Saturday, December 26, 2009

I had the privilege of visiting Maputo with Steve, our country representative, for a few meetings with the Christian Council of Mozambique recently in their national office. We flew, and I was glad, because it would have been a sixteen hour drive. I always enjoy going to Maputo. Being the capital of Mozambique it is a very vibrant place. It is very different than the rest of Mozambique. It is very near to South Africa and has access to much more then the rest of the country. It is a very cultured and cosmopolitan city with wide sidewalks and streets lined with flaming acacia trees shading side walk cafes full of people of all colors. It is a busy city, being the capital, but is also full of art and Mozambican jazz which is world famous. There are parks a botanical gardens and six cinemas to keep the families of foreign ambassadors and government people occupied.

Maputo is a city that shows what Mozambique could be like eventually. The streets are continuing to get repaired, new high rises are going up and the airport is getting revamped with a very modern design in an effort to update the main entry into the country. On leaving we passed a beautiful fountain framed by multicolored lights and drove down tree lined streets with art painted on the walls, through a traffic circle with a monument containing the body of one of Mozambique’s great leaders of the independence to our guesthouse. We stayed in a missionary guesthouse located near the city center and I took advantage of being able to walk every evening the streets full of children, past tropically colored houses and fruit vendors.

We were there to have meetings with the national offices of CCM Maputo about future strategy for our work in Mozambique. People kept complaining of the heat but I realized that it was much fresher, dries and cooler than either Beira or Chimoio. The meetings went well and were quite stimulating. As we left the office I was asking on of our colleagues how the environment was in Maputo these days. I was thinking specifically of whether it was safe to walk around in the downtown area, especially being the end of elections and all. I was hoping to enjoy a brisk walk each day to rejuvenate my spirit and to be able to get down to the Portuguese bookstore to buy a book for our daughter.

“Very agitated,” was the response I got from my colleague.

I was a little taken aback as I watched all the people enjoying late afternoon strolls along the sidewalks as we drove back to our guesthouse. I enquired further to see what he meant by agitated. I expected that violence was up because of the recent elections and that it was dangerous to be out, especially a foreigner who stands out, like me.

"Why is it agitated?", I asked.

“The traffic is terrible," was his response.

I was floored. Truly, Maputo had more traffic than the rest of the country but still not the levels of what I was used to in the US cities. His other colleague said that it is now easy to get less expensive cars from Asia in South Africa and everyone is buying them, filling up the streets and making driving more difficult.

I found this strange considering in the rest of the country people cram onto any car they can get into to travel because of the shortage of cars and every young boy dreams of having a car one day.

“Too many cars,” our driver said.

I bet if he did not have a car he would not have said that. At least traffic does not effect someone who likes to walk, like me. Was it safe, I wanted to know.

“Oh, yeah, you can walk even in the evening. No problem,” they said.
And that is what I did.

Merry ‘blazing hot’ Christmas

We are all excited about Christmas. We have our little tree decorated. We were even able to get lights for it this year and Jenny made some more ornaments for it at one of the Women’s teas that a lady in our missionary fellowship has from time to time. It is blazing hot with barely any rain in sight to bring relief so it looks like we will have 90 degree and above temperatures for our festivities. Without an air conditioner in our house the last few days we have spent just sitting around trying to conserve our energy to do the things that need to be done. Nadia is excited about her presents. She has two. She even gave daddy a gift. We will see if mommy gets one to but we all know that daddy is her favorite (ha,ha). Cheryl gave us her toaster oven and slow cooker while they are gone so Jenny made bagels and we bought cream cheese for breakfast. We are going to cook pork and pineapple with mashed potatoes and a passion fruit dessert. We plan to go to the Anglican Church who is having a service in the morning. Then I suppose we will sleep off the heat in the afternoon and maybe watch a movie in the evening.

This week has been crazy in both Chimoio and Beira. Both of the shopping districts are full of people buying stuff for the holidays. Maybe it is because we are in a different city this year but both the supermarkets in Beira and Chimoio were packed with people. It was hard to get in and out. I walked down the streets of Chimoio to go to the market today and they were chalk full of people. Maybe it is a sign that people are getting more disposable income. I think we are definitely noticing a difference. Unfortunately we saw way too much alcohol being purchased and the noise and drunks on the street remind us that not everyone is celebrating the birth of Jesus.

We watched the Nativity story the other night to get us into the mood for Christmas and the celebration of Jesus’s birth. Maybe we will watch it again on Christmas to stir up those feelings again which are so easily aroused when family, friends and a familiar community of faith surrounded us while living in the US. We were able to celebrate Christmas with our international missionary fellowship. But at least it is a community of faith and familiar faces that we can call our family here in this place. They help us to remember what the celebrating of this season is really about.
Still no rain. Licking a frozen water hydrant is sounding like a pretty good idea at this point.
Ok, I was wrong. The rain did not come. It is still hot!
It is that time of year again when we lay in our bed with the fan going in the middle of the afternoon in order to escape the heat. It was 92 degrees today and is supposed to climb to 95 tomorrow. All our plants in the yard are suffering this week and are ready for the rain. Of course, those of my family in Nebraska are probably saying, 92 degrees is nothing. It is true but not when there is no air conditioner in sight.

I guess I should not complain as our friend Jon is in Tete this minute and he just sent me a message saying that it is 120 degrees in Tete and that his room is at 115. What is worse is that there is absolutely no wind today. Everything is baking.

Fortunately there is rain in the forecast for this week and when it heats up like this it is usually the case that a change is coming soon. This will be welcome news, though it is bound to be a heavy downpour. The weather forecasters are predicting a year of flooding and are alerting people as such so they can be prepared this year. Especially those who live in lowlands and along the river banks where flooding often occurs.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Savings Group Training

On Friday, 20 November Joél, Nadia and I went to the first day of the Brethren In Christ church’s savings group training. It was really good to go and see how Dona Cristina conducts the trainings. She first went through all the theory/logistics of forming a group, then had people stand up and give a recap of what she discussed. They covered most everything she presented. Then in the afternoon, she showed them how to form the secretary’s book. She told them, “Precisa pontealidade porque é tudo que fazemos” (You need punctuality because it’s everything that we do). She told the story about the church which now meets on time because the savings group meets prior to the service. When she talked about the internal rules, she said that the fine for gossiping outside the group is 500 mets; the second time is expulsion of the group. She stressed that group members need a spirit of building and not of destruction.
Dona Cristina explaining seminar with Dona Alina watching and Raimundo translating

I really like her rules for seminars. I saw them when I went to the seminar in Chimoio in March and she had the same ones here. This is my favorite: Anyone who falls asleep will get their face washed. She fines people 10 meticais if they are late to a session and also fines for phones going off during the seminar.

She left time for questions and had a lot of patience with questions. She focused much of her commentary about how savings groups are transforming their churches and women’s lives. She told several stories about groups’ contributions to their churches—the group that bought benches for their church, the conference where more women were in attendance because of the money they had saved. This group rented a car and had enough money to buy capulanas and food for the trip. Those at the conference not a part of this group were so impressed they went home and started their own savings groups. She said others use their savings for books and uniforms for school.

She was disappointed that there were not more women in attendance. She says that women really benefit from the seminars and savings groups. Plus, she said women are more patient with others when they return to their communities and explain things to the groups they form. As she described the roles of the leadership commission, she said that only women can be secretaries and treasurers (where the majority of the power is with the leadership). She talked about how Mozambican culture puts women below men; savings groups empower women. I wonder what the male pastors thought…

Dona Cristina explaining the layout of the secretary's book

She conducted the seminar in Ndau and Raimundo, one of the BIC pastors, translated into Portuguese. I think this is good because 1) most people come from rural areas where their understanding of Portuguese isn’t as strong and 2) it allows for the nuances of culture through language to come through in the explanations. One of the nuances she used was the idea of a “madrinha” (godmother) as a co-signer of a loan. People understand the role of madrinhas as someone who covers for someone else and so it made a lot of sense to them instead of using the word “testimonio” (witness).

It was really good for me to get out and go to the savings group seminar. It felt like an integration of so many worlds for me—BICs, Dona Cristina and Dona Alina from the UCC church, the Mennonites and now Nadia. Now we wait and see who goes home to their communities and begins savings groups. Dona Cristina’s church already has 60 plus groups going. It’s exciting to see the transformation that is happening in people’s lives, churches and communities.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Styl'n Bay-bee!

I was told by a certain young man that the new in style for hair is to wear a fo-hawk (or however you spell it). This is Nadia’s attempt.


Indian Ocean
We spent the last week vacationing on the beach. The idea came about when the young girl of a couple we know said she wanted to go to the beach on holiday (she was passing some time in the cold north of England in winter) and said she wanted to go with Jenny and Joél. We thought thisa very good idea and we went. It was nice to find a place to relax for a week that had a pool a nice little house with kitchen, grill and all within the beautiful setting of the Indian Ocean with its sailboats and azure blue waters.

Nadia's First Dip in the Pool

Look how happy she looks

The children had a place to play and run around and all the adults could find space to relax and to have fun playing cards in the evening. We slept in, read a lot and ate chocolate. Nadia had her first swim in her new little inflatable boat with two little holes for her feet. She was quite animated all week because she had new interesting people (especially children) around to play with. We returned feeling quite relaxed.

Our Happy Family (Nadia has eyes only for the hermit crabs)

Mozambique is going to the world cup.

I thought we Nebraskans get crazy about our American football, the expanse of red on the interstate highways, the surge in Lincoln on game day, Grandpa, aunts and uncles stopping work on the farm to go watch the Saturday games and shouts coming from my aunt and uncles house from the teenagers watching a Nebraska touchdown (or and Oklahoma one for that matter). It is good to see that Mozambicans get into their football (or soccer we like to call it in the US) as much as we get into ours. Today was the game between Tunisia and Mozambique. Mozambique has never been to the world cup and it has been five years since they ever scored a goal against Tunisia. My guard who was listening on his phone headset and making me concerned about his attentiveness to watching our house lept up and started shouting Halleluiah.

“If there is one thing I asked God this year it is that Mozambique would score a goal against Tunisia.” he shouted on his knees.
It is crazy because it has been so hot in Chimoio and people’s windows are open. The sound of people yelling all over the city emanated from the other side of our walled in yard from in front of their television sets. It as kind of surreal since earlier today he told me the US had beaten Argentina to officially enter the World Cup. I was the one to be jumping up and down at that point. It was a joy to shout and laugh and enjoy the experience. Mozambique is truly an underdog but they need something to look forward to especially since the World Cup will be held in South Africa. Maybe I can arrange a television so we can all watch the world cup together this next summer.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Savings Groups Transform Churches
The other week, I met with Dona Cristina to talk about plans for next year with the savings groups. She told me a number of stories about how the groups are transforming churches:

The Women’s Society conference on 9 September had more women than usual. The reason—women had money to come to the conference because of their participation in the savings groups.

The church in Chipibava last year had an “orcamento” (I think total collection) of 1500 mets. This year they are superseding 7500 mets! And when there are fundraisers in the congregation, people give because those who are in the savings groups know how much others have and so no one can get away with saying “I don’t have any money” because the others in the group know they have some money.

The church in Sofala decided to pay their pastor more than usual because they had more money to give.

Gracas a Deus! as they say here – Thanks be to God!

It has been a while since either Joél or I wrote on our blog. We blame it on being new parents and pokey internet.

We are doing well. The hot season is upon us. Our housekeeper arrived this morning saying that the forecast is for 34 C (93 F) today and yesterday was 36 C (97 F). The humidity doesn’t help. Fortunately, in Chimoio, the evenings are cooler and so there is some reprieve. Yesterday, Nadia was cranky and not knowing what else to do, I wiped her body (already just in her diaper) with a cool cloth. That cheered her up so we filled up her baby bath and let her splash around in the water for a bit. It seemed to help.

Now we wait for the rains. Joél says this is his favorite time of year because everything turns green. I don’t particularly like the heat (when I was a kid, I’d spend summers reading in the cool of the house all day to avoid the heat). In my mind the rains redeem the heat. Here it heats up then it rains and cools down then repeats the cycle. Mozambicans tell us that it will be a good year for rains. I don’t know how they know but that’s what they say. I hope they are correct and have the right amount of rains for a good harvest.

Nadia continues to grow. She’s now four and half months old. In general she’s a happy, easy going baby. She loves standing on our laps and when we’re eating fusses until Joél puts her on his lap so she can be at the table too. She’s starting to try to sit up by herself and is on the verge of learning how to roll over completely. For several weeks, she’s been able to roll from back to front; then she gets stuck. She hasn’t liked being on her stomach much but now she’s able to prop herself up and entertain herself for a bit of time before fussing to be rolled back over.

It’s interesting to me to see how having Nadia has opened doors for us. For example, frequently we take walks in the late afternoon. Often, we’ll pass a group of people who have noticed the “baby in the bag” (bebe no saco as they say in Portuguese about our baby carrier) and be talking about us. Sometimes someone in the group is brave enough to stop and talk with us about the baby carrier or talk with Nadia. Other times, people will stop and talk with her and ask us about her. It’s almost as if having a baby makes us less intimidating. And Nadia charms them with her wide open smiles and laughter.

Last week we did the first traveling with Nadia. We’ve gone to Beira several times but never out to projects. We went to Machanga Girls’ Center to visit the SALTer. The United Church of Christ started this center for girls from rural areas to have the opportunity to go to secondary school. Alexis, the SALTer, organizes activities for the girls when they aren’t in school. There are two school sessions—one in the morning and one in the afternoon. So Alexis runs the same activity twice in one day. She does English language, physical activities (yoga, hoola hoops, soccer), art, song/dance and several other things with them. When we visited only 15 of the 40 girls were there. The rest had gone home on summer holidays and these 15 had to stay to take their exams. It was neat to see Alexis’ reporte with the girls and how quickly she’s learned how to communicate with them in both Portuguese and Ndau (the local dialect). The girls are very fond of her and were disappointed to learn she was leaving before their exams were over.

Tia Amelia, Tia Casilda and Alexis with Nadia

Nadia, on the other hand did not know what to do at Machanga. It was hot and dusty one night and the next night cool and rainy. The head mistress loved Nadia and wanted to hold her but initially Nadia cried when she was held. Finally she allowed Tia Cassilda to hold her and got a bath, Mozambican style from Tia. After that she was friends with Tia and happily looked around from her perch in the capulana.

Nadia in Tia Casilda's Capulana Mozambican Style

From there we went on vacation to Inhassoro for a week. We rented a house on the beach with friends who have two little girls. We were the only ones at the place and so their girls were able to run around without fear and loved playing in the pool and the ocean. Nadia didn’t get into much of the action (preferring to nap) but enjoyed interacting with the girls and put her feet in the pool a few times and in the ocean one day.

Now we’re back. Joél continues to work with both CCM Manica and CCM Tete on the sand dams/food security projects. I am gradually starting to work again, primarily with the savings groups—planning for next year’s activities with the UCC Women’s Society.

MCC Mozambique has changed. Holly, the SALTer in Tete left. She was working with CCM Tete on their sand dams/food security project. Tony finished his three year term and returned to the States. He’s getting married next week to the woman who patiently endured three years of long-distance engagement. Just before he left, Jon arrived to take both Holly and Tony’s places as the engineer working on both the sand dams projects. And Alexis, the new SALTer arrived. Our team is completely different than when we arrived, save for the MCC reps. It’s good; there’s a lot of positive energy and new ideas. Though we still miss those who were here.

I guess that’s all for now.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Carrying the baby
The other day, I spent the whole day at the office. For lunch on such days, we run across the street to the South African grocery store to buy a la carte items. That day I didn't bring my baby carrier but I did have a capulana with me. Mozambican women use capulanas for a lot of things, but one of the chief purposes of them are to carry their children. So far I haven't carried Nadia around using a capulana, but decided to try it that day.

One of the tricks of the trade is getting the baby on your back and then arranging the fabric well enough to create a little seat for the child and eventually tying it tight enough. So I asked our (male) office administrator to help me and off I went to the store. No sooner had I walked through the parking lot of the office, then several teenage girls came over to me and told me it wasn't tied right. So on the side of the road, two girls helped me re-tie the capulana so Nadia would be secure. While I walked across the road, the women selling fruit told me that I should move her from my back to my front. By that time, because she's not used to being in a capulana, hshe ad wiggled her way out of it and I ended up using it more as a half sling to help me carry her on my hip.

When I went through the check out, Nadia was fussy. The checker told me I should take her hat off because that was causing her discomfort. I replied that she was hungry (suspecting hunger and dislike of the capulana) because she doesn't normally cry when she has a hat on. I felt like saying, but didn't "You're saying my baby doesn't like her springtime hat when I see numerous babies dressed for snow in 90 degree, 120% humidity? And my baby doesn't like her hat?" As I crossed the street, the women fruit sellers once again told me that I wasn't carrying her right.

Today I went out with her in my baby carrier. No one commented about the way I carried her and I didn't fear dropping her. I think I'll practice carrying her in a capulana at home with my housekeeper teaching me how to tie before venturing out again.
Update on Savings Groups
I (Jenny) haven't been around much lately. Taking care of a 3-month old baby leaves little time (or energy) to get out and visit my projects. But the savings group project continues to amaze us all. Below is an exerpt of a newsletter written by the MCC Rep in Mozambique about the savings group project:

SAVINGS GROUPS are one of the most dynamic things we're involved in for the last 15 months, with amazing grassroots changes going on, something hard to write about in just a few sentences. People are asking, "WHERE WAS THIS MONEY?!" and "Where has this Savings been!?" [Why didn't we know about it earlier!?] Story after story keeps coming in of how people are empowered, and of how a culture of truth-telling, punctuality, openness, transparency, accountability, and responsibility is being created.
A group of people who trust each other meet regularly to contribute to their own savings box, and after accumulating a certain amount, begin giving out loans to members or others they trust, to be repaid with interest. They set aside money in a "social fund" that serves as an insurance pool for them. They make lots of internal rules and fine any member who violates them. They get back their savings plus interest and money from fines at the end of a cycle, usually 6-12 months depending on their choice. They have officers, detailed record keeping, exhaustive transparency by full recounting of money during each meeting, and they make decisions together. They are their own bosses. The money comes from them, not from any else. The discipline is internal, not imposed from outside. Some of them gather astonishing amounts of money in rural areas where everyone thought they were poor. When they divide up the funds at the end of a cycle, members have accumulated money to make larger purchases and investments they usually could not afford. This is important because cultural values of "sharing" make accumulating money difficult (but keep people poor), and because most districts of Mozambique have no banks of any kind.
The Women's Society of the United Church of Christ learned of this from MCC staff, and since last August has trained and formed upwards of 70 groups in half of Mozambique's provinces. They enter areas where they have interested churches, but emphasize that all people are welcome. Many of the groups contain people from multiple churches, no church at all, or sometimes other faiths. In one place, the weekly meeting is before the church service, and now the service starts on time instead of routinely 90 minutes late (group members pay fines for arriving late to savings meetings, and the new habit transferred). In another, the savings group met after church, and group members who were not part of the church started coming to services, some became believers, and now people need to come to church early to get a seat (instead of it starting 60-90 minutes late). In another church where members seldom had even half a metical (2 cents US) to put in the offering, the 12 savings group members each contributed 50 meticals ($2 each) to buy church benches instead of sitting in the dust. "WE PROMISE YOU," they told the visiting head of the Women's Society, "YOU ARE GOING TO SEE GREAT CHANGES HERE!" The women spearheading this effort want to take it wider through inter-church organizations, as soon as we can provide more funding for basic expenses of seminars and training.
The president of the denomination said that in just 6 months, these had "revolutionized" communities. He said that earlier if he wanted to talk with someone in rural communities, they would look down or away and be reluctant to speak. Now people rise up and speak freely and openly, with dignity. He talked about how so many of their (the churches'? the leaders'?) efforts over the years have come to nothing, and how “this shows the need to change our way of working with people, because it is leading to completely different results." He/we went on to talk about empowering people, transparency, shared decision-making, telling people that they need to make decisions about their own lives (instead of waiting for someone to come tell them what to do, or instead of being the big bosses who come through and lecture people on what to do). He noted how this is giving women dignity and confidence in communities, where so often they are overlooked and dismissed.
Women are leading all of these efforts. MCC had suggested to the women's society that not all group officers should be men, if the groups contained both men and women. Somehow that changed into public statements that men could not be in the leadership of a group. Whether that was truly misunderstood, or whether it suited the Women's Society to try to promote women's leadership and confidence, we do not know, but we do see dynamic effects on women's confidence and self-respect in these places.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Hello, we have vegetables!


For those of you that are still interested in the results of the work we are doing I will try to write a little bit here. I visited the Sand Dams communities in Tete Province a week ago and once again a lot of exciting things are happening there. We were in the process of moving our new engineer, John Viducich, to Tete and showing him the communities where he will be working. Where last year there were maybe 5-6 vegetable fields, now there are 95 families with 95 vegetable plots along the banks of the river. We are now 5-6 months into the dry season and the water is still a meter below the surface in many places. This is hugely important for the irrigation of these plants. The results were amazing and I saw new techniques being applied. People were learning how to use manure, mulches, how to stake and thin tomato plants (using several different methods), to grow bananas, sugar cane, papayas, lemons and tangerines. The animals also have more water to drink and the manure deposited along the banks of the river can be used for the vegetables in the future.

Hand dug well in the river bed

This is the first dam in Dzunga. Two other dams are now constructed and 3 more trenches are dug and construction should be commencing in a week or two. These will await the coming rains and the results will become much clearer over the next couple of years as the dams begin to fill the aquifer and ground water becomes a more permanent reality. The people of the communities are in the process of opening fields around the dams and putting fences up to protect the fields from the animals in expectation of the water to come that will be used for irrigation of vegetables and fruit trees.

John Viducich with waiste high tomato plants

Tomato plants

CCM has opened up several fields to multiply sweet potato and manioc, two drought resistant, staple food crops, that are non-existent in the communities but are familiar foods for people in that they will be easy to introduce and will produce food for the difficult hungry season each year in hopes to stop the chronic hunger that occurs several months of each year.

Over all, I can say that our partner the Christian Council of Mozambique with funds from MCC and CFGB has now built 18 dams with 8 more in construction for this year. At this point 4 are retaining water but the rest will be ready to collect rains this year and we hope to have at least quadrupled this number by next year if not more. The dams are creating a lot of interest in the country and the Government has started to take notice. At first they were very skeptical and told us they did not want dams that hold sand, but that hold water because these communities need water for their livestock which is the biggest agriculture activity in the district. A year later and the Government is quite excited about the results and increasingly they are asking to visit the sites, including people from the National Government in Maputo and the Governor of the Province. Our hope is that this technology will spread and others will take on this work so that together we can bring food to those who are suffering.

Vegetable fields above dams

We are truly thankful that God is moving in this way and are excited to be a part of what he is doing for the people of these communities.

Climate Change or Global Warming

In South Africa they were having thunderstorms which everyone told us never happen in the cold months. This is another proof to me that we are having climate change. Many people think that because things have been unusually cold that it proves that global warming does not exist. I believe the people who first named the phenomenon ‘global warming’ made a huge mistake. It should have been called climate change from the beginning. I recently heard a conversation that someone was having about the unusually cool weather that has occurred in the states over the last few months.

“This proves that global warming does not exist.”

What global warming will do is actually cause more extremes in weather patterns. This means extremes between hot and cold, rain and drought and so on. Thus South Africa is having November thunderstorms in June, Mozambique has had 40-50% higher incidence of flooding and droughts in the last decade and Colorado has been having, on average, less snow in the mountains. They are actually starting to call it ‘climate change’ which is a lot more accurate of a description and creates less of an excuse for people to resist the change that is needed in their lives because of a cold summer.

Yet, there will always be those people who refuse to believe in the face of overwhelming evidence. I can understand this to a degree, though, because there are all sorts of theories and advice, and not all should be believed (case in point: an ideal baby should feed every 3 hours, all will grow at a certain predetermined weight and a string should be tied to their waist to ward off evil). After all I would probably be the one looking at Noah’s ark and saying, what is that crazy man with the long white beard doing with that gopher barky-barky.

I am all for testing the spirits, and the professionals, but the changes that we should be making for ‘climate change’ are the same changes we should be making that builds for peace and loves our neighbors who may be more effected by the change then we are. Jesus called us to put others higher than ourselves. If people are dying in floods in Mozambique, and there might be a chance that it could be exasperated by my overuse of my car, even just a chance, wouldn’t I want to change my life for the sake of that person’s life to make sure that I wasn’t causing harm? I mean, wouldn’t we in North America do that for our own children. If we knew there was a slight risk to their lives, even if not proven, we would change for their sake.

I know, this is preachy and I am guilty just the same. I still have to ask the questions.

Carrying Bonecas (Dolls)

It was a beautiful day for a walk. The weather has been quite cold thus far. In fact, the weather has been quite weird this year. But today was a very nice evening and the perfect temperature. I am looking at the most beautiful sunset over the mango trees out the window. Granted it is the dust and smoke in the air that cause the sunset to be so brilliant. But I will enjoy it anyway since I like to look on the bright side of everything if I can, even the burning of the beautiful Mozambican forests.

It was the first day that we could get our child out of the house between feedings and general difficult moods. She was great today and smiled as we walked. We passed the houses enjoying looking at the bougainvillea, bottle brush trees and the occasional new paint job. We look for the little changes in a country like Mozambique. Like I said, I like to look on the bright side and these are positive changes.

We passed people, some who smiled, some who stared and some who laughed. I guess we are getting used to being the center of attention and everything we do it is little weird. In South Africa, women carry their babies on their lower back, feet tucked in and back straight (sort of like we do in a backpack carrier, only with a sheet or capulana). As we carried our little babe in a sling everyone told us that her back needed to be straight. My reply was, well in Mozambique everyone carries their baby this way on their back and they are fine. Yesterday, it was chilly (nice for us North Americans) and we did not bring a hat. Inevitably lots of people felt free to yell, “Frio” (Cold) as we passed. Mozambicans generally dress their babies from head to toe, even in the hot season. It is not unusual for a person to see a baby in a snowsuit, stocking hat, wrapped in a blanket and sweating like he/she were in a sauna. With all the free advice we have been getting lately from everyone it keep our minds sharp just thinking for a response that will entertain them, or sidetrack them from doing whatever they want with our baby.

Today, it was not the back that was the problem, or the cold but the fact that her feet were tucked into the sling. (Mozambicans have them with their feet out but the rest of their bodies are buried in the capulana.) One woman even offered to take her feet out.

Jenny responded gracefully,”Well it didn’t hurt her when she was in the womb, right.”

That got everyone laughing and they left her alone.

One woman in the next group of women we encountered said to the others “Boneca” which means doll in Portuguese. Now why Jenny would be carrying around a doll for fun at her age is beyond me. I think carrying the baby for nine months would have put a stop to that idea. They also suggested that Nadia put her legs outside the capulana. Jenny and I insisted that she would be OK and that her legs would not fall off.

One lady said, “Because of the cold, eh.”

Mustering a fake smile, with enthusiasm we said, “Yes!”


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Loving Your Neighbor

The words said it all…

“What a world it could be…

What a world it could be…

Everyone living in Harmony…

No more war, no more strife…

Everybody loving one another”

Yes, isn’t this what we all want…EXCEPT AT 2:00 IN THE MORNING AT 500 DECIBALS!!!

Instead of peaceful, loving thoughts, the only thing I can think of is how I could attach the cords to the bumper of our car and drive off with the speakers trailing behind me through the streets of Chimoio. That would keep them quiet. Maybe water balloons launched into the party would break it up. Then my sense came to me and I realized that doing that to about 100 drunken people would not be in my best interest. I must turn the other cheek and bear the pain.

The irony is just too great. We have spent a wonderful first week back in Mozambique. It has been the first time we have returned when it really feels like home. It was great to see our house workers, to see the fresh coats of paint in town, the new lines and crosswalks painted the new construction bringing hope that progress is happening. All in all it has gone well with the baby, granted we have lacked sleep and I was developing a sore throat and the last couple of nights. We had finally reached the weekend and N had fed early and was ready for bed. We decided to turn in early to get extra rest, looking forward to sleeping in on Saturday morning.

No sooner than we had laid our heads down on the pillows it came…


Screaming through the cracks in the window, bouncing off the wall in our backyard, circulating through the plumbing…dance music, signaling to the entire world that there is a party and the party is in our back yard.

I guess this is a modest plea from a sleep deprived man that loving your neighbor is not just the poor or suffering person on the other side of the world. Maybe it actually means loving your neighbor. And that building peace means turning the music off so there is one less person in the world tempted to put a car in front of their neighbors house and turn the car alarm on to accompany their morning hangovers.


Saturday, August 08, 2009

Countdown to reality

Our time in South Africa is coming to a close. On Monday, 10 August, we are heading back to balmy Mozambique, just in time for the final days of the cool season (Mozambicans tell us, pretty accurately from our experience, that 15 August is the beginning of the hot season). We are heading back with Nadia and all the wonder and challenges that will entail. We covet your prayers as we adjust and parent her. We pray that she will not get malaria and that we'll have time to balance our work with caring for her. Thanks!
For those who think Africa is always hot...
Sleet! Johannesburg, South Africa
1 August 2009

Monday, August 03, 2009

The Bond of Community
Last week I was sick--fever of 103 F, chills, and achey body. Joel and I tried to lower the fever with compresses and consulting the nurse at the Baptist Guesthouse where we were staying. At one point, Joel called my mom to ask her advice (cool bath--successful but definitely not comfortable).

After she got off the phone with us she called both my grandmothers, Joel's mom and various other people. Joel's mom then emailed all extended family on their side and several close friends. The next time my mom called to check in she said "Lots of people are praying for you." Ok, didn't ask for it, but thanks. Several days later we talked with Joel's parents and they mentioned that various people from their community who weren't included in the email asked about how I was doing. Add to that various people at the guesthouse also checked in with us. It's a reminder to me of how God cares for me even when I am grown up and far away from my mother's couches where it'd be much more comfortable to be sick.

By the way, I saw a doctor and he gave me antibiotics to fight the infection that caused the fever and chills. I'm feeling much better now. Thanks to all who prayed for me.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

The Failure of Judging the Culture to Quickly

I was having problems the other day with the iron shutting off the electricity and I was failing in locating the electrical box. I finally decided to ask our neigbor, who I believe manages some of this housing complex, to help me locate it. Him, his wife and daughter have been the friendliest, neighborly people to us since coming here in June. I told Jenny that I would walk over, knock on the door and ask if he couldn't come and help me. Jenny said ok but then said that maybe I ought to call first because they always called to ask permission before coming over. I had noticed that and thought it a little odd as I usually feel comfortable just going up to the door and knocking. Maybe that is the way it is in Jo-burg and so I thought it best to do so.

Hugo was glad to come over and helped me find the box. His wife came by just to say hi since we had not seen her for a better part of the week. Somehow in our conversation they told me that when our directors first moved in the wife would always call them before coming over.

"In fact," she said, "Our custom is just to knock and walk right in. I did that once but the look on Lois's face told me that Canadians may not do that. So we started to call first."

I laughed. What first perceptions we pick up from the places we visit can be so skewed. I told her that I would have no problem walking over an knocking, though for Americans and Canadians, if someone just walked right into the house, it may seem a little strange."

So we now find it no problem to walk up and knock on the door.

Our Friends with Nadia

I have now been in Johannesburg for two months and it has been a pleasant experience. I have found people to be quite friendly here even though Josie or Jo-burg as it is called locally is a metropolitan area of 10-12 million people. I was told that Soweto alone has about 2-3 million people alone. Most people know Jo-burg to have a reputation of being quite dangerous but whatever that has been in the bast, the consensus here is that it has improved and is definitely blown out of proportion. I would be just as fearful walking in Philadelphia, L.A. or Chicago as here. Of course it all depends on where you are in the city and street smarts is always important. However, I am actually more nervous in Beira at night then I am in Jo-burg and I actually was held up at knife point in Capetown, so this feels quite safe to me.

Anyway, I was not writing to create fear or determine which city is safest in the world but to write about the friendliness her in such a large metropolitan area, which I have not found in our North American Cities. I might add that the friendliness has been throughout, regardless of the people from different backgrounds and ethnic groups here in the city. People always ask how I am in the store with a smile and people will smile and chat if you talk to them.

Yesterday, I was walking back from our directors to the guesthouse and I realized that I have gotten used to purposefully not looking at people I pass on the street since living in Denver so as not to disturb their private space or make them uncomfortable with my smile or "hi". Or maybe it is just street smarts of protecting oneself. In Mozambique, if eye contact is made, dozens of people will try to sell you something, or comment on your white-ness, call you their friend and try to sell you something or ask you for something. how you really want to do something for something. It is easier to not look them in the eye then to dissappoint them in the end. Anyhow, I happened to glance up at a young woman as I passed. Her beautiful dark face broke into smile and she said, "Hello". It felt so good to be recognized and I smiled back and said, "hi" as well. Maybe it was the surpirse of it, or the pleasant face, but I thought about it all the way back to the guesthouse. It is what the world needs, a few more pleasant faces and friendly "hellos".

Kick'n up the feet

Nadia's doing well and there are some more pictures on Flickr for those interested.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

More Baby Pictures...will it EVER STOP!!!

Don't get us wrong, we love baby pictures and more then ever now that we have our very own Nadia. But we also realize that people want to read more about our life then just our lovely little one. So to keep this blog from filling up with only baby pictures we have decided to put some of the baby pictures on our Flickr account for now. Or at least until we have no other way because of slow internet speeds in Mozambique. That way you will not get bored with our blog and you can still see the variety of other encounters we are having here in Southern Africa. We have just put some new ones up so take a look.

Toodles...(wait, isn't that baby talk)

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Nadia's name

In the week since Nadia's arrival, we have received numerous congratulations on our new baby and compliments on her name. Several have asked if her name came from the time I (Jenny) spent in Russia. The answer is yes.

Nadia is the nickname of the Russian name Nadezhda. Nadezhda, in Russian means "hope". Nadia was a name I always liked while I was in Russia. Since then, and especially since living in Mozambique, I have thought alot about the signficance of hope in our world. My prayer for our daughter is that God will use her to bring Hope and Grace to the world around her.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Like Mother Like Daughter June 2, 2009

Monday, June 29, 2009

Baby Hiccups

For those interested...the hospital has a picture of Nadia (at 2 days old) posted on the web. You can find it at:

Our Best Picture So Far

We were actually a little thrilled this morning to see our daughter almost smiling at us. If she isn't, we will believe that she is anyway because it makes us feel good. In any case, this is the best picture that we have taken of her up to this point so we thought we would share it with the rest of you.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Nadia Grace Kempf

Nadia Grace was born at 5:30 in the morning on June 26. She was 6 pounds,m 12 ounces. Everything went well and mommy and baby are healthy. Daddy is healthy too, but quite tired.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

South African Health care

One of the things that has hit me most since living in Mozambique is the difference in level of health care that one receives and how vital that is in our lives and a vital part that is missing in the lives of the poorest. Life is so fragile in Mozambique and death so common. It is not only the lack of supplies, staff or hospitals but that I have not found hospital staff to be overly friendly in Mozambique which adds to the sense of emotional stress for the sick. One of the reasons we chose to go out of Mozambique to South Africa is that men are not allowed in the delivery room in Mozambique. As I sat through pre-natal class the other day and listened to the nurse-teacher tell us how vitally important it is for the men to be involved and to be the cheer-leader for the woman during labor, I realized how much more difficult it would be, emotionally, for the women of Mozambique who go to the hospital alone to give birth. South Africa is Mozambique's neighbor and several hours drive from Johannesburg. So how is it that the health systems differ so much in capacity and outlook?

There was more I noticed as we sat through class. Epidurals, Cesarean operations, television in the rooms, baths, showers and other stuff to entertain. All things that help to make the woman comfortable in labor and create a comfortable atmosphere. None of which is available to the woman in Mozambique. Not that it is bad to be comfortable. I believe that this is the mandate of the medical institution, but I am always reminded of our broken world in countries like Moz where the institutions do not have the capacity, are stressed or where many of the staff see the job as a paycheck instead of a calling to care for the sick and ease their suffering. Jenny, reminded me that she watched a woman walk from the hospital to the ambulance that was to take her from Gondola to Chimoio because she was in need for an emergency Cesarean operation. In South Africa they would wheel you out in a wheel chair. It is not that this does not exist in Moz, but often there is not enough supplies or the nurse just decides that he/she does not feel like doing it that particular day. In Moz, if you ask questions about what is happening to you, you get yelled at because you are not trusting the doctors, yet we are sitting in a class where the nurses are telling us everything we need to know so that we are aware of everything ahead of time. I do not want to be to hard on Mozambique because I know the problems are much deeper but there is some truth to what I am saying.

What is more, in Johannesburg, the hospital will put a package together of everything you need for the first two weeks and make a cd that we can take home with us. Wow, so much care. It reminds me that the way we are treated by our medical institutions can make a huge difference in our experience.

I guess I could either be depressed or thankful. For now I will be thankful.

Toward the end of class I heard the nurse mention, "Theatre"

"Wow, even a theatre," I said.

Jenny let me know that in South Africa "Theatre" is the word for operating room.

Rats, I could use a good movie right now.

As if my article on the 'Ol Geezer' was not enough to get some of our readers rolling on the floor with laughter, I can assure you it is a never ending adventure. Today is my birthday and on our way back from Jenny's appointment with the doctor we decided to pass by the Mugg and Bean (a coffee shop chain in Southern Africa)to get some coffee and some lunch for something special. There is nothing like a never ending cup of coffee to lift ones spirits and to kick the cold that I was welcomed with as my ship landed in the temperate world again. I enjoyed a wonderful burger topped with bacon and blue cheese which made the stop worthwhile. However, my cold continued to interrupt my meal with sneezing and blowing until I was all out of kleenex. I kindly called our waitress over and asked her if she had and "napkins". She paused and gave me a funny look but then said, "Ok" and went to the back of the restaurant. It took one second to look at the scared look on Jenny's face to realize the possible mistake I had made.

"I hope that 'napkin' in South Africa is not that women's thing that nobody talks about," I inquired of Jenny a little scared.

"Maybe?" she replied sheepishly.

I gained my composure and kindly asked my waitress what a the thing she brought me is called in South Africa. Saving my pride she smiled, laughed and said, "Serviette".

I still do not know what 'napkin' means.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Apartheid Museum

Yesterday, we visited the Apartheid Museum. It wound around various corners telling the story of how Europeans came to South Africa and how society moved to the point of apartheid in the mid-1900s to its dissolution in 1994. It is a sad story from whatever perspective one looks at the history because of how people devalued others and chose not to see ways to work together or see each others’ inherent worth. It is also a story of tremendous reconciliation as the leaders worked together to bring about a more just society without the violent ends that could have errupted.

I am struck by the way that we often do not think of the larger systems at work. I am sure that there were many people who lived in Apartheid who did not approve of it or were indifferent but did not do anything about fighting against it, either because they did not care enough or did not have enough time or desire or knowledge how to fight against it. Furthermore, sometimes we benefit from injustice and do not see the injustice and how it affects us. What systems do I benefit from that cause someone else to suffer?

For the past few weeks I have been thinking about a poem that I read several years ago and rediscovered recently. The poem was written by Martin Niemoller, a pastor in Europe during World War II. It goes as follows:

“They came first for the communists, and I didn’t speak because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.”

It makes me wonder if I would have spoken up if I had lived in South Africa during Apartheid. But even more so, it makes me wonder what are injustices that I see that I do not speak against?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Dumb Questions

The Farming God's Way training which I attended this past weekend was in Bloemfontein about four hours drive southwest of Johannesburg. As I flew in I noticed that it did not look all that much different then the great plains, especially eastern Colorado, Wyoming and western Nebraska. Bloemfontein is a major agriculture producing area in the central plateau of South Africa. It has extreme temperatures like the Great Plains and the major economic activity is farming wheat and corn. As we approached the eye could see large circles where the central irrigation systems made their path. A man in the seat in front of me was visiting South Africa doing articles for the BBC. He commented on the central irrigation systems, pivots we call them in Nebraska because they move around a pivotal point in the center of the fields and water the crops, making large circles on the plains. He was incredibly fascinated by these systems and had never seen them before. This was quite interesting to me since they were almost a natural part of the landscape where I grew up, almost to the point that it might be worth considering putting them in those National Audubon Society books that help identify wildlife on the plains. I can see the description: "Large, multi-legged animal that has a habit of running in circles, though is not very fast. Mostly lives on the ground but will occasionally spend time of climbing houses or grain bins. Largest preditor is migratory thunderstorms and tornados." This all reminds me of how diverse the world is.

On arriving to the airport, which is getting a make over for the FIFA World Cup next year, I sat down to wait my ride which was on it's way from Lesotho nearby. I happened to overhear the neighbor lady talking in Portuguese. English, which is one of the official languages of South Africa and many of our other neighboring countries, I was actually a little surprised to hear Portuguese spoken.

I said hello in Portuguese and said, "Where are you from? I did not expect to hear Portuguese spoken in South Africa."

"I am from Brazil. The Brazilian soccer team came in yesterday for the FIFA Confederations Cup and you will hear a lot of Portuguese spoken here," she replied.

In Southern Africa where soccer is king, I realized my question was like asking why people are wearing red in Lincoln on Husker game day. I ended the conversation there and realized I need to pay attention to the news.

Needless to say, while I will not be able to attend the games it has been a joy to watch teams like Brazil, Egypt, USA, South Africa and Italy play on TV here in South Africa and to feel like I am almost there.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Joel's Prayer
Sometimes Joel falls asleep during our nightly prayers and says funny things unknowingly. Tonight his prayer was as following:
"Dear Jesus, I pray for the health of our baby. Help us to find a good market for French fries."

Farming God's Way

Observe the forest, it is a marvelous creation of God. The trees tower above the ground defying gravity. Their leaves and fruits fall and lay on the ground. The grass hides the seeds, protected by a covering of leaves, needles and other dead decaying matter. It is only a matter of time and the seed springs new and produces a new tree which will grow to become a towering tree and again drop its leaves and seeds in the endless cycle of life.

A number of questions come to mind when observing the forest, the prairie, the African bush. When we prepare a field why do we burn the fields? Why till the grass and leaves under? Why do we expose the water in the soil to drying air? Why do we need a clean field? Why do we need to till the soil for the seeds to grow?

This is the questions we were asked at the Farming God's Way training in Bloemfontein, South Africa. The people spearheading this movement believe that Africa could be the breadbasket of the world and that God had provided everything that is needed for the poorest of the poor to do this. There effort consists of no tillage, thick mulching, composting, minimum inputs of fertilizer, manure and termite mound soil, appropriate spacing, weeding on time and practicing good stewardship of the land that God gave us. These are all techniques that the poorest subsistence farmers are able to do and do even better than larger commercial farmers to produce more corn per acre. And the results are phenomenal. Where farmers have been dealing with larger and larger fertilizer inputs into poorer and poorer soils, farmers are reaping the benefits of yields 2,3 even 10 times the amount of past years.

Look at the way God grows the trees in the forest and the plants of the field. He covers them with mulch, he does not till the ground. The rain falls and is conserved under "God's blanket" of mulch and the seeds germinate and grow.

If the poor can learn from observing God's creation Africa truly will be the breadbasket of the world.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Ya ol'Geezer

Today was a rainy cold, cold day in Johannesburg. Actually the last three days have been overcast and cold. It is amazing how cold it is when the house you are in does not have a heater. I believe we have been in the 40s and 50s Fahrenheit, but we have been running the space heaters consistently.

Anyway, I did not start writing to talk about the weather. The reason I am is that I finally worked up the courage to step outside to go get the mail in between rainy spells. On the way I met up with the manager of the complex, a really nice guy who has made us feel quite welcome here. In the midst of the conversation I asked what he was up to today. He replied that he was working on an old geezer.

I got to thinking that if Jenny had said to someone that she was working on her old geezer I might feel a little unnerved. Somehow through the rest of the conversation I figured out that he was talking about a water heater that had quite working. He asked me what I called it and I said, "a water heater". He said 'Geezer' was an 'older' word.

"Clearly," I thought.

He went on to say it is an older English work for those things we have in America that shoot water from the ground.

"Oh," I said, "You mean Geyser." He affirmed my joy at figuring it out.

So that was my introduction to the word for water heater, pronounced 'Geezer' in the English in this particular part of the world.

He went on to show me the 'old geyser' that he had just removed from a town home and was about to install a newer version of the 'old geezer'. Somehow I wish it was that easy to fix us. Or maybe we are just replaced with a new one?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Getting ready for Baby

The countdown is really here. In a matter of weeks (I'm 37 weeks pregnant) we will get to meet this little one who has made our life more interesting with his/her squirming and daily multiple bouts of hiccups. We will also get to know if we are having a boy or a girl.

I think we have all the stuff. This small human requires alot! Yesterday we bought a carseat. I've sewn 24 cloth diapers and we have several plastic panties to put over them. Last week we found a bassinette that we will use here in Johannesburg. It reminds us of a casserole carrier but is for babies to sleep in. Back in Mozambique, we scoured the used clothing markets and came up with a decent wardrobe that only cost us between 2.5 meticais and 15 meticais per garment ($0.09 to $0.54). This doesn't include all the ointments and wipes! Plus, my mom is coming from the States after the baby is born with more stuff--books and toys, brushes (to use if he/she has hair, which if he/she takes after my mother, won't have hair for a year) and nail clippers and probably alot more that I don't know about.

Babies in Mozambique do not have this much. Their car seats are the capulanas tied to their mother's body (sometimes an older sibling). Diapers depend on the family's socioeconomic status, whether they have plastic panties or not (it frequently is risky to hold a baby in Moz). Most babies, I think, sleep with their parents initially. And becuase their little bums are not encased in water proof material, I doubt that many deal with diaper rash. From what I've seen, mothers douse a liberal sprinkling of powder all over their little brown bodies which shows up as white lines in the creases of their fat wrinkles, warding off diaper rash?

One thing that is common despite the discrepancies in amount of stuff is that babies are loved.