Tag Archives: Mozambique

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)

Careless in our summer clothes

This has been a dirty week.  I’m sorry.  That’s the truth.

Monday began slowly but it had a strong collapse from a cool thirty degrees celsius to a raging thunderstorm before noon on Wednesday and the howling, pounding rain smacked the ground with puddles and smatters of muddy, dirty, you-name-it (you stepped in it), only to return  again and again.

Autumn Flower, Photography Credit (pictured above): Ilya Bushuev, Gettyimages.com

Several hours after dusk, the first few nights were filled with drenched rains and dense humidity.  Interestingly, the last two days were a grand turn from wet and musty to parched Earth and gorgeous light.  What is it about a beautiful day?  Sometimes it appears on the weekends, but then other times it interrupts you.

It appears.  Where are you?  Indoors staring at the white walls of your research lab, otherwise known as the office.  Confession.   My research is not equal to stem cell discoveries and chemistry beakers. Instead it is the truly vilifying nonsense of internet surfing, .pdf analysis and fact-checking which is more tedious than my Masters professors may have had me believe when I signed on to the exciting task of dissertation-writing.  Composition is meant to be creative, intellectual work but academia is just tiring when it comes to deadlines.  Ask Calvin.

Do you have fun when you are indoors?
Do you have fun when you are indoors?

Calvin often asks the question many adults would like to say but are loathe to admit because of the demands of a normalized work week.  Why this assignment?  Why do we have deadlines?  Naturally, these are rhetorical questions most socially-aware adults would merely think rather than utter out loud.  On this gorgeous day, it got me thinking.  Maybe I am no longer capable of thinking the “six impossible things before breakfast” that Lewis Carroll bragged he could daydream about, but I can still set aside the curtain of the window.  Maybe I can remember how lovely the day is.  While the rain has some strange weight that makes my heart heavy, it is magically lifted when the sun appears again.

My father is a great example when it comes to prioritizing the day.  He loves to work and in fact, often ends up focused on more than three projects at a time in less than twenty-four hours but he always, always gets it done.  Of all the people I know, Dad would be the one to remind us to get outside and play when we were kids.  He knew the value of ‘Work hard, play hard.’  I may not be a kid anymore but there is something that makes me smile about seeing the sunshine even if I’m not in it.

How do you prioritize a beautiful day? Do you stop to notice it?
How do you prioritize a beautiful day? Do you stop to notice it?

I’m carefree even if just for a moment.   It may be Winter where you are but it is Summer in AFRICA.  Happy Friday!



Careless in our summer clothes

Splashing around in the muck and the mire,

Careless in our summer clothes

Splashing around in the muck and the mire,

Fell asleep with stains 

caked deep in the knees 

What a pain…

Now hang me out to dry

– Hang me out to dry (COLD WAR KIDS)

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:


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.