Monday, May 4
A full day today. Sat in on a meeting of the Nyungwe Bible translation team, made up of three local pastors working together with Swedish Wycliffe missionary Mikael. They are an impressive group – fun guys who seem to work well together. In talking with Mikael and Pastor Semo, the team leader, we learned a little bit more about the translation process. Sometimes the biggest challenges aren’t what you would think. One of the biggest hurdles the team has had to overcome is the difficulty of distributing translated Scripture portions. There are about 20,000 Nyungwe copies of the gospel of Matthew sitting in a closet in Nampula right now – hundreds of kilometers away from the Nyungwe language area. Shipping costs into Tete are prohibitive, and since the trip takes full two days, there are very few missionaries who make that trek and could rent trunk space. Even once the booklets make it, the job is not done. The people who need them the most live outside the city, scattered about in small, often hard-to-get-to villages. In the city, where the team has a greater network, pastors tend to be non-Nyungwe speakers, using either Portuguese or another regional language called Chewa.
Spent part of the afternoon in town, getting to know the city. Experienced one of those “we live in Africa” moments that you feel you just have to share with someone. We walked into a local coffee shop, and I wanted to buy two small notebooks for about 30 cents. Since I wasn’t carrying any small change, the store worker went outside to try to find the change from a friend at the store next door (a common practice here, since change often seems hard to come by). Meanwhile, we waited inside. It was a small, cramped space, yet I counted five young men who either ran the place or were friends of the guys who did. The one behind the counter, who seemed to be in charge, shouted over my head at his buddy near the window: “Get that big [computer] printer down from the top shelf.”
“That big printer” was wedged snugly between four smaller printers in a corner on the top shelf, which must have been upwards of eight feet high. To get up there, the friend had to climb up onto the lower shelves, which appeared to be rather weakly supported by a few removable braces, all the while supporting a good portion of his weight on one or both of two big expensive copy machines that sat along the other wall. I laughed to myself, though nervous that he could come crashing down at any moment – with all the printers – on top of the copier. What was I afraid of? He managed to come back down unscathed, printer in hand. The other guy never did find me change but told me to take the notebooks anyway.
Mikael’s wife Jeni drove us up a scenic local mountain in the afternoon on the way to pick up her kids from school. She is piloting a project for an organization called Little Zebra, which aims to publish and distribute books in the mother tongue. She keeps a supply of books handy in her glove compartment, and whenever asked for money she gives out books instead. Driving back down the mountain, she pulled over to talk with a group of kids on their way home from school. As if on cue, Elizabeth also rolled down her window and began pointing at pictures of local animals and sounding out the Nyungwe word for the kids. It seemed so natural for her to be doing this, that for a minute I forgot that she just arrived in Africa and doesn’t even speak Nyungwe! You could see the smiles starting to form on the kids’ faces as they saw their own language written, likely for the very first time. Whether we end up in Tete or elsewhere working with a different language, we would love to be able to do this sort of literacy promotion on the side.
Tuesday, May 5
Visited the provincial library with Jeni. As she met with the director to plan reading events for kids, I made a friend with one of the librarians, a young man who seemed proud to show me that his country has accomplished authors. In the afternoon, we watched the sunset on the Zambezi River over tea with a missionary couple from South Africa. I made a brief conversation with their Nyungwe-speaking house helper named Christmas. When I mentioned we had copies of the book of Matthew in his language, he asked if he could have one, then seemed very excited once the Bible was in his hands.
Wednesday, May 6
Walked all over town on a “scavenger hunt” to get to know the city of Tete. Confidence is key to getting along in Africa (and most places, I suppose). People enjoy conversation and human interaction, but they notice if you look uncomfortable and will often adjust their response accordingly. Yesterday we acted like we didn’t know what was going on – walking up very tentatively to store counters, feeling insecure about how badly we stood out. Today, we practiced being assertive. What that meant was walking right up to whoever looked like they were in charge, and asking my question – no matter how dumb it may have sounded. One of the things Jeni had jotted on our to-do list was to check the price of “contraplacada fina.” I didn’t know what that was, but it kind of sounded like a special cut of meat. So at the supermarket, I found the guy at the meat counter and asked for contraplacada fina. He looked a bit confused, yet matter-of-factly told me to follow him as he exited the store. Thinking we were only going next door, I didn’t bother telling Elizabeth, who was thoroughly engrossed in the toothpaste aisle at the time. We walked. And walked. My new friend – his name was “Risk” – scooted quickly, and I struggled to keep up. We turned the corner and traversed two full city blocks, finally crossing the street and entering a construction supplies store. Never would have guessed that I was actually asking about a type of signboard.
After that, we got locked in the park. We had been tired from walking all over town in the late morning sun, so we found a little park by the bridge and had a seat on a bench. A few schoolkids were also hanging out there when we went in. Next thing we knew, the chain link gate was closed and padlocked behind us. And the city park worker kept on moseying about, watering the plants, as if nothing had changed. She unlocked the gate for us when it was time to go. Must be something they do over the lunch hour, was all we could figure.
Thursday, May 7
Sat in again on the Nyungwe translation team in action. Got a little bored by the end of it. Maybe because most of the discussion was in Nyungwe and I wasn’t really sure what details they were discussing. As they discussed whether the translation of 2 Corinthians would be understood by Nyungwe people, it occurred to me that I don’t really understand 2 Corinthians either. Imagine trying to translate a complicated letter of Paul for a culture without study Bibles, commentaries, or YouTube preachers. Paul’s writing style is complex, and his message rooted in particular historical circumstances – more so for this letter than for others. No, 2 Corinthians definitely isn’t where I’d start if I was going to translate the Bible. Still, you can’t avoid it because it’s in there, and in between Paul’s talk of commending himself and boasting foolishly and proving his superiority to the super-apostles, there are gems about walking by faith and reconciliation and new creation. Quite an interesting book, actually. I think I’ll study it again.
Friday, May 8
I bought a shirt by accident at the market today. The guy was selling polos, and since I didn’t bring a large wardrobe with me to Africa, I was eyeing the designs to see if there were any I might like. I asked the price just out of curiosity. My first mistake was not walking away just then but instead continuing to show interest. The vendor noticed this and insisted that I pick a shirt and try it on. There is a reason I try to avoid store workers when I go shopping back home. They are far readier to help me than I am to decide what I want help with. Next thing I knew, I was being asked to make an offer. What he actually said was, “How much do you have to spend?” I hemmed and hawed but eventually answered the question. Truth is, I really didn’t want to buy the shirt even at the price I stated. He tried to up my “offer,” but I said no, not today, and turned to walk away. Next thing I knew, he was putting the shirt in a bag. “For 500 meticais?” I asked (the price I had offered). He nodded. We had made a deal.
Turns out I must have what it takes to be a good bargain shopper: indecision. As I stand there and think and make excuses, I’m not trying to drive the price down; I’m really just trying to make up my mind whether I want the product or not. The longer I stand motionless, the further the price drops. The rub is that it’s not very polite to barter with a vendor and then walk away. At a certain point, your interest signals that you want what he’s selling, and if he’s willing to cut a reasonable deal then the onus is on you to accept it. Maybe one day I’ll be relaxed enough to enjoy interacting with market vendors. Until then, I’d better practice saying no and make lists of what I want before leaving home.
Saturday, May 9
Had an amazing opportunity to visit a Scripture “community testing” session. This one deserves a post all to itself so we can include more pictures.