on travel, thoughts, and the art of short fiction

Observations on a Tuesday

In Mozambique on March 4, 2008 at 6:43 am

There are days when I feel like I am making great progress, when I feel I understand Portuguese. Then there are days when it seems I am taking two giant leaps backwards and I can’t understand anything. Language is so frustrating. Today, I actually understood what Clara my native Spanish speaker, Portuguese as a second language assistant project leader said. I will consider that progress.

Things are going well. I have a teaching assignment. I’m scheduled to teach a level two (intermediate) English class twice a week. I am slated to teach on Thursday mornings and Monday evenings. I’ve been planning my courses all morning. It’s nice to be working towards something productive.

Proffessora Sojo

Speaking of productive, we were up at 5:15 this morning because we are helping out with an agricultural project. We were out in the fields digging 40cm x40cm trenches and weeding. It wasn’t bad because it’s really pleasant in the mornings temperature-wise. Waking up early is not a problem because the sun rises here at around 4:45am and my room faces the rising sun so when the sun makes and appearance, so do I.


I had papaya and plain yogurt for breakfast. It’s my new favorite breakfast combination. I love the fruit here it’s so much better than the fruit in the United States, and I’m not just talking about standard pesticide enriched grocery store produce, it’s so much better than the “organic farm fresh” fruit in the United States. Eating fruit is like using your taste buds for the first time. So so so good!

Yesterday we went to Maxixe. (We, meaning Tracy and myself). Maxixe is a town on the mainland that has cheap goods because it is not nearly as touristy as Inhambane. To get to Maxixe we had to take a 30 minute ferry. Our ferry literally looked and felt ( I imagine) like a refugee boat of the sort that wash up on the coast of Florida. I’ve never seen so many people crammed into a tiny wobbly boat. The ride though, was beautiful. Maxixe is very Mediterranean in it’s aesthetics. There were very few tourists here and the central market was crazy. There were so many twists and turns and items to choose from. Someone stole my sunglasses, but they were only a dollar so I’m over it. I purchased two capolana’s (large pieces of colorful printed fabric). I’m going to have one turned into a bag so I don’t have to carry my backpack and get robbed.

On the boat to Maxixe. Take a look at everyone behind us. It was so crowded.

Maxixe in the distance across the bay of Inhambane

Maxixe

We spent the entire day exploring Maxixe. I was happy to bop back across the Indian Ocean to my beautiful Inhambane though. Inhambane is much more beautiful than Maxixe and it’s definitely beginning to feel like home sweet home.

The night sky here is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. I can literally see the milky way and constellations, so many stars that go on forever. There are no tall buildings to block the landscape, everything is open. One of my favorite modes of transportation is in the back of a truck at night, cruising the open road, staring into the sky.

Someone asked me via email about the people in Mozambique. Mozambique is an absolutely huge country, so I can only speak to what I know of the rural people in Inhambane province. And please take this for what it is, my opinion and my opinion only, which is not the same as truth.

The people here are interesting. Upon first meeting, you think wow, Mozambicans are the friendliest people ever and they are friendly. There are some characteristics though that can get to be annoying. There is no personal space here. Some people (not all) will literally talk to you one inch from your face and as a Westerner, I find it so off-putting. It is perfectly acceptable to publicly pick your nose. And I don’t mean pick, I mean dig. Some men feel as though they can flirt openly with Western women and have no problem grabbing your hand or touching you. I can’t even count how many sweaty hands i’ve wriggled my hand out of and how many men i’ve almost kneed in the you know what for touching me. It is however, not everyone. The men from the city have this train of thought more commonly than the villagers. Mozambicans who live in touristy areas, don’t seem to have this trait at all.

Everyone talks about everyone, people know who I am and where I’m from and what my name is and I’ve never even been introduced to them or seen them before. It was nice at first but it gets annoying because I’m trying to get from point a to point b (such a horrible Western mentality, I know, but I am after all a New Yorker!) and people will want to talk and I don’t know them and then there’s a group and I just need to continue on my way and I can’t even have a real conversation because I don’t speak Portuguese well and they don’t speak English and inevitably they ask for money which I’m not dolling out so it gets weird. Also, the teachers at ADPP aren’t very friendly, especially the women. We smile and greet everyone and they just look at us, it’s very awkward at times.

One of the project leaders who is from Columbia (an outsider her self) said that it could be a result of the Civil War. During the war, people between 20-50 were targeted and killed, that left the very young and the very old to fend for themselves. This being said, there was not a lot of time for conversation and pleasantries, so the people who are now 20-30, were children then and they are not particularly friendly. I don’t know if this truly is the case, but it’s a good consideration. Many of the teachers are also very intimidated by us. We try to make suggestions and we are laughed at or ignored. It’s frustrating, but they don’t want to change from what they know (I mean who does). The professors here basically have only had a seventh grade education, have completed the teacher training college for two and a half years and then have taught for a year and now they teach other teachers to teach. That of course would never fly in the West and it’s off-putting for them I’m sure to have these people come over who have taught for several years, who have master’s degrees, who tell them how to change what they’ve been taught to do. Teachers will literally get upset if a student asks a question that they don’t know the answer to because it makes them look bad, but the problem with that is you’re limiting the curiosity of the students. Students are being conditioned not to ask questions and there are so many things that the teachers actually don’t know because they are basically asking their students to memorize things that they themselves had been trained to memorize but could never explain. I’m sure we seem like a bunch of progressive freaks when we suggest group work or having students sit in circles or in clusters. So bottom line, there is a culture clash and it’s difficult to penetrate especially when the language skills are not there. But I will do what I can to demonstrate and serve as an example. It’s like pulling teeth sometimes to get the students to admit that they don’t know something. Unlike their Mozambican teachers, I’m always asking them if they have any questions, if I can give another example, and if I can demonstrate something differently. So hopefully they will learn to do the same with their young pupils. Though I’m sure it will take more than six months of my efforts to put that change into motion.

The male teachers talk down to us which drives me crazy because I can’t take any of them seriously as teachers because they don’t do anything so I’m sure they think I have an attitude problem because they are not at all used to assertive women and I have no problem letting them know that I do not agree with them. So the crazy dance goes…

People here are very trusting which is refreshing. The village people are extremely sweet and always return greetings. People from the city are different, which is the case all over the world it seems.

Mozambique is very diverse. There are many Indians (brought in to work the railroads), Chinese (brought in to work the railroads), Portuguese (old colonial families)and South Africans- Afrikaans (white business owners/beach front property owners). It’s interesting. Many Mozambicans are still being taken advantage of in their country which I guess I already knew because if they weren’t I wouldn’t need to be here. It’s one thing to know, but it’s another thing entirely to experience. The white South Africans for the most part are so disrespectful towards the native Mozambicans. They will set up businesses in their country, buy property in their country and will refuse to do business with the locals and will do everything in their power to price out the locals (which isn’t difficult), the white South African mentality is in my opinion absolutely disgusting. I’m waiting to encounter one who will change my opinion. It hasn’t happened yet but I’m open.

The Chinese keep to themselves as they do in many other countries and seem to work in construction.

Indian families also keep to themselves and like in most other countries, they own most of the shops and businesses and here they tend to be pretty well off.

The old colonial Portuguese families are very proud of being Mozambican and will say, I am Mozambican, my family has been here for seven generations. They seem to be the wealthiest and they are mostly in the large cities. They own businesses, and basically seem to run things still, even though “technically” the power has been handed over to the hands of the Mozambican people.
I said Mozambique was diverse, I didn’t say it was integrated. This is one of the most segregated places I’ve seen. It’s very similar to South Africa in that way. In fact, many South Africans will make comments to the extent of “Wow, Mozambique is amazing, it’s like how South Africa used to be!”- Meaning, pre-apartheid. Gotta love em!

Despite all of the problems, I believe progress is being made. Slowly, progress is being made. There are a handful of wealthy native Mozambicans who are doing well. I think tourism is going to pick up in the next few years and the economy should boom as a result. I just hope the people, the indigenous Mozambicans, get to reap the benefits of their land and resources. Time will only tell…

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