Friday, October 28, 2005

Temos uma empregada!!!

This week Catherine and I had our first experiences with an empregada. That means housekeeper in Portuguese. For the first two months here in Maputo, Catherine and I struggled with our issues of employing someone here to take care of our apartment. To me, the idea of having a “servant,” especially one that was black and female while I am white and male, was difficult for me to accept. I felt that I would have a hard time dealing with the inevitable power dynamic that would be tilted in my favour. I’ve always reluctantly approached situations where I was the “boss.” Now I had somebody working for me…in my own house!! How would I handle this? What would I say to her?

Eventually we convinced ourselves that it was worse for us not to have a housekeeper. We certainly had the means to support somebody to do it, and the work employs a ton of women here in Maputo. It’s quite common place and nobody here thinks anything of it. In the end we decided to support the Mozambican economy rather than hold onto out misplaced North American notions of pride and self-respect.

So now we have Rebecca, and things couldn’t be better. In all honesty, the woman’s domestic skills defy all limits of logic and expectation. Our floors have never been cleaner, our clothes have never softer, our food has never been more fresh, our rooms have never been tidier and our bugs have never been more absent. She easily deserves 100 medals in my eyes. And she doesn’t speak a lick of English which is great because Cathy and I both need to be pushed harder to speak more Portuguese. She is kind and beautiful and has a nine year old daughter named Elsa. She hasn’t had a job in quite awhile and is tremendously happy to have the opportunity to work for us. I know that I am going to get totally spoiled by this!!

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

One love, one heart, let’s get together and feel alright.

Friday night was Reggae night here in Maputo and the Franco-Maputan Cultural Center put on a huge concert featuring the legendary rasta Jah Bee from Jamaica. And while I certainly cannot call myself a die hard fan of reggae, I definitely appreciate the sound and the message of the music. It puts a huge smile on my face when I see a seventy year old rasta man like Jah Bee preaching the word while getting down to some serious grooves. I have never in my life seen an old man move like that. A close second was seeing Ibrahim Ferrer of the Beuna Vista Social Club, but I digress.

The concert started at 8:30 and I knew that I was going to be late in meeting up with my friends so I told them to head on in without me and that I’d catch up with them later. When I finally arrived at the Center I noticed that there was about 300 dreadlocked Mozambicans holding up Jamaican flags and pictures of Bob Marley while banging on drums and singing reggae hymns. They were having their own little “session” out on the street, partly out of protest to the $5.00 ticket prices. “Reggae is the music for all of the people,” one of them told me, “not just those that can pay. They should let people in for free.” A lot of these guys were genuine rastafarians that had taken chapas in from the slums on the outskirts of town in the hope of seeing Jah Bee. I felt quite torn between which crowd I wanted to be a part of that evening but in the end I reluctantly decided to join my friends that were already inside. There have few moments during my time in Africa where I have felt more white than when I climbed those stairs alone and paid my 100 000 Metacais to get in.

The show was absolutely incredible and had everyone out of their seats moving along with the music. Unfortunately, the whole show stopped abruptly at a little after 10:30 but what happened next was amazing. As the whole crowd spilled out onto the street, Jah Bee and all the other rastas that performed came out and continued the jam with all of those that truly deserved to hear their words and music that evening. In an instant, lines of class segregation were erased and a single human music community remained. It is these moments that I thank God for providing me, reconfirming my faith in the potential of humankind and the beauty of a worldwide community of believers. One love. One heart. One mind. One body. It’s really that simple.

Saturday also brought a new adventure for me. I decided to go on a friend’s advice and check out the Hash House Harriers here in Maputo. The Harriers bill themselves a “drinking club with a running problem” and I must say that they are one of the weirdest and most entertaining “exercise cults” that I have ever come across. They have clubs in most major international cities and are made up of running enthusiasts from every country under the sun. You start off by being trekked out to some obscure location in the Maputo region to go jogging. This time around the group went out to Matola, a town about 10 minutes outside of Maputo, and ran through a small farming community on the outskirts of the city. The scenery was quite inspiring as the sun approached the horizon and cast long shadows across the traditional huts and the faces of their inhabitants. The children were quite entertained at our spectacle and energetically followed our train of exasperated runners. The women laughed and shook their heads at the crazy malungos as we sweat our way through their village.

Part of the fun of a Hash run is that you don’t know the route that you’re supposed to follow. It’s sort of a treasure hunt. The trail is marked by tiny bits of paper (of which I was assured were bio-degradable) and the group has to help each other using a specific set of calls to find the proper route. After the run, everyone heads back to the “Clubhouse” for post-exercise festivities. I have rarely in my life seen such an impressive display of beer consumption, and this involved everyone from 30 year old men to 65 year old women. Me being a new comer and all, I received “special” initiations involving the chugging of beer, the singing of songs, the ridicule from the rest of the Hash and the hearty slaps on the back for my good spirit. Normally, if I’m stumbling home after a run it’s on a count of a muscle strain but this was something else entirely!!

Friday, October 21, 2005

Last night I attended a cocktail reception put on by the Canadian High Commisioner here in Mozambique. It gave me the opportunity to swirl wine and munch on hors d'oerves while bouncing from one small talk converstation to the next with all the other Canadians living here in Maputo. I was able to meet a few other CIDA interns working for CUSO as well as some nursing students doing their overseas practicums up in the Inhambane province. After we had dragged the two hour reception out into a three hour affair we decided to head to Gil Vicente, a very cool old jazz club down town. The group playing that night was fantastic and as soon as 10 PM rolled along the place was packed with folks of all walks of life with a heart for music. There was an incredible electrical storm last night and about an hour into the set all the power went out in down town Maputo. The band didn't skip a beat however and just turned the night into a massive drum jam. It is absolutely phenomenal to hear and feel the force of African drummers who really know what they're doing. As the staff proceeded to illuminate the entire club with candles, the crowd became more and more drawn into the rhythm and the atmosphere of the moment. All the dancing the shouting created an energy inside that reflected the electricity shooting through the evening sky. This is human existence in its purest form: moving freely with the rhythm of the soul. I felt like I was back on Pope's Hill at Folk Fest, except these guys REALLY knew how to play!!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Kruger Park, what a place!! This weekend I headed off to South Africa to check out the world famous safari park with Ryan, Cortney and Guillon. We were amazed by what we saw. Before we even got through the main gate we saw a herd of 30 elephants come down to the Crocodile River for a drink. I had seen elephants in zoos before, even ridden one at the Shrine Circus as a kid, but it is something else entirely to see a whole herd of these amazing creatures in their natural habitat. Unfortunately, it was stifling hot on Friday and a lot of the animals were hiding in the shade for most of the day. However, we were told that by 4 PM things should pick up again. Sure enough, at 4:01 we began to see hordes of animals…rhinos, giraffes, elephants, antelope…it was incredible!!! We chanced upon a watering hole where a pride of lions were chowing down a giraffe that they must have killed about two hours previous. We sat and watched the pride for about an hour as the head male kept feasting on the carcass and the other females relaxed by the edge of the pool. We even saw the three little lion cubs play fighting and climbing all over their mother.

Then, out of nowhere, a huge bull elephant came stomping out of the bush right in front of us and scared all of the lions away. Apparently, elephants are quite disturbed by the sight and the smell of blood…or maybe he knew the giraffe personally and was taking revenge!! We had to rush back to our safari camp because they wanted all vehicles off the roads by 6:00 PM. I can understand why because on the way back to camp we were constantly stopping for animals that were crossing the road. One elephant even stood in the middle of the road and blocked our path for a few minutes. Made for great pictures!!

The next morning we got up at 5:00 to get an early start on the day. We saw a beautiful family of giraffes leisurely walking across the plain. I must say that giraffes are truly incredible creatures (although, regretfully, I did not wrestle one John). They are SO tall and their movements are very graceful. I could watch these peaceful animals for hours. We explored many other sections of the park but it is difficult to see any big game during the hottest hours of the day. We did, however, get a chance to see a large elephant pushing over a tree with his trunk to get at the roots, an awesome demonstration of the strength of these huge animals. We also came across another watering hole where a bunch of impalas and baboons were casually drinking, ignorant to the fact that three lionesses were watching them from the tall grass. In a scene out of Discovery Channel, we watched as the lionesses sprang forth and attacked the pack of impalas, scattering them in all directions. All of the impalas were able to escape the attack but the lionesses did not seem to care as they now had the watering hole all to themselves.

That night we took a sunset safari drive with one of the local guides who was able to explain to us a bit more about the wildlife in the park. We were able to use our spotlights to search the trees for illuminated eyes and came across hyenas, jackals, bush babies, elephants, water buffalo, rhinos, lions, kudos, and wildebeasts. We then spent the rest of the evening sitting outside our safari hut, drinking cheap South African wine and listening to the calls of the animals. You couldn’t help but feel part of the awesome nature that surrounded us.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Last Thursday’s trek out to Bela Vista was a fantastic experience for me. Not only was it my first interview with a microfinance institution but it also got me out of the city for the day to see the Mozambican country side and get a glimpse into village life in this country. MALE YERU (pron. Mah-lee Yah-roo) is a real success story when it comes to microfinance in Mozambique. They are a credit association that lends primarily to peasant farmers and fishermen, as well as storeowners and home developers in the Maputo province. Their clients are often those who cannot afford the interest rates and collateral requirements of large commercial banks and therefore turn to MALE YERU to provide them with the much needed capital to pay for work supplies, hire new labourers or improve the living conditions of their households. MALE YERU serves about 1100 clients and in just three years has increased its operational self-sufficiency from 85% to 118% and reduced its portfolio at risk rate from 34% to 3%. That means that for every 100 loans granted by MALE YERU, 97 are fully recovered. Impressive statistics by any banking standard!!

The man on the left is Bernardo Thembe, the Executive Director of MALE YERU and driving force behind the institution’s success. He has a deep interest in the welfare of his clients and an inspiring vision for the development of MALE YERU in the region. The woman in the middle is Henriqueta Hunguana, a microfinance consultant hired by MMF for technical assistance. Her and I will be teammates for the next three weeks as we interview all the MFIs that participated in the HIV/AIDS workshop back in September. I was very impressed with MALE YERU’s dedication to incorporating HIV/AIDS considerations into their programs and workplace policies. Maputo province is the southern most province in Mozambique and borders both South Africa and Swaziland, each with devastatingly high rates of HIV/AIDS (Swaziland is around 40%!!). All of the migrant workers passing through these countries have caused the Maputo province to have a high HIV/AIDS rate of 20%. MALE YERU recognizes the challenge of operating within an environment where 1 out of 5 clients potentially have HIV/AIDS. They are currently exploring options which will allow sick clients flexible repayment schedules or access to credit insurance. They also recognize the importance of HIV/AIDS awareness as their main offices, as well as each of their branches, are well stocked with educational pamphlets and free condoms.

But unfortunately, one of the most enduring challenges is overcoming the stigma many clients and staff attach to the disease. MALE YERU can assume that a client is infected but it is extremely difficult to have a client feel comfortable enough to speak openly about their condition or a family member living with HIV/AIDS. And in Bela Vista, one cannot escape the reality of HIV/AIDS, despite the shroud of secrecy surrounding the disease. Bela Vista was once a fancy Portuguese provincial town, with elaborate architecture and long promenades. Now many of colonial homes are abandoned and crumbling, leaving Bela Vista a virtual ghost town in many parts. The remaining local population has been hit hard by HIV/AIDS and thousands of commemorative red ribbons have been painted on trees, houses and buildings. Such a tribute provides an eerie reminder of the reality of HIV/AIDS and accentuates the ghost town feel.

Despite the social challenges of working within an environment of HIV/AIDS, MALE YERU is confident that they can incorporate their clients living with the disease into their credit family. They are an institution that is well respected within the community and have improved the lives of many of those living in Bela Vista and in the surrounding area. Bernardo was quite excited to introduce me to some of MALE YERU’s clients and we visited the stores of two women who financed their operation through MALE YERU loans. These women took great pride in showing me their work and sharing stories of their families. As we drove down the street, Bernardo continuously pointed out the houses in town that were built with housing loans from his institution and he would have taken me to each house had we not had to get back to Maputo before dark. It was a great experience to meet Bernardo and the MALE YERU staff. The interview was extremely encouraging and I’m looking forward to working with this institution on HIV/AIDS issues over the next few months.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Hey everyone! I just wanted to thank everybody for the outpouring of support after my attack last week. Your words have all been uplifting, challenging and sincere and I really appreciate that. It certainly makes the rebound process quite and bit easier. Today I'l very excited as I've off to Bela Vista, a town two hours outside Maputo, to conduct my first field interview, observe the MFI's operations and possibly meet some of their clients. Then tomorrow I'm heading off to Kruger Park in South Africa with Ryan, Courtney and Guillion for the weekend to hang out with the lions, elephants, giraffes and hippos. I should have many stories to pictures to share on Monday. I've also posted up the links to the blogs of my fellow MEDA interns. Take the chance to check em out and see what they're up to. Have a great weekend everyone!!

Friday, October 07, 2005

It’s amazing how your perception of a city can change with one flash of metal. Last night I was attacked and robbed on my way out to meet a friend for a drink. I had never been “mugged” before and always wondered how I would react in such a situation. Well now I know. It happened only three blocks from my house on a street that I quite often use when I want to walk down to Julius Neyere Ave. I have always felt pretty safe walking around at night in this area and did not consider this street to be particularly risky. In fact, the street that I was on goes right past the barracas that I write so much about in my blog.

I was passing through a darker section of the street when I suddenly felt a guy come up behind me, mutter something in Portuguese and jab what felt like a screwdriver into my back. The next thing I know I’m surrounded by about 5-6 guys who had converged on me from all angles on the street. They proceeded to push me to the ground, hold a knife an inch from my face and forcibly rummage through my pockets. I initially tried to resist but, realizing my efforts were futile, eventually gave in. A large truck passed by and blew its horn loudly, scattering my attackers. They made off with my wallet but luckily I was wearing my cargo pants and they were unable to find my cell phone that I was holding in one of the side pockets.

I returned home incredibly angry, hurt and dejected about the whole situation. My honeymoon in Maputo was over and I had seen first hand this city’s criminal underbelly. I have always considered thieves, particularly violent thieves, to be some of the lowest forms of human beings. When I look at how many Mozambicans choose to work hard despite their impoverished state I have nothing but contempt for my attackers who choose crime as a means to acquire money. What’s worse is that I feel I was targeted specifically because of the colour of my skin. These guys have probably been watching me for the past month, as I walk along the same route almost every night. I want to live in this neighbourhood and I want to feel safe here. I don’t want to live in a state of perpetual fear every time I leave my house. I often scoffed at the warnings of many of the ex-pats living in Maputo, who lock themselves in gated houses and never venture out after dark. The whole time that I’ve been here I felt that their paranoia was unjustified...Maputo felt safe to me and I never had a reason to believe otherwise. This has all changed after last night. I am a very trusting person but my faith in Maputo has been shaken. I always believe in the inherent goodness of people and it hurts me when I am exposed to the darker side of human nature.

Today my heart is heavy and my spirit is low. I pray that God will help me to release the anger and the hatred I am feeling and continue to fill my heart with the love and compassion I need to live in this city. I need to remember all the wonderful Maputans I have met since arriving in Mozambique and not allow this attack to hang like a storm cloud over my head. I need to be thankful that I was not seriously hurt and that I only lost some leather, some paper and some plastic…all things that I can easily replace. Today is a new day and I will not allow this experience to drag my spirit down. Maputo is still a beautiful city full of beautiful people and I need to remember that.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

This past weekend, Catherine and I had the pleasure of hosting Ryan Utter, one of our fellow MEDA interns, while he was passing through Maputo. Ryan is also researching HIV/AIDS and microfinance but he will be living in Angola for the next five months. Unfortunatly, Ryan has had about a million and one headaches and complications in getting to Angola and won't be able to start his project until the middle of October. He figured that checking out the beaches of Mozambique was a better way to spend these next two weeks than being stuck and frustrated in Montreal (I certainly don't blame him!!). We had a great time getting to know each other in a more casual environment as the first time we met was during our MEDA orientation in Waterloo. In just four days we were able to explore the markets, barracas, restaurants and nightlife in Maputo, and even share some of the work we've accomplished thus far. Ryan has a great spirit for travelling and we had a blast meeting locals and struggling through our broken portuguese. Right now Ryan should be hopefully on a dhow safari, wolfing down prawns and checking out Mozambique's beautiful coral reef islands!! Good luck bud!!

On Saturday we met two other CIDA interns working in Maputo. It was quite a chance encounter really. I was wearing my blue CIDA "global citizen" shirt, which I honestly haven't worn the whole time I've been in this country, and they approached me at a cafe and asked Ryan and I if we were from Canada. Their names are Courtney and Guillon and they are both working for the Marine Institute of Newfoundland with sustainable fisheries. They are both a ton of fun and we all went out that night to check out this jazz club at the old train station we had heard so many good things about. The train station is spectacular but is no longer being used (another relic of the glory days of Lourenco Marques, Maputo's former name during the colonial period). The club had a cool ambiance but was exclusively white. Apparently many of the portuguese in town still do not like to mingle socially with the locals. We were a little disapointed as we were hoping for something with a little more of an African flavour.

Then on Tuesday I experienced segregation on the opposite extreme. Believe it or not, yesterday was yet another national holiday here in Mozambique, commemorating the peace agreement signed between FRELIMO and RENAMO back in 1992. I found it odd that last week we were celebrating the beginning of the armed struggle against the Portuguese and this week we were celebrating the end of the country's violent period of history. I find it incredibly counterproductive to praise the efforts of war within the same month of praising the efforts of peace. When a country has so much blood staining its roots, should not more effort be made to glorify those that resisted violence and choose the path of peace?

Anyway, since Tuesday was a holiday, I took off to Costa do Sol with Courtney and Guillon. Costa do Sol is the closest beach "paradise" in the Maputo area and is a #1 destination for locals looking to get away from the city, soak up some sun and frolic in the Indian Ocean. Unfortunately, nearly half of Maputo's 1.5 million head to Costa do Sol on weekends and holidays, completely destroying any notion of tranquility. The entire shorefront was packed with rowdy Mozambicans blasting hip hop and Afro-reggae while the street venders were shoulder to shoulder selling whole BBQ chickens, french fries and copious amounts of beer. The whole time we were down there I think I saw only three other white people. It was fantastic though and we were quite the spectacle sitting on our blanket in the middle of the chaos soaking in the atmosphere. This was truly a picture of the REAL Mozambique!

Monday, October 03, 2005

Hey everyone!

I've really been appreciating the comments on my blog. It was my hope that this site would generate discussion and allow people to voice their opinions freely. It's also nice to hear from all of you back home and around the world. So please keep it up!!! The only thing I ask is that people keep their comments respectful and sign their name to them. Other than that, please say what's on your mind and in your heart.

As to the question of my potential impact here in Mozambique, I am under no assuption that I will see monumental changes within the microfinance industry during my short six month term in the country. I am also certainly not coming to this country with the assumption that I have all of the answers for these microfinance institutions (MFIs) working with this difficult issue of HIV/AIDS. My job, however, is to continue to pressure these MFIs to take this issue seriously in their operations and begin to implement programs and policies that are feasible and appropriate within the current working environment. I am also taking a realistic approach to my work here, realising that it takes time to build the momentum required for change as well as the work of many, many hands.

It is encouraging to see the many hands here in Mozambique that are working in the areas of HIV/AIDS and microfinance and it is a blessing and an honour for me to be a part of this worthwhile cause. I am here to learn as much as I am to work, as well as listen as much as I am to share. It is my hope that the products of my research can eventually lend themselves to a greater body of work being done on HIV/AIDS and microfinance in Mozambique as well as in other severly affected countries in the world. I feel a calling to this type of work right now and a responsibility to utilize my talents in this area. I work with humility, knowing that the road here is still long and difficult and that my time here in Mozambique will be over before many of these changes will be visible.