Thursday, December 9, 2010

rainy season

I've grown up taking precipitation for granted. Spending the first 18 years of my life across the street from Lake Michigan, with its five month long ritual of lake effect snow, and the next five years in Grand Rapids, apparently the second rainiest city in the country, has not left me in want of moisture. But watching storm clouds tumble along the Indian Ocean coast, or seeing lightning bolts shock the Maputo cityscape with electric pink reminds me that I'm actually quite blessed.

In these past few months I've learned not only more about sustainable agriculture and water conservation techniques such as sand dams, but also about the stark reality of the needs behind these practices. I could easily throw out dozens of statistics that evoke pity, enlightenment and overwhelming helplessness at the magnitude of water deprivation issues in sub-Saharan Africa alone. But experiencing how tangible and sensual water problems puts lively flesh to the dry bones of statistics. People eat or starve by the rains, crops live or die by the rains, and roads are passable or soup by the rains. Walking across a sand pit that used to be a river, relishing in the taste of sun-baked water because the tap is untrustworthy, and smelling the electric nitrogen-laden air as we eagerly await the rain are all reminders that the start of the rainy season actually means something.

In my home culture, rain is often perceived as a soggy and depressing nuisance that inevitably interjects the sunny rest of life. This has also been my perception of the last few weeks here. A little over three weeks ago, the tension that was building during the dry season finally burst the dam of my host family. Lightning descended and the floods rose, and the life I had delicately constructed here began to dissolve. Trust has been lost, relationships have melted, memories now have scars, and I have often found myself drowning in a sea of emotions that this rainy season has brought upon us. My Mozambican social circle has been broken and almost everything has fallen apart.

But despite the magnitude of the suffering and sadness, I am waterproof. The puddles of muddied confusion have expanded exponentially, but still I know how to swim. And though this week the winds have risen and the temperatures dropped, I am still anchored in place by something firm, yet intangible. As much as I wish to escape the hurtful, the disgusting, the violating, and the regret, there's no use running away. I'm slowly realizing that God is present as much here as anywhere else. He's the air mattress on the living room floor when I'm homeless. He's the arm around the shoulder when I'm reading bad news. He's the peace that comes after my tears have drained all my energy. And he's that quiet farmer who's planting seeds with a smirk on his face and a head full of thoughts no one will ever know. Maybe when the rain stops pelting everything in my sight, something green will pop up out of the drenched ground. It's my only hope. For now, I'll find solace in remembering the words of the lovely poetess Luci Shaw in her eloquently simple poem “Forecast”:

planting seeds
changes my feelings
about rain

Thursday, October 28, 2010

bouncy hearts

A few weeks ago, while recovering from my foot incident, I attempted to catch up on the sermons that I've been missing from the church I've attended in the last few years. While I am still many weeks behind in the online sermon archive, I listened to a message from early September that felt just as real as if it was spoken just for me right then and there. Since then, the message has kinda been stalking me, and creeping into my mind throughout the emotional roller coaster of my past few weeks.

This particular sermon of interest was starting off a short series on the book of Ezekiel, which seeks to capture all of the joys and obscurities of this random prophetic Old Testament book. By the time the story reaches Ezekiel 11, the Israelites have been driven off of their promised land and are left displaced and posession-less in the territory of their oppressor. Up until this point, the book has been one bummer after another, and the Israelites are pretty much at the end of their luck. Then, all of a sudden, God bursts into the situation and says, “Although I sent them far away among the nations and scattered them among the countries, yet for a little while I have been a sanctuary for them in the countries where they have gone...I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.” [Ezekiel 11:16, 19].

I'm really struck by the inclusive language that God uses here. It's not just “I'm going to do stuff for you individually,” but instead, “you're all going to be in this together.” And he's not just like, “Well, have a a nice trip as I fling you to different corners of the world,” but instead, “hey, I'll be there too and make sure you have what you need.” When it comes to hearts of flesh instead of stone, God promises not to remove the hard, disappointing, gross, depressing or painful parts of our lives, but rather equip us with what we need to make it through. It seems counter-intuitive that something soft and cushy would be tougher than what's solid and hard. But my pastor pointed out that we need hearts that are rubbery and maliable, so that they'll bounce back after God throws us into challenging being scattered among the countries.

My pastor described that when God talks about giving his people an “undivided heart,” he really means creating a community with one unified vision. This struck me after all the work that my MCC team here is Mozambique has been doing lately. Much of our tangible work and energy has been spent on creating vision statements, articulating our mission and outlining what it will take to get ourselves and our partner organizations to where we want to be. But then I started thinking again about the earlier point of the need for fleshy hearts and flexible characters when it comes to all these new challenges. As I started thinking about the past two months, I'm realizing all of the ways that we've been emotionally and physically tossed around. Since this time in August, we've had MCC Moz team members with homesickness and stomach sickness, fevers and sunburns. There have been rolled ankles, broken fingers, bruises and cuts. We've shared clinic visits, emotional breakdowns, prayers and the worries following a nighttime fainting spell and a closed head injury. But at the same time, we're all miraculously still here. The canoes didn't tip over, the chapas didn't crash, the planes worked as they were supposed to and the cars got us home in one piece. And through it all, we're together, unified in the realization that this work isn't easy, that the food isn't always good, that we have more nagging questions than relieving answers and that we're all at various levels of emotional disarray. But at least it's not just my heart bouncing around or my solitary feeling of displacement. God's doing a lot of work here, and I have quite the sneaky suspicion that he's starting by making our hearts just a little more squishy.

Monday, October 4, 2010

add it to the list

It's been a crazy past few days. After doing much traveling in the past weeks, I was looking forward to getting back to my routine, host family and work. Friday morning began as any typical work day as I stood by the side of the main road waiting for a bus into the city, and then kept waiting as the bus I caught slowly made its way through the heinous Maputo morning traffic. I was lucky enough to be able to sit down during the ride, and although this meant sitting in the direct sunlight for two and a half hours, I was trying to stay upbeat. When I got closer to my bus stop in the city, I decided to climb over all the bags, seats, children and legs that were between me and the door so I would be ready when my stop came. What began as one big stride over some baggage ended with me crumpled on top of my twisted foot. Apparently the floor wasn't as stable as I thought. This now tops the list of Ways Katie Gets Hurt When She's Clumsy.

I hobbled my way to work, trying to maintain my composure amidst the pain and worry that I had further messed up my bad ankle. Once I arrived at CCM, Jenny, my MCC colleague, was there to hear of my accident, my awful morning, my frustrations and my general emotional havoc. As the morning went on and my pain worsened, we decided to make our way over to the private clinic to check out my foot and ankle situation. After five hours, four x-rays and three snack crackers, we ended up with two different doctors, diagnoses and disgruntled Americans. The first doctor looked at the x-rays and concluded that nothing was broken, but a bone was just displaced. However, she recommended that we wait for the opinion of the second doctor who would be there in 15 minutes. Two and a half hours later, the second doctor arrived, stating that it was merely a sprain, the bones were fine and a simple bandage cast would be fine. In the end, I was given a full plaster of Paris cast and felt much more discomfort with my cast and unanswered questions than feeling like the visit was worth all the trouble.

By the end of Friday, I had many new additions for my list of Frustrations. I was hungry, tired, annoyed, inconvenienced, sore and generally quite negative. I was frustrated that my host family didn't seem to care that I was hurt and that instead the burden of taking care of me unfairly fell upon Jenny. I was annoyed with how much money and resources it took for such a dumb thing as a twisted ankle and that we still needed to buy me a crutch as well. And I felt awful for taking up so much of Jenny and Joél's time as they were trying to prepare for leaving on vacation the next day.

But by the next morning, I realized that all of my negativity had been really short-sighted. With the morning light came a new perspective that things weren't as bad as I had made them out to be. I cast aside dwelling on my lists of angering and frustrating things, and instead chose to add to my lists of Things To Be Grateful For and New Experiences. To the latter list, I can now add the experiences of Mozambican health care, learning to coordinate walking with a crutch and creatively showering when only one foot can get wet. I'm truly grateful that the injury isn't worse, that I have incredible coworkers who go above and beyond the titles of colleagues and friends, that I have an amazing MCC team here who prays for me and sends me encouraging texts and emails, and that I can recuperate at Joél and Jenny's apartment instead of commuting from Matola. I'm thankful for the little things like a ride to Sunday night fellowship, the luxury of Skype-ing with family and for fresh air on the roof where I can watch the Maputo skyline. Yeah, it's a bummer that my foot is hurting, but at least I now that I will be just fine.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

machanga skies

Priscila wasn't lying. Her repeated lure to get me to visit Machanga was that the night sky is incredible and unlike anywhere else. And as it turns out, she is absolutely right. After spending some time in Beira for our MCC team meetings, I decided to take Priscila, my Brazilian MCC colleague, up on her offer of spending a few days at the Machanga girls center where she works. In Machanga around 5:00 every afternoon, the scorching sun races to the horizon. But instead of making it the whole way, the sun sets a ways above the horizon, as if it's more tired than it's made everyone else during the day. Then 6:00 comes and rewards Machanga residents with the relief of cool breezes and a cloudless indigo sky. The stars begin to pour out from their hiding places as if God has been saving his best constellations for the southern hemisphere. Since Machanga is in fact in the middle of nowhere, no light pollution disrupts the show as the solstice moon and vivid Mars vie for the attention of the stargazer. When the conditions are perfect, the entire Milky Way lights up like a sea of hazy fireflies, so close one could almost touch them. And to see the Southern Cross—the pride of national flags and elusive to Northerners—behind the silhouette of coconut palms is amazing. The gorgeous night sky alone makes enduring the heat and exhaustion of Machanga worth it.

Life in Machanga is simple, but challenging. It's a life full of dust and charred grass, but lacking food diversity and widespread electricity. It's a life where a purchase totaling $4 USD means months of savings, and where getting to the closest paved road means two and a half hour bus ride. It's a life where bathrooms mean holes in the ground and raffia walls, and where kitchens mean smoky stoves and jerrycans of well water. But it's also a life where the continual bubbling of Ndau means friends are close by, and where celebrations of steady canoes and shrimp to eat means not taking common elements for granted.

The slow and relaxed pace of life allowed me time for reflection on how my present surroundings materializes my past eduction and future work of the next ten months. I found myself thinking of my International Development degree, and how it's really just a fancy title for something that offers more questions than answers. I remembered my final capstone paper where I praised my subject, Denis Goulet, for his definition of development as: “a process by which life is made more human in some meaningful way.” In May of 2009 when I completed the paper, I found this statement to be empowering as it encompassed granting people a more ethical existence through increasing their dignity, freedom, rights and opportunities. But in September of 2010, I am reinterpreting this statement as a shallow, incomplete and perhaps even a degrading way of labeling those who are impoverished as somehow less human than those who are more affluent. If I shower without a ceiling overhead and fear sunburn as I bathe, does that make me less human? Or if I work in a huge steel building in a office with air conditioning, fluorescent lights and no outside windows, does that make me more human?

Even though I stayed only briefly in Machanga, there was something very human about my experience. Being sick during my stay made me pay close attention to the needs of my body. Having limited conversation abilities made me rely more heavily on motions, gestures and facial expressions to get my point across. Sweating, eating, laughing and walking all seemed to be very human experiences, but still didn't seem to get me any closer to a better definition of development. While I attempt to sort everything out in my mind, I'll keep my eyes open and stay amazed at simple things like stargazing.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


The past month has been really challenging. Acclimating to a new language, culture, set of bacteria and cuisine has been more difficult than I expected. I've begun to read 2 Corinthians 4:8 in a whole new way. I may not be crushed, but I've certainly felt pressed as my four to five hour daily commute has literally jammed me in various forms of public Mozambican transportation. I was certainly perplexed and tempted by despair as riots in Maputo kept me in a confused state of house arrest for five days. Barriers of language, skin color and customs made me feel lonely, and sometimes I struggled to remember that I'm not abandoned. And after being bruised, bloodied, muddied, stubbed, and generally struck down (just in my walk to work alone), much of my patience and energy has been destroyed. But God has continued to remind me that my increasingly fracturing clay jar only leaves more room for him to fill in my ever-expanding weaknesses and inadequacies. Lately, I'm learning a lot about vision—not only in the act of seeing, but also in recalibrating my perspective.

Physically and tangibly, I've stopped taking many things for granted. Transportation, time, family, friends, running water, conversations, soap and vegetables all mean something different to me after being here. Health has also cut into my altering perspectives, as a few days of pink eye renewed my gratefulness for the ability to have vision. Additionally, stumbling back to my host family's house—a treacherous 12 minute walk from the paved main road—in the utter blackness of the bush after a long day in the city makes me super thankful for the sight aids of cell phones and mini flashlights.

Before I came to Mozambique, I had a vision for what my host family and living situation would be like. I live with my new mami, Dona Monica, and her four daughters. Our house is in Matola, a “suburb” of Maputo, located southwest of the city. The road we take into the city is the same that directs traffic into South Africa and/or Swaziland. The family's husband and father passed away last year, but people are never scarce in this house. Grandma, a nephew, friends and grandchildren keep the house bubbling with Portuguese discourse, Changari orders, and in-human shrieks, just for the sake of noise. The family is loud, welcoming and filthy rich. Wine bottles clutter the main sitting room, a china and gold laden table constantly remains set in the dining room, (at least) three kitchens create a maze when trying to locate anyone, and multiple cars crowd the long brick driveway. Needless to say, it turned out to be a bit different in reality than in my imagination. My vision did not include an upper class family, the luxury of having food but choosing not to eat or the daily passing of slums to arrive at a mansion in the middle of nowhere. But my new vision is slowly changing to incorporate the reality of class divide and the existence of affluent Mozambicans. As my MCC coworker Stephen said a few weeks back, “One day this will all seem normal, but today is not that day.” I'm still waiting for that day to come.

But despite the challenges of changing my perspectives, I've also experienced the excitement of gaining a new overarching vision. I've spent the last week in Beira with the entire MCC Mozambique team for a retreat. It took us Maputo residents 16 hours to get here, but I've greatly enjoyed learning more about the country, my coworkers and our joint vision for our MCC programs. Through our meetings, frustrations have been aired, joys have been shared, friendships have been solidified, many games have been played and serious strategic planning has taken place. In the last two weeks, my colleges in the sustainable agriculture and water (ASA) program of CCM have chartered our vision, mission and objectives for the next three years, as well as how they fit into MCC's work in Mozambique. Being the development geek that I am, I've been thrilled in discovering our collective mission, as well as my contribution toward it. Our team has articulated that MCC Mozambique seeks to follow the teachings of Jesus through healthy, sovereign partnerships to nurture just, abundant life in the areas of water, food security, education, peace and HIV/AIDS awareness. I'm so excited to be a part of a group that shares my passions, goals and drive, and I'm anxious to watch our Spirit-led vision unfold in our attempt to bring a little heaven to this corner of the earth. And I'm also glad to finally watch my preoccupied short-sightedness wither away in the light of a new vision.

Monday, August 23, 2010

bringin' the flavor

Maputo is a taste I can't put my finger on. It's like a flavor that I've experienced before, but yet at the same time is totally different. It's as awkward on the tongue as my infant-like Portuguese. It's as delicious as the food we're eating as we stay in a home for traveling missionaries. It's as suddenly spicy as the instant my life flashes before my eyes as a chapa speeds around a corner and misses me by inches. It's as sweet as the smiles from my CCM coworkers as they welcome me to my "second home." It's as flavorful as the salty air that bounces in over the fish markets along the banks of the ocean. But yet it's an unfamiliar taste like one that can only get better with time.

Priscila, Stephen and I have just completed our third day bumping around Maputo in a daze of excitement, exhaustion and wonder. I still feel a bit numb from our whirlwind weekend of traveling and all that lead up to our arrival. We flew on two overnight flights in a row to get us from orientation in Akron, to a long layover in London, to a short goodbye to Elise in Johannesburg, and finally to Maputo. But we have made it (even with all of our luggage!), and are staing safe and well-fed under the provision of Casa Koinonia staff.

I still have trouble realizing that I'm actually here. All of my planning and preparation is done, all of my farewells have been said and all of my fundraising is taken care of. Maputo is now my home. And in many ways, I feel that this is a homecoming rather than a new beginning. The headaches that plauged my head before I came have been replaced with the quiet and ever-present nudging that this is exactly where I need to be. The red dirt, the blue water, the green palm trees, the orange trash on the street, the white walls and the brown eyes all remind me of the aching in my heart ever since I left Ghana. This is certainly the beginning of this chapter, but it is not the beginning of the story.

My Portuguese is improving every day (thanks to the lessons from Brazilian Priscila), my jet lag is weaning, I'm more used to traffic coming in the opposite direction and I'm indeed feeling more and more at home. I've discovered bits and pieces about my host family, such as the facts that they were solidified the day before I got here, they have two daughters and they live an hour and a half from Maputo. I'm not thrilled about the three hour daily commute to work, but it will give me a chance to explore the city more and become proficient in the transportation system of chapas, or minibuses.

This afternoon, we spent some time in orientation and reflection at the home of Joel and Jenny, two MCC workers who have taken us under their wings. Jenny challenged us to spend our year seeking the ways that God is moving in Mozambique, even if "kingdom-bringing" looks quite different than what we're used to at home. It reminded me of the passage in Matthew 5 where Jesus talks about Christians' presence in the world, among other things. Don Davis, an occasional guest pastor at Mars Hill, calls us to be the light of the world and salt of the earth in terms of "get your shine on, and bring the flavor." I don't feel very shiny yet in Maputo, but I'm definantly feeling the flavor.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


This video was shown to us as part of our training and orientation. I wanted to pass it on as another perspective that I hope will help me wrap my mind around all that I will see, hear and experience throughout my SALT year. The video is a little lengthy, so get comfy and take the time to watch and listen.

Chimamanda Adichie: The danger of a single story | Video on

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Even thought I've only been in training for a few days, I already feel a small world away. This is mostly because a majority of the world has been brought to MCC this week. In my training, I'm joined with 60 other SALT-ers, as well as young adults from other countries--either serving abroad or in North America through two other MCC service-based programs. When all of us (about 80 total) are together in a room, it's as if a mini United Nations has been plopped into tiny Akron, PA. Along with valuable MCC-led workshops and orientation sessions, I've learned multiple handshakes from Zimbabwe, songs in Swahili, Chinese recipes and how to sing the colors of the Brazilian flag in Portuguese. I often feel socially overwhelmed from the expansive catalog of names, faces and placements that I've just jammed into my head, but it has been wonderful meeting the people here. We've laughed about melanin, teased about accents and marveled in variance. Never before in my experiences have the joys and challenges of diversity been so apparent in one situation.

This multiculturalism is represented in our living arrangements as well. We all live on or near the MCC headquarters campus, where there are five "houses" that represent different continents and regions. I'm living in the Africa house, but I really feel as though I'm living in a fair trade Ten Thousand Villages store ( From furniture to bedspreads, common African heritage and art forms are represented. These organic-feeling houses even have washers, calming the fears that I'll be hand-washing my clothes while in training!

A common theme of this orientation, besides multinationalism, is an acculturation to MCC and who we are within the organization. Being at the MCC headquarters is such a dream come true for me, and I feel so honored to be so graciously welcomed into the MCC family. We've matched the key MCC values of peace, development and relief with our own, and I'm deeply comforted in remembering that this is exactly when and where I'm supposed to be. I'm reminded of why I love MCC and it's work, as well as how perfectly my position is set to compliment and enhance my past experiences. I'm realizing just how colorful the world really is in all of its beauty and complexity, and I'm thrilled to be able to taste, smell, see, hear and feel the interconnectivity of all who are here and what this community represents.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

ate logo!

I leave bright and early tomorrow morning for a week of training before heading off to my placement. There are a ton of things that I'm not sure about, but am oddly alright with. I don't know who I'll meet in training. I haven't heard yet where I'll be living in Maputo. Despite my current friends' concern and my future friends' displeasure, I don't know where (or when) I'll be able to wash my clothes. And most disconcerting of all, I feel that I don't know a lick of Portuguese going into this gig.

But, I do at least know ate logo, which is one way of saying goodbye in Portuguese. It literally means "until soon." I find this to be a very fitting way to say goodbye to all the dear and loving friends and family who I have delighted in spending time with and have hated to let go this week. You all have been so supportive of and encouraging to me throughout this whole preparation period, and your excitement for my trip has been contagious (I'll ignore my suspicion that you're really just excited to get me out of your hair for a year!) For a visual of some of the people who have helped celebrate this new journey, check out the album link below.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

a new chaper

The adventures of Ghana are long over. College is finished. And a year of service through AmeriCorps*VISTA is complete. Therefore, it is time to leave the country again! This time, I'll be taking off for almost a year. I leave in exactly one week and should return on July 25, 2011.

My newest journey will lead me to Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. But while I'm returning to Africa, I'll be far away from familiar West African countries in order to explore the southeastern corner of the continent, which only books and documentaries have exposed me to thus far. My 11 month experience is through the SALT (Serving and Learning Together) program of the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). If those acronyms weren't enough, I'll be stationed in Maputo in order to serve the Christian Council of Mozambique (CCM) in their environmental development and water purification systems called sand dams. In essence, team of local and international development workers dam up a river in order to provide communities with clean water through the natural purification of the river's sand. I'll be working as a member of this team, but I'll be focusing on project planning and reporting. I will run previously written reports through a Portuguese to English translating software, create new documentation, and share the findings with donors, partner organizations, and the development community at large. At least this is what they tell me I'll be doing. Only time will tell what my actual experiences will be.

When I leave on the 12th, I will head to Akron, PA for a week of training before arriving in Maputo on August 21. Hopefully I'll gain a better understanding of what all this service year entails. I have been so blessed by my family, friends and home church throughout this preparation period. Through their generosity, I have surpassed the amount of money I needed to raise for my trip. I greatly appreciate your support through financial gifts, continued prayer and even by reading these blog posts. And with all of this being said, I think I'm finally ready to turn the page and see what the newest chapter of my life has in store!