Monday, November 8, 2010

Does it Matter Who's on First? (Clarifying previous posting order)

About posts, comments, link and photos.

Posts. If you follow my blog, you will know that I posted quite a bit of information recently. For some reason, the postings don't appear in the nice "1st, 2nd, 3rd..." order that I thought they would and rather than continue to mess with publishing again (the blogger help suggestion that I imagine annoys those of you who get emails when I publish) etc., I am sending this out to encourage you to view the latest positings in order. I particularly think the first three are better read in order. You can select from the menu on the left side of the page.
Comments. I love to get them. If you are among those who send comments - thanks! It is great to hear from you and I apologize if I don't get back to you immediately. Sometimes I don't know that you have sent something for a while.
Link and Photos. You are welcome to share my link ( with anyone else. I have been asked that question. And that goes for the photos as well. If you use a photo for something else I just ask that you credit it back to me. My initials are fine. I post as 'elk' on photos but you are welcome to use my name, Biss Kuttner.

Tough Times (4th of 5 Five for Oct. posted in Nov)

Tough Times. For Zane. Who is persistent in telling me that he wants to know how I FEEL.

I have a good friend who did a great deal of research about going overseas to do development work as he is also working overseas. He would relay to me that after about two months many volunteers would get very homesick or depressed in their placement.
I haven’t found myself to be homesick. I miss my children very much. That is the hardest part of being in Mozambique. I miss the immediacy of contacting other family members and seeing my parents. I miss friends who, the longer I am away, the more I realize how large a part of my day to day life they were. But, honestly, I haven’t had trouble with being in Mozambique.
Some of being here is fantastic! I am not sure if my stay here will always be this full of new and interesting things but it is incredible. Most of the time I just tell people about the exciting things. The beautiful things. The amazing things. There are many. Many wonderful people. Many wonderful customs. Many beautiful places. As for the flip side – I guess I have felt it is too hard to relay the other stuff. Some things are just so overwhelming that I can't process it all, much less find a way to share it.
If you have read any of the blogs in this October set you know that I have spent three intensive weeks seeing terrible living conditions, and coming face to face with abject poverty, as well as people who struggle to survive day to day. The first ten days or so, I didn’t acknowledge my personal connection to what I saw. I was observing, being the messenger, trying to engage without being engaged. The third week into interviews and touring neighborhoods, I lost my shield. I could still professionally report and maintain objectivity but at the end of the day, my connection as a fellow human being allowed the bleakness of it all to flood in.
I haven’t shared about “how I feel” in my blog, although I get requests about that all the time. It has seemed too personal for such a public forum. But I am making an exception this time because if you are one of the people asking to understand what it is like here doing what I am doing, then it is as important to share the hard things as the rest of it all. And I think it is important, as other fellow human beings to allow yourselves to try to connect with the reality of “here,” to experience this world so foreign to my own and probably yours, because we are all part of the global “us.”
The places I’ve been and the people I’ve spoken to come from all walks of life. I’ve met the Prime Minister of the country. I interviewed the Minister of Youth and Sports. I have interviewed many people involved in development work from top management to front line work. But the most intense interviews, and the ones I actually feel the most privileged to be able to do, have been with those people for whom the study I’m working on is being done. Those identified as being among the most vulnerable in urban Mozambique.
I say “privilege” because it has been through great courage and unselfishness that people spoke to us and allowed us into their private lives. Consider your own life. How difficult it would be to allow a stranger to sit in your home and ask you to honestly share the difficulties you face, especially if sharing that information might harm your chances of job somewhere, or your status among the people in your neighborhood, or merely your own sense of pride. On top of that, I am a stranger – and they are trusting that I am coming to speak to them as a peer, a person interested in what they have to say, and that what they have to say is most critical to the work we are doing.
In my darkest moments, what I find myself thinking about is how vast the problems are. How monumental the task is to eradicate the sort of poverty that puts people on the brink of life and death on a daily basis. I think, “what is a ‘bad day’” for someone who lives in the conditions I see around me. And from there it is an easy slide into questions in my head about "what am I doing here" and "does it matter anyway." I fell small and ineffective, as though there is nothing I can possibly do that makes change happen. I described it to someone as feeling as though I am pushing peddles on a paddle boat, trying to push harder and harder, only to find that the paddles aren't reaching the water. Nothingness. No matter how hard I try, there will be nothing.
Some of the things I have been doing are so hard to handle that I expend a great deal of energy trying not to think about them. But they have to be thought about. It has been rough. People have let us into very personal aspects of their lives and their lives are awful in so many ways. It isn't that I am typically caught up in any one person’s personal life - or feel responsible to helping this person or that person. You can’t do this kind of work and do that. It is that the people we speak with are representative of thousands of people living here in horrible, horrible conditions. And, honestly, I do get to know some of the people we interview. I meet them on the street, or at their vending corner and I say hello, and get a big greeting and we chat. Just as though I were meeting a friend at home in the USA in the grocery store. But I know it isn’t the same at all because I know what they go home to my flat, they go home to a completely different landscape with incredible challenges.
People in these tough neighborhoods love their children and do their best to take care of them every day just like I have with my family. They look for ways to shelter, to feed and keep their children alive. I haven't had to think like that. I have had to think about feeding, sheltering, and educating my kids. When that last bit is the prevailing factor every day – not education, but how to stay alive or ahead of any singular negative impact that will spiral your family towards life and death - well, life looks completely different.
Other times when I’m lying in bed at night and all is quiet, I think about how much doesn't have to be the way it is - but it does just because it is that way. And it will be a long time for things to get better. I force optimistic slogans trying to override the futility I feel. I try to think that every day is a possible moment for people here to make changes. There is just so much work to do.
I have seen so much. And I have been told so much that is beyond my imagination. There are pictures I have flashing into my consciousness that I don’t want to think about. But they come unbidden.
For example, In the city I went to up north, I spoke with three different groups of young people who were taking about problems and challenges in their neighborhoods. One was a group of university students the same ages as my kids. They are part of an organization that does some very good things in the community including going and helping at an orphanage that has very little resources. They didn’t mention crime as being one of the problems, which I found interesting so I asked about it. They said petty crime is still a factor but very violent crime was down. When I asked what had made a difference, I expected some sort of community watch system, better policing, something along those lines. They said some word I didn’t know and moved on to another conversation. When I had them stop and explain the word they had said this is what they said. There was a time when violent crime was rampant in their neighborhoods. And criminals wouldn’t stay in jail when they were arrested; with bribe money and pressure from gangs of bodily harm, police would let them go. Finally the community got tired of criminals being let out of jail, particularly ones who then came back to hunt down people who turned them in. They grew frustrated knowing that their neighborhood wasn't important enough to protect from these guys. So they created their own justice. They catch these guys, put a tire filled with gasoline over them and light them on fire. As the guy burns to death in the street, kids will even run at them and hit them with long sticks. I’m told it happens about once a month in different areas of the city. It is called "linchamento." And, they said. This is the reason hard-core crime - murder, rape, etc – has drastically declined in their neighborhoods.
That is something I never want to see - a person being burned alive. I told Quim, the person I was with up there in Beira, not to turn on any streets where there was smoke. I can't even get my head around what I think about the moral implications and really - I don't believe in this context I am going to judge the community based on something like that. I imagine that were this situation talked about around a table in the USA there would be people screaming “human rights” and how wrong it is, while others would be saying vigilante justice has to take over when other more civilized ways break down to be nonexistent. What kicks in for me is on a more incidental level - I can't get the thought out of my head that kids are brought up seeing guys burning to death in tires and so on and so on.
I put something like this in context with the population who are made up of people who came out of a bloody and nonsensical civil war, a guerilla war, not even two decades ago where, by the end of the war, there was no ideology or political fight going on. By then, people were fighting to stay alive - fighting for food and fighting because if they didn't fight, they would be killed. In Beira, the city that this story is all about, the majority of "rebel" or guerrilla fighters and their families came to live. The war started after the Portuguese left in 1972. So the largest demographic (15 - 36) as well as any one older are the people who survived that experience and their families. They are the population of the country for whom life and death is being seen through a completely different lens. It still doesn't make sense exactly - but it doesn't seem so unthinkable if I were to imagine how people who lived through such circumstances might think about justice. And how I might feel if I felt that there was no option for protection for my family from my government.
I know that to be here I need to be constantly learning and I want to try and understand. I have to be vigilant. I have to be observant. And I have to keep asking ask questions. But even there - when I heard about the “linchamentos” – this sort of thing draws me up short. There are just going to be questions I don't even know to ask.
So, that is the sort of thing that I sometimes think about at night. Like I said in the beginning, I can feel so insignificant. I feel like crying – and I do. I feel confused. I feel angry. I feel frustrated. I feel frightened. I feel tired. Very tired.
Feelings aren’t something I can control. Being who I am, though, these feelings have to be harnessed and used to help me make sense of what I am doing here and what I have in front of me. In this country, there is an incredible resilience. People living these complicated, vulnerable lives talked to us because there is a belief that somehow, some day, things will be better. They see fellow countrymen and women who are successful and live well. It is possible. As long as there is hope, there is room for change. Who am I to doubt? I alone am not going to change the way things are here. But maybe as part of a larger picture there is a reason for me to be here. Most of the time, I feel enough hope to imagine what can be. That is why I am still here. Because I also feel challenged, responsible, imaginative, driven, creative, excited, and I feel hope.

In and Around Beira
The Grande Hotel, Beira

Visit to Nelspruitt, South Africa - (5th of 5 Five for Oct. posted in Nov)

Visit to Nelspruit, South Africa. A couple of weekends ago I took a trip to South Africa. I was going with a friend who had to renew her visa. If you don’t have something referred to as a DIRE and you are from certain countries (UK for example), and you are working for more than 30 or 60 days, you will often need to get your passport/visa stamped every thirty days at a border. The closest border is Swaziland, but we have both wanted to go to South Africa and so we did. We were going to take a bus early Saturday morning but I was asked to make a presentation at a conference. There is not a late bus so we ended up renting a car. We had a very zippy tiny red Kia. It looks like one of those toy cars you pull back to wind the wheels and then let go and it shoots out of your hands. In Africa, the driver sits on the right side of the car, drives on the left, and if you have a stick shift, you are shifting with your left hand. This was an entirely new experience for me. I have never driven “left.” The long distance driving was easy even though the highway is two lanes and there is a lot of passing going on, winding road, hilly terrain, and varying speed limits through towns. The driving in Maputo – as I have related before – is like nothing I have ever experienced, but I actually enjoyed the challenge, and I liked being the one in the car for a change instead of the person trying to cross the street.

Back to South Africa. We stayed in Nelspruit. This is a city by Kroger National Park. We didn’t go there – it is expensive and I am saving it for when I have more time. Our nature experience was to visit waterfalls and other natural wonders along the Blyde River Canyon.
I was surprised by the landscape as we drove into and through SA on the way to Nelspruit. There is mile after mile of pine forest and the trees are immaculately manicured. The mature trees haven’t got any branches until well over 20 feet up. The trees are planted in perfect rows. They cover valleys and hills, every ridge in site. It turns out that this area has the largest man made timber forest plantations in the world. I could see every phase of logging along the road from fledging trees, to mature forest to stripped land with occasional stumps to logging mills with massive mountains of timber. Planting a forest isn’t dropping seed along a furrow of earth – young trees are put in the ground one at a time. The labor involved is mind boggling. It was hard to capture in the photos but when you see rolling hills looking any shade of green, they are covered in pine.
I haven’t been to natural a waterfall of any magnitude before. The ones we visited were beautiful, and each one very unique. The most amazing place I visited, though, wasn’t exactly a waterfall; it is a place called Bourke’s Luck Potholes. There are amazing rock formations at the bottom of a twisting gorge and bridges and walkways have been constructed to allow you to walk over the gorge and look directly down. You will recognize it in the pictures.
The settlements along the highway looked more prosperous than any I see in Mozambique along highways. My guess is that the housing is typically subsidized by the logging companies. People were walking along the highway in many places. We would come upon them walking where there isn’t any house or building in site for miles.
I was looking at photos with my friend, Mohammed, from Kenya. There is a photo of a town built right up against a graveyard. I took the photo as we drove past because the scene stuck out for me but I didn’t know why and didn’t give it much thought. Mohammed immediately exclaimed “Why are the houses so close to the graveyard?!” He has no doubt that the people next door hear the ghosts talking at night. I relayed to him that, if it was anything like the graveyard in Georgetown in Washington DC where I grew up, the talking was kids behind gravestones drinking alcohol where they were sure they wouldn’t be disturbed. We haven’t sorted that one out yet.
We didn’t see wildlife – didn’t really expect to. Just monkeys at a sort of café at the trailhead to Bourke’s Luck Potholes. They were hissing and screaming for snacks. Oh – and also a beautiful tri-colored lizard I photographed leaping about some boulders.
All in all, the trip was relaxing and a welcome change from Maputo. The bed and breakfast was in a quiet neighborhood that made me realize how constant the noise is in my flat from the music and cars and car crashes and the people talking and so on and so on… The quiet was wonderful to hear.
I would like to have had at least another day on the trip. Just to relax at the bed and breakfast for a few hours would have been nice. I loved the driving. That was a treat in itself. I do miss my car!
My final observation is that there were a number of places that looked so much like Arizona mountains, it was uncanny. And comforting somehow. Two worlds in one place.
Select the photo below to see the photo album.
Trip to South Africa.Oct 23 - 25

Work I AM Doing (2nd of Five for Oct. posted in Nov)

Work I am Doing. Early in October I began work on a project to examine poverty and vulnerability in urban areas in order for NGOs and their partners to better serve the most vulnerable populations in those areas. The impetus for the project was a response to the desperation that caused people to strike/riot in early September. This was designed to be a “rapid study.” Interviews for the first two weeks and a week to write conclusions and recommendations. Modeled after the Red Cross/Red Crescent rapid assessment tool used to determine disaster preparedness. The information is qualitative, and is obtained from people who are the target of the action to come. Our data is meant to lead to recommendations for communities and service providers regarding immediate action and change to reduce poverty amongst the most vulnerable people.

While we gathered data from NGOs (nonprofit here is non-governmental organizations) and government representatives, we were not comfortable relying on these interviews to tell us what people in the “most need” thought about themselves, their needs and their options. We decided to talk to people in and around cities of Maputo and Beira who were among the most vulnerable, and in addition to individual interviews, arranged ‘focus groups’ to reach more people at a time. We also decided that photos would play a large part in relaying realities. I urge you to visit the album links as they will tell you much more than I can write here.
Visiting neighborhoods was tricky to arrange. People are not very welcome to wander in the neighborhoods we needed to reach. The neighborhoods are also very dangerous; it is unsafe to be walking around without someone who actually lives there. I conducted the interviews with the help of my Program Manager from VSO since my Portuguese is still weak.
Our first interview was with a young man, Baptista, who sells flowers across the street from our VSO office, and, it turns out, he is also something of a mentor and small business supporter for a number of other vendors in this area. He put together our first focus group from the vendors he knew – it was a very good start. More importantly, he invited us to his home in Albazine, a very poverty stricken neighborhood on the far outskirts of Maputo. I wrote a short posting about our visit with his family.
One of the neighborhoods within in the city of Maputo is Mafalala (album link). When we visited some young men who have put together a center in the neighborhood (providing training for people to clean waste, learn how to mobilize and other such projects) took us around. We wound around and about through slim passageways and on unpaved roads. The neighborhood is teaming with kids. Their homes iare made of tin sheeting or crumbling bricks. They eat next to nothing, have no water or electricity in their home, and their playground is rubbage and fetid, mosquito and waste infested water. But they are still kids. And they run after me with my camera hamming it up, striking poses and hugging their friends begging for me to take a picture. They act like kids do everywhere, laughing and yelling and running about. Only they also run out of energy, malnourished as they are, and their faces take on blank expressions I haven’t seen on people so young. Based on current statistics, were I to return in six months or a year, a number of them will be gone – not relocated to a better place – rather they will be dead, having succumbed to illnesses that don’t necessarily kill in wealthier populations. This sounds so grim, like a late not advertisement asking you to pledge a dollar a day to help a child in Africa. But it is real and right there in front of me.
In some neighborhoods when I began an interview in a backyard with six or eight people, the numbers would swell to 25 and 30, some people wanting to talk, others wanting to listen. The questions I asked were mostly the same, but always led to unique conversations, frequently taking on the flavor of a neighborhood meeting with us as observers.
After taking a group photo so many people came to say thank you – I felt so privileged to be trusted to enter their neighborhood, to hear their thoughts that were not always “politically correct,” and to be allowed to photograph them and their neighborhood - but my thank you was always drowned out by their thanks. Our visit was unusual in that we came to their turf to ask them what they thought, without looking for certain answers, and without promising things except that we would be sharing what they said in our report. While studies about poverty in Mozambique, in Maputo and elsewhere have been done, this one seems to be unique. Many people have become interested in it – people in the neighborhoods we visit, people in NGOs and people in government.
A couple of things before I end this segment. I was not aware of the level of danger or the unusual nature of our visits until this past week as various Mozambicans have expressed their surprise that we talked to the people we did, that we saw the depth of the neighborhoods that we did, and that we were allowed to photograph what we did. This speaks to both my naiveté and to the people who protected me in their neighborhoods, and made it ok for me to be there.

Finally, about vulnerability. What is the definition of vulnerability? This question comes at me a lot. Our definition comes from answers people gave of vulnerability in their own lives, and definitions used in the world of development by entities like the Red Cross and World Health:
Vulnerable populations are those that may be less able to care for themselves, and may experience health crisis, when rapid negative events are introduced into their lives, and they have been made vulnerable by characteristics of life/circumstances such as: finances, location, health, age, limited rights, lack of education, limited knowledge/information, loss of family, history of abuse, loss of cultural/historical roots, lack of self-protection, insecure livelihood, governance, lack of social protection, politics, inability to communicate effectively, exposure to effects of climate change, presence of chronic illness/disability.
In practice all of that is just words on paper. Initially, I found it hard to emotionally difficult to process what I was experiencing – I just kept doing the work. It started to get really hard about ten days in when I was in Beira visiting a neighborhood with so much less than nothing, yet people with incredible vigor and desire to find a way to make things different. That same day I visited a place called the Grand Hotel – I will share more about that in another posting. But as we drove away from both of those places I felt an overwhelming choking sadness – I just wanted to be somewhere where I could yell at the sky and cry and cry.
The day after we flew back to Beira I got a call and the stark reality of vulnerability slammed me. I mentioned Moises, Baptista’s brother, when I started this post. He died while we were in Beira, two weeks after our visit. If you take a look at the pictures you will see him there, alive but not well. I forgot somehow, amidst that family’s loveliness, generosity, and vivaciousness, their vulnerability and how it can tip the scales desperately and with lightning speed. This posting is dedicated to him. I needed to write it to put onto paper a reminder to myself, if no one else, that vulnerability doesn’t beg for sympathy. It begs for change.
Select a photo below to link to that photo album.

In and Around Maputo, Mozambique


Grand Hotel, Beira

Beira: In and Around, and The Grande Hotel (3rd of Five for Oct. posted in Nov)

Beira – In and Around, and the Grande Hotel. Beira. This is a city in the central part of Mozambique. It is the second largest city in Mozambique but the size is vastly different than Maputo (approximately 3 million) with Beira having less than 400,000.

I was told that after the civil war ended, many of the “guerilla” fighters and their families came from out of the bush and moved into Beira. The city is very different politically than Maputo, where the ruling party, FREMLO, has a very strong presence. In Beira, the major opposition party as well as minor parties have strong representation. I heard conversations about politics and government issues/policies/problems, much more so than the conversations I hear in Maputo.

The people I spoke to in Beira are extremely proud of their citizenry and many believe that there are bad feelings between them and the people in Maputo. Maputo is a wealthier city and is seen to have many more employment opportunities, but that is the only reason many say they would go to Maputo. The youth we interviewed were proud that Beira did not participate in the strike of early September and think it was mainly an uprising of youth wanting to vandalize and burn things and agitate the police, not a proper protest.
The city was built on the coast as a major port city and was once the capitol of the country. It is still a the major port in the country and the “Port Building” is depicted on one of the currency coins. A lot of the architecture, as in Maputo, is old and deteriorating; it was built when the Portuguese occupied the country and abandoned when the Portuguese left in 1972. The civil war that ensued caused a lot of damage, particularly in this part of the country. The war came to an abrupt halt in 1992. People were encouraged to move in to the abandoned buildings and take over their maintenance. As time moved on, people couldn’t afford to maintain their flats. Many moved to what are now the barrios – the slum neighborhoods - that circle the city center. Other people looked for less expensive accommodations in the city, settling in abandoned buildings deemed uninhabitable because they are structurally unsound, and have no running water or electricity. One of these structures is the Grande Hotel in Beira.
The Grande Hotel must have been magnificent when it was operational. It is massive has beautiful sweeping lines, and is situated so that guests had wonderful views of the ocean and the city. Today it is a crumbling monstrosity, housing a miniature city of some of Beira’s most vulnerable population.
The hotel is a very dangerous place to be for a number of reasons. The building is in horrible disrepair and even in the daytime, a misstep could be life threatening. At night, when there is nothing but pitch black (there is no electricity or running water), even candle light is not always sufficient to keep people from falling off edges of the building where there are no longer walls or down elevator shafts or stairwells.
It is dangerous because there is crime, and there is violence there. At night in the absolute darkness the situation heightens. No matter the time of day, outsiders are not welcome unless they are with a resident and have been given permission to be there.
The community has its own governance structure which is complex and effective. There are layers upon layers of power culminating with the ‘Boss’ and the “Boss’s Boss.” For an outsider to gain access to even the grounds of the hotel requires a connection. To go into the structure requires permission from someone of power. To actually move about the hotel, have permission to take pictures, and speak to the Boss requires going through a series of introductions, conversations, silent/unseen approvals to move up from one level of permission to another, and ultimately it requires the Boss to decide you are of interest to him.
When we visited, we explained why we interested in talking to people and taking photographs. We were introduced to residents as we were led up and down and around the structure Eventually we were introduced to Nina, a woman who stands in for the boss when he is not available. She led us through some additional introductions (layers of approval?) ultimately bringing us to the rooftop so we could interview a young mother, Nadia, living in a circular room that – if it were to have had windows – would have had a million dollar view.
Nadia was uncomfortable with questions at first and was sharp and suspicious. When I was able to explain what we were doing and why, and clarified that we were not just prying or gawking, she warmed up. She is in her mid twenties and has a baby, not yet walking, named Omar. She has lived at the Grande Hotel since she was five years old. She “bought” the room she has just a year ago. She is worried about the location because the guard wall has fallen away in many spots so Omar could crawl, and eventually run, right off of the roof. She also doesn’t have neighbors on the rooftop which provides privacy but also leaves her without protection. In the photos you can see the size of her home. She has at least one other adult living there with her who did not come out of the house. Nadia brought the baby inside when we first arrived and he was handed back out to her wearing nice clothing. It appears she has some status, indicated by being the person we were brought to, the house she lives in which is comparatively very nice, the good clothing for the baby, and the person helping with the baby.
While we were speaking with Nadia, the ‘Boss’ of the Grande Hotel materialized on the roof top to meet us. He spent about 20 minutes with me. He talked a little about a documentary/movie made in 2008 about the Grande Hotel (titled “The Grande Hotel.” It is supposed to be very good) and said it was well done and depicted things accurately. As for what were the problems there, obviously things like crime and unemployment. But the biggest problem is that the building is dangerous and “could fall down at any moment.” The government sent some people to look around a few years ago and they promised to help people relocate but nothing happened before there was a change in who was in power, and of course, with “new management nothing will happen. They have not come again to see what is here.” He emphatically stated that he wants the government to relocate all of the residents of the hotel, en masse, to a piece of land with basic housing for everyone and take down the building. He believes this is the only solution to the issues of his community. He said bringing in water or electricity was no good as it wouldn’t keep the building from falling down in the middle of the night.
The situation at the Grande Hotel is extremely complicated. There are some people living there who could afford to move to somewhere else, albeit not a very good neighborhood, but one that isn’t going to collapse. There are people running good business in the hotel selling groceries and probably black market items and who are making relatively good money. But the majority of the people are extremely impoverished. I don’t know what options are open to them to relocate.
I don’t believe that any of the people in the hotel will relocate by themselves. This is a very tight knit community even though it is made up of 3,700 people. Many are the original inhabitants who came out of the bush when the war was declared to be over, and they have remained there, raised their families there (like Nadia’s family), and their children are now raising their families there. Others are relatives of those people coming in from all sorts of circumstances. The governing structure within the community is probably very similar to that which was used by the guerrilla fighters during the war, with pyramids of power leading up to the “Boss.” This is what the community has lived with all these years and it would be difficult to adjust to other ways of living, especially if individuals hold positions of power. It is power – not wealth – that holds sway here as in all of the communities, poor and otherwise in Mozambique.
While the structure of the community binds these people together, the fact remains that they live in unbelievable and dangerous conditions and the people that we spoke to there said they want to be in a safer place. It is hard to imagine moving 3,700 people all at once to a new place. But perhaps that is the only viable solution. Even though he may be conflicted about what he wants or how to make positive change, his parting statement from the boss to me was unequivocal and stark. “The government might worry about the cost of moving everyone. But what is that to the cost of paying for the funerals of 3,700 people when come to bury us after the building collapses.”
Selecting a photo below will link you to that photo album.
Grand Hotel, Beira

In and Around Maputo, Mozambique


A Visit to Baptista's House (1st of Five for Oct. posted in Nov)

It has been some time since I wrote. October was very busy - there is a lot to tell. I will break this entry into separate postings so they can be read at more leisure. I will put picture links to some of them as listed below.
A Visit to Baptista’s House: Baptista and his Family
  1. Work I Am Doing: a. In and Around Maputo  and b. Beira
  2. Beira - In and Around; The Grande Hotel: a. Beira , b.TheGrande Hotel , c. Baptista's House
  3. Tough Stuff
  4. Visit to Nelspruitt, South Africa (EASY reading!) Drive to Nelspruit and Along Blyde's River Canyon
The photo links also appear with each posting.

A Visit to Baptista’s House. I have been involved in a study about identifying vulnerable populations in urban Mozambique and the adequacy of resources to help alleviate extreme poverty and vulnerable populations. One of the first people we interviewed is a young man named Baptista. We know him because he sells flowers across the street from the VSO building. In addition to letting me interview him, and arranging a focus group for us, he invited us to his home in Albazine, a very poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Maputo. When we arrived at his house, his family brought all the chairs they had outdoors and placed them under a large mango tree. The women sat on a mat at the base of the tree and we and Baptista and his brother, Moises, sat in chairs to talk. Baptista’s wife, mother, grown nephew, daughter (7rs old) and niece (3 months) were all there. You will see in pictures that Moises, his brother was thin as a rail and looked quite ill. It turned out he had been sick for some time, unable to work, and in fact, had been in a clinic for a couple of weeks. He had come home that day because he couldn’t afford to stay any longer.
Their house is made of reeds with a tin roof. Baptista has been slowly buying block to build a house. He thinks he now has enough block but needs money to pay for cement, other materials and helpers. They don’t have running water or electricity now and he doesn’t know when they will have that in the new house after it is built but having both is a goal. He showed me the block, explained where the house would be built and what still needed to be done before he could start. He also showed me around the property, identifying the trees (he has planted an apple tree that is still quite small but that he is very proud of), explaining the duck pen, how they get water (not on the property – they have to go down the road) and pointing out places he would like to develop in the yard.
I was watching Baptista’s mother and daughter playing with his 3 month old niece, Latiina, and really wanted to hold her, which they let me do. I had been wondering since I arrived how mothers tie their babies on their backs, and even though my Portuguese is halting, I managed to ask if they would show me how it is done. Sonia not only showed me but insisted that I tie Latiina on myself. You will see in the pictures how it is done, and you will also see me trying to do it gracefully – but it is nerve wracking! I was worried I would drop Latiina before I had her secured. She held on very nicely – no worries – and once I had the cloth tightened she felt very secure. I will have to say that Latiina is one of my favorite cultural ambassadors.

Select the photo above to link to Baptista and his Family for more photos.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Birthday In Catembe

I love birthdays!
And I have to admit – that includes my own. Maybe that is one of those things that comes from being in a big family, like the one in which I grew up. My birthday was the one day of the year that was all mine. Now that I am an adult I still like the feeling of celebration and good wishes although I find that I am a lot more excited about my kid’s birthdays than my own. I tell them it is because I was the one doing the birth-thing so it makes it my birthday too. They are sick of that comment!
Before I left the North American continent I decided that I was going to go to a beach for my birthday. The beach, one of my favorite places to be, is absent in Arizona, and plentiful in Mozambique, a country that hosts a stunning coastline along the Indian Ocean. I didn’t get to one of the pristine, white sand, blue water beaches north of here, but I did go across the port to a small bit of land, still part of Maputo City, called Catembe, where there is a very active community and constant transport by boat and ferry to and from mainland Maputo.
My birthday is on Wednesday this year – so I opted for a picnic/potluck on Saturday which was planned with the help of my friend and flat-mate, Rica. She lived on Catembe for 1 ½ years and knows the good spots, the travel time to and fro, and so on.
Our group included VSO volunteers, some of their families and friends. While too lengthy and complicated to list everyone, you will meet some of them as their names pop up throughout this blog. As the Saturday, 25 de Setembro, also happened to be a holiday in Mozambique honoring their armed forces, we knew to expect a busy day with many families going across to the island. We were unloading at Maputo port when a very drunk and rude military fellow came over to yell and swear at us, pushing me and Maggie around, until Rica yelled at his sober counterpart to control the situation. After that no problems. (Maggie, a VSO volunteer, was our ride to Maputo port. Also attending was Maggie’s 8 year old daughter, Genesis along with her 6 year old friend, Victoria, and a lovely family friend, Natasha, 17 yrs. Maggie is the only one volunteering here with a youngster so Genesis gets a lot of attention!)
The scene at the Maputo port was controlled chaos. Along with a long line of cars waiting to get onto the ferry, there were many, many people milling about. Some were people who obviously lived in Catembe and were going back with provisions. But most of the people were going across to enjoy the holiday. While many were dressed beach-casually like us, what was surprising to me were the great many people dressed in “Sunday-best;” men with ironed dress shirts and women in party dresses and high-heeled shoes – I have no idea how they walked in the sand with those on!
The most wonderful people-watching moment  for me was when a young woman in a gorgeous blue satin gown and 3” heels, who was carrying a very dead, fully feathered, head still attached chicken stepped onto the very uneven wooden bridge to the boats; she had a hold of the feet so it dangled upside-down, wings extended, and beak dripping. The rest of her group had boxes of food and cerveja – beer - and a small grill. It looked to be a good feast.
When we finally reached the front of the queue (not called the “line” here) we opted to board a small boat to take us across rather than the ferry which looked overloaded with many cars and many people. Our boat turned out to be equally over-crowed as it ought to realistically hold about 10 people, but was packed with easily 20 of us. Mohammed (my learning-Portuguese partner) and Maggie both told me they didn’t know how to swim; I said they would have to flip a coin to decide between them who I would rescue first if the boat went down. The wind was quite strong, making the 15 minute trip across very choppy. Every one made it across without getting ill, though for certain, there were some pale faces and queasy stomachs.
We disembarked and began a long but pleasant walk that took us about 1 ½ miles or so down the beach, well beyond the partying crowds to a wonderfully quiet and virtually empty stretch. The tide was out when we arrived, leaving at least 200 yards of wet packed sand, making the walk quite easy for anyone without high heels.
What I particularly liked about the walk was Mohammed’s delight at the shells and sea life that were exposed with the tide so low. He said he had seen pictures of some of the shells in school but had never seen any in real life. The beach was well populated with living sea urchins covered with spines waiting for high tide, and spine-less sea urchin shells. He picked quite a few of these up as well as a variety of shells that I did my best to identify, but some were strange also to me. I had to encourage him to leave the shells that were still housing living creatures, if not for any other reason but that they would soon smell quite horrible. We found a surprising amount of sea glass of various colors, including my favorite, blue. I have trouble finding sea glass nowadays on the California beaches I visit, perhaps because in the USA we use cans and plastic far more often than glass. He and I only argued over who-saw-what-first a few times (yes Mom – I am still the consummate collector).
Our picnic was an eclectic and wonderful feast. We had pansit, a traditional fried noodle dish from the Philippines (c/o Rica), pasta salad (me), chapatti – a flat heavy sort of bread traditionally Kenyan (c/o Mohammad), and other potluck fare (samosas, hard boiled eggs, oranges, etc), There was a very nice cake with “Happy Birthday, Biss” in chocolate on the top (c/o Mohammed and Ricky - another volunteer on his way home to the Philippines). We played dodge ball using rolled up socks, and “patintero,” a game from the Philippines that is really fun, can be very competitive (what, me? competitive?) but too hard to explain - you can look it up (I found this site: The game involves two teams and a lot of running. My last bit of sea-side running about included something from my “do before I am 50 yrs old” – I managed to do two very inept cartwheels, but cartwheels none the less. I still want to stand on my head… maybe in a few months when I don’t hurt anymore!
I cut the cake and opened a couple of very nice gifts, and was serenaded (guitar accompanying) with three different happy birthday songs – from Kenya, the Philippines and a local Portuguese one. People sang quite a bit during the day with Paolo, Rica’s boyfriend, or his friend, Moises, playing the guitar.
Rica and I took a long stroll past some beautiful homes, and many decaying, mostly uninhabited houses, to a landmark hotel, Catembe Gallery Hotel,that is on the beach front. Of note in the hotel is a small museum dedicated to Samora Machel (also worth looking up), a charismatic and beloved leader who was the first president of Mozambique after the civil war. He died in a plane crash – it is considered to be an assassination as the plane was believed to have been hijacked and then crashed. I am told that in Mozambique, Machel is thought of in much the same way as Nelson Mandela is in South Africa, and in fact they were friends. Interestingly, after Samora Machel died, his widow married Nelson Mandela.
Though we were there for a sunny, breezy 7 hours, we didn’t go swimming as the water is not clean - all sorts of waste and chemicals are dumped there. It is clean enough to splash in the surf and the kids took full advantage.
Our return was uneventful. I wish I could sit with you over a beer and prawns (being sold fresh and cheaply, $1.50 USD for about 2 lbs at the Catembe port) and tell you more vignettes about the day, as to write them here would run much too long. Suffice to say it was a very lovely way to celebrate my birthday with very good new friends. As Victoria, Genesis’ 6 year old friend, said in her very good English, “Man, it was such a good party!”

Note: To skip the slide show and go to an online album version of these pictures (or if my grand experiment failed and there is no slide show!), click here:
I love birthdays!

[url address you can select, or copy and paste to see pictures if all else fails!:]

Saturday, September 18, 2010

A ride towards being at home

I took a ride on a few chapas – Mozambique’s version of bus transport – the other day when I went to ShopRite to get things for the house. I am allotted an allowance to help set up my household. The money is intended for items ranging from furniture to plates and cups. It is not nearly enough to cover costs so I am very slow in buying anything because I am having trouble prioritizing what to get. On top of that – if you have spent much time with me – you will know that I hate to shop so I have not been motivated to go and spend, being fortunate that my flat mate has many things here already.
Back to the chapas. As in many developing countries, public transportation here is widely used by the public and is extremely crazy. It is an experience that I can’t really relate to anything else I have ever done. When I read about Maputo in tourist guides, there are many warnings about not riding in the ordinary sort of chapas that serve the masses as they are not considered safe, they are overloaded, they are traveling on streets that are dominated by the most blatant sorts of traffic violations I have ever seen, and I am probably being kind here. Even so – if you live in Maputo and you don’t have a car and you don’t have much money and you need to get about town, you will eventually find yourself relying on chapas to get around.
There are different classes of chapa. Nicer ones that you can ride long distances, say to South Africa or Swaziland. And then the not so nice ones that make this something to write about. Actually, the first chapa I got on was a fairly good size and not too crowded – I realized later I was just fortunate that it was still early on a Sunday morning, and I was on a rare, fairly modern, quite large chapa. The more prevalent ones range from being the size of a small school bus to the size of an extended van. They look to be ancient. The sliding door can be knocked off if you bump it wrong and just as easily popped back on;  they have engines you can actually fix because there are no electronic parts; they are – in a word – old. These chapas are constantly pulling alongside the curb at designated spots, one following the next in a confusing way, with no indication that I can understand about where any particular chapa is headed. It also it seems that people jam into them faster than people depart from them. The improbable, eternal bowl of rice that never empties. In fact it seems to just get more and more crowded. This means that, for example on Sunday when I made a transfer, I got on one of the smaller chapas and was one of approximately 25 passengers crammed onto four benches. The gentleman who collects the toll and directs the loading and unloading ended up standing – literally – on top of me for the first few miles. I am learning to reassess my “personal space.” By the time we approached my stop, there were easily 32 of us.
 When I got on the chapa on the return, I was on a bench to the back, which was where I discovered I am claustrophobic under certain circumstances; the first circumstance being when I am in a van with 30 other people and on a bench made for four but seating eight. No matter which bench you are on, if you are not on the last one or two back, and you are on the open door side, you are getting in and out as people disembark, and are reloaded. There was a young boy at the far end of my bench who stared at me the entire time; I think he may not usually see white women riding these chapas.
The return trip was made more challenging as I was carrying four bags of purchases that needed to integrate into my allotted space. I was glad I was going four miles, not forty. I thought about pictures I have seen of people riding on top of buses in developing countries and wondered if I might not be one of those people who might risk sitting on the top of the bus with the chickens. I would be very tempted if I had a long way to go rather than being inside with the 50 or so sardines, I mean passengers sweating away their few pounds as they collectively bumped along the 80 kilometers to the next town.
Since Sunday, I have had quite a few people, other volunteers and Mozambiquans I know, ask about my journey, “So, you went on the chapa?” And then I am rewarded with a knowing sort of nod. I realize I have made a certain rite of passage. It provides a certain sensation, a kind of prediction - I am going to be ok here.

Since the Strike...

As I have had questions from people about what happened next regarding the “strike” I am providing a short follow-up.

The strike/rioting came to an end by the night of September 4th, though the following days remained tense, with people unsure of whether more violence would surge. After emergency cabinet meetings, the government announced on Sep 7, which was a national holiday, that it will subsidize bread prices and took measures to reduce costs of rice, sugar, water and electricity for “small consumers” (those using the least amounts, thereby assumed to be among the most impoverished), and imported goods – most of the food is imported.

At least thirteen people died and scores more injured. This sounds like a wire report, I suppose because it is facts, not observations. How I mainly experience the aftermath of the events of Sep 2 – 4 is through conversations I overhear (and can actually understand somewhat, thanks to Portuguese lessons) and through conversations I have in private with new friends. One example that is notable is the emphatic bravado of a friend who is extremely anti-FREMLO (current majority government) and exceedingly excited and proud that people in the cities of Maputo and Motola forced attention and action. He raises and shakes his fists with the bravado of an underdog heavy weight fighter who has bested the reigning champ. He shouts and grins and boasts of the history of his family who come from a region that has never been known to vote pro-FREMLO.

Things are by no means “fixed.” But in-country I find reports that this incident is being widely accepted as being legitimate, even though it became violent. If you are interested in reading more about it, you can certainly find a lot on line. There is a very interesting article at with details about police action and on the third page of this report, a conversation about government response and various reactions to that response. I encourage reading reports from more than one source as the stories can be slanted depending on where you find your information.

A note... today when I stopped to buy bread at the shop on my way home from the VSO office it was half the price it has been since I arrived. 2 MZN rather than the 4MZN it was when I stopped in two days ago.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

September 1 - 3, 2010. Maputo, Mozambique

I took a series of pictures recently of where I live (click here or select the Photo link at top of the page above the title of this blog) with the intention of writing about my flat a bit - I know my kids are curious about my living space. Interestingly, I have had an excessive amount of time to think about what to say about my flat lately due to some tragic and unusual occurrences here, in and around Maputo and nearby Matolo. But I decided to write about something more immediate and pressing.
To summarize quite briefly, a “strike” – a riot – began in the early hours of Wednesday morning as people protested food and energy price increases. ( You can find more info about the strike if you search online – Sept 1, Maputo.) As I have watched the news and looked online, I have seen images of burning tires and cars, and roads blocked; and I have heard reports of businesses being broken into, and stones being thrown at police by large mobs of people. Police opened fire into the crowd using rubber and live ammo killing “at least six people” according to various news sources, a 12 year old boy among them. Throughout the day and beyond, injured people were transported to the hospital located a few blocks from our flat so we heard the sirens continuing into the night. Our immediate neighborhood was calm and deserted for most of Wednesday. We heard the sound of gunfire but it was difficult to tell where it was coming from. Surging sounds of crowds yelling and shouting came and went.
The word to strike was apparently spread by text messaging. I saw a message on someone’s phone urging people to continue striking through the week. Fortunately, things were quieter on Thursday, though no less tense, as police and private guards were out in force and armed. The violence continued – possibly continues? - on the outskirts of the city and north of the city, and in Matolo.
The VSO office had prior notice and contacted us Tuesday night to tell us to buy food as there was to be a strike the following day, Wednesday. We were not to leave our flat for any reason except emergency. A call on Thursday was the same and again today we were told to remain indoors although later in the day we were urged to get more food if we needed to do so and then return to and stay in our flats for the rest of the day and through the weekend. It is Friday night as I write this.
When we (Rica and I) went out today for a food run there were long, long lines at the bread stores and the bank, and at any store that had food stores. By the early afternoon when I was out, the food markets were shutting doors as they ran out of food, though I noticed that with enough cash people could get through the door despite the “fechado” (closed) sign posted and the guy waving people away. There were some cafes open, only occupied, it seemed, by a few ex-pats – non-Mozambicans. I couldn’t find any other businesses open. 
It is uncertain if people were frantically buying because things are still unstable or because of a rumor that there might be another strike, but either way, there was a strange sense of the surreal as, at first glance, it seemed people were going about their business, shopping as though it were a normal Friday; but then a realization that there was a palpable tension and nervousness permeating the air. The faces of the people walking hurriedly by were strained, and even the demeanor of café-dwellers attempting to look calm and unconcerned sipping their expresso under covered patios was unconvincing.
I am not sure how to explain how I feel. First of all, how I feel is actually amazingly trivial in the scheme of things. But it is all I can 100% share with you with any accuracy. It is clear that there is no immediate danger should I walk out in front of my building where kids had resumed running about today and adults gathered to talk, undoubtedly, about the strike. On the other hand, the very nature of the events taking place is that when there are people desperate enough to riot, violence flares up anywhere with very little notice. The reality is that people who do not look Mozambican may be targeted randomly by incited rioters. The danger is real. And the placidity I observe in my neighbors to gauge my own safety – well – I believe it is a façade. I suppose it is a critically needed one to try to restore order in one’s world. In fact it is a façade I employed as I walked up to the shops in search of food; we were short on most everything but the monotonous rice. 
Honestly, by the time I had done the very little shopping I could and I was heading back towards home, the façade was gone - I was eager to get back to my little flat. I was uncomfortable with the rifles in the hands of men who looked no different than the guys hanging out in Plaza Maguiguana in front of my house except they had a sort of false bravado, an air of invincibility about them that I think wass bolstered by their rifles and that was scary. I was wary of the truckloads of armed police and wondered if they imagined themselves protecting citizens or protecting themselves with those guns.
As I reflect back, I realize I have never before seen people rushing about on the streets – this is a city of people moving at a moderate and steady pace, if not downright slow. When I was out and about, I was in a neighborhood I didn’t recognize, one that I had taken great care to observe and absorb the last two weeks since I had arrived. I have been used to a population in motion, with many people on the streets making do, a large number of people with sense of finality about them, their lives made difficult with the struggle of making it through each day. So many of the people I typically pass on the street – the many, many who aren’t in buildings working, or driving recklessly through the streets in 4x4s - are visibly impoverished, chatty, friendly, loud, busy doing not very much with no urgency to their days. For the most part, that population was nowhere to be seen. I think that probably a good number live out in the slums on the outskirts of the city where the rioting was the worst. And they don’t have money to stock up on food.
I have had a lot of time to think about things and wonder about my feelings. The strangest feeling I have is a sort of confusion, a unsettled nervousness. I think it is attributable to my ambiguity about what I hope for when I am “allowed” to go out. I would have thought I would like the city to resume its nature. But there is a part of me that thinks all of this upheaval shouldn’t have happened for nothing; that there should be a change. I want the complacency of inevitable poverty to be replaced by a sense of urgency. I want the haves and the many, many to collectively acknowledge that there is something wrong and while rioting is not the way to make change happen, the possibility exists that perhaps a united people with purpose and leadership can make change happen. I am not sure how that can happen or what that looks like here – or what that feels like, but I would like to know. I suppose the reality is that I am here because I want to see that happen – I want to feel that happen. I want that change. 

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Portuguese Lessons

As I mentioned I have a friend asking me pertinent questions, and this leads me to write so much that I can't imagine rewriting or writing anything in addition for this blog. His next question “set” had to do with my Portuguese lessons. They are extremely intense. I finished day two today and feel like it has been many more days than that. Classes are like going through 10th grade Spanish on 8xfast forward on a DVD player.

The teacher's name is Ernesto. He is a very large presence. He is a very good humored man who seems like any moment he will burst into song and dance. His cadence when he reads out loud to help our pronunciation, or when he even reads off lists of numbers to us is something you could add drums to. Today when we were talking about phone numbers - this makes me chuckle when I write it - he had the notion to ask us our phone numbers. After figuring out how to find my phone number (I had to call Mohammed, my sole classmate, and get the number off his phone), and getting Mohammed's number on the board he started working on our horrible pronunciation of numerals. Ernesto rapidly started figuring out this song kind of chant for Mohammed's number and he was so delighted with himself he kept saying it over and over again to get us to see how clever it was and how easy it made memorizing the number to be, all the while shifting to and fro on the balls of his feet straining not to start dancing there and then. And honestly he was right - it was very clever and made it very easy to say the number and I was jealous because my number is very choppy and boring and not easy. He and Mohammed figured out a charity version of a chant to make me feel better but honestly I still cant remember my number.

So I mentioned Mohammed - he is the only other student. He is from Kenya. (Ele é Kenya) and he is 28 years old (e ele tem 28 anos… I am learning something!). His VSO placement is going to be working with farmers somewhere in the north part of Maputo province (look it up on a map) to assist with modifications to farming techniques for greater yields, etc. He has already driven up to where he will be living. He says the house is too big and he is concerned that it will be too lonely with all of that space and no one to talk to. He will have a motorcycle but says the roads are so sandy that he doubts he can actually ride on them. He is eager to go but wants to be more prepared with his Portuguese. Since Ernesto said that he will get 50 hours of language lessons before he leaves we are both a little nervous that we are going to be cramming in a lot of hours here shortly. Mohammed said he may ask to stay another week. Mohammed is currently living in the VSO Guest House and this is where we are meeting for class. Even though he is a “guest” there he is determined to be a good and gracious host. As he is Muslim and since it is Ramadan he fasts all day long, but insists that Ernesto and I take "tea" (which is really coffee). He brought out cups on saucers and hot water and Nestea coffee and so on. Very nice.

After class, to help pass the time during the two hour lunch break everyone seems to take at the office Mohammed and I went on a walk to a book store he discovered on a prior expedition so I could find a dictionary - "Not far! Not far at all" - it was rather far. Easily close to a mile. But a good bit of exercise. There wasn't anything for Ingles/Portugues so that was a bust. When we talked to the clerk to ask if he knew where another book store was he called another branch of their store and "reserved a copy." He explained everything to us - that means to Mohammed - he wouldn't speak directly to me even though I was asking all the questions. He kept giving directional landmarks to Mohammed who had no idea where anything is as he is not from here and has only been in Maputo for 2 weeks, but this clerk kept on saying "Yes, you know! You know!" When we left I asked Mohammed if he noticed and he said "Yes, and he thinks I am from Mozambique just because I am black." We got a laugh out of that.

After two days of Portuguese I think we are both learning something. I have the television on right now in the background on a news/telenova station Rica, my roommate, likes so that by air-mosis (my version of air-wave osmosis) I will become a fluent Portuguese speaker by morning.

The guest house that we go to for lessons is not too far from the VSO office. To get there I walk along Av 24 de Julho for a couple of blocks and then turn down a smaller street for just two blocks. All the same it is one of the most dangerous walks I take with cars careening all over the place, many many students milling about before and after school, a major shapa-stop (bus), and an insane narrow 2 way road that curves precariously. Today there was an accident just off the corner from the flat and I imagine there are many at that very spot.

When I get to the apartment building, I go on a walkway that leads under the building, and it is so pretty, it is a pleasure to walk on - large pink stone diamond patterned granite tiles. Then up a staircase and there is the flat. It is long and narrow. You enter the door into the living room/dining room, maybe 20 x 15 ft, and then you look down a somewhat narrow hallway and see doors spaced all the way down. These lead to 2 bedrooms, a large bath, and a half bath, and a medium sized kitchen at the back. There is a third bedroom off the living room. It is really very spacious. As with all the flats I have been in, it is rather old. I imagine at least 30 years or more.

Have I mentioned that the floors of every flat and every office I have been in are wood parquet, each in its own interesting patterns. Always pieces no larger than 1.5" x 5" or so and often smaller - as is the case in my flat. In the guest house the pattern is a pleasing fish-bone. Another interesting consistent feature in every flat I have seen so far is chandeliers in at least the living room and dining room, often in the kitchen, and sometimes bedrooms as well. There is one in the bathroom in my flat, though not, sadly, my room where there is an exposed energy efficient bulb that likes to buzz. Some of the chandeliers are rather odd, but still they are pretty fancy and delightful to have to look at. In one of the VSO volunteers’ flats, there are ten foot ceilings with really magnificent chandeliers all about, and in one of the bedrooms, immense mauve colored drapes over the windows, rather theatrical in appearance. It is really bizarre. Like something out of "Gone With The Wind" without the cool staircase and banister.

For the last week or so a group of four youth volunteers have been staying at the guest house with Mohammed and you can certainly tell that they are teenagers. They are not the most tidy of people. At the beginning of the week Mohammed had told the person who cleans the place that she didn't need to bother but I suggested that he rethink that decision.

Sorry I am a bit long winded. I will finish with another anecdote. So it is a jolly ending. It is a pleasingly nice story. Or as I hear the Brits and Rica say - "It’s rather lovely, isn't it?"

I was proud of myself as I ventured out on my own for lunch today after the failed search for a dictionary. I knew of an internet café which was appealing as the internet at the office wasn't working and I had some work to check on (25 Mt = ~ $.70 USD for 30 min) and while I was there I also had ordered a grilled cheese and ham and some mango drink. I ordered a small drink - they come in those boxes with the little straws - but they were out so the waitress asked if I wanted a large. Thinking it would be just a little larger I said ok and she brought this huge - 1 liter - box of juice. So I carried around an open liter of juice for the rest of the day feeling quite self-conscious. Very goofy. Now I have mango for the rest of the week and the weekend. That is my lovely story.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

An update.. Walking to Work

Someone wrote and asked me some specific questions about what I saw and smelled and felt like on my way to work so, in the interest of not typing all night long, I am going to use my reply to keep my blog somewhat up to date. I am, for the next few weeks, going to be going to both the VSO office and their "guest house." I have In Country Training at the office and will start Portuguese training at the guest house tomorrow at 8 AM - 12 PM. It is about a 15 minute walk to the VSO office and I am not sure where the guest house is so I am not sure how long it will take to get there. It will be a lengthy walk to the CNJ office which is where I will eventually be going. I think about a good 25 to 30 minutes. I haven’t taken any other means of transport besides getting rides from someone from the VSO office. I walk by myself to work. Today I started out and got very sick so I turned around and came home and stayed home in bed all day. I am feeling better - ate some rice - kept that down - so will go in tomorrow if this holds up. The other day that I walked - I start out going down a stairwell of my apartment house. They just call it flats. It smells like people use it a lot. Not like a bad New York stairwell but maybe like a close alleyway.

Once I get out of doors there is a very large courtyard area surrounded by buildings like mine all connected. There are balconies filled with clothes drying and some plants and stuff. All very lived in. The paint is peeling and the buildings look well used. The courtyard surface is quite rough asphalt and dirt. There are many cars parked every which way. Mostly 4x4s of some sort. People prefer the larger vehicles because many roads are rough, even impassable, without them. They are not big trucks but small SUV type cars. There is dirt and gravely rocks and so if I have my sandals on I need to be sure to pick up my feet. I walk through this area and down a very very short road just like it out onto a street called Avenida de Maguiguana (don’t know what that looks like on Google Earth but you can try). If I look to the left there is a stand that sells telephone minutes. Across the street is a fruit vegetable stand and there is another just down the road but opposite the way I walk to work.

Ave de Maguiguana is a pretty well kept road with trees and nice buildings. There are cars parked on the sides of the road and on the sidewalks. That is the case in a lot of places. Cars park where ever they want. There are a lot of house guards by a lot of the houses. There is a mosque just off this street too and so you can hear the muezzin apparently but I have not yet heard his calling and they do it 5 times a day so maybe there is just too much other noise. A lot of the guards have uniforms but some of them are just regular looking people so you can't really tell the difference. There are police that stand around too, but you can tell who they are because they have guns.

So then I walk along a series of small roads and come to a major street, Eduardo Mondlan, which has a lot of shops and restaurants and cafes and also the Ministry of Health and the major hospital in the country. There is not so much traffic on the weekends but during the week it is crazy busy and I have to be careful because I tend to look the wrong direction for traffic as it is opposite from the US. I turn again - my road mark, as Rica, my flat-mate says, is a KFC, the only fastfood chain in the country, and I travel about two more blocks down a very nice street to another major road in the city, 24 de Julho, and the VSO office is right there. There are two or three guards there by a large gate. There are some pretty tiles on the front of the building too, blue and white, very middle eastern looking.

The air doesn't really smell like something specific. There has been a breeze every day. Maybe when it is more hot and humid, which is in October or November, it will feel more close and have more smells. I am not so comfortable walking yet. When I go out of my flat, I am not sure whether it is proper to look at people I don’t know and smile or engage in any way so I try not to so much right now. When I see the kids, and there are some that play out in that courtyard, I will say hello and they will say hello. On my longer walk I try to remember to be on the left side of the sidewalk and for some reason that takes concentration but makes passing by people LOTS easier. The sidewalks tend to be narrow, and not in good shape so I have to watch that also or I trip. I haven't been out much by myself. Also walking to work is early and there is not so much traffic and people yet. I do pass by groups of people hanging out and talking. Street vendors. Guys trying to sell everything from electrical plug adapters to necklaces to cloths.

So there you go. A lengthy walk in Maputo with me on my way to work.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Getting Ready

Emptying the house is a lot more difficult than the thought of starting anew in Africa. Wishing for a black hole to appear in the living room right about now.