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Published: August 16th 2008
Nicest garden I saw in Moz
I guess that helps explain the barbed wire.
Big day today. We went to an orphanage called Nhamantanda, about a 90-minute drive north of here. There were some pretty interesting things to see on our way there.
One thing we saw was a government office along the road that looked like a weigh station would look in the US. There were six or eight speed bumps in the middle of the road, so we were crawling along for a quarter-mile or so. A bunch of guys trying to sell bags of cashews ran along the car for the whole time, trying to get us to buy. I probably would have if I hadn’t been so surprised by the whole thing, didn’t have my money out, etc. One of our group was taking pictures of them as they ran along. I thought that was pretty bad form, to just snap pictures of their wretchedness while yelling out the window, “No thank you, just photos!” Sheesh.
Part of the way there, a small town served as a kind of impromptu truck stop. As we drove through, I saw dozens of women and children with baskets of produce chasing trucks as they slowed down. The most common product right
now is tomatoes. We’re at the height of the season. But they don’t look as good as the ones I’m used to eating out of my own yard, and besides, they have to be bleached or peeled before we can eat them anyway.
Shortly after that, we got waved over by a chubby, imperious traffic cop. Apparently some part of the driver’s paperwork was out of order, and the cop wrote a ticket with another 1,800 metacais (about $72) fine. I think he might have learned his attitude from some of the Highway Patrol guys I’ve met up with during my lifetime. It’s never that comfortable waiting for an African cop to decide what he’s going to do with you. And he wasn’t in any hurry—we sat there for 15 or maybe 20 minutes.
We passed over a fairly large bridge on our way. A big chunk of the guard rail was missing and it appeared that at some point, some vehicle had busted through there. The concrete on the edge of the bridge was also broken away where the guard rails were gone. I wonder how long since that happened. Ryan said that the last group saw
Street-side oil vendor
Somebody ask this guy if he has a health inspection certificate.
a hippo in that river. We didn’t.
We got to Nhamantanda about 11:00. It’s run by a Christian pastor. He and his wife have run the place for years. She died in March, and I understand it’s been an enormous blow. He’s a very nice guy, and speaks a little English (certainly more than my Portuguese). When we arrived, they sang songs for us to welcome us. It was really cool and Africanish. They sang a song that went something like “When the Spirit of the Lord touches me, I dance like David danced.” Then they danced as they sang. I got some cool video. A couple of the students also made formal speeches to us in Portuguese and English regarding the status of the orphanage, their gratitude to us, and the recent loss of the “mother of the orphanage.” They sang when we left too, a song wishing us well on our journeys.
We took pictures of the 57 orphans and the five staff members individually, and several of the kids doing individual stuff or in groups. They were thrilled. The pastor really keeps them in line, and it was very well-organized. He kept saying, “Vai! Vai!”
Here's where you get it fixed if you're in Nhamantanda.
(Go! Go!) We ran them right through the photo studio (standing on an X in front of a wall) and printed them out in record time. After that, I had time to just take pictures of kids doing their thing and then print out the cool ones and give them to the kids. I like those a lot better than the full-body formal shots that everyone wants here. Among the pictures I got were photos of kids doing the sewing that we’ve done with kids in other villages. They seemed to enjoy doing the puppets, and I know that I enjoyed doing the photos instead of the puppets.
I am getting better at photographing black people. It’s not the same as taking pictures of white people. If you don’t have a really dark background, the face of a black person will often appear darker than normal, which diminishes the facial features and greatly detracts from the shot. There are ways to fix that, and I’m learning them. My portraits of kids now are still nothing fancy, but a lot better than when I started.
One of the Mozambican staff members for the orphanage asked another staff member where in
Mozambique I had bought my photo printer. The others guffawed at him and made fun of him for thinking that you could buy such a thing here. I didn’t feel too bad for the guy—it was all in good fun—but I felt a little bad for the Mozambicans who know that something that cool must have come from somewhere else because Mozambique just couldn’t pull it off.
All the people at the orphanage loved my family photo and marveled at it. They asked how old I was and were surprised to hear that I was just 41. They couldn’t tell whether my wife was Jenny or Heidi and were amazed at how young Jenny looked. I told them that she’d probably appreciate that, and they reacted by kind of looking at me with blank looks. I don’t think that there’s nearly the focus on looking young here as in America. Or maybe something just got lost in translation.
The orphanage is pretty darn humble. The whole thing is on maybe an acre. There is a crowded bedroom with bunk beds for the boys, a crowded bedroom with bunk beds for the girls, a meeting room, some huts for
This is what women put on their heads when they're carrying a particular hard load.
the staff, a little house for the pastor, and structures for fuel and animals. I asked where the trash was so I could throw away an empty printer cartridge. I was directed to a big pile (maybe 15 feet across) of mostly burned-up crud by the entrance of the place. There are several goats and chickens, three turkeys, and a bunch of pigeons. The place is absolutely bare of any vegetation besides a couple scraggly trees.
One of the things that we brought was money for food. Normally the kids eat polenta (mush from corn flour) five times a week and rice twice a week. The price of foodstuffs has risen lately, and now they can’t afford the rice twice a week. So they bought 200 kg of corn and some cooking oil and other things with our money. No rice. Chalk that up to the price of oil.
When we went to buy the food with the pastor, we had to stand aside for a funeral procession. Here, when someone in your family dies, you typically rent a large flatbed truck. You and your closest friends and family ride on it. You put a wooden cross on the
truck that will double as a grave marker. Other friends ride or walk or bike along behind the truck, which proceeds slowly to the graveyard. There were maybe 300 people involved in the funeral, including a compact pickup truck that finished up the procession. I counted 19 people in the bed of that truck, and I remember when I first saw it that I didn’t think it was all that full. Guess I’m getting used to full loads around here. You see some really crazy ones around with people, goats, cargo, you name it, stacked absolutely as high as possible.
The store where we went to buy food was kind of a beat-to-crap little general store run by an Arab guy. The merchants around here of any size always seem to be Arabs or South Asians. The place was hopping. The store had all kinds of stuff: basic foodstuffs, spices, household goods, and some electronics such as a DVD player, a small TV ($160), and a few different types of boom boxes. Boxes were stacked all over the place, it the two aisles, on the countertops, in piles behind the counters. The cashier, who was obviously the owner, had
a huge, full bowl of coins by his register, maybe the size of a hat box. Given the amount of cash in that place—I doubt very much that they took anything else—I was surprised that there wasn’t any visible security there. I bought Tucker some batteries for his camera. His died a few days ago. We could only buy the batteries in a box of 24, and that box cost 40 meticais (about $1.60). I hear that brand (777, the only one that you can easily buy here) hardly lasts at all. We’ll see how many Tucker needs to use before he comes home. I also bought a 16-ounce bottled water for 10 meticais (about 40 cents). I’ve rarely seen little bottles like that for sale. This store had four, of which one was leaky.
Outside the store I bought a little bunch of bananas from a girl, maybe 10 years old, who had a basket of them. I got five small bananas for two metacais (about 8 cents). I ate one and gave away the rest. One little kid, dressed in a shirt about as torn as a shirt can be and stay on your body, was eyeing
me the whole time, but I didn’t have a banana to give him, and I felt bad about that. I could have bought more bananas, I suppose, but I didn’t really want to buy bananas just to hand them out on the street. I should’ve bought another bunch of them, ate a couple, and given the rest out. Dangit. You sure could spend a lot of time feeling bad for poor people here if you let yourself.
Sometimes you see some pretty hilarious t-shirts here. Outside the store was a girl with a t-shirt that said, “No money, no honey.” I didn’t get a photo of that one, but I did get one of a kid, maybe 10 years old, whose t-shirt had a picture of an AK-47 and said in English, “When the neighbors get out of hand.”
Next door to the orphanage was a very nice garden with paths that doubled as channels for water to flow out under the fence and into the street during rainy season. There was broccoli (or some related crop), tomatoes, papayas, and lots more. The garden was surrounded by coils of barbed wire.
As we drove out of town,
we stopped at a little shop and bought a soda. We had to drink it there, because you can’t take the bottles with you. The pineapple Fanta wasn’t doing it for me, so I didn’t drink all mine. I gave it to a little kid, who finished it for me. I told him to share it with his buddy standing next to him. But the buddy said he didn’t want any. Then he asked if he could have some money instead. Uh, nope.
On the way home, I was ready for the truck stop town. People came running up to the windows with all kinds of produce. I bought about a pound of fresh green beans for dinner for about 40 cents (they were good—I wish I’d bought lots more). There were also carrots, onions, lentils, bananas, lettuce, papayas, and other stuff I didn’t recognize. I wanted tangerines but no one came up to the bus with them. I asked a little kid if there were any. He said he could get some. With trepidation I gave him a 10-metacais coin (about 40 cents), and told him to go get me some. He asked how many. I told him as many as he could. As he left I told him, “Corri, corri, corri!” (run, run, run!) because I didn’t know how long we’d be stopped there. He took off running as fast as he could manage without tipping over the really full basket of tomatoes he’d originally wanted to sell me. I was a little nervous that he’d just keep going with the money, but I figured that if I lost 40 cents it wouldn’t exactly bankrupt me. I watched him scurry around to a couple vendors and get me 10 tangerines (one metacais each is the going price). He brought the bag back, handed them to me, and turned to run off—apparently not planning on being paid anything for his trouble. I called him back and gave him two metacais for being my errand boy.
Why? Because I’m a generous tipper, that’s why.
That reminds me of the fact that a complete lack of business knowledge is one of the obstacles to economic growth here. Many Mozambicans have no concept of earning a profit—for example, I’ve heard a story (maybe apocryphal, I don’t know) of a neophyte businessman who buys a wheelbarrow load of bananas for 50 metacais, then takes it to market and sells it immediately for 20 metacais. He was excited because he’d sold his stuff so quickly. One of the things that Care for Life is doing here is helping teach locals about business essentials like profit margins and a lot of other things that seem really basic to Americans.
When we came back to the place with the running cashew sellers, I was also ready. I bought a larger bag (maybe a pound) for about two bucks, and a smaller bag for about 80 cents. I didn’t expect them to be particularly good, but I wanted to try them. My expectations were correct. The nuts were only partially roasted, burned in a couple places, and unsalted. But they weren’t all that bad when you’re sitting on a bus with nothing better to do than eat them slowly. And besides, that adventure was worth the three bucks I paid for it.
Tonight we went to the baby orphanage again. It was uneventful. I walked around with, sang to, and held a lot of snotty, coughing babies.
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