Tag Archives: Mozambique

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/

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.