Sunday, December 2, 2012


Beira-bound on the main north-south
highway in Mozambique
Thousands of words could describe the joys, devastations,  travels, community, and changes of November 2012. But where words do not suffice, memories and photos remain to tell the stories.

Leaving Mozambique with the hope that rains will fall
and seasonal rivers will fill again by the end of the month

A contrasted view of landscape when entering Johannesburg

Putting on the Ritz (Carlton) reunion!

Nothing says sympathy like carnations

Getting sent off to the airport with gifts from Sassy Crafts and Paper Planet

I finally got German stamps in my passport!

It's Christmastime in the city

Roomies for a week!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

home sweet home

October 15 marked the one year anniversary for moving into my apartment in Maputo. It also marked a new beginning that I definitively decided on as I fell asleep one night: composting. Now, I live on the top floor of a very urban apartment building, but in the last year, my apartment has seen my modest plant friend collection expand. I recently bought some new seeds and started harvesting some from the vegetables I regularly consume. Then I decided that by golly, I WOULD make my own verandah garden. I do realize that given the neighborhood threats of rats, cockroaches and ants, my venture into back verandah composting could be compromised. But I’m going to stay positive and start rotting my foodstuffs. My goal is that in time, I will create enough fertilizer and/or soil to support my garden and produce herbs, flowers and at least one avocado, pineapple, green pepper, green bean, and squash in the next year. We’ll see.

While I can’t believe it’s already been a year since moving into my humble abode, I also can’t believe my transitions and personal growth over the last year. I remember the sorry state my apartment was in when I first walked in with my suitcases. There were only two working light bulbs, which is more than could be said of the latch-less front door slamming in the breeze. But in the last year, I’ve slowly turned a grungy bug hole in the ghetto into a cute little Pintrest-inspired home. I’ve learned that living without electricity at night, water during the day, and gas for a stove over a weekend all makes me appreciate those amenities so much more. I’ve learned to embrace the satisfaction of not having ants covering every surface of my kitchen. I’ve watched holes get drilled into the walls, the kitchen floor get ripped out, pipes get exposed in every corner, and sinks get dismantled, all to learn the blessing of plumbing. Intrusion of rats quickly taught me the importance of keeping my kitchen window closed and that my boyfriend is a merciless rat-smasher. And, after many solitary evenings alone, I’ve recognized the beauty of community and hosting friends.

But I think all in all, this last year in my apartment has taught me the importance of getting dirty in order to grow. So in this concept, the composting shall commence in the hope of bringing forth new life in the next year of apartment life.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


I had been to Mozambican weddings, parties, homes, schools, and rituals, but never to a funeral. A month or so ago, I was comparing cultural experiences with some other expats, and I remember feeling low on some vague and frivolous cross-cultural point system because I didn't have funeral attendance on my list. But now, my former selfishness has rapidly faded away in the commemoration of the life and death of someone who I cared about.

My boyfriend’s father passed away on October 6th. I saw him that previous Sunday and heard his struggling voice and felt his clinging grip as he refused to let post-op complications and sickness get the best of him. He was recovering, but quickly declined in his final days. So it was quite a shock when Victor returned to the car after a routine check-in at the hospital with the news that his father was gone. I held him in the car and took him back to my place to pack my bag, but I felt so helpless. I then drove us to his home where we rocked our heads in our hands with his family, and I felt so unhelpful. In the following days, I stayed, ate, cried, talked, and stared into space with his family, and I felt so useless.

I had no words in any language, I had limited skills for hosting the communal masses, and had nothing to offer for comfort. I am not a legitimate family member, and have few memories of this man to share. I look differently, I talk strangely, and am all things foreign. But I stayed. I had no words so I was quiet. I had no actions so I was still. I took time off work so I had nothing to do. And somehow there was immense peace in just being. There was no awkwardness in silence and no longer anxiety in inactivity. I was there, and that was the biggest gift I could give.

At some points, I had time to be alone as Victor was in family meetings and guests ebbed and flowed. I read a book by Henri Nouwen in these spaces, and I came across a passage that I found fitting for my situation.

“Those who do not run away from out pains but touch them with compassion bring healing and new strength. The paradox indeed is that the beginning of healing is in the solidarity with the pain. In our solution-oriented society it is more important than ever to realize that wanting to alleviate pain without sharing it is like wanting to save a child from a burning house without the risk of being hurt.”

I had already explained to his family that I wasn't going to spend time with them only in good times when there was celebration and happy moments. I was willing to be by their sides in times of grief and pain as well.

I think that part of the cause of our suffering in moments like these is realizing that life is out of our control. We had plans of things to do with Victor’s father, places to go together, words to say, and love to show. His family strived hard to get the best medicine, talk constantly with doctors, and seek out every possible treatment. But when God allows such an interruption to the flow of our normalcy and intentions  it throws our perceptions of control out of order. The acceptance that God’s plans are better, bigger, higher, and more logical than ours is seemingly ludicrous in these situations. But while I can’t offer any other advice or wisdom or condolence to his family, I can offer solidarity in the struggle of what they’re going through, acknowledging that it’s not about me or us in the face of a larger plan. Nouwen continues to say:

 “The movement from loneliness to solitude is a movement that allows us to perceive interruptions as occasions for a conversion of the heart, which makes our responsibilities a vocation instead of a burden, and which creates the inner space where a compassionate solidarity with our fellow human beings becomes possible.”

Monday, July 30, 2012

these are a few of my most thankful things

I feel like any time anyone has asked me how I am lately, my response has been: “Busy.” I’ve been busy spinning my wheels in the limbo between concept papers and full plans. I’ve been busy keeping my MCC boss sane by zipping around Beira with her and ensuring she gets out of bed in the morning. I’ve been power-walking around Maputo to get all of my errands run and bills paid before the end of the work day (or 3:30; whatever comes first). I’ve been tying back my hair and tying on my capulana as I combat the ever-growing mounds of dust coating my apartment.

I’m not saying that my schedule is necessarily any busier than those of my family and friends at home, but seriously, it’s a little crazy sometimes. And in this craziness, I have a tendency to shut down and caffeine up. Some of you reading may have noticed this as you wonder why it takes me four weeks to reply to an email. I tend to emotionally collapse at the end of the day and reluctantly get up at the beginning of the day, wondering what new developmental snafus the day has in store.

As my schedule fills up and my energy drains, I find it harder than ever to find time for life-giving things like coffee with friends or quiet time alone. So I’ve coerced myself to look for the good, hopeful, and beautiful in small things, when the development things become big and scary. So here are some of the things that I have been thankful for recently:

·         hand knit socks from my dear Aunt Sal to keep my toes warm in the winter
·         the tenacity of my houseplants and how they bloom while I’m traveling
·         Internet fast enough to keep up with my addition to Pintrest
·         incredibly kind friends in Beira
·         hugs from my favorite Mozambican when I’m having a bad day
·         absolute safety amidst the rising crime rates in Maputo
·         the jokes and giggles of Mozambican teammates
·         the support of generous North American donors (even though I gripe about proposal writing and reporting)
·         hot chocolate
·         they lyrical stylings of Drake and Nicki Manaj who have initiated explanations of “The Flinstones,” "Shake n’ Bake,” and asbestos to my cross-cultural relationship
·         for the work, energy, and heart of MCC (specifically for the over-worked financial people who ensure that I can withdraw money from an ATM and for the generosity of the material resource crew who will bless us in September with more than we could ever imagine…or have room for…)
·         the joy of technology to help me talk with my best friend an ocean away
·         the huge Mozambican coast and its lovely beaches
·         childhood memories
·         the satisfaction of a home-cooked meal made from scratch

Friday, June 29, 2012

water water everywhere

Eight months. Six plumbers. Thousands of meticais (the Mozambican currency). After countless visits, drilling, breaking, bucket bathing, replacing, cold showering, leaking, hand washing, hammering, episodes of flooding, and meters of new piping, I FINALLY have adequate plumbing in my apartment.

I’ve learned a great deal throughout the process such as new Portuguese vocabulary and patience I never knew was there. I’ve realized much about Mozambican culture, work ethic, time and money management, and crisis mitigation. I’ve gotten to know my landlord and the Indian neighbors below me quite well throughout the process (and have even had a few conversations with them that don’t involve screaming about their kitchen ceiling dripping).

Now each of my fixtures has a story to tell; like how the bathroom sink has been on and off of the wall four times. And now every time I close a faucet and it stays off or every time I watch dirty water magically disappear into the wall and not the floor, I realize how truly blessed I am. I will never again take for granted the ability to wash dishes in a sink. I’ll never stop being amazed at the hot water falling from the showerhead. I’ll never forget the back-straining, knuckle-tearing hours of hand washing of clothes I endured for weeks on end, only to turn around and dump the dirty water in the toilet, because that was the only “drain” that worked.

But at least there are stories to tell and sighs of relief to be had. For those stories that words cannot capture, here are some visual highlights of my glorious plumbing process. 


Friday, June 8, 2012


“Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.” [Unknown]

Whew, I’ve been in quite the busy season lately. Since writing so long ago, I’ve been in over my head managing two important grant proposals, have welcomed my mom, bid farewell to teammates, hung out with other teammates beachside, hosted friends, duplicated the number of furniture in my apartment, traveled to Swaziland and South Africa, and added a new women’s Bible study to my schedule. By the end of the day, I’m usually exhausted, uninspired, and sick of looking at my computer screen, so I’ve had little motivation to update everyone on the ins and outs of my life.

It has been a challenging past few months, in which I’ve grown and learned a lot. I’ve encountered about every emotion possible, but in the midst of everything, I’ve found glimpses of peace and hope. These states of being haven’t always come easily, and have often made themselves apparent only after a deep search. But somewhere in the midst of my reading and reflection a few weeks ago, I came across the quote above. Its simple complexity struck me. And I began meditating on it as my email inbox made me want to retreat into a curled ball under my desk. I thought of it as I contrasted the turquoise glass of the ocean with the roaring motor of the boat taking us out to our snorkeling location. And I began to recognize it under the noise and energy of my vibrant church members dancing and singing on a Sunday morning.

As these seeds of growth took root, I decided to seek the joy and peace of present moments, no matter how much chaos or confusion under which they are buried. And to commemorate this process, I’m hosting a get-together in my apartment tomorrow entitled a Life Celebration Party. Maputo has such a transient community where people rush in and out of the capital for a few weeks or months at a time. Regardless of if they’re language-learning, job-hunting, retreating, or volunteering for a short time, people seem to whisk away just as we make a deeper friendship. Because of these realities, I want to celebrate the friends and community that is right here, right now. Maybe their term will be over soon, or maybe we’ve only recently become friends. Still, I want to acknowledge the joy found in being together today, regardless of what tomorrow brings. Through this, I’ve found great peace in celebrating the present.

Monday, March 5, 2012


Last week, I went to a food security and value-added agriculture workshop in Maputo. Since a large part of my work revolves around promoting conservation agriculture and addressing food security in Mozambique, I was interested to learn how others were approaching on the topic or using other techniques. The workshop had representatives and speakers from the commercial and business sector, fellow NGO workers, individual consultants, and academics from local and international universities.

We discussed various aspects of food insecurity in Mozambique, focusing mostly on the challenges and how to address them. I found it interesting that we defined food security as not only having consistent food sources, but having choices or varieties in food. Food security also means having sufficient quantity and quality food and nutrition sources, but an underlying measure of security is having choices in the food one consumes.

By the third day, my head was spinning from the new information the all-day workshops gave me. In my processing of how to move forward from our discussions, I realized that there’s a gap between freedom of choices and forcing of choices in relation to food security. And as a result, the freedom of choices often leads to forcing of other choices.

For many billions of us in the world, we have the freedom of many food-related choices in our lives. In my Mozambican kitchen, I stand looking in my fridge, produce basket or cupboard every day at 5 p.m. wondering what I could make for dinner. I can choose from various starches, proteins, and vegetables and multiple combinations. When living in the United States, I can choose virtually anything to eat or find some way of accessing obscure foods.

A Mozambican friend asked me a few months ago what the staple crop of the United States is. I replied that it’s probably corn, but even then corn is not considered a staple in the same way that cassava is a staple crop in Mozambique. This is because in the United States, we produce many other crops year-round and we have the freedom of choice to eat something other than corn. We can choose from supermarkets, small grocery stores, farmers markets, or CSAs for our produce. We can choose for our foods to be organic, low fat/calorie, or gluten free.

Because of these freedoms, we’re not bound to dependency on climate or the environment, and even have choices within each season. In the spring there are leafy greens such as lettuce or kale. In the summer there are berries, and we can pick between strawberries or blackberries. The fall has squashes like pumpkins or acorn squash. And in the winter there are tubers such as potatoes and parsnips.

But many other people in the world are forced when making their food choices. Mozambique is twice the size of California, but has a fraction of the number of paved roads, so transportation and lacking infrastructure are huge problems. While in North America there’s a push for people to choose to buy locally-grown foods, in Mozambique there’s often no choice BUT to eat locally grown foods. Many farmers cannot access markets to sell their products or bring in any new products. For some people, money is so tight that if someone only has 100 meticais (a little less than $4), they will choose whatever is cheapest or will go farthest, rather than what is healthiest.

Commercial farms come into the country and dictate to local farmers what they will produce, leaving the farmers no choice but to comply. Local and regional industries may buy local produce, but they’re the ones to decide how the raw materials will be processed, so the famers have no decision-making power in the end result. Also, local cultures may mandate what crops will be grown and the manner in which they are cultivated, so social pressures force farmers to choose doing things in the same way as before.

Sometimes, one person’s freedom of food choices exacerbates another person’s forced food choices. Have you ever noticed how all the sesame seeds on a hamburger bun look identical, or how every grain of rice you consume looks exactly like all the others surrounding it? This is not natural, but selected by only top grade produce that someone else chose. These choices are made based on food grades, stipulations, or regulations. To reach a certain grade, some farmers’ produce is turned away if their millet isn’t uniform or their sorghum is red with too many tannins, leaving them no choice but to receive little to no money for their work. Our individual choice between a hamburger and a hot dog represents dozens of other choices that have been made from industries, markets, supply chains, and manufacturers, which often are all out of the decision-making reach of rural farmers.

Other times, people are forced to surrender their food choice freedoms. If everyone had the freedom to eat whatever they wanted whenever they wanted, it would be chaos. For example, it’s unfeasible for Mozambicans to demand blueberries which are indigenous to my home region in Michigan, and it’s unreasonable for Michiganders to demand groundnuts indigenous to Mozambique. In the United States, many people have had excessive freedom of choosing food, which has led to sharp rises in obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and type II diabetes. In turn, these freedoms often lead to people being forced to limited lifestyles or dependency on medicine.

In order to move forward, there must be more equality and justice in food choices. Some people must choose to responsibly use American food freedoms. This means choosing to give away choices and freedoms like my brave friend did by joining Overeaters Anonymous or my family is doing by jointly adjusting their food lifestyles.

On one hand, farmers must choose to take risks such as educating their women instead of always sending them out to the fields, or in incorporating sustainable or conservation agriculture practices that may not be commonly used in their area. But on the other hand, systems must be altered allow these farmers to make new choices. Legislation must protect rural farmers and enhance their decision-making powers. Corporations must fairly compensate the suppliers of their raw materials. Governments, businesses, and civil society must choose to work together to create innovative solutions for addressing food insecurity. And collectively, we must choose to eat in ways that dignify the producer, such as buying fairly traded goods.

I believe that global food security is possible, as long as we all make a few different choices.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012


These past 31 days have been characterized by soaring temperatures, tons of work, sporadic deluging rainfalls, and little to write about it all. Therefore, I will let pictures express a few highlights of the month.

In the first few days of the month, my MCC teammates and I met in Beira for our quarterly meetings. We had decided that we would aim for a fun day at the beach beforehand. So we packed everyone’s family and friends into our caravans and travelled out to Rio Savane. We arrived around lunchtime hot and hungry, only to discover that the lodge had no food, save for a few random bags of potato chips. A few of the adventurous among us trekked out on the scorching beach to find a fishing village about 2k north. They returned bearing not only fish, but monstrously-sized fish weighing in around 8 kilos (or 17.5 pounds). The tuna was delicious.

We celebrated the New Year (regardless of which year it actually was)!

The rains came down and the floods came up. My unpaved road turned to a river of mush, and the rooftops were such lakes that it sounded like it was raining for three days after the storm.

A surprise package arrived a little late for Christmas festivities, but that didn’t stop me from putting up its paper snowflakes on my windows to commemorate January snowshowers at home and the tradition of snowflake making parties with my college friends.

I finally replaced both my International Drivers Permit and my Mozambican residency card after the originals were stolen in September. They also continue my tradition of looking like a livid serial killer in all important photo documents.