Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas in Mozambique

We celebrated Christmas here with the kids on Christmas Eve. I had helped Emelyn sort the gifts for the boys in the Jimmy dorms and found them all lifting their new backpacks to make sure they were all the same weight. They promptly went through the wallets looking for money and stuffing it in their pockets and wearing their new threads and sunglasses. The younger boys got water guns and climbed up in the playground fort and had a blast. I did too. (photos below)
Manuel and I had an agreement. He has coveted my watch for a long time. I have, on occasion, let him borrow it. He asked again recently for the 100th time and even told me where I could buy them, how much they were and the kind that he wanted. So we agreed to exchange gifts this year. I got a bag of potato chips and a package of cookies and he got a new watch from the China store. I think he liked it. He was wearing it at church on Sunday. 
Christmas Eve, Helene Inga and a few friends came over for dessert. I plugged in a single strand of Christmas lights. Ruth put on Christmas music. The air-con makes the lights go off intermittently. We each shared about our own holiday traditions in Brazil, Mozambique, Iceland and America. It felt so very at home but so far away from home at the same time. 
Christmas Day the church was packed. I was in charge of getting the goat to the live nativity. He broke loose and a boy chased him down for me. He broke loose again inside the church but was quickly caught and retied and wrangled up to the manger scene. We feed 4000 people on Christmas Day and the congregation was full of anticipation of the chicken dinner that awaited them. I had big plans to spend the day on the beach but wound up taking a rare afternoon nap and then cooking mashed potatoes for our missionary staff Christmas party. We played the White Elephant gift exchange game and I got a candy bar. I gave a Barak Obama belt from the street market. I thought it was cool but no one took it away from Jeff. Lucky him. Other than Christmas 1977 when I got a rattle, I have to say it was the leanest Christmas, materially, a girl could have. Yet it was the richest by far.  Manuel’s face opening his watch was priceless. The girls all dressed up and waiting to open their presents and delighting in their gifts was fun. Intermittent Christmas lights and dessert made from baracca basics with my new family was unforgettable. A Christmas spent getting to bless those in need was an honor. A Christmas spent here will change you forever. I have all I could ever want or need and then some. 
I was able to Skype with Laura and that was bitter sweet. I miss her terribly. She is my confidant and she makes me laugh so hard it hurts. I need her. John was quick to point out what a difference a year makes and how this time last year it was I who was Skyping him with Laura and the family. He was in Iraq and Laura and the kids and I were opening presents by the fire on Christmas morning in Kansas.  
Christine got a webcam for Christmas and I cannot wait to Skype her too! Internet and electricity permitting. If you have Skype, add me. I would love to hear from you. jena.grace.davis
I missed being with my own family and regret having missed them in the past. If my Visa situation stays the same, I will be home for Christmas next year and I already know it will break my heart to not be with my family here. My heart is in so many places.
School plans are progressing and we have lots in the works. For now, we simply need to get classes started in January. I am awaiting curriculum by mail and email and to be brought over by a few visitors. I am making files on each child in the coming weeks. We already have a few business ideas and I will share more as they progress. We may have the opportunity to open our own banana store! It would be the perfect set-up to teach the students about sales, supply and demand, marketing, savings and profit. It fits in perfectly with our social business model and would provide an excellent learning opportunity and equip our students in a tangible way. Rodrigo is leaving tomorrow for England and Brazil but coming back full-time in March. 
I remain in awe. I can’t believe I get to live this life. It is all because of you I get to do this. God is ever present, ever faithful. He is good. I am lifting all of you up this season. I am so grateful for you. Thank you for giving to me. I pray you are blessed ten fold for your generosity and prayers and that 2012 brings all that you want and need and then some. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The view from my front porch
The Garden
My Office
The outdoor classroom

Merry Christmas/Feliz Natal

I am still speechless and struggle for words to describe my absolute awe of being here. I still look back and ponder just how this all happened and how I came to this place, emotionally, physically, spiritually. Last Christmas, Christine had a baby boy and I spent the 21st in Athens, GA admiring him. I went to Kansas and baked cookies with Laura and her little family while John was in Iraq. We exchanged gifts at Carla’s and I got all that I wanted and them some. We had elaborate parties at the club and I worked my last days there, even ringing in the new year serving old-fashions to the old-fashioned. Buckhead is a far cry from Pemba. There is no comparison. I am in another world. 
I am astounded by God’s patience and mercy with me in bringing me here and providing all that I need. It remains my pleasure and honor to live and serve here. 
The school has already begun and we have taken a break for the holidays. We will resume January 16th. I will serve as director of the school and will be teaching English twice a day, five days a week and Community Health courses four times a week. We will also be teaching businesses courses to teach the students personal finance, computer skills, and training in mechanics, carpentry and brick making. I will also be doing 2-3 hours of counseling with our kids each day.  We really don’t know exactly what that will look like, other than listening to the students, their hopes and dreams and fears. We want to find out their strengths and encourage them. I plan to use a variety of resources from Strengthfinders and Life Coaching materials and fun personality tests to more in depth materials on inner healing. “You know how to do this?”, you say. “No”. But God does and I know that He will equip me with what I need for each child. Essentially I have seen that most of the kids here have no clue how to dream. How can they when they live in a culture when you simply struggle to survive? There is also the stark reality that these children are orphans. They have been blessed to be here and are well fed and loved and cared for, but they can live in fear and doubt and distrust. Many have deep inner wounds of rejection. Some children are brought to us later in life and have been physically, emotionally and sexually abused. Each child needs extra love, support, attention, prayer. I want to see them know in their heads and in their heart that they are loved and that God claims them as His own and He has everything they can ever need to do this life. I see great leaders inside each and every one of them. I see passionate, creative, brilliant young men and women. I am simply here to encourage them and speak the truth. They are not orphaned, they are not poor, they are “fearfully and wonderfully made”. All day long I think about what hope looks like to a world full of poverty and I rarely come up with even a glimmer of an answer, other than Christ in me and Christ in them. This has to be the answer. He is hope. And yes, I say it often, to remind myself. Some days my faith is HUGE and some days it is small. But every day I see them, I contend for them, for poverty to end and not touch another generation.
I am thankful for your support and your prayers. Because of you, I can be here to teach and create something that will make a difference here. We have huge plans to start businesses within the next six months. Through education that you are helping to provide we can help these young people create business or work within a social business and give them a huge start on life. Through your giving we were able to start the little garden for our outdoor classroom and will soon have a Community Health Curriculum in Portuguese on DVD and a filing cabinet to start files on each student. I can’t wait to share their stories with you. You are going to fall in love with them.
I love living here in community among such incredible people. Everyone has been welcoming and I am making friends. Many of the missionaries here are so young and I am just blown away by how brave they are. Our life here is simple and often centered around cooking together and having a meal. We bring our Western entertainment too, in the form of movies on the laptop. I have been invited into the Thursday Ladies Group and we play cards. Good coffee remains a delicacy and thankfully I live among those who share generously. We often take advantage of the Indian Ocean in our front yard. It is grand here. Come see me!
I am daily lifted up by all of you who write and send video messages and photos from home. I play them over and over and look at your pictures all the time and show you to the kids. I Skyped home for the first time just this week. It took my breath away and put a huge lump in my throat. Ok, I cried. All of a sudden there they all were, even Uncle John and Aunt Phylis. They all follow me in my thoughts every day but seeing their faces made me sob. But not really for missing them, as much as just for knowing how much I love them. It was too much for my heart to hold. 
Thank you for giving and allowing me to live out this dream. The children of the Iris Vocational School and Iris Children’s Center thank you too. My Visa expires in April and I will be coming home to renew it. I have a lot to do between now and then and I know the time will fly by. I am already making lists of all the things I want to see, do and taste when I get home. I look forward to our time together. 
Much love,

Monday, December 19, 2011

This morning I woke up under the covers of my Woobie (army blanket). I have air-conditioning! I am house sitting. The house is on the other base where there is no internet and there happens to be a field of little bamboo bars right behind the house. Bars as in they sell hot beer and bad gin (not that I have tasted it) bars. They play music all night long. But the lull of the aircon and then the heavy, heavy rains last night drowned out the bass of baracca music. 

This is what my neighbor had to say about last night...

"Was woken up at 3am to a lovely rain shower in my bed, and no electricity. I was soaked this morning when I woke up at 5:30am to head to the hospital. Then the land rover battery was flooded with water which delayed us. Fatima was finally taken into surgery at 8am this morning. Now I am waiting to head back to check on her at 11 when she gets out... as I am sitting here in my room I can hear the rat chewing away in my dresser and my light is tripping like a disco ball.. and it is only 9am! Happy Monday morning! Still rejoicing, thanking Jesus for this beautiful simple life, would not trade it for the world!!!"

This is just what it is like. It is wild and crazy and hot and loud, but it is the greatest life on 
earth and there is no where else I would rather be. If I paint a bleak picture, it is only a small part of the day and only to give you a visual of life here and what a day can bring. I still cannot believe I get to live this life. Every day I think, "pinch me, I live here". Who am I to deserve this? I get to do this and it is an honor that I get to spend this season of my life here pouring into these kids and living among such heroes. 

Little Fatima has a blood clot in her leg that has become infected. She is 12. Pray for her.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

the other day

i wake up to the sauna that is my bedroom. i pull my heavy body from the bed, the ill-fitted sheet sticks to me, a wrinkled moist clump underneath me. there are no covers. i lift up the netting and place both feet on the dusty floor and shuffle to the bathroom to brush my teeth, wash my face and apply the mornings’ sunscreen. there is no water coming from the tap. i pull a cup from a large plastic bin of water in the shower and use it for washing. i stand at the fan, lift my shirt and cool by belly. i pour a variety of pills into my hands, vitamins, doxycycline, a probiotic and take them all in one gulp of warm filtered water. 
the sun is always up way before me. i feel like i am sleeping the day away. it is 7am. 
i have errands to run and need cash from town, to go down to the school, and items from the barraca. i dress in a tank top, my rusty watch from wal-mart, linen pants, havaianas and a leather bracelet. i don’t comb my hair. i gather all my things for going in to town. i need my international drivers license, my mozambican scooter registration and license and receipt of purchase, which are all stuffed in a pink silk wallet i got in vietnam. it is now tattered and falling apart. i have a wad of mozambican meticais in a yellow and red zippered cloth wallet dominique gave me. i toss those in my oversized 75% off straw bag i bought at target with shannon. i grab the wad of keys on the ring on the back of the door, my freshly charged ereader and start the sun scorched walk down the hill. the scooter awaits me inside the gates of the mission compound. her black seat is hot. she starts on the second try. i forgo the helmet. it is hot and obstructs my view. i plan to take the scenic route. (i will take it next time, mom). the road into town is still under construction but workers have placed a scrap of wood along the edge of a concrete slab that sort of allows passage. i have to get off the scooter and push. a man comes along to help. i knew someone would. mozambicans are very helpful and courteous. sometimes they want money for their helpfulness and sometimes they don’t. all the workers greet me loudly in their Makua greeting, “Salaama”. i repeat the greeting and they talk about me. i have no clue what they say but i know from their unabashed stares that it is all about me, the white girl. i smile and wave and try with body language and my face to say, “i am no different”. children come to the side of the road to wave to the white girl on the red scooter. i slow down to see their faces and to show them mine and to wave back. i honk. they giggle. i see 9 different men along my journey peeing on the side of the road. but who’s counting? it catches me off guard all 9 times and i flinch and turn my head. i ride over literal mounds of garbage. i slow down when i approach a little village where the garbage has grown from a large mound on the sides of the road into both lanes. boxes and bottles and paper and trash. children in rags. boys with handmade toys. the indian ocean in her vast turquoise blue Tuesday best takes my breath away. i smell her and the trash. the sea breeze still feels amazing despite the smell of rubbish. breakfast has worn off and i feel hunger not too far away. i am hot and thirsty. i follow the coast line into Old Town, my favorite part of the city. it looks ever bit like the abandoned Portugese port city it once was. architectural structures left behind to tell the story, fading in color. there is a large hill and the scooter whines. i get off and push. she really is just a toy after all. a China toy that runs off gas. my rubber flip flops pound the hot pavement. “a back pack would be more practical” i think. but the straw bag goes with my outfit. i wipe sweat from my upper lip and forehead. there is a large ugly turkey with little baby turkeys following close behind. a few shops are open. they are hot and dark inside. they all sell a smattering of things; fabric, batteries, milk, cooking oil, hair oils, soaps, chocolate, candy, laundry powder. they all smell funny. they all depress me a little. each time i hunt for something pretty, something recognizable, something different. everything is a necessity. the luxuries are cheap plastic bracelets made in China. the fabrics are fun to look at, colorful and vibrant. but i don’t need that.   i need toilet paper and dishwashing liquid and laundry detergent. there are boxes of cookies. but they are not any good. i have tried them all. the artificial flavored and colored filling is pea sized and they are flavorless. plus i don’t need cookies. my pants are tight. i wind down the hill and turn left at the sign for the gas company. i didn’t pack water and my forehead is burning from the sun. we drive on the left side of the road here but here the road is full of holes and sand and i wind and dodge and create a path of my own along the flat spots. i think even the scooter is ready for a break. i pull her in front of a brick building with a proper sign and new Toyota pickup trucks and Land Rovers parked out front. it seems like a mirage. there is a market inside. a proper market with little straw baskets for your goods. a glass case with cheese inside. a small refrigerated section with yogurt and other dairy products. there is a huge jar of Hellman’s. it is $18. everything is shipped up from South Africa. there is bulgar wheat and dried fruit and crackers and jam. i throw stuff in my basket as if it might disappear. i get less than 10 things. i spend $60. later i took my findings home and set them all out to look at them. i have rationed them all and am making them last. the market is inside a larger building that houses a restaurant. the chef greets me in full chef regalia. black double breasted cotton, banded collar. he is large and white and South African and flamboyant. have i teleported? there is air-conditioning but it is weak. i find a seat in the corner and interrupt three flies from a water glass at my place setting. i am still in Africa.
a waitress greets me and i order coffee. despite the heat, coffee remains a delicacy plus i saw an espresso and cappuccino machine when i walked in. i am excited. real coffee. i unzip my ereader and return to my book. a depressing New York Times Bestseller that came highly recommended and which i hoped would get a little happier with each heart wrenching chapter. but not all things are happy and the novel set in the middle east during a war in which i was alive and well and thriving in Hart County High School and girls my age in Afghanstan were not playing tennis and driving around a small innocent town in a Peugeot with heat seats. i order a salad, another luxury. it is made with ginger. my tastebuds have conformed to rice and beans, spaghetti and bread rolls. there are white people, assumed workers with the oil companies, coming in and out but i am consumed with my honey ginger salad, the view out the window and the war in Afghanistan.  the yacht, my yacht, is resting outside the window, rocking back and forth. the flies still dance around my water glass and i shoo them the entire time. the waitress comes along and opens the window and shoos them too. i finish the book there. as i click to the last page and read the last sad paragraph i think about my sister. she told me she remembered finishing Old Yeller in the pink and orange booth of the Dairy Queen in Hartwell, or was it Where the Red Fern Grows? i wonder if i will remember this, the flies, the sea and the cappuccino, the really good smelling bathroom hand soap and the completion of A Thousand Splendid Suns.

i think of her always. she is always within milliseconds of my thoughts. my father is in every bald head, and every constellation in the sky. my mother, in my own voice every time i console a child or give them instruction in the form of a Disney song. 

i scooter back along the sea. among the rubbish and then men with their backs to me. women with baskets on their heads collecting fish and mussels in the tide pools and men casting nets. i open my bedroom door and rush to the fan and bare my midriff. then rotate. anselmo and topa have seen me come home and knock at the door. i pull out the picture dictionaries from my bookshelf and we lie on our stomachs, prop up on our elbows and point to objects, they pronounce and i try to retain. i say in english and they repeat. the game continues. they could play for hours. i last about 5 minutes. they pore over the books. they inform me they are hungry. they are always hungry. but so am i. i give them each a handful of almonds from my rations. they leave satisfied with the entertainment and snack. 

i sit on the wrinkled bed amongst the netting, fan on my face. my forehead is sunburned. and shoulders are pink. the brief escape into a moment of my own culture was nice, even fun. an unplanned part of my day that just happened. who knew that in the middle of this poverty there would be such a spot?

 the electricity goes off and my fan slowly dies. 180 children. no parents. no mother to wake them every morning in song and lay out their clothes and untie their double knots. no dad to point out constellations in the sky, resting on the warm hood of a worn out pickup truck. no mom to help you pack up everything you own and clean your bathroom. no dad to look out to in a congregation as you share your heart and he holds back tears. i want them to know i am proud of them. i want to teach them something. 180 children. the job will be all day. every day. my Portuguese is rubbish. i have so much to organize. nothing goes according to plan. the sun is hot. some days it drains me. everything drains me. i find i have no energy and i used to think i knew what that felt like. i feel my age and then some. i need another cappuccino. i have instant coffee and stale almonds. i sigh a deep sigh and on the outward breath pray for energy, answers, help, schedules, curriculum, students, teachers, language help and more hours in the day. i thank Him for lunch and imported cappuccino machines and all of you...

ps. after writing this, i witnessed a motorcycle accident. i will always wear my helmet mom. i promise. the strap is broken and will not fasten, but i will wear it. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

I've been horrible about writing, but I think of you all the time. I wish I could show you every new thing I see. I wish you could meet Toba and Olga and Anselmo. Anslemo is having surgery on his feet in February. He is going to South Africa. Toba came over today with a friend to ask for yogurt and to get a band-aid for his friend. He had a bad scrape on his arm. I doctored it with ointment and a band-aid and a kiss on the forehead. I needed to take the scooter to the mechanic to have the oil changed so I asked if they wanted to ride. They giggled and rode with their arms straight out as we rode down the bumpy hill to the mechanic shop. They had so much fun but the ride was so short so I took them for a few laps around the base as they waved to all their friends. They fought over who got to put down the kickstand.

I have a meeting in 45 minutes.

I got to talk to Laura for all of maybe two minutes on iChat. It made my day. I miss her a whole bunch.

Christine wrote and said the weather is cold and she is Christmas shopping. This world is so different.

Despite stories of yachting and lobsters on the beach, there is so much more to my life here. I want to show it all to you. I do feel protective of my new family and community here. I will not exploit them. It's poor. They are poor. Hunger, unclean drinking water, malaria, malnutrition, swollen bellies, children in rags. Poverty is everywhere here. It's overwhelming. And it is all so hard to talk about. I find that I just want to protect them and not talk about it and not take pictures and am so careful to give them privacy as I want to respect them. But I also feel responsible. I feel like I am here to help show you what you cannot see. I want to show you what life is really like here and seek out ways that we can help make their lives better. So just be patient with me. I am new at this.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

now that it is over

School update

This will be our last week of classes before Christmas Break. We will reconvene January 16th. Earlier this week I was praying out loud for things that we need including ESL curriculum. The State of Georgia has been great to offer us whatever we need and I do have a list of instructional and study materials that I have given them, but I have felt like something is missing. Thursday I met with a linguistics major who offered to design curriculum specific to our needs! She is writing a 36 week curriculum, in three levels, that coincide with Businesses/Tourism and Community Health that is culturally relevant!! It is precisely what I need. Whether my needs be yachts or curriculum, I am still in awe. 
Community Health Class
I met yesterday with Rodrigo, the newest member of our team. He is coming in late February to help and teach business courses. He's Brazilian, which means flawless Portuguese and another answer to prayer.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Ceremonies and a Mango

We had ceremonies with the girls this weekend. It was an honor to participate and I am looking forward to spending more time with my girls. They are all so beautiful and I want to see them walk in strength and authority and purity. I want them to know who they are not settle or fall into bad marriages. I want them to make wise choices. Polygamy is fairly common here and there are many cultural issues different from our own and many just the same. They are all just girls, with big hearts who love to sing and dance, who all just want to be loved in return.

The school is coming together more and more every day. We have had a new long term missionary assigned to work with us in our school. I am delighted to welcome a new member to the team. He will assist me in our 2 on 2 discipleship meetings and help teach business courses. He is very much on board with our ideas to create social businesses and has amazing ideas of his own. He shares our vision and heart for discipleship, mentoring and vocational training.

We were given some funding for the garden! We bought plants last week and are having a planter made now and planting bougainvillea as I write this. It is really going to be a beautiful space and we can use the space as an outdoor classroom. It is so fun to see it all coming together, even down to the plants and trees!

Steve and I met with the Children's Center director earlier this week and discussed the school schedule and calendar. It looks like we will start formal classes on January 17th. It looks like Monday's will be a day when all students come for all types of learning, instructional vocational training, educational videos, 1 on 1 conversation English, field trips, study hall, language labs and more. Tuesday and Wednesday will be for ESL and Business with those courses given in the mornings and again in the afternoon since students here are divided-some students go to school in the morning and others in the afternoon. We will offer morning and afternoon blocks also. Thursday and Friday will be for ESL and Community Health.  I also will be doing 2 on 2 discipleship for 2 to 3 hours a day. We want to equip them to know who they are in Christ. I often don't have a grid for where the children have been and what all they have been through. I have no idea what hopelessness looks like and have always had loving support in my life. We want our students to know they are loved and that their situations are not hopeless.

In preparing to come here I packed every over the counter medicine I could think of for most anything that could possibly arise; malaria, colds, cuts, fever, pain. I didn't account for or fathom severe mango allergy. I started feeling really bad over the weekend and Sunday night was rushed home from ceremonies to take benadryl when my face started to swell. I woke up to an unrecognizable face staring back at me. I have a rash on my arms and neck. My left eye was swollen shut. My earlobes are swollen and itchy. My lips are huge. The clinic has given me Prednisone and I have been told it gets worse before it gets better. I don't think it can get any worse. This is my second day of not really being able to do anything and that alone is driving me crazy, not to mention I itch all over, my face is massive, my ears itch. But three absolutely adorable little ten year old girls just came to the door and asked if they could pray for me. They sat with me on the bed and all prayed out loud simultaneously. Nurse Annelie came too and didn't flinch at my pitiful face but hugged me and prayed. This place is giving me way more than I could ever give back. I am astounded by His blessings, and precious gifts. I am undone by the love of the friends I have made here and this life of wild, crazy, hot, smelly community. It's so beautiful.