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December 29, 2002

Christmas

The passing of this Christmas, my first away from home and away from my family, was more thoughtful than most. The Beach

We, a bunch of teachers and their families and all the volunteers, headed to the beach in Inhansorro for a few days. I was struck by the beauty of my surroundings. I woke up early on Christmas morning to watch the sun rise over the Indian Ocean. The colors reflected off of the calm of the ocean and made brilliant the already bright-white sand. That night, I even skinny-dipped by the light of the moon and the phosphorescence glittering around me. I felt more spiritually connected to the world than after any church service.

I spent a lot of time contemplating our Mozambican "resort" (a.k.a., a beautiful beach with one hotel and one restaurant). We shared a beach with the locals, some of whom were literally emaciated with no possessions to their name (I couldnít even be that upset when one child tried, unsuccessfully, to steal my friends bag), and some tourist families staying at the hotel. Though there may have only been 3 or 4 families there, I couldnít believe how overbearing their presence was. I think they were from South Africa, and maybe Zimbabwe and Portugal. But I guess it doesnít matter. What did matter was how much they contrasted with the locals. They all drove massive truck-jeeps which they parked on the beach, brought in huge heavy-duty motor boats with all the fixings (jet skies, banana boats, surf board adaptations), and had ATVís for ALL of their kids. They sat under huge tents drinking beer and filling their large bellies with grilled meat. It really made me wonder a lot about excess, and about coming to Mozambique, of the poorest places on earth, and enjoying such luxuries.

Kids at the BeachWhat worried me the most was what the Mozambican children think when they see it all. Outside of poorly dubbed Jean Claude Van Damme movies, these rich tourists are their only exposure to the western world. As a result, they literally think that every white person has these privileges. I canít even imagine what must go through their minds. We really do live our lives and understand the world around us through comparison; a poor village may not feel so poor if everyone is poor, but a poor village with ATVís and cars bigger than houses on the beach, well, thatís something else. And when all the "haves" are white and the "have-nots" black, how must they feel? What kind of self-esteem can there be? They donít have access to education that would help them understand a more realistic reality. It seems like every time I talk with a Mozambican about minha terra (my land), I have to dispel the same myths over and over again. People do not believe that there are poor Americans, that some donít even have a place to live. We are this magical land to them, a fantasy almost. What else could they conclude from what they see come visit them?

I think I felt more aware, this Christmas, of my privileges than I ever have before. And I realized while chopping onions and tomatoes for salad and stew, that it felt really good to be useful, to help prepare meals and even wash dishes. Thereís something really satisfying about getting your water from a 30 foot well, and lugging it back to the house. And washing the colorful plastic dishes of 30 people while sitting in the grass, basking in the heat of the morning sun, or by lantern and moonlight after dinner. African music on the radio, people chatting, kids laughing under the coconut trees, us - wearing colorful capilanas around our waists. There is an appreciation that comes from things that are worked for. And there is something human in us that likes doing the work that must be done to survive. Not having simple amenities reminds me of where water and food come from, and what it takes to get them to us.

PS: Thanks, Ali, for your words!