Category Archives: Culture

Girls as people with vision

Maniac Monday is what we call ‘segunda-feira’ in Mozambique and for good reason.  Sunday is ‘domingo’, just as in Spanish, it represents The Lord’s Day.  So as is typical of Northern Mozambique, things move a bit more slowly after everyone has been to church or mosque, and the first day back to work is really the second or ‘segunda’ day because the first was a day of rest (I deign to comment on Southernmost parts of the country as I have read enough to know there are major distinctions.)  No wonder things move so slowly.

Just last week on segunda-feira, I was on a bus heading toward’s the Mayoral side of the village for a special day known as Dia da Mulher Moçambicana, or, Women’s Day.  Of course, the bus was approximately an hour late, but then again an hour is not so bad by African standards.  The ladies were on their way to a day of festivities where we were told very little about, except that we would be playing football (soccer as it is known by Americans) at 12:00.  So why was the bus scheduled at 9:00?

Across several dirt roads and songs echoing throughout a sweaty, slightly uncomfortable vehicle with shouts of chorus presumably about things women did or the men they had to put up with, we travelled throughout the village.  This seems to be a common denominator across cultures.  Curious, isn’t it?

Usually in Mozambique a woman’s work includes carrying firewood, moving water from the source to the home, raising children, waiting for the men to come home from the markets, waiting for the men to come home from being ‘out’, working harder than anyone else, and pulling children back into the home before and just after primary school to help the ladies continue such things.   It brings new meaning to the oft-debated colloquium in American mags about the ‘Women who have it all.’  What about women who do it all? Some such suggestions of these choruses were: “Quando os homens sair ..”  There was laughter which followed each verse shouting,

<<As mulheres!>>

A crowd of villagers looks on, seated comfortably on grounds outside the Mayoral heart of the village in Nacala.
A crowd of villagers looks on, seated comfortably on grounds outside the Mayoral heart of the village in Nacala.

If the reader is wondering what the shouts of WOMEN answered, it was as probably guessed already – when the men go out… Who does the work? Who is there?  Women! Mulheres!  Giggles ensued with each refrain.

So, delightedly screaming and in perfect rhythm, the ladies clapped their way from the outside of Nacala-a-Velha to the center of the village.  Getting out of the dingy, dirt-smeared bus into a bright and gorgeous day, we heard more singing from the middle of an encampment where a canopied roof held dancers who moved in a long line waving their hands like palm trees outstretched in the wind.  Everyone was wearing bright colours and looming through one another’s hips and hands, like a giant weave of fabric creating patterns of gold and red, blue and yellow.  Their design was a brilliancy only reflected in their long, bold skirts sashaying in the breeze.

When the movement stopped, a crowd of mostly children and women sat openly under the sweltering sunlight in loud applause for a day hopefully precipitated by more performances.   Instead of more dancing, however, we were subjected to two political speeches about the economic power and progress Mozambique was using to become a great nation, and the honour of such development and investment (In a not-so-ironic nod to the giant port constructed just a few kilometres away, they hailed foreign companies as brilliance incarnate.) as brought by the premier political governance of Frelimo.  While the speech was meant to be empowering for all, there was a decidedly conspicuous lack of discussion about women.  While my lack of linguistic prowess is decided, the simple word ‘mulher’ was so rarely used, I almost dare to say I heard it once.  Coincidental?

Frelimo was certainly a party to the conversation, but what about the female?  Where was she?  See Democratic Republic of Congo’s response to women below.  Inciting!

The stream of Portuguese translation to English from the man beside me was abruptly stopped by my deliberation:  “So, this is all very positive, but what is he saying about women since this is their day?”

He looked at me in gentle surprise: “Well, you see…The woman is responsible for the children and for the way forward.  She is so important.  She brings the children into this world – she teaches them the ways of the world.  She brings them to school.  She is vital for these things, you know.”

In kind, I replied, “Well if this is so, why aren’t they talking about her much throughout these speeches?  While the future of Mozambique is important – I wonder why they do not say these things.  Why do they not talk about the women more?”

He could not truly answer, except to insist the same elements of the great work of the female he had managed to state before.  This was not entirely satisfactory as I had observed time and again how hard the women worked – was this not the time to recognize how much the female contributed year after year to producing such efficiency, progress and success?

It seemed too often a familiar story – a woman is an object of beauty and designed to contribute to family.  While not denying these elements of the female are still part of her makeup as a human being, (In fact, the human race certainly would not have progressed as far as it has today without such attractions) what about her contributions outside of the aesthetic and motherly role?

Captured in a sea of lovely Moçambicanas and a few South Africans.
Captured in a sea of lovely Moçambicanas and a few South Africans.

An advocate for empowerment in realms of art, beauty, literature, and good old-fashioned labour by men and women, I wondered where the discussions of real contribution outside of the tried-and-true familial distinctions we all prize.  Perhaps they are still a long way coming in all academic, career, sport, and labour discussions, but they certainly are obvious in the light of day.   After all – women were supposed to play football!  Excellent.  (Quid pro quo, the rain stopped us from the show. It is probably just as well considering my athletic limitations in slide-tackling during mud.  Although very tempting….)

As far as career and hard work, I had seen much to make me proud of women.  My limited experiences with waking early in the day and driving down any main road shows the female outnumbers the male at least 10 to 1 carrying anything one can think of on their heads from mattresses to timber.  While this might be a subject often discussed on this website, it is one I will not tire of easily until I’m proven wrong and women are recognized for their work.

In the following 60 minutes, there was more dancing and joy, especially by the young children who loved watching their mothers, sisters, aunts and cousins join in to the hip-swaggering beat of the drums and the remaining political speeches: yes, there were three more that I can recall, interspersed with further gender-absent discussion.  Oh joy.  The final motivational speaker almost had me on the floor with renditions of “Viva Moçambique!  Viva Frelimo!  Viva Mulheres Bonitas!”

In summary, it still comes down to one thing – a woman is beautiful.  A woman is to be celebrated.  Surely, this is a reason to sing, dance and scream.  I almost cried with laughter. This is when the entire crowd died down to a bare whisper and noting this as an opportune time to inject some wry humour I shouted alone, surrounded by girls and women alike who knew of my small grasp of Portuguese.  Their eyes were round as saucers as I yelled:



The crowd erupted in a volcanic burst of laughter. I certainly hope someone got the real joke.  Feliz segunda-feira.  

Dancing inspired by beautiful places

So Pharrell Williams’ recent release ‘ Happy ‘ is now being copied by folks around the world for its appearance of spontaneity and the ordinary in cities around the world. What began in L.A. is now being shown up with films of dancers all around the world in major cities.   A recent export from Paris myself from the last almost 2 years of my life, I appreciated the ability of this video in the city of light to inspire happiness from Trocadero, La Tour Eiffel, Oberkampf, Les Champs Élysées,  and Le Louvre among others.  The reason I really like this is not only because it captures the beauty of the city, but reveals that the dancers are just ordinary people who happen to know how to move their feet.

Additional links are below, with additional mirror images of Pharrell’s positive vibes, with a soft spot for Antananarivo, Madagascar…

You can find the video here:


Hong Kong:




Los Angeles:

A Short Setswana Song

Another scorching hot day in Africa.  The past week has been spent mostly dealing with new research findings in international law as well as getting over a vicious flu bug that seems to have nabbed quite a few takers in the immediate vicinity. Therefore, I have had quite a lot of time to go over the Christmas holidays in my mind as I’ve been stuck indoors much more often than I’d care to admit.  Hence there will be some time spent on Botswana and my reflections of the wedding I attended, which should prove to be possible entertainment and insightful if I may. Gaborone, the dusty desert of a capital, proved to be beautiful and hot, hot, hot.  After the first few days of guitar hunting in shops that were closed for Christmas, safari driving in the local wildlife reserve and downing Portuguese chicken, steak (lots of meat offers in Gabs) there was a silent undertaking going on that was soon infiltrating all aspects of the holiday. For Christmas, a number of Northern Europeans had sneakily disturbed the quiet of the city. They were known as the  Irish. (Plus one spy. ME.)

By quiet I mean all the Setswana seem to have gone elsewhere for Christmas. Dead quiet. In preparation for the wedding just days after Christmas, every person over the age of fifty was gone for several hours at a time.

The Tswana family unit is built on a patriarchy that establishes not just the parents as “parents” but the uncle, too.  For example, the groom and his entire family was from Ireland. While the groom was represented by his biological parents in the days leading to the wedding, the bride was represented by her uncle, and secondarily, the biological parents. The maternal uncle is accorded a special place and in the groom’s wedding (Call him B) this was no different. B’ s parents faithfully attended wedding planning meetings four days beforehand.  As B and his family were not familiar with the Tswana family unit traditional meetings, they were often frustrated to discover the meetings did not always start on time and the bride’s uncle, Mr W as we’ll suggest he should be named, was playing the title of negotiator. As Mr W was promising to represent as much as possible the wishes of B and the ‘foreign’ side of this wedding it was easy to see the conflict of interest from the start.

Patlo is known as the seeking ceremony, wherein the groom intends to seek the hand in marriage of the daughter of the Botswana family.  Patlo can apparently continue for weeks before the bride’s family consents to a wedding. In B’ s case, this had been negotiated months before when he invited the family to Gabs from Ireland. Naturally this would not have  been planned without the prior consent of the family. For the sake of tradition, however, Patlo would continue for 3-4 days rather than the usual several weeks. When B’ s parents day in and day out would wake at 5am (or earlier) as the Setswana people usually begin their days at dawn, no matter whether ceremonial, horticultural or business, you can imagine how tired they were.  The Irish are hard working as we know, but this was Christmastime. It did not matter – there was no rest for the weary.

As a clumsy, innocent bystander, I felt shamelessly useless. What could I do? Not much.  This is why you found me either at the mall with a coffee or by the pool… or… well let’s face it, creative candy construction was the epitome of my artistic know how that week. Yes, I made a gingerbread house. So what. (Photos later) Secretly all grown up children want one of those. Back to the seeking ceremony.  In Setswana culture, the boy’s family leads a delegation to the girl’s family.  After the successful first meeting and lots of structured discussions, the bride’s family makes the decision to accept the offer of marriage. Soon after there is another group of females from the groom’s side, in this case B’ s aunt, M, and his mother. They went to the bride’s male side to “wash the words of the men” and finally, to accept the bride and her family’s consent. This to me, shows the extent of how the patriarchal system is still an integral part of Botswanian life. While of course this was mainly tradition, (after all, how can one decide last minute ceremony decisions for a wedding when you have to pay in advance?) It was fascinating how often the men made decisions. Even when the women were involved in decision-making, they were  to “wash the words”. Whose words? The men’s.  After all, the man is the one with the voice.

As mentioned, I felt useless. But I enjoyed seeing what kind of wedding this would turn out to be.  I wasn’t the only bystander though, but approximately four of us in our twenties and thirties who were either not old enough to take part of wedding discussions but we’re simply *gasp* unmarried. Plus one more cousin who arrived the night before the wedding. Oh so fashionable! As stated about being single and unattached… When it comes to a wedding, a bride and groom need counsel.  On the one hand, this makes logical sense. A woman and man who have been married could provide sage advice based on their experiences. Have I mentioned that M was unmarried and so was P, the other uncle of B? Ah yes.  Poor B must live with marriage advice from experienced and wiser family members (both over 60) who are both unmarried. I chuckle because both are lovely people and B is lucky to have them; I just cannot imagine what the Setswana were thinking. So..the four of us stayed out of the elder meetings for several days and ran random errands when we were asked. But truly our main task was to cheer up B, who came back to the lodge every night exhausted because his new in laws were trying to change something else in the next Patlo meeting.

Needless to say we had an important job. Poor B looked like one of those cute animals I kept seeing try to cross the road who obviously have good intentions but have a sad look in their eyes.  Poor guy just wanted to get married. Elopement was looking pretty good.

To be c o n t i n u e d . . .

One of the many creatures used for labour in Africa. This photo was snapped in Marrakech but you find hundreds of these in Southern Africa, like Botswana.
One of the many creatures used for labour in Africa. This photo was snapped in Marrakech but you find hundreds of these in Southern Africa, like Botswana.