Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

When a person loses so much sleep, there is a strange phenomenon that occurs.  It is almost as if your nightmares begin to tread with you during the day – like a shadow you cannot shake.  This shadow haunts your steps because any actual accomplishments are obscured in knowing that dark cloud is still with you.

I just departed from my time in Africa for some precious days in Ireland not 2 weeks ago where friends took a similarly long journey from Canada, Australia and the like for a wedding.  There seem to be several of these lately.  No matter: it was a much needed respite from the tyranny of the humidity that lays waste to what I call home in Nacala.  Neglecting my composition responsibilities, I have resumed in full flush deciding that these pages will require more ink than usual in the coming weeks.

What awaited in Cork was bitter cold and daily rainstorms but the latter has become a daily habit of Southern life at home.  As D always says, “It was all grand. All lovely.”  Yes, there was singing, dancing, hugging, and the depths of conversation explored – my favourite.

A private beach near Kwalala, in Nacala Porto.
A private beach near Kwalala, in Nacala Porto.

On my return, I was plunged back into a world of mud, thunder, and lightning which conveniently occurred in the middle of the night during most storms. I haven’t slept in five days.

Thus, the psychosomatic daydream I carried from the weekend may be an indicator of the subconscious just waiting to resurface. My nightmares are always the same – manifestations of weirdly real and ugly elements conjoined to my fears. All I can dream about is the NGO sector and as this is clustered with some distorted faces and chases in which I always fail.  The solution, I decided, was to go running when my dreams had no control over my chases.  Outside.

4:35am. Darkness covered the tall baobabs outside the house, and I strode towards the hill. Giving myself two minutes to wake up my mind, I quickly trotted into full stride thinking about all of the messy factors that are interrupting my natural sense of calm – the uncertainty of life in Africa, incomplete research, and job opportunities that continually appear and disappear within days.

4:44am. One shoe hit the pavement and the other followed. I could feel the callouses building underneath: the satisfaction in knowing that your muscles will be properly tired later. As my breath steadied into a rhythmic bent, the trees began to lift their branches, as if unburdened as the clouds drifted apart to let the sun begin its slow ascent.

4:53am. My eyes adjusted to the grey haze that comes from an early morning that is still truly the end of the evening, and no mosquitos or flies to be heard or seen. (That, of course, does not mean they were not there.) Why is it that calm escapes when it is so attainable?

4:59am. A figure came towards the road in a long skirt and misshapen body – it is actually the form of a semi-wicker basket type container balanced on a long, lean shape. Just a few moments passed as I turned to quickly head across in order to return before another 30 minutes had gone by. Another shape huddled behind a tree and climbing from the shadows appeared and began to materialize in the sunlight as I turned a corner.

5:05am. Brilliant in pink and yellow, the ball of light pierced the sky with its unflinching gaze and squinted at the Earth below. I think that calm is definitely attainable.

5:15am. On the floor and staring at the ceiling, I breathed in the artificial air that colors my ability to think in any appropriate manner. Hot, hot, hot. The pulse in my wrist throbbed and would continue until I could feel the cold from the floor begin to dissolve into me.

The truth is this. Living in Mozambique requires more than the average amount of patience and as one tries to build anything of substance, it slips through the fingers like grains of sand. A praying kind of girl myself, I have taken to a lot of solitary moments. It is one of the only ways I begin to feel sane and yet, my human levels of patience are just that. Human.  It is like the beauty of this country – always beautiful, always there but elusive when the thunder and the lightning mask the trees, the ocean, the beaches with its angry roars and sharp light.  Thunder and lightning is beautiful and mysterious in its own way but it doesn’t compare to the day the storms pass and the peace after resides on the shores.

When I look around at the people who work so hard and receive so little in return, it seems such a small price to pay – patience. I suppose that is what African living is actually about, at least for me: humility. Awe in light of the fact that things do not always go the way one plans. And being okay with that. Perhaps then Africa could start to feel like home. Perhaps then my restlessness and ambition could materialize …if the waiting can teach me anything at all.

Welcome back, I say to myself in dreams. Welcome.

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Who’s your snazzy jazzy anti-valentine?

Modern Love in the Digital Age: Volume I
The darkness crept into my bones like a horrifying roar screaming at me to back away, just back away.  I looked at the wreck – a grey Toyota with low headlights, tires with barely any tread, and no gasoline to spare. The car sat there looking miserable in all its loneliness. Where could I go?  Running like a frightened squirrel, awkwardly and no more confident than a nineteen-year-old can be in any life-important moment, I fled.  My eyes saw nothing but blackness down a long road as I ran and ran.  The car was broken.  I was alone.  The fear engulfed me but five minutes later I had discovered, light, an empty parking lot and a small hotel (with a phone).  This was the day before your mobile saved your life.
It wasn’t long before I heard her voice.  You know the moment.  You remember.  “Mom? I’m in a bit of trouble.”
There’s a lot of talk about love right now and for all of that discussion, I see very few people ready to say Happy Valentine’s to some of the most romantic people in their life.  For me, it is someone who always remembers to send a card or for many years, gave me candy without fail.  Like a clock that just refuses to stop ticking, she never forgot to remind me I was loved every February. This was my mother.
I’ve definitely had my share of letting her down, especially in my younger days.  She has been there for me whether I had my life together or not.  There was the day I left my keys in the bottom of a grocery bag and was locked out when I packed to go to college after Christmas vacation, the many months I was victimized in sixth grade by a Seattle bully, the surgery week I was stuck in the hospital and had a nauseous reaction to every piece of food, the moment I cried because I lost her dad & my grandfather, and of course, the day I sold my car and belongings to move to Hong Kong.
 Mothers have the uncanny ability to see into our emotions more than most.  For someone who is admittedly not often conscious of my feelings (A trait I most likely have inherited from her side of the family) it is important to have relationships that understand who you are and yet are able to challenge you.  These are the ones who bring the best of you forward.  One of the things this woman has taught me through years of being available when I was angry and when I was overjoyed, is that real love is patience for the ones you care about.  She certainly has needed some for all the aggravation I’ve caused her.
On the Day of Hearts, you might see a lot of anti-affection quips telling you that Cupid is a mythical, fat baby, that Singles Awareness is hardly a reason to go crying, and that we should make fun of all people in relationships.  While the anti-valentine is a clever ploy to use sarcasm for no apparent reason, I think there is still some sanity in being a sardonic anti-valentine with a bit of heart.
Most kissing selfies are boring but this one defies the definition of awesome!  Source: Rick Neves, Flickr Select
Most kissing selfies are boring but this one defies the definition of awesome! Source: Rick Neves, Flickr Select
There are the obvious lovely-dovey couples who take kissing selfies and show off the bouquets of pink peonies that were just delivered to their office colleagues. I can say that I am not a major fan of Hearts Day mainly because of these foolish people.  There is intense pressure (on males ad infinitum) to buy chocolate or an overpriced set-course-for two to “prove” love.  Gag reflex, I say.  Love cannot be proven through materialist attempts at romance. It has to be proven through loyalty, through the attempt at understanding a person and what they are all about.  Real romance is always seeing hope even despite the darkest, ugliest days. Therefore my sardonic anti-Valentine appears in all its glory this fourteenth of February, with a proviso. In this cynical culture of casual hook-ups and lonely digital Dungeons-and-Dragons and World of Warcraft players-role playing-life, isolation abounds.  I still believe that people should cherish each other.
We’re not lonely because we’re all out of heart, it is because we’re trying too hard to have a heart.
While I do have a valentine of my own, if I would even call him that silly term, I would never assume that cards and roses would prove his heart was with me.  Love is about choice.  My realization that Mom chose to be there for me is what speaks to my heart more than anything.  It is why I can never truly speak with a bitter after-taste when I talk about red candy hearts, smarties, and lace-covered chocolates.  Candy does not mean anything, per se, but they symbolize the effort someone took to choose you.

Valentines3_Notreallyacard

She reminds me that to love is to choose someone over and over again no matter what they do.  We lead informed, educated lives in most Westernized countries and are indoctrinated with the idea that choices mean lots of different flavors, lots of different friends, lots of different relationships, and lots of failed ones.  In some ways, modern thinking means modern love equals “move on to the next one.”  Regardless, to choose the same person over and over is beautiful because it is not easy.  It isn’t convenient and digitized like your Facebook app on your iPhone, or your 24-hour delivery pizza. (Despite its serious delicious-ness!)
This may also be why I still believe in old-fashioned romance.  It also doesn’t hurt that I have some serious role models. My grandparents fell in love in one day, got engaged, and were married happily all their lives together.  That’s romance.
As The New York Times says about traditional love before the digital age:This was the old-fashioned way of falling in love: all of our attentions were on each other. We spent less time with our friends, who could not track the electronic footprints of our relationship. We didn’t have cellphones buzzing every five minutes, distracting us with nonessential chatter. Neither of us was tap-tap-tapping away, eyes downward, communicating with other people during meals. The outside world fell away.”
 “St. Valentine, what have you done to us?” I may ask, along with so many others inundated by the Hallmark-sourced holiday.  Quite frankly, it seems like a warpath many want to blame the outside world for rather than to look inward.  This isn’t to say that no one recognizes unconditional agape love, patience, and faithfulness when they see it but that it seems easier to walk away from than it used to be.  There should be more of the kind of connections here where the ‘outside world [falls] away’ and we grow to really understand each other.  The kind of hope Mom gives me is one that makes me want to write a real love letter – to my family.
Do you remember the moment you had stage fright?  Your knees knocked together just seconds before moving on the podium for a Philosophy debate? Who was there? Do you remember watching your sister win her Athlete of the Year award over cheering middle-schoolers?  Do you remember spending weekends at football tournaments in cow-patty infested inland California areas for ‘family time’?  Do you recall when you felt that surge of real romance?  Do you remember your heart suddenly beginning to beat once more as you walked on that stage?  I do.

Artwork Credit (above): Chuwy, Vetta

L I N K S
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Works Referenced:

Vecsey, David, “Before the Web, Hearts Grew Silent.” New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/15/fashion/before-the-web-hearts-grew-silent.html?ref=modernlove

Interesting stuff you may like to read for the Day of Hearts:

————–

On Romantic Places & Facebook as a Statistician, Wall St. Journal: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303704304579378902170592732?mod=trending_now_1

On Love/Science/Marriage Intersection, The Atlantic: http://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/2013/01/theres-no-such-thing-as-everlasting-love-according-to-science/267199/

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/02/how-to-save-marriage-in-america/283732/

GQ’s tips for men on Valentine’s Day, GQ Magazine: http://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/girls/articles/2014-02/14/valentines-day-gifts-flowers-lingerie-guide

Marriage is now more important for men?, The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/relationships/10624555/Marriage-is-more-important-now-for-men-than-women.html

Does passion mean there is meaning?

Just do it.  This cliché admonishes.  Don’t lose the spark, it says, as we go about our day.  Don’t have a life without value.  Work hard – hardly working. (A favorite of mine)  When we buy an iPhone, enter a mall, join our friends for dinner, graduate or enter the workforce – they surround us.  Carpe diem.  Life is a book, and if you don’t step outside your door, you only read one page, says Pinterest.  Okay, okay.  These are kitschy epithets designed to fuel passion but is that the only task they accomplish?

Are they actually helping initiate a culture of self-interested egoists rather than true creatives?  This is a question asked by Tokumitsu, a journalist from Jacobin magazine who espouses the ideals of labor in the creative just-do-it backbone but not at the expense of what she terms “social necessary work.”  The nice thing about this question is that she reveals the hypocritical nature of the mantra Generation Y seems to be living these days – Do What You Love.  You can read the original article here, which appeared on Slate.com after its first publishing: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/01/in-the-name-of-love/

Is doing what you love choosing not to value real work?
Is doing what you love choosing not to value real work?

On the surface, DWYL is attractive.  After all, the research I am doing in the middle of the Monsoon-influenced tropics is unstable and unpredictable.  This makes it exciting.  It is hardly what Tokumitsu might term “unlovable” work.  It might be hard at times adjusting, but it is far from what might be called hated.

The crux of the DWYL mantra lies in the concept that one should strive for a career that is based on you and ‘your hopes’, ‘your passion,’ and ‘your dreams.’  In theory, this appears to be a good motivation for work but what about the fact that not everyone is in a position to do so?  I am an advocate for working in a desired field, but I am not a proponent of doing work whose only measurable result is the satisfaction of the person working.  In this dictum, the consequence may not be actualized monetarily (Although this factor should not be the figurative bottom line, it should still be in the running. ) or qualified by results of others’ review of the labor.  It is just measured by the passion of the worker.  As Steve Jobs is quoted as saying in the article:

Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work.

So what is the problem with this?  Well for one, if I believe what I do is ‘great work,’ then is it so?  Someone should have a problem with this.  There is no accountability.  There may not even be actual work, from a labor perspective.  As the writer suggests of DWYL versus the old motivation for labor – to work hard- there is a distinction now between internal and external factors.  “By contrast, the 21st-century Jobsian view asks us to turn inward. It absolves us of any obligation to, or acknowledgment of, the wider world.” she states.  So, does one work for personal reasons or to produce something, make something, or create something?

Is a 'trendy' job as a designer or a 'lovable' job as an artist only measured by your enjoyment of it?
Is a ‘trendy’ job as a designer or a ‘lovable’ job as an artist only measured by your enjoyment of it?

One consequence of this isolation is the division that DWYL creates among workers, largely along class lines. Work becomes divided into two opposing classes: that which is lovable (creative, intellectual, socially prestigious) and that which is not (repetitive, unintellectual, undistinguished). Those in the lovable-work camp are vastly more privileged in terms of wealth, social status, education, society’s racial biases, and political clout, while comprising a small minority of the workforce.”

While Tokumitsu is saying something quite fascinating here, I have observed that there are quite a few differentials outside of this dichotomy.  Is there not a place in between these two ‘opposing classes’?  Surely, there is an element of the unknown for people who have passion for chosen careers but are unable to simply place it in a ‘lovable’ category since it is still plain, hard work.  ‘Lovable’ implies artist, actress, designer –  or maybe ‘prestigious’ as in doctor, lawyer, even banker (hardly ‘lovable’ really).  As Jacobin asks: what about the worker who must work simply to put in hours, bring home income, and/or support a family – the domestic servant, restaurant waiter, strawberry picker, janitor?  Have we left out the importance of labor in labor itself?  Has this been replaced with the meaning of DWYL passion?  Then there is the profession of the unlovable but “socially necessary” work that Tokomitsu tackles, which I think definitively exists in the engineer, the social worker, the scientist, the paralegal, and the nurse.  These are well-chosen, educated positions which are needed for a humane society but are not celebrated; not necessarily even part of dream careers.  Loved and unloved jobs are not created equal.

Think of the construction worker who enjoys his work building but puts in six to seven days of hard labor erecting and creating – some days he truly enjoys the work and other days he wonders why he signed up for such an experience.  It’s exhausting.  It is certainly not a prestigious line of work in the privileged eyes of elite society, but it is intellectual work at the management level, and it confronts issues of design, spatial limitations, and balances the work of artisans and producers alike to create something.  Why is it not taken seriously by lawyers, doctors, and others in the so-called prestigious lines of work?  Perhaps it isn’t because it does not easily fall into the categories of the aforementioned ‘lovable’ and ‘un-lovable.’  Do What You Love is more about doing something for oneself than actually producing something.

So perhaps there are more questions.  Granted, it raises some interesting ones already.  Why is it that diplomats, astronauts and Emergency room M.D.s are more valued than the bartender at the local hotel?  Why are we re-creating the social classes the 21st century is meant to be eliding in the modern world?  Why does labor value passion over labor itself?  Does passionate work even mean there is meaning in the work?  Or do we just look good doing it?

Of course there is the obvious answer to the first question.  High powered attorneys are glamorous.  Models are hot.  However, we  may be ignoring a problem that the DWYL cliché creates: where is the value of actualized labor?  If we can answer this, we may be able to consider the others even more carefully.

Mozambique is a country of humble existence – I see people carrying water in basins balanced on their temples and bathing  in open water on a daily basis.  Women scrub floors, men build things with hammer and nail.  These skills should be valued too – and it is easy to forget when we live in a comfortable existence of consumer products and technology that screams to just do it now.  Even when I was at home in the States, I did not have to look farther than my own backyard to see that this mantra breeds egoism that deteriorates relationships (Many friends have lamented the spoiled surfers and princesses they ran across by the  California coasts).  This is not just in isolation on the West Coast, as the Chinese breed of sugar daddy I came across trying to swoon my caucasian expatriate friends in Shanghai ran a-plenty.  In Hong Kong, this often materialized in the form of events-addicted socialites whose claim to hard work meant standing in front of a photographer for 60 minutes per day and going to the local swanky bar for complimentary champagne on ‘Models Night.’  While this could be chalked up to character flaws from numerous elements of life, the experience of the average Generation Y-er shows that the pressure to succeed and live in a perpetual state of results based on passion for shoes, gold watches, perfect sunny vacations, and dream jobs entitles.  We now live as if to believe we can have it all.  Okay, so what?  Well actually  – it is creating (at least in the good, old USA) overworked Americans with passions for careers in specialties, like Afro-Cuban music or the philosophy of aesthetics without work.  The problem?  Unemployment.  More precisely – one of many problems with this.  See here:

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/06/speedup-americans-working-harder-charts

While there used to be a sense that work provided for the ‘having it all,’ now the DWYL initiates a belief that work should be more about us than about…well, work.  That should at least get us to start thinking.

Turn Me on My Head | Will Change it All

Blue skies tremble across the clouds and trees are shaken by their puffy whiteness, stretching aimlessly. Where do they go? They sail to the next continent, over the seas, amidst the sands, salty air, and wind that changes and shifts with time. Clouds are never the same.

People too.  Change is inevitable. Despite the fact that so many expect that things will stay the same, they don’t. There’s not much that can be done except take the change. It is the familiar that so many wish for.

Nacala-à-Velha has not evolved greatly since the advent of my arrival and yet I wish it would. There has been some growth – a few new faces, a jet-powered boat for water sports, free weekends, whale sightings, and snorkeling. However work is coming to a slow pace of the always-meandering turtle.

Some fear change, whereas change allows so much to flourish. If there is little change, there is little growth. The challenge is to use the familiar to create the chance to move forward.

I don’t mind change. What I do mind are puzzles that cannot be solved right away.  Limited experience has taught that people are the greatest puzzles.

People come and go

Feels like you are so untied —

Lights on fire

Turn me on my head

Street lights; the city

Turn it up tonight.

Dancing with myself.

 

– The Knocks,  “Dancing with myself”

On the other hand, if a human puzzle can be solved so easily, why would a person even be curious about each day that we live? Since I was a young, precocious girl I always asked the same question:

Why?

If there is one thing that has never changed, it is this question and the lack of answers that often follows.

It never leaves my lexicon. Today the questions that plague my mind are the great human mysteries of the spirit. Why do people treat each other cruelly? Why is life so hard? Why do certain aspects of life stay stagnant no matter how hard we try?

I attended a wedding a few weeks ago for a gentleman who has worked with me for almost a year. I did not know his fiancé at all, but watching the two of them begin their lives together I was reminded of the growth that happens when you make such a decision.

Any day can be a life changing event. The day you meet a stray puppy and adopt. The day you choose a job you think will be like any other but uplifts you into new challenges. The day you meet someone who becomes a life-long friend. Often, though, we don’t know which days are just the ordinary ones and those that will alter the course of things. So today I am reminded of the future. It’s the unknowing “Whys” and the wondering if I am right about how I think I will be in 5 years, 20 years, or even 20 days.

It is when these questions are asked that I come back to the questions I can answer. Why am I loved so dearly? The answers that follow are that God has given me a beautiful family, friends who act as sisters and brothers…

The other questions can wait for tomorrow. As Proverbs 4:23 states, “Above all else guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

Protection flows around me from my partner-in-crime, D, to the sisters who reminded me I am one year older today. To the parents who remain in love with me no matter how many times I’ve let them down. I don’t have all the answers. In fact, my heart remains guarded from the answers. Yet today I feel loved and valued. Love is unconditional and I am grateful. For no matter what is flowing from my heart it is protected by those who give me the greatest armor. Unfailing loyalty and purity of heart is my breastplate and shield.

Today I am one year older. Perhaps I am getting wiser after all.

L’avenir dira si j’ai raison. Only time will tell if I am right.

 

Nacala wedding in the Mozambican summer.
Nacala wedding in the Mozambican summer.

 

No great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness.

Mundane Monday

As  the sun begins its ascent on a new week in central Mozambique, I am not without my questions about what it means to exist and do. I am sure we all ask ourselves if what we are doing means anything…especially if you are stuck in a corporate position. The Man clamps down and holds you in his grasp, unwilling to allow you a speck of happiness.

Forget being happy. What about greatness? I am far from the glittering world of commerce and the institutions of higher order in New York, London and the like but it doesn’t change my desire for more.  I came to Africa to really do but the existential unhappiness of the doing still invades the development work. Even my work in development is a drop in one of the biggest lakes of human rights abuses throughout the world. It is enough to keep crying. Tears aren’t going to change the world though.

It is more than that. Insanity and reaching for greatness does not a great mind make.

Maybe it is because pushing yourself to achieve is not enough in life, and it doesn’t mean you are more intelligent than the next person. Calvin and Hobbes are always reminding us about friendship and the fall of humanity, albeit in humorous form. Brilliant! Calvin knows the difference between a boring everyday slave-to-school Monday and the FREEDOM of running around without clothes on. Finally~ Life can begin!

You may beg to differ that inventing Naked Mondays is hardly what a great mind would think. But who is to say?

Aristotle said that a great mind must exist with at least a touch of the insane. So if we question what we are doing because our mind feels as if it is bordering on madness should we question our mind? When we are reaching for something extraordinary … what does that mean? Could it be closer to having a great mind but still unsatisfied?

Who is anyone kidding? Insanity and dissatisfaction does not a great mind make.

Certainly I do not live a charmed life. My idea of a good day is when I haven’t found solvent paint on my face at 5:00pm or swallowed a bad piece of chicken (happens more than you can imagine). Yes I have R&R. I can visit home. I see beautiful places other people don’t dare to see. But daily life – glamorous it is not. Satisfying? Lately not even that. Greatness isn’t often charming either.

My only consolation is that if I am Calvin I have my friend Hobbes. What if Hobbes wasn’t there? I guess Calvin would have to rethink Naked Mondays for a start. What fun is that without a friend to appreciate the true inventiveness of Naked Mondays?

Do nothing. Then you are exactly that.
Do nothing. Then you are exactly that.

Perhaps the question is not about questioning the familiar, the mundane, and the boring. It is about using the dissatisfaction as fuel to change the things you can control even if it makes you go crazy. If I was Calvin, I would say Hobbes is my secret ingredient – madness, a little bit of being clever and a friend to cheer you on or tell you when you should rethink things. Criticism comes not only from our enemies, but also from the ones we love the most.

To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.

If we don’t constantly wish to be more, to change what is stagnant, we may never have to worry about the thoughts of others. But what if we do? Then we fall prey to the many bystanders, pits of vipers and those waiting for us to fail. I’ve had my share of criticism and it isn’t going away anytime soon. I’m reminded that I am surrounded by friendship that never questions my character, my passion, and who I am. An ambitious mind is one that is vulnerable, especially if your passion is on the line. Vulnerable to criticism, envy, and FAILURE.

Admittedly this can be a hard place to be. My mind is not far from misery right now. But one cannot fear what is not known – greatness is not something often achieved alone. Lately I am not so sure about my own strength.  But I do know who my friends are. If I know I am crazy, they know I’m crazy, but I still know who my friends are. So life isn’t so bad.

Maybe I could push myself over the edge to something great after all. They say that a man is only as good as the woman standing behind him. Well I may not be a man but perhaps that doesn’t matter. Maybe being female means all the women behind me make me stronger. I don’t have one; I have many! If one is measured by all those behind her, then I may have some greatness in me after all. Thank God.

I wish it was only my mind that was on the chopping block but if one’s passion is part of the motivation I’m in trouble. It is also my heart on the line.

Sometimes that is harder than it seems. Cheers to you ladies!

Here’s a balloon from Moz. Or two or three. Who said African living isn’t weird and weirder and maybe some kind of wonderful?

Nacala Juventude Drive

Time…the heart of Mozambique?

Mozambique is a hard teacher. The days are long and harsh; the sun is heated and the air cloys with sweat and sticky dust, peeling from your sunglasses. The last few weeks I have been literally sweating out my stress during these summer days, shedding the old cliché that I am a female, thus I cannot perspire. Far from the truth.

Two days ago, I opened a school I helped put together for months. We built it where there used to be a simple one-classroom hut into five, with administrative offices and desks for 250 children. It is really something.

It doesn’t change the bitter note I tasted when I was asked for special accessories like air conditioning (I’m sure Mac Air computers and tablets are not far behind) on the very day I presented the entire school with Christmas gifts and a brand new library. No one understands the money that is already behind this school.

Nacala kids

The rewarding piece is that the children are innocent and smiling, giggling while hiding behind trees when they ask me, “How are you?” despite my various attempts to speak in both Portuguese and the local language, Makhuwa. They want to catch my attention. I do what I do for the one child who might recognize the opportunities of going to a school with a real desk and a chalkboard. The 7 year old who might grow up to study law, lead her country, change corruption. The engineer who starts his own business in 10 – 15 years. The children can see. The men and women who lead Mozambique today…often they just can’t.

It doesn’t, however, change the fact that Mozambique is a hard teacher. Not just Mozambique – but Time. Time is as harsh as the ground my conflict boots are treading.

“Time present and time past

Are both perhaps present in time future

And time future contained in time past.

If all time is eternally present

All time is unredeemable. …

… Desire itself is movement

Not in itself desirable;

Love is itself unmoving,

Only the cause and end of movement,

Timeless, and undesiring

Except in the aspect of time

Caught in the form of limitation

Between un-being and being…”

  • “Burnt Norton,” The Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot

 

It has been several months since the last epistle on this travel blog and in no small part because of the amount of work and the kinds of challenges I have faced in Nacala. Today is a chance to reconnect with my audience as the heart and soul of la vie in Mozambique has been wrapped so much around work that sometimes it is easy to be distracted from the amount of time that has passed by. A line caught my attention today from T.S. Eliot about the stillness in a moment – only in that moment, he said, can we find the dance. I thought it was a beautiful place to start considering where time has brought me today, and I found Eliot’s musings on the ticking bomb of movement a good place to be.

Rather more puzzling than illuminating, Eliot seems to be stating the enigmatic matter of time and coincidentally, literature. Time is strange certainly. Perhaps most of all it is strange because one can wake up and wonder if the events happened in just the few waking moments before sleep or if it truly was hundreds of days before.

I said Mozambique is a hard teacher, but really it is Time that gets to us. Time is constant, but it is also moving. The movement is the elusive bit. As Eliot states, “Desire itself is movement / Not in itself desirable / Love is itself unmoving / Only the cause and end of movement , / Timeless, and undesiring…:” When I think of the Moçambicanas I am surrounded by each day, I am reminded of my own love for what I do. If I really do have passion for human rights and for the people who are on the losing end of this battle, I cannot move. It is the same for the passion I feel for my kindred spirit here in Nacala, and for my family back home in the U.S.

But I still have bad days.

I guess the reason that love is so complex is that it always begins with desire. The desire to change something here in Africa. The desire to care for my family. The desire to be a good girlfriend. Really loving something though – to want to do something with my whole heart – means that I must not let the desire come and go; it is just desire. Love is that which does not waver, does not move, and is somehow still stuck in the movement of time. The complex nature of it is that love is the cause and end of movement – so it must be that which makes me want to keep going.

So the sun will set again tonight and the clock keeps on ticking. I simply cannot be between what is being and unbeing – the honeymoon is over Mozambique. You have been kicking me down, but I will not move. I am driven to love this country because it is a challenge. It has heart. And so have I, Nacala. So have I.

 

The author taking life seriously as always.
The author taking life seriously as always.