Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Final Day

The final day of our work with Ophevela saw us go further “into the bush” then I had ever been before with one of our MFI partners. Cremildo and I were joined by two credit officers from the small town of Monapo and proceeded to drive 150 km right into the middle of nowhere to meet loan groups that existed in the rough but beautiful countryside of northern Nampula province. Basically the whole of Northern Mozambique, from Nampula all the way up to Pemba in Cabo Delgado, has inselbergs scattered about in the most picuturesque manner that locals have dwelled among for centuries upon centuries. While the scenery is indeed beautiful, there are not a lot of jobs to be found in these remote areas and the living can be harsh and deprived. Here is the "road" that we took to go and visit the villages.

The first loan group we visited that morning was the poorest out of all of the groups we had visited so far. The group of 30 members had accumulated less than $50 in savings over the past three months. One of the elderly female members was allowed into the group despite the fact that she could really only afford to save 1000 MZM per week, the equivalent of a nickel back home in Canada. Despite the lack of business in these rural areas, the members were deeply thankful that Ophavela existed so they could invest in whatever meager income generating activities that were possible. And there was also a deep rooted sense of pride in the village, evident in the fact that the group had pooled their savings together and collectively purchased matching fabric to make “special outfits” for the group meetings. Here the women are in their capilanas (skirts, the essential female African outfit) and the men in their snazzy shirts, ready to get down to business.

In total we visited five village loan groups that day and at each location we were treated to singing, dancing and an eagerness on the part of the members to discuss their challenges, future plans and thoughts on HIV/AIDS. This group of women featured below even wrote their own song of praise for savings and loans that they enthusiastically presented to us. It is encouraging to see many of the members use the loan money for productive things such as new farm land, bicycles or sewing machines. I was also amazed at the strength and determination of the women members that we interviewed who often were the sole breadwinners in the family. Many of these women would speak passionately about their work and families while non-chalantely popping out their breasts to feed their hungry babies. This has been a common occurrence no matter where I have conducted client interviews in Mozambique and while at first this made me embarrassed I quickly realized that it was a natural action and that I was the only one in the group that feeling uncomfortable. My experience talking to rural Mozambicans, as a result, will be forever linked with the smell of sweat and breast milk.

Another thing I discovered about Northern Mozambicans, particularly the Makue people that we worked with around Nampula, is that they believe much more strongly in traditional medicine and “magic” then the Shangana people around Maputo. Some of the clients told me that they would at times use money from the group to pay for traditional healing ceremonies and visits to witch doctors. Even my colleague Cremildo admitted that his Makue friends in Maputo believed “too much in the magic.” This was compounded by the fact that on Thursday night Cremildo’s cellphone mysteriously began to flash on and off and lock the keys whenever he tried to call somebody. Cremildo was convinced that some Makue had put magic on his cellphone as a visit to the Mcel store the next day failed to fix the problem.

As we finished up our final group interview on Friday afternoon Cremildo and I were exhausted and our brains were fried. We savoured every mouthful of our greasy egg sandwiches and warm bottles of coke and bid farewell to our hosts. One of the older female members, a real matriarch in the community, spoke up and said that she didn’t want us to be like all the other visitors from Maputo (read: wealthy Mozambicans) and abroad (read: whites) that would visit them in their villages and then never come back (read: forget about them). We both assured her that this was not our intention and that we are hoping to work with Ophavela more in the future on rural microfinance and HIV/AIDS. After what we saw over those three days completely convinced me that they would be an important partner for MMF in our HIV/AIDS initiative.

Cremildo and I then spent our final night together in Nampula catching the final game of the Africa Cup of Nations with the host nation Egypt taking the crown in a shoot out victory over Senegal. We then checked out a Brazilian Carnival party hosted at the main community center in Nampula. Mozambique is often considered the “Brazil of Africa” as the music, costumes and dance are a unique blend of African and Latin American culture. Needless to say, the whole town was out at the event and Cremildo and I both had sore necks from having our heads turned repeatedly by the countless number of gorgeous women in attendance. A good night of partying was what we needed to wrap up a fantastic week of work in Nampula and to prepare myself for my next three days on the Island of Mozambique.


Anonymous Mom said...

You have made a commitment to these people that you will not forget about them. How are you planning to fulfil this commitment?

12:44 p.m.  
Blogger jpmozambique said...

Well Ophavela is very interested in being a part of our HIV/AIDS project that we just started with DAI in South Africa. Their emphasis on rural microfinance, as well as their interest in addressing issues related to HIV/AIDS, will make them an important partner for MMF and our team of consultants this next year.

12:49 a.m.  

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