Category Archives: Traditions

An unexpected talk

The airport is a place where dreams come to die.  It is the perpetual waiting room of austerity and confusion.  Walls line with cologne-perfumed-electronic-gadgets-cheapfigurines-lame tshirts-fastpizza and maybe, if one is lucky, some un-melted dark chocolate in a gift shop.  Mozambique has allowed more than one of us an appreciation for this.

Maybe this is why travelers are so relieved to have conversations with the person they are seated next to, or across from.  Any kind of conversation.  On the journey forward, I found the most intriguing interaction between myself and a London couple who had one seat in-between us.  The interaction included a smile and a nod when I ordered a second glass of cabernet after dinner.  They soon followed suit.   This marked the end of our conversation.  In-flight entertainment helped of course.

I have had many flights with very little talk – and also shared quite the opposite.  I’m one of the ‘put two books in the seat pocket in front’, ‘read the newspaper,’ and ‘plug in your earphones’ passenger.  I’m also the ‘indulge the next person’s need for companionship to be nice’ woman.  My departure home used my skills from the latter prototype.

My episode occurred with a young lady from Nampula who adjoined my flight home leaving South Africa – there was no nonverbal communication this time.  She wanted to talk.

“I saw you had an American passport.  So you are flying from the U.S.? So where are you coming from?”

“No. I just came back from Ireland,” I responded.

“Oh, I see.  So are you visiting Mozambique?”

“Actually I live there.”

“Really?  Do you like it?” she asked, incredulous.

“Yes, it is a beautiful country.  Of course there are challenges, but I really enjoy it.  So where are you from? Mozambique?”

“Yes. I live in Nampula and I have 2 daughters.  I just came from Johannesburg because I had a baby.”

“You had a baby?  Wow.  So you came to go to the hospitals in Jo-burg?”

“Yes.  I miscarried and the baby was growing inside me for many months but I had to go to see the doctor.” She replied matter of factly.

“You couldn’t go to Nampula?  Are the hospitals better in South Africa?  I’d been told that there was a very big general hospital in Nacala Porto.” I said with fervor.

“Nacala?  No.” and she smiled with an almost-laugh. “The hospitals are much better in South Africa but the doctor told me I still could not have a baby for several months.”

“Yes, I’m sure you need to get healthy first.”

“I must wait and take care of my health – then my husband and I can have a child.”

It was gathered through further conversation that not only did Carrie, the name I will call this woman, have several children – she also had them from different fathers.  In addition, the man she called her husband was actually her soon-to-be groom who would marry her in two weeks.  This is not such an uncommon occurrence.

In this country and perhaps other Southern African nations as well, people meet and conceive of the birth of a child almost as an immediate product of a romantic alliance.  It is unusual that it is imagined as a shared connection so quickly because it often loses its physical ties almost immediately if not conceived in marriage – and this is also uncommon at the start.  In the Westernized world where marriage is traditionally a unification of love, this is arguably a discussion to be tabled in Mozambique.  Men and women often ‘hook up’ and a woman intends to provide him with a child to secure his commitment.  However, I have already spoken to women who never knew their fathers, or fathers who have long left their sons and daughters behind.

Family planning here requires a different cultural lens than the ones we look through in American, French, Dutch, and German googles – they ask us to look at the value of the woman and the value of the tribe.  Unfortunately, the value of a woman seems to be her ability to produce several children, even under the pretense the man may not be around.  Strange way of thinking, but I have heard more conversations than I can count on this subject – many ending with the conclusion that women often have a child to ‘catch’ a man – despite knowing that in Mozambique, he probably won’t be around anyway.

This is a bleak portrait of the country indeed, but a harsh truth.  I thought of how blessed I was, but more than that.  Here was me – boarding an airplane to an exotic land that held such promise – Mozambique has more to offer me I’m sure – after coming from the beautiful land of Eire.  Ireland is surely the land of rain, but it also has storms that give it the penname William Drennan put to ink: The Emerald Isle.  What could I do about Carrie’s situation?

Maybe not much yet.  But one day I will be in a position to explain why things don’t need to be in this way.  Surely all this street-wise education is going to teach us all something more than book smarts could ever do.  Meanwhile back at the ‘ranch’ in Nampula, I got off the airplane and studied the sun.  Home at last.

Where-ever home may be these days.

2012: On a brisk, chilly day just in front of the Cliffs of Moher as the sun came out.
2012: On a brisk, chilly day just in front of the Cliffs of Moher as the sun came out.

Featured Photograph (from my  SamsungS4): http://instagram.com/p/lxO0GGyOtO/

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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 (https://medium.com/better-humans/802c49b9141c … 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.

Source: uis.unesco.org
UNESCO has more information on their website. Source: uis.unesco.org

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.

Source: uis.unesco.org
Source: uis.unesco.org

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)