I’m writing this blog on our way back from Xai Xai, heading to Maputofor the night. I know others have written about the work we’ve done with the families to build three beautiful homes—a powerful experience for sure. But I’d like to briefly write about the other community we’ve been actively engaging in creating at our place of residence for the past week, the oddly named Honey Pot Lodge.
My personal favorite time of the day is first thing in the morning. And I mean first thing. Often well before 6 a.m., without fail, a group of us always gathers to drink coffee and laugh about the previous nights’ shenanigans.
Yes, there has been much tomfoolery. And while we do have a general theme that whatever happens at the Honey Pot, stays at the Honey Pot; it would be sad to not at least document some highlights here:
- An unbelievably infuriatingly broken door, resulting in the decision to give up on doors and happily coexist with the mozzies (mosquitoes). Malaria Smalaria.
- Full moon making an impressive appearance at the camp fire.
- A giant bear living in the cabin with the propensity to surprise.
- Monkey poo (enough said).
- Unresolved conflict brewed as we couldn’t verify anything on Wikipedia resulting in us having to “trust” each other.
- Inability to master the English language as was made ever more evident when we couldn’t agree how to spell a very important word.
- The existence of Whispering Pines.
- Puns. Puns. And more puns. An eye rolling amount of punny puns.
- Group hugs!
- And Ann even wrote a theme song…
Many have discussed the fact that we have such a uniquely talented group and could easily survive if the world were to end and we were the only ones left. I’m not sure about this, especially because I’ve been told that my job duties would entail procreation and beautician (because I was the only one who brought nail polish with me, much to the confusion of everyone…) What’s apparent though is that we don’t have to wait for the world to end to create a new community, when clearly we’ve already done such a good job doing so here.
In conclusion: Mozzies Ahead. Be Aware. Mozzies Sting. Please Spray. Malaria.
Rebecca Lucero – Team Member
Parents back home will travel miles and spend hours attending the next sporting event that their children are participating in. Hovering parents sometimes get in the way of allowing the apron strings to be untied once their children go off to college. One of the cultural barriers that I personally had a hard time with was watching how children in the villages are put in a situation where they have to grow up and take on more responsibilities at the early ages of three or four.
As most of my students at Cumberland High School know, I have quite the collection of shoes. Yes, I’m a shoe-a-hol-ic. My evening routine consists of planning out my wardrobe attire for the next day. It did not take me long to realize that the tattered stained t-shirts of the children were worn day after day. Most of them had no shoes and some of them walked around with only one, and they cherished this one shoe. I don’t think I will be visiting DSW anytime soon.
As we worked our muscles to their max hauling buckets of rocks, mortar and sand, shoveling, spackling and carrying block, (Jillian Michaels has nothing on this daily workout) their tiny faces would peek around the trees, watching from afar with curiosity. They have no TV, no internet, no VIDEO GAMES!!! I did notice a few cell phones here and there.
Although we were supposed to be working, Cristen and I decided that we needed to bring some play time to the site and we began to scheme and plan. On day one we tried to show them to play “Patty Cake” until we got two-thirds of the way through it and realized that we couldn’t remember all the words. The kids didn’t care as they couldn’t understand what we were saying anyway, but laughed along with us. Day two we branched out to “Duck Duck Goose!” which was a huge success even though it turned into “Duck Duck DUCKY!!!” Day three we went all out and created relay races with spoons and rocks instead of eggs, three legged races tied with our bandanas and the plunger race using our spatula utensils from our cabin. Other activities included drawing and coloring thanks to Penny and Maggie (aka “The Peggys), dancing by putting their feet on our feet to the tunes of the major 1990’s music coming from the next door neighbor (It was a mystery of where the actual music was coming from or how it was being played.), and continuous high fives mainly because they wanted to smell the Purell hand sanitizer on their hands.
There was no other joy than listening to the laughter and seeing the smiles that stretched from cheek to cheek. There was no other warmth than having a child who does not speak my language crawl right into my lap wanting to be embraced. There was no other elation than to be standing around waiting for the next bucket of mortar run than to have a tiny warm hand reach up for mine and just stand in peace. The overall joy of this whole experience was sharing the connection with my own child. An experience that words cannot express as it has to be felt.
I was told if I typed up a blog entry I could go to the office to upload it and be able to check the internet afterwards. My motives may not be pure. (Hello to everyone back in the States!)
We just finished dinner after Day Two. I am trying hard not to watch Champions League football (known as soccer to some) on the TV here in the dining hall at the Honey Pit Lodge nearXai Xai,Mozambique. After two days of work, we are physically exhausted but emotionally exhilarated. There are some high-maintenance folks in the group (okay, only me), but everyone is energetic, positive, eager to work, and easy-going. I don’t remember an application process, but TCHFH did a great job screening people for this trip. Or, maybe, great people are drawn to great things like this.
Of course, this group doesn’t hold a candle to the folks I met on the Costa Rica Global Village trip in February. (MyMozambiquetrip-mates don’t have internet for another nine days, so by the time they read this they’ll be long gone and unable to hurt me.)
We are working with the community to build three homes for three families in a village about 20 minutes outside of Xai Xai. Everyone in the village lives in huts with dirt floors. Habitat for Humanity requires that future homeowners provide sweat equity, but I have no idea how they track the fact that seemingly every neighbor is voluntarily involving themselves in the process. Even the children are helping haul cinder blocks. It is humbling and inspiring.
These houses are not elaborate – only two small rooms, cinder block walls, concrete floors, and a metal roof that is a huge improvement over the thatch they currently sleep under. We were greeted by an opening ceremony of music and dancing on Monday, and the hospitality has not stopped. We have had lunch cooked by the members of the community; they don’t have to do that, but they won’t stop even if told to. I received a hug this morning from an old lady. We did not share a language, but the embrace spoke volumes. During breaks, the children imitate and laugh at my (totally outstanding) dance moves. We played football yesterday using a ball of rolled up plastic bags.
It is easy to say the situation is hopeless here. The country is still recovering from a brutal civil war 20 years ago, HIV/AIDS is rampant, poverty is ever-present, the life expectancy is only in the low-40’s. But it’s far from hopeless. The people are resilient, positive, welcoming, hard-working, and perpetually grateful. There is indeed abundance here, a true positive spirit that is often lacking in my own life back in the States. Everyone says it’s so great that I can give by going on trips like this, but I am getting ten times more than I can ever give by pushing wheelbarrows of wet cement. I’m making new friends, creating amazing memories, getting a pretty decent workout, and making a real impact on the lives of people half a world away. I don’t think it gets much better than this.
Jon Slock, Habitat Young Professionals Network member
The anticipation of our first build reached enormous highs, apparent by the early rising of theteam hours long before the mandatory “wake-up time.” Rumor has it some team members didn’t sleep at all.
We boarded the bus and headed off to a warm Mozambican welcome with song and dance and smiles as vast as the Indian Ocean.
Trista, one of our most experienced team members, calls Mozambique her second home. With five children and a full life at home, she jokes this is her African family, and it is immediately clear why: team members cried at watching the joy between Trista and Mama Aida’s embrace and the greeting from our builders Pedro and Lucash. I think that many of us are also feeling at home here, and it is only the end of day one.
On the build site our homeowners worked with tremendous vigor without hesitation to see their new life take shape. But in perhaps the most moving turn of events, the entire village took part. They all had a visible drive to better themselves through selflessness as they worked to see their village change, and that was the most moving change of all.
The transition that occurs when anyone leaves their home and family is always a meaningful one because upon return, they bring back a renewed sense of purpose and a far greater depth than could ever hope to achieve in the lap of luxury. Women have a very different life experience in a civilization with few protections for their civil and legal rights, and with such a tragic level of HIV and infant mortality. We have learned this is why HabitatMozambiquefocuses their efforts inGazaProvincenear the city ofXai Xai.
Habitat’s impact has gone further than building homes. During our welcome ceremony we learned that in the short time that they have been building here, the attitudes towards women working on homes has changed. Women who once thought of it as “men’s work” are now building alongside volunteers and have even joined us on the scaffolding. At times there are so many women volunteering on the site that the men find themselves standing on the side lines. This is truly remarkable in a culture that limits women’s rights. As Mama Aida says “Times are changing, because of the example volunteers set”
At the end of day one we are a bit tired, our muscles are a little sore, but we are content and eager to learn what tomorrow might bring.
Will Stahle, Team Member, Woodbury MN
There’s just so much to tell, I’m just not sure where to begin…so I’ll just start with “We’re finally here!”
After a very long journey, we are in Xai Xai, just north of Maputo, and we are getting ready to build tomorrow (Monday) and to make new homes for wonderful and deserving families.
Just so folks at home know what it took to get here: there are 21 of us traveling from Minnesota, Wisconsin and New York and we all arrived on different days on different flights. Some of us flew through DC andDakar, some flew throughAtlantadirect toJohannesburg. We all went through Jo’berg toMaputo. All totaled up together it was about 20 hours of travel in air (without stops or layovers) - what a journey! Everyone fared it well and we’re all set and ready to go, with only a little bit of jet lag still catching up with a few of us.
Those of us who came early spent Saturday enjoying the sunshine, the hotel pool, putting our feet in the Indian Ocean and getting to know each other. By Saturday evening most of us had arrived and we met our hosts from the National Office and had a wonderful dinner at a seafood restaurant. We enjoyed some of the world’s best prawns! It was delicious.
Today (Sunday) we got up bright and early (8am Mozambique time, which is 1am Minnesota time) and we went off to the Art Market where we all bought lovely souvenirs and practiced our bartering skills. Some of us were better than others, but in the end we supported the local economy and got some fun things to share with friends and family at home, including these great pieces of artwork on fabrics made with wax. As I’m typing I can’t remember what they’re called but they’re incredible! I think if I had spent any more time there I would have an entire suitcase full of them. <(There is a photo of those too.)>
After our trip to the market, a few of us went to the Natural History Museum and then we had to get on the bus to drive to Xai Xai (about 4 hours by bus north of the city) where we’ll be building for the week. It was an easy drive and quick, with only 1 bathroom stop where we had to pay 5 meticais or about 17 cents in US Dollars for each person to use the cleanest toilets in all ofMozambique. (Seriously, they are known for how clean they are!)
We made it to our lodging around 4pm and spent a few hours getting used to our surroundings and enjoying each others’ company. We had dinner and orientation with the Mozambique affiliate where we learned about the families that they serve, the work that we’ll be doing, and how Habitat Mozambique does their work. We are all looking forward to putting in a day’s work and getting to know the families throughout the week.
I always knew that this trip was going to be a great adventure and so far it has been nothing but amazing. We have an incredible group of people traveling together with a desire and a passion to serve others and make the world a better place. It’s an awesome experience and it’s only just begun.
With our trip just days away, our team is busy settling up last minute details before departing on their journey to the other side of the world. Visits to the travel doctor and pharmacy for our vaccines and malaria pills along with last minute trips to the store to pick up travel size toiletries have built up the excitement of the trip.
For me personally, every time I travel something big seems to happen at home. Last year my dear mother-in-law came to help my husband with our 5 children and fell and broke her leg on her first day at our house. This year, I’ve decided to just embrace it – I’ve already been down with the flu, had a little pink eye, and yesterday our washing machine sprung a major leak, putting it out of commission. But as my good friend and fellow team leader, Cristen Incitti told me last year “something really big must be in store for you in Mozambique”.
You can read our blog postings from last year to get just a sense of how incredibly powerful the trip was for all of us. That’s likely part of the reason at least some of this year’s participants are making the journey. For me the trip last year was life changing enough that I am eagerly awaiting this year’s trip. Those who know me well know I usually don’t go to the same place twice. (I also don’t watch movies more than once or re-read books.) I’m kind of an “experience it once kind of person”. But, Mozambique is very different. A full year has passed and not a day goes by when I don’t think of Eliot, a blessed 13 year old boy who captured my heart and forever enlightened my soul.
Eliot, who shares the name of my Grandfather, was the oldest boy living in the village where we built. Each day when we arrived on site he would lead the other children in a large pack calling out our names to greet us. The energy and excitement was intoxicating. We are reveled in our celebrity but, the real celebrities were the children, and for me; Eliot. Each day he would try to teach me a new word or show me something he had made out of wire or sticks and in return I would teach him a song or a few words in English. He held my hand as we walked from work site to work site. Being a mother of 5 boys, I often wondered if my own sons would be able to survive the life Eliot had endured, and with the spirit of gratitude Eliot displayed.
He made the connection to Mozambique very real for me, and since leaving, I’ve wondered if Eliot might still be there, or that just for a moment he might remember me as I have him. I wonder what has happened in the past year for Eliot and if he is happy. Whenever I feel a little overwhelmed or stressed I think of Eliot and how his smile beamed even though he had little.
Each of us will have a different experience and each will undoubtedly return with a treasured gift. Cristen was right last year: something amazing was in store for me, and it will be for the rest of the team this year. So families, if things fall apart in our absence… hang in there. I can assure you that your sacrifice will be worth it for us and for those we will serve. In the words of my friend Eliot “Thank you/ Kaninmambo!!”
Trista Matascastillo, Government Relations Senior Associate
The last day began the same as the others, but we were treated to seeing a troop of monkeys and beyond Santa Cecilia we saw two men with a team of oxen hitched to a wagon. Mauricio stopped the bus and allowed people to take photos.
The men noticed us taking pictures and turned the oxen to present a better view, waved and smiled. This response was typical of the Costa Ricans all week:
friendly and willing to help.
On the job site the workers were assigned our daily tasks. Digging drain fields, mixing and carting cement, washing floors, hauling dirt, rocks, and sand. By this time we felt like old hands, but the work was as hard as it was on the first day. As usual our team was up to the challenge, and we persevered.
The families thoughtfully prepared an American barbeque for our final lunch, with burgers and hot dogs with all the trimmings.
The kids from Santa Elena also filed in to join us for lunch, and the smiles on their faces again made us feel appreciated.
Afterwards, the kids were eager to get in front of the camera, as we slower-moving adults enjoyed their enthusiasm.
Then came a pinata, a soccer game, balloon animals, and duck-duck-gray duck. When the piñata spewed candy, it was a free-for-all and the sweets disappeared in short order. The following soccer game was played with skill and with spirit.
We then packed up and bid our good-byes to the masons, the families, and the worksite. We were engulfed by equal parts happiness and sadness as we headed out one last time from Santa Elena.
Written by Louis Winslow and Terry Hatchitt (team members)
The day started out with a small group that meets every morning to greet the most incredible sunrise that God offers.
The “Three Amigos”, Ron, Nancy and Mo, among others, assemble with our coffee cups and greet the sun. The usual breakfast offering of eggs, fruit, or “typical tico” breakfast awaits. Shortly thereafter we’re on our way for a 2-hour bus-ride to the site –a beautiful meander through the Costa Rica landscape– devotions are shared, conversations are had and we are ready for our day. Volcan Orosi resides in the distance adjacent to Lake Nicaragua, storm
clouds form overhead, and the ever-present rainbow blesses our day ever
since we arrived - we feel God’s seal of approval of our daily work.
The “Ides of March” - a full day of intense work – mixing cement and moving piles of earth.
After four days of working together, it seems as though the bonds are growing ever stronger. This has turned from a group of people gathered for a similar purpose to a family that laughs, works, and has learned to love each other for each of our unique attributes. We’ve become a community. Although the challege here is tiring and intense, we all feel it’s a wonderful way to do God’s work.
Our gratitude goes out to Habitat teammates….they are some of the most amazing people. They gather us together, organize our day, keep us motivated and bring out the best in us…no small chore. Hat’s off...Mary, Noah, Leah, Wadel, Katie, Dave….and driver extraordinaire “Mao”, you are our heroes!
Today was one pleasant surprise after another. The first happened on our bus ride: one of our team members read an American-Indian prayer. It hit home because it not only reminded us of our weaknesses, but also of the importance of strength and faith in everything we do. Thanks to those thoughtful words, everyone was inspired to put that much more energy into the work they are doing.
Following the inspirational prayer, the second surprise was an amazingly beautiful rainbow. For the third day in a row, this sight has cheered us up as we head out to site.
Next, after a Wednesday filled with hard work, Veronica, the head of one of the families, invited us to her home for lunch. Veronica’s family and their friends taught our team some highlights of cooking traditional Tico food. Delicious specialties, such as empanadas and Quajada cheese were devoured before some team members decided to play with the local children. Soccer, as well as soap-bubbles and balloon-animals where highly enjoyed by everyone.
As if the day hadn’t been great enough already, one of the team leaders proposed to take the team to a secluded beach to watch the sunset. Sitting all together on the beach, enjoying each other’s company, we couldn’t imagine a better way to end this surprisingly beautiful day.
Judy VanOsdel (GV team member) and Cristina Cordero-Rosales (GV translator)
Below is the devotion read this morning:
Oh Great Spirit whose voice I hear in the winds Whose breath gives life to the world Hear me.
I am small and weak.
I need your strength and wisdom.
Let me walk in beauty and
Make my eyes ever behold the red and purple sunset.
Make my hands respect the things you have made And my ears sharp to hear your voice.
Make me wise so that I may understand the things you have taught my people.
Let me learn the lessons you have hidden on every leaf and rock.
I seek strength, not to be superior to my brother, but to fight my greatest enemy-- myself.
Make me always ready to come to you with clean hands and straight eyes, so when life fades, as the fading sunset, My spirit will come to you without shame.
(american indian - lakota - chief yellow lark - 1887)
Whenever I really like something, I usually talk it up to a friend and
then, somehow, some way, when I introduce them to it, they aren't as thrilled as I am. The perfect example is a certain song. I absolutely LOVE this
song… right now, in this instant, THIS song is the best, most
meaningful assemblage of notes ever created. But no one ever quite
gets it (what is wrong with them??) and so I go back to enjoying the
song -- a little less than before, sadly -- and I also naively look
forward to the next time I can try convince friends that another song
is the BEST. It always ends the same way: myself in awe, exclaiming "What do you mean you don’t love it?!"
But then there are these trips.
Finally, something even I can't over-hype...
On our first build day, Ever showed up on site. Ever is a
thirteen-year-old boy with a faux-hawk – a common hairstyle around
here – and he is the son of Ninosca, one of the future homeowners of a
Habitat home in Santa Elena. Getting his first smile was tough. It
required more than a small amount of effort from our team’s most gifted
entertainers. But once that initial shell of shyness started to
crack, Ever curiously patrolled between groups of people doing their
various jobs. By the end of the day, he was at ease responding to the
group’s questions and attempts at silliness. He eagerly talked about
playing soccer and rooting for his favorite pro team. He told us he had
friends who would also be moving into the neighborhood and, as I would
have done at his age, he looked away and ineffectively tried to subdue
a grin when asked if he had a girlfriend.
During our second day of building, there were about 15 children,
including Ever, who came over to check out the action on site. I had
planned to save our “cultural exchange” activity for Friday, but after
seeing a group of kids running across the soccer field wearing balloon
hats and flailing balloon animals above their heads, I was reminded
that some plans succeed most when they go astray. I walked over to
find Ken, our very own balloon animal artist, surrounded by more kids,
awaiting their new dogs or giraffes or monkeys. The number of smiles
on our site had, in a day, increased exponentially. It’s a trend that
isn’t likely to change course.
This summer, Ninosca, her husband Johel, Ever, his three siblings
and the rest of the family will move out of a crowded wooden structure
with a dirt floor, one room, and an outdoor kitchen, and into a
sturdy, secure house that will have space for the family and reliable
utility service. Thirty-seven other families will make similar
The background music of squeaky wheelbarrows, clanking shovels, and
the laughter of both kids and workers will continue tomorrow, the next
day, and when future Global Village groups arrive to play their parts.
It is improvised, unrecorded music, but it will be remembered. What
it may lack in consistent tempo and hummable phrases, it more than
makes up for in harmony. Believe me, it’s one of the best songs you’ll
--Noah Keller, Global Village Team Leader