Bird on a Bare Branch

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

Apparently Jen Is Rude August 31, 2008

Filed under: Immigration,Language — Jen @ 2:46 pm

“Jen, when we go to Immigration on Monday, let me do the talking,” is what João told me on Friday after we had gone to find out Mr. M’s decision concerning my visa renewal. I had gone up to the desk to ask Mr. M if he had my passport. He started yelling at me: “It’s not ready! I told you to come back Monday! It’s not ready now! Come back Monday!” He had clearly told us “tomorrow” on Thursday. But I wasn’t going to argue, so I thanked him and we left.

That’s when João told me I was rude. Oh, he said it nicely, and he explained why, but that was the gist of it. He said my manner of speaking caused Mr. M to respond to me the way he does. João acknowledged that I’m just learning Portuguese and don’t know these things. He explained that in Portuguese there are more rules than in English and that it’s important, when approaching an official, to use a lot of “sir”, “I’m sorry”, “excuse me”, “if you please”, etc. The thing is, I know most of this intellectually, but humbling myself in such a manner when I’m so frustrated with these Immigration officials is another matter. But I can work on it. And I really appreciate that João felt comfortable enough explaining everything to me in a patient, understanding way. Not many people would do that.

Tomorrow, hopefully, with João doing the talking, we will finally get some answers about my visa. Hopefully I will still be allowed to stay here.


Nine Down, Nine To Go August 30, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 9:52 pm

Exactly nine months and a day ago I arrived in Beira. I’m now halfway through my contract. This is causing some anxiety since I feel like I just arrived which means the next nine months will likely fly by. And what have I accomplished in nine months?

I have not been mugged.

I speak a somewhat understandable form of Portuguese.

I can sing about a quarter of the songs at church.

I can navigate my way around the city by chapa.

I have not had malaria.

I’ve learned to not only eat but love avocadoes.

I now cook with onions.

I make yogurt. (I think really my greatest accomplishments are all culinary.)

I’ve visited a few places outside Beira.

I’ve traveled by helicopter.

I’ve written a community survey, trained interviewers, analyzed data, and written a report.

I’ve played and enjoyed golf.

I’ve started running again.

I’ve renewed/refreshed my diving certification.

I’ve killed and disposed of a rat stuck to a glue trap.

And what do I hope to accomplish in the next nine months?

To still not be mugged.

To understand and speak Portuguese more fluently.

To sing half the songs at church.

To meet with some school directors and teachers to talk about ending corruption in their schools.

To train tutors well for a new after-school learning club.

To set up a computer lab for university students.

To visit Zimbabwe.

To visit South Africa.

To dive at least one more time.

To learn to drive on the left side of the road.

To keep up with running.

To swim regularly once it gets warm enough (which will probably be next week at the rate the temps are rising).

To learn how to cook matapa (a local dish of greens cooked in a sauce of coconut milk and crushed peanuts).

A note about malaria: To avoid it would be an accomplishment on one hand, but on another, it’s sort of a rite of passage.

To leave here feeling like I’ve made some genuine Mozambican friends.

Aside from accomplishments, I hope God will surprise me in these coming months. That I will not become too set in personal expectations but be open to His.


Even More Precarious August 28, 2008

Filed under: Immigration — Jen @ 8:46 pm

I was out of town on Monday, so our administrative assistant took my passport and documents to Immigration and said they’d be ready on Wednesday. Yesterday I asked if he had the receipt so I could pick my passport up. He said, “I didn’t pay anything, so there’s no receipt.” That sounded suspicious. He said he had a signed letter instead. João, our office runner, said he would go to Immigration on his way to the bank to pick up my passport. He asked if I would join him. I said, “Only if we speak Portuguese.” (He’s my best conversation partner, but he’s recently been trying to speak English with me.)

At Immigration we were told to go upstairs to see the person who signed the letter we had. Both of us were clueless about what was going on since neither of us had been there on Monday. We waited and waited. Finally, João said he had to go to the bank before it closed but would be back as soon as he was done. Of course, two minutes after he left I was called into the office.

I handed the letter to the official who said I didn’t have a work permit. I explained that I was still waiting for it. She said, “But where’s your receipt?” I told her they, Immigration, had it since I had submitted all my DIRE paperwork months ago. She said, “No, we don’t. I asked. It’s not here.” I explained again. She insisted again.

We went downstairs to speak to the older man, who I now know is Mr. M (the younger one is sadly on holiday till next month). He asked me where my work permit was. I explained that I was still waiting for it. “But where’s the receipt?” “It’s here,” I said again. The woman again said it wasn’t, that she had asked and it wasn’t. I asked if I could see my file. She said I couldn’t because it was in their archives. Then the two of them started going through my passport, making note of every visa with a heavy, pointed index finger: “November. December. January. February until May. May until August.” Then to me: “You’ve been here a long time with no work permit.” “I know, I’m still waiting for my permit. We submitted it in January.” “But you have no receipt. How long do you intend to stay?” “I hope for another 90 days.”

I realized we were not going to get anywhere continuing to discuss my lack of work permit. So I asked if I could talk to my colleagues and return the next day, today.

This morning, after our office administrator found out that my work permit had still not arrived from Maputo, I returned to Immigration with my team leader and the original receipt of the submission of my work permit paperwork. Mr. M wanted to know why it was so old: “This is from January.” My team leader explained that we were still waiting. He wanted us to get a new one. She explained again. He said he needed a copy. Of course the nearest copy place was a bit of a walk back toward the direction of the office. (Have I ever mentioned that it’s about a fifteen minute walk from my office to Immigration, over Beggar’s Bridge, which, in my opinion, is the most unpleasant place in Beira?)

We returned once again and handed over the copy. He looked over it, trying to find more fault with it. The woman from yesterday came downstairs, and she also pointed out how old it was. We explained once again that we’re waiting on the work permit. With nothing else to say, Mr. M took my passport and papers and told us to return tomorrow. On one hand, it’s positive that he took everything since that means he could find no more fault. On the other hand, it gives him 24 hours to find fault. Tune in tomorrow for the verdict.


Don’t Know Much About History

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 9:51 am

I’m frequently embarrassed that I don’t know more about the history of Mozambique (or of anywhere really).  I know the basics and always desire to know more but am often unmotivated to do further research and know that even if I do read extensively, I’ll probably forget the details.  All that to say, I am going to refer you to a must-read post on another friend’s blog.  She writes a good summary of the colonization and subsequent civil war that devastated Mozambique.  Please read.


African Wildlife August 27, 2008

Filed under: Rats — Jen @ 1:16 pm

Several people have asked in the months since I’ve been in Moz if I’ve seen any wildlife. You know, zebras, giraffes, elephants, lions. It’s an innocent enough question since Africa is known for its safaris, but I live in a city. So that would be a bit like asking if one sees buffalo in Chicago or mountain lions in Manhattan.

This is not to say I never experience wildlife. However, it’s not nearly as glamorous as gazelle running past my bedroom window.

For example, a couple weeks ago I was walking to a friend’s house to watch the Olympics on their satellite TV. I was walking along a sidewalk, down a main road, past large walled-in houses, when I felt something around my ankle. I thought it was a plastic bag that had blown around it, so I kicked it away. Then I felt it again, more strongly. What the heck? I looked down and caught a glimpse of fur by my feet. I thought it must have been a small dog, but it wasn’t fur or a wet nose that I felt against my ankle. It was more like little hands. I looked more closely. A monkey! I gave a little shriek and jumped back, afraid of getting bit when I haven’t had any rabies vaccinations. It stared at me looking ready to pounce and latch on more tightly. The guard at the nearest house watched the whole interaction, looking unsure whether he should laugh or not. I asked if the monkey lived there. He did, and the guard immediately made himself look busy trying to get the monkey back in the gate while I continued on my way.

Yesterday I went to Central Market to buy vegetables. Central Market is a more “upscale” market on the central plaza near my office. It’s a collection of about a dozen vegetable venders housed in a cement structure. It’s slightly more expensive than buying from a street vender or from the large open-air market, but it’s much more convenient and the produce is generally always good quality. As the vender was weighing my carrots, I noticed something moving on the ground out of the corner of my eye. I looked down and watched a large rat run nearly over my toes. Does he have no fear?? And does he stay on the ground or run over the vegetables as well? Ew, ew, ew.

These are just some examples of my African wildlife experiences. Sadly, no zebras or giraffes, but just think, I actually have much more up-close-and-personal encounters with city wildlife than I ever would with safari wildlife. And I’m becoming somewhat of an expert on rats. Perhaps I should start leading urban safaris…


Precarious Resident August 22, 2008

Filed under: Immigration — Jen @ 12:52 pm

I haven’t posted an Immigration rant in awhile. At least 90 days, I’m sure, since that was the last time I renewed my visa. To briefly update: I am currently a ‘precarious resident’ on a 90-day hopefully-renewable visa. The reason I am ‘precarious’ and not ‘permanent’ is because my application for a DIRE (residence visa) is still sitting at Immigration because my application for a work permit is still sitting in some office in Maputo waiting to be processed. Note: My work permit paperwork was submitted in January. It’s now August. Who would like to start placing bets about whether or not I’ll get it within a year or even before my contract ends in May.

At Immigration today, the younger man, who usually helps me and knows me and is somewhat patient with me and explains things fairly clearly to me, was not there. In his place was the older man. Here is a translated play-by-play of our interaction:

Me: Good morning. This visa (pointing to the precarious residence visa in my passport) expires on Tuesday. Is it possible to renew it?

OM: Yes. Go buy the application over there.

(I walk to another counter where I hold up my open passport for the cashier to see.)

Me: Can I buy the paper to renew this?

Cashier: 50 meticais ($2)

(I hand him the money. He hands me an application form. I, for some reason, don’t have a pen in my purse. They, of course, do not have extras for people to use. I ask a few people if they have a pen I can borrow. One guy does. I fill in my form and return to the first desk with the older man.)

OM: This isn’t the right form. Go buy a new one.

Me: What is this form?

OM: This is a residence visa renewal form. You need a precarious residence renewal form. (He explains something else that I don’t understand.)

Me: But this isn’t my error. This is what he gave me. Why do I have to buy a new one?

OM: Because this one is invalid. (He pushes the paper and my passport away from him, yells to the cashier what I need, then turns away from me.)

Me: (Now mad and back at the cashier) I have to buy a new form? But I showed you this (showing my visa in my passport again) and you gave me the wrong form.

Cashier: You told me you needed to renew your visa, so I gave you a visa renewal form.

Me: (Thinking how typically Mozambican it is to not accept any responsibility. I know I did not ask for a form to “renew my visa” because I couldn’t remember the word for visa.) No, I showed you this and you gave me that form.

(Cashier continues to argue with me, so I hand over another 50 and get the right form.)

Me: Is this the correct form??

Cashier: Ask him (pointing to older man).

Me: (Back at first desk) Is this the correct form?

OM: Yes

(I borrow the same pen again and fill out the new form. In the space for hair color I can’t remember the word for blond and write yellow. The younger guy laughed at me last time I did that. I give the pen back and return to the desk.)

OM: You need to attach copies of your documents and bring this back on Monday.

Me: What documents?? You have ALL my documents here already!

OM: Your documents, your documents! Attach them! (He quickly explains something more that I can’t understand, pushes the paper and passport at me and turns away.)

(I walk out, hating Immigration, hating Mozambique, hating that I can’t communicate better or understand more clearly. I call my team leader, who’s taking a vacation day today, and ask her if she can talk to this man since I don’t understand. I walk back to the desk with my phone. I stand directly in front of him, and he purposely ignores me even as I say, “Excuse me, sir” several times. Finally he looks at me.)

Me: Can you please talk to my colleague?

(He explains to my team leader what I need then hands the phone back to me. She then explains that I need to make photocopies of all previous visas in my passport and have our administrative assistant type a letter requesting a renewal.)

An hour later, in the comfort of my own office with friendly, patient colleagues, this situation doesn’t seem as seethingly frustrating as I recall experiencing it. I still hate Immigration, I still hate that I don’t understand more Portuguese, but I don’t hate Mozambique. At least not most of the time.


Free from Integrity, Rooted in Corruption August 20, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 2:05 pm

Oasis is currently looking to fill five vacancies. One is to replace our finances manager who recently resigned. The other four are new positions: Child Protection Officer, Moral Education/Anti-corruption Teacher, Learning Clubs Coordinator, and Anti-corruption Assistant (so I can do my job better). These four new positions are for my team, Just Education (as in fair, with integrity, transparent, accountable, non-corrupt). Our vision is “to empower young people to make positive life choices and live up to their potential, through receiving education free from corruption, rooted in integrity and transparency.” (My emphasis)

One of the application requirements is for an applicant to submit a letter of recommendation from his or her pastor. A good idea, in theory. Until we found out that some applicants are buying letters from pastors! Perhaps we need to expand our anti-corruption training to churches?