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Published: July 11th 2015
So it Begins!
All my stuffs for Mukambe feha - prepped to rough it in the sticks. (Little did I know!) The food in in the bottom of the big bag, along with the sleeping bag and office supplies. My steira, and water, and other things - mosquito net - down the hall.
Recapping quickly, I’ve been in a crappy mood for the last good chunk of time and haven’t wanted to do anything. Despite being more than a bit sketched out by the idea of sleeping in the wilds of Africa in a stick hut without a door or solid walls (not even Baraka construction), I felt it was necessary to get out to Mukambe feha and spend some time with them. It was necessary because otherwise this whole idea of me teaching the process of making the materials and thinking about the situation in a greater context was useless because all I would be doing is the same thing that every other NGO and government department does, come in, provide a temporary good or service, and leave. Now, I’m not totally crazy or naïve and realize that I’m not going to change the worldview of everyone involved in three days, but that’s where my heart was.
I was so happy, relieved, and grateful when the activists said as a group that they had planned a place for me to stay with meals and a place to bathe, and that the next day we would meet in a church not far from
On Our Way 1
Alberto and Elfie once we finally got on the road
where we currently were. I was prepared to rough it sans bath for a few days and eat canned vegetables and such because Benedito only said “we’re going to make a plan” and then didn’t say anything else. I thought he was talking about my transportation out of Mukambe feha and back to Maxixe only.
At the end of the health fair we gathered things and went back to the vehicle to drive about 3km down the road to a house. As we pulled in there were several kids about 10-13 years old, some older women in maybe their 20s, and a guy who looked in his early 20s. So not only was I going to not be staying in a hut, I was going to be staying with a family – I really needed this. Without meaning to, I landed in a couchsurfing-like environment with people who didn’t quite know what to expect from some crazy white guy, but were willing to open their home anyway.
Benedita was the activist whose house it was and Alfredo is her son (the early 20s guy, who was actually just 20). There were relations of all sorts here – in-laws,
On Our Way 2
Valdomiro in the car (fuzzy because it was bumpy/Ricardo can't drive like a sane person)
cousins, brothers and sisters, grandkids, etc. and me. The littlest one, Edison, took one look at me and started screaming. LoL. We went inside and it was immediately clear that I was taking someone’s bedroom, which I said I didn’t want to be a burden many times and wanted to make sure that the person, who was Alfredo, had a bed to sleep in and ample covers and everything that he would normally have. After assuring me that it was ok and showing me that he had a bed to sleep in and such, I said ok and put my stuff down.
The day was getting long and the women had boiled water for me, so they basically said “go take a bath” to me – ha ha. I was shown the shower block and bucket bathed quickly, dried off, and went back to the house in time for dinner, which was rice and a sauce/stew made from sardines and veggies and pasta. Afterwards we shared one of the apples I brought and I broke out the peanut butter, which was an oddity – especially when I put it on the apple.
At some point it got too
Group Work 1
We split into groups and this is the men working with Valdomiro off to one side.
dark to see and the purpose of the solar panels I had seen in the yard then became clear – they had a series of LED lights that were connected to a rechargeable battery and one or two were turned on for us to use. We had some coffee and such, chatted for a bit, and then it was bed time because of nothing to do and no electricity to do it with. I was in bed by 7:30. O_o bah ha ha.
The next morning I understood why everyone goes to bed so early – starting at 4 something and really picking up about 5 AM all the roosters started crowing and then all al once there were like 20 of them I unison. Sleep? Pshhh. I was up and not going back to sleep by 6. That’s good though, because the day before Alfredo and I said we would go running, at 6. At first I thought he was crazy, but then when I went to bed at 7:30 I figured it wouldn’t be so bad. I got up and walked outside – it was quite chilly. The younger boys were cleaning the yard and heating water
Group Work 2
More of the men.
and such, the women started in the kitchen hut, the chickens were still in the coop and clucking away. I walked to the latrine, out in the corn field, stumbled back to the house to find my contacts, and then asked for water to wash my hands and set up my pocket mirror to get my contacts in. Everything stopped as they stared at me as I fiddled with my eyeballs. Shortly thereafter, Alfredo was up and he changed into shorts and a tshirt to go running, then a cloud passed by and it started raining. We waited 15 mins, it stopped, and we took off. We did about 6km, and then when we could see the house it started really raining and we had to sprint for the porch so we weren’t drenched.
The women boiled more water and urged me to bathe again, and it was clear that I needed to say something about not needing two baths in one day. It’s a lot of work to walk to the well for water (which actually is SUPER close to their house relative to most of the rest of the community), find the fire wood, and heat the
Group Work 3
This is Alberto talking with the women's group about the stories they have.
water, besides, I had planned on going 3 days without a shower anyway… Bath, breakfast, coffee.
There was a bit of confusion about whether or not we could use the church because there was apparently going to be something going on that day. In the confusion we waited until about 9:30 or 9:40 to walk over and even then there were only four activists present. Oh well. I’d do my thing anyway. We started making cards for a bit and then as time passed more and more people filtered in. At 10 there were enough to start (about 10 people) and we talked about all sorts of stuff . We talked about the nuts and bolts of malaria, but more than that we talked about assets. I told them that it was easy to have a negative conversation about all the things they don’t have, but what I wanted to focus on was what they did have and how we could use that to solve problems (an assets-based conversation). They were a little reluctant and probably very skeptical, but after about the fourth or fifth example they
Group Detail 1
Figuring things out
got the idea.
We wrapped up with a general Q & A. I opened it by saying that I was there for them and no other reason. I understood that the medical teams who come have a job to do and not a lot of time to do it in, so I was there with all the time in the world to sit and talk about whatever questions they had related to health. We talked about appendicitis, breast cancer, more about possible (false) malaria transmission routes, and TB prevention. We called it a day and walked back to Benedita’s at 12:30.
I spent the next bit writing some, talking, going for a walk with Alfredo, talking, writing some more, and the activists came over for a bit later in the afternoon to see how I was making out. We sat and had a chat, and then the women announced that I needed to go for a bath again, lol. I told Alfredo that I really didn’t need the two baths and he said ok, they just didn’t know. I bathed (because the water was already there) and then we sat around and had tangerines from one of the
Group Detail 2
Discussing the content and what the pictures mean.
trees. They have tangerines, oranges, lemons, bananas, mangos, cashews, coconuts, papayas, and other fruits that I don’t know the names of. Wow. Not long after that it got dark, we broke out the LED lights, and then Magada (Alfredo’s sister in law and the mother of Edison) served dinner to Alfredo, Elias (Alfredo’s brother), and myself. It was corn mash – essentially what I would call grits – and beef cubes and stewed black-eyed peas, both very good. Not long after that we said goodnight and I went to my room, but stayed up to write in my journal for a bit by flashlight, bed by 8:30 though.
Wednesday, up at 06:20, even chillier than yesterday, but Alfredo and I still go for a short run. This time we only go to the school and back, so it’s a much shorter run. Afterwards, instead of bathing again (ha), we sit and warm up in the morning sun with the others and chat a bit. About 7:30 we go for another walk in the other direction (towards the church), and stop and chat with most everyone along the way since he’s got a mulungo in tow. When we get back
to the house there’s a bit more chat and warming up, then breakfast at 8:30 – simple bread, peanut butter, apple, and coffee – and then off to the church to work for the day. Things are off to a slow start, but we wait for more people to straggle in and get started about 9:30 or 9:40. More than malaria, we talk about national statistics from Mozambique and compare them to other places around the world. I emphasized the fact that the US is frequently not the best-of-the-best in terms of health and we talked about why (levels of prevention and where the US focuses most of its money one vs other countries and primary care). Then we related it back to the levels of prevention we talked about the day before. We also talked about some behavioral theory (yes, I actually wen there in rural Mozambique – because they’re fully functional adults, not mentally-challenged kids.) I tried to get them to be as interactive as possible and they got it – they asked questions, we talked through ideas, talked about the communication process and messaging – they used examples from their
own experiences to illustrate negative examples (ok, we’re still on the negative side overall, but I’m trying to keep the conversation positive…).
We had more time for general Q & A and got some more interesting questions, then the final activity was to make a list of actions that we could photograph to put together a personal, Mukambe feha prevention booklet. The pocket mods (small booklets made from one A4 sheet of paper) that I am using for the comics and such will be used the same way for this booklet, so I needed 8 actions based on the three levels of prevention we had been talking about. They listed 8 of them and then we set out to take pictures of them doing the actions. We had using a mosquito net, making smoke to chase away mosquitoes, call the health activist or community health worker, take all your medication, fill in stagnant water puddles, put a lid on water sources, take the malaria test, and clean your yard/house of debris. We used all activists as subjects in the pictures and got all of them done within an hour.
Related to this process, which was really positive and
hopefully will encourage the activists to use the booklets themselves to show people, when it came to photographing the pills/medication picture, I used my malarone tablets as a prop. They weren’t going to actually consume the pills, just hold them in their hands, so I thought it was ok. Two of the activists were standing with me away from the others and they asked what the pills were for, so I explained and thought nothing of it. After we took the picture I was going to put the pills back in the container and the woman who was the volunteer for the picture gave them to me, then another activist had the bottle in his hand and held out the other to take the pills from me to place in the bottle. I watched and he was about to pocket the pills, then as I looked on he quickly placed several back in the bottle, but popped one in his mouth and ran over to the water basin to drink water. I was like, wth. -_- I kept playing it over in my head and thinking about it. This is the guy that helped set things up for me, translates
into Xitswa with me when we talk in group, and was generally acting as a community leader. I had nothing but good things to say about him. Then this. Why did he do it? Was it that he saw the amount of pills I had (you are to take on a day for your entire trip and then for 5 days afterwards)? Was it that he thought they were cheap and easily available, as most anti-malarials here are (Artemesinin-based Combination Therapies (ACTs) are subsidized by every freaking anti-malaria NGO and governmental agency there is)? Was it a case of “he has and I want” sort of thing? Or was it just another instance of, yes – you are foreign and have more than us and so should be “taxed” in some way, shape, or form for having more than us and this is totally ethical and morally just in our eyes. I felt like slapping him and screaming quite honestly. All of the positive that had been done so far was put into question, and still is in question, at that point because motives then become suspect. Are they just showing up because they are waiting for the carrot
The activists want to make a new structure for the health team to practice in when they come. This was a project they started, but they want to do something in another site now, so there are two construction sites.
at the end of all of this? (Money from CoH? The materials? Pictures? Being able to say they worked with the mulungo from the states?)
Then I remember that it’s just one guy. His actions should speak for him and not the group. They didn’t have to set me up anywhere and they don’t have to show up to work with me, as many of the activists didn’t, and even when they show up they don’t have to partake in anything if they don’t want to. I should focus on the fact that there has been so much good in the past 48 hours and not this one isolated instance. I’m not saying that’s an easy thing to do – I’m terribly prone to focusing on the shitty way people act towards one another – but it’s what I’m really, really trying to do here.
We finish with that part, walk to the well to take pictures of the stagnant water being filled in, and then go back to Benedita’s to wait for Benedito who has the test kits so we can photograph that. Lunch afterwards, and then we talk about the next day since I will be
This is where I THOUGHT I would be staying.
leaving. I want to leave earlier rather than later so that I get back to Maxixe before dark, so we will not have group meeting in the morning. We decide that today is the day for goodbyes and we want to take a picture with everyone. After walking to a suitable background and taking the pictures I thank everyone for their kindness and generosity, and then the guy who took the pills says thanks from the group – and then they cheer for the project, for Mukambe feha, for “chefe” Joshua, and for lots of other things. It’s a great ending to the day (and that’s what I’m holding onto). I say that in August I will return with the materials and we will have a training session. We can either have two long days in August, or I can do the same thing and stay for a few days – they vote to have me stay again for a few days.
After the activists leave we have a bath and then Alfredo and I get dressed and go to the store down the way to have a beer and listen to music. They have an awesome speaker-cum-solar-panel with
A panoramic of Benedita's place with the main house and several baraka houses by it.
a USB port to play music from and a refrigerator with cold beer so we went and enjoyed some time there taking pictures, talking with people, and at some point Elias got a corn cob and made a corn snack for us over charcoals. (Roasted corn, basically) We walked back to the house, talked for a bit, then had dinner and called it an early night.
The next morning came early and we all got up to have breakfast and such together. Edison finally relented and let me get within three feet of him without crying when Benedita sat next to me and they had breakfast together. We played E.T. – we just touched each other’s finger tips and played around a bit – before he got more interested in food again and I got more interested in the cat that had come over to see what was up. She was so pretty! There are a few of her kittens running around, but they are too spooked to be petted. She needed a little coaxing, but eventually figured out I wasn’t there to hurt her.
Around 8:00 we went to the road and Benedito pulled up in a
Holy crap, this is cool.
pickup truck that was probably made in the 80s with a few people in the back. I climbed in and off we went, with me sitting on the wheel well and trying not to remember all the times my parents warned me about how dangerous it is to sit in the back of a pick-up truck without a seat belt or anything and how you should never sit on the side of the truck when it is moving, etc. etc. We started stopping to pick people up and soon enough the back was pretty full (this is called chapa-my-love since everyone has to touch and hold on for dear life – I had a picture of it in another blog). At some point we slowed down to pick people up, but had transmission problems afterwards – it wouldn’t go into gear. Then, it stalled and died in the road. The guys got out to push start it, but whenever we went to slow down it started to die, so we started not stopping for everyone. This was good since it was basically an “express” chapa, but bad because they weren’t going to make the money they would have if they
could have picked up 30 people.
Eventually we made it to Morrumbene, I got out and paid/thanked Benedito, and then headed to the chapa stand for another to Maxixe. I was back in Maxixe by 11:20 and went to the Pastelaria for an omelet and coffee since I was already in town. Took another chapa back to CoH and was back in my room by 12:30 or 1:00ish.
There will be a part 3 of this week as well because I want to end this here and keep this as a positive chunk of time for me. It meant so much to be able to go and live with the community and stay with a family, talk to people, and just be a person in another country doing more than just working. I really needed this and look forward to going back in August before I leave. When I think of the question “why are you here, in Mozambique, doing what you could be doing in Philly?” I have a better answer for it now. Yes, it’s more transactional than I would like to admit, but I don’t know as I would be doing all this writing and
From the road in the afternoon.
reflecting and processing if I were in Philly either. I’d like for this whole thing to be more than just me doodling with people in Africa, but I realize that the larger goal (of some sort of social change) is the harder one and one that many people far better and more experienced than myself have tried to tackle with a lot more money and resources to little avail. In any case, I’ve got a second wind and that’s a good thing.
Next: Back to CoH, Nhamaxaxa meeting, "man overboard!", and the rest of the week.
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