Bird on a Bare Branch

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

Tampon Trick July 31, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 6:55 pm

I know I’m sidetracking a little from my summer travel stories, but I wanted to share this great tip with anyone who might want to send chocolate my way sometime…

I got an email from a friend in the UK awhile ago asking if I had gotten the chocolate he sent.  No, sadly I hadn’t.  I asked if he had written “chocolate” on the customs form.  He had.  I was pretty sure the chocolate had since disappeared into some Mozambican customs officer’s stomach.  I suggested he write “tampons” on the next customs form.

Yesterday I picked up a package from the post office with “tampons” (Belgian chocolate truffles) and a “book” (Divine chocolate bar)!

And speaking of tricks…

Today as I was returning to my office from the bank, a man approached alongside me saying, “Hello, sister.  Hello, how are you?”  This happens frequently, and I always ignore whoever is speaking.  However, this man then said, “Sister, I am from the Baptist church.”  Then I felt bad.  I stopped and greeted him and apologized, waiting for the recognition to set in.  I didn’t recall ever seeing this man at church, but he may have seen me at a larger church function.  He proceeded to explain that he was from the Second Baptist Church and knew I worked at Oasis.  He mentioned that his wife was sick, that she was HIV positive, and that he had a 3-year-old daughter to look after.  The faint warning bells that had started ringing instinctively became louder at this point:  No one ever admits being HIV positive or having family members who are.  Then he explained very proudly that next month he was going to start working with the children at his church.  An older man with poor hygiene didn’t seem like the type of volunteer our children’s coordinator would choose, but I commented, “Oh with Sister S?”  He said, “No, with Sister J.”  “Ah, yes, Sister J,” I replied.  Then the bells were loud and clear:  J has nothing to do with children’s ministry.  I waited for the story to come:  his wife in the hospital and he needs money for food or medicine.  Close enough…his wife in the hospital and someone else had given some food but if I could contribute something to help…  “I’m sorry, I don’t have anything,” I said.  And with that he walked away.   But I do give the man credit for trying with a personal angle.


The Wedding

Filed under: Pictures,Uncategorized — Jen @ 9:44 am

Many people have asked if it’s weird that my younger brother was getting married. Strangely no. It was strange and a little hard when he got engaged a year and a half ago at Christmas. I had just made a very difficult and painful decision to break up with my boyfriend at the time; therefore, giving up that possibility of marriage for myself. I knew Adam was planning on getting engaged, and I was excited for him, but it seemed a little unfair too. At 24 he seemed too young, and his now-wife was only just 21. There were definitely mixed feelings.

I also need to be a little honest here about my feelings in general toward my brother. I haven’t always been the kindest, most encouraging older sister. I also had difficulty seeing just how well my brother was maturing over the years. In my mind, he was still often just a little kid.

So there we sat one afternoon, just he and I, after Christmas 2006, discussing his relationship. I don’t remember what I asked him. Something along the lines of, “How can you know you want to marry her?” I don’t remember his response either. But whatever it was, it struck me as so wise and mature. His relationship with Sarah was not perfect by any means, and he recognized that. He was not entering marriage with giddy, romantic, idealistic notions. It struck me too how much clearer he understood relationships, love, and marriage than my highly educated, mature ex-boyfriend and I had. I realized then that I could probably learn a lot from my little brother.

A year and a half after that conversation, I made the long journey from Mozambique to Milan, Michigan for the wedding. Oh, I am not so humbled that I wasn’t critical of aspects of the planning. It was not how I would have done my wedding. But it wasn’t my wedding. It was theirs, and it turned out perfectly. Does any wedding ever turn out perfectly? Yes, actually this one did.

It was held outside, on Sarah’s family’s property, next to their pond. The previous day it rained, the previous night it absolutely stormed, that morning it rained again. But a couple hours before the ceremony, the sun came out. Even the next day it was back to raining all day, but the sun was out that afternoon, inviting a couple hundred people to sit by the pond and witness Adam and Sarah’s union. What a joy to see grandparents, an aunt and uncle, good family friends, and my own best friends and boyfriend sitting in the audience, and to see my dad perform the ceremony. How neat to see the many children with disabilities who came to see their beloved Sarah get married.

About 1:00 that morning as I was saying good-bye, I asked Sarah if the day was everything she had hoped for. She replied, “No. It was more!”

So my little brother is all grown up now. I haven’t spoken to him since I left the States a couple weeks ago, but I hear he has become quite domestic, taking care of the cooking and cleaning while Sarah works. I’ll give him a hard time about it, but really I’m proud of him. Ten years ago if you had told me he’d be married before me and taking care of a house and a wife, I would have laughed. But actually now it makes perfect sense.


Airports July 27, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 7:15 pm

I’m back in Beira now.  Last night I watched “The Terminal”, which I’ve never seen before.  It’s not enough that I’ve just spent most of my summer in airports, but I had to watch one on film.

In the past nearly six weeks I’ve spent an absurd amount of time in international airports.  Eight different ones to be exact.  In five different countries.  I was at O’Hare (Chicago) on six different occasions; Heathrow (London) three times; Beira, Johannesburg, Houston Interncontinental, Stansted (London), and Vasteras (Sweden) two times each; and Maputo once but for many hours.  I saw my boyfriend in four of these airports, in four different countries, and not once were we traveling together.  No, neither of us are pilots or flight attendants.  No, neither of us are wealthy.  This is just how, strangely and fortunately, the summer worked out.  The reunions (with him, with family, with friends) are always joyful, but the inevitable good-byes are always hard.  And they continue to get harder.

*  *  *  *  *

I have these memories from childhood and young adulthood of delayed flights, sitting for ages in terminal gates or on tarmac, missing flights, running through airports, losing luggage.   This summer, none of that happened.  The worst situation I encountered was sitting next to a woman on my ten hour flight from London to Jo’burg who spilled over slightly into my space.

I found my adventures occurred between airports.  Between Stansted and Heathrow to be exact.  My flight from Vasteras arrived on Wednesday night at Stansted at 10:30, and I was headed to a friend’s in South London for the night since my flight to Jo’burg didn’t leave Heathrow till the next evening.  Getting to her place involved, for starters, a 45 minute train ride to Liverpool Street, which of course I didn’t get on until 11:45, therefore missing the last underground train to Oxford Circus where I needed to catch a night bus.  Fortunately, London is a city with many public transportation options, so I waited for another night bus to get me to Oxford Circus from where I watched the second night bus just drive away as I arrived, leaving me waiting another half an hour.  With a huge rucksack on my back and another on my front.  By now around 2am.  I caught the next bus and got off about 45 minutes later where I was told I should, and I started walking, realizing that I had probably gotten off too early since I didn’t recognize anything on the map I had printed out.  It’s an uneasy feeling to walk in an unfamiliar residential part of a city at 3am, weighed down with two rucksacks, clearly unable to run or hide from danger.  Oh yeah, and no cell phone.  A few taxis drove by, all with unlit signs.   So I wandered and prayed and prayed and prayed for a taxi with a lit sign.  Another unlit one drove by but actually stopped.  He said he was on his way home and if I was headed in the same direction, he could drop me off.  I showed him my map and explained that I didn’t know where I was or in what direction I should be headed.  He studied the map for awhile then told me to get in.  GBP 6.60 later, he pulled up to my friend’s apartment.  When I tried to pay him with a ten because I was SO grateful for his help, he refused any money at all.  I insisted he take something.  He refused anything.  He waited until I knew I was in the right place and safely inside with my friend.  This is what makes traveling so wonderful.

*  *  *  *  *

Two days back in Beira, and I already miss my airports and my flights and my reunions.  I suppose I should be happy to unpack now and sleep in my own bed, but I’m actually a little sad that my bags are slowly being emptied onto shelves.

So why was I in all these airports, in all these varied places?  I hope to share the out-of-airport stories in the coming days…