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January 28, 2003

Breakdown

This week, I had such a break down. One that I think has been on its way for a long time. I simply cried for Mozambique. For this country, for the people, for the spirit. I have had several experiences of late that just overwhelmed me, seeing the dying child in the hospital, being at the segregated beach for Christmas, and more, daily. Perhaps I am gaining perspective, perhaps this is UNDERSTANDING rather than just seeing. Nevertheless, it does hurt.

I am overwhelmed by thoughts that Mozambique is actually moving backwards.

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund became involved in Mozambique in 1992, just as peace was declared. However, the poorest in Mozambique are actually POORER now than before WB and IMF involvement. It seems illogical when there was a full fledged community-based WAR going on and people were living in refugee camps and much of the arable land was unusable due to mining. But, one of the strategies of the WB and IMF is to encourage a government to 'decrease governmental spending' through 'structural adjustment' programs. In Mozambique, that lingo means that programs promoting health, safe drinking water, education, and others, were actually CUT. Cut to encourage foreign investment, cut to pay back loans incurred at a time of all time low, low interest rates. So, now, we have a country where people are literally starving, but Coke is available to those who can spend 5,000 metacais - the equivalent of about 20 bananas, or 5 huge papayas, or 15 mangoes, or 5 small loaves of bread. It is impossible to see how Mozambique is benefiting from the presence of Coke - and I know the argument: they are providing jobs, they are starting the wave of foreign investment, etc. However, all I see are poor children who look at the massive advertisements for Coke and wish for the life that they see in the photo. I see mothers who give their very very young babies, with the classic extended belly, sips of Coke, when clearly their money could be better spent and their babies better fed. And, how much of the Coke fortune is actually staying in Mozambique?

The New York Times recently reported that by the year 2010, the life expectancy in Mozambique will fall to 27 years old, all due to the prevalence of AIDS, if nothing drastically changes before then. By the year 2010, my students will be about 27 years old. Can you even conceptualize what that means? To have the life expectancy of a country be 27 years old? That is when we are supposed to be in our so called 'prime of life'. That is when we are supposedly the most beneficial to the work force. And, it just makes me MAD to hear of the selfishness of the drug companies. And, yes, again, I know the arguments. The drug companies need money for research, it would be too difficult to transport medication and see to it that they will be safely and correctly administered, when there is, on average, 3,000 people for every doctor. But, people are dying, by the thousands. Daily. By the end of '99, 6,000 people every DAY in Africa alone died from AIDS related causes. Again, can that number even be conceptualized? That is the number of students in a small university, that is certainly more than the number of people who died when the WTC fell, it is the equivalent to a jet crashing every hour for one day killing everyone on board. Can that even be internalized? Why is there not OUTRAGE?

As I said, Mozambique is literally an 11 year old child. Peace was declared and fighting stopped just a short 11 years ago. Since that time, there have been 3 elections. The last one is said to have been 'rigged' or bought or something so that FRELIMO won. Next year, in the year 2004, there will be new elections. There is fear that war could break out with either outcome - a RENAMO or a FRELIMO win. Portugal is actually now paying Mozambicans who fought on the Portuguese side during the war for independence. Why? No one seems to have an answer. There are theories that it is to actually encourage people to fight after the elections. I do not know who would fight. People are tired. People are tired of fighting. This time, it could only be more organized, better funded, and armed with better weaponry. It scares me. It scares me that this county, which is JUST starting to develop, could so very easily fall back into war mentality. It terrifies me to think of my students as soldiers or as victims of yet another senseless war.

Through all of this, I cannot help but feel guilty. By some twist of fate, I was born with options and choices. And, no one here has had that fortune. I was born with choices and I feel guilty for making BAD choices. Choices that I know, full well, that are bad. But, what makes me feel horribly guilty, is that I have these choices and because one choice is easier (but not necessarily BETTER for the world), or more convenient, that is what I choose. For example, in our grocery store here, we have the choice between Nestle instant coffee and another brand. Nestle, in my opinion, has very disconcerting and objectionable business practices. But, we buy the Nestle coffee just because it is less expensive, the Nestle is not even better tasting. We could afford the other brand if we made that a priority, but we do not. Is that not what Nestle would want, they price their product lower than the rest so as to drive out the competition to leave us with no other choice. But, we buy the Nestle coffee anyway. WHY?? Why shouldn't I live all parts of my life with the moral code that I believe in? I do not know what the solution is. Yes, I keep learning and living and making choices--and I just hope that I can make BETTER decisions, ones that won't hurt people. And, after my breakdown, I am determined to try. Fernanda, my house-mate, has a saying, 'First do no harm, and if you can do good... Even better.' I think that is a good policy to live by. One that I will try to live by.