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.

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:

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