Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Beautiful Beginnings and Unfortunate Ends

Well the week and a half spent up in Central Mozambique was definitely a challenging and eventful experience for me. I’ve decided to begin by telling you about Chimoio, the city where I began and ended my journey. Chimoio is the provincial capital of Manica and is a pleasant little country town settled against the backdrop of the Chimanimani and Penha Longa Mountains. These scenic mountains provide a natural boundary between Mozambique and neighbouring Zimbabwe. The tree lined streets and public parks were kept surprisingly clean and there was a distinct tranquility in the air that reminded me of a small town in the Canadian Prairies.

My colleague Cremildo and I arrived early on Sunday morning and I was able to spend the day with my old friend Rachel from Maputo. Rachel is a British girl working for Voluntary Services Overseas and has been stationed in Chimoio since December. Despite The serenity of her surroundings, work has been difficult for Rachel as she has effectively been put in charge of an entire youth community development project, focusing especially on HIV/AIDS activism among teenagers in surrounding area. Visits from friends are a much welcome break from her rewarding but immensely stress filled posting.

Rachel and I decided that the best way to raise our spirits on a Sunday afternoon was to climb the Cabeça de Velha (old man’s face) a “mountain” on the outskirts of town. The spot is actually considered sacred to many of the local Shona people as many pilgrims can be found atop the old man’s nose reading passages or deep in meditation. Cremildo had a rather important economics exam the following weekend but I was able to pry his nose out of the books for a few hours to make the trip (Even though I caught him pouring over a few pages at the top!!). We spent a nice time at the top enjoying the views, watching the birds and soaking in the late afternoon sun as it painted the countryside and the rock with rich golden colours. We each walked away from the mountain rejuvenated a ready for the week ahead

I was able to explore more of this beautiful countryside on my return to Chimoio the following weekend. I met up with some Zimbabweans who worked on a horse farm about 40 Km from the Moz-Zim border. We ended up going on a four hour ride around their farm on the Sunday afternoon, passing rivers, lakes and many local villagers. It had been about four years since I had ridden a horse and I had to work to keep up with my two Zim friends. Needless to say, my ass and legs were bloody sore afterwards but it was well worth it. Experiencing rural Africa on horseback is truly something special.

Unfortunately, after my memorable ride, the nausea that had plagued me the previous evening in Beira and the throughout the three hour ride to that mourning to Chimoio returned with a vengeance. What had began on Saturday as just a painful stomach ache, had now escalated to a rising fever, throbbing head ache, lack of appetite and pains in my lower back. In this part of the world that can only mean one thing: Malaria. That’s right, I had come down with that “other” wretched African disease that still to this day kills more people in Mozambique each year than HIV/AIDS.

I was taken to a Zimbabwean party that night and the whole room seemed to take turns talking to me about malaria and what I should do to beat the damn thing out of my system before it takes too much of a hold on my liver, brain, heart and kidneys. Since all of them had had malaria numerous times throughout their lives, they advised me to begin treatment immediately that night before going to the doctor in the morning. I ended up taking Artesunate, which is a Chinese herbal remedy that is quite popular for its immediate results and few negative side effects.

The following morning’s trip to the doctor’s office confirmed what had already been obvious the night before. However, the strain of malaria that I had was light and I had gone on the treatment quite early so I have recovered quite well. Still, I was bummed that I had to spend my two days vacation cooped up in my hostel watching DVDs instead of trekking through the mountains. You really don’t want to mess around with malaria though and I actually ended up thoroughly appreciating my two days of relaxation, despite feeling stiff like an old man and running to the loo on a regular basis. Ah malaria, I guess it is just part of the grand ol African experience!!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

On the Road Again

Well I think I’m finally ready to leave for my trip next week. My colleague Cremildo and I are heading up to the Central Mozambican provinces of Sofala and Manica to work with the branches of our partner Banco Oportunidade. We will have a VERY busy week. We are assisting BO conduct an impact assessment of the HIV/AIDS trainings that they have been offering their clients and staff. We will also be we carrying out our regular interviews and focus group discussions with the staff members and community bank clients about the challenges of HIV/AIDS and microfinance. Needless to see we will have to maximize every minute of the day during our week in the field.

Working in the field is of course the most rewarding and inspiring part of my job and I cherish every moment of being able to connect the academic with the practical aspects of my job. This trip up to Sofala and Manica has been an interest of mine since I arrived in Mozambique because this region has the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rate in the country at 25-28%. There are a number of factors that has caused this rapid escalation of HIV infection but one of the most notable is that the two provinces lie along the “Beira Corridor,” the main lifeline between Zimbabwe and the coastal city of Beira, Mozambique’s largest and busiest port. The highly transient population along this route gives rise to rampant sexual promiscuity and prostitution, providing a festering ground for HIV/AIDS. With the disease having such a high impact on this region and its people, it will be very interesting to see how one of our most impressive partners is confronting this challenge through innovation microfinance strategies.

I’m also looking forward to taking some vacation time after this week and I will be spending a few days in Manica hiking around the Chimanimani mountains along the border with Zimbabwe. Of course I will have the camera and my notebook with me so I will definitely post some pictures and stories of the next week and a half’s events when I get a chance.

Cheers everyone!!


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Single White Male in Maputo

Living in a foreign country undoubtedly hurls you into a different cultural realm where you often have to set aside all of your preconceived notions of conventional practice and jump head first into new experiences and understandings. One of the many cultural differences that I have had to get used to here in Mozambique has definitely been the different culture of dating in this country. Living in Africa has really introduced to me for the first time the complicated dynamics of inter-racial dating. Now let me make myself perfectly clear, inter-racial dating, in and of itself, is not a problem. Where the problem tends to lie, however, is in the dynamic between “rich white man” and “poor African woman.”

Personally, my experience with dating Mozambican women has been more problematic than rewarding. This is not to say that such relationships cannot work. I only have to look at my friend Brenden and his lovely girlfriend Fiona or my boss Pierre and his amazing wife Astheline to see that people of different cultures can indeed make some harmonious music when joined together. The problem in Mozambique is that there is an overwhelming “Sugar Daddy” phenomenon between white men and black women and it is this phenomenon that is incredibly difficult to escape when a young Canadian boy wants to meet some local Mozambican ladies.

Mozambique certainly has no shortage of attractive women but unfortunately the intelligent and independent ones are overshadowed by the legions of girls seeking nothing more than the perfect Sugar Daddy. I would call these girls little more than pseudo-prostitutes and there are a plethora of them on the streets, the clubs, the restaurants and the cafes of Maputo. These girls don’t actually “charge” you anything to “be” with them but if you want to have them by your side you had better be prepared to foot the bill for everything she may desire.

I was quickly introduced to this reality back before Christmas when I was began dating a Mozambican named Joyce. She was quite attractive, funny and I enjoyed the idea of having a local girl to help me practice my Portuguese (everybody keeps telling me that this is the best way to learn another language after all!!). We had met innocently enough but it became quite clear very quickly that Joyce wanted to move right on in with this Canadian boy as soon as possible. She was 24 but had no real education and wasn’t doing anything other than going to driving school. Being with a women with no ambitions in life other than being a girlfriend, and who constantly asked for money for everything from drinks and clothes to taxi fares and cell phone credits, quickly lost its appeal. One night we were supposed to go to a big night club in Maputo with a bunch of friends but plans changed and we went to a house party instead. When Joyce found out that we were indeed not going clubbing she threw a huge tantrum, proclaiming that she was “wasting her time” with me. Needless to say, the Jared and Joyce relationship ended the following day.

There are so many Mozambican girls like Joyce in Maputo that they actually have counseling services for girls that get “dumped” by their Sugar Daddies. However, this service is not to help these girls turn away from such a lifestyle but rather to get them back on their feet in order to find a better catch. There is even a ranking system for Sugar Daddies with Canadian and Scandinavian men topping the list. This is apparently because the girls know that such men are rarely abusive and will provide for them financially for an indefinite amount of time in the event of an unwanted pregnancy. I hear that the bottom ranks on the list are occupied by Portuguese, South Africans and Mozambican men. I can hear the conversations now, “Hey did you hear that Violeta finally scored a Swede? Yes but poor Telma, still stuck with that Boer!”

The whole phenomenon gets worse when you see the disgusting age difference in some of the Sugar Daddy couples. It is next to impossible to go out on the town in Maputo and not see numerous old ex-pat men, many with wedding rings still on their fingers or conveniently left behind at home, pouring drinks down the throats of teenage Mozambican girls with their breasts pushed up so far they are nearly touching their chins. The worst case I ever saw was a sixty something Afrikaner lying on the beach with a sixteen year old girl sprawled out on his lap drinking lemonade and playing games on her cell phone. She seemed to be in an entirely different world as he continued to run his crusty old hands over her stomach and her back.

Other attempts of mine to get to know what I had originally thought were nice, intelligent, independent Mozambican ladies have also produced disappointing results. I really have no desire to play the role of the Sugar Daddy and am finding it difficult to get around this issue given the local expectations of what relationships with the White Man should entail. And although I have not closed the door entirely with Mozambicanas, relationships with female ex-pats have proven to be no less complicated here in Maputo. Our lives are too transient at this point I guess to make anything meaningful last…but I suppose I’m opening up a whole other issue here and this post is already way too long. In any event, the dating scene here in Maputo has certainly been full of many inspiring, confusing and eye-opening twists and turns that have certainly added some flavour to my life in Mozambique.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

A Festa de Liberdade

Since it is the capital city of the country, Maputo houses embassies from countries all over the world. Avenida Kenneth Kuanda is sometimes referred to as “Embassy Row” as there are over 40 different government houses from India and Brazil all the way to Angola and Tanzania. Of course the largest, most ostentatious and most heavy fortified of all the embassies is that of the United States of America. I guess in this post-9/11 you never know where al-Queida could strike next. Still Maputo doesn’t seem like a hotbed of Islamic terrorism, but of course the Americans just can’t take any chances when it comes to national security.

However, rigorously defending US interests abroad requires highly trained personnel on the ground. This is where our friends Toby and Scott come in. These boys are official US Marines stationed here in Maputo to defend the US Embassy against any and all security threats. Despite being well oiled machines ready for combat, Toby and Scott have each been embraced by our circle of friends for their strong desire to see and experience the world outside of their US worldview and their Marine compound. They are both strongly attracted to the freedoms that we possess in terms of thought, lifestyle and career choice. They have each noticed the extreme irony of how they are employed by the US government to defend “freedom” despite having such little freedom themselves. Our desire to help Toby and Scott expand their worldview, and question many of the messages handed down to them by their authorities, gave birth to the Festa de Liberdade, or Freedom Party.

We put on the grand affair at Scandinavia House, home to Tina the Dane and Ana the Swede, two floors down from me at the infamous 134 Rua Marconi. Mondi provided a massive sound system which got the people out of their seats and dancing all night. My friend Mundo, the guy with the massive smile on the left, brought along some of his drumming buddies and we had an amazing drum jam, interspersed with some of the Songs of Freedom, allowing everybody to sing along with the spirited choruses. The spirit of the evening carried the Festa on until 5 AM and really only ended after our guests had consumed every remaining ounce of food and beverage in the house.

While we may not have succeeded in “elevating” Scott’s mind that night, we were successful in helping to free his spirit as he danced energetically to the rhythms of the drums as well as the movements of our Portuguese friend Luisa. He has not stopped talking about how awesome the night was for him. A wonderful night on all accounts and a joy to share it with all of our “freedom loving” friends here in Mozambique.

A Rainbow of Beautiful Ladies

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

We Jammin’

One of the greatest things about living in a different country is meeting new and exciting friends. I have had the opportunity to meet many of the ex-pat community here in Maputo and have appreciated the connections I have made with many young people from Europe, Asia and the Americas. Despite my weak Portuguese I have still been able to make some nice Mozambican friends as well who have shown me much about the rich culture of this land. However, my greatest African friend that I have made here so far is a Zimbabwean named Mondli, or “my window” as he is called by his friends. Mondli is an artist from Harare who has lived in Maputo for the last three years making a living by selling his paintings on the street. It is not an easy life but Mondli is able to provide enough for his wife and child and lives in a descent house in one of the “nicer” ghettos on the outskirts of Maputo. Mondli and I have formed a strong friendship based on our mutual love of God, Africa and the Songs of Freedom.

This past Monday was very special as it was Mondli’s 30th Birthday Party. He wanted to celebrate the event in style and invited all of his Zimbabwean and Mozambican friends out to usher him into his next decade in life. He also invited all of us brancos to come down and party with him “in the ghetto.” Every time I visit Mondli at his home I come away blessed. The change of environment and the time spent with this happy African family fills me with a simple happiness and a fresh outlook on life. I was eagerly looking forward to this time to break the bread, share the wine and dance the night away with his family and friends.

A big convoy of us from the city met up with Mondli and his gang on Monday afternoon at the Maputo Fish Market and proceeded to navigate our vehicles through the extremely narrow streets of his neighbourhood to where the booming music indicated that the party was already well underway. Mondli’s wife Maria and her friends had prepared a huge feast of traditional Zimbabwean and Mozambican food and Mondli’s friends prepared some speeches to toast their friend on his special day. Above is Mondli (in that sharp checkered blazer!!) and his wife after we had finished singing Happy Birthday to him in four differant languages!! We all felt quite honoured to be a part of the festivities and many of the locals were overjoyed to be partying with us strange newcomers.

White people in this part of Maputo are an extreme rarity. Mondli’s son Emanuel, who is almost two years, had never seen a white person in the house before my first visit. He still stares at me with his huge curious eyes whenever I am around. My good friend Tina also had a pleasent surprise as this adorable little girl gave her a big hug as soon as we walked in the door and rarely left her side for the duration of the evening

One of the greatest events of the evening was the jam that we had in the back yard. Many of Mondli’s friends are strong Rastafarians, or at least are huge fans of reggae music. Mondli ordered me to learn as much Bob Marley as possible for the party and we poured through my entire repertoire before launching into some sweet improvised African jams. What I love most about African music is its simplicity, both in lyrics and in sound. Simple messages straight from the heart and straight to the point, played over the same three chords, makes for very emotionally stirring music. And I love how everybody here dances freely, from the four year old child to the 80 year old grandmother. This is the Spirit moving in our midst and it is this Spirit that continues to fascinate me and make me fall further in love with this land and its people. That you my friend for a beautiful evening and the beginning of something truly remarkable!

"Won't you help to sing
these songs of freedom?
'Cause all I ever have
is redemption songs."

Jah Live