Name: Rebecca Standen
Hometown: Riverview, New Brunswick (River of Life Mennonite Brethren Church)
Assignment: In 2014, I worked with Mozambican colleagues from the Christian Council of Mozambique teaching vegetable gardening and introducing conservation agriculture techniques in rural communities in Tete Province. This year, I am teaching a six-month conservation agriculture course in a different province, with more of a focus on high school students.
Joys: Getting to know people and having people get to know you. Applying my interest in science in a way that is meaningful to people’s daily lives. Always learning new things: languages, life skills, songs, foods...
“I feel so welcomed when community members remember me by name and greet me in their local dialect.”
Also, I never would have had the imagination to put these things on my bucket list before, but now I’ve done them:
- riding a motorcycle through the African bush
- riding with a basket full of chickens on my motorcycle
- eating warthog
- experiencing Victoria falls
- being able to speak four languages (and counting)
- swimming in the Zambezi River.
Challenges: For someone who has never liked being the centre of attention, I can never avoid it now. Also, I’ve been here over a year and can speak pretty well in Portuguese, but I’m still learning the subtleties of communicating what I mean to say and understanding what people are really trying to tell me.
Learning from farmers: I’ve never before experienced so closely the cycle of planting, growing, harvesting, storing, eating, as a means of living. Sure, we grew vegetables in our backyard, but it was a hobby and we could always buy seeds the next year. It’s another thing when the food you grow is not just food. It’s also the seed for next year’s crop so you will have something to eat then too. I'm always aware of that when I'm visiting a farmer's house with my co-workers, and we are served a plate of fresh peanuts to snack on. I have a choice then, to feel guilty or to feel thankful for the gift graciously given. One separates us, the other draws us together.
Some of my favourite foods: River fish; cassava; breakfast cereal made with the fruit of the baobab tree; other fruits. One of my friends was jealous when she heard that my family has apple trees in Canada. She said she dreams of how lovely it would be to pick fresh apples from a tree in your yard. I said, “What about the mangoes, papayas, guavas, and bananas that you have here?”
Shrimp coconut curry: I lived with a host family while I was doing language study in Beira. My host mother Melita Madiera is an amazing cook and one of my favourite dishes of hers is shrimp coconut curry made with fresh local ingredients.
- 2-3 medium-sized tomatoes
- 1 small onion
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 2 tablespoons oil
Dice tomatoes and onion and crush garlic. Cook in a pot with oil until soft but not brown.
- 1.5 pounds shrimp, removed from shells
Add and cook until the colour of the shrimp changes.
- 1 teaspoon curry powder
- bay leaf (optional)
- salt and pepper to taste
- About 1.5 cups coconut milk (or milk from two coconuts)
Mix into pot. Cook six to 10 minutes until boiling and thickened. If you’re using smaller shrimp, reduce time by a few minutes in order to not overcook them.
Serve over rice.
Living off the grid: Last year, I spent weekends with a host family in the city. There, we had water and electricity (most of the time). During the week, however, I lived in a rural community (Capinga) with a few of my Mozambican colleagues so we could be closer to the communities where we worked. There was no electricity or running water in the village, so we had to get water from a hand-pump well a couple of kilometres away.
We were fortunate. Since we had motorcycles, we could go fill up 25-litre cans of water and bring them back to our house to use. Everyone else in the village brought their dishes and clothes down to the well or the river to wash. Unlike other women in the community, my colleague and I could bathe in the outdoor bathroom (which had walls but no roof) by our house, instead of going to the well. It's a different perspective to realize you are privileged because it only takes 10 minutes there and back on a motorcycle to get another jug of water.
I loved spending the weeks out in Capinga. In the city, whenever the power went out, I would get annoyed, thinking of all the important things I wanted to do that needed electricity... going on Facebook, blogging, boiling water in the kettle, watching soap operas with my family. But in Capinga, there never was electricity, yet the evening hours passed easily.
On faith: My assignment in Mozambique as a three-year service worker with MCC and my previous assignment in Cambodia in 2012-2013 (through MCC’s Serving and Learning Together Program) have both impacted my faith in very different ways. In Cambodia, I was living with a Buddhist host family. There was no church nearby where I was living, and the church I did get to every month or so was in Khmer language. There, I knew I had to be disciplined, and though Christian community is vital in the long run, for the short time I was there, I grew immensely spiritually. I knew what it was to rely on God for everything. In Mozambique, it has been a different journey. I go to a United Baptist Church with my host family. I can understand most of the songs we sing. In some ways it has been more challenging to grow spiritually here because I can check those things off a list (prayed with my small group, sang songs in church, etc.) but neglect to set aside meaningful quiet times. But then I remember that those quiet times are equally important, and I pull out my journal again.
Finding spiritual sustenance: There are many things that I rely on, for example journaling, special verses my grandmother has shared with me, time alone walking or bird watching, music and so on. The thing I've come to learn over the past couple years though is the way I receive sustenance doesn't have to stay the same. Things I used to think I needed to stay strong spiritually, I just don't have here (like going for walks somewhere where there are no people). But I've come to discover and appreciate other things instead. The source of my daily bread is the same, but the way I get it looks different now.