated our souls and bodies. It was as quiet as America. I have read that America is startling anticeptic-- meaning it's so clean and devoid of humanity's muck, in comparrison to a place like Africa where humanity reaches out to you at every sensory consciousness. Here you walk down the street and can not help but get your feet dirty--dust, sewage (some places), puddles (if the rainy season), smells surround you--fire for cooking, sweat, urine; tastes--if the smells are poignent, they make their way to your mouth, dust; sight of course--mothers walking with babies strapped to their backs, bicycles carrying charcoal, people talking to one another, women braiding each others' hair; and hearing--constant conversations, flip flops on the pavement, traffic, loud radios, goats bleating, dogs barking. It's as if the noise never stops, even when the people go to bed because that's when the lazy dogs decide it's time to howl.
I miss the quiet and sometimes I dream of going to Joel's parents' house in Nebraska and just sitting in the quiet, letting it wash over me, going to sleep in the quiet and waking up in the quiet. I told them that and they said I'm welcome any time, but if I'm there longer than 3 months, Joel'll have to work. When I get back to the States, I'm gonna take them up on it, but maybe only for a week, and then I'll make noise playing the piano!
* The picture is a photo of the town where the seminar was. It was on the coast and there were mountains on one side, the coast on the otherside. It was lovely.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Dried beans are prevalent and cheap here. But to cook beans takes a lot of time. People generally start cooking beans at 9:00 for a 12:00-1:00 lunch. If you soak them overnight, it takes off 2 hours but one’s still cooking for an hour and a half. Once we bought a kilo of black beans, soaked them, cooked them all at one time and froze them in 2 cup increments. That worked so well, that we decided to try it again with butter beans. Then we discovered a pressure cooker. Instead of having to cook them for an hour and half after soaking, all we did was soak them overnight, cook them for 10 minutes and wa-la! Done beans, 8 2-cup bags of beans in the freezer ready to be used! Hurray!
Friday, October 17, 2008
Today marks the two year anniversary of our MCC term. It’s hard to believe that it has been two years since we entered orientation in Akron and yet two years seems a short amount of time for all we’ve experienced. Here’s some of the things I’ve learned over the past two years:
- I didn’t like roosters in Russia; I still don’t. They don’t just crow at dawn, they crow in the middle of the night, in the middle of the day, whenever one feels like asserting his kingship on all the surrounding countryside. Then the others, have to assert theirs. Their continual crowing gives me headaches.
- The scenery in Mozambique changes quickly—sandy plains to hilly red dirt, to dry, dusty brown.
- God is always faithful.
- Each person has different gifts and when we use our gifts, it creates unity and builds God’s Kingdom.
- I really appreciate a cup of tea with a bit of milk and sometimes a bit of sugar. It has come to be something that helps me relax.
- The country side in Mozambique is beautiful around Gondola and Chimoio, some of the prettiest in the country that I’ve seen, though each region has its own beauty.
- The devil attacks a society where it makes sense in that society. Here in the spirit world, with jealousy, theft. In the States, excess, apathy, comfort.
- Water is wasted by whomever has unlimited access to it.
- Social change is inextricably linked to spiritual transformation and visa versa.
- The big African 5 animals are advertised as the lion, elephant, giraffe, rhino, and zebra. Joél says that the African 5 are instead the chicken, goat, pig, cow and guinea fowl.
- Literacy is more than the ability to read—it’s also having confidence and/or a desire to use it because without practice, it is lost.
- Many people speak several different languages.
- I prefer to wear pants (though sometimes it’s so hot, a skirt is cooler).
- Though I do not like hot days, there are advantages to living in a tropical climate—fruit, outdoor living spaces, outdoor cafes, beautiful flowers and landscaping, palm trees.
- I can live without running water and random electricity outages and keep going with life.
- I like having a relationship with the owner of the store where I buy the majority of my groceries.
- I like shopping in open air vegetable markets.
- Worship is most meaningful to me when I understand the words.
- I like cooking.
- I like experimenting with new recipes; but can not make up new recipes.
- I like watching people grow, become empowered, become more confident in who they are.
- I like learning Portuguese.
- I really appreciate the Bible Study that we attend where there are missionaries and development workers from all over the world coming together to worship and pray.
- I don’t really like driving here—too many people on the sides of the roads who can unexpectedly dart across the road, not to mention goats, chickens or cattle.
- Always wear a scarf when riding in a car without air conditioning. It prevents fly away hair and protects from dust.
- People do not always eat three meals a day. Sometimes on purpose, sometimes they don’t pack food with them, sometimes because they do not have enough.
- I really appreciate a hot shower.
- Cheap conditioners for hair don’t work well.
- Sun screen is necessary.
- People working together can better their lives if they are committed to working together (to better their lives).
- Savings groups work, but better in the country than in the city.
- People do not always know what they want.
- Prayer works.
- Giving to a beggar is complicated. I’m beginning to think that it may perpetuate the violence of poverty instead of meeting the needs.
- It’s hard, but necessary to look for the underlying emotions/circumstances in order to understand what is really being said instead of jumping to conclusions.
- There is need to meet suffering in the short and long term, sometimes at the same time.
- Suffering is real to whatever extent a person feels pain. We cannot compare our pain. But we can live with awareness of others’ sufferings and look beyond ourselves to see how Jesus is working in the lives of others.
- God is bigger than all our lives.
In August, the MCC team received a SALT (Serving And Learning Together) participant. She is working in Tete with CCM Tete on their sand dam project. She's a civil engineer. She’s living with a host family and is progressing quite well in Portuguese. We’re glad you’re here, Holly!
Two weeks ago, our beloved neighbors moved. Now when we lock our grate each night, Maria’s not there cooking. Or during the day, Gercia and Mila are not playing on their veranda or Dona Teresa and Manuel doing house work or Sandra getting ready for school or Rodrigues telling us about public health. They moved on a Saturday and two days later a Zimbabwean man and his child moved in. They are gone most of the day and so it’s much quieter. Though there were times I was tired of always greeting our neighbors, now that they’re gone, I miss knowing that I can go out on my veranda and just chat with them. They moved a block away, but it’s not the same as the daily interactions.
Sara’s MCC term is over. She’s leaving Moz on Sunday. She’s been a calming presence on our team as we all went through the waves of culture shock at the same time. She’s done a fantastic job with the Anglican Education Program, helping them fortify 13 preschools through teacher trainings, ideas for toys and, curriculum development. She’s a great cook (makes a mean chocolate cake). She’s been a great friend and we will miss her.
Friday, September 26, 2008
I am realizing how much of the good news of the Gospel is a transformative change comprised of spiritual growth with social justice. Lasting changes will not occur unless both components are present. As I work here, and I see it most clearly with the church, spiritual transformation is necessary for social justice and social justice will not endure without the spiritual transformation. The good news that Jesus preached was as much about feeding the hungry and clothing the naked as nurturing the soul. That said, all Christians are called to join in Christ’s work and to use their gifts to build his kingdom because one person can not embody the total needed for transformation. Secondly, social justice is more than the surface as people here believe. Social justice needs to be at a deeper level than just giving money to a beggar, it needs to look at the reasons why that person is begging or why a group is disempowered and dependent on outside help. Transformative social justice needs to work at various levels of society—feeding the hungry in the immediate time, but concentrating more efforts on helping people feed themselves. For when people are able to care for their basic needs, they can begin to look beyond themselves and help others with both the immediate and the long term. I think that is one reason I really believe in savings groups because it meets people where they are and answers some of the immediate questions but in the long term teaches and empowers groups and individuals to change their lives and their communities.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Huskers Fans Can Mourn
Over the course of the first year I had been trying to count the number of Huskers t-shirts that I have seen people wearing as I walk on the street. I was trying to see if I saw more Husker t-shirts than Oklahoma, Colorado, Texas and “heaven forbid” a Florida team. Fortunately for us, I have not seen many Florida teams but I have seen just as many Colorado and Oklahoma t-shirts and even worse Iowa. I was very thankful for the Husker t-shirt my mother gave me that I have been wearing proudly ever since. I believe it was a wise man that said once that you should “Preach the gospel at all times and use words if necessary”. I try to use his advice.
However, I have run into a little problem as of late. We had traveled to the mountains with Jenny’s parents to visit an old mansion and gardens when they were here. There was a little hike with a waterfall at the end which we wanted to see. We proceeded to ask the gardener if he could take us there and he said he could for 25 meticais each (1 dollar).
“But” he said, “You cannot go there with a red shirt.”
“Why?” I replied.
“They will not like it,” was his reply.
They would not like it. How could this be? I asked him who “they” were and he said,
“They that live up there”
But no one lives there, I thought. Then it dawned on me, he meant the spirits. Great the spirits do not like Nebraska red. Of course I believe the power of Jesus is stronger than any spirits but out of respect for the man I decided I better change. Besides, Nebraska has not done well the last few years and if anything could anger the spirits that could and I could not blame them.
Thus, all Nebraskans can mourn because we will not be getting any more fans here.
Sand Dams are Still Working
I believe I wrote an entry a few months ago on the results I was seeing in the community of Thangera. I had posted two pictures showing the resulting difference in that community from last July to this July. They had dug down 6 meters to get water by last July but as of this year they still had water one meter down in the hole. This was quite exciting for us as well for them. They are now quite motivated in digging making a second and all the communities around them are eager to build their own as well so things are rolling this year. It is also much easier this year as things are much more organized and CCM’s capacity is greater.
Well I have even better news. It is now two months later and Thangera still has water a meter down and there is so much water that they are all building brick houses. Without the water they could not have make the bricks. Other communities have already seen these results and have moved their fields near the new dam sites before the dams have even been built in expectation of the coming water. This could be a challenge if we do not get the results we hope for but it does mean the people are seeing positive results.
We have one piece of sad news. The village of Tchinda which has been featured in many blog entries before and who has an ideal functioning dam with water behind it is not utilizing the water at all. The dam sits there with lots of water and the community has done nothing. It goes to show that some communities take advantage of what comes there way and others don’t. As the old saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” Our hope, though, is that eventually someone will wake up and decide to use the resource that is available for them and fortunately a dam will be around a long time waiting for them and will not disappear overnight. Maybe once the communities around them all have water and are taking advantage of it they will wake up.
Meanwhile, Thangera is moving forward and people are benefiting. A lot of the credit goes to the chief of that community who is quite motivated and a good leader.
Things I’m thankful for
Some days when I journal I make a list of things I am thankful. I notice on the days that I do, I have a better outlook on life than when I don’t even if I don’t think about my list beyond the actual writing it in my journal. Here are some of the things I’ve been thankful for during the past month:
- A favorite dress
- Feeling good about my work
- Snail mail letters from friends
- The group of missionary-types that meets together for worship every two weeks
- A morning to talk with Joél
- Good reading material (I was reading God’s Smuggler by Brother Andrew)
- French toast
- A cup of tea
- Green beans
- Encouragement from our MCC reps who have given us a lot of affirmation since their return from their home leave
- Cereal for breakfast (a treat here!)
- My parents’ visit
- Seeing azaleas (when we visited the ruins of a mansion with immense flower gardens close to the Zim border with Brooke, Sara and my parents)
- Migraine medicine (It helps fight them. Of course, I don’t help myself when I eat chocolate)
- A supportive husband
- God’s faithfulness
- Nice weather
- That someone came to visit us and not to ask something from us (referring to my parents’ visit)
- Clean water for bathing
- That I don’t have to do our laundry by hand
- That the pastor at the Mennonite church is assuming a more Godly leadership role
- Bright sunny, slow breakfasts
- Rest time (siestas) in the afternoons
- Enough water
A few weeks ago, I received a text message about my savings group in Sinhara. I’ve been working with them over the past several months organizing their savings group. The text message informed me that their community had suffered heavy losses from the run away fires on that crazy Monday where the smoke was so thick it looked like it was snowing. Those fires, we later learned covered much of the two central provinces, in many communities where MCC partners work. Several people in their communities lost their houses, entire year’s grain supplies. One of the Anglican preschool teachers lost 8 metric tons of corn, house and all her belongings. The savings group’s box burned and all the money in it.
So, Joél, my parents and I went to visit the savings group. When we got there, the Anglican church which usually has a thatched roof with an open roof veranda area, was the opposite—roofed veranda area and no roof over the sanctuary part. The fires had destroyed the roof and the group had put a light thatch roof on veranda area in anticipation of our visit.
Since July, the group of 15 people had saved 5795 meticais (about $244 USD), 702 meticais (about $29.50 USD) in the social fund (to help with emergencies), 400 meticais (about $16.85 USD) in interest from loans that people had taken out, and 100 meticais (about $4.20 USD) in fines to group members. This is a considerable amount for a group this size to accumulate in two months. In the fires, they lost their box of money, except for 136 meticais in coins and one 100 meticais note burned in two places and 700 meticais that someone has out as a loan.
I asked what they wanted to do with their group. They said they wanted to continue. I clarified, keep going now or next year? No, they wanted to keep going now. So I asked what they needed to start over – a box. We then remembered together the rules of the group because the secretary’s book with the rules, all accounts and register of members, burned too. They added rules and I think this time around their rules give the group better parameters – they’ve learned from their experience already. They decided to meet separately with the secretary (who was absent that day) to review their accounts.
We were at the end of our meeting when I brought out a new box for them. The mood of the group completely changed. They went from being just survivors and moving on to being joyful. My mom said that their faces shone when they saw me walking from the truck back to the church with the box in my hand (when I learned that their box burned in the fires, I decided to bring them a new box). It made their day.
I like days like that. It’s really sad how the fires destroyed people’s homes, food supplies and communities. But what was good was to see how the community came together. They had seen how the savings group could really help them. Even though they didn’t have a box, lost almost all their savings, they wanted to continue. The fires can’t quench that kind of flame, the flame of hope, empowerment and knowledge.
Wednesday, September 03, 2008
I do not know what is happening this year. It may be the dryness of the season, the perpetual dust or the smoke filled air but I have had persistant eye problems since the onset of the dry season. Maybe it is that I have been working in the field. There is a type of bean that when you touch it you itch uncontrollably. People here call it "Feijao malouco" or crazy beans. Seriously, you will go crazy if you come into contact with it. You itch uncontrollably and by itching spread it to other parts of your body. You have to wash your clothes a special way to get it out. During the dry season it is even worse because on windy days it can fly through the air and it can get you without having touched the horrid thing.
Whether crazy beans or not my eyes have seen better days. First it was my right eye swelling up like I had been hit by someone. (Someone asked if Jenny had been upset at me.) Then a spot swelled on the bottom eyelid. Someone told me it could have been a fly that laid its eggs in my eye. Scary. From time to time my eyes will hurt and get red. Maybe allergies? I had problems with this as a kid and being an agriculture consultant I spend much time out in the fields and the bush. It is my job so I have to put up with dust and allergies from time to time.
I finally decided to go to the doctor. Mozambique has a universal health care system provided by the state. It is great because it is free health care. Great! I thought. I waited 5 hours. (1 to have my vision checked, 2 until all 50 of us were seen by the doctor and then another 2 until everyone had been checked and we could get our prescriptions. I think this may change my mind from state offered health care to private.
So I finally get to see the doctor for a total of 30 seconds. I have seen cattle run through the shoot at my father's farm getting better attention than that. The doctor asked, "Are you working in the fields much." Yes, I said," I am an agronomist." Doctor "Well you shouldn't work in the fields so much and stay out of the dust." Again, I am an agronomist working in a development organization. I think that is possible? And by the way tell the guys up the road to stop burning the bush it is really starting to get irritating. Literally
My parents are arriving tomorrow. It seems a little surreal that my parents are on a plane flying over the great continent of Africa and will be arriving in less than 24 hours here in Beira. I'm getting excited to see them. I am trying to figure out things to do while I wait but end up taking advantage of the MCC office's high speed internet and catching up with friends blogs.
About two weeks ago, I was waiting for the same flight from Johannesburg. Only this time instead of waiting for someone I've known a long time, I waited for someone I had never met -- a new MCCer. And as things happen here, her plane was late and there are no monitors in the Beira airport to let you know what is happening with the flight. So there on the breezy balcony facing the tarmac , were all of us waiting for someone to arrive on the plane from Johannesburg. After a while most of us made our way over to the cafe to wait, accompanied by a Coke. Finally, an hour late, the plane landed and we once again all leaned over the railing to see the passengers. Then we descended the stairs to greet our people who had arrived. I tried to guess who my new co-worker was and eventually caught sight of her just as she came out the door, but without her luggage. The only things that made it on the plane was her guitar and her carry on. We filled out the paperwork and then spent the next 24 hours waiting until the next flight from Johannesburg arrived. Fortunately, both of her bags arrived and we were able to leave that afternoon for Gondola.
The interesting thing about living in a country like Mozambique that is somewhat remote, is how frequently flights arrive from international locations. I'm sure that there are daily flights into Maputo, the capital, which is about an hour away from South Africa. But here in Beira, the second largest city in the country, there are 3-4 flights a week in and out of country and they always arrive at the same time - 12:40 PM. The airport is so small - one gate, one turnstile for luggage, one restaurant, two airlines and lots of vacant space. When one boards or disembarks from a plane, all the passengers walk directly out on the tarmac. The little kiosks shut down between the hours of 12-2 each day like stores in the city. Between flights the airport is empty of people except the employees. It's so different than the airports I flew in and out of for my previous job that were filled with people all hours of the day, brightly lit restaurants and boutiques, computer monitors broadcasting the status of flights all over the country and 24 hour CNN giving the breaking news of the minute. But then again, those airports don't charge 10 meticais for parking ($.40 USD) or empty out on a road lined with palm trees, rice patties, and people on the bikes. It seems like there should be a huge "Welcome to Mozambique" sign as one exists the airport. There isn't one but it's definitely obvious.
Monday, September 01, 2008
It’s burning season again. It began a few weeks ago, but suddenly every afternoon the air is filled completely with smoke. The sun sets in the middle of the sky, a magenta ball disappearing into the smoky haze, which burns our eyes when we walk outside.
The government has public service announcements on the radio telling people not to burn their fields but they still do. It’s hard to monitor people’s actions and there seems so little fire safety knowledge of when and how to set fires. They burn their fields to clear them and to catch field mice and large rats for consumption. When last year’s harvest is running out several months after the harvest, people are desperate. The burning seems worse than last year.
Today was especially bad. We had a strong wind all day and by 10 AM the sky was so smoky that it looked like it should be snowing. We shut our windows and even so, ash blew inside. Our veranda collected ash like it would if we had a light snow and wind. When I drove from Chimoio, whole valleys were filled with smoke and other fires were burning. I had to use my lights to see through the smoke at some places.
Novencio brought us news that uncontrolled fires from some neighbor far away burned part of his family’s fields three other neighbors lost their homes from the fire. His father, who has spent years building an extensive orchard lost quite a few fruit trees to the fires. The fires devastate the land but when they are out of control others loose their land, precious fruit trees, houses, and livestock.
…that the 15th of August ends the cold season and starts the hot season. This year that day was pivotal. It indeed was a lot hotter on the 15th than the 14th and has remained so.
…that they’ll come. But they don’t come. How do we learn how to ask questions that will get the truth and not the words we want to hear?
…9 o’clock promptly and then don’t show up until after 9:30. How are we to teach Sunday School when they don’t come on time then complain that church goes too long (forgetting that if they’d come on time, church would end earlier)?
…that if we create the sewing project the CCM Women’s group will be full of women coming to learn how to sew. The project officially began in February and during the past two months, they’ve been regularly meeting. But it’s not full. It’s only the same 5 women who came other times. Even the leadership doesn’t regularly come.
…that they’ll teach each other how to sew. But two weeks ago, they told me that the ones who know how to sew can’t teach the others. So, now I’m giving impromptu lessons (thanks, Mom, for teaching me to sew during those hot, sticky Pennsylvania summers) and when my Mom comes this week we’ll teach together. What do I believe? How do I push them to step up and teach each other what they do know?
…that it’s a bad year because April’s harvest was scarce. I see plenty of food in the markets, but I know that not everyone is able to purchase the fresh vegetables. And more importantly, because the corn harvest was ruined by too much rain, people have to purchase their most basic grain to make shima (corn meal mush) before even purchasing caril (the sauce they put on top of the shima). Not everyone can afford both, so they opt for shima because it fills their bellies.
…that there are bands of robbers roaming the streets of Gondola. Normally there is more thievery around the holiday season when people are celebrating and others are experiencing the hungry season. This year the hungry season is starting earlier because of the harvest. Our neighbors are talking about going in together to pay for a night guard because several marauding bands have walked through our courtyard (not properly fenced) and peeped in our neighbors windows, assessed our car parked outside and left. We continue to pray for protection.
…that funds are coming for a pilot sand dam project in Tete province to the north. I am still waiting and so are the communities and our partner.
…that public water is coming to our house. We are still waiting for it to arrive on our street.
…that the plumber will come to connect the pipes to our house. We are still waiting.
…the government is campaigning to stop burning the fields as it is bad for the fertility of the soil and the environment. Everyone you ask tells you it is bad to burn the fields and other people who are not as smart as they are the ones that burn. But the sun sets at 5:00 behind a haze of smoke in the middle of the sky. My eyes are burning from the smoke.
…they say they could not make it to church. It was the devil they said. If we follow Jesus why are we still listening to the devil?
…it’s a hungry year. But people are still dancing in the church.
…that God does not work anymore. But the church once frustrated and stopped is moving. People are rejoicing. Lives are changed. Fields are blossoming with vegetables. Our hearts are at peace.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
We who do this work of development always are looking for proof that our work is paying off and that people’s lives are improving. After all, that is what we are working for. It is easy to get lost in the work and forget that the real reason we are doing it is so people live better healthier lives and that God will receive praise.
I visited the Sand Dam communities once again crossing my fingers since July was the first time we entered the communities a year ago to introduce them to the sand dam concept. Here it is a year later. What changes will happen? Will they be positive? Will the communities be happy with the changes, will it be life as normal without water or worse yet will they be yet upset and discouraged as yet an organization has come to help them without results. The last is my biggest fear. Fortunately I was pleasantly surprised. When I had traveled a few months ago I had heard community leaders in Tchinda and Thangera say they were tired from work and I never really received good answers to my questions about whether there was a change this year. That trip was after the rainy season when the communities normally have water. This trip, however, has entered the time when the water sources should already be drying up. In both of the communities we heard much encouragement. The leaders say people are happy. Tchinda still has water behind the dam at this point. The evidence is tomatoes that are still growing behind the dam. This would have been impossible last year. Thangera had dug down 7 meters into the river to get water at the beginning of last year when we had visited. This year they are just beginning to dig at the end of July. I included pictures to show the difference. Over the next few years as the sand fills behind the dam this should get even better.
Praise God it is working! Let us continue.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Our church has had two deaths this week. Sunday evening, an older woman passed away. She had been sick for a while and every Sunday for the past month, people had gone after church to pray for her. Her husband took care of her and some of her daughters, but a few weeks ago the daughters stopped coming daily to bathe her. On Sunday, she passed away. Joél went to the initial sitting with the family on Sunday evening. The final prayer (they have three days of prayer—the funeral and then prayers for the next two days) was yesterday. She was baptized in the church and was ready to go to heaven.
Then this morning (Thursday), a young man from the church passed away. He was the husband of one of the women who comes to church. He died from malaria. He leaves three small children, Musa, age 5, Fiusha, age 3 and Moises, 7 months. It’s heavy. So unexpected, so young, what will Jilda, his wife do?
I’ll go visit the family later today. In this culture, it’s important that someone from families nearby makes an appearance at funerals. Joél’s presence Sunday night was sufficient for that passing. I’ll go today for this family.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
- Our beloved next door neighbors are moving. Our neighbors who have so patiently explained much of culture, where to get things done in Gondola, talked with us despite our pitiful Portuguese. The landlord wants the house back for his son who is getting married.
- The Pastor at the Mennonite church is getting officially married. He’s been married traditionally for over 20 years but wants to get married officially and in the church.
- Our co-MCC, Sara is preparing to leave in October. She’s been here four years and has been a steady influence of calm and positive thinking as the rest of us have battled culture shock. We’re already mourning her leaving and cherishing the remaining time with her.
- We will be getting a new person on our team in August. This will be the first time we will have a person with the SALT program since Joél and I have arrived. I have the privilege of working with her to help her adjust. I’m looking forward to it.
I recently read an article about a couple whose vacation started off with several predicaments that “shouldn’t” happen on vacation – being so hot that they went to sleep with a bottle of ice, and other adventures. The couple was able to laugh about it after it happened and mused that only them had crazy vacations. Our recent vacation mimicked their vacation in craziness, Mozambican style.
It sounded like it was going to be a lovely vacation, 10 days on the coastline of Northern Mozambique, where there are reefs, blue waters and white beaches. We should have known when we planned to get there by chapa. But we thought, this will be an adventure and it was!
It began our first chapa, Chimoio to Quelimane. The day prior to leaving, we bought our tickets, procured our seats – the back two next to the window. The people who sold the tickets said that the back seat would only have five people, there were five numbers that indicated seats, and so we trusted them. When we arrived at 5 AM, there were already four people in the back row, one couple, a child and a Zimbabwean woman. The couple claimed that they bought a seat for the child. We and the Zimbabwean were befuddled and endured a cramped journey of 10 hours in the back row. But we were on vacation and once the child fell asleep her guardians seemed to make more room for the rest of us. The highlight of the trip was the ferry crossing at the Zambezi River. There was a bridge but it was destroyed during the war, so for now until the next bridge is completed (which is 60% finished), people cross the river on a ferry. We got to Quelimane, found a Pensão, (inn) walked around the city and then went back to the bus station to buy our tickets for the next chapa.
Enter adventure #2. The bus from Nampula arrived around 4:30 and there was already a small crowd waiting to buy tickets. Somehow, when the line formed, I was able to be one of the first (a major accomplishment for me who does not usually assert myself in crowds). I bought the tickets, asked the cobrador (fare collector) if our seats were secure and when the bus was leaving in the morning. In the morning, we caught a taxi and arrived about an hour prior to leaving the station. Already the bus was packed with people who had spent the night on the bus and we managed to find two spaces in the overhead compartment for our two backpacks. We sat down, delighted with comfortable seats, two seats together and got comfortable.
Comfort? Hah! We were on the chapa that never ends. Perhaps we were in our own little two seat world, but Moz pushed in on us in the form of people standing in the isle, the bus stopping at every single solitary bush, goat, cat, village that remotely waved it’s arm. It took us 5 hours to go 140 kilometers (79.5 miles). And that was only one third of the way. During that five hours, the bus had problems with the storage compartments randomly opening and we had to stop a few times to shut them and then eventually tie them. Once a sack of rice fell out and was picked up by a biker who claimed he didn’t know where it came from. The cobrador and others from the bus took a while but eventually convinced him to return the sack. We finally rolled into town around 5:00 and by the time we were able to get off the bus, it was dark so we wandered around the dark, unknown town trying to find our way to our hotel.
The next two days were spent traveling to and enjoying the Ilha de Mocambique (Island of Mozambique). It was until the mid-1800’s the Portuguese capital of Moz. The island nowadays is half a crowded fishing village and the other half the remains of the Portuguese capital city. We thoroughly enjoyed walking through the tiny allies, traversing the island and watching the sunset over the blue waters of the straight between the island and the continent (as locals called it).
After two days, we again caught a chapa (ironically the exact same bus and coincidentally sat in the exact same seats). This time we got off at Monapo, the crossroads town for transport to the Ilha or onto Nacala. We caught an open air chapa, whose fare collector connivingly tried to collect twenty (almost $1) extra meticais from us knowing that we were foreigners. But we had been advised and paid the usual fare. We made it to Nacala, thoroughly windblown and called our contact to pick us up. He came and told us that we should pick up some food because the house we were borrowing was quite a ways out. We bought some bread, milk, juice, butter, and tea and figured that we’d be able to easily get to the market in the morning.
Enter adventure #3. We arrived at the house after driving probably a good 15 minutes. The view was beautiful because the house was up on a hill overlooking the deep blue waters of the natural harbor of Nacala. We walked down the narrow, steep steps to the front door and heard a cat mewing in the house. The South African missionary who had picked us up talked with the guard who was explaining how the cat was trapped in the house for the past three days. Thus, when we opened the doors, the odor of cat feces and urine filled our noses and shredded foam mattress covered much of the floor. The cat, relieved to have the opportunity to be free left the house and we were left to face the mess, the remoteness and the lack of water (the tank of the roof of the house only had a little bit of water). The missionary graciously offered to bring us drinking water and told us where his house was if we needed anything. We then began a meticulous house cleaning. When that was over, we ate a simple lunch, and spent the remaining 45 minutes of daylight walking on the beach, checking out the small marine life that filled pockets of water in the rocks and wondering what we had gotten ourselves into. We woke up the next morning, and set out for the market accompanied by the very amiable and helpful guard. What was meant for a short trip to the market took 4 hours—walking two kilometers to the road, catching an open bed chapa, searching all through the market for salt (and never finding), and boarding again an open bed chapa that was filled to the gills. We got home at 12, having survived packed truck and the cobrador (fare collector) telling Joél that we may leave, but I’m still his woman. ugg.
Saturday afternoon, we walked the coast past many fishermen, women doing laundry and people just hanging out on the beach. We picked our way across sea weed covered rocks with small pools filled with sea urchins, hermit crabs, small fish and trash (unfortunately the reality here). It took us about 2 hours to make our way down to the restaurant where our friend told us had good food. My goal for the whole vacation was to have ice cream, but every place we went that had ice cream on the menu, didn’t have it. However, this afternoon, the restaurant did and I got my ice cream! :)
The next day was the perfect vacation day—reading, journaling, walking on the beach, relaxing in the quiet. It stilled our souls in silence and reflection away from the confusion that daily bombards us to hear the quiet in ourselves.
Monday, we went to the local diving/hotel and checked in for our final night in Nacala. We rented snorkeling equipment, but like the rest of our vacation, conditions were not quite right. The waves were choppy, the wind was blowing, the temperature was cold and instead of being able to focus on learning how to snorkel, we had to focus on the elements. At least we got to snorkel some; Joél saw some schools of fish.
Adventure #4 We boarded the chapa for Nampula at 8 am – short trip, only 187 km, shorter then Chimoio to Beira. By the time we got to Nampula, it was 2 PM! A trip that should have been at the maximum 3 hours took over 5! Our driver drove so slowly. Then the transit police were out in force, checking all the documents of chapa drivers and how many people they had on board. It was our lucky day, the day the driver forgot his documents. The first stop, I think, the cops also fined the driver and cobrador for too many people. So between being stopped by the cops, stopping for anyone who want to board, or get off and the pokey driver we took a long time getting to Nampula.
When we got to Nampula, we went to 3-4 hotels before there was a room available and that room was even only after there was a cancellation. We then bought our tickets home, from the bus that ran between Nampula and Maputo. We asked them what time we would get to Inchope, where we had to get off and they said that we’d get there by noon. They didn’t say that was noon the next day after spending the night in Quelimane. We went to bed rejoicing that we only had one more bus before getting home, only to discover the next morning that we’d be spending the night and another day on the bus.
Our bus ride from Nampula to Quelmane was quicker this time but still took 11 hours. The next day, we cruised. But when we were 184 kilomoters from Gondola, the bus had difficulties and for the next 80 kilometers, we only went 40 km/hr or less. They finally stopped, fixed something and we made it to Inchope, caught a small chapa to Gondola and got home in time for supper.
We were never so thankful to be home from vacation before! Never again, will we go on vacation, that far away that we need to take three chapas, 2 or more days to get there.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
We visited Mandie this last week to see how the Agriculture (Food Security Project) project is going. Before I left, a number of people asked me “What is food security?” Maybe to start we should look at the opposite of “Food Security” which is “Food Insecurity”. Any given population of people or areas which are labeled as food insecure usually are ones that for any given reason are vulnerable because of the situations they find themselves and can not produce or buy enough food for themselves and their families. If a major change such as a drought, a flood, pests, diseases, price fluctuations, lack of access to markets to sell crops or any other natural or manmade changes occur, it can render them at risk for hunger or starvation. Thus normally these communities are okay. For example, the populations in Mandie are usually alright. They do usually have enough food for ¾ths of the year and then for several months they might only eat two meals a day. They are hungry but not dying. However, throw into the mix a drought or huge pest infestation and all of a sudden you have a crisis. That said, a “Food Security” project is one that tries to find ways of building the capacity of a community so that when one of these things occurs the community can survive, people will not starve. Carpenters out there may understand this one. You may have two houses. One is structurally sound and the other has some structural issues. They work fine, but when a hurricane comes along, the one that is structurally unsound breaks. Thus a carpenter will have to figure out how to make this house structurally sound so that it does not break. It is the same with human populations. A food security project looks at what is weak in the community and tries to build a stronger community with the capacity to survive difficult times.
Wow, so that was Development 101. Here is Development 201. I would like to say that the project in Mandie is an Agriculture project but I can’t. We call it Food Security because it does not just encompass agriculture. For example CCM’s extension workers are working with farmers to learn to grow vegetables; they are bringing in improved and drought resistant seeds and crops; they work with irrigation; they work with HIV/AIDS because of it’s effects on household available labor; they look at hygiene and diseases because they keep people from working in their fields and train people how to avoid these things; they look at creating water sources such as dams; teach about and bring trees for fruit and wood; they talk about conservation measures to be taken in people’s fields; they train people how to market there foods and hook them up to Government Services such as veterinarians and the Ministry of Agriculture so they can get help easier in the future; they do adult literacy campaigns and much more. So it is not just agriculture but all the activities help people to be able to increase production. For example, HIV and other diseases prevent people from working, which means that they then produce less and have less time to do other income generating activities. Educating populations about these diseases helps to decrease the prevalence of disease in the family. When people can’t read they cannot access means to help improve their agriculture activities which we take for granted (cannot read pesticide labels or books on improved techniques). Adult literacy attacks this problem. Lack of access to markets means people can not sell their agriculture produce to buy food when they run out. Connecting farmers to the markets and companies that buy produce helps this problem (often people do not know what is out there). Lack of water and space limits the amount of production in the community. Sand dams help relieve this. So you see it is not just agriculture so we call it “Food Security”.
I attached the photo to show just how desperate people are for space to grow vegetables. There just is not space in Mandie. The only water is in the river because away from it is the dry season and there is no rain. Cold season vegetables such as kale, cabbage, onions and garlic only grow in the colder part of the year during the dry season. The middle of the river would work except that every year it fills with a layer of sand. The woman in the picture has a bag in which she is carrying dirt and manure from one side of the river to the middle of the sand bar. She then digs down in the sand with her hoe until she gets to the humidity, puts a sack of dirt there and plants maybe 2 cabbages, several onions or she can grow about 5 corn plants. Incredibly labor intensive but the only thing she can do. The project is teaching people how to terrace the banks and use irrigation methods so they no longer have to carry dirt across the river and they can
This week we were very pleased to be able to arrive in Mambue just as the dam was being finished. We were there to take workers and tools to a new community but did not know we were going to have to do this until we arrived and received the information. We were able to participate a little in building the last part of the dam as you can see in the above picture. It was an interesting experience. The whole community showed up to watch the end of the work. They brought their drums and the women danced to celebrate. They danced around the dam and sprinkled corn flour on the dam. I suppose it was sort of a blessing. They then proceeded to dance around the extension workers, the community chief and Jenny and dropped flour at their feet. I suppose this was a way to say thanks and give honor. I guess they must have forgotten me because I was off to the side. We are very proud of the work they did and as a representative at MCC I was asked to give a speech. I am starting to get good at these “on the spot” speeches. We are happy for the community and hope and pray that come the rainy season this dam will hold water.
We received information that two of our other dams are continuing to have water behind them at this point. That is cause for celebration. At this time last year the water would have been gone. It gives us a lot of hope since this first year the dams have leaked a little. We hope with some experience our dams will get better and better. The technology is spreading, however, and that was our goal. We traveled to Tete Province to visit several new communities where CCM is going to start a new agriculture project which includes sand dams. We also are getting requests from other parts of the country. We hope that in 10 years, Mozambique will be building lots of these dams and making a difference in people’s lives.
Saturday, June 14, 2008
If Mozambican culture had a motto, based on my limited experience here, it’d be “It never hurts to ask”. It seems that no matter where we go, what we are doing, someone will invariably ask us for something. Children on the street ask for “milis” (1 meticais); old people suddenly stop, stoop over, put out their hands and say “Ajuda” (help); when we arrive in a community after not being there for a while, someone asks, “What’d you bring me?” No request however small or large is too much to ask of someone of a higher socio-economic status. The extension workers in Mandie experience it in the communities, so it’s not limited to just asking foreigners, though I suspect we get targeted more quickly because we stand out more. Joél commented once that growing up Mennonite in North America, we are taught to give, give, give; so when we enter MCC and come to a culture that says “Gimme, gimme, gimme” it creates numerous quandaries as to how to give generously and in ways that alleviate oppression.
Two weeks ago, I was talking with my neighbor about commissioning a clay vase. She has a regular business of making clay pots for cooking and planters. We have bought a number of planters from her for our veranda. We finished our negotiations and decided to walk together, she to the market and me to my house. As we left her yard and climbed the steps of hardened dirt to the road, she complemented my earrings and then asked if I had any others at home (for her). She then noticed my sandals and proceeded to tell me that she did not have enough money to buy flip flops. I just listened.
Two days later, I returned to her house to check on the progress of our vase. Once again, she bemoaned that she did not have enough money, this time for renting a truck to get clay for her business. At times like these I think of the children’s Sunday School song about Peter and James going to the temple to pray and encountering a beggar. The longer I live here in Mozambique, the more I realize that sometimes giving immediately does not alleviate the poverty or even help fix anything temporarily. And that certainly is the case with Dona Cecilia.
So, I in my own way of saying, “silver and gold have I none, but such do I have give I thee”, I told her about savings groups. She would be an excellent candidate for being a part of a savings group. She regularly has to rent a truck to carry clay from wherever she’s dug. She regularly sets out fired pots and planters beside the road and within a few days they are gone. She has a business going. With a savings group, she could borrow money to rent the truck and pay it back after she’s sold her pots. It would be a way that she could access money to help her business grow. As I told her about savings groups, her husband and neighbor were listening and I could see them thinking that it would be a good idea. At the end of my explanation, she told me that she couldn’t do that because she’s not going to teach anyone else how to make things out of clay. I responded that not everyone in the group would have the same business, but all would have access to loans for their individual businesses. Her next defense was that she doesn’t trust anyone. I told her that she would form the group with people she trusts—sisters, cousins (usually people trust their own relatives, but not others). She still was determined that me giving her money for renting a truck would be better than joining a group. Her husband then started to explain the concept to her, seeing that it would be beneficial for her, but she didn’t listen.
At times like this, I wonder if it is just our human nature to want something without working for it. One of the sand dam communities started out strong. Before we returned to talk with them about being approved as a site, they had collected two huge piles of rocks. When we returned this week to visit them, the extension workers told us that unless they, the extension workers, told community members to come, no one came to work on the dam. They wanted the water immediately instead of working to build a dam that over time could give them enough water for domestic use and crops and animals.
I do not always know how to respond when people demand that I give them something. In their eyes, I as a foreigner have more money than I need and so should give it to them for whatever they want to do with it. One day, two guys about 20 years old asked me for a mili. I agreed to it, provided that they give me two 50 centavos. They didn’t like that idea because we’d break even and just be exchanging 1 meticais. They then asked me for a cigarette, to which I replied that it was bad for their health and continued walking wherever I was going. They seemed satisfied by my conversation.
I think about Dona Cecilia. She does not trust her fellow Mozambicans enough to think about forming a savings group that will benefit her for years. Yet she expects me to trust her to either give her a grant or a loan to rent a car to pick up clay. How do we navigate these waters of such different cultural expectations and maintain a sense of dignity for all involved? How do I keep talking with people without succumbing to their guilt trips and how do I know when I really should give something because it will truly help someone?
Friday, June 13, 2008
Last Friday, we visited several communities where CCM Tete wants to begin a food security pilot project with sand dams. Prior to visiting the communities, we stopped at the local administrative post to talk with the Permanent Secretary about the project. After our meeting was over, I asked one of the office staff if they had a restroom that I could use. She replied that it was locked and the person who had the key wasn’t there. So, our gracious hosts of CCM volunteered to stop at a local bar so I could use the restroom.
We drove a bit, parked our cars in front of the bar and they went in to ask about the facilities. The patron of the bar showed them the restroom but when they asked for the women’s restroom, he replied the restroom wasn’t appropriate for “senhoras”.
In the same breath, he told them that he had crocodiles out back and would they like to see them. So we all trailed behind him to see these crocodiles. Sure enough, there in a pen, the size of my parent’s living room, were three crocodiles. Not only did we see them, the man, then jumped over wall and started slapping the one crocodile to make it wake up and move. It didn’t move and we all marveled that the crocodiles were happy in this pen filled with dust without any water. The man said that crocodiles are amphibians and so they can just as easily live without water as in water. That’s one way to look at it.
He then told us that he had a snake and took us to see it. Up the steps, across the balcony, we followed him to see this snake. He opened the door to the room and there sitting, curled up on the window sill in the sun was a big, fat, yellow snake. I guess the man wanted us to see it’s head, because again, he hit it to wake it up. This time instead of not reacting like the crocodile did, the snake hissed. We all looked at the snake, looked at each other and walked back across the balcony, down the steps and into the bar, where there was not a bathroom appropriate for senhoras. We got in our cars to drive away and just as we were about to leave, the man ran out and handed Joél a photograph of him (the man) and the crocodiles.
I never did find a bathroom, until I used a latrine in the first community. And thankfully there weren’t any snakes or crocodiles waiting for me in it.
Noah and the Large Canoe
Every day here is an experience in itself and I am reminded again and again that we that live in the world do not all think alike or have the same experience and those of us that live on the other side of the globe think even differently and have even different experiences. Generally speaking, we in the United States think relatively the same and have generally similar experiences but in my experience even that varies between, regions, towns, city and country, families and ethnicities. If that is so, how much more between the U.S. and Mozambique.
This experience was brought back home to me this morning as I was teaching Sunday School class. I was again reminded of the reality of the Mozambican experience, the expectations of people and how things are seen so differently. I was teaching on Noah’s ark and how Noah had to build this huge ark in expectation of a flood. I often think about how difficult that must have been for Noah and how crazy his neighbors and friends must have thought him to be. I was hoping to teach the class how sometimes God calls us to do things that look crazy to others. I asked the class to imagine what if God told someone from our church to build this boat as large as the town’s soccer field in the middle of town (Gondola is on a plateau with hills so there is no way it will flood) and is telling people that it will flood. What would people think? The response I got was: People will start talking amongst themselves and think, “Maybe he can build me one too.” Great, how do I reconcile that one? My point was lost. I will have to think a week to get my head around that one. Where I see a crazy guy and a flood, this person sees a yacht and he wants one. I should have started thinking more about it when I first heard someone say the story was about Noah and the “Canoa Grande” (large canoe). I suppose it is the same with many other things. Where I see an empty water bottle, someone else sees a container for selling oil, holding beans for storage or for water or a play toy. Where I see broken glass, someone sees a mirror or shards to put on the wall to keep thieves out. Where I see a corn stalk, someone sees a wall for a latrine or a fence to keep the chickens out of the garden. Where I see a car someone sees a moving target to hit with their tangerine. We all see things differently. It is no wonder we did not get along after Babel.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Floor for the Church
This weekend was a very busy weekend for the members of the church and I as well. I spent three days hauling rock and sand with our cars. The first two days we went about twenty kms out into the countryside to gather rocks. They said we were going to an old abandoned railroad track to get rocks. I thought of the tracks near Shickley, Nebraska and the magnitude of nice rock that is still left over for the taking. This should not be that hard. However, the railroad track had been turned into a road and in order to collect the rocks we had to dig with picks and shovels in the hills left by the side from the road grader passing over the road. It took the church three days to collect five and a half truck loads of rock. We still need three more. It was good, however, for me to get out and do something with my hands where I do not have to think and to get away from e-mails and project proposals. It was also a really good time to get to know people a little better and have good conversation. The final day we had about 10 people helping to haul 6 loads of sand from a pit just outside of Gondola. We all shared boiled pumpkin, bread and tang for breakfast as we loaded the trucks. That afternoon we went and got one more load of rocks from the old railroad bed. The brakes went out the day before on one of our trucks so I was using the newer truck which seemed to handle it better. Jenny had promised to make a cake for the workers so we enjoyed a snack in the afternoon. It was a fun day with the youth like any other youth poking fun of the old men and the old men poking back. At the end of the day we were satisfied with enough sand and rock to begin construction. The youth were gathering for the youth meetings as we were getting ready to leave. They began singing and it was a very soothing sound at the end of a day of hard work.
Saturday, May 10, 2008
I have spent the afternoon cooking and listening to the BBC. It’s been months since I have heard any sort of news and so the News Hour this Saturday afternoon was quite interesting and made me miss listening to NPR.
This afternoon seems like a number of incongruities. It seems so strange to be listening to news about suffering – in Burma, Zimbabwe, Israel, Lebanon – when I am surrounded by suffering here. News, by definition, is what is not the norm, what deviates from ordinary life. On-going suffering in the average life of a significant number of someones in the world, unfortunately is normal. When something extraordinary happens, like a cyclone, elections, borders opening or closing, then the media highlight that. It seems to me then that one of the roles of incarnational ministry is to bridge the gap between normal lives. Many of our friends and family live fairly normal North American lives and many of the people with whom we are acquainted here in Mozambique live fairly normal Mozambican lives. Part of our role as MCCers here is to help people on both sides of our world understand each other. The normal happenings of life here do not make news on the BBC (and frequently the abnormal occurrences don’t either that I know of), but for us who are new here, they are news. For those who read our blog, they are news; news from our life here, news about how people here live.
The other irony was cooking. Cooking is something women around the world do every day, several times a day. That’s nothing newsworthy. But as I begin conversations with someone at Canadian Food Grains Bank (CFGB) to organize a learning tour in association with our sand dam project (that they are funding), he mentions the global food crisis in every email. Like I said, I haven’t heard the news in MONTHS (actually since early October 2006). We get our news from the International Newsweek which comes at least three weeks late and sometimes not at all, so we have quite a few gaps in our knowledge of the world. Plus the news that someone at CFGB has interest in is different than the reporters of Newsweek. So yesterday, I did some research on the internet about the global food crisis.
I learned that food prices are going up rapidly. As the prices increase the most vulnerable in the world are made even more vulnerable to food insecurity (Food security is the ability to feed oneself and family sufficiently, i.e. 3 meals a day, every day). Many of the people in the world who are subsistence farmers still depend on buying a significant quantity of their food. When prices of basic foods increase, those who are already struggling to provide food for their families in addition to school fees, transportation, etc. have to make difficult decisions between food and other necessities. Prices here in Mozambique are increasing and at least here in the Gondola-Chimoio area, the harvest is sketchy because of too much rain. This area of the country does not struggle with food security like places like the Mandie subdistrict where the sand dam project is located. This explains why someone at CFGB is concerned about the global food crisis. CFGB and MCC are both supporting the End Hunger Fast as a way to educate concerned persons in North America about the realities in other parts of the world. For more information about that check out http://www.mcc.org/food/ or http://www.foodgrainsbank.ca/urgent_appeal.aspx
So, I spent the afternoon cooking chili, baking a cake and making mint tea. The chili has ground beef, a treat for Joél and I here, and it will last for a minimum of three meals for the two of us. The cake has four eggs and sweetened condensed milk; I made it to take on our picnic tomorrow afternoon with our friends from the UK, whose fellowship rejuvenates our souls. Learning more about the global food crisis makes me think all the more about how do I live here with integrity. We live more simply than we did in the States but it still above the means of people in the church. Some people in the church are going to have some difficulties later this year because of their weak harvests.
How do we make choices that will benefit others and not take away from others’ lives? There are ways that we eat that is different than people here because of our understanding of nutrition and what our bodies need. There are ways that we eat that is different because of the differences between our cultures. There are ways that we eat that is different because of what we can afford. And yet what are ways that we can live that does not tax the earth and people’s survival and yet honors God? We could eat only rice and beans for economic and social reasons for the rest of our lives, but I do not think that is not being responsible stewards of the knowledge that God has given us or adequate long-term care of our bodies, created to do God’s work. I will eat rice and beans because I like them, because they are healthy, because they do not tax the earth, because they are cheap and should I ever have to make decisions to severely limit my food consumption they will be two foods that I will chose.
I have always struggled with inequalities – just ask my parents what I was like in my teens with regards to Christmas. I will continue to struggle with inequalities; it is who I am. Sometime during my teens when I was yet again having a conversation with my dad about inequalities (the conversation was about me being a girl and having access to education while many girls around the world do not have that opportunity), he said something that has stuck with me since then. He said that it is by God’s grace that I am where I am. God’s grace. I do not know why I am fortunate enough to have food security, health, education, a good husband, the opportunity to live and learn in another country, but I do. It is grace. I have a responsibility to use my resources to serve God and others. I will fail. And as this week, as I wrestle with the tension between my food security and the global food crisis, I have to give myself grace. Grace to learn, grace to make mistakes, grace to change, grace to share and grace to celebrate. That is not breaking news that will be reported on the BBC; but it is a good reminder to me that the weight of the world does not rest on my shoulders.