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Published: August 16th 2008
Everybody loves a photo
The kids crowd around as Brad prints pictures of them.
The first thing we did today was go out to a farm owned by Care for Life to work. We basically did manual labor on the farm for the morning. It was a reasonably good experience but a few hours of it was plenty. Tucker remarked repeatedly how it was a good thing that he’d been swinging a pick in the back yard, so that he’d know how to swing a Mozambican hoe here. (They’re ubiquitous and, as far as I can see, the only tool most people own.) One thing I noticed as we drove out to the farm was that little kids in the country here love to chase a car with white folks in it. Makes for fun videos. I get a little nervous someone’s going to get squashed, though. No one seems really focused on safety around here. I suppose that’s like environmental worries—something to think about when you have enough to eat.
We drove past acres and acres and acres of fertile but fallow land. I’ve never seen a plow animal, let alone a tractor. I assume that no one has the money for that. There’s something about the system here that makes it so that
Hey! Is that me?
Not a lot of personal space at Mozambican orphanages.
it’s just not possible for a typical farmer to work that much land, I guess. I think that there’s an utter lack of any capital or the expertise to use it. Even the culture of providing for the future is lacking here. The first thing I thought as we were driving by all that available land was that a guy with a tractor here could become a millionaire by charging to plow fields. But where would you get spare parts? Who would fix the tractor when it broke? You couldn’t get financing for it. How would you get it into the country? You couldn’t get insurance for it. Would it be worth a hoot in the rainy season? How would you get it anywhere on muddy roads? The problems go on and on, and that’s why this place is where it’s at, I suppose. A couple of the guys we’re staying with spend their time trying to solve exactly those problems. They work with communities to establish hygienic practices, good governance, microlending, and whatnot. They have some very interesting programs and are really doing a lot of good from the ground up. They don’t give stuff away, they teach people
Come and get it!
Hmm, maybe I'll drink something else.
to bring themselves up.
Though this is the second-largest “city” (it’s a town at most) in Mozambique, there are no taxis here, though there are some beat-up, privately owned minivans that drive around on informal routes looking for people to pick up. Since everyone who rides pays, the drivers never fail to pick someone up who is flagging for a ride. Unless a bunch of muzungus (white people) have rented the van for the day, that is. Our van doesn’t pick people up when they try to flag us down, and that can leave the people quite annoyed and/or surprised. It can be funny to see their irritated faces. But on the way in from the farm, I felt bad for some people who were going to have a long way to walk and probably no one else coming by for a very long time.
Overall there seem to be few churches here. There are a couple Mormon churches in town, a couple mosques, and a couple Jehovah’s Witnesses’ halls. I’ve seen a few evangelical types of churches, and I’ve heard there’s a cathedral in town, but overall it’s not a huge religious presence from what I can see. The
How's that thing work?
Lots of curiosity about the magical picture maker.
nicest buildings in town are the mosques and the larger Mormon church building.
Women typically carry their stuff around on their head when they’re on the road. Sometimes they balance it with a hand, but often they don’t. I’ve seen some women walking down the road with some huge, gnarly, unwieldy loads of firewood balanced on their heads, frequently with a baby on their hip, too.
Today in the afternoon we taught English. There was a group of about 25 Mozambican young adults. We threw a beach ball around with English questions on it that they would have to read and then answer. Then we broke up into groups with a few students with each teacher—that is, a few Mozambicans for each American. We chatted with them, asked them questions, and so forth. I had four boys in my group, aged 16-17. It was interesting talking with them. First they wanted to know what “Bling” is. I guess there’s a famous rap artist named “Dame of Bling” or something? They asked about the difference between a pub and a bar. We talked about a few other phrases like the difference between “little,” “few,” and “some.” Then I asked them if
they had any other questions. One of them said, “How do you prevent AIDS?” I told him in simplified English that the only way to prevent it is to not have sex with anyone until you get married, and for you and your wife to be clean and loyal to each other. They asked about condoms, and we had a graphic discussion about using condoms and the failings of condoms. Our discussion was simplified and accompanied by lots of comical, PG-13 rated gestures. Such an adventure!
I might have already mentioned this, but I’ve read that the HIV infection rate here in Sofala Province is 31%. Wow. No wonder they’re asking the question. There are red ribbons painted on the trees in the medians in town. And lots of slogans about preventing AIDS. In the baby orphanage where we volunteer each night, for example, one of the stickers reads, “When we test earlier for AIDS we can organize a better future.”
Speaking of baby orphanage, let me tell you about that. There are probably 40 kids in there, all of whom are under the age of 5. They are sorted into four or five rooms, segregated by age. The entire
facility is a concrete building. The walls are painted but it’s been a very long time, and they are stained and pitted, and the paint is flaking off. It’s very stark. The floors are all ancient wood or tile. I’ve spent most of my time with the kids aged 18 months to 4 or 5 years. They sleep in a room with a few rows of cribs and a sign on the wall that says “Aunts , kill the flies! Flies spread many, many diseases.” There are fly tapes hanging all over the place. Most of the cribs are very small, and the sides are not high enough to keep most of the kids in the cribs. At least some of the babies climb from crib to crib. One baby had a pretty good shiner and swollen up bruise above her eye. I suspect that she fell out of her crib. It must happen all the time.
On the other hand, maybe they’ve figured out how not to fall as often as I’d expect. They certainly have figured out how to feed themselves better than I would have expected. I suspect that this is partly out of necessity—you
figure out how to feed yourself if that’s the only way to get fed—and partly because they’re older than they look. Most of them like to be fed, even if they’re otherwise capable of doing it themselves. But not all of them. I was feeding one kid tonight, maybe three years old at the most, and he took the spoon back from me because I wasn’t shoveling it in fast enough. “No offense, muzungu, but I got limited time to shove it in and you’re cramping my style.”
Back to the description of the orphanage. The room that they’re in part of the day has a VCR in it. They have three videos. The VCR blares while we’re there, and kids pay intermittent attention. Tonight it was broken and played mostly static, except that the audio could be heard. When certain songs came on, the kids jumped up and began dancing. Apparently they were quite used to the soundtrack. Some of those three- and four-year olds have some mean dance moves, and I’m not kidding. The VCR room is maybe 12 feet by 12 feet. There are four wrestling mats, two inches thick, on the floor. Three of them are
covered with threadbare sheets. There are a couple squeaky toys and a couple terry cloth balls in there. There are five milk crates and a couple adult-sized chairs. Other than some ratty stuffed animals hanging from the ceiling by the window, that’s it. Like I said, it’s pretty stark.
The kids do have caretakers with them, maybe one for every ten kids. So it could be a lot worse—and is in many places in Mozambique. The kids get fed and clothed and changed every day. Their dinner every night is a soup with vegetables in it. It looks fairly nutritious. None of them look to be starving.
When we show up, the kids mostly want to be held or roughhouse, depending on the kid. The thing that most of them really want is to be held, but you can give more of them simultaneous attention if you roughhouse, so that’s mostly what I do. They like to be tickled like my kids back home. I go a little gentler on them here because it wouldn’t look very good to have the stupid American break the poor orphan’s arm, now would it? And what kind of medical care would they get?
I spent part of the night holding 2-4 of them on my lap, and the other part tickling and roughhousing with 4-6 of them at a time. There were probably 15 of them in the room. We had one incident of pee on the floor and one incident of poo on the floor while I was there. Mmm. The nurses with bleach-smelling mops cleaned it up pretty quickly.
The kids at the baby orphanage are always coughing and snotty, and you can imagine how the place smells. The kids are beautiful, but there’s sometimes a lot you have to look past to see it. Some of them appear physically perfect. Others have obvious physical or mental disabilities. You can tell that some of the kids are very sharp by the way that they react. We work at the baby orphanage for a little more than an hour every weeknight. It’s a tiring but powerful experience.
I mentioned that the baby orphanage is a concrete building. That is the standard construction here—I honestly don’t think I’ve seen more than a few buildings that were built since the Portuguese left in 1974. Things are very run down. There are many buildings in
It can get pretty vicious--they really know how to whip that thing around.
town that are just vacant and burned-out, or rotten-out, concrete shells. Nothing is new.
Yesterday we went out to an orphanage in the sticks, in a place called Dondo. There were maybe 25 kids there, aged about four to 15. We had a good time playing with them. I took my photo printer and we had a blast. Once word got out about the pictures that were being printed, kids came running. The kids thought it was absolutely the bomb. Then the adults would saunter up and try not to look interested while obviously very interested. I took photos of the women who run the orphanage (at least those who would let me—a couple of them wouldn’t), as well as a couple neighbors from nearby who moseyed over to see what all the commotion was. The men in particular were hilarious. They all wanted a full-body shot, and most of them posed with some kind of a goofy model pose. One guy wanted his picture retaken because he had inadvertently covered his watch in the first picture. His fixation on his cheap, shiny watch seemed stupid and materialistic to me. Then I had an opportunity to reflect—what cheap, shiny watches
One of our team members, with a Dondo orphan.
do I focus on in my life? Material goods are just material goods.
Again, the thing that the kids wanted most of all was just to be held and loved. So we did a lot of that. The orphanage was even more stark than the baby orphanage I described above. Two kids to a bed. No furniture other than beds. A concrete structure, part of which was painted long ago. That’s it. One of the things that our team did was fix the roof, so that at least there won’t be rain coming through it.
The girls out at that orphanage played a mean game of jump-rope. They’d whip it around at 100 miles an hour, so that if you missed it, you’d get your ankles whacked. They were laughing their heads off when they did it, so I guess it must not have hurt that bad. On the other hand, I’ve noticed that most kids here seem to have a pretty high pain threshold. They’ll whack their head or something and it doesn’t seem to faze them. I suspect that they learn early in life that if it isn’t serious, they’re not going to be able to fake anything
Now that is style
The men here love to have their picture taken--and they're all ready for GQ.
and get attention by doing so.
The women at the Dondo orphanage seemed very hard-working. Man, there’s a lot of work to be done when you’re caring for 25 little kids, too. I see men working around here too, but not very much. Certainly not as much as the women, who are always working the fields, tending the kids, etc. There are lots of groups of guys sitting around talking all day. I’ve heard that they describe it as “the lion culture”—the women do all the hunting and the men do the eating and lounging around. I suspect that’s not entirely fair, but it does seem obvious to me that the workload isn’t evenly shared. So Jenny, cheer up! It could be worse.
It almost always smells like smoke here. People use fires to cook and they burn the fields to clear them.
There are a lot of people on the roads, especially late in the afternoon. Since there really aren’t many dwellings visible from the road (at least in proportion to the crowds), people must be walking in from their residences back in the trees. The open-air markets here are jam-packed and hopping!
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