Monthly Archives: September 2011

Friendly Visit

Earlier I wrote about how I get excited about visitors and start sampling my activity list before they arrive. The visitors I was referencing are two of my oldest buddies who came to see me in June.

John came all the way from London and Neena from the US. We’ve been friends since we were kids, so when we get together we’re a trio of chatter and giggles. Well, John is a quiet soul but Neena and I are not – so we made more than our fair share of ruckus laughing and being stupid together.

It was the first time for both of them to visit Africa, and since they were in Mozambique for just one week so we had to jam pack their trip with as many of the local sites as possible. I always like to take guests to the Red Dunes because I think they are one of the most beautiful and unique locations on the coast here. Luckily we ran into a local friend who was heading that way, so we quickly bought sandwiches, beer and chips and zipped north of town, past the paved road and through deep sandy roads to get to our destination.  We sat in the shade eating our snacks and enjoying the breeze, dunes behind us and shallow aqua seas in front.

Later, we were traveling in a chapa and even I was impressed with how many people they fit in the van. Normally chapas are overfull with 20 people, but somehow 28 humans managed to cram into the car for the 5 hour journey. Poor John was smooshed into the smallest tini-tiny spot having to hold his neighbor’s baby.

Oh how I wish I had a camera to capture John’s face at that moment. It was priceless.

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Meeting The Presidente

Did I tell you that I had the chance to meet the president of Mozambique!?

I went with my favorite colleague, Roberto Cassiano, to a small village called Mussengue in the Mabote district several hours west of Vilankulos.  This itty bitty town was preparing for the president’s visit and THOUSANDS of people showed up to celebrate.  Don’t ask me where they all came from, since there really isn’t much close by for at least 10 km, but there we were in the middle of a huge crowd enjoying the excitement.  It seemed like a rather random place for a presidential visit but Guebuza has promised economic growth for the region and aparently came to check up on his constituents.

My responsibility was to help with the CARE display table and be ready to offer a basket to the president if he stopped by. We waited for hours then finally five helicopters zipped in and landed in the middle of the field.  Everyone started dancing and singing and getting all agitated for a chance to see the Big Chefe!

Roberto got a chance to talk to Guebuza for seval minutes and explain the different elements of our project.  Then Sara, my field extentionist, gave him a big beautiful Xindzala basket.  I even got the double cheek kiss and handshake. We’re basically BFF now.

The funniest part of the whole afternoon was when my friend Mandy, a Peace Corps volunteer in the area, showed up.   She said one of her students ran up to her shouting, “Hay uma otra Mulungu aqui!” or “There is another white person here!”  Mandy said finding me was like playing Where’s Waldo, except not so hard.  Not only did the people get the great honor of seeing their country’s leader, they also got to see TWO white people in one day. Pretty exciting stuff!

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Seascape

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Sonia

It’s been a long time since I added a post and it’s not that Okay?Okay! hasn’t been on my mind. It’s just that, honestly, I don’t know where to start. The last three months have been a rollercoaster ride of great highs and real lows.

I’ve had 5 visitors come visit me and I’ve done some fantastic traveling; through Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and back. And while I want to review all these great highlights, I am still struggling with how to write about the more serious moments. They are important too. It feels wrong not to address them or to pretend  that my experience in Mozambique has not been shaped by some of the more sad realities of life and death in Africa.

The most serious news is that my counterpart passed away in June. Sonia was not only my main colleague in the arts and crafts sector at CARE, but she was also my next door neighbor and friend. Although we had the occasional communication breakdown and frustration, she was an asset to the SEED Project and was dedicated wholeheartedly to the improvement of rural women’s lives in Mozambique. We were all shocked by her sudden death and left reeling while the future of the arts sector seemed vulnerable and uncertain.

Sonia was only 33 years old. She had a 16-year-old son and a great fiancé. She was building a house and planning to open a store when the project ended next year.  My heart sinks when I think of her family these days and I wonder how they are rebuilding their lives and coming to terms with this tragedy.  I’m sure they miss her incredibly and there is no way to replace a mother or life partner, but I have found that Mozambicans are particularly stoic when it comes to loss.  Every Mozambican I have met has experienced deep sorrow at some point in his or her life whether it was during the gruesome civil war or at the hands of HIV. But I am living in a country of survivors and deep misfortune is met with great courage and maturity.

Three months later, things here are strangely almost back to normal. I was a bit of a mess after Sonia’s first week gone – trying to figure what was done, what was not, and what responsibilities were to be divided and absorbed. In true African fashion her death was met with deep sympathy and a sense of realism and pragmatism – probably one of the more efficient transitions I’ve seen since I got here.

I think of Sonia often and still struggle to fully realize and understand that she is really gone. It is a surreal feeling to lose such a young friend, but I am ever grateful that she was apart of my life, even for a short time,  and she will always be ingrained in my memories of Mozambique.

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