Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Service Delivery, Mozambican Style

Last week we had team meetings in Beira. As usual, we took the bus to Beira, enduring the 15-hour drive north. Joel left early on Sunday morning and Nadia and I left early Monday morning. He had meetings to go to before we needed to be there and the bus company we use doesn't go on Tuesdays, the day I wanted to go. Thus, Nadia and I went on Monday. Our trips were relatively uneventful. Monday, we came back to Maputo, all three of us together.

We left the station ahead of schedule on a relatively empty bus at 3:45 AM. They announced our estimated arrival in Maputo to be 8:30 PM. We quickly fell asleep, lulled by the hum of the motor and the motion. We woke up about an hour and half later to the repetative beep of an emergency alarm going off. The driver pulled over and looked at what was wrong, couldn't figure it out, and kept driving. 50 km (28 miles) down the road, the same thing. The trip continued thus. Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep...keep driving slower and slower until we pull to the side the road, the two drivers and in-bus service attendant (usually titled "flight attendant" in our family), under the bus looking at whatever was wrong. They finally figured out something was wrong with the air pressure system because whenever they worked on it we always heard air escaping.

The whole trip was like this, every 50 km, stopping to plug up the leak and pump the air back into the system. It wouldn't have been too bad, if the trip from Beira to Maputo was the distance from Beira to Chimoio (=200 km). It's not. Mozambique in it's entirety is twice the length of the state of California. It's 1200 km from Beira (midpoint) to Maputo (far south). What should have taken us 6 hours to get to Vilanculos (halfway point) took us 10. We had "lunch" at 5:30 because that's how long it took us to get to the town where our meals had been pre-ordered.

This continued all night until at 4:00 AM, I woke up once again to a stopped bus and the constant beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, beep of the alarm. I pondered the thought of what purgatory could be like: pre-dawn darkness in an unknown town with few street lights, longing for sleep but awakened by the incessant beep of the alarm and two fellow passengers talking loudly, my neck with a crick in it from sleeping upright, while my almost-2 year old whines because she, too, is tired of sleeping upright in her car seat and wants a cracker, but adamantly refuses when I give her one, the bus becoming stuffier from the lack of air conditioning.

We finally made it to Maputo at 6:00 AM. Twenty-six hours after we had left. Not once did we get an explanation of what was wrong. Never did we hear an apology for the delay escept to say, "This has never happened before". A person is left wondering, can you say that with integrity? We were not offered a refund or a free trip voucher with the company again. We did not receive any free drinks or snacks because of the long wait until lunch. I've come to understand that in this culture, one rarely apologizes for mistakes and almost never for delays.

It seems so counter-intuitive for those of us coming from the US, where airlines (the mode of public transportation that I have used the most to get from one city to another) explain the reasons for delays and if there are major issues offer compensation. At the least the captain of a plane when welcoming passengers to the flight, apologizes for the delay and asks them to consider the airline in the future. This is Mozambique. Things like this happen without explanation or apology.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Hip Hop Star

Look at this. Where did she learn it? She totally started dancing and singing in the microphone by herself. I hope it is not our maid watching Mozambican rap videos when we are away. Not much of anything good worth learning from there. I really hope she saw our friends children and copied them. It was their microphone.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

The price of food is rising. Obviously there is inflation to take into consideration but food is rising beyond that. I was recently talking to someone who just returned to Mozambique after four years absence. She commented how expensive food is. We have friends who regularly go grocery shopping for basic groceries across the border in Nelspruit because it is cheaper. I know food prices in the States have risen since I last lived there. I wonder how the prices compare.

In some ways, food is cheap here. Locally grown fruits and vegetables are not expensive. Oranges are in season and I can buy an orange, depending on the fruit seller for 5 meticais ($0.16 USD = 6 oranges for $1). Or a handful of green beans for 10 meticais ($0.32 USD). But, like I said, prices are rising. When we first arrived in Mozambique, I bought eggs for 3 meticais an egg (at that time $0.12 USD = 36 meticais/dozen = $1.44 USD/dozen). Now I pay 70 meticais ($2.33 USD) for a dozen eggs or 6 meticais for an individual egg ($0.20 USD).

We're going to South Africa this week for some MCC business. I am tempted to do some grocery shopping for things that I can get in Mozambique. Normally, I would look for things that I cannot buy in Moz. But this week, thinking about my budget, I wonder about buying things that are available in Moz but are cheaper in South Africa. Perhaps, I am over processing. But one of the things that seems to be an unsaid value in MCC (and that I believe) is trying to support the local economy. In the grand scheme of life, whether or not I do some regular grocery shopping in South Africa won't matter. But it takes me a step away from being present in Mozambique.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Saturday Fun

Today was one of those really good days. Jenny and I have decided that we will be walking every Saturday to the Lover's Park (Parque de Namorados). It overlooks the bay with a wonderful outdoor cafe, good coffee and a sandy play area complete with one of those play structures you would see in a McDonald's in the US. We always enjoy the walk. Central Maputo has wide sidewalks, practically 12 feet wide, that makes walking with a stroller easy and quite safe if Nadia wants to run.

Lover's Park (Parque de Namorados)

We often pass by to say "hi!" to a wooden giraffe and lion that is in the new Parque de Continuadores. This park has been renovated for craft sellers to sell there wares to tourists and international workers staying in the expensive hotels in the area. To attract people they also have several restaurants serving coffee and local cuisine, an art area where for a fee children can do artwork all morning, several stages for music and theatre and many other attractions.

We had our walk, our coffee and Nadia played in the sand with another young girl, Chloe. Her mother works for USAID and Jenny and her had a very nice conversation for a while. She is from New York and her husband from France. We meet some really interesting people.

We spent the afternoon relaxing. I made monkey bread for breakfast tomorrow on request from Jenny for mother's day (Pat take note). Nadia had her nap. In the evening we went for a drive down 'the Marginal', the long palm tree lined beach road along the edge of Maputo and along the bay. We got hot dogs near the beach and parked overlooking the water as the sun went down. We almost bought coconuts with little straws to drink the water but decided we would do that another time. Sounds like paradise doesn't it. We than drove into dusk along the bay, into down town, enjoying the sites of the lights on the bay and the new construction that will one day make the whole beach and bay area an incredible walking and shopping area. We headed past the tall buildings and into downtown and home.

Along "The Marginal"

This was a good day.
Baby Wisecracks

Jenny was reading one of Sandra Boynton books to Nadia before bed this evening. It is called "Opposites". Nadia got to the one about Young and Old.

She said, "Daddy, old."

I feel better

Monday, May 02, 2011

Sand Dams & Food Security Update

I know it has been some time since I wrote on the topic of sand dams and food security which are the crux of my work (Joel) here in Mozambique. I have had to maintain a very disciplined line between work and home life, something which can be very grey within MCC. it can quickly encompass one's entire life. I think that is the way of missions. We treat it a bit different than normal life, or at least I do, with a higher set of ideals and scrutiny. If it is work, we can define the work place and the home life. If it is on the mission field, there is no division, all of life is mission, or at least I think that is what we tend to think. Why is that? Well in anycase, I have learned that definitely in order to survive you have to divide the time in your mind so you and your family do not go crazy. Thus, since I do most e-mailing at home on our blog, I do not write a lot about work.

In any case, a lot has happened in the last year to rejoice about. As many know we moved to Maputo so that I can join a team of people within CCM at their national offices. There has been incredible interest in the work of sand dams and conservation agriculture, both from people who donate money, local organizations and government wanting to build them for Mozambican communities as well as communities who have seen the benefits of improved lives and want dams built for themselves.

Now, what many people see when they give to MCC is that MCC takes that money and somehow magically a dam appears in a community on the otherside of the world. What people do not know is what all has to happen in between to make that happen. It is not as simple as giving money to some needy person and they build a dam. If that were the case, this all would be simple. We would just function like Western Union and tranfer money right to the people that need it. But we know the world is not that simple. There are many things that need to happen. There needs to be good planning by the local organization building the dam so that the money is well spent and people are helped. There needs to be information going back to those who gave money such as stories and information on results, so that everyone is held accountable and so that people who gave know that they really did make a difference. MCC needs to see the results so they can raise more moeny. Local organizations need to be able to connect to donor agencies, like Canadian Food Grains Bank, Life Water, USAID, CIDA and others who can fund the kind of work they hope will benefit people. Local organizations need to be able to fill out grant applications in a way that actually encourages other organizations to fund their work and they need to report in a way that builds and maintains trust.

But there is a big problem. Because we work in a under-developed country, education levels are a lot lower than ours and skills are lacking. The lack of education and skills in society means, though the people in local organizations and communities have skills, they may not have the skills or resources needed to do the kinds of things like reporting, collecting written stories of the difference it is making in people's lives. They do not have the skills to plan efficiently, fill out convincing grant applications and so on. These are the kind of things that determines whether your project will recieve funding or not and whether you can maintain the trust of funding organizations. When a project is not funded, it is the people in the communities that could benefit from a dam that suffer because there is no money to build the dam or teach agriculture skills. Vice versa, this means that the type of information that agencies like MCC need to give back to people like you and me who donate money is often lacking. What happens when MCC cannot give that information to people who donate? Well, we scrutinize missions pretty well. If we don't like it we stop giving or go elsewhere to an organization that we think will do it better. Or we form our own organization or grant which is not necessarily better because the problem is not with MCC or any other funding agency but with the lack of education systems within the countries in which we work. This all means less money for the work that we would like to do to help people. Make sense.

So a few years ago CCM was asking MCC and CFGB to expand the work in other provinces beyond the work that was already happening. Communities were asking for dams. Governments were asking for training for their personnel. Churches were asking for training in conservation agriculture. We were too few in MCC to handle all the in between work. So really the biggest constraint to building more dams and doing more agriculture is the capacity and skills to do the necessary stuff in between including the people and structure to make it happen. So what do we do? Well, that is why I am in Maputo. MCC Mozambique is concentrating on building a team of people whose challenge is to create the conditions within the local organization so the following happens:

  1. The provincial bodies of the local organization have the skills to manage these projects well.

  2. The provincial bodies have the human resources and technical skills necessary both in management of projects and in agriculture and water collection technologies..

  3. The NGO and its provincial bodies have the ability to report on the results in the communities and pass that on to funding agencies and constituents in the West.

  4. Good relationships are built and maintained between the NGO and the myriad of funding agencies in the rest of the world so there is sufficient money, training opportunities and technical resources to do the job well.

  5. Expansion of the sand dams and conservation work into 4 more provinces in the next 5 years, helping many more communities get food and water for themselves.

So this takes a lot of work and organization and our team has charge of organizing a structure that will facilitate training in technical skills (in water collection and agriculture techniques and approaches, engineering, finances, reporting, project management, etc), learning exchanges with other organizations with experience, building reporting and accounting structures that are efficient and transparent, providing direction and strategy for the program, handling the transfer of money and building the program such that it can be done in a completely new province who has no experience yet with sand dams and conservation agriculture. To move to a different province is not as easy as it seems. There is a huge amount of experience and technical skills and tools gained over the past 4 years. Our team has to start getting together documentation on the processes, such as dam construction and conservation agriculture, technical surveys, tracking sheets, contracts, technical teachings, organizational structures and so on. All these things are needed so we are able to communicate this to people in another province who have never, ever built a dam before. It is not as easy as just telling them how to do it. There is a lot of training (build capacity)that needs to happen and we do not want them to have to start from scratch nor repeat the mistakes we made. It is just not necessary nor an efficient use of money, time and effort.

We have come a long way. We have 4 team members and they are learning their roles. We are planning projects in 4 provinces, 2 more than those already constructing dams. We have program goals and are developing policy, plans and budgets. We are collecting documentation tools in the field and planning trainings. If we do our work well, we will earn the trust of funding agencies and maybe even you who give money to us.

It is not that there is not need nor money to give. There is plenty of communities waiting for dams and plenty of people wanting to help. What is needed is the machinery to make it happen well, transparently, efficiently and productively. If we can pull it off, the end result will be a multiplier effect and will last for many years to come and transform the local church organization into something better.

I have tried in so many ways to describe what I do or am involved in. This is the closest I can come without people wondering why an agriculture worker is living in the big city. That is why I moved to Maputo. That is why we are doing what we are doing.

Sunday, May 01, 2011


Mozambique is the loudest place I have ever lived. I’ve lived quite a few places in the States and three countries overseas—Russia, Mozambique and South Africa; Moz is the loudest. I find it ironic that in the description of Mozambique on job descriptions for MCC, someone described Mozambicans as talking softly. Perhaps in front of authority figures, but in normal life, it's not unusual for conversations to happen across distances with shouting.

It’s not unusual to hear music from our neighbors. We’ve grown accustomed to people’s ways of sharing their music since our days in Gondola. There are times I have prayed in the heat of the summer with the fan blowing on us for the electricity to go out just so we could have quiet to sleep. There are only so many doors and windows we can shut so that the music is shut out, but it’s still there, often feeling the beat through the floor as late as 4 AM.

Sometimes I stop and count how many noises I hear. Friday was a particularly loud day. We live on the fourth floor by American counting, third by the rest of the world. When I counted, this is what I heard: Nadia talking to herself in her crib before falling asleep for her nap, the radio playing some sort of Mozambican hip-hop (our maid’s choice of music), neighbors playing their music, people talking on the street below us, workers renovating the stores in our building on street level with power tools, and traffic. I long for quiet.
Nadia puts me to shame. Look at this. She decided to stretch with me this morning and she can lay flat on the floor with her feet straight out to the sides. Amazing. The other day she decided to help me with my pushups by getting on my back.

Sites Out Our Window

Honestly, I think we have lived in some of the most interesting places here in Mozambique. What we see outside of our windows gives us quite a bit of entertainment. In Gondola we would see people fly by on their bicycles with their wife on the back, two children on the bars in front of their dad and one on the mothers back. We would witness houses burning in the distance, miles away, probably the result of some child who did not intend to be an arson. We would look out our window and see men passing by our window with goats and chickens, all on top of heavily loaded semi-trucks. We would see numerous street fights including a woman who must have been on drugs, because it took 5 people to drag her away from a fight with a random woman on the street with whom she thought had stolen her husband.

Maputo has been even crazier. I have already mentioned the things we see from our window in earlier blog posts. But occasionally we hear a crash or other weird sounds and run to the window to see what has happened. Tonight we were watching a movie and we hear a big crash that sounded like a horrible accident. We rushed to the window to see the action. No accident, but right below our apartment was a small building with a roof on its side. Apparently it fell of the back of the pickup which was carrying it. The roof was all banged up but the rest seemed undamaged.

I do not know what is more bizarre, the fact that they were carrying it on a pickup truck, the fact that it was not tied down or that a dozen or so drunk men were shouting orders at each other tying to lift the small shed up and move it off the road. I wonder if drunk driving was again the cause.