Category Archives: Human Rights

No Lies



It has been said that writing needs to be honest if it is going to be any good. So today I will give a swift kick in the groin to some of the lies people tell each other.

“I’m not being racist here, but the people here are just so f****n lazy.  Excuse my language.” he stared at me for a brief moment and grinned.  It was the kind of laugh only a truly irreverent moment can create because it abandons all reason.  He had my attention.

Most people who know me think that I’m somewhat naïve in this African continent and they would probably be right.  They smile disingenuously and say that I’m a soldier.  They say I’m a scientist. (I’m not; I just think.)  I’m a visitor.  Some say it.  Some are thinking even worse. It is because I’m a woman. It’s because I’m not black.  It is condescending and it distorts their own insecurities into some quip.

People would like to tell you that racism is a thing of the past.  We are beyond it; we have learned. We are ‘equal opportunity’ whores, we talk to everyone, we sleep with everyone and we don’t see color.  Sleeping with a girl who is a ‘local at a bar’ doesn’t make you progressive.  It makes you desperate for a warm bed at night, sir.

Maybe I’m naïve because I don’t swear or that I moralize on what corruption and underhanded tax loopholes do to a person’s slow grasp on the line between right and wrong.  Perhaps this means that I am unable to accept the dirty principles that rule the daily lives.  I’m white.  I haven’t accepted the ‘white rules’ yet – but they think I will.

Casual conversations about knife stabbings in the face, drug running in the factories in nearby towns, and prostitution just outside my community do not make me feel safe.  However, it is a part of life in Nacala.  Why?
People building just outside of Nacala Porto.

Almost two months of being a resident in Mozambique and I’m far from complacent about the ugliness I hear.  I walk through the sludge-driven, unpaved roads in my steel-toed boots in a thinly veiled metaphor for the mud we are all being dragged through.  In a Slavoj Žižek desert of The Real, things are never as they seem because the Real is the disgusting, prurient truth no one wants to face lying just underneath the daily grind.

Are we able to escape the truth? Not here.  Here we have to look right at it.

The hypocrisy that you see in this country is not just a problem of one kind of person – it is an issue we all confront.  If the impoverished of Mozambique are ignorant of public health issues, for example, it must have to do with the simple lack of knowing what to do.  What is the excuse of an educated person?

I had a conversation just three days ago with a man who had the angelic face of an old man who wouldn’t hurt a fly.  A few seconds later he told us all about his bathroom tiles.  How they were being put in, what the shower looked like, took out his iPad, revealed a few photos…then dropped the bomb.  The man who was doing the remodel was black, he said, and with a tone of idle surprise said as if to apologize, “But it’s actually coming out okay.”  He didn’t sound convinced.

Who decides what is and isn’t an acceptable standard of work ethic?  This man?  I don’t think so.

But this is not simple a generation-Y question of what our children and children’s children can do to stop this. It is a question of what we are doing to combat it and why it’s failing.  Stupidity.

Take the FUCK RACISM bracelets you see on artistic hipster websites – is this the answer to the ruthless fear inspired by the black and white lines we have created? Isn’t this just another brand of hatred we create with a new cycle of fear-mongering?

Does this hurt or help?
Does this hurt or help?

I wish I knew.  In the meantime, maybe the KKK needs to disappear and the kicking minorities out of bars because of invisible ‘membership’ laws needs to stop in the U.S. but what about here?  What about the way people continue to stab each other in the back with verbal abuse?  Life goes on and the ugly or The Real, as it is lies just there underneath our feet.

In the meantime, the haters (quite literally) need to shut their mouths.

On girl power and the value of the written word

Mozambique is a place of extremes – extreme heat, extreme poverty, harsh landscape, harsh beauty (Just look at the parched sand as the dusk hits the horizon. It’s hard to deny.)  What about the extreme differences that exist between a man and a woman?  Well.

They too exist.  The battle between the sexes is never far from my mind as anyone can attest who has entered into conversation with me over business, books, competition, or the old favourite, strength & sports.  No I don’t think that women cannot be firefighters or weight lifting champions but are they able to do this as a general rule?

While I could spend time talking about whether an Olympic skier could flash a faster time if s/ he was male or not, or even about whether people like Adi Zarsadias are giving feminists a bad name because she thinks being a traveller makes her self-aware, subsequently emotionally unavailable, thus superior ( … I’d rather discuss the apalling statistics that show how far we still need to go when it comes to the basics.

In the battle between the sexes, do both sides lose in inequality?
In the battle between the sexes, do both sides lose in inequality?

From my second day of being in Nampula, I was greeted by local girls eager to speak Portuguese to me, despite my lack thereof and the friendliness was far from unwelcome.  When you’re a foreigner, every bit of that smile is like pure happiness.  No matter how many times I move to a new place, I will never get used to that first 30 days.

Adaptable? Yes. Familiar? Yes. Comfortable? No.

The women are kind and they have an enthusiasm about meeting new people which is unmatched.  My meagre “obrigada” And “Tchau! Até mais!” was not snivelled at, rather celebrated.  Women not only are sweet, but they do a lot of the labor. After a few days you will notice that the ones standing in front of a fruit stand or carrying water from a well are the females, and not the other way around.

But for such a hard-working gender, they are unfortunately side-tracked for what the men want in Mozambique.  While many traditions are practiced by both genders, such as, the performance of the Makhuwa dance, many are not. Men build. Men are hired as laborers of industry and construction. Men can be managers. Women farm, clean floors, and wash clothes.  There is a dichotomy that not only creates a gendered division of labor, but an inequity in treatment.  If one’s choices are limited because of the way others see an entire sex, there is little freedom and precious little autonomy.

Note a few of the more intriguing rituals. Some Northern traditions include a widow shacking up with the youngest brother of the deceased to ward off evil spirits.  Despite the temporary nature of the hook-up, it is still quite unusual.  Initiation from girl to woman may include a ceremony of de-flowering not of a female’s choosing when entering a tribe of males who have just been circumcised in their rites departing boyhood.

While the details of such traditions are far from common knowledge, recent digging has led to the unfortunate conclusion that some of the results or implications of these rituals reveals high prevalency of infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and low literacy rates, especially for girls.  While patriarchal systems in place are not fully to blame for these consequences, it does seem that the value men place on men does allow women to easily be second or third priority.

UNESCO has more information on their website. Source:

As much as I’d like to discuss how females should seek independence and free speech, this division between men and women is more than simply a figurative battle – it affects the women here because of their low level of education, access to career opportunities and most significantly lack of human rights preservation.  So it needs to start with the foundation – learning how to read and write.  The literacy rates of Mozambican youth have actually increased in recent years, which is promising for the next few years as many countries such as Brazil, Portugal, Canada and China have begun major development projects in natural gas and coal.  If the youth increase their knowledge, there is serious hope for Mozambique to use its newfound economic wealth to build this country.

The Sub-Saharan region, in general, has much to gain from increasing their primary and secondary school enrollment rates.  While Mozambique is not at the bottom of the list of these African nations, there are only a few countries, like Guinea, Niger, and Liberia which have lower literacy percentages, especially for females.


The longer I am here, the more compelling it is to understand what the blockades are to the success of the Mozambiquan peoples and how this can be promoted.  While living in this place is a far cry from the ‘white girl smiling with the cute baby on an African safari’ stereotype, presence in Mozambique as a non-indigenous, non-native, non-pan African even…I have much to learn.  There must be ways in which this beautiful country can rise up to sustain itself and progress forward.  Until that day comes, suppose it is only natural to wonder how one might at least be part of the discussion.  I’m impressed with the enthusiasm with the people and continue to be humbled by the ways in which all of them survive.  It would be arrogant to assume I could do much at all, especially since I don’t belong here. I have very little knowledge of their real needs.  I do know this though.

At least for today, the conversation is being directed against the tried and true typical female empowerment conversation but at giving women the chance to even be part of the larger, global battle of the sexes.  Put them in a place where they can read, express themselves, and then they can deal with the ugly bit of politics between men and women. It’s only just that they be part of that disaster as well.

Photography Credit (at top): Chris Tobin, Digital Vision)