Bird on a Bare Branch

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

How Not to Travel Through Zimbabwe July 30, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 12:04 pm

Day 1:  Get dropped off at the Maquinino chapa terminal at 7:30am loaded down (between two people) with two giant backpacks, one large backpack, and one overly-heavy rolling carry-on suitcase.  Bus from Beira to Chimoio takes about 3 1/2 hours.

In Chimoio, fight off men who want to carry our luggage.  Lyndsay gets robbed anyway.  Pickpocket manages to steal her wallet while we’re transferring buses.  Find this out halfway between Chimoio and the Zim border.  Cobredor forgives us the 15 meticais we’re short.

Get dropped off and walk across the border into Zimbabwe.  Take taxi into Mutare to Ann Bruce’s backpackers.  By car the trip from Beira to Mutare is about three hours.  It’s now 2:30pm.

Tell ourselves Vic Falls is going to be amazing.

Day 2:  Sleep in.  Take taxi to bus terminal and get on ‘beeg bus’ to Harare.  Driver tells us there are seats in the back.  Lyndsay has to stand in the aisle.

Bus breaks down.  Two Zimbabwean women grab one of our bags and say, “Come on.  Let’s go hijack.”  Hitch a ride in back of a pick-up truck, which takes us all the way to the bus terminal in Harare.  Our friends pick us up.  The trip from Mutare to Harare by car is about three hours.  It took us about five.

Tell ourselves Vic Falls is going to be amazing.

Day 3:  No buses.  Play with lion cubs instead.

Day 4:  Take luxury coach to Bulawayo.  We’re more than willing to pay the extra $10 for comfort and reliability.  Best $25 ever spent on a bus ticket.

Day 4 continued:  Stay in Bulawayo with friends of a friend.  Take nap then try to get on overnight train to Victoria Falls.  First class fully booked and friend refuses to let us take economy.  By car to Vic Falls is about five hours.  By train is 12-16.  Return home to watch movie and get good night’s sleep.  Plan to get on bus next morning.

Tell ourselves Vic Falls is going to be amazing.

Day 5:  Wake up with very sore throat.  Lyndsay already battling cold.  Get dropped off at bus, which looks promising – leaves at 9am and scheduled to arrive in Vic Falls at 4:30pm.  Luxury bus leaves at 2pm and scheduled to arrive at 7:30pm.  We’ll save money and get there earlier.

Bus is actually no different than ‘beeg bus’ from Mutare to Harare.  Except this one has nine boxes of 100 chicks each in the luggage racks above seats.  That’s 900 chirping chicks for over six hours.

Bus catches on fire an hour into the journey.  Driver says replacement coming in 30-40 minutes.  Wait 2 1/2 hours on side of road for replacement.

Tell ourselves Vic Falls is going to be amazing.

Arrive in Vic Falls at 6:30pm.  Check into backpackers and thankfully eat curry after living off biscuits and crisps all day.

Sleep horribly as cold erupts in full force.

Day 6: Vic Falls is amazing.

Day 7: Taxi to border (at the Falls).  Walk across bridge into Zambia.  Vic Falls is still amazing.  Zambian officials charge us $50 each for a transit visa.  I explain we’re only going to be in Zambia for 2 1/2 hours to get to the airport to catch our flight.  Show our itineraries.  Pay $50 each for transit visa.

Fly to Johannesburg.

This is the way we go to Zambia so early in the morning.


The Story of My Stuff

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 11:18 am

(Note:  Internet went down in Beira on July 17 and didn’t come on again until after I left.  I’ve been traveling through Zimbabwe for the last week and am finally in London and back online.

Written on July 16.)

When I moved to Mozambique, I was given a housing set-up allowance since there was no apartment for me.  Because I had lived so temporarily in Houston for three years, never properly settling in, and because I was planning to be in Mozambique long term – and even if it was only going to be 18 months – I wanted it to be my home.  Even if it was temporary, I didn’t want it to feel temporary.

So I put some thought and energy into setting up my new home.  I found a set of cute matching dishes at PEP and bought two so that we could entertain.  I found a nice set of glasses, nice serving dishes, a good set of knives.  I found pretty sheets at the blue Chinese shop.  Over the months, we decorated our walls with batiks and paintings and framed photographs.  We built up a reading library and a DVD collection.  We cooked dinner from scratch and ate at home most nights, often inviting other over to join us.  Our guest room was in use many weeks of each month.  Then we got the living room set, and our home was comfortably complete.  It was home in a very real sense.

Now I’m a guest in my home.  My ‘replacement’ at Oasis, who lives in a different apartment than I did but in the same neighborhood, has been looking after/using my all my household things.  She’s set up a lovely home.  With all my things. 

Added to the ache of knowing I’m saying good-bye was a new ache when I walked into the apartment.  Oh look, there are the cute dishes on the kitchen shelf.  There’s my purple polka-dot tea mug and Lyndsay’s and Laura’s for when she came to stay.  I’m sleeping on my sheets in a Marina-shaped dent in her foam mattress that we haggled for in Maquinino market.  I’m using the pink towel my mom gave me from her extras, just like the one she gave me to take to Houston.  The lotion in the bathroom is the good Body Shop one H. gave me for Christmas in Namibia.  There are the books Renee sent me in the packages labeled “tampons” so that the post office wouldn’t open and steal them. 

There are stories behind everything.  My ‘replacement’ doesn’t know any of them.  It’s just ‘stuff’ to her, conveniently left behind.  But that life that I had in that home, sharing meals around the table, those people who did that then are all ghosts now.  None of us are in Mozambique anymore.  It was for that season, no matter what our long term intentions may have been. 

I’ll pack my books and capulanas and the basket that Pastor Sande’s Sena-speaking mother made.  I’ll leave the wok and the colorful serving bowl and most of my clothes.  I guess it’s time for me to find a new set of cute dishes.


T.I.M. July 15, 2010

Filed under: Culture,Pictures — Jen @ 11:30 pm

Let me describe a chapa for you.  Imagine a 13 passenger mini-bus:  three benches with a fold-down seat each and one bench across in the back.  With a sliding side door.


Now imagine this bus with a sliding door that sometimes falls off the hinges, with a spider-web crack in the windshield right where the front passenger’s head would hit should there be a very sudden stop or impact, with seats that may or may not be completed upholstered, with fold-down seats that may or may not have backs, and with an interior light that is hanging by a wire.  Also imagine each of the rows holding not three but four passengers as well as not one but two passengers up front.  There is a driver, who may or may not have a license, who may or may not have been drinking, who may or may not turn around completely in his seat to carry on a heated conversation with the cobredor.  The cobredor is the guy who somehow balances himself over the overcrowded first row of passengers (remember four, not three), collects fares, and opens and closes the sliding door to let passengers in and out.


You must also imagine no bus stops.  A passenger can hail a chapa at any point along the route, sometimes 20 meters from the last stop.  When the cobredor notices a passenger on the side of the road, he taps the inside of the door with a coin for the driver to stop.  When a passenger inside wants to get out, he or she calls out, “Paragem!” and the cobredor taps again for the driver to stop.  When a passenger in the back wants to get out, all the people in the fold-down seats need to get out first.  Because bodies physically fill every space in a chapa, getting in and out involves a lot of squeezing and/or climbing over people.  It’s helpful to be a short, skinny person on a chapa.


I took a chapa back to Beira yesterday from a crossroads 160km away.  The journey there by bus had taken two hours.  The journey back took three and a half.


I had forgotten to give myself ‘break-down’ time coming back.  How quickly one forgets these things living in an efficient society for a year.  I figured if we left at 2:30, I would easily be home by dark.  I would have too, just barely, had we not run out of gas.


We had just stopped in a town for snacks – boys walking around the vehicle thrusting Fizz (a brightly colored, sugary, carbonated drink) and cookies and bags of chips in passenger windows – and just outside the next town we chugga-chugga-chugged to a stop.


Then this is where I get confused:  Not so much that the driver ran out of gas  (I mean, the lack of planning beyond the very, very immediate moment will always amaze me about Mozambique) but that no one really complained.  A few people grumbled that they had to get out, but mostly people accepted the inconvenience.  Yet Mozambicans will yell – yes, yell – at cobredors if they don’t stop the minute they call out “paragem” or if the music isn’t quite right.


And here is where I became even more confused.  After half of the male passengers push-started the chapa to run a little further on fumes, the driver took off down the road rather than pull into the gas station that was 50 meters from us.  So we walked, our motley crew of bum-sore passengers, along the main road for about ten minutes, hoping the driver would find some gas and return for us.  Indeed he did, although he drove right past us at first.


Finally we all piled back in, again with no grumbling, and continued our journey with many more stops, although fortunately not gasoline-related.  We finally arrived in Beira well after the sun set.


This Is Mozambique.


Decision Day July 14, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 10:07 pm

(Written on July 12.)

Today is D-Day, the last day I have to resign from my teaching contract.  I’ve been praying for something else to come up before today.  Last night I got an email from the university in Somaliland saying I look like a good candidate and they’d like to skype with me this week.

This morning I visited the international school, just to observe.  I was transported back 24 years to my school days in Salalah.  Old-school British education, taught to a random mix of expat kids.  At break time the half dozen teachers sat on the veranda drinking tea and asked me if I can come as soon as the end of August.

Tomorrow morning I’m going to visit a mission-run Mozmabican school.  The new director needs help developing the curriculum, training teachers, and helping to refocus their vision so that they are Christian in deed as well as in name.

I was meant to resign from my teaching contract by today.  I haven’t heard back from my principal about what happens if I’m offered a job overseas after today.

I’ve spent the last couple months hoping for non-first grade options.  The thought of teaching first grade for another year makes me feel really trapped.  Then all day yesterday, the day before D-Day, I spent all day convincing myself of all the benefits of being in Houston and teaching for another year – all the financial, spiritual, relational reasons why it would be great.

Are those good reasons to stay?  What are my reasons to go?


Breaking Up Is Hard To Do July 13, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 11:42 am

(Began writing on July 8.)

A year ago I spent a long weekend in Swaziland, breaking up with the man I had been dating for over a year.  We had actually broken up over the phone a few weeks earlier, having amazingly and by God´s grace, come to that decision mutually.  The Swaziland trip had been in the works for awhile, and we decided to go ahead with it so we could say good-bye in person since we lived half a country apart.

Needless to say, the trip was bittersweet.  Swaziland itself was beautiful and the trip was a much-needed break for both of us.  But looming over us the whole time was the hard reality that it was our last African adventure together, that our good-bye at the airport, which we were so accustomed to in our long-distance relationship, would be the final one.

Flying into Beira yesterday felt very much like flying to Maputo a year ago to make that Swazi trip.  I´m in Beira now so that Mozambique and I can break up.  We did it over email eight months ago, but we thought it would be best to say good-bye in person.

When a dating relationship comes to an end, disappointment feels so strong because there´s always that hope that the relationship will last.  We don´t enter relationships on a one- or two-year contract, preparing ourselves for the end date.

Finding out I couldn´t return to Mozambique was not a disappointment because I was necessarily called specifically to this country or a people group here.  Those who´ve followed my journey know it wasn´t easy or amazing here.  I didn´t love Mozambique or Mozambicans more than I would have loved any other people group.  But I was committed long term, which made the difference.  Sure I had signed an initial 18-month contract but always with the intention of and knowledge that I could extend.  I had hopes for and envisioned a future beyond the 18 months.

So I´m going through my days loving the comfort and familiarity of this place, speaking Portuguese, surprising friends and colleagues with my unannounced visit, celebrating marriages and babies´births from the last year, drinking way too much Coke, and hoping I´ll have at least one afternoon to lie on the beach.  But every morning I wake up knowing I´m one day closer to that final departure.  I sit on the chapas and wander through town with an ache in my chest knowing I have to say good-bye.


Day 1 July 8, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 4:04 pm

It’s as if I haven’t left.  Beira feels so normal.  I walked into town this morning because, well, I wanted to walk, and also the weather is perfect:  sunshine, no humidity, in the 70s.  I bought a sim card then walked across the central plaza to change some money.  At first the money changer didn’t recognize me, but when she did, she was really happy to see me and told me I was looking “strong” (fat).   I decided to take it as the compliment she intended and told her I live in America now and eat a lot.  She said it’s because there are not as many worries there as there are here.  Hmm, not sure I agree with that, but I did for chit-chat’s sake.

Then I walked around the corner to Cafe Riviera.  Like always, there were the street boys guarding cars.  Joaoquim recognized me right away and called out to me.  And, like always, he asked me for a backpack.  Like always, I told him I didn’t have one.  When I asked him how things were going, he said everything was good, but that he was unhappy about one thing:  that I didn’t say good-bye to him when I left.  Good-byes are important in Mozambique.  I promised I’d say good-bye this time.

As I was headed into the cafe, I noticed Jose, the shoe repairer and our old guard when our office was above Riviera.  When I walked over to greet him, he jumped up with a big smile on his face.  But he too told me off for not having said good-bye.  Counting on his fingers, he proceeded to explain:  “When Jim left, he said good-bye.  When Mateus left, he said good-bye.  When Jill left, she said good-bye.  When Marina left, she said good-bye.  When you left, you didn’t say good-bye.”  Apparently I suck in this culture.  Once again, I promised to say good-bye this time.

I’m off to grab a chapa now and head to Shoprite to buy a comb.  Apparently I left mine in London.  No hairdryer, no straightener, no comb.  I’m walking around with crazy hair.  But you know what?  It doesn’t matter in the least in this context.

Did I mention how normal it is to be here?


American Abroad

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 3:38 pm

I had an ah-ha moment in Jo’burg yesterday as I was pondering why it felt so normal and comfortable to be there and in England.  Here’s what I came to:  When I’m overseas I’m from someplace, granted it’s from someplace else, but when I’m in the US, I’m from nowhere.  Overseas I’m from America.  That’s what my passport says, and that’s where my people are.  Being from America is enough.  Sometimes I’ll meet another American or someone who knows the States who wants to know specifically where I’m from.  And I can say Houston, and it’s okay.  It’s what my driver’s license says.  It’s where I work, live, worship, and play.  It’s what I consider home right now and have for the last seven years.

But when I’m living in Houston, I’m clearly not from there.  I didn’t grow up there.  I didn’t go to high school there.  Definitions of origin and belonging change.  It’s not enough to just be American.  I need to be tied by birth or formation to a specific state or town or neighborhood or high school.  And I’m not.  So in America I’m not from anywhere.

In other countries I am.