Thursday, January 27, 2011

My Coworker's House

My coworker's house in Caphaia.

FYI, no alarm clock in the world is better than a goat peeing on your tent at 5:00 in the morning.

Your brother,

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

Sunday, January 23, 2011

My Sister's Birthday

The other night, I was invited to attend Joana’s 10th birthday party. I had never been to a Mozambican party before, so I was excited cause I wanted to see what they’re like. Turns out they aren’t too different from an American birthday party – the tune to happy birthday is the same (just a little slower, in Portuguese, and more clapping on the downbeat) and there are the gifts, dinner, cake, and party favors.

When I arrived, the ten or so little girls were already busy dancing in the living room, which had been decorated with balloons taped to the beams on the ceiling. I stayed outside talking to Joana’s brothers on the veranda until it was time for dinner. Mother and sister served dinner and there was a can of coke for each of the adults and one for the birthday girl.

When it was time for presents, the gifts that the guests brought were white envelopes carrying about 30 to 50 Mozambican meticais each (current exchange rate is 32 meticais per US dollars). For context, the median Mozambican earns about 40 USD per month, although that number is not representative of Tete. We all clapped when each envelope was open and Teresa announced the amounts. Then Joana opened a new shirt from her parents Lastly, she opened a gift from her siblings that turned out to be a new doll.

Haha, there was this noise that Joana made when she saw the doll. It was this “mmm” sound that climbed in pitch and trailed off in volume. In the course of the night, she would periodically go back and check on her new doll, making that same noise each time. It was the same old gift giving you see at every birthday party in the States, but not quite. I am not sure I’ve ever seen gift giving like that. In that moment, I felt years cultural consumerism sloughing off. It was so humble that it was clear it was genuine or maybe even pure. I just couldn’t help but be a little convicted, but mostly I just felt refreshed (is that the word I'm looking for?). It was nice to see.

I hope to remember this for a long time.

Your brother,

P.S. Speaking of birthdays, tomorrow is my brother Ryan's birthday in Hawaii. Happy birthday bro-sef.