Friday, May 13, 2011

A Mosaic Bridge.

I go back to Canada in 9 days!! So this will be my last blog because we will just talk face to face about this stuff the next time. It has been an incredible year in Mozambique and I am so thankful you wanted to share it with me. Before I end this whole blog thing though, I got to write about what has been bouncing around in my head. So here are some final thoughts about the human heart. (Hahaha I always talk about this, but it’s just so interesting to me. I promise I will soon tell you some amazing Mozambique stories about cultural blunders, robberies, and run-ins with the law, but for now bare with me.)

Do you ever feel like you’re all scrambled up? It isn’t that you’re confused; rather you get the sense that you’re all broken up inside and parts of you are only partially there. The rest of you isn’t lost; it’s just somewhere else in a different time. The rest of you seems to almost linger in the many places you called “home”, and endure with the faces you call “friend”. Well, I know I get this deep sense and it’s been with me for many years now.

Sometimes I get frustrated with it, wishing that all of me could be simple, from one place, and present. Sometimes I get unthankful with today, wishing I could be in the places of the past along with its precious faces. These feelings are normal, and I think I’m not alone in this. As normal as they may be though, they can hold us back; and distance us from those around us.

What’s more is that I know these feelings have foolish and unthankful origins. I know my frustration is littered with foolishness ignoring the good that came of being in these places. I know my nostalgia is wrought with unthankfulness, blind to the blessings and opportunities of today. I also know that both of these are fueled by selfishness. If somehow though, my heart could be changed these broken pieces, scrambled in different places and times, could make sense.

If I start with thankfulness, this scrambled sense becomes more of a mosaic. An artist brings together what doesn’t naturally seem like it should be side by side. It was all broken up once, but he put the pieces together and it becomes a beautiful piece of artwork. I think that if we can value each piece, being thankful for each one, we can also be like mosaics. What were just scattered and broken pieces of experiences, places, and people become incredibly unified and somehow they work together. Somehow it’s art; it’s beautiful.

I dare to say that you are just like me. I think that we all feel like parts of us are somewhere else with other people. Even if you haven’t traveled or moved a lot I imagine you have the same sense. I think its human it’s not just an anomaly felt by Diasporas. There is a measure if dissonance in everyone that each one has to grapple with, and each tries to figure out how to bring it together. I know, though, that I’m an awful artist so I think I’ll let the Master artist do His work.

There is a part in the Bible that talks about the different events in a human’s life and each event has a specific time to be done and the passage concludes with this… “He has made everything beautiful in its time…” Ecclesiastes 3:11. I look back at the timing of travels, experiences, and opportunities and it is beautiful. Although sometimes it seemed all scrambled up, I now know He was just making a mosaic.

I was thinking about this the other night and I couldn’t sleep because I know my heart isn’t just supposed to be a mosaic. There has to be something more. I realized that the mosaic is neat, but there is another unresolved issue, distance between people! How do we get closer to each other? You see, I have to figure out how to be relevant to those presently near me, knowing that the trajectory that brought me to where I am and the trajectory of those around me are uniquely different. Being a mosaic is cool, but what does it matter if I am a mosaic but alone?

Well, I think that if love replaces selfishness in our hearts the distance between us disappears. In some way, we can be bridges, connecting each other to innumerable experiences, places and faces unique to each of us. I think we connect with others not because of commonalities in our experiences, places, and faces but because of love despite and through our differences.

I am realizing that we can have a mosaic bridge between each other no matter how far or how distant. At the deepest level though I know the most beautiful mosaic bridge is from the very Heart of God to yours. Oh! I pray that somehow my Artist would gather all that is broken and scattered about me and make a rickety old mosaic bridge from His Heart to yours.

Some may have never thought about God having a heart, well He does and it’s a thrilling adventure to be connected to His heart. The verse above isn’t complete, here is the rest: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

I have learned that the greatest adventure isn’t going to Africa; it’s knowing the heart and deeds of God.

Thank you so much for reading this blog.

Your friend, Jer.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Agent of Change

Quem é ela?

“Quem é ela?” is simply asking “Who is she.” It seems like an innocent question, but it’s not a question it’s a threat. This threat is posed when someone becomes the object of another’s jealousy. Here is a recent example, a lady bought a car so she comes to Nampula to visit some family, the family receives her fine enough and when she is done visiting she returns home.

Unfortunately though on the ride home she had a car accident and she lost her life. This is deemed as an abnormal death. Yes, the friends have it all figured out. What happened is that the family saw the car and got enraged with jealousy so they caused the car crash through black magic. You see, Jealousy is so strong because this society, like many egalitarian societies, considers resources to be very limited and in need of being divided equally among all. Moreover, resources are just one of the many things which can be taken from others through black magic. Thus when one is seen to be doing far better then the others this person is known to have accessed black magic taking resources from others to gain this privileged position. Upon this recognition they ask, Quem é ela? It isn’t really asking who she is; it is rather saying, “We will see how strong her magic really is.” It’s a threat to use black magic against said person to even things out.

Where else to turn?
My last post ended on a sad note, and I am afraid the news only gets worse concerning Estevãos cousin. I wrote last time that I went way back in the village to visit Estevãos family when we encountered some bad news about his cousin. I didn’t give details then but maybe you will feel the same injustice I do if I tell you a bit more. She was in the hospital because she was pregnant and there was a complication so they had to do a “C section”. We had heard it went really badly, but that didn’t prepare me for what I witnessed in that hospital room.

Generally only family is allowed in the post-operation section, but the family said we should go in; so in we went. There she lay, unconscious, stretched out on her bed with both her hands and feet tied down to the bed. Her breathing was very laboured and the incision was swollen and infected. It appalled me to see this poor young lady receiving literally NO care! Instead of treating the problem, which I imagine was internal bleeding and an infection they said that she had gone crazy. So they just ripped green rags tying the pieces together, to tie her hands and feet to the medal frame of her bed. I couldn’t bare it as I watched her husband trying to comfort her as she thrashed back and forth. I had to leave the room. At that moment I wished so much that I was a doctor or a nurse or that I could do something at least!

The only thing we could do though was talk to the staff present trying to pressure them to give her better care, but to no avail. They all just waved us off as if there wasn’t anymore they could do or it wasn’t their responsibility. After a couple of hours of this we left and I knew she was going to die. I knew it, but we could do little else but keep wondering how we could help more. They had nowhere else to turn so they turned to the hospital where they did next to nothing. A few days later we got the news that she had passed away.

The Fear of a Woman
Living in a place where life expectancy is about 48 years I have witnessed more loss then we generally do back home. It is more then just sobering; it’s shocking and achy for me. I am personally cushioned though, for instance, I am just getting over my 2nd case of malaria but I got the treatment and medicine early so it just came down to two or three days of fever and headache and then back to work. Sure, I didn’t feel great, but I knew I would get the treatment I needed and I’d be back on my feet soon enough. Many have it much harder. They are always sick and never have the treatment they need and always have to work not resting when they need to. In short, life expectancy is pretty darn low and everyone is very aware of that.

I don’t know the extent to which this truth shapes people’s daily lives and thinking patterns. However, I have been able to understand one major related fear and I will share this here. As you know, I am working with a women’s credit cooperative and after a year or so people trust you and start sharing their stories. I have heard so many stories from widowed women and they experience a loss that one can only imagine. Beyond losing their spouse, women in the Nampula lose EVERYTHING at his death.

As I mentioned before every event is seen to have a supernatural cause and it’s always other people that influenced the supernatural force to cause the event. In this case, the event is the husband’s death. Upon his death the wife is ALWAYS to blame, she is considered to have done black magic causing his death so she would have the house and be with the kids alone. As a result, then the family of the deceased man will eject the women from the house putting someone else from the family as the owner. This happens even if the couple had bought the house together or built it together. The widowed lady is thrown out, and all of the assets and goods in the house are confiscated from her and divided up. She is literally left to the streets with all the kids and nothing to her name. This is the reality and it’s as ugly as many realities in our own culture so let’s not think judgmental thoughts. Nevertheless it is an awfully wretched thing for a woman to go through and understandingly it is a VERY prevalent fear among the vast majority in Nampula. In other words, a married women is living her life always wondering if she is going to not only lose her husband but be disgraced as the cause of his death and ruthlessly punished for it. This is the fear of a woman.

Our Hearts and Minds
A few concluding observations to end on. Firstly, what society believes about the increase in access to resources influences how society members understand “development”. In the case of Nampula, even if its just rumours or hushed conversations I imagine the desire to innovate and get ahead is greatly limited from the fear of hearing “Quem é você”? (Who are you?-threat) Secondly, a calloused heart among those giving public services, namely, health care and education can leave a people with no hope. No hope to gain a good education and no hope to get proper health care leaves us with a shackled people and nation. Thirdly, a society of a high mortality that demands every death to be pinned to an individual as the cause leads to inexplicable fear and distrust within that society.

This is one of the reasons I didn’t ever and never will believe that development is the solution to our issues in the world. You see, I don’t believe that development projects have the power to transform our distorted ideas about the world and our hearts. They can be helpful but the issues are much deeper, we must consider two things: 1) What we believe is true about the world is vital to how we behave 2) Our hearts are calloused and we need someone to change it.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A thirsty bulldozer

Almost every day at 3:00 pm and then once more at 6:00 pm jets will roar over Nampula. They are just like the jet I came in on. They are also the same jets that will take me home in just over 5 weeks. The thought of returning home is constantly in my head lately. I am overwhelmed with Joy to see my Family and Friends! I can barely wait!

The thing about those daily jets is you can't ignore them. They're soo loud and the airport is practically on Nampula's front porch. It's like a bulldozer in your kitchen trying to get a drink of water, not an entirely deft creature.

You know, there're many things I'd rather ignore at the moment and only realize after the fact or while it's happening. For example, if there was a bulldozer in my kitchen trying to get a drink of water, one would immediatly assume wreakage is behind him and shortly, the whole house would be destroyed in his search for water. Personally, I would not opt to know that a thirsty bulldozer is coming to destroy my house in advance. The agony of looking for and hearing the slow thirsty beast would be the worst part . You know its coming, you hear its diesel engine, but you can't stop it. It's just going to happen and what's worse is you have to wait for it.

My thirsty bulldozer is the dumb daily jets! Imagine knowing that one day you get to come home to family and friends, and every day you see the thing thats going to take you home. EVERY DAY! But, your turn to go is 11 months away, then 10, then 9, and so on. Sure, you're busy with work, you're doing your best with research, and you've been blessed with friends; but in the back of your mind you know "I am leaving in a bit." My bulldozer isn't going to destroy my house; it's going to take me home, but its been creaking along on my front portch for almost a year. Needless to say, I am constantly reminded that one day I am going back to Canada. I'd rather just have the days go by and then BAM "Wow its time to pack up. Sweet!"

It isn't that way for me, no, my lot is to look at that jet and pick a window. I stare at that window and imagine I have been lucky enough to get a window seat. YES, I love window seats! I imagine, I'm sitting in my seat looking down at Nampula and its surrounding mountains that we have climbed. I pick out the office and credit cooperative, where I worked for a year. I look for the houses of the friends that I have laughed and cried with. I pick out the neighbourhoods I've been roaming for months trying to interview members. (side note: one just flew over right NOW!!! DUMB BEAST.) I look through that little window trying to understand what happened in this year, trying to capture memories of what I have learned and have yet to learn. Then I imagine, sitting back sinking into my seat a very content young man because I've done what I came to do. I stare at that window reminding myself there is work to be done today. There is at least a few tasks to be done, I must do them. I just take on step at a time and added up those steps take me closer to that young man in the window.

I would like to quickly update in other news before I finish this post.

Research is going well I have a total of about 42 interviews done, exhausting my inirial study sample. I am currently trying to work out another selection process so that I can try to test a hunch I have. If it works I'll be happy, but if it doesn't then we will just have to make do. Either way I don't know what I'm doing!

Another manager change! Since I've been here I've seen two mangers come and go. Honest good managers are hard to come by in Nampula. :(

I had a weekend way back in the jungle last weekend visiting Estevão's uncle; it was tons of fun staying out there because it was really basic. Some would see it as poverty, but it strikes me more as making do quite well with next to nothing. Then sunday afternoon we heard some bad news about Estevãos cousin. So we traveled to the hospital where she was and it wasn't good. I feel like I should leave it at that, and I will, but it was the most aweful thing I have witnessed. My heart breaks for that poor girl. I can't stop thinking about it, and its partly why I am writing this. I've been thinking a lot and I needed to write something. Lets keep going forward.

Much Love, Jer.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Goodbye songs

The news turned into a dull, deep ache when I looked into Tiago's tired, red eyes. Though generally fueled on one meal a day, he is a tireless man, but today a tired man was standing before me. He shook my hand with the same grip and affection as always, then he told me it was true, what I had heard. His little Julia lost her life to malaria the night before. She was three years old and the symptoms came all at once leaving her little chance to fight back. He held my hand as he told me the news, yet it was as if I was on the other side of the ocean. I felt sad yet so far away from the pain I saw in his eyes.

Nobody said anything we all just hopped into the jeep and started driving to a village on the outskirts of Nampula. Tiago broke the silence a few times commenting that the roads were really bad now because of the rain, but other then that we just sat and listened to the hum of the Land Rover. Once we arrived we were all respectfully greeted and shown where to sit under the shade. I sat with the men outside in silence listening to the undulating sound of the women singing from inside the house. The dull deep ache, within me, grew with each chorus, reminding me of the family's sudden pain.

It came time to "say goodbye" so everyone huddled near the doorway of the small adobe house as Julia's uncle encouraged everyone to be courageous while leading the group in singing. He was inside singing at the top of his lungs in perfect harmony with the women in the house. He would start the chorus and the others would follow at a regular beat then he would suddenly pick up the beat and sing with all the strength he could muster. The strength and beauty of his voice, as he sang goodbye to Julia, pierced my heart in a way that no sound ever has. It collapased the ocean of distance wrapping my heart in the same loss he and the family felt.

There wasn't a single dry eye as we huddled there listening to the "goodbye". Then Julia's uncle came out inviting everyone to say "goodbye," so one after another we all made our way into the house to say "goodbye". I walked in behind my colleagues circling around to where Tiago and his family were singing, then around to where Julia's little figure lay.

To say "goodbye," some bent down to kiss her forehead. Others could barely look through the tears; most bowed respectfully whispering "goodbye". Just as I got near her body the family began to sing with such strength and beauty that even my bones seemed to be listening. I don't know that I have ever heard a sound like it, neither could I justly describe its painful beauty. The little adobe house was nearly shaking from the power with which the family sang.

After we all had said goodbye we followed the family as they took Julia's body to the nearby cemetry, which was a cleared field about 400 meters away. It was a normal field littered with small trees, mounds of dirt, and bushes; but most distinguishingly little crosses marked its rugged terrain.

Coming to the spot where they were going to lay Julia, everyone gathered in a wide circle as Julia's uncle encouraged everyone to be courageous in this time of loss. Then all the men filled in the grave as they sang goodbye. Close friends took control in the end making sure that it was marked properly and that the dirt was neatly gathered to make a little dome. At this very moment, I was struck with such a deep sorrow that I could barely move, for as I looked around that field I saw 8 other mound's of fresh dirt which had been shaped with the same care that I was seeing before me. I could only think about how many mounds there were and how tiny that village was.

How many times did this village have to say "goodbye" this month? This thought tore my heart then and even now, as I write, I keep getting this lump in my throat and watery eyes.

I have learned that saying "goodbye" is one of the hardest things we have to do. Being separated from the ones you love makes a hole inside you that only you feel and even those close to you can't see the hole. Moving away for a time because of school or work or whatever other reason is hard, but Losing a loved one makes a heart ache with the emptiness of loss.

I pray to my God that those we lose here on earth would have the hope of listening to the powerful and beautiful songs of welcome as He welcomes us into His arms. Knowing that I am wrapped in God's lasting love gives me such hope that I can't keep it to myself. I pray that those I love would know the songs of welcome to be coming in the wake of "goodbye songs". The fear that we will only sing goodbye and no angels will welcome the ones I love is unbearable.

Love you, Jer.