Bird on a Bare Branch

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

Photographs Not Taken April 15, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 10:55 pm

I just finished reading a book called Photographs Not Taken, a compilation of essays by photographers about shots they missed or chose not to take for various reasons.  As I’m getting ready to leave Houston in less than two months, I find myself seeing the city through an imaginary camera lens – snapping shots of scenes I want to carry with me to Detroit and Kenya and beyond.  And often I’m looking through an actual camera lens, especially when I’m with friends.  There have been lots of celebrations lately – my engagement, others’ birthdays and baby showers.  I want to capture these last moments with people I love, with people I’ve been developing relationships with over the course of the past two or six or nine years.


This weekend was one such weekend that was full of friends.  I had my camera with me the whole time but somehow only managed to take it out on Friday night at Kelly’s 30th birthday dinner at the hibachi grill.  I’ve got the images to prove the laughter and the flames and the sparkler on the “special moment package” and the sake bombs.  The rest of the weekend was captured in my mind:


-Edna looking gorgeous in her long blue dress, basketball belly sticking out.  A year ago I was at her wedding.  Now they’re welcoming their first baby.  It was only two years ago that Edna and I had conversations about the guys we were interested in in California and Michigan and our anticipation of visits with them.  It was two years ago that we woke up early, early on Saturday mornings to drive before the sun rose to destinations outside of the city to ride our bikes in training for the MS150.  That’s how we met and got to know each other.  We laughed months later when we saw each other for the first time in non-bike gear, and I thought, “Edna looks different with her hair down,” and she said, “You wear glasses?”  We haven’t ridden together since that MS150 since she was planning a wedding last year, and I’m planning a wedding this year, and she’s pregnant.  But we continue to catch up every couple months for a meal (or a baby shower as it were!).


– Connecting with Lija and Lindsay and Dena at the shower.  I’ve known Lija since my early days in Houston, before she and her husband started dating.  She was at the shower with Baby #2.  Talking to Lindsay, I remembered how much I enjoy her and our connections over Africa.  And it’s been too long since I’ve seen Dena.  She’s one of my Houston friends that I don’t really know how I know…maybe through her sister who goes to my church…maybe through Lija and Edna…maybe she visited my small group one time?  I loved catching up and laughing with these girls.


– I snapped a picture in my mind of eight of us bouncing around a bouncy castle at Kelly’s 30th birthday party (not to be confused with her birthday dinner the night before).  We bounced then sat and talked then bounced some more and threw a ball around then sat and talked some more.  I felt like I was back in middle school – but the fun parts, not the awkward parts because we’re all adults now and confident in who we are.  So this time was just playtime – eight people, some of us long-time friends, some of us meeting for the first time last night.


– I went to the 1pm service at my church today and sat at the end of a row.  There was a couple sitting several chairs away from me, but I never know anyone at the services, so I didn’t look.  When it was time to greet one another, I looked over and realized it was my good friend Julie and her husband.  They’ve never been to my church but decided to visit today.  Julie and I haven’t seen each other in awhile but had just texted earlier today to make plans for dinner this week.  Julie is one of my first friends from Houston, and we’ve connected over the years on so many things:  same age, both interested in foreign missions, both in education, both overseas at the same time and struggling with singleness versus missions.  She got married a year ago to a wonderful man, and her wedding was the most beautiful I’ve ever been to.


– While I was talking to Julie and Marcos after the service I noticed a man I haven’t seen in years.  I met David at a mission training in Chicago about ten years ago.  We kept in touch via email for a little while but lost touch many years ago.  I knew he had been in Lake Jackson, about an hour south of Houston, but have not seen him since I’ve been here.  There he was at my church with his wife and child.  They’ve been making the commute from Lake Jackson to my church for awhile, but we’ve never crossed paths with all the services we have.  Until today.


A month ago, a weekend like this would have made me sad and anxious about moving to Detroit:  I don’t want to say good-bye!  This weekend I just felt grateful for the relationships I have, grateful for the memories my friends and I have created, grateful that I know I’ll stay connected to many of these people.  I still don’t want to say good-bye, but I’m ready for the next stage.  I’m still filling up my Houston photo albums – the tangible ones and the ones I get to flip through in my mind.  I am so thankful that I get to take those pictures.




And Now For the Video to Further Illustrate… January 7, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 6:19 pm

The kid’s voice is annoying, but his points are fantastic.



Some More Thoughts Along the Same Line… January 4, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 2:26 am

I promise I have not been looking for these links.  I’ve been stumbling upon them.  I’m glad that people are finally starting to publicly raise these concerns.  Let’s start talking about this in our churches.  What can we do so that it really is a win-win situation?

Click HERE for more thoughts on short-term missions.


Photo #82 November 4, 2011

Filed under: Pictures,Uncategorized — Jen @ 7:39 pm

When I saw this picture, I thought, “Oh, I love my church!”  Which is funny because I never felt entirely comfortable there, nor did I always understand what was going on.  Looking back, as with so many things in Mozambique, I would have done church differently.  Like I would have gone to Sunday school, even just to practice more Portuguese.  I also would have made a point of getting to know the pastor.  I knew his wife because she worked at Oasis, but I never had a conversation with her husband.  Yet he is one of the reasons why I liked the church so much.  Many Mozambican pastors are power-hungry and readily feed into the hierarchy of African culture.  I have met pastors who ignore women and many who completely ignore children and youth.  They are stern and yell from the pulpit, often with no point because they have such weak biblical and theological knowledge.  This pastor smiled almost perpetually, spoke gently, encouraged women and youth leadership, and delighted in children.  In fact, on Sundays that he wasn’t preaching, he would sit in the back with his youngest children and their friends sitting in his lap and beside him.  He also knew the Word better than many pastors I heard and preached it more intelligently and succinctly.


I also say I love my church because many of my colleagues attended, so I knew a lot of people.  Plus, the music was usually good.  And always lively!  I miss dancing in church.  (Or rather clapping and moving a bit in my row since I never actually got up the nerve to join the other women dancing and jumping down the aisle and in the front!)



Photo #71 October 17, 2011

Filed under: Pictures,Uncategorized — Jen @ 7:36 pm

I take a lot of pictures of food.  I like trying new food, and it often connects me to a place.  If I have a picture of a certain dish, I also remember who I was with, where I was at the time, how I was feeling, what else we did that day, etc.  I always take pictures of food when I’m with people, so food pictures always equal happy times with friends and good memories.

The food in this picture doesn’t necessarily look that appetizing, but it was quite a luxurious feast of treats by our meager Beira standards.  It was my 30th birthday party/housewarming party that my housemate and I hosted.  Between the two of us and one of our colleagues, we made pizza, fresh guacamole, tomato-feta bites, spring rolls, and sushi.  Because it was Mozambique, all of that was made from scratch.  No Kroger take-out sushi!  Our colleague hand-rolled those and hand-made the spring rolls.  Then we also had chips and veggies and dip and cheese and crackers.  Yes, that’s brie.  (Sometimes we could find brie in the supermarket but not milk.  Go figure.)  But look at that poor cheddar all melting into a cheddary pool on the plate.  We might have had delicious appetizers, but we still had no air-conditioning.

What does this picture connect me to?  My housemates, friends, hospitality, and the fun of being creative with what we had.


Photo #65 October 6, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 9:45 pm

A school mural against HIV/AIDS


From the Archives: Change in Opinion September 24, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jen @ 5:03 pm

This was my application essay for the Honors Program at Linfield College, written in March 1996.  The prompt was:  Examine your recent life and write about a time in which you made a significant change in your opinion, attitude or behavior.  I was accepted into the program and attended the college for a year before transferring to U of M.  Apparently, I had some strong political opinions at 18!  It’s interesting to be reminded of what was happening in Bahrain in 1996 as a background to what’s happening there now.  The current uprisings are not new.  They are just new in the western media.


“All that remains of seven precious lives…” was the bold title inside the front page of last Friday’s edition of the Gulf Daily News.  Beneath this heading were five disturbingly graphic photographs of the victims of the restaurant arson attack.  The short commentary accompanying the pictures seemed to be an appeal to the public’s emotions rather than the straightforward factual information that is required of any newspaper.  The obvious intent was to increase the anger and hatred for the readers toward the terrorists.  That was exactly my emotional response; I became more angry with the government.


Four years ago when I moved to Bahrain, I had the pleasure of sharing breakfast with the Emir outside his beach house.  He was a friendly man, who lived in a palace less extravagant than many wealthy Bahrainis.  This meeting gave me an ititial good impression of the local government.  When I began school, I realized that I was in the company of royal family members and other important Bahrainis, who were supportive of the government.  Because these were the only Bahrainis with whom I ever came into contact, I assumed the majority of the local population was satisfied with the way the Emir, the Premier, and the Crown Prince were running the country.  In fact, it bothered me the way the United States kept pushing the idea of democracy.  In the U.S. democracy means high crime rates and low moral values.  How would this system of government benefit a monarchy that upholds the family and boasts virtually non-existent crime?


Because of the apparent peace on the island, it came as quite a surprise to the expatriates, and probably some wealthy locals, that a group of lower-class Bahrainis were angry enough at the government to throw stones at policemen and burn tires and gas cylinders in their villages.  The reaction of most expatriates was anger at these rioters for disturbing our peaceful existence within their country.


The initial reason for the uprisings was unhappiness with unemployment.  Many young Bahraini men are unemployed because the government has given the jobs to foreigners, who have a stronger work ethic than local labor.  The problem did not stay at this level, however.  It grew to include the majority of the poor Shi’ite Muslim community, who form a different religious group from the ruling family, who are Sunni.  At the start of the riots, I was informed that about 70 percent of Bahrainis are Shi’ite while the Sunni minority are the ones in control.  For years these ruling Sunni have oppressed their Shi’ite neighbors for fear that they would come to power.  Despite this eye-opening piece of information, I still condemned the actions of the villagers.


Around May, the nightly gas cylinder explosions and tire burning ceased.  It was not until troubles started up again a few months ago that my views on the whole situation changed.


I was raised to believe, as most of us were, that the ones who go against the law are the “bad guys”.  Therefore, when a photograph of a fire-gutted car would be published on the front page of the GDN, it was the Shi’ite villagers who were the “bad guys”.  What the newspaper failed to show were the pictures of the other “bad guys”, the men in uniform who drove through villages every night destroying families and lives by arresting every man on the street then taking them to unknown destinations where torture awaited them.


It is understandable, then, why the dissidents made the move from their previous futile acts of violence to planting bombs in restaurants, hotels, and even an ATM of a bank.  It was reported that the ATM bomb exploded in the hands of the saboteur, which killed him and injured two counterparts.  The man who was killed was lucky; he managed to avoid a life filled with government-induced torture.


While there have been several attacks lately, none have been as devastating as the recent restaurant firebombing.  The way in which this attack was performed – ski masks, blocking exits – was uncharacteristic of the tactics normally used.  That, along with a personal conversation with a Shi’ite man who disclaimed Shi’ite involvement, plus the newspaper report that the masked men were caught only two days after the incident, have led many to believe that it was actually a stunt pulled by the government.  In this way  the government can justify the unjust actions that have been taken against their opposition.


Although I do not support the idea of arson or planting bombs, I am more sympathetic with the dissidents than with the government.  I understand their anger at being discriminated against and oppressed by their own people.  There are less violent ways of expressing this dissatisfaction, but the government does not seem to respond positively to peaceful protest.  While riots should be dealt with in a forceful manner, it should not exceed that to forms of brutality.  The government is making the mistake of ignoring the needs of its won people, yet the leaders are too stubborn and arrogant to admit that they are even partially at fault.  In this self-denial and poor handling of the situation, the government is causing its own demise.