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June 6, 2005

A Summary

All that has changed in my two-year absence from Mozambique continuously impresses me.  I have been awarded a unique opportunity to see Mozambique with somewhat of a fresh perspective and to see what "development" in Mozambique has come to mean.  There are the major signs of development that speak of great investment and there are the small differences that could be a threat to the intrinsic parts of this culture.


One of the major development projects is a collaboration between The World Bank and the Mozambican Government.  They have begun an enormous, several billion dollar pipeline project.  The city of Beira, on the eastern Mozambican coast, does not have a stable, secure water source.  This pipeline will stretch from the Pungue River to the city, several dozen kilometers.  If the project goes as planned, it will provide several hundred thousand people with water.  However, as with many development projects, this one has a greater cost.  The World Bank is only loaning the money for this project.  Mozambique will eventually have to repay this debt.  Mozambique currently spends more on debt repayment than on health AND education combined.


Other signs of development seem less controversial. Cell phones are everywhere now.  They operate on a phone-card system where people buy a phone card that adds credit/minutes to their phone.  Since most people don't have an address, the idea of monthly plans or billing is preposterous.  Even in my village, where not everyone has electricity, phone cards are readily available.  Interestingly enough, though, is that most people seem to use their cell phones not to call people but to text message people since it is considerably cheaper.  Cell phones have invaded Mozambique to the degree that the capulanas (brightly colored fabrics) that women wear as skirts and to carry their children now have Nokia phones decorating them.   I only wish that two years ago that I bought stock in Mcel, the Mozambican cell phone company!


Now, it seems, there has been a banking boom.  People now have enough faith in the banks to keep their money in them.  More so, and more interestingly to me, has been the explosion of ATMs and ATM cards.  The lines at ATMs in the city always snake through the waiting areas and often out the doors.  It is rare to see lines of people; people often form a mass and fight their way to the front.  These lines at the ATMs are so tight, though, that people literally are touching front to back!


As the economy of Mozambique grows stronger, people are buying more and more "status symbol" items.  In Beira, the second biggest city in Mozambique and the closest city to me, there are stores that now sell TVs, computers, expensive stereos, high quality kitchen equipment, and pricey furniture.  It is always just a bit jarring to me because none of it seems "Africana" and I doubt that any of it actually comes from Africa.  Even the clothing stores sell tight, short skirts, revealing tops and all of it seems to be made out of impractical, because of the heat, synthetic fibers.


And there is more: the fountain that was always just an empty pool without water now works!  All the time!  There are more "fixed" stands in the Lamego market that are made of bricks and metal roofs as opposed to their wood and straw predecessors.   I even saw a sprinkler system at one of the plantations.  Perhaps the best news to me is that the local health post is now equipped to test for malaria and HIV/AIDS.  Before those tests meant a trip to Nhamatanda, a 12-kilometer trip that many could not afford.  The statistics, however, are horrifying.  60% of those who get tested for HIV/AIDS test positive.  There is a great fear that no matter what is done to develop Mozambique, it will all be for naught if this pandemic does not come under control quickly.


My time, too, is quite different this time than before.  I have been cautious about not taking on too much since I am here for very long.  I feel like I am spending my time more purposefully.  I am not constantly rushing to get some task done and move on to the next.  I have time to and for myself and time to do my job well.  Not filling my time up with tasks at the school also means that I have had time to leave the school and explore in ways that I did not have time for before.


My friend and colleague, Lulu, is not only a fantastic teacher at EAO but also an aspiring musician.  He has started a small band made up of various students.  They perform traditional songs and quite a few that Lulu wrote himself.  When Ali, one of the volunteers who was here with me, was here to visit this winter, she recorded Lulu and his band and gave him several CDs with his music.  Lulu made a contact with a RockStar at the Casa da Cultura (the House of Culture) in Beira.  He asked me to join him to meet this musician and to get some advice from him: as a father to a son, as Lulu said.  Lulu and I went to Beira and made our way to the House of Culture.  We asked around for the musician and we were brought up to the studio where he was recording.  The House of Culture is a run-down building with crumbling stairs, cracks in the walls but, yet, when we climbed up this twisting staircase, ducking the whole way, we came to a fully modern recording studio!  The RockStar even invited us to listen as they recorded their latest song.  It was one of those moments in life where I wonder "Who Am I and How Did I Get Here?!" I was in a recording studio in Beira with a Mozambican RockStar, for god's sake!!


When they took a break from recording, the RockStar sat with us to hear what Lulu had to say.  It seemed obvious to me that he has had many an aspiring musician approach him like Lulu was.  It also seemed to me that he assumed that Lulu was asking for financial backing, only, and not just advice and guidance as to what his first steps should be.  He even went so far as to stress that the most important thing was to get money together (not to practice or to write more music.) to book a recording studio and to pay a producer.  He went so far as to quote us in US Dollars (for my benefit, perhaps??) how much he spent to record his last album.  I was afraid that Lulu's dream would be crushed because of the attitude that the RockStar took.  It just struck me that once again, even in Africa, money equals opportunity, there are very few ways around it.


Luckily, our next stop was the radio station.  It was yet another crazy trip to see high tech equipment in another run-down building.  You have to touch two live wires together to get the doorbell to ring, even!  I stopped at the radio station to drop off 2 CDs that Ali had made for the guys who work there.  Lulu, luckily, schmoozed a little and they offered for him to use their studio to record for free!  And I got 70 cool, new, Mozambican songs on CD just for visiting!


I have also been able to spend more time working with the women of EAO.  Somehow, with all that was occupying my time when I was here before, I did not work with the women nearly as much as I wanted to.  I was and still am the only female teacher at the school.  Before, I was always called upon in times of disaster, when one of the students got pregnant, or when there were issues between the male and female students, for example.  Now, I am trying to be available to them more regularly to answer their questions and to hopefully be a good role model.  We had our first meeting last week.  I started them out with a debate of sorts.  I read a series of controversial points and they had to form groups based on if they agreed, disagreed, or were neutral on the topic.  The first statement, "men and women are equal", got a very definitive response from the young women.  They stated with all assurance that men and women have the same rights and capabilities.


As we moved further on with the activity, their responses were more and more interesting to me.  For example, one of my statements was "Men who are married can have girlfriends outside of their marriage".  All but about 3 of the 45 young women agreed with this statement.  However, when I reversed it, they all told me that women absolutely couldn't have boyfriends in addition to their husbands.  Of course, the issue of health and the risk of HIV/AIDS came up.  The three who stated that men should not have more than one partner believe that their partner should be with them and ONLY them.  The other students confidently told them that a man would never be faithful to one woman and if he said he was he probably had secret girlfriends.  Another interesting point was when I asked if men could be the ones to stay at home with the children while women went out to work.  I was told by all of them that caring for children was "women's work" but that men could take care of the house if they couldn't work for some reason or if the woman could potentially make more money than him.


It seems like their lives are filled with dichotomies.  These women, who will graduate with a 10th grade education, are among the most educated Mozambican women.  Surely they have "modern" ideas and notions and surely their parents or caregivers believe in education enough to invest this much time, money, and effort into the education of these young women.  I truly believe that the core of development should be in the education of the people of a country.  Additionally, I believe that women are a central part of development.  They are the ones who raise the children here.  If the women are well educated and value their education it seems likely that they would then educate their own children.  If women know how to prevent common illnesses they can raise healthy children who also know how to stay healthy.


There is a new project here at the center: RITA.  Which focuses on the reduction of HIV/AIDS.  Part of their program is to "sponsor" 1600 young girls in this province.  Just this last year, the Mozambican government decided to waive the primary school (grades 1-7) fees.  As such, many more children attend school.  The RITA project makes sure that the 1600 girls, who are orphans or somehow "vulnerable", have uniforms, school supplies, textbooks, and lunch money.  It is another bright spot in the development of Mozambique.  The vocational school, EAO, has begun to search for ways to be able to offer scholarships to some of the RITA girls so that they can continue here after 7th grade.  The assistant director even said that 7th grade, even here, will not be worth anything as development continues and more and more people are getting an education.


All in all, there is significant progress... but a lot of what I romantically love about Africa remains: the slow pace;  the wandering vendors who sell everything from chicken (alive, dead, or even cooked!) to baby shoes, African art, nail polish, and blow-up globes; the markets that are a maze of wood and straw structures; the burning of the brush to clear the land (which creates an amazing view of the sunset through the fires) ; and the women who carry impossible loads on their heads and a baby on their backs... This, too, is Africa.