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!).