Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas in Canada

Being home for Christmas this year was one of the greatest gifts I could have received. I love my new home in Mozambique but my true home is here in Winnipeg, especially during the holiday season. As I was preparing to leave Maputo for my 30 hour journey home, I became intoxicated on the anticipation of seeing a White Christmas once again, something I had missed dearly the previous year. As exotic as it sounds, cold drinks on a sunny beach will never top hot chocolate and a roaring fire at Christmas time. I am so incredibly fortunate to have this opportunity to come home and spend this cherished time with friends and family amidst the serene beauty of a prairie Canadian winter.

As I write this entry, it is “only” -10 degrees Celsius outside. I say only because it could easily drop down to -25 degrees any moment. Winnipeg has the distinction of being one of the coldest cities in the world so a temperature reprieve is a welcome blessing. Actually I find -10 to be ideal winter conditions, perfect for ice hockey, skiing and long walks in the park among the glowing Christmas lights and sparking fields of snow. This is such an unbelievable contrast to Africa and I am looking forward to sharing these images with my Mozambican friends who have never come close to seeing a White Christmas.

Of course the other significant cultural contrast I have encountered this holiday season is the mass consumerism here in the North America. I had a hard time driving past the long rows of box commercial chains with the lines of cars stretching out of the parking lots, shoppers frantically scrambling to buy that final gift on their Christmas lists. I did not even go near the malls this year, I figured that this “reverse” culture shock would be just a little too much to handle. I read an article the other day about how Canadians spend an average of $825 each year on Christmas gifts. That is A LOT of money that we spend simply on stuff, much of which we will not even use after a few years time!!

At the risk of sounding cliché, I cannot help but be challenged amidst all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season by John Lennon’s “So this is Christmas and what have you done.” As a wayfaring Christian, this song always brings the true meaning of Christmas close to my heart: How have we offered love, peace, hope and joy with a world so often devoid of such simple and precious gifts? There is comfort and inspiration in the Christmas message for a world suffering from warfare, hunger and death. There is new life that comes from the Light that shines above, just as it was in Bethlehem 2000 years ago so may it be today in Winnipeg, Iraq, Mozambique and to the ends of the earth.

My prayer for everyone is that we can experience this Light in a new way this holiday season, allowing us to invigorate our souls and illuminate all those we encounter on the walk of life. I’ll leave ya with the lyrics to one of my favourite Christmas tunes, the aptly titled “Christmas Song” by Dave Matthews. Many blessings to you all and have a wonderful Christmas and a very festive holiday season!!

She was his girl, he was her boyfriend
Soon to be his wife, make him her husband
A surprise on the way, any day, any day
One healthy little giggling, dribbling baby boy
The Wise Men came, three made their way
To shower him with love
While he lay in the hay
Shower him with love, love, love
Love, love was all around

Not very much of his childhood was known
Kept his mother Mary worried
Always out on his own
He met another Mary who for a reasonable fee
Less than reputable was known to be
His heart was full of love, love, love
Love, love was all around

When Jesus Christ was nailed to the his tree
Said "Oh, Daddy-o, I can see how it all soon will be.
I came to shed a little light on this darkening scene.
Instead I fear I’ve spilled the blood of our children all around."
The blood of our children all around
The blood of our children’s all around

So I’m told, so the story goes
The people he knew were
Less than golden-hearted
Gamblers and robbers
Drinkers and jokers
All soul searchers
Like you and me
Like you and me

Rumors insisted he soon would be
For his deviations taken into custody
By the authorities, less informed than he.
Drinkers and jokers, all soul searchers
Searching for love, love, love
Love, love was all around

Preparations were made
For his celebration day
He said, "Eat this bread, think of it as me.
Drink this wine and dream it will be
The blood of our children all around,
The blood of our children’s all around

Father up above,
Why in all this anger do you fill me up with love, love, love?
Father up above,
Why in all this hatred do you fill me up with love?
Fill me love, love, yeah
Love, love, and the blood of our children all around

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Zavala Nights

Stepping out of North America and setting foot in an African city certainly has presented me with a very different living environment. But Maputo, despite its Third World hardships and charms, is still very much a “Western” looking city, complete with a wide selection of luxuries and comforts to satisfy any First World desire. Now I am certainly no stranger to Maputo’s finest restaurants, bars, convenience stores and cultural centers but it really is something else to leave the comforts of Maputo behind and step into the “Real Mozambique” ( I am trying to set a record for most “” uses in one blog entry!!). Here is where one really encounters the differences between North American and African culture.

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of visiting some fine Mozambican folks I had met through a French friend of mine named Nathalie. They live in the town of Zavala in the southern most part of Inhambane province in central Mozambique. I had just been to Bazaruto with my parents a few weeks previous and clearly saw why Inhambane has become a premier stop on the Southern African tourist circuit. Nothing but idyllic beaches, premier fishing and scuba diving environments, along with some of the friendliest communities of souls in all of the country. When Vasco de Gama became the first European to encounter this untouched treasure trove he named the place “Terra de Boas Gentes” or Land of the Good People. Little has changed in Inhambane over the last 500 years to warrant any other name.

One of the things I respect most about Nathalie (and one of the reasons I find myself spending a lot of time with her recently) is her desire to integrate deeper into Mozambican culture, despite being confined to an 8 to 5 office job like myself here in Maputo. When she invited me to visit her friends Amos and Bob (not a very Mozambican name I thought!) who work with a school of traditional music in Zavala, I obviously jumped at the opportunity. Hoping on a north bound bus one Saturday morning of a long weekend, we braved the hot sweaty 8 hours to spend an unforgettable weekend with some truly good people.

We were first greeted warmly by a welcoming committee of Bob, his wife (the two pictured above), sisters, brothers and cousins who proudly took us out the best restaurant/nightclub in town for a hearty meal of Fried Chicken, salad and chips. We then proceeded to dance up a storm as the locals began to pour steadily into the club, filling up the already crowded dance floor. Mozambicans, whether they are from a big city or a small town, can never seem to find their way to the disco until well after 11 pm, creating some serious “dance till the sun comes up” opportunities. Bob and Amos, and the whole family for that matter were in fine form and we had a riot dancing the night away to Mozambican, Brazilian and South African pop tunes.

The next morning we work up with the natural rhythm of an African homestead, roosters calling, kids running to fetch water and the women stoking the day’s first charcoal fires. Bob’s sister graciously offered Nathalie and I her hut to sleep in during our stay and we thoroughly enjoyed its rugged charm, complete with electricity even!! Relaxing with a cup of tea in the morning, and a bowl of fresh fish soup, amidst the waving palm leaves and melodic voices emerging from the neighbouring churches, I sat and allowed my senses to gather in the gentle beauty of Africa.

Bob was eager for us to get moving however as he had a big day planned for us. We were first going for a tour of the town of Zavala and then off to meet his father in Quissico where we would drive the hour and half into the bush to see the music school. Zavala overlooks a spectacular stretch of coastline but the beaches and lagoons are very difficult to access from both the main highway and town. My friends could not believe it when I returned to Maputo and told them that I had traveled to Inhambane and did NOT visit a beach. This trip, however, was more about music that it was about getting a suntan.

We met up with Bob’s father and were introduced to more and more of Bob’s brothers and cousins. Turns out Bob comes from a very large family as his father has five wives and nearly 40 children!! Quite the African man indeed, with each wife receiving her own separate homestead in the area. We all piled in the back of a rickety, rusted out pick up truck for the journey into the bush. The truck only broke down twice along the narrow road but our expert comrades were able to shuffle under the body of the vehicle and promptly fix the problem.

We arrived at the school and were once again greeted by a tremendous welcoming committee of nearly every man, woman and child in the surrounding areas. News spread quickly that there were visitors coming and the whole village assembled to watch a show put on by the young musicians and dancers of the school. I was absolutely amazed at how well practiced and professional the groups were. They clearly showed their experience which has seen them play concerts all over southern Mozambique. For an African child, who has grown up only knowing his immediate surroundings, taking a trip to the capital city can be the honour of a lifetime!!

The music played at the school is mainly Timbila music, which is basically a large xylophone made out of wood and hollowed out masala shells. When you have 6 or 7 timbilas playing frantically, alongside some raucous percussion rhythms, the scene can be quite intense. Zavala after all is the Timbila capital of Mozambique and each year hosts the National Timbila Festival where up to fifty Timbilas will be playing at once. Nathalie and I were both given the chance to perform our pathetic Timbila skills, much to the delight of the village children and elders. We spent a fantastic afternoon listening to and playing music while passing around homemade beer. We even got a chance to visit the workshop where the children of the school make the traditional instruments to sell in the market. One particular boy, the one in the middle facing the camera in the picture above, has been named a legitimate Timbila prodigy, who at the age of ten has already considered the best player in the region.

That night we enjoyed a tasty meal of vegetable stew and chicken foot soup at Bob’s house and (surprise, surprise) back to the disco for another night of cervejas and booty shaking with the locals. The next morning we visited more of Bob’s family as well as friends that work in various businesses in town. Jumping on a Maputo bound bus at just before noon, Nathalie and I did nothing but relax and reminisce about our wonderful weekend amidst such genuine Mozambican culture and hospitality.