Bird on a Bare Branch

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

The Food That We Eat April 28, 2008

Filed under: Pictures — Jen @ 9:49 pm

My housemate is leaving in a week for three month’s home leave in England. She already has her first meal planned – rhogan josh from her local Indian takeaway.

I leave for the States in less than two months. I am also starting to think of the food I want to eat upon my arrival. Uninterestingly, the top of my list right now is a turkey and Swiss cheese sandwich on whole-grain bread.

We have many discussions about the food we can’t get here. And then there’s the food we can get…

For instance, tonight I made stir-fried prawns with lime and coconut. Of course I can make this anywhere using frozen prawns. But where else can I use prawns that I bought fresh from a fisherman’s boat in the morning and that only cost $2.80/kilo (with half a kilo extra thrown in)? And where else can I use coconut milk made from a fresh coconut? Apart from the fish sauce (which I bought accidentally at my favorite local Chinese shop) and the rice, all the ingredients were fresh from the market. It was a darn good stir-fry.


Cold April 22, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 12:38 pm

I’m cold.  Genuinely cold.  As in, I wore a jacket into work this morning.  Of course I don’t own any close-toed shoes (apart from running shoes), so I feel very Mozambican today in my flip-flops, skirt, and raincoat/windbreaker.

Before I boasted about how cold it is here, I thought I’d better check a forecast to verify that I haven’t fully acclimatized and am ready to put on a stocking cap and gloves when it’s actually 75 degrees outside.  (Please note:  I don’t actually have a stocking cap and gloves with me here.)  According to BBC Weather, it is currently 19C (66F) and cloudy.  That sounds about right.  Winter is finally coming!


Casting Out Demons in the Local Mega Church April 21, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 3:33 pm

I went to a mega-church last night with some missionary friends. I never knew such large churches existed in Beira. Well, I go past the Catholic cathedral everyday which is an enormous structure, and I’ve seen it overflowing with congregants at times. There is also another large church that I pass frequently which seems to have lively, full services every night of the week. I’ve been warned against that church, though, as it is known for its “health-and-wealth” emphasis. Every other church I’ve been to has had less than 100 people. In fact, 100 is large here. For example, my church, which is probably one of the better-known churches in town, has probably 50 people on a Sunday morning.

So you can imagine my surprise when I walked into an auditorium filled with about 400 people! Ushers showed people to their seats, a praise band performed on the flood-lit stage, and song lyrics were projected on a large-screen. This is a completely typical scene in America. I was honestly blown away by it in this context. Wow, a church that has enough money to run that many fans! A church that has enough money for a projector!

I was less impressed with the message, which was in English by a Paraguayan woman who has lived in Australia for 25 years, although I could barely understand her English. Apparently, there are many English-speaking African expats (e.g. Zimbabweans, Malawians, Nigerians, etc.) in the congregation, so sermons are often translated. In this case, it was my former Portuguese teacher who was translating into Portuguese, and sometimes the Portuguese was easier to understand than the English. But what didn’t impress me was that this preacher actually said at one point that God wants us to be happy and prosper. (I didn’t get a chance to ask my friends afterwards if this is a common message by the regular pastor as well.)

After the message, the pastor invited people with foot problems to the front for prayer. Apparently the Sunday evening services are typically healing services. I was intrigued. I’ve seen pastors pray for healing before, but I’ve never seen a pastor perform in such a dramatic way, causing people to tremble and fall. He also cast demons out of a few women. Some of them really fought back. What I didn’t understand is if the healing and the casting out were related. I mean, was the assumption that people were suffering from foot ailments because they had demons?

You can imagine I sat there quite skeptical of the theatrics being performed up front. But then I realized that I’m mostly skeptical because of the church culture I’ve grown up in. When was the last time anyone in my churches in the States had a healing service? Do we believe in laying on of hands for healing? Or do we go through the motions of praying for healing but trust that in the end the real healing comes from doctors? Of course we pray for sick people all the time, but it’s in a much different manner than what I witnessed last night.

Casting out demons becomes a trickier subject. I’m not even sure the churches I associate with in the States even really believe in demons. I mean really, truly believe in them. Demons that can possess people and need to be cast out. Yet Jesus cast demons out. Jesus healed people by laying hands on them. We read these stories and discuss them all the time, yet we’re skeptical of such occurrences in our own churches. And we still say we’re trying to be like Jesus?

I’m not saying that I’m now going to become a Pentecostal. I’m still not comfortable with that style of worship and definitely don’t appreciate any health-and-wealth gospel. But I am saying that I need to examine where my skepticism and discomfort really come from. How biblically-based is it and how culturally-based is it?


All I Want Is a Pipe Cleaner April 18, 2008

Filed under: Language — Jen @ 5:36 pm

I know some strange words in Portuguese: steel wool, plywood, external outlet, rattrap, glossy paint. I’ve learned most of these words through amusing conversations with my colleagues. Before I go to the hardware store (I know the word for hardware store too), I describe to the guys in my office what I need and ask them what it’s called. Sometimes we get the word after a simple conversation, I verify it with a couple people, and I’m off to the hardware store (usually with the word written on my palm to make sure I don’t forget it). Sometimes large debates ensue between my colleagues as to what the best word is. Many times someone ends up drawing a picture and passing it around. I need to make sure after all. And always, no matter how sure I am that I’ve been given the correct word, I’m amazed that the people in the hardware store hand me what I ask for upon first request.

Today I needed a pipe cleaner. A friend suggested that the reason my gas oven is working so poorly is because the tiny holes that the gas passes through are probably clogged. They told me exactly which hardware store to go to to buy a very thin pipe cleaner. Of course none of us knew the word for pipe cleaner. But no worries, I was confident I could describe exactly what I wanted.

The two hardware stores I went to didn’t understand my description of “a long skinny thing to clean the inside of an oven”. I even demonstrated how skinny and how it went inside a skinny pipe. (But I found out later that I was using the word skinny that describes a person, not a thing.)

Back at the office, my housemate and I both talked to one of the guys in administration who is a trained electrician to see if he knew the word we were looking for. In that conversation I learned the correct word for an object that is skinny. I also learned the words for pipes/tubes, fibers, and brush. Plus we made a little drawing. Sadly, our colleague did not know the word. But armed with the drawing and new vocabulary words, I made a new attempt at finding a pipe cleaner.

This time I was able to point to the drawing and say, “I don’t know what this is called, but it is long and very skinny for cleaning inside skinny pipes inside an oven.” Four hardware stores knew what I was talking about (supposedly!) but didn’t have what I wanted, and one random store that sells absolutely everything showed me a bottle brush and then after further discussion suggested I use a string soaked in oil. (Yes, but how do I get the string inside the pipes?)

P.S. According to a dictionary at home, the word for pipe cleaner is limpa-cachimbo. I just texted my electrician colleague to see if that word is used here. If he understands it, I will try the hardware stores once again. And then I can add another strange word to my list of Portuguese vocabulary words.


The Smells That I Smell

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 1:10 pm

This morning I smelled freshly-mown grass. I’ve never smelled that in Beira before. It was a nice antidote to the rotten fishy smell I usually smell in that same spot, where the fishermen bring their boats in and then make their way into town. (The other day I saw a man walking down the street with his catch, wearing a suitcoat and shorts.)

People often ask me what Beira looks like. Once someone asked me what it sounds like. More consciously, I’m aware of what it smells like.

Garbage, urine, sewage, fresh fish, old fish, salty sea, body odor, car exhaust, dust, cooking fires, grilled meat, cooked fish.

The other night I walked past my bathroom and smelled fish cooking. Coming from the bathroom. I realized my neighbors were probably cooking fish in their apartment, and the smell was coming through the bathroom window which opens into the stairwell opposite their windows.

Recently I’ve been catching the occasional fresh scent of orange. Like the grass, it’s a nice contrast to the normal street smells. Oranges (which here should be called Dull Greens) are in season right now, and not much else is. They aren’t as pretty to look at as pineapples or mangoes, but the burst of scent when someone peels one adds a freshness to the air that other fruit doesn’t. And pleasant freshness is not a smell I’m accustomed to here.


The Start to My Day April 17, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 9:42 am

Every morning I take a chapa (public mini-bus) into work. I walk two blocks from my house and wait on the main road along the sea. The wall separating the road from the beach fell down in that spot a couple months ago, so I enjoy an uninterrupted view of the sand and water. The weather has been cooling down lately, so I don’t sweat anymore while I wait.

There are two chapa routes that run along this road. Chapas for my route seem to run less frequently than the other route. Sometimes I wait up to fifteen minutes, which is fine on a pleasant day. Not so fine on a rainy day.

This morning I didn’t even have to wait. I barely got up to the main road when a chapa I needed pulled up. It was empty, and I got the front seat. (Sitting in the back can be squishingly uncomfortable most days.) I said “Bom dia” to the driver, and off we went, shining sea on my left and cool breeze blowing across my face.

“Howah you baby!” the cobredor (doorman) shouted. “Oh, he is not addressing me,” I thought. Then I felt a tap on my shoulder, “Baby! Howah you!” I turned around and said, in English because he had addressed me in English, “I am not baby!” That shut him up, but I’m sure he didn’t really understand what I said. After other people got on, I realized I should have explained to him in Portuguese that it’s not respectful to call a strange woman “baby”. But I wasn’t going to turn around and explain that in front of everyone else on the chapa as it would draw too much attention.

At one point I realized the music we were listening to was English. Some cheesy hip-hop. Some guy singing about how how he wanted to change her name to his name and he knew she wanted the same. The next song was about “mother-f***ing ho’s”. No wonder the cobredor thinks it’s okay to call a white woman “baby”. I wanted to say something to the driver about the music, how it was offensive. I don’t know why I didn’t.

It reminded me of the English song I heard blaring from a radio vendor’s stall in the market the other day, repeatedly singing/shouting, “Shut the f*** up!” It reminded me of all the little neighborhood cinemas that show kung fu and horror movies. When I walk past those, all I hear is yelling and explosions. It’s mostly children inside. It reminded me of the porn someone tried to sell me on the street the other day when I was looking through a stack of pirated movies.

What happened to the sun, sand, sea, and cool breeze?  This is not how I wanted to start my day.


Apparently Not Only in Texas April 14, 2008

Filed under: Pictures — Jen @ 12:02 pm

No, I have not been shrunk down to hobbit-size.

(And no, I don’t understand why I can’t seem to get any of my photos in the middle of my posts, even when I choose “Center” from the format options.)