Wednesday, January 26, 2011

My Mozambique Email Update #4

I realize that I sent out this email with the subject "Update #3." I hate emailing out a mistake, but I also hate spamming my friends and family. It's not like I'm writing for the LA Times (OC Register, SF Chronicle, Fresno Bee, The Garden Island...) or anything, but sorry anyway.

Dear Family and Friends,

I hope this letter finds you well. I had some time to think about you and I felt a little homesick while in Beira, waiting for a bus ride to Tete. So be sure that there was someone in Mozambique wishing you well for the holiday season and the new year. The month of January, I’ve learned, is named after the Roman god Janus, who was said to have two faces – one in front and one in back. And as the symbolism suggests, this month we often reflect upon the past while at the same time looking ahead for what’s to come. When we do this, we are in a sense peering into two infinities, past and future, which come crashing together in this moment, right now.

To honor the tradition, during these past six months we’ve completed the design of four new dams. In fact, construction has already begun for two of those dams. Much of my time has been spent improving the accuracy of the underlying calculations, while trying to make them accessible and understandable to our Mozambican coworkers. I just came back from observing construction practices in the field and working to reconcile them with our designs on paper. The work has been very satisfying, and I am looking forward to seeing my first dam fully constructed.

For the next six months our plan is to complete ten dams in total. One thing that I would like to learn more about is how to improve community ownership of these water projects and how to promote overall community development. I’ve been slowly realizing that this type of work can only occur in relationship, which means I should start spending more time in the communities getting to know the people we work with. I think my Portuguese is finally good enough to hold conversations, though I still miss many simple sentences. Compounded to that, many of the communities we partner with may only have ten percent or so fluent Portuguese speakers, the rest knowing only Nhungue or other Bantu languages.

It’s a little hard to believe that I’ve spent that much time here in Mozambique and I’m halfway through my SALT term. I am learning to call this country home, even though I know that soon I will return to California. And as I said, I found myself homesick this month. I think part of it was because of the speed at which life happens at home without me. When I left, I knew that life would go on, but it’s nonetheless surprising how much life has gone on. I guess I could see a lot of my friends progressing in life and love, in career and relationships, and thriving. As happy as I am for them, I felt left behind, like I’m not quite advancing in the same big steps though life.

As Americans I think we tend to view the future as this vast, linear infinity that we build toward, save for, or fight against. Yet in Ecclesiastes there is this simple reminder that ‘all the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.’ For me it seems my future isn’t linear, and maybe it never was. I hate to admit it, but I’ve struggled with comparisons to classmates and even friends, because they all seem to ‘get it’ and I don’t. For me, like Ecclesiastes, the sun sets and the sun also rises and the earth abides. I am happy, though, that my path bends because it means that someday too our paths will cross and we will walk together again. Thank you for this opportunity.

Your Brother,
Stephen Esaki


  1. I think this is my favorite post. Good stuff!

  2. Hi Stephen,

    I fall into the grass-is-greener-on-the-other-side trap all the time. Just know that your peers are thinking the exact same thing. You're not alone. Count your blessings.