Category: Mozambique

Strangers in a foreign land

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A goat looks over his village in Xai Xai, Moz.

We are stangers in this land. Not only to the people, but to the way of life.

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Men prepare for a day of selling fruits and vegetables at the market.

We oscillate between surrounding ourselves with people the world has forgotten and people who consume the world.

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An abandoned building sets the stage for a local hangout near the beach in Beira, Moz.

Begrudgingly, we belong to the second race and will never fully understand what it means to be forgotten.

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A popular wall for sitting the day away.

We stick out like shiny new hotels surrounded by a crumbling infrastructure. Like a cactus in a desert sucking all the water for itself and pricking those that try to get their share.

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CBD, Beira, Moz.

Our interaction with everyone is pleasurable and I feel an innocent happiness here, but a feeling of heaviness follows me around like an anchor with the threat of pulling me to the bottom of the sea.

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Xai Xai, Moz

The poverty runs deep in this place, oozing out of the ground, washing up from the sea, and permeating the air around.

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The sun sets in Beira, Moz.

Mia Couto writes happiness is made up by the wealthy to trick the poor, but I’m not sure I believe that. I think many people are genuinely happy here, retaining a deep connection with the earth that both gives and takes away. A lack of materials inhibits construction of the walls we place around ourselves at home, leaving space for close physical contact and a feeling of connectedness on first encounters.

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A txopela driver awaits his next customer.

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Cooks at our favorite local restaurant.

Of all the things I’ve witnessed here that break my heart, an equal amount fill it to the brim with joy.

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Girls enjoying some fun in the sun.

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Beach boys of Beira.

Two weeks is not nearly enough time to know a place, but places such as this always remind me that the things of this world are fleeting and only serve the purpose of taking up space in our hearts meant for human relationships.

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Waiter at our favorite restaurant. He has the best smile, but pictures are a serious matter.

We are always happy to come home to our comfortable life.  But it is important for us to step out of this comfort zone as often as possible and realize this is not a normal way of life for most. These comforts make life easy, not joyful, they bring satisfaction, but not happiness–without human connections, love does not exist.

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A family cools off in the oceans caress.

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Brothers for life.

A Mozambican church experience

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The streets in Beira were quiet on our Saturday morning walk to find the church.

We knew we were close when we heard the beautiful voices praising Him in unison. A few hundred feet and we were greeted by children playing on the steps to the entrance of the Ponta Gea Seventh-Day Adventist church in Beira, Moz. We felt excited to experience what a service would be like in this part of the world. The small church was overflowing with people. As we walked through the entrance, the floors were lined with women and children. We stepped into the sanctuary and the pews were jam packed with church-goers wearing their Saturday best, some fanning themselves to provide relief from the heat. Most of the women sat in the back rows and men in the front, the patriarchy of the culture on display. We found a spot against the wall in the back and listened as the only female head elder spoke to the congregation in Portuguese.

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The Ponta Gea Seventh-Day Adventist church

We didn’t expect to be able to understand much, but we hoped to still be blessed by the fellowship and music. As we stood there, taking it all in, a gentleman at the front motioned to us and two people graciously left their seats and walked to the back so we could sit. A bit embarrassed, all eyes on us, we made our way to the front, side pew and sat down. We were immediately greeted by those around us and bathed in smiles and welcomes. We were given a Bible in Portuguese, but they quickly realized this was no use to us. There was some shuffling around of people and a man sat next to us with an English Bible ready to translate the entire service. It wasn’t a quiet endeavor, but it was important to them that we hear and understand the message.

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The congregation listens intently to the sermon.

The woman on stage was calling for offering, reminding us of the blessings that come along with giving back to God. I looked around and thought about the average $2/day salary belonging to many people in this country and I pictured the widow giving everything she had which surmounted all the wealth in the world. I hoped that the leaders of the church were using it wisely. Another leader rose to the podium and welcomed everyone, asking for the guests to stand. Luckily, we were not the only guests that day and we were joined by many others as we stood to our feet. A giant “Feliz Sabado” echoed in the sanctuary. As we sat down, a sweet sounding guitar began to fill our ears followed by a group of young men’s perfectly tuned voices. We turned around and saw half of the choir beginning their song seated in the rows behind us. After a few stanzas, the melody rose and drifted above us as more voices joined from all around fitting together like an auditory puzzle at the front of the church. It was beautiful.

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The choir sings His praises.

The pastor rose and began the sermon with Deuteronomy 3:25-27

25‘Let me, I pray, cross over and see the fair land that is beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon.’ 26“But the LORD was angry with me on your account, and would not listen to me; and the LORD said to me, ‘Enough! Speak to Me no more of this matter. 27Go up to the top of Pisgah and lift up your eyes to the west and north and south and east, and see it with your eyes, for you shall not cross  over this Jordan.…

The lesson was on the difficulties we face accepting the word “no”. This ancient human quality, beginning with Eve, and evidenced here by Moses pleading with God to allow him to enter Canaan, is familiar to each and every one of us. We all have desires in our life and find it difficult to be on the opposite side of the river from what we want.  But God’s heavenly scope sees beyond our blind-sighted earthly view and despite our wants, many times, He has other things in store for us such as the case with Moses who did not cross the river Jordan, but went to heaven instead.

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A family on their way to church.

But I couldn’t help but wonder why some hear the word “no” far less frequently than others?  I think of this especially in the context of being female. Women are still considered second class citizens in this country, only created by God to reproduce and populate the land with men who return the favor by pushing them down to sit in the dust of their feet. My gender, not my parity, automatically gives me the nickname “mother”, and I cringe at the undertones implied at this attempt to be respectful.

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Women of Mozambique.

The rights, or lack thereof, for women in this country are appalling. They say things are changing in written law, but the culturally imposed personality characteristics based solely on female biology are as old as the Bible itself. I know it happens at home as well, but like the humidity, it seems more suffocating here. My voice is meant to be quiet and reserved, “motherly” if you will. The puzzled faces when I speak instead of my husband signal these expectations. The initial lack of eye contact and fidgety body language display the uncomfortable feelings of being asked what to do by a female. But once my voice is heard, they do listen, eventually their eyes will meet mine, respect will begin to flourish, and egos begin to deflate. I am delighted to see women medical directors and chiefs, and I appreciate how difficult it must have been for them to climb a ladder built for manly men.

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A boss we found on the beach.

Change is floating around in the air, attempting to infiltrate the culture. But there is a long way to go all around the globe and definitely in the church. The pastor continues by giving the example of how it is so hard for a man to be told “no” from his wife. He says “as the leader of the house, men do not want to hear this.” I sigh. Overall, his message was good. Yes, we should trust in God’s plans for us, but I refuse to believe God’s plans for women are to be subordinate. I hope more and more women do refuse the word “no” and stand up to take a front seat as often as possible.

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A crashing wave.

Moz, the past week and a few centuries in review

Quelimane Airport. This morning we flew from here to Beira.

Quelimane Airport. This morning we flew from here to Beira.

Sometimes in my sleep deprived state I feel as though I am walking around in a dream and I am snapped back into reality when we are conducting interviews and talking to staff at sites. It was busy this past week in Moz.  Not a lot of sleep happened. The intense heat, while very welcomed coming from Boston, is best enjoyed lying on a beach, not necessarily in a very small and cramped health facility. This heat induces an instant sleep state whenever we have a moment to ourselves and especially any time we are in motion, such as on long car rides. During these rides, I awake to some of the most beautiful, vast, and open scenery imaginable, straw huts dot the horizon and women bent over damp rice paddies remind me of what hard work really means. We stop to take a photo and are instantly greeted by a local man selling a bag full of roasted/burnt cashews that do not necessarily look all that appetizing but our 80 cent purchase brings so much joy to his face we could care less whether or not there is a chance of diarrhea in the morning.

Drive from Namacurra to Quelimane.

Drive from Namacurra to Quelimane.

In Mozambique, 90% of people live off of $2/day. This statistic is hard to swallow at times when a meal can be equivalent to a week’s worth of wages. Accommodation and food are not cheap in Mozambican cities. Most of the tourists to Moz are here on business and many include Chinese investors. The locals are not thrilled about this influx of Chinese funded infrastructure, which comes at a great cost, handing over mining, timber, and fishing rights. The truth is many are stealing resources, such as timber, from the country illegally. This is creating severe deforestation and exploiting Mozambicans to do the work of cutting down trees, which affects not only global warming, but the amount of rainfall in a region already plagued with droughts and flooding. Driving from Namacurra to Quelimane, I notice so many trucks full of logs, such an important resource of this country, being stolen in broad daylight. In May of last year, about a ton and a half of elephant tusks and rhino horns were seized by the Mozambican police, found in a Chinese citizen’s apartment. Mozambique has lost over 50% of their elephants due to illegal poaching and much of the ivory is being sent to China. The University in Maputo now offers a course in Chinese and a brand new Chinatown with a hotel the size of MGM in Vegas is being constructed in Beira, where we are now.

Entrance to the Golden Peacock Resort Hotel.

Entrance to the Golden Peacock Resort Hotel in Beira.

For many years, the people of Mozambique have experienced hardships inflicted upon them by outside powers. Beginning in the 18th century,  Arab slave trading shipped more than one million Africans out of the ports of Mozambique.  Portuguese colonization left 95% of the population illiterate when they won independence in 1975 and left the country in socioeconomic ruin, setting the stage for the 15-year civil war that began two years later, from 1975-1992.

This apartheid sponsored war waged by the rebel group, RENAMO, left 40% of Mozambicans internally displaced and killed over 1 million. RENAMO was funded to inhibit Mozambique from gaining economic independence from South Africa and did so by targeting their transport corridors, which link the surrounding land locked countries to the ports of Mozambique. Thousands of Zimbabwean soldiers were brought into these areas to protect them.  Women and children were kidnapped by RENAMO and rape was used as a tool of war. These factors, along with the health care system becoming a prime military target, created a unique situation in Mozambique in which high prevalence rates of HIV emerged in the central region along these transport corridors as opposed to peaking first in the capital city as was the case in other African countries. The long lasting effects of this treacherous civil war, including the return of many refugees that fled, as well as the continuation of a migrant labor system that disrupts stable family units, foster conditions that make Moz exceptionally vulnerable to the spread of HIV.

The prevalence of HIV in Mozambique is 11.5%, and can reach up to 25% in some districts. Women are 4 times more likely to become infected as their male counterparts. PEPFAR is now focusing efforts on “micro-epidemics” or areas within countries that have the highest number of PLWHA (Persons Living with HIV/AIDS), many of which still include these transport corridors.

Kevin and I are here collecting data on behalf of CDC and PEPFAR on how money is being used through implementing partners. These organizations are awarded PEPFAR funds and are responsible for distributing them to sites in their designated province. Our job is to visit the IPs and sites they support to gain a better understanding of how funds are used. This is down to the level of detail of the cost of providing cotton wool to personnel salary to blood transport, and so on. Blood transport in these regions involve a man on a motorbike and a long dusty road.

Kevin busy at work collecting data at a site in Namacurra.

Kevin and our data collector, Domingos, busy at work collecting data at a site in Namacurra.

We are assigned the Zambezia, Sofala, and Xai Xai provinces and visit 6 sites total. We just finished up in Zambezia and were a bit disappointed we were not sent to the site on the other side of the river that required us to traverse crocodile and hippo infested waters on a small fishing boat. We appreciate a good adventure. It is difficult to keep foreign staff at that site for some reason. A doctor stationed there just resigned so there is an opening for those interested.

M'baia health facility in the Namacurra District.

M’baua health facility in the Namacurra District, a 2.5 hr drive from Quelimane. No boats involved.

We are currently at a beach in Beira, the second largest city in Moz. This weekend we finally have some time to explore a bit on our own. We rode a txopela (rickshaw) today to get to the beach and reveled in its openness to this bustling city, only an arms length from pedestrians, stray animals and cars, feeling every bump and hole of the unpaved roads, hearing the music blasting from people ready for the weekend, and smelling all the smells. At some point though, we really need to sleep.

Bon noite from Beira.

Bon noite from Beira.

Ola from Maputo!

The view from our room at the Radisson Blue Hotel.

The view from our room at the Radisson Blue Hotel.

We arrived in Maputo, Mozambique this morning at 11 AM. We were picked up by our driver, Franco, and brought to the Radisson Blu Hotel, a swanky business hotel by the sea. Traveling for work is always such a different experience than traveling for fun, especially in a developing country such as this. The luxuries we are given provide a sharp contrast to the rawness of everyday life. Our driver explained to us that this is supposed to be the rainy season, but they are currently facing a serious drought; a major tribulaton in a land that relies heavily on crops such as maize and cassava for food. At this point most of the crops have dried up and died so if rain does decide to present itself it will only serve to rot the dead crops and may cause flooding. Changes in weather patterns leading to persistent drought in tandem with excessive flooding has threatened the livelihood and food security of hundreds of thousands of Mozambicans over the past 10 years, forcing them to sell off assets for less than their worth or keep children out of school to work for food. I thought of this as I showered in the Radisson Blu Hotel.

We had some errands to run for work before our colleagues arrived so Franco drove us to the Movitel shop on Eduardo Modlane Ave where we bought some sim cards to put in our Mozambican cell phones. The way cell phones work here is you buy a sim card from a major carrier such Movitel, Vodcom, or mCel. To “top up” your minutes  you need to buy “airtime” available at any local shop which exchanges your money for a code that you enter into your unlocked phone. Service between carriers can be pricier so often people will have three different numbers and switch out sim cards depending on whom they are calling or how many minutes are have left on each card. We drove around for a bit looking for power adaptors on the blocks designated for electrical goods. Shopping is made very easy.  All the clothes are on one connected series of blocks, all the lighting on another, fruits around the corner and underwear in the back allies. It’s basically just table after table of pretty much the same goods sold by different people that have much to say about why you should buy from them as opposed to the guy next to him selling the exact same things. “Good price my friend” is a universal selling strategy. The streets were fairly quiet today as it was a Saturday and shops closed early. Also, apparently everyone spent all of their money at Christmastime.

After our shopping excursion Franco dropped us off at the fish market on the Indian Ocean. It recently moved locations and is a bit more upscale than the last one thanks to Chinese investments. Franco liked the old local feel of the last place and has boycotted going there since the move. As we stepped out of the car a wave of seafood intermingled with sewage entered our turbinates and my stomach was unsure whether or not it should prepare for digestion or empty itself of the chocolate candy bar I ate earlier. Entering the market swayed things to the former option and we were welcomed with live crabs, fresh fish, prawns, clams, mussels–a paradise for pescatarians. It was a bit overwhelming but an English speaking stall owner suggested some red snapper, a stone fish, and some prawns so we went with it. He took us back to his stall and prepared it for us. It was a lively spot to be and we were surrounded by well-to-do Mozambicans enjoying a Saturday afternoon with their families.

On our way back we hopped in a “chapa” which is a minivan that drives around picking up way more people than it can hold and we crammed in creating an intimacy with our fellow passengers we only experience with very close family or friends back home. I felt happy to experience this side of Mozambique and we paid 15 metical which amounts to about 30 cents as they dropped us off across the street from the Radisson Blu Hotel.

A family of nine enjoys some fresh seafood at the Mercado de Peixe in Maputo.

A family of nine enjoys some fresh seafood at the Mercado de Peixe in Maputo.