Bird on a Bare Branch

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

To Dust She Shall Return February 26, 2009

Filed under: Faith — Jen @ 6:55 pm

I’ve been thinking for the last week about writing on a theme during Lent, and I decided I should write about beauty. I live in a very visually ugly city, and my job deals with ugliness in human interactions. It’s easy for me to fall into negativity, which I’ve found myself doing more and more lately. One of my pastors in Houston preached a sermon on beauty right before I came to Mozambique. He challenged us to recognize beauty and engage with beauty around us. I thought that was an easy thing to do in America where people live more comfortably, generally experience good health, and place a value on aesthetic appeal. This sermon comes to mind often here as I walk through filth – both literal and metaphorical – on a daily basis. So I wanted to challenge myself this Lent to see beauty around me here, more than just in a long weekend away to an isolated beach. I want to see beauty in Beira. I want to look at life around me with softer eyes and a softer heart.

But what do I do when I’m in the middle of laughing and chatting with some colleagues at lunch and another colleague arrives to tell us that her brother’s baby has just died? Her brother’s wife had taken the 3-month-old girl to the machamba (field) in the morning and set her down on the raised earth between flooded paddies. Mothers do it all the time. This time the baby fell into the water and drowned. Where is the beauty in that? Where is the beauty in a young mother wondering now and probably for the rest of her life why she didn’t keep that tiny girl tied to her back? Where is the beauty in her husband and other family members probably wondering the same thing? Where is the beauty in explaining to a 3-year-old sister why she will not be sleeping next to her baby tonight? Or ever again?

I just spoke with the baby’s father, who was one of my research trainees from last year – a tall, handsome young man in his early twenties with natural leadership abilities and a beautiful baritone singing voice. Yesterday he dropped a resume off at the office, all smiles and charm. Today he was fighting back tears but needing to be a strong man for his family. He should be with them mourning right now, but instead he is running around town trying to round up money to transfer the baby from the local bairro clinic to the central hospital so that she can be embalmed and buried. Then he has to round up more money to buy a casket, pay for documents, and hire a truck on the day of the funeral for people to travel from the mortuary to the cemetery. There is a double tragedy here – poor people cannot afford death. Where is the beauty in that? Where is the beauty in being consumed with financial worries at a time like this? Where is the beauty in having to buy the tiniest casket available?

It’s not beautiful at all.

Yet just yesterday we were reminded that from ashes we come and to ashes we return. Whether at 90 years or three months, to ashes we return.

I have Sandra McCracken’s voice repeating over and over from my speakers right now: “Call him good, my soul.” I guess that’s where the beauty lies. He is good. All the time, He is good. He is good because He is the Comforter. I don’t believe God killed this child. I don’t know why He let it happen, but I don’t think He did it. To believe that He is still good and to believe that He will comfort, I can see some beauty there.


Sunday Morning at Savane

Filed under: Pictures,Uncategorized — Jen @ 6:37 pm

stormy-savane stormy-jellyfishstormy-crabstormy-lunch


Speaking of Obama… February 19, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 10:18 pm

Understandably Obama is a very popular president in Africa. (I started writing a post about how disappointed the Kenyans are going to be with him, though, but for some reason never finished it.) However, there are many misunderstandings about him. One has to do with our definition of African-American.

Our system of defining race in America extends only to our own borders. We seem to like ‘black’ and ‘white’ and nothing in between. From my understanding (and correct me if I’m wrong), someone mixed-race finds themselves in a position at some point in their life of having to choose either ‘black’ or ‘white’. I have spoken to some very pale-skinned African-Americans who will call themselves ‘black’. I’m not judging this, just making an observation on my culture. (And just the fact that I feel the need to write a disclaimer demonstrates what a sensitive subject this is.)

Outside of the US, racial labeling takes on different meanings. I can in no way generalize for England, or other countries in Europe, or other countries in Africa. But I do know that in many places outside of America, ‘mixed-race’ is a common label, and even ‘mulatto’ is not necessarily seen as a negative label. In Mozambique, for example, people are defined by the actual color of their skin, as far as I’ve observed. If you are indigenous African, then you are black. If you are European, then you are white. If you are somewhere in between, then you are mixed. It makes practical sense. Mozambicans call it like it is. (See Beyonce’s What??? And Tall and Skinny.) Mozambique certainly has its own race issues, but the labeling extends beyond ‘black’ and ‘white’.

So the other day I was having a conversation with a colleague about Obama. A comment that my colleague made about Obama being African prompted me to say something about how he’s only half African. He said, “Oh yes, his parents are African and he was born in Africa, but he just grew up in America.” I explained that his father was Kenyan, but his mother was white American like me. Eyebrows raised, he responded, “Ah-EH? So you mean he’s mixed?” Exactly. (Remember, we are outside America. We are outside American racial definitions.)

I’m sure my colleague is not the only one who has heard the terms “African-American president” and “black president” in the news and has conjured up a misrepresentation of who our new president actually is. I’m sure there are many who think that any immigrant can go to America and become president. My housemate was at a training conference in South Africa with some guys from Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and South Africa when the election results were announced. Apparently, the African guys were jumping and screaming in the halls, “We won! We won!” Yet there was not a single American there.

In America emphasis has rightly been on him being the first black or African-American president. In our context, that language is understood and completely appropriate. In Africa (and perhaps elsewhere), different language needs to be used. I think we need to clear the air – regardless of his skin color, he is American. Before anything else, that is why he is president.


Barack Obama Is Where? February 16, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 6:39 pm

Yesterday in a church I was visiting with my British housemate and a new British nurse who’s working for Oasis, one of the elders wanted to pray for my housemate since that was the last time she’ll visit that church before she leaves for good in April. He explained to the congregation: “Sister Marina is returning to the land of the English, where Barack Obama is.”


How Fabulous! February 14, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 6:51 pm

Imagine my delight when I read my friend Rachel’s blog the other day and saw that she had given me a blog award! Right there between “Pop Pop” (the early expansion of her pregnant stomach) and “Political capital, wherein some might say I sound like a socialist”. Apparently my blog is fabulous.fabulous-blog1 I take this as a high compliment from her because I know she reads A LOT of blogs. (Somehow she manages to post very regularly on hers in the midst of all that reading.) And now it is my honor to pass on the award to five others I deem worthy. I have no personal understanding of what it’s like to pick bridesmaids, but I imagine it’s a bit like this. How do you pick five without hurting feelings? Deep breath, here goes. Ladies and gentleman the fabulous blog award goes to (in no particular order)…

Brooke’s Precarious Residency. Brooke is one of the people here in Moz who keeps me sane and smiling (and often laughing). She is a source of much thoughtfulness, wisdom, and humor. When I first started reading her blog, I nearly stopped writing my own. Her observations of and insights into life in Moz are far deeper and more beautifully written than mine could ever be. They’re also quite random, which is one of the reasons I keep going back for more. I’ve both laughed and cried reading her writing.

Laura’s The Mouro Family. Laura was my Bible study leader for a year in college. I first met her when she had just started dating her now husband. She is now the mother of five biological children and one adopted daughter from Liberia, and is pregnant with one more! Somehow she has time to regularly update her blog in the midst of parenting, homeschooling, and cooking all her food from scratch.

I’m presenting a joint award to Zach’s and Renee’s Arden Lane. Zach and Renee are like family to me. I’ve also known them since they first started dating, and they have been my dearest friends since. I recognize that even as a married couple, they are still two distinct people with two distinct blogs. However, Zach’s a guy, and Renee doesn’t update that often.  Hence, the joint award.  (Is that harsh of me?  You know you’re still my favorite people.)  Zach, an intellectual thinker, writes primarily about education and politics. Somehow I don’t think the fabulous award quite fits in between a critique of education reform and a comic assessment of teacher happy hour; however, I still wanted to honor him and his writing. Renee has recently moved her blog from Grand Plans to Arden Lane and writes about her and Zach’s process of adopting two siblings from Colombia. I love the thoughtfulness and vulnerability that she puts into her posts, and absolutely cannot wait until she gets her kids, and neither will you when you read her posts. If only she would update more often!

Ellen’s What You Think Matters. Ellen is a former small group friend from Houston. Her blog follows no particular theme except that which is on her mind at the moment. She writes about such things as whether TV rots your brain, buying a foreclosed house, and a dead squirrel that the cat dragged in while her husband was out of town.  I’ve always appreciated Ellen for her openness, frankness, and stream-of-consciousness thinking in conversation, and that comes through in her blog as well. Plus, she’s got some really adorable pictures of her kids on there.

Jordan’s Engraved on His Hands. Jordan is an American friend from England. She has an interesting and unusual adoption story and writes thoughtfully and passionately about children, her own sweet child, faith, justice, and other things in her day-to-day life. She also sends out a women’s e-magazine, so if you fancy checking that out, drop her a line.

I’d also like to make a couple special mentions for other blogs that I personally think are fabulous but who either don’t know my blog exists so wouldn’t know that I mentioned them or who could care less if they received such an award. I am completely addicted to Christine’s Welcome to My Brain. She is a Baptist preacher’s wife from small-town Oklahoma who has a mix of biological and adopted kids with seemingly every issue you could imagine. She writes about adoption, emotional/behavioral disorders, depression, sex, marriage, and faith, among others. Plus she posts a magical milk (breastfeeding) pic o’ the week each week. I love her writing style. She’s got such sass!

The other mention goes to my friend Tom’s Embarking, which, when he regularly posts (he comes and goes), gives me good theological food for thought. He’s got great stuff to chew on, but both as a guy and as a theological/philosophical writer, I’m not sure he’d be all that excited about a fabulous blog award!


Yummy?? February 9, 2009

Filed under: Language — Jen @ 1:05 pm

I once explained to my former assistant that pronunciation often doesn’t matter in English, but sometimes it really makes a difference. For example, it doesn’t matter if someone asks me, “Howah yoo?” or calls me Seestah Jen, but it does make a difference when he calls his exams ‘testes’.

On Saturday I was browsing the cakes at Clube Nautico and asked what a particular brownish tart-looking thing was. The server told me the name in Portuguese. I said (in Portuguese), “Yes, but what is it? What’s inside?” He said (in English), “Penis.” “Excuse me?!” I said. He repeated it very clearly in English, at which point my two English friends and I were giggling a little bit. Then he said, “Amendoim” (peanuts in Portuguese). “Aha,” I said, wondering what the Portuguese for ‘penis’ is so that I could correct him. But I’ve never needed to know that word. Realizing I couldn’t tell him what he was actually saying to us and why we were laughing, and realizing I didn’t really want to describe it to him, I simply leaned forward and said, “Pea-nuTS.” He repeated, “Penis. Chocolate penis.”

As tempting as it may have been, I did not order a slice.