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March 20, 2003

Words from Ali

I thought I would share another "episode" from Ali. She writes, often, about aspects of Mozambique that wouldn't occur to me to write about. Hope you enjoy some of Ali's thoughts, too!

Ali writes...

I don't understand why Mozambique suffers from all the problems that they do, but I do have some ideas. I think a lot of it, again, is lack of good information. I've found numerous errors in the 8th grade biology text, and I've heard midwives suggesting pregnant mothers drink less water when they're thirsty because they are big. Misinformation breeds more misinformation and ignorance. Also, I can imagine that people here are still suffering the effects of war and colonization that took away their personal powers. I see a lot of people abusing power here. Community leaders expect people to bow down to them and treat them as royalty. Professors want power over their students, and men want power over their wives. Even the faculties of the teacher training college and vocational school are in constant feud, each demanding more respect, and more privileges than the other. This is a never-ending circle, because those who follow fall in the footsteps of those who lead. It as if everyone in this country is on a power trip like high school seniors, trying deliberately to make the lives of others miserable, so others suffer as they did. I think laziness may be derived from this too, because students who see that a privilege of the accomplished is laziness, will sink into that role when they are teachers. But then again, most people aren't in the field for the love of teaching either, it's more an issue of a generous (12-16 US dollars) paycheck at the end of the week.

I am realizing, though, that this craving for power is prevalent in our own land too. I hear that injury from abuse is the leading cause of hospitalization for women in the States even today. And the most powerful country in the world is scared of losing it's controlling grasp, and therefore decides to bully (in my opinion) other countries to show who is boss. I guess we all have a lot to learn.

But enough of this... From time to time I do manage to escape the school and travel a bit. Getting around in one of the poorest countries in the world has a meaning completely different than in a place like the United States. The getting there and back part is most of the adventure. To begin with, there are relatively few roads in the entire country, due to the war, poverty, corruption, and bad rainfalls that mess up any sort of cheaply rebuilt roads. I guess the upshot of having only a few main roads, is that it's harder to get lost! It is relatively easy to pick up a ride from a number of points along this road, as long as its during daylight hours. After that, leave it up to fate to carry you home via myriad modes of transport. Caitlyn and I spent a three hour “day” at the beach last weekend which required 11 hours of round trip travel time, on 10 different rides. I realized that as long as you don't die, it really is a fun way to live. Generally, the less developed a country, the fewer regulations people have to follow. Which makes it all quite dangerous for sure (and this fact has actually caused me a great deal of internal anxiety), but I have to admit its wonderful to ride standing up on top of a huge lumber truck, hair in the wind, talking to locals. Also fun is riding in the cab of a Zimbabwean tractor trailer (I know I promised I'd stay away from the infamous southern African truckers, mom, but I SWEAR the ride wasn't that unsafe)...

But actually, the majority of our transportation is via chapa, the minibuses that comprise the public transport system of Mozambique. If you've ever been on an uncomfortable Greyhound ride, come to Mozambique and you will call your prior experience luxurious. Imagine a rickety old bus filled to capacity, three times over. Literally, 3 or 4 people thick in each gap between seats. Standing for hours, strangers draping over you, with, of course, no bathroom. Again, without regulations, one more passenger means more profit. Most of the chapas, though, are smaller minibuses with a western capacity of 12; here they hold no fewer than 22. Foot space is usually occupied by large bags of rice or straw mats. Don't be surprised if someone else's baby is plopped in your lap for a few minutes, or hours. There very well may be a chicken squawking on your feet. And those stunts that are only real on McGuyver and action flicks with Harrison Ford where men move from the back to the front on the OUTSIDE of the bus before opening the door and climbing in, all while speeding down a pot-holed road against on-coming traffic... yeah, that happens here all the time too. And when Bryan Adam's "Summer of '69" comes blasting from the radio, we Americans seem to be the only ones who are the least bit fazed by this bizarre reality. The old man sitting next to me with a hand-me-down Betty Boop T-shirt doesn't seem too impressed by the whole thing, and looking at the man with the tired-looking "screw you" South Park ski cap, my first instinct is to laugh at the irony of it all. But sometimes, it all just makes me feel sad.

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