Saturday, January 31, 2009

Tete Sand Dams

I have not talked much about the Tete sand dams that are being built by CCM Tete Province in the District of Changara. Most of the last two years have been in getting our first project going in Mandie on the other side of the Luenha River. We started the Tete project this fall with the help of our colleague, Holly, who is a civil engineer and helped the CCM staff design their first dam. I have pictures of the almost finished product in the midst of the rainy season as the river is running and a few pictures of the construction process. It is a bigger river and has a lot of potential for water capture.

Moving Gigantic Rock From Dam Site
I have never seen the likes of this before. This rock was enormous. The people hacked away with pick axes and hammers to chop it down to size and then they rolled it out with about 10 people. Watch out for those toes!

Women Collecting Rocks
Dzunga is quite a bit bigger then any of the communities in Mandie. When I went to visit with the learning tour there were about 200 people working on the dam. I was quite impressed. In Mandie I usually see 10-15 people working on the dams at any given day. 70-80 women carrying rocks in a long line is quite impressive.

Almost Complete Dam
It is the middle of the rainy season, things are green and water is running in the river. The dam is almost completed here in January but work is slower because of the rains and the base below ground is already completed. It should already be holding water and collecting sand. It has not been built very high yet but will be built up little by little over the next months and years as the sand collects behind the structure.

Barack Obama

I had an interesting conversation a few weeks back. I rarely it is very little that I hear anything about politics from the people around me though I know that it is something in their minds since a few months ago the days were filled with cars, motorcycles and bicycles flying flags of the different parties here in Mozambique as the municipalities had elections for each town. Half the time I think it gave people an excuse to yell, run, shout and party, after all there is not a lot to look forward to in the day to day here. In fact, a number of people driving cars and shouting had beer bottles in their outstretched hand…Scary. I tried to stay in as much as possible. Southern Africa has a history of political suffering, “Lording it over” as the Bible puts it. Examples such as Apartheid, colonialism, Zimbabwe today have caused great pain. Mozambique’s are shy about politics, after all theirs is a history of Portuguese domination, using local political power to gain the regions resource and a recent history of civil war which created a lot of distrust between people. Mozambicans are not ones to be easily critical. It is more important that things are in harmony.

I had a conversation today that was quite interesting. In church our secretary brought up the conflict in Gaza. “Too many people are dying. We need to pray that God will resolve things so no more death happens.” I never here things like this in church here. After church, I was talking with him. He happened to be quite attentive to the news of late and it must have been weighing on him.

He looked at me and said, “Barack Obama”.

That was all he said.

“Yeah,” I responded, “He is going to enter into office soon.”

He asked me, “Will Bush leave office.” He said this with a hint that makes one think of the situation that is happening with Mugabe in Zimbabwe where the leader is refusing to relinquish power. It is something that is on many people’s minds here and has happened so often in recent African history.

He went on.

“America, they like to use force don’t they.” This struck as quite interesting as the people in our church are not very well educated, maybe 6th grade at the most for some of the older people, and usually do not notice these things.

I responded, “What do you mean.”

“You start a lot of wars, like Iraq. And for no good reason. And without consulting others. “

You see this is not the Mozambican way. You avoid conflict at all costs and people sit down to resolve it by whatever means until people are satisfied but force is the last option.

I was afraid to ask but did,”So, tell me, what Mozambicans think about the leadership of America in the last decade. “

“They have created a mess, so many people have died, so many soldiers and all because of arms that were not there. You know I think it is because of those buildings. America was shamed and they had to make themselves look good.” No lie, that is what he said. Maybe, I thought, after all it is natural human tendency to make ourselves look good at all costs. Stand up for ourselves when we are shamed. It is part of our sinful nature. It happens to all of us, why not to nations. But is that the reason?

“It has gone downhill,” He went on, “But I think things will change. Barack will listen. “

This takes me back to conversations I have had over the last few months. After the US elections, people in the country were more excited about the results than their own elections. We were invited by our neighbors to watch the acceptance speech on TV because they thought important that we watch.

I also had a conversation with a pastor for one of the church’s we worked with. “We always thought that America is the great democracy. But we thought it was dead. Now that Barack is elected, we know that America is truly a democracy.” He gave me congratulations over and over. I guess after centuries and centuries of being forgotten, treated as slaves, house workers and less than human, this is a great sign of hope that the world as God created was indeed created to be fair, just and equal.

When I was in South Africa, black and white, asked me what I thought of the upcoming elections. But they always asked me, “So how is Barack doing.” One guy even asked me, “What is the other guy’s name.” I got so many handshakes that day.

“The American people have spoken, “I heard. These are people of color congratulating me, of European descent, on the fact that we, a mostly European nation were brave enough to elect an African (though partly African, he is African to them none the less). So it is clear who has been chosen by the people I live and work with in Southern Africa.

So, I thought, it is obvious to me why Africans think this is a good thing but what about other people. Christians, from other countries, they would think differently.

After elections, several missionaries asked me if we were happy. I was a little scared. Why, because I had been treated on several occasions in the past as almost a heretic for even thinking of voting one way or another. “Politics is very dangerous for us as Christians to talk about,” I said. It splits our churches and we demonize each other, I said.

They understood me, though only partially because it was not the case in their country.

Of my missionary friends from Brazil, Wales, England, Netherlands and others as well as Christian groups coming through Mozambique from other countries, it was clear to them who was best for the job.

Politics. It is a dangerous subject, it destroys the peoples, countries, regions….and even God’s church. It makes me wonder what Jesus thinks of all our political guffaw.

“Barack Obama” my friend said.

I just smiled.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

It only takes a spark, to get a fire going…
And sometimes all it takes is one person…Dona Cristina. Back sometime last year, I met with “Mae Presidente” (President’s spouse—the wife of the president of the denomination) to talk about savings groups. She had heard that I was working with savings groups and wanted to know more about them. We talked for about an hour. Unbeknownst to me, she loved the idea and on her own, went all over Manica and Sofala provinces, talking up the idea to Women’s Societies of the United Church of Christ. She visited churches out in the bush, where the only way to reach them is via canoe. She visited churches where she had to take numerous chapas. Two months later, she called me and said that she had 8 groups already formed and several more interested, would I be willing to come talk with them to help them organize? I was completely astonished and overwhelmed. So we decided to hold a training where we could train someone from each group in how to organize a savings group.

We held the training in Beira in August. We asked someone from Food for the Hungry, which has been organizing savings groups in Mozambique for several years, to do the training. At the training, we had 26 participants from communities where she had visited. It took place over two days and the women (and a few men) learned about how to organize savings groups. We did a simulation game both days where people saved beans (the monetary unit), performed the duties of president, secretary, treasurer and financial agents in a mock meeting. They had a good laugh when we pulled out name tags for each office and made them wear them around their necks. The trainer also had little games in between sessions to keep their energy. At the end of the two days, participants went home with practical ways to begin savings groups in their communities as well as knowing other people with similar training.

In October, we at MCC sat down with Dona Cristina to mark out next steps. She and several other women had formed a committee to give oversight to the project within the Women’s Society of the United Church of Christ. They designed three trips to visit 12 groups. Each trip, they delivered a wooden box to the group to guard their funds. In November, December and January they visited all the groups.

Last week I met with Dona Cristina and her colleagues about their trips and plans for the future. They are so excited about the project and told some really cool stories…one group they couldn’t get to because of the rains (which ordinarily is accessible via a 3-hour canoe ride), so the group walked to see them. Another group spawned two other groups and one of those groups walked 30 one way just to borrow a booklet that describes how to do savings groups. It was really neat to see the eyes of the women who accompanied Dona Cristina on her trips. I could tell they gained confidence in themselves through these trips. Their eyes lit up when they talked about how the groups are working.

When I read the report of their trips, I found out more about the new groups. They have a total of 249 members in their groups, 213 women and 36 men. At the time of the visits, they have saved 3161 meticais in their social funds ($131 USD) and 53,044 meticais in savings ($2,210 USD). Groups gave themselves different names, including: Kubesana (Mutual Assistance), Kuzwirana (Understanding), Kubatsirana (Mutual Assistance),Uniaao faz forca (Unity makes strength), Runyararo (Peace), and Kwaeja (The sun rose). One group has plans to work with disadvantaged children in their community by purchasing school supplies and flip-flops for them.
The directional committee gave me a proposal that looks pretty good for this coming year, where they’ll keep visiting groups and then host several other seminars to train others. It’s amazing how it’s growing, all because of one woman, seeing how it could help women in her church.
(Photos: top--simulation game; bottom--training participants. Dona Cristina is the woman in the blue next to me at the top of the group.)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

You know it’s hot when…
Two of my fellow MCCers and I have an on-going text messaging “You know it’s hot when…”. We text each other on extremely hot days. This week has been really hot. It reminds Joél and I of our first months here in Moz, living in Beira.

It’s good corn growing weather—lots of sunshine and heat. But for those of us who aren’t corn and have to live in the heat, it’s hot. We pity the people who have to work in their fields in this kind of weather, especially those whose fields are kilometers away and they do not have the fare for a chapa to get even part way there, so they walk. I heard of someone’s field that took her five hours to walk to it. Joel went and worked in his little field yesterday from 6-9 AM and came back completely soaked in sweat. It is the kind of heat where you just sit in a chair and sweat. I was still sweating last night at 2:35 AM. It's hot!

Anyway, you know it’s hot when…
…the little hairs on your toes stand up because they don’t want to be next to each other.
…when you burn your hand on the wall.
…when your eyelids sweat.
…when you sleep with two fans on you
…when the cold coke you bought a few hours ago but didn't drink immediately, now burns the roof of your mouth.

Thursday, January 08, 2009


My dear friend, M, once asked if she could send me anything with her sister who was coming to visit. I inherited my mother’s desire for having lots of different recipes available to try. So I asked her to send me recipes. She sent me a bagel recipe. I miss bagels. Every once in a while, I wake up and tell Joél we should go out for breakfast for a bagel with cream cheese. But they aren’t available here, unless you make them. I have made M’s bagels twice and they are lovely.

Here’s the recipe so you can try them too (especially for those who aren’t in bagel land):


¾ cup water
1½ tsp yeast
1 tbsp oil
2¾ cup flour
1 tsp salt

Combine ingredients. Knead and let rise (dough will be stiff). Knead again for 10 minutes. Shape with 2 inch hole. Let rise on greased cookie sheet until almost doubled. Drop into boiling water with 1 tbsp salt or brown sugar, 2 minutes each side. Drain. Coat with desired toppings. Sprinkle greased cookie sheet with cornmeal. Bake at 400º for 23 minutes.

Yield: 6 bagels

This time I experimented. I used half whole wheat and half white flour. Then I added ½ teaspoon of garlic powder and 1 ½ teaspoons of mixed herbs (a mix I get here: thyme, sage, oregano, basil, and marjoram). Just before baking, I sprinkled Parmesian cheese on top. Yum!

The Cattle are Lowing

The second verse of “Away in a Manger” describes a pastoral scene where the animals are all gathered around baby Jesus. “The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes, but little Lord Jesus no crying he makes.” Now after being in Mozambique and camping next to lowing cattle, braying donkeys and bleating goats, I’m quite amazed that the baby Jesus doesn’t awake crying; but he was the baby Jesus and perhaps that was the first miracle – that he didn’t wake up crying from all the animal noises.

Our Christmas did not involve lowing cattle (thank God!) but we saw plenty of other animals of God’s creation. Christmas tends to be a lonely time for anyone who is far away from family and familiar traditions. So when we were invited to go with some friends to a nature reserve in South Africa near Kruger National Park, we jumped at the chance.

We went with six other people—a Welsh couple, a Brazilian-American couple, a Dutch woman and a Brazilian woman. We drove all the way to the park and stayed at a beautiful lodge in the reserve. The website of the lodge promised that animals would come into the yard. We were not disappointed. Christmas morning, we woke up to zebras in the yard and later that day, Joél was able to feed them. We also saw warthogs, mongoose, vervet monkeys and two jennet cats. One day we drove around the park and saw a herd of zebras grazing near 6 giraffe.

One day we went to Kruger National Park. National parks here are not like the ones we have in the States, where you can get out and hike. Here, you stay in your car and drive around, looking at wildlife. Wildlife we saw, maybe not as close as Canon sees it, but we all had our cameras and binoculars out when we saw something. We saw: impala, warthogs, waterbuck, crocodiles, water buffalo, hippos, elephants, rhinos, zebras, lions, wildebeest, baboons, vervet monkeys, eagles, a tortoise, bats, vultures and various exotic birds. It was great. At one point, we even saw a number of elephants bathing. While we were leaving the park, three male lions caused a traffic jam because they were walking from one side to the other marking their territory.

Christmas day we celebrate using parts of everyone’s traditions. We had a barbeque (Brazilian tradition) with Christmas (fruit) cake (Welsh) and pulled poppers with prizes inside (British). Joél and I had brought hymnals so we sang some carols and talked about various traditions. We also exchanges gifts amongst us.

It was a really good way to celebrate Christmas if we had to be far away from home. For those 9 days, we were family and now after we’re back in the Chimoio area, we have good memories and stronger relationships with each other.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
The Rains Keep Coming
I look at the pictures in our flicker account and am reminded that last year the Zambezi river flooded. It was only a month ago as you can see from our last blog entries that we were in a drought and people worried about planting there crops. Well, in Moz it is always feast of famine and I am well aware of this since I am so connected with local farmers. They had to plant their corn two months too late and now it is raining too much. The corn, generally speaking, is growing well because we are having really hot humid days. As we say in Nebraska, you can almost see the corn grow on these days.

The downside to all this is there is flooding. Since Mozambicans do not have good irrigation systems they have to take advantage of low-lying areas that have good humidity, especially early in the planting season and late in the rainy season and early dry season when they can still take advantage of the area for a second season of corn. During the rainy season it is quite wet below and people use it to grow cane sugar and various vegetables like tomatoes, eggplant and pumpkin which they can sell for money in the market for family needs. The soil is rich, since it is a flood plain, and very deep so they get there best production there of corn and beans and other food crops for their families. They can also plant earlier in those sites so a farmer with a lowland area in his field is much better off than others who do not. However, these places flood. And flood they did. I spoke with a farmer yesterday who lost all of his cane sugar, tomatoes and corn and beans in the lowland because of flooding. He was quite shocked how much it flooded. Well, it is a flood plain and these things happen, but for a subsistence farmer, what can you do. This means big chunk of money lost to buy school supplies, clothes and food for the family. What do you do? You just tighten your belt and hope for next year.
We cannot say that climate change is causing the erratic rainfall patterns as Mozambique has always suffered from this and I do not have data to prove this. The only thing we know is that they say that the Zambezi River normally would flood once or twice every decade. Well the last decade it has flooded 4-5 times. If it floods this year it would be the last three years making it 4 out of the last 6 years. Climate change. Then again, reading the history of southern Africa it has always been an extremely difficult place to live. The people have adapted over centuries to be able to live here. So is this weather climate change, maybe? Is it Africa, definitely!