Bird on a Bare Branch

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

The Ring (No, it’s not what you think) January 26, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 10:18 pm

I have a silver ring from Niger that my grandma gave me several years ago. She has never been to Niger. She lives in a small town in Iowa and volunteers at Hands Around the World, a shop, like 10,000 Villages, that sells handicrafts from developing countries and gives all the profits to the artisans. It’s a great little shop. One time – I don’t remember the occasion – my grandma told me to pick something out in the store. I really liked the uniqueness of the ring from Niger.


I’ve always loved the ring but never wore it regularly until I came to Moz. Now it’s always on my left hand ring finger. I didn’t intend for it to look like an engagement or wedding band; it’s simply most comfortable on that finger. (But it does come in handy sometimes in this culture to pretend I’m married.)

Yesterday afternoon, as I started making salt dough for Sunday school, I took the ring off and placed it in the kitchen windowsill. Naturally, I forgot about it until I was on my way to work this morning. I thought about calling Odete, our housekeeper, to ask her to put it in my room, but figured it was just as safe in the windowsill as in my room.

This afternoon when I returned from work, the ring was no longer in the windowsill. Or in my room. Or anywhere else. I called Odete and asked if she had seen it. She often puts things away in strange places. She hadn’t seen it. I looked some more then called to see if anyone else had been in the apartment when she was here. No one had.

I didn’t want to blame her because it seemed so unlike her, but recent experiences with theft and also surrounded by a cultural acceptability of lying, have left me feeling like I can’t trust anyone here. She was the only one in the apartment. The ring was gone. I couldn’t help but feel some accusation toward her.

My housemate reminded me that there had been a big mess on the kitchen counter, beneath the windowsill, and perhaps Odete had wiped the windowsill down and accidentally threw the ring out with the mess from the counter. The thought of the ring in the dumpster felt more hopeless than if someone had stolen it.

A couple hours later, our doorbell rang. Odete stood in the dark hallway. She explained that she had been worrying about the ring since I called. She remembered seeing something on the windowsill (which come to think of it, doesn’t look anything like a ring here because no one wears silver) but couldn’t remember what happened to it. She was thinking and thinking and thought she must have wiped it off and it had gotten in the trash. Then she told her son that they needed to go to the dumpster and find the box and bags they had thrown away and look through them to find the ring. On the way over she thought it might have gotten into the last bag that was still in the rubbish bin in the kitchen. Her son told her they needed to come upstairs and check. So she did. After she explained this to us, she looked through the bag in the bin, and there was the ring! Amazing!

Amazing that it would actually be there, instead of in the dumpster. Amazing that she was concerned enough about it to ponder what happened and be willing to go through the dumpster. Amazing that it came to mind tonight and not tomorrow after she already took out the trash. But mostly amazing how God can humble me.


Oh Happy Day January 22, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 10:51 pm

(This was meant to be posted yesterday.)

I woke up early this morning, not from the heat but because I felt the need to pull a sheet over me. It was ever-so-slightly chilly, and it made me very, very happy to see gray clouds in the sky and feel a cooling breeze. I thanked God for a cool morning.

Then I remembered that as I lay there feeling cool in my bed, our new president would be sleeping in the White House. It made me happier. I thanked God for President Obama. When I finally got out of bed, I thought, What could be a better start to the day than feeling cool air and knowing Obama is finally our president?

Then I went into town to buy a friend some bus tickets to Maputo and Nelspruit. It took HALF AN HOUR. I would have been really annoyed, but there was another girl waiting who struck up a conversation with me. And I understood her. AND she told me I spoke really good Portuguese. I’m often very self-conscious of my Portuguese, so it was a well-appreciated compliment.

Then, as I was rushing to the office, which didn’t make me sweat like it would have yesterday, I glanced, as I always do, at the row of shoes for sale along the curb near the open-air banana, pineapple, and mango vendors. I noticed a pair of Chaco’s. I made a beeline for them. Women’s Chaco’s in MY SIZE. I tried them on, just for show (already knowing they would fit and that I’d be buying them), and asked how much they were. The vendor asked for 780 meticais ($31). I got him down to 500 ($20) and probably could have gone lower had I been a little more strategic. But I was in a rush. The entire interaction, from beeline to bagging, lasted about two minutes. Chaco’s! From a Mozambican market! I hope they’re not stolen goods.

Then I only ended up getting to work about three minutes late in the end. I’ve been participating in a leadership training this week for managers within our office. It’s been in both English and Portuguese, and it’s been really useful. This afternoon we practiced fundraising presentations and public relations scenarios. I was challenged to do mine in Portuguese instead of English, which freaked me out, but I did it!

Then in the late afternoon I went for a swim, which I haven’t done in about a month. And it was GREAT. Even though the water was lukewarm and kind of murky, it was still refreshing and felt so good to exercise again. Then I got out of the pool just as an enormous red sun was sinking into the sea.

Then we had a friend round for dinner. And he brought Cadbury chocolate from Australia. None of this South African, weird-texture Cadbury. We ate it while we drank tea. Hot tea, and I didn’t sweat!

Sleeping with a sheet, Obama in office, speaking Portuguese well – twice, finding a pair of Chaco’s in the market, swimming at sunset, good chocolate, not sweating…how is that not a really happy day?


Voices on Inauguration Day January 20, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 9:46 pm

Tonight I walked about a mile down the road to a Ugandan friend’s house to watch the Inauguration events on CNN.  (They have DSTV and air-conditioning.)  It was not quite as exciting and emotional as November 5 (November 6 in Moz), but it was, nevertheless, an – yes, I’m going to say it – historic moment, which I felt proud to watch from Mozambique.  When I got home, I logged on to Facebook to see others’ reactions from around the world.  As the majority of friends’ statuses were about the inauguration, I thought it would be fun to copy and paste them here.  These are both American and international friends, both inside and outside America, and clearly both Democrat-leaning and Republican-leaning. (Pasted from most recent to 12 hours back.)

…is happy to have a new President, and glad I am in the USA to see the inauguration.

…just watched the inauguration on PBS transition to a “Dragon Tales” episode about working together… so wise. Thanks PBS Kids!

…says : Nice speech Barack. Very politically correct and all inclusive. Seems like we have finally found all the answers to the world’s problems. Yeah right.

…believes that George W Bush will embrace is new role as a former citizen and will be active in some great ways in the years to come!

…is homesick but wishes everyone a happy inauguration day!!

…is thinking: good riddance Bush, have a wonderful life!

…first lady Michelle Obama’s sparkling yellow-gold sheath dress with matching coat was applauded by many as a message of HOPE.

…liked the prayer at the end of the ceremonies best. That guy just gave of the aura of history, doncha think?

…woke up in the middle of the night to watch history being made. What an incredible day!

…cried tears (of joy).

…is excited for America – great speech!

…is grateful for peaceful transitions of power.

…is Obamamania!

…is what if the mightiest word is love? :).

… is busy! history made.

…is glad that all three of her kids got to witness history with her this morning. ♥

…just posted full text of the speech on his profile.

…just found herself singing along :).

…says ” now its time to show us what you can do.”

…is … wow. Just… wow.


…is watching our new President.

…is watching…and listening.

…Congrats Mr. President.

…loves the words conratulations Mr. President.

…is crushed with disappointment to miss the inauguration. a giant hairball of disappointment.

…is ecstatic Bush isn’t our president anymore 😀 Yea Obama!


…thankful to be celebrating with my family, toasting over and over again Obama!!!! Wahoooooo!!!!!

…and the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

…wishes you a ~ Happy Inauguration Day ~.

…is still not buying the hype. Hope comes not from man.

…is turning on the office TV at 10:30 AM!!

…thinks today is a special day, no matter who you voted for.

…looks forward to being a teacher on this historic, unprecedented day.

…wonders when America will realize it made a mistake in November.

…can now say she has met the President of the United States of America!

…is getting caught up in the excitement.

…is smiling…duh….It’s Inauguration Day!

…is ready to drop the “elect.” President Obama has a much better ring.

…is looking forward to Obama taking over.

…says “Barack Mubarak”!

…is sick and pissed off that she will miss the speech.

…is excited, hopeful and can’t get enough of Obamarama.

…is going to watch US Presidential Inauguration from Gaza, Mozambique!


Hot Stuff January 19, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 9:40 pm

It’s hot. I hate to write a post about the weather, but this is seriously all anyone here can think or talk about. Imagine Houston in the summer. Or Oman or Bahrain in the summer. Without air-conditioning. The thing is, it’s hard because everything is always air-conditioned in those places. Here, few places are. I’ll try to illustrate a little bit how hot it is here.

I sleep with all the windows and my bedroom door open, with very little clothing (I know, why not no clothing – it’s a toss-up…door clothed and no clothing or door open and little clothing), my hair tied in a bun on top of my head, with a fan blowing on its highest setting directly on me. I have to sleep on my back and try not to move. I still wake up in the middle of the night or very early in the morning, sweating.

When the power went out in the middle of the night the other night, I sat up in bed gasping for air because I felt like I was suffocating in the hot, humid, still air. I went into the living room, which is cooler and tried to sleep on the couch. If you knew how tiny and uncomfortable (uneven palm wicker with thin cushions) the couch is and how many mosquitoes are in the living room, you would understand how desperate I was for some slightly cooler air.

The first thing I do when I walk in the door is take off my watch, earrings, and glasses because I can’t stand the feel of them on my slimy skin (I know, why put them on in the first place?). Then I take everything else off to take a cold shower and change into dry clothes. Ten minutes later I’m dripping again, but at least I smell a little better.

By noon I can’t stand the feel of my skin, which fluctuates between sticky and wet.

By 4pm I can’t stand the smell of me (not BO but more like my first graders when they came in from recess in Houston).

By 4pm I also can’t stand the feel of clothes on my body. Sadly, in the office there is little I can do about this.

On Saturday morning I walked to a café to meet a friend for breakfast. The normally 20 minute walk took me 30 minutes because I couldn’t move any faster. I then, idiotically, ordered tea and sat in the shade and dripped for an hour and a half.

I must remember to carry a washcloth with me to church like all the Mozambicans. I could prevent my shirt from getting soaked through like it did on Sunday. And the most energetic thing I did was clap.

I can’t remember the last time I touched the hot water tap on the shower.

I’m dripping as I type this at 9:30pm.


So This Is Christmas January 15, 2009

Filed under: Pictures,Uncategorized — Jen @ 1:13 pm

kalahariOn December 20, as H and I emerged from one of the largest malls I’ve ever been in, in Pretoria, we both commented on how it was lighter later than in Mozambique. I said, “Tomorrow is the longest day of the year. We need to be outside for it.” Twenty-four hours later we sat in the middle of Botswana, eating eland stew by Kalahari Rest’s pool, watching the sky darken over the endless scrub brush.

rock-carvingsThe trip wasn’t always quite so magical, but it was pretty marvelous. In two weeks we covered a little over 6000 km, traveling from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic, staying in five different locations around Namibia.

On Christmas Eve, after a couple days in the capital of Windhoek, we finally met up in Twyfelfontein with H’s sister and her family as well as another family, all of whom also live in Maputo. That night we drove a few kilometers down the road from our campsite to enjoy a holiday buffet at an upscale lodge built into the desert rock. I ate ostrich. Back at the campsite we opened gifts and drank glögg. Christmas Day was spent admiring rock carvings then spending the afternoon in and around the lodge pool. The nights were cold and the days hot.empty-roads

skeleton-coastThe following day we drove out to and then along the Skeleton Coast, so named for the several shipwrecks scattered along the often foggy coast. But one half expects to find human skeletons in the hundreds of miles of salty, sandy, rocky nothingness. Who can survive in that environment if stranded?

Seals, apparently, can survive and thrive on that coast in the hundreds of thousands. North of Swakopmund, we stopped at the Cape Fur seal colony where we were delighted to discover that the birthing season is the beginning of December.seals-everywhere There were seal pups everywhere! seal-pupsBetween 200,000 and 340,000 Cape Fur seals make their home at the colony. That’s a quarter of a million salt-covered, fish-eating and pooping mammals occupying a fairly small space, plus many expired pups strewn across the sand. The smell would have driven us away much sooner if the pups (the living ones) weren’t so cute.

I thought I would hate Swakopmund, especially at Christmastime, all touristy and filled with South Africans on their summer holidays. But actually it was kind of nice to wander around a German town, eat some nice meals and some very yummy ice-cream and actually forget that I was in swakopmund-christmas-treeAfrica. Swakopmund is also where we went sandboarding. The host of our campground was a German guy who has lived in Namibia for ten years. He’s a skier and trains on top-of-dune-swakopmundthe dunes in the off-season then competes in Switzerland every winter in the snow. He told us to buy some plywood boards and wax, then he took us to some isolated dunes where H’s brother-in-law skied, H used a snowboard, and the rest of us raced down the dunes on our bellies. So fun, SO sandy! I was crunching on sand and blinking it out of my eyes for the next couple days.

A few days later and a few hundred kilometers south, we found ourselves gazing at the largest sand dunes in the world at Sossusvlei. This is the part of the trip I had most been looking forward to, and honestly view-from-the-topI was disappointed initially. Unlike the dunes outside Swakopmund that were just there, quietly accessible to anyone with a 4×4, that we had all to ourselves, these required an entry fee and guidelines to keep cars on the tarmac road. And there were people everywhere. We drove to the end, to the part accessible only by foot or 4×4. There were still a lot of people, but H, his nephew, and I enjoyed a solitary hike to the top of one of the highest peaks. A couple walking-across-lakehours of huffing and puffing later, we looked across an endless sea of red sand, and below us what looked like lakes. In reality, they were loooong dried up, creating beautiful patterns of cracked white mud.

Several hundred kilometers further south of there, we found ourselves gazing into the sixth largest canyon in the world, Fish River Canyon, and also staring at a sign forbiddingfish-river-canyon any day or leisure hikes into the canyon. Most people come to Fish River Canyon to hike an 85 km trail. Permits are required, but they aren’t given out during the summer because of the heat and threats of flash floods. So like the majority of tourists at the Grand Canyon, we stood on the edge for fifteen minutes, took our pictures, then returned to our campsite. The next day we discovered an upscale desert lodge and spent the afternoon in its cool, sparkling pool. Not a bad last day.desert-pool

And that was the end. The end of good food, good company, amazing scenery, refreshing pools, wild animals (I didn’t mention the impalas, springbok, ostriches, mountain zebras, and birds of prey we saw along the way, or the baby giraffe being raised by staff at Kalahari Rest because its mother was bitten by a deadly snake), good infrastructure, cold nights, dry days with bright blue skies, the freedom of the open road, and being outside, which is where I love to be more than anything, directly interacting with God’s creation.

On January 5 we crossed the border (the last of five border crossings) into Mozambique, a little tanner, a little plumper, a little stronger, and quite tired. But good tired. The tired of hard work and fun play. The tired of great vacations.