Bird on a Bare Branch

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

I Am Constipated June 9, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 9:46 pm

Estou constipada.  I find it funny when others tell me this, and today I was a little embarrassed to admit it, even though I know it doesn’t mean what it sounds like it means.  It actually means “I am congested.”  Or in other words:  I have a constipated nose!

I’ve been priding myself on avoiding sickness since I’ve been here.  This nasty, neverending cold has been going around for awhile now.  “Change in temperature” is how everyone explains it.  Of course it would be the week before I’m supposed to travel that my nose becomes constipated.  And I’m coughing, and I have a fever.

And the office got broken into yesterday.  This is what I missed while I was home sick.  Five laptops (four insured and one new one not insured) and the safe were stolen.  What amazes me is that they took the safe which two grown men can’t carry between them but left the desktop computers.  It also looks very likely that it was an inside job because they knew where to find the keys to the office with the safe.  Also the police are not helping us because we won’t pay a bribe.  Sometimes this place makes me sick (yeah, obviously it literally does), but that’s why we’re here, right?

Oh, and I’ve just been chasing a rat around my apartment with a mop.  Not fun with a fever.


Green Cards Grow on Trees June 6, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 6:28 pm

This morning I was speaking to a Zimbabwean English teacher who asked me where I was from. When I told her America, she said she has always wanted to go to America. Then she asked me if was true about green cards. I asked, confused, “That they exist?” She looked relieved that I knew what a green card was. She said, “Yes, that it’s possible to get one.” Then she explained that “they” told her she could get one easily, that she sent her application fee and is waiting now. I told her that she needed to live in America for a long time. She said, “Oh, I can’t apply for one from here? But they told me to send the application fee, and they will send me one.” I finally asked who “they” was. She explained: “But on the internet they said it was easy to get a green card, and 50,000 people could receive them. I received an email about it.” It was hard not to either laugh at her or shake her and yell, “Don’t send ANY money to ANYONE who sends you an email!” Instead, I gently explained to her that she should never believe anything in an email from someone she doesn’t know, and she definitely should not send money to strangers. I also explained that it is very difficult even to get a residence visa in America and that if she wanted to find out all the correct information about it, she should check the US Embassy’s website. I reiterated that she should not believe these emails.

Her next question: “So what about the Free Lotto. Is that true?”


Bird on a Bare Branch June 3, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 9:43 pm

For some mysterious reason, every afternoon about half an hour before sunset, a little bird flies between the slatted window panes of one of my kitchen windows and every evening settles onto the same bar in the same spot between the screen and the glass. It’s not easy for him to get in there. I’ve caught him in the act a few times, and it always takes him a few tries of flying up at just the right angle to get in. But he is there, without fail, every single evening. And every morning he is gone by the time I’m up.

It doesn’t matter who’s in the kitchen or how much noise we’re making. He will always sit there, in the same corner, facing out or sideways. He’ll glance at us sometimes, but he never seems bothered or frightened. It seems an unlikely and lonely place to stay. Why there and not in a nest with the other birds that sing and play outside my bedroom window in the mornings?

I could make up many stories about why I think he likes that spot. I don’t really care. I enjoy his company. It makes me smile to see him at night, and I’m always a bit sad when he’s gone on the morning because there’s always that chance he won’t come back that afternoon.

It hit me the other day that he’s my “bird on a bare branch”. Metal bars in a window are as bare as it gets. I like the daily visual reminder of the poem and prayer that I started this blog with. It’s a good reminder, especially at the end of a work day, about why I’m here. The visual image of Mozambique is certainly not bleak or barren or cold, but sometimes emotionally and spiritually it can feel that way.

I saw a little sparrow today outside my office, in the dirty courtyard where the rats usually run. It’s not a pretty place. It’s all concrete with puddles of slimy green water, and a corner where garbage is collected. I see rats running around there on a regular basis. But today there was a sparrow chirping away on a low wall. If that sparrow can fling her frail song, her pure melody, into that bleak air, then what’s to stop me? Especially when it is not for my sake, but for Thy sake.


Confronted in the Pew June 2, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 10:06 pm

There is a group of street boys who hang out outside my office everyday, guarding cars of patrons of the café beneath the office. Because I see them everyday on my way in and out of the office, I’ve been able to develop relationships with some of them.

N is my least favorite but the one I’ve known the longest. He is about 15 years old and has absolutely no shame in asking for things. He knows I won’t give him anything, but that never stops him from hassling me. Not only is he the most annoying, but he is also the one I trust the least. He smiles constantly, not a joyful smile but one that takes pride in bothering others. Unlike the other boys, I see him everywhere in town. He guards cars at the big South African supermarket and at the pool/restaurant club near my house. He once showed up at a colleague’s door requesting money. He followed me almost home one time when I stayed with my Mozambican family, and I always fear he will someday follow me to my current home. I think he is physically harmless, but he is annoying and creepy and manipulative and I’m never happy to see him anywhere in town.

Yesterday morning in church, during a song where we go around and shake hands, I looked to my left across the aisle and saw N’s elfish grin. The last place I expected or wanted to see him, and there he was waving at me and laughing.

I should have been happy to see him there enjoying worship. I should be praying for him and the other boys all the time. But I rarely think of it. Instead I thought, “Oh no, what is he doing here? I don’t want him to be here.” Why not? Because his very presence in church challenges my attitude toward him, forces me to think of what it means to love my neighbor and to care for orphans, forces me to consider how God views him. When he’s on the street, I can ignore all of that or even pretend that I’m doing better than others who ignore these boys altogether or treat them badly. But when he’s sitting in nearly the same pew as me at church, I need to treat him as I would anyone else sitting in that room.

Last week I preached about Jesus telling the disciples that they need to become like children to enter the kingdom of heaven. To humble themselves to the status of a child, which at that time in history, was the lowest on the totem pole, definitely pre-UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child. I challenged the congregation to think of the lowest in society here – I mentioned those with AIDS and street children. Could they humble themselves to that level? Would they welcome them into their community?

Can I humble myself to that level? Can I welcome them into my community? AIDS victims? No problem. Street kids who regularly hassle me? Ummm… It’s very difficult to admit that I think I’m better than N or any of the other street boys. It’s a little less difficult but still not very nice to admit that I don’t want him in my community. And it’s a small community. I don’t go to a church of several hundred or a thousand people where it’s easy to ignore the not-so-loveable people.

Yesterday’s sermon was on the Parable of the Great Banquet in which everyone who was invited to the banquet had an excuse not to attend. Then the host sent his servants out into the streets to invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. With N sitting across the aisle, it was hard for me not to hear the message painfully clearly.

I’d love to say my heart completely changed toward N yesterday. I’d love to say that I’m going to have a completely different relationship with him and the other street boys now. Instead, I’m left in some turmoil. My eyes and heart have definitely been opened. And I don’t like being confronted with junk in my attitude. I still don’t like N, and I wonder if that can change, but I know I need to love him. I know in the coming days and weeks I will be chewing on what community means, what welcoming means, and how to seriously take these commands that Jesus teaches throughout the Bible.