Bird on a Bare Branch

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

Thanksgiving Day 12 November 30, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 3:55 pm

I am thankful for my church.
I can’t say this is true every single week. In fact, lately I’ve been struggling to go to Mozambican church. However, overall, I am thankful that I’ve been attending the one I do.

It’s a small city church with a lot of young people. The pastor is a smiling, humble man, who encourages the youth (single 18- to 30ish-year-olds) to take part in leadership and outreach. On the Sundays that he doesn’t preach, he often sits at the back cuddling with his youngest daughter and giving affection to other young children. All of these descriptions are unusual characteristics of Mozambican pastors.

I originally started attending this church partly because I already knew several people through Oasis. I thought it would be a good start for getting to know others. Unfortunately, I attended for many, many months before anyone else really spoke to me. Then one day I was on a chapa sitting across from one of the mães (mothers), who I’ve always admired because she loves to dance during worship. Even when she was 8 months pregnant, she’d be jumping around. We chatted a bit, and she paid my fare. Ever since then, she makes a point of greeting me at church, and a couple of the other younger mães also now speak to me.

I made more progress with them several weeks, during the church’s anniversary lunch, when I insisted on sitting with the women on a mat on the ground, instead of in a chair. I couldn’t join in the conversation that jumped quickly from woman to woman, and switched back and forth between Portuguese and Sena, so I sat with a silly grin on my face and pretended like I was really enjoying myself, which actually I was despite feeling so awkward. When I was getting ready to leave, extending my awkwardness as long as possible, one of the women asked me when I was going to dance with them in church. I laughed and said I was shy, although secretly I’d love to work up enough nerve to dance down the aisle with them one Sunday.

At work on Monday a couple of my colleagues, who attend the same church, told me that after I left the mães were talking about how pleased they were that I had eaten with them on the mat. One of my colleagues also asked me what my response was about dancing. We agreed that before I leave, I will dance once with the mães.

In the meantime I’ll continue to dance and clap in my pew and thank God that I have the freedom to worship in this country and have a congregation to be a part of.



Singing is often quite active

Singing is often quite active.

Check out the baby tied to her mother's back on the left.

Check out the baby tied to her mother's back on the left.

Some of the maes

Thanksgiving Day 11 November 29, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 11:15 pm

I am thankful for one year in Beira.


Thanksgiving Day 10 November 28, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 10:55 pm

I am thankful for Christmas carols.

Tonight was the annual Carols by Candlelight, organized by my former director on the beach near my house. Last night my mom said they were going to sing carols at the Bean (in Millennium Park, downtown Chicago). I said, “You’re singing carols at the Bean, and I’m singing carols at the beach!” But I bet we sang the same songs, although I’m guessing I wore less clothing, and they probably didn’t sing British tunes. They could probably also hear better without crashing waves in the background.

Part of me would like to be singing carols in the States right now, bundled up, looking forward to hot cider when I’m done. I thought fondly tonight of caroling at a nursing home in Houston with my old Sunday school class.

But caroling on the beach reminds me more of Christmases growing up in Oman and Bahrain. Of course, even in the Gulf it’s winter now, so I don’t remember ever being on the beach at this time of year. But I do remember international gatherings. I remember the same conversations about which version of Away in the Manger we should sing. (I prefer the British version and was a bit put off tonight that a British woman suggested we sing the American version.) I remember the laid back, come as you are, hodge podge of traditions thrown together.

I mostly remember that traditions like singing Christmas carols become that much more important when you’re far away. As three Mozambican men jogged between us and the sea while we were in the middle of an off-key Once in Royal David’s City, I thought how odd we must all look. Why are those white people sitting in a group on the sand, looking at pieces of paper, and making funny high-pitched noises? It doesn’t make any sense at all to carry the European cold and snowy traditions and bizarre lyrics and singing style to tropical, hand-clapping, drum-beating Mozambique. It’s as unexplainable as paying nearly $18 for an 8-pound turkey. Yet the Western cultures we bring with us strangely need to hold onto these things.

(My housemate just walked by and said sympathetically, “Are you typing at this hour?” I replied, “I need to write my thanksgiving post.” She said, “Let me guess, you’re either thankful for steak or Carols by Candlelight.” I told her I was thankful for Christmas carols, although I’m definitely thankful for that steak too! She laughed and said, “Yeah, you must be running out of inspiration by now.” So I guess we don’t all hold the carols as dearly. Let it be known that I am genuinely thankful for Christmas carols!)

Last year's carols which were less windy and allowed candles to stay lit.

Last year's Carols which was less windy and allowed candles to stay lit


Thanksgiving Day 9 November 27, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 4:49 pm

I am thankful that God is bigger than all of this – this world, the chaos, the disease, the corrupt governments, the angry people, the power-hungry people, the destruction. Today families across America (and Americans in other places – myself included) will sit down to huge meals. They’ll laugh, they’ll stuff themselves, they’ll watch football. Tomorrow they’ll either shop sales or sit around eating leftovers.

In other parts of the world, it’s just another Thursday. I’m at work today. No one knows that I’m going straight from work to celebrate one of my culture’s biggest holidays.

In still other parts of the world, today marks only grief, wailing and gnashing of teeth, and questioning a God who seems to bestow Butterball turkeys on some and machine gun fire on others.

I’m overwhelmed by today’s news more than I’ve ever been. Every headline strikes a personal chord with me. I’ve been to Mumbai. I have friends who live there. The first email I read this morning was from a friend in Houston who is visiting Mumbai this week for some cousins’ weddings. He was staying in a hotel just down the street from the ones attacked. I have not heard yet from my friends who live there.

The next headline I read on BBC was about the suicide bomb attack outside the American embassy in Kabul. I got on Skype with a friend who’s currently working in Kabul and asked about it. She was thankful her driver was late this morning because if he had been on time, they would have driven right into it.

Zimbabwe is our neighbor. There are many Zimbabweans in Beira. As if enough people haven’t died there from violence, a huge cholera outbreak is wiping out hundreds more. A Zimbabwean friend also reported after returning from Harare last week that hospitals and clinics are closing throughout the country. No food, no medicine, no fuel, and prospects for next year are worse as rains are late and farmers are only just beginning to plant crops now.

My heart hurts right now. I want to yell at God, “Stop them from doing that!” But I know it hurts His heart more than mine. I don’t understand sin and wickedness and evil. I don’t understand the technicalities of how that prevents God’s will from being done. I don’t get how Satan and God, angels and demons battle over us. But I cling to the hope that God will overcome. And I believe too that He wants to hear more of us yelling, “Stop!”

I know that in a few days I’ll go back to being consumed by stress at work, how my circumstances affect me. That hurts my heart too that I’ll quickly move on. I’ll stop crying out to God for justice and worrypray (no, that’s not a typo) about affording a trip at Christmas, getting surveys done, what I’m doing in May, etc., etc. (Does God love to hear those prayers?)

Please, before you sit down to eat your turkey and stuffing and cranberry sauce, please take a few minutes to pray through the headlines. If you’ve already finished eating, thank God for the food He provided. I mean, really thank Him. And thank Him for who He is. He is not good because of what He provides. He provides because He is good. And He’s big, so much bigger than turkeys and machine guns and suicide bombers and cholera. Thank Him for that above all.


Thanksgiving Day 8 November 26, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 11:53 pm

I am thankful for my bed.

I had a much better post planned in my head, but this is about all I can muster at ten minutes to midnight. I’m also thankful that my refrigerator/freezer is defrosted, that I managed to make french fried onions from scratch, and that Cheryl has cornstarch since Shoprite didn’t. I’m also thankful that my Sunday school training is planned so I can go to bed. My bed that I am very thankful for.


Thanksgiving Day 7 November 25, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 11:25 pm

I am thankful for Dutch people.

I could go so many places with this. I mean, I’m thankful for the Dutch people who immigrated to America back in the day, who eventually met, fell in love, procreated, and raised my grandparents, who in turn did the same thing to raise my parents, who in turn did the same for me.

I am thankful for the genius minds and bodies of a people to develop such an extensive bicycle route system in their country. A couple times Dutch bike rental owners laughed at me when I asked if I could get to such and such a place by bike: “You can get anywhere in the country by bike.” How is that not a perfect country?! I could write pages and pages about such amazingness.

So why am I thankful for Dutch people here in Beira? Because for the last two days I’ve been blessed by Dutch women. I actually only know two Dutch women here – one married and one single – and neither of them very well.

Yesterday I met one for coffee after work to discuss a Sunday school training I’m doing on Saturday. What should have been a quick, somewhat superficial meeting turned into her unknowingly ministering to me. She’s on the board of Oasis, and I’ve been experiencing some significant frustrations at work lately that I haven’t been writing about because I don’t want to complain (too much) online or risk slandering anyone. I’m a ‘little person’ at work and haven’t felt like I’m in a high enough position to seek out a board member to discuss problems. But work came up. She asked me some important questions that led into a long discussion that helped me unload some burdens and also feel encouraged in what I’m doing here. Then somehow that led into a discussion about relationships. I’m always amazed how we can have certain ideas about people and their lives without really knowing much of anything at all. I had a picture of this woman’s life and her marriage and family but found out that I don’t know any of the background at all. Her relationship experiences spoke so clearly to me about who I am and how I communicate in relationships! I want to learn more from her. Sadly, as is so often the case with expat friendships, they are fleeting as contracts end and people move home or on to other countries.

The other Dutch woman has been running a seminar for my team for the past two days. I was only able to sit in for an hour of it, but I see how excited the guys are. She’s been a breath of fresh air in a lately tense environment. She’s brought enthusiasm, creativity, and encouragement. It’s encouraging for me too to see someone doing what she loves, someone with bright eyes and energy. (When did my eyes become dull?)

I’m not sure how much more contact I’ll have with either woman, but this week I’m particularly thankful for them.

Another Dutch person, who gave me great joy at an Amsterdam canal.


Thanksgiving Day 6 November 24, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 8:11 pm

I am thankful for electric fans.  On the really hot days, they just blows the hot air around.  But most of the time, especially at night, they do have a cooling effect.

My housemate and I both have big Chinese-made floor fans in our rooms.  There’s a third one in the guest room, but it doesn’t work.  One of our out-of-town friends woke up in the middle of the night back in February to find flames shooting from the top of it where the oscillation had worn through a poorly-wired wire.   Now it’s just art.  Cruel, taunting art to anyone who has to sleep in the guest room.  But that room gets a cross breeze that my room doesn’t get, which is why I’m so thankful for the fan.

Once, also back in February, we were sweating so badly at work and constantly rearranging the direction of the fan to make the most of how many people the rotation could hit.  My team leader and I spent at least ten minutes dreaming of how we could invent a 360-degree rotating fan.  Yes, I even googled it.  I shared my idea with someone else later that week who suggested we just buy an air-conditioning unit.  Ah yes, air-conditioning has already been invented and known to cool room inhabitants better than fans.

My housemate and I actually have a window AC unit in our apartment.  It used to be in my room, but we moved it to the living room.  We have yet to turn it on because we can’t afford the electricity to run it.

So we stick to our fans.


On a completely unrelated note…Did you know you can set your Google search language to Elmer Fudd?  I just discovered this as I was resetting my language from Spanish to English (for some reason my Google likes to set itself to Spanish.  Portuguese I get since my IP address shows I’m in Mozambique, but Spanish makes no sense to me.)  Now if I want to set it back to English, I just need to click on Pwefewences.