Mozambique #14 Death!!

Ding! Ding! Ding! The village bell tolls in my neighborhood in Manjacaze. Three slow rings again, signifying another death in the community. Sometimes the bell tolls two or three times per day. By my home being situated close to the cemetery, seeing the funeral processions and hearing the ominous funeral songs are constant occurrences. So with all this death in the air, I was curious, what do the Mozambicans think about this whole concept of dying?

Through many casual conversations with Mozambicans and after attending a funeral procession I feel comfortable to discuss a little a bit of what I learned. First off, I find it of importance to speak of how we treat death within my own American culture. I think for most Americans death is viewed as something terrible, some atrocious monster that comes and snatches granny away in the night, or takes a loved one unexpectedly, whether they are young or old. Death is unjust, uncalculating and unpredictable. Culturally I think we fear death tremendously. We hide death and aging away in nursing homes, the back of hospitals and immediately cover our dead in sheets, body bags and inside of coffins. Corpses are rarer than diamonds in our society. We pump our children, adults and elderly full of chemicals and use a dizzying array of technological wizardry to prosthetically prolong life. We artificially maintain life, to the sum of enormous amounts of resources, of brain dead and comatose individuals. We take vitamin supplements, use anti aging creams and potions, exercise vigoriously and maintain the highest of food and health standards. All to the effect of evading the one inevitable truth to this existence. You are going to die. Yes you.

Here in Mozambique there is a much different approach to this whole subject of dying. Because of its constant presence, death is so much more obviously a natural part of life, and is culturally understood to be so. Children die all the time. Adults get sick and die randomly. Older people obviously die frequently too. Death does not carry the same terrific weight that it does in our culture. A friend of mine here in Manjacaze, his 17 year old son died last week. The son went to the hospital with a bad stomach ache and 3 days later died. His fathers explanation was that he had a problem with his organs. I asked him how he felt about this. “Of course I am sad, I will miss him, but hey, it happened and life must continue.” This is the common response I get from people when discussing death. “It happens” seems to be the best way to sum up the attitudes. And it makes no difference who died, whether they were young or old, it all just “happens”. Funerals are usually followed by raucous parties and celebrations. Families and communities are united around the remembrance of an individual. I have yet to see a tear shed at a funeral.

Death is the biggest secret in the world; it’s the one that every human being wants to know and will one day face, alone and completely on their own terms. “The last dance you dance, you dance alone”. It is completely personal, and it is completely inevitable. Yet it is only by the fault of our own denial and self aggrandizement that we do not see the elegant necessity of death in this cyclical and fractal world. Our lives depend on death at every step of the way, both internally and externally. In the womb, the hands and feet of the human fetus are sculpted from web like paws by the forces of death. The fingers do not grow on their own, but the cells within the webbing are programed to die. We rely on the bacteria and fungi who decompose plant and animal bodies to re-release the once bound nutrients to be reused again by some living being for a brief splinter of time. Without death our world would so obviously not function in the harmonious nature that it does.

So the question then becomes, how do we reconcile the necessity and imminence of death with our own personal ego driven existence within a material body? How do we personally confront the profoundest of mysteries with equanimity and understanding?  To fear death is to not understand it.

On a lighter note, ill be doing some traveling in South Africa and am very curious to explore that cultural situation. Ill be spending a good portion of time in Jeffrey’s Bay, surfing, mountain biking, camping and hiking. South Africa has an interesting history and cultural mix between European and African cultures and I am really grateful for the opportunity to travel through this area. Stay tuned and happy holidays.

Mozambique #13 Projects

After spending a week in Maputo for a PC in service training seminar, I have been working and hanging out here in Manjacaze. Most Mozambican organizations take a month off beginning in December, so work has been consistent but at times slow. My days usually consist of planting things, working in the nursery, going on home visits, riding my bike, cooking, hanging out with neighbors or friends, going for walks, observing people, thinking a lot, fantasizing a lot, and just generally living. I am still finding lots of things to be surprised about, I have not become jaded in this new cultural climate.

Two projects that I have been wanting to do for a while now have finally been completed with great result. The first idea being a solar lightbulb that I installed in my zinc roof. Thanks to my father for sending the plans via the internet, me and my good Mozambican friend built and installed this strange looking contraption using a 2 liter plastic coke bottle that under full sun conditions can produce the light equivalent of a 50w bulb. The main room in my house does not have any windows, so even during the day one must turn the light on to read or do much of anything. Not anymore! This light is fantastic and has changed my house completely. I am also saving loads of electricity.

The other project that has come to fruition (no pun intended) is a solar fruit dehydrator that I constructed using a box, plastic sheets and a screen. The inside of the box is black to absorb heat, with the plastic sheet trapping heat in the box. Holes have been cut to allow for air to circulate. I have already experimented with mangos and in 1 day of full sun conditions the mangos were bone dry and ready for storage. The box worked so well that I realized I needed to upgrade my technology. Me and my friend constructed a much larger model using only things we could find in the local market. Plastic, wood, hammers and nails. This box can produce some serious dried fruit, like industrial size! The ability to store surplus fruit will be a delightful treat for me, but could really be of utility in context of food security or income generation when seasonal fruits are not available. Now I just need to find someone in the community who has the willingness to learn the technology and the dedication to start using it. There is nobody here in Manjacaze selling dried fruit, nor have I seen anything in all of Gaza for that matter. The market is wide open and someone could make a killing as there is usally no shortage of fresh fruit. Which leads me to the next subject: Mangos!

Mango season is on in full effect here in Manjacaze and I must say that I am quite impressed with the quality of some of the mangos that ive found. The local kids walk around in packs raiding mango trees and scrounging for mangos on the ground. Around town the streets are strewn with mango seeds and skins, as the townspeople gorge on this seemingly endless bounty of fruit. Most mango cultivars are small and loaded with fiber, still delicious, but not anything to write on your blog about. However this mango season I discovered the real reason I came to Mozambique: I have discovered the perfect mango here in Manjacaze! The people here call it “mango moçambique” and it can be found in select locations around town (Yes, I have already mentally mapped out where the best trees are). It is a rather ugly mango actually, with a squat compact size, ripening light green to a pale yellow. But once the skin is peeled away this mangos true uniqueness and character are exposed. The flesh is a brilliant yellow with just the right amount of fiber. When fully ripe, this mango still remains firm and juicy, resisting the mango tendency to turn into a sweet pulpy mess. The taste is slightly sweet (not too sweet), acidy with a limey tang at the end. Honestly I have never tasted a mango like it. I am finding it difficult to not eat 7 per day, but even if I did eat 7 per day I would be like everyone else!

I have been reading some books on international development and have many observations and ideas to share. The longer I live here I am becoming more and more convinced that poverty only exists in the minds of people. Nobody is born poor, people have to learn how to be poor. And the societies that have been created with the help of colonization and cultural subjugation expand and multiply this mental poverty state. The tricky thing about developing nations is that the smart individuals within the system who figure out that poverty is a mental state and take steps to change their minds usually leave their country to live with higher standards and perform more skilled trades. Aid organizations don’t help the situation by coming in with donations and give aways that only further a state of dependence and stagnation.

I am observing  a huge correlation between an individual’s self-defined state of poverty and the level of self-confidence this individuals has. In American culture we laud independence, ambition, creativity, dedication, taking an initiative, forward thinking and the ability to work hard. All of these attributes, I think, would require a high level of self confidence for their realization. In America, if you want something, it is assumed that there is going to be sacrifices involved; nobody is giving away anything, everything must be taken by the opportunists who are there to take advantage of the situation. Here in Mozambique these cultural motivators are not present, or at least not to the extent that they are in the developed world. Self confidence and the motivation to struggle to achieve a dream seem to be lacking. When the first road block is hit, people tend to just go back and sit in the shade and wait for some other opportunity to fall out of the sky (or the white guy to walk by and present the opportunity to beg). In my experience of life, it just doesn’t really work like that. When you want something bad enough, you will get it, because you wont stop working towards your goal until its achieved. Self confidence and self realization are the dominant factors in achieving a vision, as when the roadblocks come (as they always do) you will have the confidence, motivation and flexibility to pass the hurdles.

The reason for this rant about the mental poverty state is that I have been showing these two new inventions to all my neighbors, friends and basically anyone I run into who may be interested, with the net result that nobody really cares! A few people have shown serious interest in wanting to take advantage of these ideas, but the vast majority of people say “wow, your really smart, I cant wait to eat your dried mangos all winter long”. Mango season lasts 2 months, the rest of the year people complain of hunger and wait for something to fall out of the sky. This is just an example of a lack of initiative to improve living conditions and health.  Poverty is mental; as where I see a land of opportunity using simple technologies and products of the Earth, other people see nothing and don’t really care to improve, but will certainly beg from me when I pass by on the street. I am not even talking economic development here, I am simply talking about basic lifestyle changes and conservation methods that could really make a difference. That’s really where the frustration lies. I am not trying to impose the western value system of productivity and consumerism, which for the most part disgusts me, but if your sitting in the shade begging for my stuff while I am working, don’t expect to receive anything.  Perhaps I am already becoming disillusioned with international development. My father always said to me “nobody can hear advice until they are ready to listen”, in this context I am questioning why I want to dedicate time and energy to “helping” people who don’t really care to help themselves? Is it all worth it to influence the one person who is ready to listen and willing to take initiative?

Photos: Coconut lemongrass green papaya soup, which was amazing

Mozambican wedding that I attended. Was very interesting with lots of dancing, music, food and festivities. Sounds like an American wedding, which basically it was quite similar.

Coconut curried bean dinner with my sitemate Linda

Me in my garden

The light bulb

The solar dehydrator (model number 1) (completed  model number 2 which is double the size and made of wood. I think I may have been a carpenter in a past life, this box is a work of art.)