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January 10, 2003

Impressions

6 weeks ago, we welcomed 5 new volunteers to our center. They will stay for a year in total. This volunteer program achieves a level of stability and continuity by staggering volunteers in this way. When I arrived, I joined 5 volunteers who had already been here for 6 months and who had 6 months to go. And, now, at roughly my 6 month mark, the newcomers have arrived! In this way, we can teach each other much and assist with the transition period.

One of the newcomers, Ali, will be working in EAO with me. She wrote the following letter to her friends and family... More for me to share with all of you!

Ali writes...

So much of our role here, as volunteers, at the school, is to be new. To be inspiring because we come from a place where information is ubiquitous, and opportunities - for many people - are limitless. I am seeing my 24 years of life in a new way now - every bedtime book, board game, piano lesson, and peep through a microscope that was automatically a part of my world, has been a tremendous luxury. The broken history of Mozambique, along with most of Africa, hasn't afforded people here the same types of educational stimuli. Many people here can not conceptualize the rest of the world. Many people can't even read, or find where they live on a map. And it's not their fault. If they were lucky enough to go to school, they sat in empty classrooms, perhaps with no books. They haven't worked on computers or enjoyed the Internet. Novelty and creativity is motivation here, it's a way of seeing outside of this tiny, cramped box. Ideas! They are a dime a dozen in a place like the US where you watch 10 seconds on TV and the scene changes two or three dozen times. Teachers here stand and lecture in front of a classroom, with little creativity in teaching methods. And many teachers are wary to even share their educational information with their students, out of fear that their students will surpass them. After all, some of the teachers themselves have only 10th grade education. Only one teacher in the Teacher-training college here has a Bachelor's degree.

Too Much TV!!!Things can get stale in a place with no outside stimulation. And the outside stimulation that is here is so often destructive and myth-encouraging. In Lamego, there is a ruinous hall where kids gather to watch movies. They only watch Rambo and Kung-Fu, and this is what shapes their views about the outside world. In Beira, a large city on the coast, mothers sell tomatoes on the street while their kids beg the whites for change on the crumbling sidewalk. But towering over them all are huge billboards for cigarettes, and literally, a monument for Coca-Cola. You can probably guess what these kids want when they scrape up some change. While it is an unending uphill task to implement sustainable social programs here, it is painfully easy for the negative juices of our modern world to seep into the gaping holes of this world.

GraduationWhat I am seeing here is that the greatest gift of precarity is appreciation - having so little makes every little thing so much. These students (18-26 year olds) are excited to learn, they are overjoyed by the possibility of opportunity. They embrace each other as friends, their handshakes last for minutes or more as they turn into affectionate holds, and they dance closely together on Saturday nights in the cafeteria. And there is nothing that will go to waste at this school. We woke up at 5:30 am on graduation morning to help 10 students decorate for the ceremony. They pulled apart a plasticy-burlap bag and created long strings which were strung from the ceiling , and picked and hung hundreds of flowers and gorgeous leaves from the string. We put flowers in glass jam bottles and plastic milk cartons. The place was absolutely beautiful! These guys are resourceful and they take care of each other. In a place where death is around every corner, living becomes a top priority. People are forced to accept their conditions. Your sister dies, and you come to work the next day and move on. Your child dies and you hand in your English homework only a day late. People everywhere become as strong as they have to be.

My perceptions of Sub-Saharan Africa are new, and of course under-formed at this point. But there is a lot that it is obvious. Much of Africa is true to what westerners often think- mud huts with thatched roofs, and strong women carrying children on their backs and heavy loads on their heads with perfect balance. The sun is powerful on the savannah bush, and many people walk without shoes. Kids play all around, and many young people get a kick out of waving to us and repeating the word "Mzungas", the local word for white person.

I think what a lot of assumptions about Africa lack, however, is the other truths about the land and the people. It is easy for us to walk through Lamego, the village where ADPP is located, weaving through the mud huts adorned with smiling children, and think that the life of Mozambicans is simple, but happy. But in the last few weeks, I've begun to see the other dimensions to the picture-- The kids are all out playing in the dirt because they aren't in school. Many of their bellies are swollen from malnutrition. It's not uncommon for men to drink and beat their wives at night. It's not uncommon for neighbors to die.

Poverty here is the lack of resources such as food, health care, and information. The reasons are uncountable and complex - but they are all connected to the fact that this country wasn't allowed to have a more sequential, "natural" development. Mozambique, like 95% of Africa, was "developed" by outsiders who used the land for themselves. In Mozambique's case, the Portuguese demolished the infrastructure when they left, actually de-developing Mozambicans. And there are no easy answers for people who's country is in ruin, for people who have been denied education for as long as they can remember. After all, schooling is far lower on the list than food, water, and protection from war. I see countries like the United States having the opportunity to develop, at least roughly, from the bottom up. Building a strong base to support and sustain upwards growth. But Mozambique never had a chance for a strong base. But they had to build on top of what they had, which results in a shaky structure with so many necessary pieces missing, either bombed out, or never available to begin with.

And these pieces, and lack of pieces, is what I see all around me every day here. Outwardly, it's sometimes almost funny, the sad mix of sparsity and the dregs of randomness all over the chapa mini buses, village kiosks, and town offices. In the nearest town, Nhamatanda, the office of the ministry of education is a crumbling gray building, with one man inside behind a desk with a broken Formica top. The paint-chipped walls are very sparsely decorated with random paraphernalia: a yellowed, outdated map of Africa, a calendar poster provided by Jeito, the brand name condom of Mozambique, and a dental chart showing what tooth decay can look like. And that's about it - the results of a non-sequitous evolution of people and place - evidence of an infrastructure imposed and destructively whisked away, leaving just an empty skeleton that left over debris, third world hand-me-downs, and corporate freebies sparingly garner.

Capalana SalesMozambique has free-market capitalism, but you wonder who really has access to it. Under thatch-covered roofs at the market you find indigenous capilanas (beautiful, brightly patterned cloths) interspersed with those colored a faded neon green with the Coca-Cola logo all over. And Nike Swooshes. And the little refresco stand near by sells cokes and alcohol, and no water. Except for the tiny bubbly tonic water, produto de Coca Cola Compania. And of course it costs the equivalent of one hour's minimum wage in Mozambiqe- say 6 or so dollars for a soda. Lots of kids in ripped clothing stand and watch the dehydrated Mzungas stop for a drink.

One thing that strikes me again and again here, is how much harder it is for information - especially the good, correct kind - to get disbursed here. The checks and balances of our modern society in the western world, can't fully exist here yet. When I went with Caitlyn to nearby Chimoio to administer the qualifying exam for the vocational school for the class starting in the new year, we discovered that 4 of the 10 questions on the test were actually incorrect on the answer sheet. This was the test used for years to admit students, and apparently no one had caught these obvious mistakes. Even after the proper corrections, only 5 of the 9 students were able to get the minimum 50% passing score. Of the nine taking the test, only one was a girl, and she unfortunately failed. Of the 4 students able (and unbelievably excited!) to come to the school, all of them depended on full scholarships, as they could hardly afford the bus fair for the 2 hour trip to arrive at our school. All 9 students had lost at least one, if not both parents.

And this is just part of the reality here...

Ali can be reached via email: (Copy & Paste)