Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Let me introduce Leonardo, the Mozambican Bob Dylan. Whether it's at a holiday party, a Saturday afternoon or a late night gathering, Leonardo's songs can be heard drifting over the pleasant sounds of the barracas. These barracas are a series of small restaurant/bars where locals of all shapes and sizes meet to share drinks, stories and much laughter. They really are the real heart and soul of Maputo and the perfect venue for Leonardo's passionate folk music. For all of you who know my good friend Andrew Neville, this is his kindred spirit in Mozambique...someone who has a repetoire of nearly 1000 songs and will sing them to any audience.

What is even more impressive about Leonardo is that, despite the fact that he is blind and his guitar is literally falling apart (notice the sizable hole near the top), he continues to sing without reservation nearly every night in the barraca. His friends shared a story about how the other week Leonardo was singing for a crowd of people and a small rat climbed out of the body of his guitar and scurried away into the street. Now THAT would have made a good picture!! Many of Leonardo's songs are relics of the colonial times here in Mozambique and are a unique blend of Portuguese love songs and "fado" (which is the blues). Hopefully, I can learn some of these songs from Leonardo during my time here...but I still need to find a guitar!!!

Monday, September 26, 2005

Today I am enjoying yet another Mozambican National Holiday, and since this is the second one we’ve had here this month, I certainly can’t complain. This is Armed Forces Day and it commemorates the beginning of the liberation struggle against the Portuguese colonialists. Mozambique’s violent history remains an important component of the country’s political identity, illustrated by the fact that one of the symbols on the national flag is a large AK-47. Certainly a difficult image to overcome for a country still rebuilding after years of violence and civil unrest.

On Thursday of this past week, we wrapped up the four day conference on HIV/AIDS and microfinance. From our perspective as organizers and facilitators, the conference far exceeded our expectations. The participants were quite willing to engage the issue of HIV/AIDS and learn more about how the disease directly impacts their client base, their staff and the financial performance of their institution. The rest of the workshops this week covered topics such as market and client analysis, refining current products and services, human resource management and building partnerships with external donors and service providers. On the final two days of the conference the participants were assigned the task of drafting an action plan that they would take back to their senior managers and executive boards to steer them over the next year in implementing these new ideas. All participants agreed that simply talking about the threat of HIV/AIDS was not enough…the talk had to be transformed into tangible policy results!!

On the final day of the conference we also had the pleasure of having a presentation of various HIV/AIDS service providers here in Mozambique. The purpose of this was to educate the MFIs about the efforts currently underway to enhance HIV/AIDS awareness in the country and to provide income generating activities for those living with the disease. One of these groups set up a booth to sell the crafts that their organization had made. These women proudly displayed their work and announced to the crowd that this was how they were living through HIV/AIDS...quite an act of bravery given the amount of stigma attached to the disease in this country. I picked up one of their very popular HIV/AIDS support ribbons and they were very happy to pose for a picture with me.

This was indeed a very emotional presentation and it allowed the participants the opportunity to forge important relationships between those working in the finance sector and those working in the health sector. HIV/AIDS is not simply a health problem in this country as it presents a significant economic problem as well…a problem that will only increase unless representatives from these two sectors can work together on long-term solutions to the pandemic. There is much work ahead, for these institutions as well as for myself, as I have been given a clear research agenda and the task of following up with these MFIs on the process of designing policies and products that meet the demands of a growing HIV/AIDS client base.

Monday, September 19, 2005

I figured that it was high time that I filled you all in on some of the work that I´m doing here (life in Maputo isn´t all cervajas and chapas you know!!). This morning marked the beginning of a four day conferance that MMF-MEDA was organizing here in Maputo on "microfinance tools for confroting the HIV/AIDS crisis in mozambique." This workshop really could not have been more topical for my research project and I was very excited to meet some of the excutive members of the microfinance banks and members of the Mozambican government that would be attending the workshop. We have participants from all over Mozambique as well as Angola, Zambia and South Africa. Over the past two weeks, much of the work at the MMF office has been spent preparign for this conferance (including some late nights on Saturday and Sunday!!).

We´re holding the event at the Kaya Kwanga (which is sort of like the Mozambican Club Med). After a greeting from a representative of the Mozambican Central Bank and the Canadian High Commission, we got down to business. We started off by comparing two microfinance institutions (MFIs) that took differant approaches to the HIV/AIDS crisis...one that ignored the problem and saw it´s default rates and client drop out rates skyrocket, and the other that adjusted it´s programming to meet the financial demands of their HIV impacted client base. It was very interesting to see how the participants reacted to these scenarios while sharring ideas with each other over how MFIs can play a better role in confronting the AIDS pandemic in this country.

We then has a presentation by a Mozambican doctor on the facts and myths behind HIV/AIDS. The problem with a lot of rural communities in Africa is that they have a severe lack of reliable information on the disease and as a result a lot of urban myths are allowed to circulate. For example: AIDS is God´s punishment for sinners, one can cure themselves of AIDS by having sex with a virgin, or having sex with a condom actually increases one´s chance of getting the virus. There is so much stigma attached to HIV/AIDS in many places of Mozambique that many people refuse to talk about the virus and how it is passed on. This conferance is great because it is getting people within the microfiance sector to confront the facts head on and come up with financial solutions to confront the problem. Mozambique currently has a 16% infection rate that is rising steadily. In the central part of the country, a hot spot for infected miners, truck drivers and sex trade workers, the rate is much higher...one out of four people have HIV/AIDS. This is the reality that faces the country and it is quite an experience to be a part of a conferance where the participants are serious about finding practical answers to this tragic problem.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

When it comes to public trasportation in Mozambique, the chapa is king. These overloaded vans shuttle people in everywhich direction throughout Maputo, trumpetting their presence with constant horn blasts. The vans are designed to carry a maximum of 12 but passengers are sandwhiched into these boxes on wheels in astonishing numbers. Sort of like mobile sardine cans. On one particularly crowded trip from work this week I counted no less then 18 passengers!! The extremely cramped quarters, mixed with the pungent aromatic blend of body odour and exhaust, left a lasting impression. But there is something endearing about the chapa ride at the same time. Whether it's the boisterous doorman, hanging out the window and hollaring at potential passengers, or the highly energetic Mozambican pop music blarring from the speakers, the chapa is a true slice of Africa. And the price of the whole experience? A whopping 15 cents!!

Monday, September 12, 2005

This is a typical scene in Mozambique. Friends getting together to share food, drinks, stories and much laughter around a communal table. On Saturday we had the extreme pleasure of being invited to share a meal with with a true Mozambican hero. Her name is Lena Maguia and she is the lady sitting on the left joining in on the chorus of the Mozambican national anthem. In addition to being a fantastic cook and a successful farmer, Lena was one of the first female members of parliament in this country. She is an extremely colourful lady who has worked tirelessly for most of her life on human rights issues, particularly those of rural women in Mozambique. She published a popular book entitled Peasant Tales of Tragedy in Mozambique which documented many of the attrocities suffered by rural families at the hands of the brutal RENAMO bandits during the 17 year civil war. The gentleman standing is named Kida and he was Chief of Security under Samora Machal, Mozambique's first president after independance. After we feasted on Roast Duck and other local delicacies, we were treated to a concert of old FRELIMO revolutionary songs, hymns that reflected the heart of the people and defined Mozambique's struggle for independance and peace.

On Sunday I checked out an international church here in Maputo. The service was in english and half the congregation was made up of ex-pats (ie. westerners living in Maputo). I guess I was expecting something with a bit more Mozambican flavour but the worship was certainly heartfelt and the sermon was delivered by a South African minister that looked and spoke like a young Nelson Mandela. After the service, I went with some Americans to the local fish market for lunch. What an event!! I had never experienced anything like this in my life. First off, you go through the market and pick an elaborate assortment of fresh seafood ( and i mean hours out of the ocean fresh) and the local restaurants will cook it up and serve it to you while you sit in a large court yard enjoying the shade, live Mozambican music and the leisurely paced Sunday afternoon. Some of the jumbo prawns for sale were, without exageration, the size of lobsters...it was incredible!! Between the eight of us we picked through an enormous bowl of clams, a fat red snapper and three kilograms of butter garlic prawns. With my belly full of the best of the Mozambican sea, I thought that I had died on gone to heaven.

Friday, September 09, 2005

So last night Pearl Jam played the MTS Center in Winnipeg and I unfortunately was unable to attend on the account of me being on the other side of the world and all. I've been a fan of the band since I was 13 and it would have been amazing to see them in my home town alongside some real homegrown PJ fans. Thanks Mar for sending me the review...if anyone else went to the show please tell me how it went!!

Thursday, September 08, 2005

This was the last view I had from my balcony at Pestana Ravuma hotel (Aka. The Palace Mozambique!!). Catherine and I finally found an appartment and we moved in Tuesday. Now we can officially feel more like Maputan residents as opposed to simply tourists (although our cushy life at the hotel was a luxory neither one of us will soon forget). Yesterday was Victory Day here in Maputo which is a national holiday that honours the valiant efforts of the Mozambican Liberation Army during the country's struggle for independance from the Portugeuse. War, however, was the last thing on people's minds as yesterday simply meant a day off work and the streets, parks and cafes were packed with Mozambicans of all shapes and sizes out to enjoy the lazy afternoon. I spent the better part of the day exploring the city by foot and checking out Maputo's unique cultural flavour. The city has no shortage of interesting colonial architecture, especially in the neighbourhoods close to the harbour, but unfortunately many have the buildings lie in various states of decay and many of the otherwise picturesque park areas are covered with thick layers of garbage. Garbage in fact seems to grow in place of grass around much of Maputo and this reminds me of my experience in the West Bank...right down to the ever present smell of filth. The smell of the Third World I guess you could call it. I met some very interesting Mozambican fisherman down by the harbour who shared with me some stories of their lives at sea. Mozambique is famous for its delectable seafood and fisherman can often find their nets so full of Jumbo Prawns that they cannot even lift their nets out of the water. However, bad fortune had visited my sea faring friends as their boats had broken down and they were not expected to set sail again for at least a month. "That's Africa my friend," one of them explained, "some days are good and some days are crap." The others all nodded their heads in agreement.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Hey Hey Hey Everyone!!! We arrived in Maputo safe and sound yesterday after a ridiculously long 17 and a half hour flight from Atlanta to Johanesburg!! First impressions of Maputo is that it is definitely a city of contrasts...from the extremely affluent to the extremely poor. Beautiful oceanside villas sit next to cramped shanty towns. Driving along the road from the airport I was struck by the poverty but also impressed by the cheerful nature of everyone we passed. No matter where I look around here everyone seems to be having a good time in their own way. Everyone tells me that Mozambicans LOVE to party and we certainly saw that first hand today. We spent the morning apartment hunting without any success (it was Sunday all and most of the contacts we had were not around!!) so we ended up spending the afternoon at the restaurant/bar of a friend of my project manager. This was my first introduction to Mozambican hospitality as we were treated to a copious amount of traditional Mozambican food (Mathapa is my favourite...spinich, crab meat, prawns served with rice. Amazing stuff!!) and the national beer, Luarentina. That definitely made the afternoon go by smoothly. We are currently staying at a pretty posh hotel while we find an appartment and it's crazy because I know that a Mozambican could feed their family for a week with the money that we're paying per night to stay here. Just one of the lessons on the value of money that I'm sure I'll learn while I'm here. Well that's it for now...I'll try and send some pictures next time so you can see this beautiful country and the people in it!