Saturday, June 7, 2008

Many new posts, total disorganization

Hey all, so I finally wrote again but this time I'm totally disorganized and the worst is that i'm out of time and won't get to post pictures. sorry, better luck next time i hope

A honeymoon type trip to Inhassoro and 1st cell phone bites the dust

I made a trip down to Inhassoro, the next big shore town south from Mambone on the National Highway. My friends Dr. Nilton, the only doctor in the district, and Geraldine, a French woman working for Oxfam, went down on Friday but I stayed in town until Saturday to teach and have some free time, plus the students were supposed to dig my latrine on Saturday morning but they never showed up. I lost my phone on the chapa (taxi). More on this at the end of the story. So when I got to Inhassoro I went to the market and bought some food and headed off in the direction of the hotel, following the sign at the main road. Well I was told it was somewhere between 3 and 7 kilometers, and I imagined there would be some kind of sign, no matter how crude, to indicate once I’d arrived. No sign. So I walked past it even though I was persistently asking passersby they didn’t know because it’s a new hotel and did not involve the neighbors in the hotel. Once I passed it I was informed that the place I was looking for was quite a bit farther down the path on foot, way farther, but that sure enough there was a hotel out that way. As it turns out, that was a different hotel and once again I found myself lost in a strange and beautiful land with that same uncertain feeling about how this imaginably dangerous situation would end but faith that all would be right soon enough. Eventually I was turned back around and made it to the hotel, were I was given food and wine and well taken care of. From there on it was a blast. We three went to a new friend’s house. His name is Scott, he is Zimbabwean and new to Inhassoro. He is building his house here and currently living with a friend. He has a Land Cruiser that doesn’t have any breaks because at some point the beach lodge employees left it on the beach at low tide and it was inundated. I wasn’t able to ride in the back of the Land Cruiser because that would have been against Peace Corps policy, but if I had ridden on the beach in the back of it at night with a beer in my hand and offroading over dunes the next day I imagine that would have been quite a feeling of youthful exuberant vacation. Please see the photos to know more about this trip. As for the phone, I know it fell out of my pocket in the taxi but it was gone when I went back to look for it and I only found out 5 days later that there was a witness who saw the lady who had my phone and wanted to help me get it back. She denied having the phone when we confronted her and so we ended up taking her to the police where it was my witness’s word against hers, he says she took him aside after she got out of the chapa and asked him to remove the SIM card from my phone. Not knowing whose phone and what have you, he did so and only minutes later did he hear about the professor who lost his phone and put 2 and 2 together. By then both the “finder’s keeper’s” lady and me were both back on the road, again in the same chapa. She’s what we call a malandra, someone who goes about in a bad way. The police interrogation was quite interesting, I couldn’t imagine how they were planning to get her to give up the phone and essentially the tactic was to flex muscles and say, “pretty please? We know you have it..” and that’s as it should be, an allegation is not enough to invade someone’s privacy. So in the end I’m mostly satisfied with the way the local police handled it.

Community Consultative Process close-up, 7.000.000,00 meticais!!!!!

There’s a centrally funded project where the government gives 7 million meticais to each district in order to run its own savings and loan type scheme with soliciting of proposals for rural development projects to be funded and then awarding funds as a loan to be paid back in x time. Thanks to Philip and his contacts, I was invited to attend the meeting for my district of Govuro where they decided where to give part 2 of this year’s loan money, 3.500.000,00 meticais, roughly $140,000.00US. The meeting lasted from 9am to about 8pm. Actually it started 10 or 10:30 when the District Administrator showed up fashionable late as usual. This was very interesting for me to see. The District Advisory Council which decides the grants is made up of important types from all over the district, including ex-military soldiers dressed in their uniforms even though the war ended long ago, and old guys and other random important people. I was surprised at how well they discussed and stewarded the funds but in the end they caved and gave the bulk of the money to where the head honcho people wanted it to go. The conflicts of interest were RAMPANT. Also, the “Technical Committee” picked a short list of about 15 proposals out of 120 and the rest of the District Advisory Committee essentially only discussed the short list. The rest of the proposals got a hearing that consisted of hearing the name of the person requesting and a categorical description of the project and amount requested. “John Doe. Fishing. 150.000,00Mts. Application DOA” after all that hard work. But this naming of names makes sense because they don’t have the resources to chase people down if someone uproots themselves and takes off with the money. So they make sure that someone in the committee can vouch for the identity and character of the person requesting the money. This process was interesting for me because the Mozambican Land Law allows for community ownership of land and thus relies on community leaders to do the negotiations with foreign investors interested in developing on the community land. Quite an investor’s nightmare since it ought to take so long, I think, but it does mean that the local community gets to benefit from the use of their land resources, which is only fair.

Making a great friend in Inhambane

First about Inhambane, it’s the capital of the province on a peninsula and on the landward side of the bay is another city called Maxixe. You take a water taxi between the two cities it’s quite enjoyable. My German friend Adi from my Frisbee team in Florida told me to get in touch with his friend Philip once I’m here since Philip works in Mozambique. Upon meeting Philip in December, I saw he was genuine friendly and very obliging, he tried to give my friends and I a ride from Inhambane to Tofo beach even though he’d only just met me but too bad his wife had the car. Talking with him more I learned that he’s working on facilitating the implementation of Mozambique’s land law, which makes him a great career contact since that’s the sort of work I want to do. When my site was flooded in January he called to make sure I was alright and monitored the news about the floods for my benefit like he was looking out for me, he seemed more concerned about keeping me informed than Peace Corps did.
My most recent trip to Maxixe and Inhambane made me feel like he’s one of the best friends I have here, hard to explain why. Most of the expats I’ve met are incredibly interesting people, but they have hard eyes and personalities that for example steel up under my searching eye like a fortress raising a drawbridge over a moat. Expats are guarded people, I’ve decided, perhaps I will change my mind. Case in point, you are likely to be in some way anti-social if you choose to leave your own society. During my stay in Inhambane, I was supposed to stay at Philip’s house with his family—his parents were visiting from Germany and his kids were just too cute, I could tell his oldest son doesn’t have enough time with other kids because he took me by the hand and took me straight to the playroom section of the house but not like a brat, just like someone who immediately accepted me as a friend without first putting me through any kind of scrutiny or wanting me to be other than myself, a lot like his father took me as a friend. Anyway that was great because I’m only just now figuring out how to interact with kids and they are such a delight to be around when they’re not crying or pooping a.k.a. when they are toddlers.
When Philip and I went out to get pizza, by chance we crossed some other expats, one of whom I’d met before when his band came to my school and did a 20 minute anti-AIDS songs performance. Soon enough I was in a car with perfect strangers headed to a house party in swanky Tofo beach. Never ceases to amaze me how disinterested and unfriendly hippies can be, maaan. Seemed like no matter which circle of conversation I tried to nudge into people were too caught up to notice me or welcome me in, such a cool crowd like Hollywood or something. Some guys at the party were musicians and DAMN were they good! But otherwise kind of a bust and I wished I’d skipped the party.

Food, housing,

I can buy 25 oranges or tangerines for a dollar, the same is mostly true for bananas. The amount of the citrus harvest is just incredible. Since they are still the most accessible source of fresh food, I eat A LOT of oranges and tangerines. The local farms are all full of recently planted tomato, lettuce, onion, and other goodies and when I get my own house I’ll finally be able to cook to my own taste for a change. I’ll still get to eat typical food when I find an empregada (maid). That reminds me, I’ve been doing my own laundry by hand once a week for almost nine months. It is quite a chore, takes me at least 2 hours every time usually more up to 4.

Frustrating times

I'll run through a list of some of the challenges that, cumulatively, nearly broke my will to enjoy life here
1. Bank card. I hadn’t used my bank card in over a month and when I got to the ATM it seemed I had forgotten my PIN code but how? I only ever use 2 numbers. I must have changed it last time I used the bank and not taken enough note of it, so like me. As a result I was bankrupt during my trip to Maputo in March, for Regionals, and unable to buy the things I thought I needed (I stupidly went around a fancy store that is like Target of the U.S., picked all the stuff I thought I needed and found out at the register that they don’t take American Express. When I walked away, the realization that I didn’t actually need any of that crap on the check out table was a real liberation). I was told in Vilanculos that “the system” wasn’t working to make cards, try again later. Then while I was in Beira, 2nd biggest city, I spent two full days in the bank “waiting to hear back from Maputo” followed by “well you see, the system’s having trouble...” and in the end I was sent away without a new bank card. Shortly after I was talking with another PCV and learned that she too had PIN code trouble, the bank had forgot hers and she still didn’t have a new card. WHAT!? So it was the BANK that forgot MY pin code during its merger with Barclays? If I’d have known that during my two days in Beira I’d have pleaded my case a bit differently. Anyway shortly after back in the small city of Vilanculos I spent another whole day in the bank and at the close of business they finally gave me a card. I decided that if I work in Africa later in life it will be to fight the sort of idiotic inefficiency that keeps busy businessmen and women standing in line in UTTER unproductivity for hours on end.
2. Chapa drivers as kidnappers. Another funny thing about riding in the chapa is that you are at the mercy of the driver once you get inside. The worst drivers exploit this fully, not only in charging you up front for the trip in order to have money to stop for gas once you’re in the car, but also to make personal errands while the 15-16 passengers watch the minutes and hours of their day slipping through their hands like grains of sand.3. I’ve been waiting for my house to be built since December. It’s June 6th and it’s still not ready for me to move in though it’s REALLY close to being ready. Of the various problems that have interceded:- the original contracted builder got sick and went MIA before starting work, we ran out of straw to build the house 2/3 of the way through the walls—possibly due to shrinkage- the guy who was supposed to do the concrete floor drowned drunk in the river and was apparently paid in full before completing the work—all he finished of my house before his death was building the square foundation about two cinder blocks high and all around the house.

Cold Showers

I haven’t kept you up to date on my bathing situation. So there’s a shower in the Senhor Director’s house, it is a cold shower. When I get into it in the morning, sometimes a chilly morning, I need to put my hand in a few seconds, followed by three shallow quick breaths followed by a jump in with my head under the water while I rub the cold water on my chest and shake off the convulsions that my body releases to convey its displeasure with my decision to do this yet again. So I usually only take the one shower a day, even if my feet are smelly before I go to bed (Chaco’s). If it weren’t for hygiene and body odor I’d steer clear of the cold shower. Soon enough I’ll be taking bucket baths again in my own house.

My spiritual enlightenment and subsequent lamp-shading

One day in March I was having a watershed moment. For the first time I felt like I was home here in Mambone. Started on a Friday when I went to the Catholic Youth group meeting (I subsequently stole the youth group’s newly started journalism club and transplanted it into the secular school, not very Christian of me). The meeting was held in the church and Irma Lourdes, the Brazilian nun who runs the group, started off the meeting by playing her Portuguese guitar (nylon strings) and leading the songs with a voice approximating the lead singer of the Cranberries. I love karaoke, I love to sing, and it was really nice to be in a sing-a-long for the first time since training when we sang American Pie by Don McLean. Then on Sunday when I went to church I felt like the people around me were neighbors and friends, many familiar faces, they were not Africans or them as they had been the Sundays before. The church suddenly stopped being their futile poverty-stricken pitiable effort at a grand church, it was in fact the nicest living room in town and quite successful at being a beautiful place to worship. It always had been, it was just my assumption coming in that the church must be in some way lacking in resources, or struggling or failing just because it is in Africa. Distinct and relaxing aqua-drab color scheme with just the right amount of daylight shining in through the slat windows, and an eye-pleasing altar in which the mortar follows its own natural lines like cracks in shattered glass, or like a castle. Under the altar and flowing down the stairs a Persian rug. I realized that day that if you could see God’s face right now, he’d probably look like the most annoying person I know, someone whose presence/appearance/mannerisms I find intolerable annoying. I live with two such people, my school director’s wife and the houseboy. That reminds me, I’m working on a screenplay for a sequel to “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” it’s called “My Big Fat Annoying Wife” but I won’t sell the script unless they agree to cast my inspiration as the lead role since it is mostly based on her life. Anyway, like I was saying, the challenge of the Christian is to overcome hatred and anger and annoyance and find a way to love. When the houseboy sees me scrubbing articles of my clothing in the laundry basin with soapy water and then asks me, “You doin’ laundry?” I want to scream at him and call him captain obvious, but theoretically if I do then the one who loses is me. I think my thinking on this was guided by the guy who came to Davidson and talked about the recruitment people of the KKK. They find young kids and start by getting them to talk about how they hate gays, and from gays they change the topic to jews one day, and then after a few weeks hanging out they broach the subject of hating blacks and voila! The theory goes like this: by harboring hatred where I think it’s safe, like in hating fat stupid annoying retards who lack social skills, I’m allowing hatred into my life, negativity, bad things. Being a Christian means indulging this person and overcoming, finding a way to not only tolerate but find a way to enjoy their company. I spend so much time feeling overfull of love and I’m going around and looking for that “special someone” who could be loved for the rest of my life. Meanwhile all these people that aren’t that one person I’m judging them and thereby secretly hating them when I could be loving them. Each person I judge and hate ends up condemned and exiled from my life, chained to a wall in my spiritual dungeon, unable to bring me joy. At this point in the theory I realized how a monk or nun can live a life of celibacy. They don’t suffer the burden of burning love with no one to give it to—the romantic source of loneliness that drives so much of our culture, pop music, sitcoms etc., because they find a way to give their love to everyone…in theory. Interesting to contrast this with Buddhist celibacy, where the goal is to avoid getting tangled up in the bonds of the flesh and the world that is merely physical.Anyway, I’m not sure that I’m cut out for this love at all costs. For now I’m opting for a balance between love and hate in my life, because when I recently lost it and told the kid that he’s stupid, to his face and several times in a row until he understood and when I make it painfully clear (whereas before I’d only been crystal clear) that we aren’t friends and that I don’t want anything to do with him, he leaves me alone and then I have peace. The problem is that his presence is still around because I still live in that house, and once you decide to go ahead and hate someone it’s hard to ignore that person when they’re around. Like Pandora’s box just half-open, you watch out the corner of your eye waiting to see what annoyance they will do next in order to fuel the fire.

The capulana, plus What else could I carry on my head?

The capulana is a colorful piece of cloth about a meter long and half a meter wide. Thin. It is used by women for almost anything. Men have pants and shirts tailored out of them. Women, though..nothing they can’t do with a capulana. Babies slung on their back in capulanas, capulana as a skirt, as a shawl, as a towel, as a groundcloth to sit on when forced to sit on the dirty floor. OK I’m sure there’s other stuff but I’m tired been writing a while…I’ve seen many a women walking down the streets with one hoe balanced on her head—you could hardly imagine that’s easier and yet it’s done that way. Kids are trained from an early age to carry things on their head so that they get to the point where they can do it no hands. The most common thing to see is jugs of water, but some of the rest that makes its way onto the head is quite funny. They use a cloth folded into a donut shape on the head to make everything “easier”

The school atmosphere and African trees

One of the funniest things about school here is that it’s prohibitively difficult and expensive to use photocopiers. That means that when I’m giving a test I need to write it all of the questions on large A1 aisle paper with markers and stick it to the front wall with sticky tack so that all can see the test (I find this a better method than writing it out on the blackboard seven times). When I’m standing in front of the room trying to look intimidating so that they know I’ll punish them for talking during the test I sometimes have to laugh because they look like Prarie Dogs or Meer Cats, first sitting up all erect and attentive and then bending down over the test, each student in their own rhythm. Another thing I wanted to mention about the school is that the schoolbell is an old tire rim suspended like a gong. The guy who tolls the bell is a young guy, maybe 20, who rings it mercilessly loud with a metal hammer and since the bell is just outside of the library it sometimes scares the crap out of me because it’s the last thing you expect to hear when you’re in a library. The schoolyard has two trees that I esteem highly: one is the Baobab at the far end of the row of classrooms and the other is the HUGE shade tree of unknown species with a mysterious resilience that has allowed it weather the many cyclones it must have seen during it’s long life here near the Mozambican Channel. The Baobab is a folklorical African tree, a Lion King type tree, but really what it reminds me of is Keebler Elves. It’s like a deciduous cactus, apparently hollow inside of its massive trunk where it stores water for the dry season.
I'm trying to upload the photos now, not much luck so slow