Dancing with Africans and Talking Some Portuguese!

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Africa » Mozambique » Central » Beira
July 21st 2008
Published: August 16th 2008
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Sweet hairdoSweet hairdoSweet hairdo

They often use random pieces of string to tie up their hair. This looked like dental floss, though I can't imagine that's what it is.
Got a question about how we’re treated as outsiders. We’re always treated well. People want to look at you and a few will stare somewhat, but not many. If I catch someone’s eye I’ll usually smile and wave, and they always wave back. They’re certainly a lot more enthusiastic about us than if we were in Paris!
Got a question about whether it’s hard to see all the kids wanting someone to hold them. Yeah, it’s sad. It’s interesting how the babies handle it differently. Some cry a lot trying to get attention. Most are pretty passive—I think they’ve just figured out that they’re usually not going to get picked up just because they’re crying a little. They are good grabbers. Once you pick them up, they sometimes aren’t good about being put back down. Yesterday I had one that held onto me with hands and feet when I tried to put her down. I felt like that time I was trying to get the octopus off my arm in Mexico.
Today we went back out to the village where we worked on the machessa. I played volleyball and soccer with the kids—well, batted the balls around anyway. When I kicked the soccer ball a long way, they say, “Sheeee!” One time I kicked into the garbage pit, which wasn’t great, but they still went in after it. Lots of the same sights of young kids. I saw an extremely young baby—maybe 2-4 weeks old?—in a shawl on the back of her big sister, who looked maybe 7-8 years old. Wow. Everywhere you go there are hordes of little kids. As far as I’ve seen, if they’re old enough to walk, they’re old enough to look after themselves. And if they’re old enough to hold a baby piggyback, then they’re old enough to babysit a sibling.
We were stringing these long sheets of grass to put on the roof of the machessa. It was unexciting grunt work. At the end, we rolled them up in a big old roll. The string broke on one of them, which was a big pain in the neck to fix because it had to be restrung. It was interesting that the Americans were a little annoyed, but the Africans weren’t fazed at all. I think that applies to just about everything. If something’s late or broken, then in Africa you just
Martial arts warriorMartial arts warriorMartial arts warrior

You probably didn't know there were so many ninjas in rural Africa.
accept it and move on. Very different from how a typical American would react. And certainly way different from how I usually react.
Today I bought some sugar cane. They sell it by the roadside here. I bought some two-foot lengths for two metacais (eight cents) each. You bite off the fibrous sugar cane, chew it to suck out the juice, and spit out the fibers. It’s actually pretty yummy, and part of the African experience! That’s what they do for a treat. Most of the others in the group wanted to try it too after I did. Tucker really likes it.
We went to an orphanage called Casa de Bençaos (House of Blessings). I played a pretty intense four-on-four game of soccer in a little field under some big mango trees. It was a great time, partly because I played better than I usually play. I got really sweaty. The boys were good sports. One of them had a cardboard hat that he’d made himself with wire. I was going to buy it off of him to add to my exotic hat collection. But I didn’t get around to it because we were going to go back
And it's hard work!And it's hard work!And it's hard work!

...Being a ninja in the tropics, that is.
the next day. Now I learn that we’re not going back after all. Grrr.
This afternoon we went to the Dondo orphanage. Tucker and I swung little kids around and they loved that. And more fun with stickers, etc. Those orphans, however, have had various visits from other various do-gooders, and so they’re not amazed by stickers. They just want lots of ‘em. And we found out that the problem with the disgusting toilets was not that the toilets are plugged—it’s that there’s no water of any kind coming into the orphanage. Oops. Um, not qualified to do anything about that. We did a little work repairing some water-damaged ¼” plywood on the ceiling that was utterly not the right material to put on the ceiling, especially since the supporting framework was a grid of wood strips that were four feet apart. But that’s what they used, so that’s what we fixed.
After that, we went to drop off a Care for Life guy at a machessa meeting. Some of the other team was going to go back to the house and kill time before we went to the baby orphanage tonight. I said that rather than do

If you're old enough to carry a newborn on your back, you're old enough to take care of little brother or sister!
that, I’d like to attend the machessa meeting. It was a cool meeting. They were talking about setting up microbusinesses and applying for microcredit. The guy there was saying that he hoped they could find loans without interest. Uh, no. Turns out it’s 72% a year, which is less than the banks charge but obviously still a lot of money. When the speakers say something that the crowd really likes, they clap and do that Palestinian-sounding “looba-looba-looba” hoot.
The local equivalent of a county commissioner spoke at the meeting. He had no idea what was going on and didn’t say much of anything. He just said that he was in charge of what happens in that neighborhood (thanks politician guy, that’s so helpful!), and he hoped everything went well. Then he answered his cell phone in the middle of the meeting while everyone sat there and stared at him. And not to say, “Sorry, I’ll call you back.” He was just chatting it up with them. Finally someone else took the floor back while he finished his call. Then his call was over, and he wrapped it up briefly and left. Master politician.
At the end of the
Now don't hurt anyone, Tuck!Now don't hurt anyone, Tuck!Now don't hurt anyone, Tuck!

The kids loved being whirled around.
meeting they asked me to speak. When they introduce me, my name “Brad” sounds like “bread” to them, and there are always titters about that. The Portuguese word for bread is “pão,” and the Portuguese word for dog is “cão.” So I stood up and said in Portuguese, “Well, better to be called ‘pão’ than ‘cão.’” So they all thought that was hilarious. I also told them that I wasn’t important enough to have a cell phone to answer in the middle of my speech, which also got some good laughs. (Politician dude had already left.) I didn’t speak for long. I just told them that I have a business and I have a family and my family is more important to me than my business and I wish them the best at whatever they do. Then at the end of meeting they wanted to have a little African song and boogie. I was just turning on my videotape to tape it when a lady grabbed me to dance. I kept taping, so there’s this blurry, flailing video. But trust me, if anyone was videoing me, there’d be evidence of my sweet African dancing skills. It was a pretty cool
Styling orphanStyling orphanStyling orphan

Brad's glasses were a big hit.
experience, rocking with the Africans.
The economic obstacles here are just unbelievable. It’s absolutely not just an issue of “hey, we’re rich and they’re poor, so give ‘em some money.” A big part of the issue here is lack of access to capital. Another big part is that hardly anyone has any experience or education. Another big part is that entrepreneurship is not part of the society. Another big part is that there’s not really a concept of individual ownership, which means that if one person starts to make some money their whole family shows up to share in the cash, so why bother? Another problem is that people are so trained to take handouts rather than take charge of their own destiny. I think that the culture of so much of the world is fatalistic—that you just take what you get. I dunno, I probably don’t have the experience to make general statements like that, but I do suspect that the American idea of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps is the minority view in today’s world. Now that I think of it, maybe it’s the minority view in America. Okay, so enough of Brad’s political musings. On
Kids love stickersKids love stickersKids love stickers

In Africa, they mostly wear 'em, since they don't have paper to stick them to.
to the next subject.
I just remembered something about the English class we taught a couple days ago that kind of made me feel bad. A couple of students asked me whether Americans knew about Mozambique and what we thought about them. I didn’t really want to tell them that no one I even spoke to knew where Mozambique was. So I avoided the questions and told people basically that some people knew about Mozambique but some didn’t. I don’t know whether they’re aware of how little Americans know or care about them. I hope not.


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