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,
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?
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:
<<VIVA MULHERES BONITAS!>>
The crowd erupted in a volcanic burst of laughter. I certainly hope someone got the real joke. Feliz segunda-feira.