Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My Picture from Cape Point

Here's a picture from Cape Point which is right next to the Cape of Good Hope. Both capes are well known, but I don't know why. Old tales used to say that this was the point where the Indian and the Atlantic ocean collided and that there is supposed to be a distinct line in the sea where they met. Although it is where the Indian and Atlantic currents mix sometimes, there's no line. Bummer.

Your brother,

Saturday, December 25, 2010

My Mozambique Email Update #3

Here's a picture from Signal Hill in Cape Town looking over the fog rolling into the city shortly after sunset. Also, here's my third email update just in case you aren't on the email list.

Dear family and friends,

I've been spending most of December in Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa, for our MCC regional retreat. South Africa is almost incomparable to its neighbor Mozambique. The infrastructure, climate, and economy found here is a world apart. South Africa in many respects feels and looks like the United States and it is nice to be in familiar surroundings. However, more than once I found myself missing Tete and the friends and family I have found there.

At the start of December my living arrangement with my host family drew to a close and I moved out of my host family's house to live on the other side of the Zambezi River. I hadn’t noticed it before, but somehow that day it struck me that we had become real family. I think there’s something unifying found in the daily rhythms of life together. Like that feeling of coming home from work to find your sister asleep on the living room couch; it’s like a long lost memory. The day I moved, my host mother held back tears saying, “meu filho esta a sair (my son is leaving).” A little girl from the neighborhood, Lucia, followed me each with each load I took to the truck to hold my hand on the way back to the house. And the goodbye was sad. I never liked goodbyes.

This week, some friends and I visited Robben Island where the apartheid government kept many of their political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, and Jacob Zulu. One of the sites on the island is this limestone quarry where prisoners were put to forced labor. The limestone produced was rarely used for anything meaningful and was often dumped into the ocean. Of course, the point of the quarry wasn't the lime, the point of the quarry was to train the body and dull the mind. The conditions in the pit were awful. The prisoners had to dig for themselves a little cave into the pit wall to use as a restroom. The dust and sunlight permanently damaged Mandela's eyes. To this day he cannot shed a tear and flash photography pains him. But here also the prisoners discussed, argued, and fought over their past and future, their ideals and beliefs. Here they shared their stories of pain. And it is here where they realized what bitter fruit is to be found from the tree of racism.

And it is from here that the beginnings of Truth and Reconciliation were born.

The reason why South Africa looks like the way it does in comparison to Mozambique (Zimbabwe, etc.) can be pointed back to these limestone pits. The ability to forgive and move forward has been and continues to be critical to South Africa. This process allowed them to reject what was evil about the past while retaining what was good. From these pits, these prisoners were able to bring about heaven. And though there is far to go, South African history was forever changed.

There is this old, old story where God speaks to a shepherd named Moses in the mountains. In that story God speaks from a bush telling the man, “do not come any closer, take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” He does this as if to remind us to stop and remember what is sacred to us. This place where you are standing is holy ground.

The place where you are standing is holy ground.

The limestone pits on Robben Island are indeed sacred.

And in the half-light of the setting sun that day, my old neighborhood too was hallowed.

Thank you for sharing this with me. You have no idea how much your letters and messages have brought joy to my life. I miss you all. Happy holidays.

Your brother,
Stephen Esaki

Monday, December 20, 2010

My Trip to Cape Town, South Africa

I'm still in Cape Town and I'm paying about a buck for every fifteen minutes I spend online here, so I need to keep this short. Capetown is impossibly beautiful. It's a little hard to believe I am still in Africa, and I think I'm going through a bit of culture shock because of all the wealth. Today I scrambled/hiked to the top of Table Mountain which overlooks the city and the peninsula. Tomorrow I'm heading to Robben Island which is the prison where they held Nelson Mandela for most of his adult life and is now a World Heritage Site.

I've been told Christmas is this week. I wish you a merry Christmas. I miss you all very much.

Your brother,

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Thursday, December 9, 2010

My Trip to Johannesburg

On Monday I'm gonna be flying out of Tete to Johannesburg for our MCC regional retreat. Then I get to spend a week with some fellow SALT volunteers in Capetown. I'm not exactly sure what I'll be doing but I'm excited. It's gonna be great to see those guys again.

Your brother,

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

My Picture of Cahora Bassa

I haven't been using my camera much recently because work is nuts right now. Here's an old picture of the Cahora Bassa dam. As an engineer, I was pumped to go visit it. I wish I had more time to talk about Cahorra Bassa or the new dam, called Mphanda Nkuwa, that the government is building 60km downstream with the help of the Chinese government. And that the existing Cahora Bassa only produces a seventh of the designed electricity capacity. Or that almost 90% of that production is sold to neighboring Zimbabwe or South Africa at literally the world's cheapest electricity prices. And about the fact that only 15% of Mozambicans have electricity in their homes.

No time for that.

Your brother,

Thursday, December 2, 2010

My First Rainy Season

Boy, I'm getting behind on these updates. Here's a picture of a storm cloud rolling into Tete. It's already rained three times! This place has transformed overnight and everything is coming alive now. Even the lonely baobab trees are full of new leaves. I wish you were here to see this.

Your brother,

P.s. the lychees and pineapples are delicious!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

My Work, Part Three

Here's a picture of some of my friends at the First Mennonite Church of San Francisco making a sand dam. Great job guys! You know, MCC is always recruiting...

Speaking of sand dams, I haven't written about work in a long time. Here's some info that my good friend Sara gave me. Sara is a genius. She is getting her phd at Stanford University, studying community involvement in water and sanitation in the developing world. She says:
In general, the four major principles contributing to sustainable development of water projects are as follows:

1) Communities should initiate the water project
2) Water users are given control over the type of project to be pursued
a. Wells, sand dams, public taps, private taps, etc.
3) Communities agree to invest something into construction
a. Labor
b. Money
4) After installation, administration of the system is supported by an external agency that regularly follows up on the project.

Ok, so here's what I've been wrestling with in my head for about three months now. We work here with MCC and CCM specifically on sand dams. We initiate the projects by rolling into a community with our Hilux and asking around (so strike number 1). Sand dams are kind of this fixed thing, and there is really only a few ways you can design them to be safe (strike number 2). So what we are left with, are points 3) and 4). And I don't even know for how long we will continue to do 4). It's just the nature of the project.

I can't help but wonder if we are doing something fundamentally wrong here. Don't get me wrong, the results in many of these dams we've built are amazing. People do grow gardens in the communities where we've worked where once was only desert. People do get water and food which last them well into the dry season. I just don't know.

Your brother,

Sunday, November 28, 2010

My New Friends the Penners

I met Nathan and Adrianne Penner this week in Beira. They told me their wedding story. They met two years ago at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, where they are both doing graduate work.

Last year around Thanksgiving, Adrianne had been diagnosed with a brain tumor which needed to be operated on within ten days. They decided to move their marriage up to five days before the operation. Nathan thought it was the only right thing to do, Adrianne thought Nathan was crazy. They told their church and school communities the situation and asked for help (they go to the Pasadena Mennonite Church). They said they were scared out of their minds and that they wanted to have a small wedding in their backyard if possible. Adrianne couldn't do much of the planning because she needed to avoid stress before the operation.

Immediately, everyone in their community jumped at the chance to bless them. The community planned the wedding and donated everything. The huge chapel, the flowers and decorations, the tables and chairs, the potluck reception, even the honeymoon in a beach house in Malibu were donated. Strangers gave up days of their time simply because they couldn't get the story out of their heads. The result was their wedding was bigger and more beautiful than they could have ever expected or afforded alone. People said that it wasn't so much a wedding as it was a chance to thank and praise God. Everyone present wept for joy.

Five days later, Adrianne underwent brain surgery. A year later, I met them in Mozambique.

I'm really not doing justice to this story. You can find their actual story here.

Your brother,

Thursday, November 25, 2010

My Thanksgiving and Random Picture

Hope you had a happy Thanksgiving! It didn't quite feel like Thanksgiving without my family but I'd say it was the next best thing. I ate two plates of turkey and stuffing and tried to explain what we were eating to our Mozambican coworkers who were afraid of stuffing and thought apple pie too sweet. I had much to be thankful for. This picture, of course, has nothing at all to do with Thanksgiving, but I thought I'd post it anyway for the color.

Your brother,

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

My (Bicycling) Hero

Here's a pretty common image you see along the main highway that leads into Tete. I was pretty impressed by his bicycling strength so I snapped this pic.

I'm a little torn by this though, I'm a big fan of cycling but I'm also not a fan of deforestation. I don't want to begrudge a man trying to earn food for himself, but it seems like there is an end endless stream of these guys on bikes hauling wood or charcoal into the city, everyday. It's gotta add up eventually. I'm here as a development worker, but i gotta admit 'development' is still a dirty word for me. Boy, that just reeks of privilege, doesn't it? Cause what do I know? I probably killed more trees and burned more carbon in my life than this guy ever will. I guess I just don't want Mozambique to be another America. I want Mozambique to be Mozambique.

Your brother,

Monday, November 22, 2010

My Early Thanksgiving Dinner

Last night I was invited to an early Thanksgiving dinner with the Bister family (Mikael, Jeni, Katie, Jacob, and John). They are some of my favorite people in Tete. Mikael and Jeni work with Wycliffe. Wycliffe is an organization that translates the Bible into all the living languages left in the world today. In Tete, they are in the process of getting a Nhungue translation. I think it is pertinent to note that Jeni grew up a Mennonite and cooks like one, too.

Your brother,

Sunday, November 21, 2010

My Coworker, Jon

Here's a picture of Jon, my MCC coworker. Jon is from Oregon by way of Washington state. Since I am from Hawaii by way of California, we've agreed that the five westernmost states together comprise five of the ten best states in all the union. I figure Alaska was grandfathered in because the state has a population density most closely resembling that of Eden. The only problem I see with Alaska is the male to female ratio which I hear is not quite the 1:1 made by Adam and Eve, proving even Alaska in all its natural beauty is still East of Eden.

Your brother,

Thursday, November 18, 2010

My Picture of a Man and his Pet Monkey

I never thought I was a jealous man, until I saw this. I took this photo in the community of Dzimica Chakalanga.

Your brother,

Monday, November 15, 2010

My Mozambique Email Update #2

(I wrote this update email and sent it to a bunch of you, then it occurred to me that I don't have everyone's email address. So I copied it here. If you have already seen this, I'm sorry for not having new things to write about.)

Dear Family and Friends,

November marks the start of the rainy season here in Tete. Unlike the winter rains we normally experience in the States which are caused by falling temperatures, rains here accompany soaring heat. Here, the hot air rises into the atmosphere causing a rush of cooler air to be convected in from the Indian Ocean along the famous Zambezi River. Then it pours for days.

So far we have only been seeing hints of this rain. For months already, the old time Mozambicans have been forecasting that the first two weeks of November will bring the rains. Families of hippos have already begun migrating upstream along the river in anticipation of the flash floods. And the thunder clouds so far have been busy trying to bring rain in from the coast.

Still, Tete held the record this week as the hottest place in all of Africa. The thunder clouds only bring light showers that mostly evaporate before hitting the ground.

For me though, it is hard to be upset about this, because we still have much work to do before it rains. In the past few weeks we've found six potential communities that appear to have conditions that are suitable to sand dams. The challenge ahead is to to work with these communities to find right conditions, to collect river measurements, and to build community involvement and ownership of this project. The work is hard and exhausting, so I am glad for the extra time.

Mozambique when it rains (even just a bit), more than anything, feels like coming home to Hawaii. Maybe not quite the Hawaii of my youth, but perhaps it reminds me of the one of my grandfather; of the time when the morning dew still hung fresh on the leaves just as the promise that Hawaii is the land of opportunity still hung from the mouths of my ancestors. Sadly, that place exists no longer. And I have mostly experienced it only in stories. The sugarcane fields of my youth decades abandoned have all silently turned to weeds without notice. The sole remaining plantation on Kauai, Gay & Robinson, closed their sugar mill last year on Kauai to never be reopened. My grandfather too is now gone, having passed silently and bravely, surrounded by family in February this year.

The rains though always bring about the promise of growth and new life. The Mozambican desert for a few months transforms into a garden. The subsistence farmers already hard at work are now planting their fields. In a few weeks the mangoes, as if on command, will all at once become ripe and drop from their branches. And for a few months there will be food enough, I pray, for a hungry nation.

Who knows, maybe this season will also bring some part of this growth inside of me as well. As the child Christopher Robin once said in that book about a stuffed bear, “Tut tut, it looks like rain.” Thank you for sharing this with me.

Your brother,
Stephen Esaki

Thursday, November 11, 2010

My Picture of a Hornbill

Here's a picture I took of a red-billed hornbill which I think are one of the nicer birds in Southern Africa. We were out in the bush this week trying to find sites for new sand dams that we will be building this year. We had a bit of free time in the Hilux while driving in between communities so we got to discuss birds with our Mozambican coworkers. It's funny, I typically assign value to birds based on how beautiful they are, my Mozambican friends assign value based on their tastiness.

It's a rare privilege for me to be bird watching in places and environments that share much of the birds mentioned in the Old Testament. When Moses set about outlining the birds which Israelites were forbidden to eat, the last two he mentions are the Hoopoe and the bat. Given that the bat is not actually a bird, I think it is logical to believe that eating a Hoopoe is either the greatest or least violation of Hebrew bird dietary restrictions. I've been keeping an eye out for Hoopoes because my coworkers seem familiar with them and their calls. I am assuming that being good Christians they have never eaten one, although I never worked up the courage to ask.

Your brother,

Sunday, November 7, 2010

My Work Week

Here's picture I took of my MCC coworker Jon sitting by the fire in the Mozambican bush where we do our work. Since Jon had his motorcycle stolen, we went down to Beira last week to go get the Toyota Hilux that MCC owns here. To justify using the truck, we figured we'd better spend a few days working in the field. I'll be out in the field this week as well, because we're busy as bees this month. I'll probably blog on Friday, if I have anything interesting to say.

This photo was taken just as a thunder storm rolled in through the desert. I spent hours trying to take a decent picture of lightning, which turns out to be harder than I thought. In the future if someone shows you a picture they took of lightning, you should compliment them on their mastery of photography.

In other news, today is the birthday of Dorothy Day. She believed in (and fought for) many causes, including women's suffrage, caring for homeless, and pacifism and was jailed many times because of her beliefs. She once said, "Don't call me a saint. I don't want to be dismissed so easily."

Speaking of birthdays, my brother's fiancée had her birthday last week. Happy birthday Emmi!

Your brother,

Friday, November 5, 2010

My Friends, Manuel and Edi

Here are a couple of my friends showing off their deadly ninja techniques. Their names are Manuel and Edi. They are actually part of the group of kids that call me Estevan Americano. Life in Mozambique suddenly just got a whole lot more dangerous and the same time.

Your brother,

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

My Goal for This Week

I've been meaning to get a picture of one of these soccer balls for a while now. I was planning on walking around this weekend until I found one, but my health wasn't spectacular, so I mostly stayed at home. Fortunately, one came rolling by my house and I took a quick photo.

I could talk your ear off about these and how I feel about the fact that they are made out of condoms, but I told myself I wouldn't. I think I'd just get too riled up.

Your brother,

Monday, November 1, 2010

My Beard

Here's a picture of me and my beard. Sadly, this is the first beard I've ever grown, but I'm still oddly proud of it. I actually took several of these pictures so I could pick one that didn't give children nightmares. Whether or not I made the right choice is still up for debate.

Your brother,

Friday, October 29, 2010

My Letter to FMCSF

Dear Friends from First Mennonite Church of San Francisco,

I don’t know if any of you read this stupid blog, but if you do I want to let you know that I often find myself thinking about you. And while the fact that church services here last for four hours, in two languages I don’t understand, in 110-degree weather may explain part of it; mostly, I think of you because of the blessing you are. Literally, since I’ve been in Mozambique not a week has gone by where I haven't received a letter of encouragement from one of you. I wanted to take some time to return in small part what you have given me – to encourage you, because I know that there are difficult times ahead. Times which will be important for the future of our strange little church held in a Jewish synagogue in the Mission.

There are many things about Mozambique that remind me of you. Sometimes I will be traveling on a highway through the desert and pass a lonely man dancing on the roadside. I think that sometimes you are that man. Or maybe since you are Mennonites, you are rather that lonely man singing. Recently as in many times in the past, it seems you are alone again because of your commitment to certain beliefs about types of love permissible in the house of God. And it is difficult. It is difficult to be the face of a cause you believe is right. And it is difficult to be the prophets of a new creation. But I've seen you singing in the desert and it haunts me still.

Do you remember that Sunday this past year when Russ gave his testimonial? After he spoke, I had the chance to ask him what was his vision of the perfect church community. He answered, “it’s this one.” Recently, I've come to agree with him on this completely. Though to be honest, it took me a while to realize it. I struggled with your theology, because it is perhaps as diverse as the people who attend. I found that you, much like myself, are still undergoing a process of figuring out who you are and what you want to be. And there are difficult and painful conversations left to be had. Because It always hurts to grow. It took me a long time to glimpse the true center of your theology. Which I now believe to be the inclusion of all people into the body of Christ.

I don't often write letters to churches; And I know this is a poor epistle because I am an even poorer Paul. Instead, I feel like Balaam finding myself unable to do anything but bless what God has already blessed. And yes, I believe God has already blessed you – how could He have not? You have someone in Mozambique praying for you. Never stop singing.

Your brother,
Stephen Esaki

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

My Life (Now with 50% Less Fun!)

Back when I was packing, I made it a point to bring along two things with me. One was a hackey sack and two was a guitar tuner. My old buddy Jessica made me the hackey sack six years ago for christmas. And I stole the guitar tuner from my brother Ryan about the same time. The tuner has been by my side ever since. I've been keeping both in the top drawer of my dresser. I was sure that I'd use them both plenty this year because I have a guitar, a tin ear, and a lot of free time.

I've been getting rats in my room recently. I hear them at night clawing and eating stuff. I didn't really think much of it, since my host fam seems to be pretty cool about seeing one run across the living room floor once in a while. Anyway, I heard them in my dresser last night. Being innately suspicious of rats, I checked my drawer last night. They tore up my hackey sack to eat the dried corn kernels used as the stuffing. And while they were feasting away, (I guess)they kicked the on-switch to my guitar tuner, killing the 9-volt battery which they don't sell here. In one night my life just got a whole lot less fun. Annoying!

Your brother,

P.S. In other (arguably more important) news, Jon's motorcycle was stolen the other night from in front of his house. Perhaps I should've written about that instead...

Monday, October 25, 2010

My Lie

To the average Mozambican, the country we call home is heaven. For many of the people I have met, if given a single wish, they would use it on getting to the United States. And borrowing the language of MLK, they tell me that they too 'have a dream' to one day visit the States. Usually I smile and say that one day they will get there, though probably I'm lying. It's hard for me to hear them talk about my home because sometimes they are wrong about America, but it isn't any easier to hear when they are right.

During my first week in the country I was walking through downtown Maputo when I heard a public demonstration coming down the street in my direction. People were shouting and waving the American flag. Not speaking the language, I assumed it was anti-American propaganda. Instead I found out that they stage this march every Wednesday to celebrate America and to ask American leaders for help. Well, I guess it isn't so much American leaders they are asking, as it is specifically Obama who in their mind is essentially African. And therefore who in their mind is the solution to poverty in Africa, an impossible role for any one person.

The other week, my Mozambican boss asked Jon and I why all Americans are skinny. We spent the whole car ride convincing him that it wasn't true. Telling him about the social-economics of nutrition and obesity in America. Really though, we need only look in the mirror to find out how he drew his conclusion. We are both skinny as rails. Indeed, we are part of the lie.

When my Mozambican friends talk about money in America they often painfully correct and painfully wrong. They still call it the land of opportunity. It is where you can earn your own money and find work that pays fairly. And I agree with them, but then I stop to think of how we treat immigrants in our country. I think about Arizona's SB 1070. And I remember living in San Diego and driving by groups of bored, rich conservatives protesting outside the Home Depot where Mexican day laborers awaited work. And how the rest of us normally treat non-english speakers. America is a land of opportunity it is true, but I can't honestly tell you that it's a land of opportunity for you.

Of course I never say most of what I want to say. I end up saying America has problems of its own. But mostly, I lie. I lie more often than I ever cared to in my life, because I don't know if it's too mean to do otherwise. When I try to speak truth, I say that God is in Mozambique, too.

Your brother,

Friday, October 22, 2010

My Host Brother, Manuel

Here's the last of my host family, Manuel. He's on the left. He doesn't go to church, so it's been harder to get a picture of him. Because Manuel doesn't go to church, his sister Teresa calls him a pagan. I think that's hilarious. There is some history on why he doesn't go to church which mama Lidia told me, and which I will not repeat on this stupid blog.

I once had a conversation with him about not going to church. He asked me why I read so much, and I said because maybe it'd help if I want to write a book someday. But I also said I didn't know what the book would be about - maybe God. That's when his mom butt in and yelled that this one never goes to church. I told them I never went to a Christian church until I was 20 and that Jesus basically did nothing special in the Bible until he was 30. And that at 17, Manuel's still technically ahead of the curve.

Your brother,

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

My Host Dad

Here's a picture of my host dad Bernardo Movando. He is the pastor of the church that sits in front of the house. Someday, I would like to talk to him about the Bible, but for now I can't speak Portuguese nearly well enough. Although strangely enough, we did have conversations about constellations in the southern hemisphere and American history.

This is him drinking Ricoffy. It's sold as coffee, but don't let the label fool you - it isn't. The family serves Ricoffy to me twice daily, and since I am a guest I feel obliged to finish whatever is given me. Luckily for me, before Moz I never drank more than a drop of coffee. Apparently Ricoffy tastes horrible; I have no basis of comparison. Oh, blessed ignorance!

Your brother,

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Friday, October 15, 2010

My Walk Home

Recently, I've started to look forward to my walk home from work. I guess that's not anything special to say, except that there's nothing particularly special about this walk. It isn't very far at all, maybe half a mile, but with the protruding rocks it isn't quite an easy walk. I wouldn't say it's particularly beautiful, either. The open sewers meander along the dirt roads and cut their way along the rock that Tete is mostly built on. Goats and ducks are everywhere and so is their smell.

In my neighborhood, Bairro Felipe Samuel Magaia, I am the only non-african. And no matter how good I think my tan is, I stick out. So much so, that when I first started walking to work, the children would yell one of three things to me, "China," "Chinese," and "Muzungu (the word for white in Nhungue)!" Being ethnically Japanese and growing up in Hawaii, that was definitely the first time I was ever called any of those.

Kind of annoyed, I started yelling back, "I'm American" and "This skin isn't white!" Eventually this Chinese turned into Americano. Which I thought was good progress, but not being good enough for me I would yell back the equivalent, "Mozambiki!" They'd smile and if they were brave enough they'd ask me for "mili (money, also in Nhungue)". To which I'd ask what their names are. They would spend five minutes explaining all their names to me; This is Eliza! This is Manolito! And they would forget the issue of money completely.

Recently, my new friends began calling out "Mano Estavan (big brother Stephen)" and "Estevan Americano (American Stephen)!" Seriously, no matter how bad my day gets, walking home to twelve kids yelling "Estevan Americano" always makes me chuckle. Sometimes they hold my hand and walk me home for a minute, which I like to imagine are tiny blessings they give me in their own way. And always they yell "Estevan Americano" until I can no longer hear them.

Your brother,

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

My Favorite Church Picture

You are probably sick of seeing pictures from my church. But seriously, that's like my favorite place in the world to take portraits.

In other news, it's 110 degrees F today and in a month we'll be getting up to 120. It's really darn hot right now, but I guess God's gotta make life fair sometimes, huh? Just today we found a soil sieve set so we can start classifying our soils collected by the dams. I've been talking about making one of those for a month out of chicken wire and scrap lumber. Jon and I were all smiles and high fives for the following 20 minutes.

Your brother,

Monday, October 11, 2010

My Work, Part Two

The Mozambican government built this concrete dam near the community of Marara a few years ago. It is gigantic, expensive, and, well, it doesn't exist anymore. We went out last week to assess what we could do with the remains. We can't do much, but I guess we can learn from what went wrong here. I listed a few things, but I'm hoping that some of you brainiacs out there can give me some insights here.

1) The first one is unbelievable, but according to the community members, the dam was constructed directly on top of the sand in the riverbed. They didn't excavate to bedrock before construction. So not only did it fail as soon as water started flowing under the dam, but the dam wouldn't have held water even if it stood. At best, it would have been a pretty concrete bridge across a shallow river.

2) The spillway is the portion of a dam that you build to allow water to leave the reservoir safely. Spillways are important for bigger floods because you don't want the river to leave the riverbed and flood neighboring areas. From what I could see, there wasn't much of a spillway on this dam. You can see a little notch at the top of the dam that I think served as the spillway, but I bet flood flows commonly exceed the capacity designed for in this notch. This dam probably would have caused major flooding in the area. So in a sense,the community is lucky the dam failed.

3) There is water in river late in the dry season. I'm not convinced the community would have benefited from a working dam, anyway. I'm no expert but if you asked me, the money would have been better spent working with the community to separate their water uses. In this picture, you can see a dog, cooking pots, children fetching water, and women doing laundry in the same stretch of river.

This is just overwhelming for me. And unfortunately, this is a common story of development work here in Africa. It makes you want to laugh, but mostly you don't know how to react. I sometimes swear, though I'm not proud of it (don't follow my example you FMCSF sunday school kids). But seeing this sure made me use some colorful language last week.

Your brother,

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

My Host Sister, Teresa

Here's the older of my two host sisters, Teresa. She wants to be a nurse or a farmer one day. Teresa also cooks amazingly well, which is lucky for me because she cooks almost all the meals for the family (I think), as well as sweeps and mops daily, and does laundry for her brothers and sister. She currently works as a secretary for the Frelimo office in Tete a couple days a week - the dominant political party here in Mozambique. Frelimo and its role in Mozambican politics is fascinating. But I suppose that's best left for another blog.

Your Brother,

My Picture

Here's a picture of a me when I first arrived to Moz. I had to take this for my visa. I wanted to post this for a while now so I can use this as a before picture; I've been trying to let my beard grow for a month. Needless to say, it looks horrible. I'm gonna wait another month before showing you guys my beard in all its patchy grandeur. In the meanwhile, I'm taking votes on how I should trim it.

Your Brother,

Monday, October 4, 2010

My Friend, Avozinha

Here's another photo from church. This is my friend, Avozinha. She speaks Nhungue, the native Bantu language here in Tete. It's pretty common for children to only start learning Portuguese once they start going to school. She hangs out with my host sister Joana a lot and I'll sometimes hang out with them when I'm sick of watching the Brazilian novelas my family loves to watch. Usually I'll have my guitar and usually I'll try to let them make up their own songs which I can play along to.

I just think she's ridiculously adorable. And I will probably be made fun of for using the word 'adorable.'

Your Brother,

My Host Mom, Lidia

Here's a picture of my host mom. Her name is Lidia. This is her bustin' a move during our sunday church service (which unfortunately was 104 degrees F and lasted for three and a half hours). I wish you could see her face in this photo. I tried to take a proper picture of her after church was done but I got stuck shaking everyones' hands and she fled the scene like the Hamburgler.

Beautiful church though, huh?

Your Brother,

My Host Brother, Jercio

Here's a picture of the younger of my two host brothers, Jercio (in red). As you can see, he is a stud. I think one of my favorite things about him is that I randomly hear him singing Nickleback songs in fake English. I don't actually like the band Nickleback, but I think it's really funny that they found their audience in Mozambique. Kudos. In related news, I also hear a TON of celine dion songs here, I suspect there is some kind of correlation.

Also, out of the whole family, I'd say he has the hardest time understanding my portuguese. No fault of his of course, my portuguese is legitimately bad.

Your Brother,

Friday, October 1, 2010

Me, Joana, and Some Dude I Don't Like

Here's another picture. For some reason, this guy has earned the title of being the only Mozambican I don't like. I even think he's drunk in this picture, I'm not sure. I kind of wish he wasn't in this picture, but I think it's funny that he just got up in it and posed with my guitar. Haha!

Your brother,

My Host Sister

Here's a pic of my host sister Joana. When I ask her, 'O que voce faz hoje (what are you doing today?),' she usually responds, 'vou escola e brincari (i am going to school and i will play).' She laughs almost constantly and watches cartoons in the morning before school. Like most Mozambicans, she only has school for 4 hours a day, because they phase the school day to accommodate everyone.

It was surprisingly difficult to get her to smile for the photo. Smiling for photos isn't very common here. I have no idea why.

Your brother,

Friday, September 24, 2010

My Favorite TV Show

There’s something that has been haunting me for a while now. There is this tv show that my host family loves to watch. It’s called Gugu. I don’t know what that stands for, but basically it’s the Brazilian version of the show Extreme Home Makeover. Every Sunday night, we gather round the tube to watch it. I don’t understand any of what is being said, but I’ve been learning a lot about the world by watching it with my upper middle class Mozambican family.

If you don’t know what Extreme Home Makeover is, the show basically selects a “needy” family in the states, sends the family on vacation for a couple weeks, and while they are out the producers get volunteers and contractors to build them a new home. But really the finished product isn’t so much a home as it is a palace. Usually a good portion of the start of the show is spent illustrating the unbearable living conditions the family used to live in, and usually a good portion of the end of the shows is spent on comparing the new and the old. A couple of new cars are given, sometimes a tractor, or something similarly ridiculous.

If it’s a good episode, the family will bawl their eyes out, the cameras will capture it all, and we all feel good about ourselves.

Gugu is very similar, but maybe half as extravagant. Brazil is solidly in the middle of the Human Development Index, so the starting home looks a little more run down than the American home. But the differences end there. A good amount of time spent on Gugu will highlight how the family didn’t have an electric stove to cook, usually how they don’t have enough beds for everyone, and maybe didn’t have a fridge to store food. The finished product isn’t so much of a palace as it kinda ends up a normal American home. A nice, new home complete with washer, drier, stove, and tv, but nothing ridiculous.

Exactly like the American show though, if it’s a good episode, the family will bawl their eyes out, the cameras capture will it all, and we all feel good about ourselves.

It’s all very moving.

But here’s what keeps me up at night:

I live in a middle class Mozambican neighborhood. Most of Mozambique looks like us. And no surprise, almost no house is as nice as the house shown in the beginning of each show. Almost none.

Almost no one has a refrigerator.

Almost no one has running water.

But a good number of homes have a tv.

Mud-wall houses will have a tv antennae sticking out the top and electrical wires running into the wall. And I’m willing to bet that we aren’t the only Mozambican family gathering around our tv on Sunday nights.

I don’t know what I’m trying to say, but I’ve been thinking.

I wonder what happens to our African brothers and sisters when our wealth is broadcasted on TV all day long across the world. Poverty is relative for sure, but there’s not much room for a relative world anymore with TV, internet, and cell phones.

I wonder if material poverty is less important than poverty of the soul. Houses here are humbler (of course there are mansions in this country, too), but no one works harder at keeping their house clean and chores done than a Mozambican mother. I’d say the biggest difference between Gugu homes, is that the homes on tv look like they’ve been given up on.

And I wonder if doing things FOR people actually robs people of their dignity and self worth; if there’s a point where building a mansion for a family subversively robs them of so much more. There is a time and place for emergency relief, for sure – like after Katrina or the earthquake in Haiti. But I don’t think that’s what those families on the show and the people of Mozambique need.

I don’t know what I’m trying to say, but I’m slowly learning that the restoration of things just isn’t good enough. There is a restoration of soul and of relationships that is gonna be crucial to the development of this nation. When the Portuguese left suddenly (technically they were forced out), they took a lot of the capacity needed to run the country with them. But that was around 40 years ago and the country is still here.

I believe in this country. Maybe it’s for us to figure out how to help but not get in the way.

Your brother,

Monday, September 20, 2010

My Room

Here's a photo of my new digs. As you can see, my room is awesome. In fact, it's arguably bigger than my room in San Francisco for which I used to pay 800 bucks a month.

Shout out to my Mennonite friends: 50 points if you can find the John Howard Yoder book in this picture.

Also, I promised Lauren to take more photos of my host family, but they don't like taking pictures until they are dressed to the nines. Which is convenient, because Mozambicans love getting dressed up and will often do it when they travel and go to church. I'll take some pics on Sunday and post em next week.

Your brother,

My Mailing Address

I should probably warn you that mail takes at least a month to get here. Sometimes it never comes. I am still waiting on some shirts that my parents sent me two weeks ago. Because of this, don't bother sending me anything valuable or perishable if, that is, you want to send anything at all. If you do decide send something despite all the warnings, pictures would be HUGE.

Also, we only check the mail about once a week, cause we never get mail anyway.

Here's my mailing address for Tete:

Stephen Esaki
Igreja Menonita
C.P. 165
Tete, Mozambique

Your brother,

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

My Back Yard

I've been totally slacking on my photos. Here's the view from my backyard.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

My Work

I’ve been reading this book that Jon (my MCC coworker) loaned me called When Helping Hurts. In it Miriam Adeney tells a story she once heard that I think is relevant to our work here:

Elephant And Mouse were best friends. One day Elephant said, “Mouse, let’s have a party!” Animals gathered from far and near. They ate. They drank. They sang. And they danced. And nobody celebrated more and danced harder than Elephant. After the party was over, Elephant exclaimed, “Mouse, did you ever go to a better party? What a blast!” But Mouse did not answer. “Mouse, where are you?” Elephant called. But Mouse did not answer. He looked around for his friend, and then shrank back in horror. There at the Elephant’s feet lay Mouse. His little body was ground into the dirt. He had been smashed by the big feet of his exuberant friend, Elephant. “Sometimes, that is what it is like to do mission with you Americans, “the African storyteller commented. “Is is like dancing with an Elephant.”

I guess as upper-middleclass American service workers in a foreign field, we are pretty guilty of this. Most of the time, we are trying to fit square pegs into round holes. We’ve got this baggage on how we think things should run, because these ways work so well in the West. And it’s not like I am telling you this with any authority. Shoot, I didn’t even know this was a problem until it was explained to me when I got here. I totally thought I was gonna do this great work, be some great guy, and leave.

We’ve got big hearts, but also big feet.

In our work, we are constantly running this risk.

So our work in Tete is to work alongside the Christian Council of Mozambique to work with communities who we think could benefit from added water security in the form of sand dams. CCM is the face of Christianity in Mozambique, it is highly respected and known to do good work. We’ve been given funding from this awesome organization called the Canadian Foodgrains Bank to provide sand dams that ultimately help to bolster food security in the country. The Mennonite Central Committee’s role in this is to represent the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, to transfer the money, and to provide technical engineering support.

I think the projects are amazing. I don’t have pictures of before and after just yet, but sand dams bring farming to areas that previously had none. It’s transformational.

The problem is that we are elephants. The challenge to CCM is that we need to select communities that can actually benefit from these sand dams. Which means many things. These communities need to use the dams, care for the dams, continue to want to fix the dams, and want to plant upstream of the dams. As embarrassing as this is, we’ve already got sand dams built that aren’t used by the communities in just the two years we’ve been doing the work here. We need these people to view their dams not projects they are doing for us. This is complicated by the fact that we provide food for work, which we distribute to each worker, since the construction is hard work. We should give this food. I think it is entirely right to give this food, but it only makes the community ownership problem worse, because they think they are getting paid to do our work.

Boy, this is hard work. Help, anyone?

Your brother,

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

My First Joke in Portuguese

I know I already told some of you this story already, but here's the story of my first joke in Portuguese. The story goes like this:

I was sitting in the living room with my host dad watching the evening news, which had spent its whole time covering the riot that was happening in Maputo (the capital city).
There were some videos on the news showing people looting stores. In one of the videos there was this woman running away with like five colorful big plastic buckets upside down over her head. She makes it like 100 yards, when the other rioters around her notice what's going on and they pull the buckets off her head and each try to get a bucket of their own.

I turn to my host dad and in terrible portuguese I say, "In America during riots, people steal televisions; In Mozambique during riots, people steal plastic buckets."

He busted up laughing and I was totally proud of myself for the rest of the night.

The thing about that story though, is that it actually explains a lot about the social-economic background here in Mozambique. The riot in Maputo was over the cost of bread and transportation that have been rising recently. I think it costs something like 5 Meticals for a single serving of bread and something like 10 Meticals to go somewhere around a mile on chapa (usually some beat up old toyota van ran privately instead of a bus system). The exchange rate is something like 37 Mets to the US Dollar and the average Mozambican makes somewhere around 40 US Dollars a month. So say you have a family of five and you are the average Mozambican. And each person eats a single serving of bread a day. There goes half your income.

Ok, so why buckets? Buckets are hugely important to life in Mozambique as they are used to wash clothes, flush toilets, do dishes, and bathe. And since water service is intermittent, water storage is pretty important.

Also, there was pretty heavy vandalism because of the riots, which is unfortunate because there were millions of dollars lost while the country just doesn't have millions of dollars to spare. I think Moz is like seventh from the bottom on the list of countries ranked on the Human Development Index.

Crazy, right?

Your brother,

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Sand Fleas

I don't know what they look like exactly, but sand fleas are these little insects that apparently burrow into your foot and live under your skin.

The reason I am telling you this is because I had noticed a bump on my big toe for a few days now and I was freaking out about. I was worried that it was some sort of staph infection or something. I even emailed my doc Jennifer and uncle Paul about this. For a few days I've been worrying over what it was, because it didn't hurt or itch. Anyway, I was messing with the bump last night when my host brother noticed it and pointed it out to the whole family. Everyone gathered around my foot and after some portuguese-english dictionary use, it was decided that I had a sand flea. They said they come from Maputo or Beira (they don't live in Tete) and that my 'muito grande' sand flea looked like it had been in there for five days.

So, five days ago I was in Beira visiting an orphanage with Melanie and Priscila. Later that night we ended up hanging out with one of the workers there, Heather, who told us that she had just removed a sand flea from her foot and that they are common at the orphanage because of the animals and the younger kids don't take the best care of their feet.

I woke up this morning to find that the little guy in my foot was actually a little gal, because she had ripped a slit in my skin and started laying eggs in the dried blood along the toe nail. So of course, I'm freaking out that the eggs had fallen into my bed or that I'll have a family of these guys in my foot. Thankfully, my host sister gets a needle out and cuts away the skin around the flea and pulls it out.

Over the next hour the hypochondriac in me starts inspecting every bump on my body and I show every one of em to my host mom who has a hearty laugh at my expense.

Bem Vindo Mocambique, eh?

Your brother,

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

My New Home

I don't even know where to begin the comparisons between the states and Tete. There really is none. I'll try to highlight some of the aspects of life that I think are pretty unusual - but I bet there are a surprising number of similarities that I am just taking for granted. Life is more difficult here, but it's pretty darn pleasant overall. I don't have any pictures yet, but they will come. I promise.

I live with a Mozambican middle class family. But it helps to remember that middle class here looks vastly different than the middle class in the states. We live in a concrete house with a tin roof. But we have neighbors with much less. That was a hard concept for me to grasp and I guess it still is tough for me. Our middle class and theirs are not even close. Their middle class seriously looks like those commercials you see for those sponsor a child programs. Seriously.

We have electricity but no running water. I've tried to help with fetching the water a few times. The spigot where we get the water from is in someone's front yard. Right next to that spigot lives some chicken, pidgeons, a family of ducks, some goats, and a pig. Kinda gross, but I filter my water - so no worries there (although my canteen that i use smells terrible on the inside right now for some reason).

We have two TVs but no refrigerator. Pai has a 50cc motorcycle, but it seems to be used only for going to town to pick up supplies for the family store that is operated right in front of the house in a grass shack (seriously).

We take bucket showers, which are surprisingly pleasant especially when the water is boiled in the kettle first. Far and away the best thing about bucket showers in Mozambique is that they are frequent. It seems pretty wasteful to take more than a shower a day coming from the states, but in Moz it's actually a great way to keep up hygiene and cool off in the summer. Which are incredibly important here.

The family has a bathroom sink and a toilet, both of which are not plumbed. They are pretty useless. Except at night, when it's too dark to pee outside. Only pee is allowed in the toilet for now. It sounds weird but this all makes sense because Tete is built on a gigantic rock. Water from flush toilets would have nowhere to go since infiltration of wastewater through the subsurface just isn't possible.

The family cooks with a little charcoal stove called a Fugao which makes the food delicious, but the kitchen unbearably hot. I can't imagine what it'll be like in the summer months. This morning, i woke up smelling a fire outside that was being used to warm hot water for my bath and later that same fire was used to fry fish. Again, delicious but crazy inconvenient.

Apparently even the people who have lived in Tete their whole lives also think it's a very hot place. There's a guy in my office who looks like Kanye West. Here's a quote from him, "They should send all the bad people to Tete, so that they can practice for Hell." Ridiculous!

Also, the concept of time here is very loose. My language teacher is 20 minutes late, which is why I finally have time to do some blogging.

He's here so I gotta go. Your brother,

Saturday, August 21, 2010

We Made It!

We spent five hours in London before heading down to Joburg. Here's a picture of me being a tourist in front of Big Ben:

That was actually a pretty heavy two days of traveling. We are now hanging out at this awesome guest house in downtown Maputo. I'll be here until thursday. As you can see, it's some pretty swanky digs:

I don't really have much to report except that Maputo is a beautiful city. Although poverty is definitely noticeable here. I'm gonna try to take some photos before I leave for Beira and then on to Tete, but I feel a bit odd walking around with a digital camera.

Also, I hear that Jon has found me a host family that I get to stay with for at least a few months. I think the father is a pastor and they have four kids. Sounds like a great family and I am stoked to be meeting them this week.

Apparently, Tete is hot (even by African standards) and has a lot of mosquitoes (even by African standards). For some reason, when I say I am going to be living in Tete for a year, I get strange looks and if they speak english they usually say "Tete is a very hot place." HA! I am a little concerned.

There is a rogue mosquito flying around my room that needs to be evicted asap. See ya.

Your brother,

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Southern California

Making a quick trip to Orange County. Here's a picture of me yucking it up with some of the awesome friends I have in Southern California. It's an oldie but a goodie.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Vision in Action

I was asked to give a quick talk at church a few months back about my "Vision in Action." Here it is:

You probably have already heard this statistic, but it goes something like 1.2 billion people in this world lack access to improved water sources and 2.4 billion people lack access to improved sanitation. As if that's not a big enough problem as it is, water related illness is the biggest killer of children in the developing world, many times more than HIV AIDs.

And when I really think about this there's something about that just doesnt sit right with me.

I can't really say what it is I hate about these statistics. Maybe it's shame for the amount of water i've wasted in my life. Or guilt that I've bought lots bottled water when tap is just fine. Probably, I hate it most because I live my life ignoring these statistics.

I'm moving to Mozambique in August to volunteer with the Mennonite Central Committee. I'm going to be volunteering a year to design and oversee construction of projects to,I hope, bring clean and reliable water to people in the Tete Province. For some background, I work in the water industry as a civil engineer - so this all kinda fits.

To be sure, my parents had a hard time with this idea - That I would leave my good and steady career here in the states to make no money in some 3rd world country. They think it's silly and irresponsible. They say I'm throwing away all i've worked for and that I'm ruining my career.

Sometimes I believe them. But most times, I think what I'm doing is right because I just can't help it. It's what I believe.

I'm supposed to be talking about my vision in action today, but I don't have a lot of my faith figured out just yet. I don't even think I have a 'vision' that I should be 'acting' toward. But here's what I think: I think that faith isn't about life after death. I guess I never actually cared if i end up in heaven or hell.
I think faith is supposed to be about life before death.