Nacala is a rather quiet place on most mornings before 5:00, and amongst the wider world as well. We are nobody next to Tokyo or Paris, by far. However it may as well be my African New York.
By approximately 6:30, the town comes alive. Teeming with roosters, scrawny street dogs, Mozambican water-carriers, 4x4s, cranes, and villagers on their way to various points of irrigation and fishing it is crawling with excitement. My relative absence in the fashion of ink and digital press is not for lack of wanting – things have been busy here.
I took a week-long sabbatical to South Africa at the end of May to gather my bearings and in the meantime was offered a job in social responsibility. This is new and also, not so new as I was volunteering my time with health initiatives in the area when my research was becoming stale. The state of affairs is quickly going to become a source of panic and chaos as fodder for electronic epistles so this is a quick note to bring my readers up to speed and in the meantime, wrestle with some good tunes.
My entrance into the private sector will be tempered by educational and health campaigns that I can lead and manage so research can be put into practice. Cheers to new beginnings.
Among Giants – the backdrop of cranes that tower above me is not new anymore. (Can you spot me in the photo?) The job certainly will be though.
You shall be hearing from me soon. As I am now surrounded on many sides by Africans from Botswana, Malawai, South Africa and Mozambicans of course – snippets of new languages will be entering my lexicon. Today is straight from the mouths of the Afrikaaners I speak to often – since I am new at this it doesn’t apply to me but to most people I see every day in this teeming mini-metropolis. Hulle is moeg gewerk – They are fed up/tired of working.
Soon folks. Soon – in the meantime, I am breathing easy. Happy to begin again. Mozambique awaits.
A rumor began a month ago that someone had been throwing around the phrase “No blacks allowed in the bar.” You might think this is serious but just wait.
That’s the question.
How far is too far? I guess the reason why it seems so questionable (pardon the metaphor) is the path between crying and laughing around the tiptoe-lined boundaries. My mother used to say, “Life isn’t fair. You’re going to have to get used to it.” So you can either split a lip or laugh at the dumb things people say, (or) you can waste your screams and tears over it.
Woody Allen dealt with this in a cult film not too many audiences saw: Melinda and Melinda is a story about a woman’s life told as if it had gone two different directions for the same person. This isn’t a new tale but it is an interesting one – life as it could be re-told as both a tragedy and comedy. So one could say the narrative was (either-or), or simply (and). I prefer to think of Melinda as living in parallel universes, both going on coincidentally, simultaneously, and without the major elements of the other. It replaces the question of “If only,” with the statement: “It is.” If you can’t follow, better watch the video. *Smirk.
The rhetoric one is left with confronts both the cynics and optimists who can accept that racism exists in its pure form of self-righteous anger, but may also in the state of the absurd. What is left? Hope.
This is a convincing step towards nonchalance.
My last post on racism touched on the dangers of fear-mongering when we use swear words to battle ignorance but in so doing create more hate speech. So what about comedy as an alternative? Truthfully I was always against this until I arrived in Nacala.
My life has changed in the past three months as I have been forced into acceptance for the ways things just are here. I used to believe that laughing about things that were serious meant you just did not care. This is not always the case.
For a while I was force-feeding my disdain into my throat and smiling to feign acceptance. Doctors, however, assert that the movement of facial muscles may influence our emotional response – so when we smile we begin to actually feel endorphins. Endorphins can allow people to feel positive. Strange isn’t it? So maybe I was okay. Maybe that’s why I’m still not ‘happy’ about the prevailing attitudes here but I can still ‘deal with it.’
Pragmatism and rationality is always appealing because there are a structured set of rules and I like being practical. If one follows these, then the conclusion is predictable. Hence, it is easy to see that if the premises state racists will continue to show us the ugly side of their opinions, it is logical to assume the response feels ugly, as well.
It should come as no surprise then, that there is so much negative backlash. What if the choice was a nonchalant, cool head? What if comedy allowed people to simply ignore the ugly? It may allow the angry less credence.
A lot of people know who Romeo, Juliet, Hamlet, and King Lear are. The ones who are often forgotten are the jesters– the court humorists who play off the foibles and hubris of everyone around them. It is one of the bard’s most delightful and often-overlooked tools to seduce his audience into listening to the most serious. By making them laugh.
All the world’s a stage;
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances… —Jacques
>>Act II. Scene vii, As You Like It
A plague o’ both your houses. –Mercutio
>>Act III, Scene i, Romeo & Juliet
Heard it before? Thought so. Is not the fool, as Jacques, Mercutio and many others were – always there to tell a good baudy joke (sexual innuendos have never gone out of style!) but also there to twist the foolish into the profound?
In a digital age where Shakespearean language is buried underneath Twitter and Twilight fans, it is useful to think of how the poet always knew to capture his audience by showing the funniest side of life, then turning the last quip over to show the dirt underneath his fingernails. Literary scholars say this was a device wherein the jester was the only one able to tell us the ugly because guess what? IT WAS THE TRUTH.
After hours of making the audience laugh over stupidity and So I guess in coming back to racism today, the reason why it is so hard to deal with the ugly is that it is true. Maybe that’s why our jesters today (Will Ferrell, Conan O’Brien, Ben Stiller, and Eddie Izzard) are always offending people!
Why not use that logic to deal with what we don’t like and just laugh about it. People may not like it – but if we laugh then perhaps we can say whatever racists, philanthropists, even IRS agents and their ilk don’t like. As Woody Allen shows us, life can be both tragic and comic.
When people say the ugliest thing imaginable, they are really showing their true character of darkest heart. Instead of letting them win, laugh at their stupidity please.
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.
Featured Photograph (from my SamsungS4): http://instagram.com/p/lxO0GGyOtO/
An American student researcher explores the beauty of Sub-saharan African terrain