Mozambique #9 Adaptability

Adaptability; one of the most interesting qualities of human beings on this planet. Humans can adapt and survive under almost any conditions imaginable. Right now I am experiencing this adaptive quality in two ways. First, within myself. Secondly, in my observations of people who must be resourceful and innovative with next to nothing in the way of technical support or material resources.

I feel that I am adapting quite well to the lifestyle here, and the necessities of daily life which demand my attention. I adapted quickly because there is no other option. It really is amazing how novel tasks such as fetching water from the well, washing laundry by hand or living without a sink become second nature. You don’t even think about it, you just live it. I hear all the time people say about living in a 3rd world country like Mozambique “oh I could never do that”. Bullshit. You could. You may not want to, but let’s not confuse “want” with “able to”.  You would adapt to whatever lifestyle is forced upon you because there are no other options, and after enough time this radical shift in lifestyle would cease to be novel and life would continue on from there. I think many people don’t give themselves enough credit or don’t believe in themselves enough to realize that in most cases, the only real limitations in their lives are self-imposed and largely motivated by fear. As a child, a quote that was posted on a filing cabinet in my home read “if you think you can, or if you think you can’t, your right”. I think that quote sums it up pretty well.

In the context of daily life, I don’t really think there is anything special about what I am doing here; voluntarily living under “less developed” conditions. In fact I think that what I am doing is taking a step back to a much more ordinary type of existence. It is you, in the “developed world”, who is special and out of the ordinary. With your technological wizardry and highly organized institutions you have managed to alienated yourself from the hard, cyclic reality of life here on this planet. For the top 5 percent of the world’s socio economic ladder, what I am doing is strange, special, different, brave, etc… For the rest of the 95%, welcome to the more common and ordinary human existence.

Another interesting aspect of adaptability is how culturally specific habits of behavior can infiltrate into ones general conduct. Cultures are insidious beasts, like parasites, seeding their larvae of conditioning deep into a person’s personality without any consciousness of the parasitic infection. Then in a totally unexpected moment, this newly infected habit hatches and manifests itself in the foreigner’s personality. ”Monkey see monkey do” prevails. An example of this in my life is that Mozambicans have a great way of expressing surprise in a conversation or in an action by making this throaty grunting noise. (I believe this may come from the indigenous language of the region I live) I am pleased to say that I have now incorporated this throaty grunt into my daily life, taking advantage of every opportunity to perform this quite pleasurable act of oration. I even do it when I am alone; drop a spoon in the kitchen… uhhh! Just found out your neighbors stole your papayas? Uhhh! It’s a great multi purpose expression and just one of many examples of how the habits and thought patterns of those around me have begun to influence me.

To return to the second theme of this post, I am constantly surprised by the general knowledge that children and adults have here about how to construct things, how to utilize raw materials and how to be innovative with basic tools and technologies. A tangible example of this: I constructed a fence around my newly dug garden to ward off the marauding chickens and pigs that love a tasty snack of freshly sown seeds. Using bamboo and two locally grown types of grasses  my neighbors (ages 5-14) and I constructed a beautiful fence! The kids knew how to do everything and eagerly shared with me their knowledge. What would have taken me over a week alone took 2 days. Ask your average 8 year old in a developed country how to do this and they would probably shrug and go back to their television or video games. People here are incredibly creative when it comes to using raw materials from the Earth, because they have to be! There is no home depot around the corner. This is rubbing off on me, I find myself saving things like spare boards, nails, pieces of bamboo, cement blocks, wire and cloth, thinking “hey! I can use this stuff for…” Necessity breeds invention is now being experienced firsthand every day.

An idea I have for this blog will be to do a bi-weekly update about some event or happening, but also to include a little section ide like to title “Get to know Mozambicans”. My idea is to every two weeks choose a different theme to discuss with people that I encounter in my everyday life; at the market, in the street, with my neighbors, at work etc. The themes can be very open ended but I am imagining themes that will help me and others get a better picture of Mozambican culture. A few examples: Marriage rights and rituals, homosexuality, sex, gender roles, personal finances, views of the world outside Mozambique, 3 things a Traveler should know about Mozambique etc… I think it’s going to be a lot of fun to informally interview people; fun for me and fun for them too! If you have any suggestions of subjects you would like see explored please leave a comment and ill add it to my growing list of curiosities.

Basically I have begun working with my organizations, developing projects to advance our vision of being an agriculture and nutrition resource for Gaza province among other things. I will go into more detail about this in later posts I am sure. I have also received many requests for the recipe to make the collard, peanut and coconut dish so I plan on making a post about that.

Photos: The guys that I hang out with a lot (I work with 2 of them),a shot of my house and yard with a bunch of plants I have planted, and my newly constructed garden (okra and beans have been sown).

Mozambique #8 Rural Gaza

So now that I am more accustomed to the chores and tasks of daily living I have been able to start working on several projects and do a bit of traveling with MOZaic. This past weekend me and three colleagues took a road trip to visit several rural communities in Gaza province. The group was delivering certificates to different churches and I was basically along for the ride and to get to know the church leaders in the areas where I will be working.

The Earth here in Gaza is really quite beautiful, even in the dry season. It is seasonally dry tropical forest with a spattering of open plains, lakes and rivers. I was told that in these areas, and where we were staying there are yearly elephant migrations, lions that kill people’s cattle and hippos that raid people’s gardens. Once outside of the cities, Mozambique is still very undeveloped and we passed through many untouched lands that hopefully will stay that way. Among the people living in these communities there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of consciousness about conservation, the land here is just so vast that people don’t even really put a dent into the ecology through their activities. At least as far as what I saw. In the north of Mozambique there is a lot of logging activity and other resource extraction. Mostly being financed by Chinese corporations which is a major sore point for many Mozambicans as very few Africans are benefiting from this deal.

When I say rural I mean communities that in terms of infrastructure have no electricity, no running water, basic reed pagoda type buildings, all cooking is done with wood fires, no paved roads, very infrequent public transportation to and from, and usually no cell phone contact. Very little Portuguese is spoken, primarily only Xangana, and the people are farmers, totally depending on the Earth and the rains to bring them food security for the upcoming year. Two or three shops selling soap, corn, beans and of course the ever present and ubiquitous coca-cola products can be found along the “main street” (there is only 1!). When you live without electricity your activities are inexorably tied to the movement of the sun, and after sunset, activity basically completely ceases.

One question that I ask myself consistently is “what do people do here?” “How do they spend their time and what things do they value?” In these rural communities it is especially apparent that the major occupation of most people is simply survival. People seem to be operating mostly out of culturally ingrained habitual patterns of activity that guarantee a meager level of subsistence existence. They till the Earth as their parents and grandparent did before them, they build their houses out of traditional materials, they eat the traditional foods etc, in a world almost completely devoid of opportunity to change or improve the quality of their lives if they so desire. I am not denouncing this way of life in the least, I am only commenting on it. There is certainly a lot of beauty in the simplicity of such a lifestyle, however it is in my opinion that one must be cautious as to not be lulled into romantic fantasies. This is a difficult and trying existence. There is nothing romantic about walking 5 kilometers with a 40lb water jug on your head every day. There is nothing romantic or noble about dying of a tooth infection because the nearest medical facility is 30km away and you have no money to get there. There is nothing romantic about losing 50 percent of your corn crop because of a seasonal drought and not having enough food to feed your family. There is nothing romantic about being hungry. There is nothing romantic about suffering. There is nothing romantic about wanting to improve the quality of your life, but due to lack of opportunities and knowledge not being able to.

Something I am realizing is how much of a luxury it is to be able to choose the type of lifestyle one wants to lead. I am choosing to be Mozambican for two years knowing well that a life of hot water faucets and indoor plumbing is only a plane ride away. Because of this, I will always be an outsider. It’s not that people here are any less motivated to improve their lives than in the U.S., it is just so much more difficult to break out of the cycle of poverty and lack of education that keeps people from realizing their dreams. Five hundred years of subjugation and slavery under the guise of colonial imperialism certainly doesn’t help the situation either.

I don’t want to give the false impression that everyone is suffering and that there isn’t a vibrant, resilient African culture here. People seem to be in a state of acceptance about the harsh (by western standards) conditions of life, probably because it is all they know. This brings me back to the thought of how one of the biggest luxuries in life is the ability to choose. This post turned out to be a bit of downer, but these thoughts wanted to come out, and I chose to let them flow as such.

On another note, an interesting thing I am realizing about languages is that it is very difficult to speak at a superior level in two languages. My Portuguese is getting really good right now, but my English is suffering! I try to speak in English and the Portuguese words come first or I would rather use a Portuguese word because it fits better into the context of the sentence. It seems that my mind only has a fixed capacity to store words and linguistic concepts. When trying to add a whole new set, there seems to be a purging of the old, which results in a sort of leveling effect on my overall linguistic capabilities resulting in more simplistic sentences and thought patterns. It will be interesting to see how my mind will adjust further with time.

My father told me to take pictures of people with the things they value. So in this round of photos we have several people with their prize produce, my new favorite fruit called Massala (google it) which is very acidy, smells like bubble gum but tastes sort of like apples, a woman re-mudding her house, me and a funny old man, African countryside, the standard rural Mozambican homestead and the best plate of beans I have ever made (hint: use coconut milk!).