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July 8, 2005

Changes and Joys

In one of my last entries, I wrote about all of the physical changes I have seen in Mozambique. There are so many other changes I have seen that are on a much more personal level, too. For example, when I was here before, Christina, a teacher in the Teacher Training College, was pregnant. She was pregnant at the very same time that Amy, the director of the school, was pregnant with her daughter, Lulu. Christina and Amy bonded over their shared first pregnancies. Even though they were due to have their babies at the same time, Christina looked just enormous next to Amy. Christina's belly just grew and grew.

The very unfortunate part is that when Christina was giving birth at home (as is the norm here), it was discovered that she was pregnant with twins. There were many complications and both babies ended up dying. It was hard not to extrapolate further meaning from the events. Amy had all these privileges that Christina simply did not. I couldn't help but extrapolate further meaning from the events. It became to me a race issue, a North vs. South issue, and a money issue.

White babies survive, black babies don't... American babies thrive, Mozambican babies don't... babies born into money have opportunities since the moment of conception that poor babies don't... The very good news now is that Christina gave birth about a month ago to a healthy, beautiful baby boy. It feels like a tragic wrong has been finally righted. Christina looks like her life has finally been realized... that she has somehow come into her own.

Other wonderful personal developments have happened for my former students, too. The only HIV/AIDS community education program in this district now employs quite a few of them now. They are going door-to-door to tell people how they can stay safe and make good decisions about their sexuality and health. I cannot help but feel proud of them in a very maternal sort of way! I am hoping to find a day to go out into the community with each of them before I have to leave.

Another constant joy for me is in all of these wonderful oddities here. I love that there is so much that, for me, doesn't have an explanation.

The volunteers say that I have gotten good at the African way of life.

I apparently never say definitively that I will do anything. For example, I am much more likely to say: "I would like to go to Beira tomorrow" instead of saying "I am going to Beira tomorrow". The "might-s", "probably-s", "maybe-s", "would like to-s" seem to litter my speech. Keeps me from being disappointed, I think. It is pretty amazing how there are days that do not go according to plan in the least! But when you keep your expectations in check, it can still be a pretty great day! I suppose hearing all of the things that people here say, like "Already, we are almost (insert verb here…)", just make time seem irrelevant! Often, if you ask someone what time something will happen, your answer will be "Da aqui, e nada" ("from here, it is nothing"). And that nothing could be anything from a few minutes to a few hours! Time somehow seems less significant here!

This last weekend was Parent's Weekend at the vocational school. Everyone was in a flurry with preparations during the week leading up to the visit. The mosquito nets were hung, the laboratory finished, classrooms were cleaned and freshly painted, and more! The students prepared short theater sketches and the choir practiced their best songs and the dance group, well, kind of perfected a few numbers. When the parents came, the pomp and circumstance began. But towards the end of the program, Felisberto, the director of the school, called up two groups of about eight students. He praised the first group. He called them the "beautiful students". He said that their good behavior and their study skills was reflected in their good grades. Then, Felisberto turned to the other group. "And this group…this group is the group of ugly students." With this group of eight, though, he went one by one to describe just how much of an "ugly student" each one is! "Maybe this one would come to class if we put her bed in the class room." "This student is the Boss of The Ugly Students!" I suppose that public shaming/humiliation might have a place here. The sense of community is so strong that to be shunned or outcast by the community really is the worst thing possible. I could not help but think that perhaps there was a better way of going about it all! The parents, though, seemed to appreciate being told just how their children behaved in school. They encouraged the other students, who were not in the beautiful or the ugly groups, to follow the example of the beautiful students and they pressed the ugly students to be more mindful of their actions.

In addition to finding wonderful moments of laughter and moments of happiness, there is much that I just have difficulty understanding and swallowing. Everything is more complicated here!

This week was the opening of a soy restaurant in my community, Lamego. The TCE program, the HIV/AIDS community education program, is running the restaurant. The USDA donated enough soy for this restaurant for 3 years. Many of the higher-ups in TCE think that the donation had more to do with a surplus of soy in the United States and less to do with humanity and charity than the USDA would like to admit. Obviously, they had to choose a community based on the need. However, the complications come because they can't choose the MOST needy communities because the food won't do enough good. They had to choose a community like Lamego where the need is obvious but the malnourishment isn't so bad that people can't digest food any more. A nutritionist was sent from the United States to investigate several communities and the levels of malnourishment. The communities that are in the direst of situations have been identified, but food is not getting to those communities nor are there programs to alleviate or prevent the suffering of the people in the most vulnerable communities.

Of course on a statistical basis it makes sense. Perhaps perfect sense. If there is extra food somewhere, you want it to be able to do the most good. But, somehow the humanity is missing from all these grand plans. After the communities with the highest rates of malnourishment were identified, ways to alleviate the suffering should have been identified. However, there is an odd lack of cooperation between different organizations working on different development projects. Each organization, for the most part, does their job and what other NGOs are doing. The fact that the USDA project was not collaborating with another organization that perhaps works with agriculture or irrigation systems is not a surprise.

Nothing is simple here.