Bird on a Bare Branch

Attempting to fling a frail song in my little corner of the world

Rats in Immigration February 19, 2008

Filed under: Immigration,Rats — Jen @ 8:20 am

The two questions I’ve been receiving most often these days have been: How is your rat situation? And: Have you gotten things sorted with Immigration? I have a positive response to the first question and a complicated one to the second.

I think I finally discovered where the rats were entering the apartment and have blocked it off. Of course the greatest motivation for finding the hole was seeing a rat scurry across the living room one evening while I was home alone watching a movie and then scaring another one (and myself!) in the kitchen. It was the first time I had actually seen any, and all I could think about was my housemate leaving for South Africa for a week and leaving me alone with them. We caught one in a glue trap the next morning, couldn’t bear to be in the kitchen so ate breakfast in town, and then called a neighbor to come and dispose of it (yes, still alive) in the evening so we could cook dinner. The hole in the broken air-conditioner in the living room is now blocked, and I have seen no further evidence of rats.

Immigration takes a little longer to explain. See if you can follow. (I’m not sure even I can.) Immigration absolutely will not accept my criminal background check. They insisted I can get US embassy verification. I insisted that the embassy does not have the authority to do that. But Immigration says it is out of their hands and in the embassy’s hands. I called the embassy again, explained the situation and asked for advice. They said that they do not have authority to verify a background check, but they can write a letter (with an oh-so-important stamp) stating that I claim that it’s an authentic document. I said, “Fantastic! So I can send you the documents?” The man I spoke to said, “No, you need to come in person and give an oath.” A roundtrip flight to Maputo costs about $250, or roundtrip by unairconditioned bus costs $80 and takes 16-18 hours each way.

Wanting to avoid a trip to Maputo, I called Texas Department of Public Safety to see if there is any way I can get a stamp on a criminal background check. Yes, I can get a notarized background check through the mail. “Fantastic! So I just need to send you a letter requesting that?” “Yes, with fingerprints.” I can easily get fingerprints done here in Beira, but the fingerprint card is all in Portuguese, which TXDPS won’t accept. (Yes, I asked.) Again, I called the embassy to see if they could send a fingerprint card to Beira. No, I have to get fingerprints done at the embassy.

Yesterday I bought a bus ticket to Maputo for Thursday and a return flight on Tuesday. US Citizen Services at the embassy is only open on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 9am – 11am. My plan is to be there first thing on Friday to give an oath but also to get fingerprints. But I’m also giving myself Monday in case I can’t get everything taken care of on Friday.

To further complicate matters, my current temporary residence visa expires on the 27th. I return from Maputo on the 26th. If Immigration won’t accept my paperwork, I need to leave the country. That didn’t seem so bad when I first thought of it because I could make a visa run to South Africa and also see a rheumatologist (will write about my health problems in another post sometime). However, someone mentioned that I can’t just leave the country and come back on a tourist visa because I can’t apply for a residence visa on a tourist visa. I can only apply for a residence visa on a temporary residence visa which means I would have to leave the country and go somewhere with a US embassy so that I could apply for a new temporary residence visa. That, of course, takes more time than just running across either the South African or Zim border.

So we’re praying that this will get sorted. The further I proceed, the more frustrating, time-consuming, and expensive it becomes. I hope the end is in sight.


Pulling an All-Nighter February 15, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 10:28 am

I pulled an all-nighter on Friday night.  No, Oasis is not working me that hard.  It was an all-nighter at church. 

Oasis, along with several churches in town, just completed a week of 24/7 prayer.  People signed up for hour-long prayer times to cover every 24-hour period of seven days.  Our focus of prayer was HIV/AIDS in Beira and Mozambique.  Part of the week was a vigil on Friday from 10pm until 4am.  I definitely wasn’t excited about spending that time in church.  Two or three hour long services are painful enough on a Sunday morning.  The thought of six hours when I could have been in bed was definitely less than enticing.  But it ended up being one of the most joyful experiences I’ve had here.

It never felt like six hours, and there were only moments when it felt like the middle of the night.  We prayed in groups and individually, we participated in group discussions and listened to a couple talks, we watched a short film and put together skits, and we sang and danced and sang and danced some more!  There were about 80 young people there, a few older pastors, and one five-month-old baby who somehow slept through all the noise. 

I understood about half of what was going on but still felt very much a part of the community and still got excited about the focus and the energy and enthusiasm the young people have for living counter-cultural lives, praying for the AIDS situation in their communities, and finding ways to practically love those around them.  A couple days ago I was speaking with one of my colleagues, who I wrote about in a previous post (People in Churches are Dying), about AIDS and what the churches here are doing.  He said they are getting better about talking about it but still are not doing anything practical in their communities.  He said, “In the Church we say we live by the grace of Jesus Christ, but we don’t accept people as they are.”  I pray that these young people will begin to actually live the grace of Jesus Christ and spur on their churches to do the same.

At 4:45 on Saturday morning I found myself unsurprised that I was eating a breadroll filled with a thick slice of bright pink bologna and drinking a Sprite for breakfast.  It made me happy to stand around chatting, watching the sky lighten outside, and realize that no one wanted to rush home.  Eventually people started trickling out.  My housemate had borrowed a car and was one of the organizers, so we made equipment and pop bottle drop-offs, drove some people home, and finally made it back to our place a little before 7:00.  Rain was cooling the morning off and made for excellent, sound sleep for the next several hours.           


Rejected by Immigration…Again February 13, 2008

Filed under: Immigration — Jen @ 8:42 am

Immigration will not accept my criminal background check. They want embassy verification, even though we explained to them that I spoke with the embassy and the embassy is not authorized to verify background checks. They then claimed that other Americans have had the ambassador himself verify background checks. Either those Americans forged signatures or they had personal connections to the ambassador. I can’t even get an American on the phone when I call the embassy! Still other Americans have come from states that Immigration recognizes. They have never had anyone from Texas before. So basically I don’t know what to do. I can’t get my residence visa without a background check, but my background check won’t be accepted without embassy verification, but the embassy doesn’t verify background checks.

My current visa runs out in two weeks and cannot be extended a third time. I thought I would have to make a trip to South Africa at that point and then reenter on a new visa. However, the official we spoke to at Immigration said I could write a letter (yes, another letter) explaining that my background check is being processed and he can give me a conditional visa. In the meantime I really hope I can work something out with the embassy or with Texas Department of Public Safety.


It’s Raining, It’s Pouring, Jen Wishes She Were in Bed Snoring February 8, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 9:20 am

There are days when I really wish I had a car.  Like this morning when I was supposed to meet a colleague outside the office at 7:30 to take a chapa to Macarungo to visit a school.  And it was pouring rain.  Pouring!  Pounding on the roof, soaking our laundry hanging on the veranda, creating rivers in the road.

I would have liked a car today when I couldn’t get ahold of my colleague by phone and imagined he was already on a chapa heading to work, and I didn’t want to be a spoiled foreigner who can’t take a chapa or walk in the rain.  So I put my raincoat on over my backpack, grabbed my compact travel umbrella, which is pretty worthless for keeping anything but my head dry, and off I went.

By the time I walked the two blocks to the main road, my denim skirt was already half soaked, and I had waded through several spots on the side road where the water was well past my ankles.  Plus I was the only idiot, apparently, out waiting for a chapa.

I stood in that pouring rain watching and feeling my skirt get wetter and wetter, and then feeling is soak through my underwear as well.  Surely I couldn’t meet with a school director in that state anyway.  

after chapa for Estoril drove by but not one that I needed for Ponta Gea.  After about 20 minutes, wondering how many people would hate me climbing over them on a chapa with my dripping umbrella, jacket, backpack, and clothes, one for Ponta Gea finally did stop.  Fortunately, I didn’t have to climb over too many people, but somehow I managed to sit in the seat beneath the leak in the roof.  “Rain outside and rain inside,” I told the woman beside me.

So I finally arrived, dripping, at 8:08 with no colleague in sight.  I saw on my phone that he had tried to call just minutes earlier.  When I called him back he said, “I’m at home.  There’s too much rain.”  Yes, yes, there is.  If I had a car, I’d be at the office dry.  If I had any Mozambican sense, I’d be at home dry.


As Requested

Filed under: Pictures — Jen @ 8:19 am

Front of building

Looking at our corner of the building

View out the front to the road

View west


Oh Rats! February 7, 2008

Filed under: Rats — Jen @ 8:19 am

We have a little rat problem. Actually, it’s quite a big rat problem. At first when I found droppings in the kitchen when we moved in, I thought it was just mice. But I’m not sure mice can do the kind of damage that we’ve been finding everyday. So we’re calling it rats. We’ve never actually seen the rats, but we find their handiwork and their feces and urine all over our kitchen every morning.

So far in the pantry they have chewed into bags of rice, bread, and granola. We have moved the rice and granola into plastic containers and hung the bread. But they still got into the bag of bread that we hung. Then this morning I found plastic shavings and teeth marks on the container of rice. They must really like rice.

Somehow they also got banana peels out of the trash and pulled them into cupboards.

The grossest is that they gnawed through some underwear in the laundry basket.

Yes, we have bought traps. Big nasty metal things with lots of spikes. We have set them two nights in a row. And two nights in a row, the clever rats have eaten the food, released the catch, but have managed to not get caught. We don’t want to resort to rat glue on cardboard, but we may have to. We don’t want to use poison as we don’t want them crawling into some hidden place and dying there.

Of course my housemate and I are not so clever. We didn’t realize until this morning that we could actually securely shut the cupboard and pantry doors. So tonight is the night we seal everything off and set our glue traps. Prepare to die Senhores Ratos!


How Great Is Our God February 6, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 8:38 am

As we start our 24/7 prayer week (prayer coverage 24 hours a day for 7 days) on HIV/AIDS in Beira we were challenged this morning in our regular, weekly prayer meeting to think about how big God is.  I had been pondering the “size” of God already since I saw a Louie Giglio video over the weekend about the greatness of God.  (Wow!  Absolutely amazing!  I rarely get excited about sermons, talks, etc., but this one really got me excited.)  

So this morning we shared with a partner one image that we had about the greatness of God.  I could only share one there, but it got me thinking about many images from my life when I’ve stopped and thought, “Wow, God!”  Here are some:

* Riding in a dugout canoe through jungle-covered mountains in Honduras with a Norwegian YWAM team, and we were all silent watching the green around us.  Then one of the girls said, “How can anyone not believe in a Creator?”

* Watching a gazillion stars overhead while camping in the desert in Oman, and listening to the silence.

* Running along the airstrip in my village in Honduras and seeing nothing but angry black clouds ahead of me, then turning around and running back toward a pink, orange and red, brilliant sunset.

* Watching a giant moon rise over the savannah in Kenya.

* Watching sea turtles and giant rays noiselessly swim past or below me while diving in Honduras.  

* Nearly stopping on the freeway driving toward downtown Houston when it hit me how the thunderclouds above and behind the city completely dwarfed the skyline.  

* Anytime I sit on a beach anywhere in the world and listen to the repeated lapping or pounding of waves and contemplate how soothing a sound it is yet how frightening the vastness and depth of the water can be.  And how many other shores is that same sea touching?

I could go on.  We could all go on if we allow ourselves to recognize God’s greatness.  But to recognize God’s greatness leads us to praise Him and then to trust that He can and will continue to be great and do great things.