Friday, September 26, 2008

Transformative change
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
- Email
- 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)
- Friendships
- 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
- Walks
- That the pastor at the Mennonite church is assuming a more Godly leadership role
- Sleep
- Milk
- Movies
- Bright sunny, slow breakfasts
- Rest time (siestas) in the afternoons
- Enough water

The fires can’t quench the flame
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.
(Photo: the group, Joel and I and the new box. They were really happy but people are serious when they pose for photos.)

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Eye Troubles
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
The Beira Airport

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

Burning Season

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.
They say…
…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.