Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Parents in Paradise

After having their only son living on the other side of the world for the past year, my mother and father finally made it over to Mozambique to visit and see the country that I have described so glowingly in emails, blogs and long distance phone calls. This was my mother’s first experience in Africa and, despite her persistent fears about security, food poisoning and encounters with dangerous animals, she has successfully navigated her way through her African adventure in full stride.

After spending a week with some friends in Kenya, they arrived in Maputo and immediately were initiated into the Mozambican experience by having a drink in the local baraca and a seafood meal by the sea. We followed this up the next day by sampling some Mozambican food, complete with matapa, Zambezian chicken and goat curry and then a visit to Africa Bar, one of the hottest music clubs in town despite the cheesy name. They thoroughly enjoyed the ambiance, my father being particularly impressed with the boisterous band and the countless attractive Mozabicanas buzzing around the place. My friends thought it was strange that my parents would be game for such an intense night out on the town but it is something that I have come to expect, and love, about my mom and dad during our 26 years together.

We then took off to the idyllic Bazaruto Archipelago, a series of four tropical islands off the coast of Inhanbane province in the central region of the country. I have dreamed of visiting these islands the whole time I have been here and my anticipation was well justified as we caught our first glimpses of the pure white sand and turquoise water from the window of our plane. We stayed in a quant little town of Vilankulos in a thatched A-Frame hut just a stones throw from the ocean. We had originally wanted to stay at one of the resorts on the islands themselves but it is impossible to find accommodation for less than $300 US per person, per night!!! Paradise doesn’t come cheap I can tell you that.

We elected instead to use our holiday money to explore the islands by boat from the mainland. We took a snorkeling trip to Bazaruto Island and spent the day climbing the giant sand dunes, swimming in the secluded bay and snorkeling at the two-mile reef. The visibility underwater was stunning and we were able to see so many different types of fish and corals of all colours and sizes. I thought I had covered myself well with sunscreen but discovered that night that I had neglected a long streak along the front of my chest, leaving me with a rather ridiculous looking burn the next morning.

The next day we rented our own boat and took off to Santa Carolina Island, or more appropriately named “Paradise Island” by the Portuguese tourists back in the 50s and 60s. It certainly lived up to the hype as we spent the morning exploring coral reefs and deserted beaches before climbing back into our boat to make it to the Benguerra Island Resort in time for lunch. We spent the rest of the day visiting some of the local communities on the island and relaxing in the late afternoon shade.

The next day we were scheduled to leave but our flight was cancelled so we were forced to stay another day in our beautiful surroundings. Initially I was upset, as I knew that I had a mountain of emails to deal with at the office and colleagues expecting my return but a cold beer overlooking the ocean soon washed all of those concerns. When would I get a chance to be stranded with my parents in a tropical paradise again? We celebrated our blessings that night with another bottle of wine and a wonderful seafood platter.

The following weekend we packed up the car and took the Penner circus on the road to Kruger Park. My parents were shocked at the differences one sees when crossing the border from Mozambique to South Africa. Desolate hills and simple reed huts quickly turn into stately homes and lush irrigated commercial farmlands. We rented a car from Maputo and cruised around the park looking for the Big Five (ah safari in a Civic, gotta love Kruger!!). While we saw tons of elephants, Rhinos and Buffalo, we were unable to find the lions on this trip. However, we easily made up for this by seeing THREE leopard!! The third of which was perched in a tree, munching away on an impala. I couldn’t get a great picture but it was still something amazing to see!!

To put it simply, the time with my parents here in Mozambique was fantastic. We shared many great meals, laughs and adventures and were able to once again get into our family rhythm without any effort. I have always felt blessed to have such supportive and kind-hearted parents who take such a genuine interest in my work and in my friends. These past weeks only served to confirm this deeply rooted belief. Now they are off to Cape Town to finish the final leg of their African Tour. Have a great time you two and don’t forget to climb Table Mountain and get lost in a vineyard!!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Roll up for the mystery tour!!

Well it has been almost a whole month since my last post and I have run out of all worthwhile excuses for not writing. I guess I am just too preoccupied with the day-to-day events of my 8 to 5 job here in Maputo that I no longer see my existence here as a Mozambican “adventure.” Ha ha, apathy and procrastination really can be terrible viruses. Things here still continue to amaze me, even though my one year anniversary in this beautiful country has long since passed me by. Much has happened in this past month and I would like to first tell you all a little bit about my final work trip that Cremildo and I took in the middle of September.

We took off for a bit of a Magical Mystery Tour of Mozambique that saw us visit three provinces in a week and a half. If there is one thing that I can seriously count myself blessed for it has been my ability to see many different regions of this country through our HIV/AIDS and microfinance project. As any development worker will agree, working in the field provides a degree of satisfaction that you just cannot find while pounding away at a keyboard under the fluorescent lights of an office room. Encountering the personalities of those on the ground puts development into a realistic perspective and recharges ones heart and soul for working in this field.

We began our journey in Nampula where we were joined by Dominique Brouwers, our consulting partner from ECIAfrica in Johannesburg. We spent two solid days with our partners CMN and Ophavela, discussing our research reports and policy recommendations. While Ophavela continues to amaze me with their strategic planning and operational capabilities, CMN continues to present out team with headaches. Their organization continues to drag their feet with a couple of key activities, despite our continual support and pressure applied on them from Maputo. With this organization, we have definitely encountered that fine line in development between technical assistance and “carrying” a partner towards a final goal.

After our time in Nampula, Cremildo and I went to Beira in the Sofala province to continue our second phase of our HIV/AIDS impact assessment with our partner BOM. Here we encountered a whole new challenge: a severe lack of communication between the BOM branches in the field and the head office in Maputo. We found out that the branches were quite behind schedule in HIV/AIDS trainings and therefore only a fraction of the clients were eligible for our survey. This obviously made it very difficult for us to obtain our required research sample but with the help of some hard-working, and very patient, enumerators we were able to complete a sufficient number of surveys.

Returning to Beira, I was reminded of the decrepit state of this once bustling port city. To understand the contemporary state of Beira, one must understand the regional dynamics of this massive and culturally diverse country. The central region of the country has for years been at odds with the highly developed and politically influential south. Maputo has for years been the main commercial and political hub of the country and the regional isolation felt by many Mozambicans in the center has been able to be manipulated by RENAMO to challenge the FRELIMO old guard in the south. Unfortunately, since Beira is the political heartland of RENAMO, the city receives very little support from the governing party in Maputo. The years of civil war also had a disasterous effect on the city and it has never fully recovered from its rapid deterioration.

One of the best examples of Beira’s crumbling state of affairs is the Grande Hotel. This used to be Beira’s leading 5 star hotel before independence, hosting the likes of celebrities, politicians and wealthy Portuguese elite. However, as the country slipped further and further towards revolution the owners promptly packed their bags and left behind their magnificent establishment. Now, 30 years later, the Grande Hotel is home to over 2000 squaters with 3-4 families sharing a room, goats and chickens roaming the hallways, laundry strung throughout the dinning room and central stair case and the distinct aroma of charcoal fires, rotting garbage and urine. When I was last in Beira I had the chance to go inside the building with a local Mozambican friend of mine (it would be a death wish for a white guy to go in alone!!). Walking around the living ruins of a five star hotel is truly a bizarre experience.

After we said goodbye to Beira, we made our way to Chimoio in the province of Manica to continue with the HIV/AIDS impact survey with BOM. Chimoio is the opposite of Beira, clean, calm, relaxed, beautiful. We spent three productive days collecting our samples with the help of too young enumerators and meeting with potential partners for our microfinance and HIV/AIDS affected youth project. We here at MEDA are excited about the potential of this project and doing more hands on work in the field. I’ll keep you posted on the progress of this proposal.

Finally, I’ll leave you with a picture of some kids playing around in the late afternoon in Chimoio. I really like this picture for some reason. For me it represents the joy, beauty and innocence of youth. In Mozambique, these kids are called the Janela de Esperança (window of hope) because there generation holds the best chance for the country to rebuild after the ravages of HIV/AIDS. Protecting these youth from infection, and equipping them with practical skills and higher education, will be a central challenge to the future growth of Mozambique.