Sunday, December 25, 2005

Feliz Natal e Boas Festes

Rudulph the Red Trucked Elephant?!?!

Ahhh Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere. Actually, today the weather is cool and threatening rain, a welcoming change from the stifling heat of this past week. The radical difference in the Christmas environment from Maputo, Mozambique and Winnipeg, Manitoba has made it difficult for me to get into the Christmas Spirit this year. As much as I love experiencing the Christmas traditions of a different culture in a different land, I can’t help but get a little homesick for the familiarities of Christmas in Canada. At 25 years old, this is not only my first Christmas away from my family but also my first one without snow!! A part of me really misses looking out my window and seeing a Bing Crosby White Christmas. I also miss all the great Christmas parties with friends and family and belting out carols at the top of my lungs.

But the thing that is great about traditions is their enduring quality. I know that I will be around for more Christmases in Winnipeg but, at the present time, I find myself now in beautiful Mozambique for this holiday season. I spent a wonderful Christmas Eve afternoon yesterday walking around Maputo, soaking in the atmosphere, taking pictures and talking to the people on the street. Many people had a joyous spirit yesterday and I was blessed with many uplifting conversations with street venders and passer bys. There were many venders, dressed in Santa hats, desperately trying to sell last minute plastic trees and singing Christmas lights. The homeless, the sick, the blind and the lame were also out in overwhelming numbers yesterday. I had John Lennon’s “So this is Christmas” ringing in my ears and bringing the message close to my heart. There are just so many.

Then last night Cathy and I checked out the huge Catholic church downtown for Christmas Eve mass. It was a real fusion of Catholic and local African traditions so we sang everything from Ave Maria to Silent Night to Shangana spiritual songs. Today I’m checking out the International Church’s Christmas morning service then heading off to a Mozambican Christmas party (which might get a little wild!). Cathy and I are still putting on a little dinner tonight for other familyless folks here in Maputo so that should be a good time.

So I’m wishing everyone out there a wonderful Christmas and a fantastic 2006. I hope everyone is able to find something special for themselves at this time of year and cherish the blessings that surround us each and every day. The gift of the Christ child brings to all of us is peace, love, hope and joy…the greatest gifts of all, yesterday, today and forever.

Blessings to you all, wherever you may be!


Pai Natal says, "Have you been a good boy or girl this year?"

Saturday, December 24, 2005


So yesterday I got my computer back after its lengthy stay in the emergency room. After extensive surgery on my hard drive I was able to recover pretty much all of my important files, which prompted me to let out a massive sigh of relief. It really is amazing, in this day and age, how dependant we are on computers. It took this recent scare to make me fully realize this very point. I also found it ironic that, as an HIV/AIDS Research Associate, I was almost brought down by a deadly computer virus. From now on, I think I’m going to wrap my computer in a giant condom

I’m also very excited about a proposal that I am working on for a potential partnership between MMF and some MFIs in Swaziland. I will be traveling to Swaziland in early January to observe some of their work on HIV/AIDS and determine what areas MMF could provide technical assistance. The future prospects look promising and it is exciting to be a part of a visionary process for HIV/AIDS and microfinance in this part of the world. Swaziland also holds a special place in my heart. When I visited the Swazi homesteads last month and heard the emotional songs of HIV/AIDS from the children I was overcome with grief for the dire situation facing these communities suffering under the incredible burden of this terrible disease. It prompted me to write the following,

“How can one not be moved to a point of tears by this continent?

It’s darkness
And it’s unforgettable light

It’s sorrow
And it’s admirable strength

It’s pain
And it’s encapsulating joy

She has drawn us from all over the world
And we’ve all left her behind

Her rhythm beats in our hearts
And her suffering brings us to shame”

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Viruses, Interviews and Wedding Bells

Forgive me for neglecting to update this blog but this past week I had a big part of my life literally come crashing down around me. A nasty computer virus that I had picked up in Ottawa, and never really got rid of from my hard drive, finally unleashed its full wrath and brought down my computer. Of course, being the computer illiterate idiot that I am, I did not have a back up of my files and am now facing the very real possibility of losing three months worth of work. Please keep my computer in your thoughts this week as it continues to go under the knife to retrieve these files from my damaged hard drive.

In more exciting news, I had another excellent three days in the field with Narcisso last week. Him and I set off for Xai Xai (pronounced shy shy), Chokwe and Manhiça to work with an MFI called FCC. It was three straight days of intensive interviews with staff members and clients and we really benefited from the information we received. This was also my first experience conducting a group discussion with about 30 clients, all seated on the floor clutching tightly to their little loan account books. We also spent some good time visiting clients at their businesses in the marketplace, cherishing every inch of shade that we could find from the scorching heat that reached 41 degrees Celcius in Chokwe. It is absolutely amazing how such intense heat like that just sucks all of the energy out of you.

Narcisso and I were also fortunate enough to find a place to stay at the beautiful Bilene Beach for two nights, conveniently located in between the three towns in which we were working. I think one of the definitions of the good life is waking up in the morning, going swimming in the warm Indian Ocean, spending the day speaking with people about an issue you’re passionate about and then relaxing in the evening to the rhythmic calling of the sea. It doesn’t get much better than that in my books.

Then the big event last weekend was the wedding of our empregada’s sister. We were quite honoured to receive an invitation to experience a Mozambican wedding. My friend Rebecca had somehow, in her insanely busy schedule, volunteered to bake six cakes for the wedding. Of course she was panicking at the end and so there we were, in our Sunday best, frantically icing and decorating the cakes before the big party started. The temperature that afternoon was well above 30 degrees and we all cramped into the back of a pick up truck to head to the wedding. TO our incredible dismay we watched as the icing on our precious creations began to melt and crumble before our very eyes. Then to top it all off we passed by this huge pile of burning garbage which sprinkled the cakes with a good coating of ash. It couldn’t help but compare the whole scene to the cake incident in American Wedding. They still served the cakes though and nobody seemed to mind the taste.

The wedding was actually a two day affair with tons of eating, dancing, singing and drinking. There is a wonderful tradition in Shangana weddings where all the guests have to present their gifts to the newly weds through song and dance, blessing the new couple as they start their new life together. Cathy, Rebecca and I, of course, were not spared from this tradition. With help from some the other guests we paraded our gifts up the head table, belting out the tunes and doing our best to keep up with frantic dancing. As the only mulungus in attendance, we got quite the energetic response from the crowd. I would love to show you all pictures but, alas, this will have to wait until my computer is released from the emergency room.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Gold Point

I have to admit, my internship is pretty sweet these days. On Sunday I got the chance to tag along with my boss’s family to Ponto D’ouro, a beautiful beach town at the southern tip of Mozambique by the South African border. Male Yeru has a branch of about 100 clients at Ponto D’ouro so I jumped at the opportunity to spend a day vacationing and two days interviewing clients and the staff at the branch. We set off from Maputo on Sunday morning, bright eyed and ready for three days in paradise. We quickly discovered, however, that getting to Ponto D’ouro would take almost everything we had. Rural roads in Mozambique are pretty awful but the road from Maputo to Ponto D’ouro is absolutely ridiculous. 75 kilometers of soft sand, ready to suck up any travelers without a sufficient 4X4.

We got about halfway before Pierre got stuck bad, our tires spinning helplessly as our underbelly was hung up between two deep ruts. We tried every maneuver for about 45 minutes before the panic began to sink in about our desperate situation. Here we were in the beating sun, 40 kilometers away from civilization with no car jack, very little water, next to no shade and with a crying four month old baby. Things were not looking good at all. Luckily a truck eventually pulled up and graciously offered to tow us out of our predicament. The passengers in the back of the truck had polished off a good number of Laurentina’s that day but were eager to help us out. We thanked our wilderness saviours and continued on our way.

Ponto D’ouro is every bit as spectacular as I had imagined. Bright blue water, clean white sand and big crashing waves. We rented a little cabin by the beach and spent the rest of the day frolicking like little kids in the warm Indian Ocean and sampling the fresh fish, prawns and calamari. The next morning I got up early and did a hike around the point, which opened up onto another picturesque bay with an infinite stretch of breathtaking coastline. It reminded me very much of my time on the spectacular Oregon Coast.

I then spent the rest of the day with Henrique and Antonio, the two staff members at Male Yeru’s branch in Ponto D’ouro. We hiked around the touristy but quaint village interviewing clients and observing their businesses. Henrique and Antonio spoke very little English and the clients spoke Shangan with very little Portuguese so I had some difficulty getting all of the information. I was impressed with the amount I was able to comprehend though and it is amazing how much communication you can do with pictures and hand gestures. It was interesting to see that HIV/AIDS hasn’t really had much of an impact on Ponto D’ouro and as a result the people there were rather indifferent to my questions about the disease. We did visit one client whose emaciated look and stories of her dead husband led me to believe that she was infected. These are her children along with two others from her sister who was “sick in the head” and could no longer take care of them. All in all it was a wonderful day in the field, capped off by a cold beer and bath in the ocean.

We were planning on doing some deep sea ocean fishing the next morning but I must have eaten some bad fish the night before and fell terribly ill during the middle of the night. I spent the next 5-6 hours sitting on the toilet experiencing the worst food poisoning of my life. Needless to say, I was in no shape to join the boys on the boat the next morning as I laid low in the shade and cursed that piece of bad fish that seemingly brought me to death’s door the night before. Not even the soothing sounds of the crashing waves could calm the rumbling storm in my stomach. Actually, if you’re going to get food poisoning, there’s probably not a better environment for it to happen. I’m sure I’m not getting much sympathy from my friends and family back home are preparing for a long cold winter while I’m “working” on the beaches of Mozambique.

Friday, December 02, 2005

The Motorcycle Inquiries: Part II

This past week I spent a couple of days back in Catembe with the good folks from Male Yeru. Rungo and I once again spent the days zipping around town on his trusty dirt bike, visiting clients and talking them about their businesses and their thoughts on HIV/AIDS. I also finally got a chance to sit down with Rungo and Aron, the other Male Yeru credit officer in Catembe, and pick their brains about the issue of HIV/AIDS and microfinance. They both expressed how difficult it was for them to discuss the disease openly with their clients. They also admitted that they felt that their institution was not doing nearly enough to monitor and counter the impacts of HIV/AIDS on their client base.

When we went out into the field I was overwhelmed by my encounters with HIV/AIDS in this community. Nearly every client we talked to over those two days shared at least one story about how HIV/AIDS was directly affecting their family or the lives of their close friends. We visited one lady named Marta Ngemina, who has been a successful client of Male Yeru since 2001. She operates a fishing business with two boats, supplying fresh fish to the many vendors lining the streets of Catembe. At her peak season, she is able to employ up to ten local boys to help her with the work load.

Despite her success, life has not been an easy climb for Marta. Her husband left her for another woman a few years back, leaving her to take care of her five children, and elderly parents, off of her income from the sea. Now she is also taking care of three orphans left to her by her cousin who died of AIDS last year. She suspects that Antonio, the cute little guy with the red and white shirt in the middle of the picture, is also infected as his health has deteriorated over the last six months. She has yet to go get him tested because there is no clinic nearby in Catembe. The extra mouths to feed, plus the declining returns from fishing, are placing Marta in an increasingly difficult financial situation

We also visited a woman named Josephina Shiloule who had built up a business with Male Yeru loans selling chickens and charcoal out of her homestead. She has one child but no husband and also takes care of her sick sister and niece. As her sister entered the room we were introduced to a walking skeleton, a poor woman whose body had been consumed by AIDS and was now barely living out her final months. Her arms and legs were no wider than two inches across and her eyes were sunken and helpless. Rungo and I were at a loss for words as Josephina continued to explain how she had been forced to sell off all of her chickens to help pay for her sister’s medications, hospital visitations and school fees for her daughter. She then took us outside where she posed for this picture in her now empty chicken coop. She earns a meager income from her charcoal sales and has fallen three months behind on her loan payments with Male Yeru. Rungo is gracious but is struggling to find a proper solution to this problem.

After we had finished making our rounds I bid farewell to my friends Rungo and Aron in Catembe. I had an incredible time with them observing their daily work, discussing future plans for HIV/AIDS and encountering the fascinating and emotional lives of their clients. On the way back to the ferry port on the last day I was also able to catch up on some note transcribing on the back of Aron’s dirt bike. For all of you MEDA interns out there, this is my entry so far for the intern photo contest. I’d love to see what you guys have come up with!!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

A High Price to Pay for Peace

I am extremely troubled today as I think about the hostages taken in Iraq over the past couple of days. The two Canadians, one American and on Briton abducted in Baghdad were from the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), a mennonite peace organization that I have had contact with from time to time over the past six years. When I was living in the West Bank in 1999 I visited CPT projects in Hebron and was inspired by their commitment to ministry through peaceful activism. I've been asked and have seriously considered joining the CPT reserve corps many times but it never seemed to work its way into my plans.

CPT's mission is to "get in the way" of violent situations in turbulent parts of the world. Their work as christian intercessors has taken them to Palestine, Colombia, Chiapas, Arizona, Northen Ontario and now Iraq. They are not evangelicals in the traditional sense of the word but spread the light of God through peaceful action that aims to expose the moral depravity of violent forces in the world. They believe that if there are countless amounts of soldiers in this world ready to die for war, then there should also be christians out there prepared to die for peace. One certainly cannot criticize their level of commitment to this difficult calling. And now this recent kidnapping has brought CPT some unfortunate publicity and some interesting responses from the muslim community.

Let us pray that their message of peace and cooperation will ring louder in Iraq than the incessant violence perpetuated by all war mongers in that region. Let us also pray that they will continue to find the fortitude to maintain their integrity in this extremely difficult situation. Let us also pray for their safe return to their loved ones. Let us pray that their example will be an inspiration for all of us regarding the true costs of discipleship and servanthood.

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God" - Jesus