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May 29, 2003

Re-entry

Gandhi was once asked what he thought of Western Civilization. His response was that "It sounds like a good idea."

It is no secret that I love Mozambique. I fell in love 140 times over, with each and every one of my students. I was enamored by the life, by the country, by the people. It is also no secret that I was not particularly eager to leave Mozambique. But, perhaps it is not well known that I was not particularly eager to return to the United States.

Even though I was not eager to return to the culture of the United States, I was not expecting the complete culture shock that I encountered.

Mozambique and New York are two completely different worlds, perhaps different planets. There was much that I just could not deal with. Unfortunately, my parents got the brunt end of this reality. They just happened to call on my sisters cell phone WHILE I WAS WALKING ON THE STREET! I could not deal with it. After not talking to them for months and months, I was only able to mange a 4-minute conversation! Sorry, Mom and Dad. Arenít I lucky to have such understanding parents??

But, I was struck even more significantly. The life in the United States, and in New York in particular, is excessive by most standards, but by my Mozambican standards especially. I could not, and still cannot, understand "Custom Dog Clothing". I lived in a land where there was not Human Custom Clothing; in fact, most people wore the hand-me-downs from our excessive land. I was saddened by the lack of human contact in the city. I rode on countless subway cars where no one said a word to anyone, no one greeted anyone on the street, no one offered to help the woman struggling with a stroller on the steps out of the subway, no one even made eye contact, no one asked me about my years worth of luggage as I was walking on the streets of Hoboken. What is the reality?? Where is the reality??

So often Africa is seen as primitive or un-civilized. But, really, where is the civility in New York? I have never once spent a bus ride in Mozambique without striking up a conversation with someone. Bags or packages in Mozambique have never once encumbered me without someone coming to my aid. I have never once seen someone who needs help not have someone at least try to help.

Mozambique is considered to be an undeveloped or developing country. The United States is considered to be developed. But, what are we aiming for when we strive to "develop" a country. Have we somehow lost the beauty of human contact through our development? Have we replaced face-to-face conversations with Instant Messages or pages? Have we forgotten the importance of a sense of community? How many people do not even know their own neighbors?

I do not have answers to my own questions. But, I do think that the beginnings of a solution could be to look to countries like Mozambique for examples of community, community development, family, friendship, and loyalty. Spending a year in Mozambique without TV, without movie theaters, without cell phones or pagers, or a car, or the Internet (well, for the most part), made me appreciate so much more the human contact that I had. Amy and I sat at our kitchen table night after night for hours on end just talking to each other. We never got bored of each other (surprisingly!), but, as a result, Amy and I know each other inside and out. And, now, I value that type of friendship significantly more than I ever have. Even though we all were annoyed, at times, by the constant knocking at our door (Com licensa! Com licensa! One Sunday, I had 7 visitors before 10 am!!), I appreciate it, too, significantly more than I ever realized I would. I found the beauty in face-to-face communication. I found the beauty in talking in person with my colleagues, even if it did mean some time spent waiting, rather than playing the senseless game of "phone-tag".

Now, my challenge is to bring what I learned to appreciate in Mozambique to my life in the United States. I just have to figure out how to do that!