Mozambique 2010

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There and back again

July 4, 2010

It seems to be an unwritten rule here that all buses going on long trips must leave at 4:00AM. I discovered this last week, when I took three separate bus trips around Mozambique with Lemos, a Mozambican man who works part-time here on the SIL Center assisting Roland with the computer and finance departments. From Saturday to Tuesday we visited the team working on the Sena language translation in the city of Beira, then from Tuesday to Thursday we were in the city of Quelimane visiting the Chwabu language team. Both teams are now entirely comprised of Mozambicans, which is neat to see, but which also means I heard a whole lot of Portuguese this week.

I present a Handy Map to satisfy your geographic curiosity that will undoubtedly arise as you read the following paragraphs. Click on a marker to show its name.


View Mozambique in a larger map

So on Saturday morning, Lemos picked me up at 2:30AM, and our bus departed on time at 4:00. It was a very nice bus, for which I was extremely thankful since we didn't arrive in Beira until 9:30PM, after 17.5 hours of riding the bus. (Incidentally, I think that's about how much time it took us to fly from New York to Johannesburg.) Beira is the second largest city in Mozambique, and it felt a lot like a city you might see in the US. Most of the roads downtown are paved, there are lots of cars driving around, and there are several tall buildings. On Sunday, Lemos and I spent a couple hours walking around the city just to see what it was like, since he had never been to Beira before either. On Monday, we went to the Sena team's office. We fixed a few computer issues they were having, and then began doing our main tasks there. First we installed Paratext 7, which is the newest version of a piece of software that's often used for Bible translation. Its main purpose is to be able to display an arbitrary number of different Bible translations and version side-by-side, so that when you look at a verse in one version, all the other versions on the screen will automatically display their version of the same verse. Paratext 7 has new features for synchronization (so multiple people can more easily work on separate computers simultaneously) and internet backup (for backing up the translation to a remote server), so we spent much of our time teaching the team how to use these new features. We also made their non-Paratext files automatically get backed up.

My 30-day visa expired on Wednesday, so our initial plan was to get it extended in Beira. The immigration office in Beira informed us on Monday that if we submitted it that day, it would not be ready until Friday. Since we were supposed to leave for Quelimane on Tuesday or Wednesday, we decided to try and get it renewed in Quelimane instead.

On Tuesday at 4AM, we left for Quelimane. This bus wasn't quite as nice; there was much less room between the seats and I had to hold my backpack on my lap for the 7.5 hour trip. The immigration office there also informed us that it was a five-day process, but the man at the desk said that if we brought in my passport on Wednesday at 7AM, they might be able to finish it by Wednesday afternoon. During the day, we went to the Chwabu team's office, but we couldn't do much of anything there since they did not have an internet subscription and therefore couldn't do any automatic backups. We spent the afternoon visiting one of Lemos' relatives and waking around the city. Quelimane is much smaller than both Beira and Nampula. I saw far more bicycles and motorcycles there than four-wheeled vehicles. The taxis are even bicycles: you wave one of them down, tell the driver where to go, then perch yourself on a little seat that sticks out over the rear tire. (That's how we got to the immigration office.) That afternoon, and after a lot of praying, we returned to the immigration office and found that they had been able to extend my visa that day. Yay!

Thursday we returned to Nampula on a very crowded bus (about a 8.5 hour trip). Even though there was a lot of bus riding, it was very cool to be able to see two other cities (I was surprised at how different they were from each other and from Nampula) as well as some of the beautiful country that lies between them, especially the the northern parts where there are lots of small mountains all over the place.

Less than a week remains. Although I am looking forward to seeing everyone from home again and returning to work at CCEL, I'm quite sad that it's almost time to leave already. I'm going to dearly miss this place and the people I've met here.

Happenings of the past weeks

June 24, 2010

And now, the thrilling conclusion of my previous post!

Many of the people who were off doing linguistical stuff have now returned, so now there are seven of our team here on the Center, and David has been keeping us busy. A lot of the team members have been busy creating clip art for some of SIL's publications, updating the ficha tecnichas (basically the copyright pages) of a bunch of the publications, getting them all ready for placement on a CD and a website, which I'll describe shortly.

Personally, I've been busy doing projects of various sizes here. Some of the smaller ones include:

One of David's big goals is to make SIL's publications available to everyone. These publications include Scripture as well as other works, such as informational pamphlets on hygiene and books of folk tales written in the language of their origin. Although there is a small print shop on the Center, SIL does not have the resources to make mass publications of all their writings. So, the point of the CD and website is to make the publications freely available to anyone who wants them, including those with the resources to print and distribute them. Jess designed the web site, lidemo.net, and I did the coding for it. I finished implementing the design today, and late next week I'll be finalizing the process to automatically create pages for each publication. (Until then, there's not much on the site).

And, pictures! From left to right:

  1. Mountains are pretty. The Midwest is too flat.
  2. Walking to catch the chapa to church on Sunday. (That's Kelly and Tim.)
  3. The server room where I spend a lot of time.
  4. Publication preparations. Carrie, Maggie, MJ, Jess, and Roland (the computer/finance guy).

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It's been busy

June 23, 2010

Though most of our day is spent on the SIL Center, we do manage to "go into town" on occasion. To do this, we first walk for about ten minutes down a sunny dirt road deep in bear country until we reach one of the main roads around here. Then, we wait a short while until we see a chapa coming and wave it down. Chapas are the main form of public transportation here. They are normal-looking vans that you pay 5 meticais (about 14 cents) to ride until you yell at them to stop so you can get off. They're intended for about 15 people, but we've been in chapas with over 20 people and a live chicken or two.


Once you arrive in town, the markets are one of the main places to go. There's the central market where they sell fruits and vegetables and chickens and spices and all sorts of things. As you walk around, little kids constantly come up to you and try to sell you grocery bags. There's also the Sunday market, where you can find people selling everything there is to be sold around here. You also have to deal with merchants following you around and trying to convince you to buy their goods.


When we arrived in Mozambique, we made photocopies of our passports and visas because sometimes police stop you to check your papers. Last Sunday at the market, we found out the hard way that un-notarized photocopies are not good enough. Megan, Jess, and I were stopped, and after several minutes of bad Portuguese on our part and bad English on the officer's part, it ended up that I had to go back to the Center to get the original copies of our documents while the other two stayed at the little police building. They let us all go when we returned with the papers, but at least now we can say we were arrested in Mozambique.

I intended to write about the work we've all been doing during the last week, but now it's dinner time. I'll write more about our days and evenings soon, and perhaps see if I can get a couple pictures uploaded. Stay tuned.

Prayer requests:

Another week ends

June 11, 2010

There's a lot more to Bible translation than I had imagined. It's really cool to be able to see just a few of the many steps happening. Part our team is doing language documentation, which is basically gathering a bunch of data about an undocumented language and, well, documenting it. One thing they do is make audio and video recordings of native language speakers speaking, then analyze their recordings to find out exactly what sounds a language contains, what "rules" exist that specify where certain sounds may appear in relation to other sounds and word boundaries, and a bunch of other stuff that I only have a vague understanding of. Then they have to make a writing system, actually start translating, and a plethora of other steps that I know nothing about. There's a small group of people that have been staying here the past few days that are busy translating Ephesians into some language that I forget the name of, and it's neat to pass by the room where they're sitting and to realize each time what an important thing they're doing.

This week I've spent a lot of time with the computer department, whose name is Roland. (He's also the finance department.) A large part of what I've been doing is troubleshooting the network problems they've been having here, and learning quite a bit about This week I've spent a lot of time with the computer department, whose name is Roland. (He's also the finance department.) A large part of what I've been doing is troubleshooting the network problems they've been having here, and learning quite a bit about networking in the process. (Pity I'm not taking a networking class until this fall...) But now it seems like it's working pretty well; it just needed someone to spend a few days trying to locate the problem. Roland doesn't have the time to do that (he's extraordinarily busy with all the stuff he does around here), so I'm glad I was able to help with that. Another project I'm working on is converting Paratext documents (created by one of the main computer programs that Bible translators use) to SWORD modules for use by various other software. I was amused when I found I'd be finding ways of converting files from one format to another, since that was a large part of what I did last summer at CCEL.

Well, that's a lot of writing for me. The sheer volume of activity going on here, the missionaries and translators coming and going and working, the pastors of local churches who come here, the church services... it's incredible to see how much God is doing here. It's also encouraging for me to see how much stuff they have for us to do and how much they appreciate our help here.

I'm surrounded by linguists

June 5, 2010

Well, we made it, and so did all of our luggage. "We" consists of myself, ten others more or less my age, and Will Reiman, our fearless leader and translator. We flew in to Maputo on Monday, spent the night there, and arrived here in Nampula on Tuesday morning.

We've spent the past few days getting to know each other, some of the people here, and a bit about the culture and language. Some of the orientation has been very much focused on linguistics, which is completely new to me but quite fascinating. They've got crazy detailed systems for describing and classifying sounds.

We've been staying on the SIL training center so far. Six or so people and Will will leave for various locations to do very linguistical stuff. From what I understand, it involves making recordings (audio and video) of native speakers of a language, then going through the recordings and analyzing and transcribing them with their crazy phonetic system. Four others and I are staying here. I'll find out more about what we're doing on Monday, since the main focus thus far has been getting everything ready for those who are departing Monday.

I will also begrudgingly admit that taking Spanish might not have been a complete waste of time after all. Portuguese is surprisingly similar, so I'm able to get a basic idea of what most of the signs say. It's not really helping me understand it when people speak it, though.

A blag? On my wobsite?

May 25, 2010

It's more likely than you think.

I've never had one before, so I make no promises about how often I'll actually update it. I guess we'll just have to wait and see what happens.

This page looks a bit plain, I know. I'm severely lacking in the graphic design department.