So I have been doing some traveling with MOZaic to rural communities and I can now say that I have seen a very large portion of Gaza province. Four pastors (3 Mozambians who are native to this region) and I traveled to rural communities visiting churches, strengthening relations in the community, meeting with existing projects and scouting out future endeavors. It was a blast to travel around with the pastors, everywhere we went we were extremely well received and our group developed a very friendly playful vibe, although we certainly did our fair share of philosophizing and had great discussions. The African bush was really beautiful; green and alive in the places where it had rained, still dry and dead in the locations where the rains have not yet come. The contrast was very stark. Just driving from community to community on single track jeep tracks we saw ostrich, gazelle, amazing birds, insects, trees and plants.
Once out of the bigger communities the level of economic development, infrastructure, health services, government and NGO prescience really diminishes. It felt like I was entering a part of the world that has been totally forgotten about by globalization and development. We visited communities where per week, one car goes to transport people and supplies. I can now say that I met adolescents of 15 years old or more who had never seen white people before. In western culture, with our level of exposure to ideas, technologies etc, I desperately wanted to know what these peoples world was like! How did they see the world? What were their hopes, dreams and gripes? What is their cosmology? Very few people spoke Portuguese so unfortunately communication was difficult however I had an interesting conversation with a few kids in one of the communities. Using my friend as a translator I asked the kids what their dreams were for the future. They were very shy to talk to me, but a bold boy from the group said that his dream was to buy a car. I asked why. He said “you came from far away in a car, I want to go far away in a car and see where you came from”. To me this illustrated the wonderful human spirit of curiosity and the seeking of novelty.
In some of the communities closer to the Zimbabwe border they are suffering from a drought where farmers haven’t had a good harvest in 2 years. There is no employment in these regions, everyone depends on farming or herding cattle for their livelihood. When we arrived in the village people crowded around the car asking for food. Kids saw a loaf of bread that was in the back of the truck and their eyes lit up like Christmas morning. It was really sad, the whole community had an atmosphere of hopeless desperation as they just wait for the rain. However after talking to people another side of this story emerges. First off, I learned that many people who don’t have food on the table own over 50 head of cattle. One cow can earn $500 for a family if they were to sell. However the culture in these communities puts huge emphasis on the number of cattle a family owns. Therefore cattle are rarely sold and rarely eaten by the community members. It appears that people would rather suffer the incessant dull ache of hunger than suffer the needle sharp pain of cultural condemnation. Additionally, I saw people who did not have money for food, yet had money for gin. Priorities are different. Although my thought at the time was that if I lived in this community I would probably drink too.
Access to drinking and cooking water is a huge problem as well in these communities. Seasonal rivers exist but sometimes for only a month or two during the rainy season. Wells must be dug to 80 or 90 meters and sometimes produce salty water. Most people rely on rain water storage or the one well in the region. NGOs have been in the area and have built sand dams to trap water in the ground after the rainy season. A sand dam is basically where you dam a section of a seasonal river so when the river floods during the rainy season the water will collect. Then after the rainy season when the river dries up again the ground has absorbed a lot of this water and will keep it close to the surface where shallow wells can be dug.
The situation is very complex to find a solution. Basic needs such as water and food are routinely not met, yet the effects are compounding. You cannot recommend to someone to plant fruit trees or maintain a home garden for food security when they don’t have access to water to sustain the plants. Life out in these communities is survival. So why do people choose to live in these places where the conditions for maintaining life are so difficult? This is a question I repeated over and over to myself while traveling and I still don’t understand. One hypothesis of mine is that it is plain and simple cultural conditioning. People’s ancestors grew up on this land and there are very strong attachments to it. Yet times are changing. Rainfall rates have fallen in the last 30 years, in all probability in relation to the climate change phenomena that we are witnessing. I cannot say that people should leave their homelands, but perhaps they may not have a choice in the future. I have been thinking a lot about what is meant by the term “development” and I think I have come up with a good definition. Development can mean the ability to procure economic means to choose a lifestyle and location to live. It simply may be that in these rural regions the economic barriers to moving are so high that people are literally trapped waiting for the rain.
As far as what foreign aid can do for rural communities I am learning that the most important things are just meeting basic needs. Rainfall collection systems with water tanks, health and sanitation education, and agricultural training are what is desperately needed in these rural locations. Forget about mosquito nets and condoms, basic infrastructure to maintain life is needed here. I witnessed many fields of corn cut out of the forest with slash and burn agriculture. With this methodology, after 3-4 years of harvests the soil will be completely exhausted of nutrients and the farmer will carve out another chunk of beautiful African bush. Yet there exists techniques of conservation agriculture where year after year fertility is actually added to the soil and production rises, even in poor fertility sandy soils here in Gaza! There exists techniques to take advantage of every drop of water that falls on a field, so even in drier years the farmers can still get a harvest. We as an organization and as human beings have all the knowledge, technology and goodwill to really improve the lives of many people. We just need to find the appropriate way to have this methodology spread and accepted into the lives of the benefactors. I think that people all over the world are extremely resistant to change, even when this change could seriously benefit their wellbeing.
One great event that happened during our trip was finding a Jackfruit tree in a large railroad/border town called Chicualacuala. I was wondering around aimlessly exploring and just so happened to walk down the street that had the only jackfruit tree in all of the city. Perhaps our energies drew us together, or perhaps it was mere coincidence, but I find it a bit frightening how I seem to attract exotic fruits! Anyway of course I spoke with the owner of the house and procured 2 beautiful fruits. One was well ripened and ready to eat. That night we stayed in a community called Mapai where we had a meeting with 20 leaders from churches in the area. After the meeting I gave a short talk about the magical Jackfruit tree and we cut up and collectively ate the fruit. Jackfruit is very rare here in Mozambique and pretty much nobody knows about it. However considering the fact that one mature tree can give over 300 kg of delicious, nutritious fruit per year, this tree has extreme value when taken in the context of diminishing hunger and food security. The church group absolutely loved the fruit! We gave out every seed that was inside with careful instructions how to plant and people promised to plant the tree and spread the word. I hope to see young trees the next time I am in Mapai. The other fruit was shared and consumed here in Manjacaze and we now have 50 seeds in plant bags hoping to distribute this amazing tree locally and in other communities.
Photos: Woman with awesome shirt, however she obviously had no idea what this meant and no I did not tell her. Baobab tree!
This random house in Maxaile where the woman really got the concept of Chaya and how amazing this plant is (it had been brought by my collegue years ago). I spoke to her and she said she was really sick of people coming to her house begging her for leaves to cook with, so she started only giving out branches for them to plant. The best thing was that her neighbor had done the exact thing and basically had an entire hedge of chaya.
Sand dam and the associated water. Would you drink this if you had to? I did.
People cutting Gazelle that I then ate. It was delicious, very lean and not gamey at all.
Jackfruit and associated distribution. Check out the ladies! After we cut up the fruit they crowded around to dig around the skin in case a stray seed or piece of flesh had been forgotten.
Evan, It doesn’t matter how you begin your wonderful blogs, just keep rambling…I’m going to forward this one to several folks, including my step mother in law, Joy who is part of an organization Living Waters, which digs those wells all over Africa. She is close to 80 or older… she won’t fess up!
OH, and have you every read the book, Le Petit Prince… or in English, The Little Prince? Talk about Baobab trees! I recognized it as soon as I saw your photo!