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June 8, 2005

Visits to Gorongosa and to See Michqeue

I am always so very aware of just how lucky I have been in my life. And it continuously HITS me. There are times when I am walking on the moonlit path to my house, or seeing the horizon, or just soaking in the beauty of the people, or watching the students dance on Saturday nights that I just cannot believe that I am here again! I cannot believe the luck I have had over the course of my life to bring me to this place of such beauty! One of the other volunteers teases me because when she asks me in the evenings how my day was, I ALWAYS say, "I had SUCH a great day"...and all of my days here are great...they are filled with everything...good food, beautiful sun rises and sun sets, beautiful people, chances for me to learn and to listen, listen, listen and absorb just a little bit more of this culture and this life! And so this week, well, I had a GREAT week!

On Saturday night, we finally had a night program like I remembered them! For some reason or another, the Saturday nigh programs had been cancelled or the stereo was broken or, or, or. But, THIS Saturday was so much fun! The students dance the night away in the "esplanada", a covered outdoor area. They listen to Mozambican hip-hop, odd Eastern European songs, and a few American pop/hip-hop songs that are thrown into the mix. It is always a unique blend especially because of the "possada", the slow songs. They hold each other close and barely move to the music. And I love it! I love dancing with them and I even love dancing the possada, too, even though I tower above most of the male students (who are 17-25 or so).

On Sunday I had the wonderful opportunity to the Gorongosa National Park. We left at about 8am for the drive to the park. When I was here 2 years ago, I went to the town of Gorongosa. All I remember was how horrible the road was. It was one pothole after another with markings of landmines littering the sides of the roads and a bridge that made me fear for my life! And now, thanks to the USA actually, the road and the bridge are some of the nicest in all of Mozambique! A trip that used to take the better part of a day now just took about 2 hours!

Gorongosa used to be one of the finest reserves in all of Africa and at one point had more wild animals than even Kruger National Park in South Africa. During the civil war, though, the rebel group RENAMO (now a legitimate political party) made their headquarters in Gorongosa. Many of the animals either left on their own or were killed during the war. The natural habitat was also fairly ruined, as well.

Now, though, there have been great efforts made to re-establish Gorongosa as a wildlife refuge and as an "eco-tourism" spot. Landmines have been lifted, bridges have been rebuilt, and there is even a lodge at the park. Animals have naturally returned since the war ended to the degree that many do not even think that there is a need for intentional "restocking" efforts.

We drove around the park on its very, very rough paths and managed to see quite a lot, actually! Gazelle, impala, monkeys galore, wildebeests, wart hogs, pala-pala (not really sure what that is, though...but I saw them!). We never saw any elephants (the pride of the park) but we saw lots of "evidence" of them! Our guide was nearly apologetic about the lack of elephants but for me, it was a wonderful experience to see these great animals in their natural habitats! I cannot even tell you how amazing it looks to see an impala JUMP straight into the air to a height of 10 feet! Seems impossible!

The next day, I went to visit my friend Micheque in Dondo. (ed. You may recall, we first met Micheque 21 Mar 03.) Micheque graduated from the teacher training college at the center and has been working as a primary school teacher. Micheque probably taught me more than I will ever realize about life in Mozambique and he significantly helped my Portuguese skills. I arrived at the school and asked another teacher where he was. She went to go get him and as soon as he turned the corner and saw me, he started shouting my name and running towards me with open arms! I got one of the best hugs of my life! This sort of show of affection is fairly uncommon in Mozambique although other more reserved forms are common (hand holding, the double kiss on the cheeks, etc.). So, needless to say, we had a crowd of spectators!

I timed my visit so that I arrive a bit before lunch so that I could treat Micheque to lunch during his break. I had him choose the restaurant and instead of choosing anything fancy (as I would have expected from just about anyone...) he chose a place that was about $1 in total for both of our meals of rice and beans. After lunch, we just wandered a bit through his town and he showed me the sights. He kept grabbing my arm or reaching for my hand as if he was checking to see if I was really there!

I then went to watch Micheque's class! He introduced me as his teacher. He then told the students that I was here to see "the fruits of my labor". He noted that he was not "the fruits of my labor" but that his students were!

Micheque shared with me some of the best news I could have heard, though. He got accepted and is entering University next year! I nearly always find myself impressed here when someone has even a 10th grade level. So to hear that Micheque was going to University made me proud beyond belief! He is such a source of hope and inspiration and has a heart that I wish all teachers had!!

This week, I also managed to watch the video of the concert that benefited the Nelson Mandela Foundation. It was music filled with hope for Africa and hope for the AIDS situation. Each and every artist and Nelson Mandela himself stressed that AIDS is no longer JUST a health issue. It is a moral issue (that people are literally being left to die in many parts of the world) and it is a political issue and it is a human rights issue, above all. I could not agree more. There is a website for the Nelson Mandela Foundation (www.46664.com) where you can sign a petition for funding and find out more information. Throughout the video, they kept saying that each minute someone in the world dies from AIDS...surely we can give one minute of our lives to sign the petition.

Also, this incredible filmmaker, Simone Duarte, was here about a year ago making a film about Sergio de Mello, the Brazilian diplomat who was killed in Iraq at the beginning of the war. I was quite fortunate to see the film at the Tri-Beca Film Festival in NYC this spring. De Mello worked in Mozambique at the time just after independence from Portugal. Duarte filmed at our center to show just how far Mozambique has come and what peace has come to mean here. However, while Simone Duarte was here, she found another compelling story: AIDS in Mozambique. The film will feature ADPP-Lamego and two other projects in this region of Mozambique. Amy Sosnowski, the former director of the teacher training college who has since passed away (see 9 Feb 05), features prominently. Duarte has basically all of the footage that she needs and is working on some of the fundraising for the film. If you are interested, you can check out her website (www.duarteproductions.com) to check on the progress of the film. She hopes to have the film debut on World AIDS Day, December 1, 2005.