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.