Tag Archives: African Culture

Will and identity

On a construction site yesterday, I watched these broad-shouldered men carry planks of large steel and other various materials to build something that would take months to create, several metres high, stretching into the sky.  As I watched it was a reminder that the goals we strive so hard for may seem unreachable or hard to imagine…but they are often just a matter of the will.  A thing that looks a stretch of the imagination is only 16 weeks away from the end.

Take Mia Couto’s perspective on the identity of Mozambique: tortured by a history of colonialist impositions by Portugual, divisions of tribes and regions by the strains of political parties like Frelimo and Renamo all in the name of liberty … and so what is the country left with today?  Languages that began from the founding FRELIMO members: Swahili, Makhuwa,  Bantu, and/or English.  Indeed, the irony is that Portuguese is the official language. How strange that the identity construction is one outside of the modern foundation of the independent Mozambique that is recognized today.  This is a topic I will revisit later this month but I find fascinating in light of the way foreigners here view the identity of a country that puzzles them so.

It is lazy, it is strange, it is not as they imagined – we can reduce this concept to the people or the villages or the work we see but that would just oversimplify. Mia Couto, winner of the Noustadt International prize (only before the Nobel in literature) envisions Mozambique as a nation that is constructed by the way history, poets and others ‘write’ the narrative.  You can find him on my february 21st entry here of the poetry catalog: http://wp.me/P4e2Bz-6U

If this is the case, these foreigners are a part of history too.  Like these buildings I see reaching their arms towards the heavens, it is Mozambique that will become something, capitalist monster (U.S.A), wild card/alien (North Korea) or the new kid on the block (China).  What should we expect next?

For now, we will wait in expectation as I do for my own question marks that poke and prod my reflections – only travel is what inspires me to recraft my identity. (Morocco below) So that must do for the moment.

Marrakech, Morocco
Palais de la Bahia

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.