One year thoughts…
Time is relative. If a strategy to measure the passing of time is simply to count the number of novel events that can be crammed into a designated interval, to make time seem relatively slow one could stuff it full of novel experience. Habit, routine and conservative expectations seem to make time fly. Moving to another environment, speaking a foreign language, being immersed in a foreign culture and constructing a life and routine completely from scratch in this new context has seen the past year absolutely stuffed with novelty. The relative effects being that I feel like I have been in Mozambique FOREVER! I feel like I have lived an entire lifetime here; my infantile first trips to the well, honing my daily routine and habituating to living conditions and of course the first failures, successes and realizations I have had about working in international development. Here are a few realizations I have had in the past year living in Mozambique. These are inspired only from getting out of my home culture and experiencing life from the Mozambican perspective.
A question I asked myself was if I had not come to Mozambique, but instead stayed at home working the job I was working, earning about $20,000 a year, would that money bring me the amount of happiness and exploration that this past year has provided to me? For me, obviously not. Money is good, but only as a means to an end, and the best things in my life right now are absolutely priceless. Living simply is a virtue. I live an extremely Spartan lifestyle by western standards, however I can honestly say that I am not lacking in anything of necessity. Sure there are things that would make my life more comfortable, or add some novel excitement, but there really is nothing uncomfortable about pooping in a hole every day.
The effects of culture are stronger than I had ever imagined. I am so conditioned to see the world in a certain way, thanks to the cultural, educational and terrestrial environment that I was formed in. The Mozambicans are ridiculously conditioned as well. When I observe other people’s conditioning that is so foreign from my own it makes it easier to realize my own, just from the contrast.
Needs and wants are totally relative. Human beings need very little to be happy in general. The fact that I can go 300km into the interior of Mozambique and find relatively happy people living an extremely harsh lifestyle brought this to my attention. This lifestyle would never make ME happy, but to each his own. In my experience it seems that the thing that most people need in some form is love. Whether its family, community or other social groups, people want to be loved and accepted in the way that only human relationships can provide.
People everywhere are generally the same. This is the most cliché travel related statement and I didn’t even want to mention it, but it is so true. However to continue on this theme, the fact that people are generally the same has made me very pessimistic about the fate of the human race. This thought comes from traveling in other parts of the world as well, but in general, most people are very ignorant about the ecological effects their lifestyles have upon the Earth. Trash is thrown in the street or burned, no thoughts are given about cutting down forests or preserving animal species, there is very little respect for life in general and most people are frighteningly short-sighted when it comes to their health and the health of their immediate environment. History is a race between education and planetary ecological disaster. Only time will tell which side will win, but I am not optimistic.
Two years is a really long time. Before I moved to Mozambique I naively assumed that after my two years was up I would just move back to the US and continue with my plan for the future that I had before leaving. I totally discounted what the effects of living in Mozambique would do to my worldview, values and future plans. There are a lot of question marks right now and I foresee acculturating to the US again as being very difficult.
I have learned a lot about foreign aid and working in the development industry. Through my own experiences I have seen how difficult it is to bring about behavior change and I have become quite skeptical of large aid organizations and mega projects. There are definitely success stories, mostly in immediate impact health related aid, however many programs I have seen are not accomplishing their goals. Why? A lot of reasons, but from what I can tell, lack of interest amongst the target populations and approaching the information to be taught from a western perspective rather than contextualizing it. The aid industry is well aware of these problems, but that still doesn’t explain the ridiculous sums of money being dumped into Mozambique each year with dubious results. Another foreigner working at an NGO recently said to me “if you work in development and don’t have an existential crisis about your work at least once a year you are quite abnormal”. I am not criticizing without reason and I have ideas that I think would work better, however that right there would be a whole separate post.
Nothing worthwhile or truly beautiful happens overnight. Gardens take time to grow, relationships need time to build rapport, projects need careful planning and follow up. The local Mozambican man who taught me how to graft fruit trees told me “before you do anything in life, you must learn patience; without patience you will never accomplish anything grand because you will have already moved on to the next thing”. Mozambique has taught me patience and will continue to do so. Living here is a roller coaster of emotion and patience is my mantra as it all passes by.
The honey moon phase is over. I would never say that I have exhausted anything about this wonderful country, but the novelty factor for many experiences is gone. This has contributed to my recent blogging silence. Its not that fun things aren’t happening, or that I don’t have stories to tell, its just that I have gotten so used to the lifestyle here that things westerners would find story worthy are commonplace and slip right under my radar. I will think hard, stay open and write more stories when I dedicate time.
Photos: Family comes to Mozambique! We toured around and had a great time, good food and lots of laughter. I love you guys.
Good food pictures as well. Those dried insects were delicious, they had a taste sort of like nutritional yeast.
Saw dust cook stove that ive been obsessed with lately. All my beans get cooked like this now. Cooking wood is expensive, produces a lot of smoke and doesn’t last long, not to mention the trees that had to be cut down. These sawdust stoves burn for 5-6 hours, are really cheap to make (sawdust is practically free) and produces no smoke. The trouble for me in sharing this idea is finding someone who is willing to try it in their home. Oh well. Patience.
Given your declining opinion of large aid organizations and projects, I’d be interested in your thoughts on this book:
My brother! I miss you dearly and think of you often. I have been left yearning for more since your last post. Talk to you soon