Friday, November 24, 2006


Yesterday afternoon I received some news that has devastated our community of friends here in Maputo. One of our close friends was the victim of a terrible crime in her house and the shockwaves of this incident will likely affect all of us for a long time to come. All of the horror stories of violence in this city seemed like distant urban legends until they finally reached someone close to me and I was smacked with this terrible reality. Are the feelings of security we possess entirely over inflated? Can one really prepare themselves enough for such a surprise and vicious attack? How does one overcome such tragedy and continue to approach life in Mozambique with a positive spirit?

On Wednesday morning, our friend was preparing to leave her house for work when she received a knock on her door. It was a man dressed in an electrician’s uniform apparently on a routine mission to read the electrical meter. She let him in and immediately he grabbed her and held a gun to her head. For the next two hours he proceeded to tie her up, rape her and steal most of her valuable possessions. After he was finished, he called one of her coworkers to brag about the incident and report that she was still left tied up in the apartment.

Receiving news of this nature leaves one entirely speechless. How can you begin to wrap your mind around a crime as heinous as this or begin to understand the soul of a man who could carry out such evil deeds? In addition to recovering mentally and spiritually, our friend has spent most of the past two days with doctors and police, dealing with the legal and medical repercussions of the attack. She has already begun medical and psychological treatment but this will undoubtedly be a long and painful process.

No one can truly predict how they would react in a similar situation, just as one cannot foresee how they would react to receiving news of this kind about a close friend. We all want to help but it is difficult to find the right words to console, empathize and encourage. She is returning home on Saturday and, despite the trauma of the past 48 hours, insisted on having a party to see all of her friends before she left. She said, more than anything, she needed to be surrounded by some serious positive energy.

So last night we all gathered at one of our favourite local pubs to share some drinks, some cheerful stories and some long embraces. It was something all of us needed really, the chance to get together as a community, vent our frustrations and remind ourselves that the sun will still rise tomorrow morning. It was very important for our friend to demonstrate to everyone that she has not changed, she is not still tied up in the bedroom and that she is ready to continue on with her life. I think the most remarkable thing about my friend has been her ability to stay positive in the aftermath of the incident. She was convinced she was going to die Wednesday morning and instead she feels that she has received a new gift of life. Such an inspiring testament to a beautiful, enduring soul.


May you rise above this calamity with grace and determination

Your spirit will shine much brighter than this present darkness

Truly it shall no longer hold its strength over you

And you will walk proudly once again along the path of light and love

That will surely sustain you for all of your days.

Many blessings to you until our paths meet again.

Peace and Love


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Closing Time!

Despite all the challenges that we faced in putting on the Learning Event Workshop, the two day event really was a rousing success. A solid 8 out of 10 from the facilitator team. We had great contributions from all participants, provocative presentations from the guest speakers and a jovial atmosphere which allowed people to interact freely while exchanging ideas and business cards (which is the whole purpose of these events after all right?). On the second day of the workshop, we invited a wider community of donors, microfinance practitioners, UN representatives and government officials to participate in event. We were interested in having their inputs into our work as well as showcasing the results of our project.

In addition to the work of our four Mozambican partners, we had guest speakers come from MFIs in Zimbabwe, Swaziland and South Africa to share the experiences of their institutions in designing HIV/AIDS strategies. We also set aside time for the participants to break into smaller groups and discuss the main challenges facing the microfinance industry as well as how the Mozambican industry as a whole can move forward from here on the issue of HIV/AIDS. MMF is closing at the end of this month and the various stakeholders here in Mozambique realize that they will have to work together to sustain the momentum generated through this project.

We followed up the final session of the workshop with a much anticipated and well deserved celebratory dinner at the Costa do Sol restaurant, a hands down favourite for MMF-MEDA functions here in Maputo. The night seemed to run on an endless supply of seafood, red wine and laughter as we all joyfully celebrated the end of our year long project. After dinner, some of the wonderful ladies from USAID and ECIAfrica wanted to see some of Maputo’s nightlife so, full of new found confidence, we all headed down to Rua Bagamoyo (Maputo’s historical “street of sin,” aptly named for various reasons) to dance the night away at Zona Quente (Eng: Hot Zone).

A wonderful closing to a great year with a fantastic work team. Thanks a million for everything you guys! Here are some pics from the two days.

Un Abraço


Cremildo getting into his element

Hello down there!! Is this thing on?!?!

CIDA Representative, Heather Cameron, giving the keynote address

The nitty gritty of group work

Joyful souls at the end of night

Monday, November 20, 2006

Trials and Tribulations Continue

The rant that I posted up on the blog last week really only tells a part of the story leading up to our Final Learning Event here in Maputo. Now that the dust has settled from a very hectic week, I can begin to digest and recall the events that culminated with our successful two-day workshop. Since this was going to be the final event of our HIV/AIDS and Microfinance project, as well as the final public event for MMF, we wanted to bolster our recognition by holding the event at the prestigious Hotel Avenida.

Our team of consultants and facilitators from Joburg, Waterloo and Washington D.C. began to file into Maputo on the Sunday evening and we had reserved the full day on Monday for reviewing the workshop agenda, coordinating last minute details and finalizing our presentations for Tuesday and Wednesday. Of course, procrastination caught up with us (especially me!!) resulting in late night scrambling to put all the final pieces into place. No matter how many times I promise to myself to be better prepared in advance for these types of things I always seem to flying by the seat of my pants at the last minute, resulting in high blood pressure and more than a few colourful phrases muttered repeatedly alongside frantic actions. Honestly, when will I learn?!?!

The first day was designed as a round table discussion with our consultant team and representatives from our four MFI partners. This gave us an opportunity to see each MFI present on their institution’s experiences throughout this project as well opening the floor to questions and comments from all participants regarding the successes, failures and, most importantly, the lessons learned from the various activities conducted over the past nine months. One of the greatest challenges in facilitating this project has been overcoming the language barrier between Mozambican practitioners that speak only Portuguese and foreign consultants that speak only English. Translators have thus become essential partners in this project and for the final event we elected to invest in a simultaneous translation system. Although coming with a hefty price tag, it allowed everyone around the table to communicate effectively and fluently about the issues at hand.

All except one however. After my presentation on our End of Project Survey I was grilled with a question from one of the consultants about what I thought were the three most important things a microfinance institution needed to have in place before they could successfully implement an HIV/AIDS strategy. I began my response in Portuguese but quickly began to stumble over my words and decided to switch to English. This proved no less helpful as I suddenly drew a complete blank, unable to string together a single coherent sentence. With my face turning a deeper shade of red, and the heat building under my collar, I frantically tried to reach into the furthest corners of my brain but could not produce anything other then sputtering, directionless phrases. Finally, my colleague Pauline Achola jumped in to save me from my pathetic display. Everyone had a nice hardy laugh at my struggle during the coffee break but I was thoroughly embarrassed. For a guy that has always prided himself on having good public speaking skills, this sudden brain freeze came as a real shock to me.

This embarrassing event was only the beginning of my VERY long evening. After our final planning session for the next days events I received notice that the hotel in which all of our out of town guests were staying had messed up our reservation, leaving us one room short. They had also neglected to pick up one of our guest speakers flying in from Zimbabwe. After some tense negotiations we were able to get all of the participants safely into their rooms that night with smiles still on their faces (barely).

Then came the task of preparing all of the final versions of the handouts for the following day. We began this job only at 8 PM since our speakers were still working on their final versions of their presentations up to 7:30 that night!! Pauline Achola graciously volunteered to help my with the photocopying and we worked out a pretty efficient assembly line system…that is until the photocopier at MMF broke down at about 10:15 with still half the job incomplete. After we had finished nearly pulling all of our hair out we convinced the front office staff at Pauline’s hotel to allow us to use their photocopier to complete the job. As we ran off the final documents, and finished the final bites of our cold take away pizza, the clock on the wall read 12:30 AM. Pauline told me that we had set a new MEDA record for late night conference preparation…yikes!!

I was utterly exhausted as I made my way back to my apartment that night. I am now living with my Irish friend Brendan in an amazing 11th floor flat on 24 de Julho. While the view is certainly breathtaking from that height, I found out that evening why living in an old highrise apartment in Maputo is not always what it is cracked up to be. Somewhere between the 7th and the 8th floors the electricity in the elevator went out and I was left stuck in the complete darkness. Panic began to set in as my initial button pushing and calling for help yielded no results. Finally one of the guards answered my calls and tried to restart the lift. After this proved futile, he told me he was going to “find a serviceman” but since it was already nearing 1:30 AM I was doubtful and began to prepare myself mentally for a night’s sleep in a stuck elevator. Another 30 minutes passed until I heard a series of banging and clanging above and below me until finally I was pulled up to the 8th floor where the “serviceman” proceeded to pry at the door until I was set free. In total, I was stuck in the lift for 50 minutes, although at the end of my long day this seemed like an eternity!!

I really wish this was the end of the story but unfortunately there is more. As I finally arrived at my flat I found out that Brenden had accidentally locked me out and that no amount of yelling and banging at the door was going to wake him up to let me in. Like an angry zombie I plodded back down the 11 flights of stairs and took refuge at my nearest friend’s house, wanting nothing more than to turn off the lights on this wretched day. The three hours of sleep was hardly sufficient for the following day but with all of my bad luck having been spent the night before I had a quiet confidence that day two would run smoothly. I will put up more pictures and stories from day two tomorrow.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Leaving Joburg Behind

I am sweaty, tired, frustrated and impatient as I write this blog. We are stuck on a bus by the side of the road, 45 minutes from the Mozambique-South African border and it is cooking hot outside. Africa hot. The kind of hot that makes a difficult situation, like our current predicament, the latest in our series of challenges today, seem even less tolerable. The kind of heat where you can actually see the patience draining out of people like the thick drops of perspiration that have gathered on their foreheads and are now running profusely down their arms and legs.

Our driver returns to the cab after a lengthy call on his cell phone. He is muttering and shaking his head. This cannot be good. Babies are crying, people are cursing and spirits are sinking. We cannot fix the bus on our own and we have no idea when a mechanic will arrive. We could be in for the long haul.

This is the second bus that has broken down on us today. The first was back at the Park Station in Johannesburg (aka Joburg or “Jozzie” to South Africans) where we blew out our clutch just two minutes after getting on the road. We waited over two hours for a new bus to arrive amidst the exhaust bellowing vehicles and dodgy characters that frequent the crowded terminal. A particularly sketchy looking character approached my colleague Cremildo and I with a clever story about how he needed just 20 Rand so he could visit his mother who is dying of HIV/AIDS. We brushed him off successfully but a few minutes later Cremildo looked down and noticed that his computer bag had been swiped. We had become the latest in a long list of crime victims in downtown Joburg.

Now I am going to just come out and say this straight: I hated Joburg. I thought it was a terrible city. I am sure that if I lived here for an extended period of time and was introduced to some more cultural circles I would find this city’s bright side but I saw very little in my five days there to make me want to go back. Years of apartheid have created a city with a horribly rotten core, rampant urban sprawl, shocking class disparity and a society irrevocably dependant on automobility as its only means of transport. Some people claim that Joburg is in the same class as other “First World” cities but I certainly do not see many redeeming qualities that would put the city alongside the New Yorks, Parises, Tokyos or Rios of the world.

However, as Alan Paton once said, in Southern Africa all roads inevitably lead to Joburg. No matter what your business is, you will eventually find yourself in this city one way or another. Cremildo and I came to meet with our consulting partners in ECIAfrica in order to put the finishing touches on our HIV/AIDS and Microfinance Learning Workshop being held in Maputo the following week. They invited us to Joburg to meet their staff, see their offices and work on our presentations and workshop activities. It was a productive week for sure and we all appreciated the opportunity to work together as a physical team rather than relying on communication via email and poor quality conference calls.

The one non-work related activity that I was really looking forward to in Joburg was visiting the Apartheid Museum. Since Robben Island was one of my clear highlights in Cape Town, and given the fact that PW Botha, SA’s last pro-apartheid PM, died the day that we arrived in the city, I figured that a trip to this museum should be an essential part of my Joburg experience. Unfortunately, I discovered that getting from point A to point B in this city is extremely difficult if you do not have a car. There are busses but certainly none that any white person, or any black person with a car for that matter, would ever dream of using. There are taxis but they are ridiculously expensive and extremely difficult to contact. A round trip across town to the Museum was going to set me back 400 Rand and the journey would take almost two and a half hours. I elected instead to flip through a biography of Nelson Mandela over a coffee at a posh bookstore rather than make the trek across town.

This trip came at about the same time that I realized that Cremildo and I had already spent nearly our entire travel budget allocated for this project. As a result, I came up with a plan for us to make the trip on the most frugal budget as possible: we would take the bus instead of fly and we would stay with one of the consultants in her garden house instead of a hotel. It seemed like the logical decision at the time but now that we are down one lap top computer and on our second break down of the day we both wished we had made alternative plans (Although Dominique your hospitality was incredible…Thank you again so much!!).

As I finish this post we are moving once again through the lush valleys of sugar cane and bananas on the way to the Mozambican border. The mechanic finally arrived and in less than two minutes fixed the problem to the resounding cheers of the passengers on board. As the sun is setting on this long travel day, it is casting the most beautiful golden light across the countryside, helping me to forget about the frustrations of the moment and once again remind myself of the bigger picture. It is when I do this that my problems and complaints seem so shockingly insignificant and I can once again focus on a positive frame of mind.