Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Epilogue Mozambique

As a former travel reporter, I believe in cultural baptism. When I've immersed myself in my host country--experiencing its food, its music, its art, and especially its people, wonderful things have happened.

Don and Elena

Our first night in Mozambique, Fawn and I had dinner at the Hotel Flamingo, where we stayed during our journalism training sessions for Oram, the rural development organization with whom we were working. There were two gentleman at the table next to ours who were listening to music on a laptop. The melody sounded familiar. "Is that Baaba Maal?" I asked. I had discovered African music years ago and Maal, a Senegalese singer and guitarist, had become one of my favorites. "Yes, it is," one replied. "You know Baaba Maal? You must come and join us." We did and learned their backgrounds. Don, a musician, plays the djembe (African drum) and is a vocalist. Luis, a Portuguese vehicle inspector, had recently moved from Portugal to Mozambique.

The conversation expanded as more friends joined the table--Elena, Don's significant other; Norma, a German grad student researching sustainable fish farming; Xavier, an HIV-AIDS trainer; his friend Nyllon, a copy editor at a Maputo advertising agency, and others. The discussion about music led to talk about politics, religion, and all those topics you're NOT supposed to discuss. We met Elena's son and the couple's new baby, Bianca.
Don & Elena's children

From left, Luis, Norma, Don, Fawn, and me

Each night we'd meet our friends for food and conversation. They were exceedingly generous. On Wednesday, when Fawn's luggage finally arrived, for example, Xavier drove us to the airport to meet an 11pm flight; unfortunately it was late and it was well after 1am when she finally collected her bag. Friday night, our last night in Quelimane, Don and Elena invited us to their apartment for a home-cooked dinner. "We'll serve only local Mozambican food," Don told us. Xavier, Norma, Luis, and Nyllon were also invited.

When we arrived, Luis and Don carried the family's heavy wooden table (that sat ten) and chairs down a flight of stairs so that we could dine outside on the patio. Elena covered the table with a handmade tablecloth that her family had carried with them from Portugal. Xavier brought his acoustic guitar and played Brazilian sambas and traditional Mozambican folk songs.

Plates of food began to arrive. Elena, who had been in the kitchen for hours, had prepared a nine-course meal for us! Dried and salted fish, then fresh cod fish. The food just kept coming...Sweet potatoes, then a pureed tomato dish with onion, garlic, and pepper, roasted plantain.

Don explained the cultural significance of each dish while Elena shared the recipes and cooking tips.

Mmmm Cod fish

Okra in coconut milk (Elena says the key to cooking with coconut milk is to leave the lid off during cooking)

This is cassava, made with onions and garlic, I think. Wow! Really flavorful. Elena also prepared nshima, a traditional dish made with maize. It was snow white and had the consistency of mashed potatoes.

The traditional dish of Zambezia, the Mozambican province in which Quelimane is situated, is Galina Zambeziana, chicken basted with coconut milk and then grilled. Everyone we spoke to en route to Quelimane told us to be sure to try this dish. They were right. It was unforgettable.
The cuisine of Mozambique is amazing! Organic, sustainably grown food, flavored with robust Mediterranean spices. The Portuguese influence is evident in many of the dishes, especially Galina Zambeziana.

Is there anything better than good food and good conversation with good friends? This was a really magical night. I'd love to have the opportunity to host our new Mozambican friends here in Madison...let's see, I could serve venison, wild rice, walleye, berries, corn on the cob....

Day 7 Hello Snow Emergency

We arrived at the Johannesburg airport two hours before our flight and found total chaos at Lufthansa ticketing. The computers were down and ticketing agents were writing baggage tags, boarding passes, and passport info by hand for the hundreds of passengers waiting to board the Boeing 380 jumbo jet for Frankfort, Germany. It was a long, long process.

Fawn attracted some attention because of the “crazy gourd guy” she’d purchased in Boksburg—a wonderfully whimsical musical instrument made of gourds and wood.
Flying overnight, then flying back into the day sure messes with your internal clock. I may be wrong, but I seem to remember three breakfasts along the way. First it was night (J-Burg), then it was morning (Frankfort), then it was night and day again as we traveled west shedding hours to reach a time zone eight hours earlier than the one we had experienced in Mozambique. Fawn took some really nice photos of the sunrise over Greenland.

In the Frankfort airport we met one of the cabin stewards on our flight who told us that we were headed for bad weather in Chicago. He hoped our flight would get in before they closed the airport. “The city’s gonna declare a snow emergency at 5 o’clock,” he told us. He said their flight crew was warned that O’hare might shut down for three days. Connecting flights would be delayed or canceled, he told us. “Get on the first bus for Madison and get as far away from O’Hare as you can.”

Sure enough, when we arrived at O'Hare, once AGAIN Fawn's checked bag was missing. Not fair! The airline lost her bag on the way TO Mozambique and again on the return. She was told that it was still in Frankfort, Germany and that because O'Hare was closed, it could be a few days before she'd get it.

In the end, both of us were grateful just to get out of the airport. Hundreds of flights were cancelled or delayed. Our flight to Madison was the last one before the airport closed. This morning I awoke to more snow that I've seen in years.

This was an amazing trip and Fawn was a wonderful traveling partner. I'm new to blogging and could not figure out how to caption photos until just now. I want to mention that many- if not most- of the photos I've used in these Mozambique posts were taken by Fawn.

Earlier in the week, I'd mentioned that our Mozambican friends were going to prepare dinner for us. That night was the highlight of the trip. So my next and final post will be an epilogue to tell you about it. It was a magical evening and epitomizes how warm and welcoming the people of Mozambique are and how proud-rightfully so-they are of their beautiful nation.

Day 6 Johannesburg Back to the Birchwood

Following our meeting with Mozambican journalist Fernando Lima in Maputo, we left for the Maputo Airport and a short 50-minute flight to Johannesburg. Upon arriving, we were surprised to learn that we could not exchange Meticais—the Mozambican currency—at any bank or money exchange desk in Tambo International Airport. The signs outside the banks listed the exchange rate of dozens of other currencies. Why, we wondered, would South Africa not accept the currency of its closest neighbor?
The airport held other surprises for us, including the Spur “Soaring Eagle” Steakhouse, whose logo and menus left us shaking our heads. It appears that you can go halfway around the world and not escape the stereotypic portrayals of Native people. We returned to the Birchwood, the massive (665 rooms!) business, conference, and sports complex where we had stayed at the beginning of our trip. We had plans to meet Birgit Schwarz, a journalist for the German magazine, Spiegel, and a veteran radio reporter. Birgit is an investigative journalist who trains community-based journalists—most notably children. She’s received grants here and there, but mostly does this training on her own dime. She was very interested in our work in Mozambique and commiserated about the lack of proper equipment and training available to villages in rural areas. She was also interested in our outreach at home. We’ve been using multimedia to teach Native American children science within the context of Traditional Ecological Knowledge. We showed her a couple of Native youth-produced videos about climate change and she told us about the children she works with—6th grade and older who come to her from Johannesburg and Soweto and arrive with all levels of ability. Birgit is expanding her storytelling efforts from print to multi-media so we shared some video “how-to” materials with her.

She shared some valuable insights on communication in Africa with us. As popular as cell phones are in the U.S. they are that and more in Africa. She encouraged us to explore some of the 10-gigabyte phones to create and disseminate the Mozambique videos. It seems to me that cell phone technology was used for some of the “Reel Indian” shorts produced in connection with PBS’s We Shall Remain, the multi-part 2009 documentary series about Native Americans.
After our morning meeting with Birgit, we had the afternoon free. This was really the only free time we’ve had during the day since we arrived in Africa. We’d chatted up Amanda, our Birchwood hotel clerk, about things to do in the area. Unfortunately, the Apartheid Museum was closed, but Nelson Mandela’s House and the Hector Pieterson Museum were open. Amanda arranged a driver for us and we headed to Soweto.

Mandela House was both chilling and uplifting. Notable were the interviews with Mandela’s daughter, Zindzi, about the constant police harassment at their home and the banishment of their mother, Winnie, from Soweto during Apartheid. The tributes and expressions of solidarity displayed at the home were impressive. Many of the world’s most prestigious universities awarded honorary degrees to Mandela during his imprisonment and celebrities like Sugar Ray Leonard gifted his World Boxing Championship belt to the human rights leader.

Pieterson’s name is less well known to the world, but his visage is perhaps the defining face of Apartheid. In 1976, Hector was a young boy—just 13—when South African troops opened fire on a group of schoolboys who were protesting the imposition of the Afrikaaner language in schools and inferior education for township children. Hector was fatally shot. News photographer Sam Nzima snapped this picture of Mbuyisa Makhubo, a young man who picked up the dying Hector (and Hector’s agonized sister, Antoinette, running beside him) in what became an iconic image for the world. Like the famous anti-war photo at Kent State (the woman asking “why” as she crouches over the lifeless body of a fatally shot protestor), the photo of Hector Pieterson is my mental snapshot of Apartheid.

The Pieterson museum is pretty sizeable with three floors of excellent exhibits that detail the chronology of the protest movement, the origins of the African National Congress and the individuals, like Mandela, associated with it. It was a very, very moving experience and both Fawn and I needed a moment to collect ourselves before returning to the hotel.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Day 5 Quelimane-Maputo Cash Only!

Day 5 began with a bit of disappointment. It was our first free day after a week of training community-based journalists in Quelimane. Our Mozambican friends had offered to take us to the beach; however, we awoke to steady rain, which was definitely not beach weather. We decided to check out of our hotel, leave our bags at the hotel, roam around Quelimane, have lunch and leisurely make our way to the airport. Imagine our surprise when we handed our University credit card to the hotel desk clerk and were told, “No cards only cash.” Our bill for two rooms and meals for the week was a little over $800. We had maybe $100 each. We were told to draw out cash from the ATMs around town, which we already knew were pretty much hit or miss.
Problem number one—at any given time, many of Quelimane’s ATMs have very little cash or no cash at all. Problem number two—it was Saturday and all banks were closed. Problem number three—it was 9am Mozambique time when our drama began to unfold, meaning it was 1am on Saturday morning in the U.S.
Two banks, four machines and half a dozen frantic e mails later, we had hit the daily cash withdrawal limits on all available plastic, exhausted all options, and were still the equivalent of $360 U.S. dollars short on our bill!
We went back to the hotel, explained our dilemma and the hotel owner was very gracious. “Wire me the money when the banks open on Monday,” he told us. “How do you know you can trust us?” I asked. “Well, I don’t have any other choice, do I?” he responded. “And besides, you look honest.”
So we skulked away to the airport, got on a plane and arrived in Maputo, the capitol of Mozambique, just after dark. On the plane, we had chatted up some Portuguese business folks, who offered to drive us to our hotel. We shared the shuttle with Theresa, a chemical engineer who works for a large construction company operating in Mozambique. She had received her degree at the University of Mozambique and was one of the few female engineers in the country. Surprise number two was being told by the hotel in Maputo that they had no reservations for us. Luckily, we had a confirmation number, so were able to get a room. Maputo is a large, modern city and the hotels here DO take credit, so all was well. The city is gearing up to host the Pan-African Games next year. The Chinese have just built a stadium here and dozens of American construction workers from Hawaii are building its locker rooms. I hope that some of this work is going to Mozambicans.
At noon, we met Fernando Lima and his wife, Guta. Fernando publishes MediaFax, an independent newspaper with a staff of about sixty.
(Unless you speak Portuguese, you’ll want to click the “translate” button on the right!)
We talked about media consolidations and the general economic climate that has seen more than 45,000 journalists in the U.S. alone lose their jobs. Fernando told me that things are tough in Mozambique as well. Journalists receive low pay, work long hours, and frequently have their integrity tested. Businesses are not above offering money and favors to reporters to write favorable stories about them.
In addition to wearing my University of Wisconsin-Madison hat, I was also there as a member of the UNTIY: Journalists of Color board of directors. UNITY, through its four members—the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Asian American Journalists Association, and the Native American Journalists Association—represents about 10,000 journalists of color. Our international committee has connected with journalists throughout the world and responded to natural disasters, such as the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, and man-made disasters—journalists harassed, imprisoned, or even killed over freedom of speech issues.
Fernando sees a definite benefit to creating a world-wide “solidarity,” as he put it, among journalists. He’d like to see two approaches: a formal relationship coordinated perhaps through academic institutions and professional media associations and an informal network, the creation of one-on-one relationships similar to the one he and I began in Maputo over lunch.
It’s back to Johannesburg tonight for meetings with more community-based journalists tomorrow.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Day 4 Successful Training, Lost Luggage Found, and Attack of the Killer Mangoes

Our final day in Quelimane began with a review of the videography and editing techniques we had shared with our Mozambican journalist friends. And we have become friends. It’s humbling to see how dedicated these community-based journalists are and how many stories they want to tell. Boffite told us the first story he wants to tell is that his village has been without its only well for more than a year. Children who go to school have no water to drink and water must be dug or carried from some distance.

The progress the journalists have made is astounding. They have one camera that is used by everyone connected to the Oram-sponsored project. The camera is kept in Quelimane and if news happens in one of the CBJ villages—some as far as six hours away—someone must travel to Quelimane, take it back to the village, shoot the story, and bring it back to Quelimane for editing. Then they must dial-up an internet connection and spend hours uploading their projects to youtube.

Fawn’s lost luggage finally made it on a 11pm flight (that arrived after midnight) from Johannesburg-Maputo-Tete Matunda-Maputo-Quelimane. Fawn says her zebra-printed bag saw more of Africa than she did. I’d been lending her clothes and toiletries, but luckily she had packed her malaria pills in her carry-on bags. Several days earlier, we’d met a German researcher who had also lost a bag, which contained her malaria pills, so I shared some of my pills with her. I figure I’ll have enough to get me home and I can get more. Malaria is a serious problem here and preventive care during the wet, mosquito season is not to be taken lightly.

Health care is one of the biggest challenges facing Mozambique. One of our journalists had a severe toothache this morning. Fawn, who was a pre-dental student at one time, looked at it and realized his tooth was seriously infected. She had oragel cue tips with a topical anesthetic back at the hotel, so she and Alfredo, an Oram employee, drove back to the hotel to pick it up. I remembered that my dentist had given me penicillin and pain medication in case something should happen to me in Africa, so, in the hopes that something in my first aid kit might help, I ran as fast as I could, hoping to catch them before they left. I wasn’t paying attention and ran smack into a very unripe and very hard mango dangling from a low-hanging branch. It caught me square in the left eye, sent stars shooting through my head, and dropped me like a sack of potatoes (make that coconuts). I staggered back into our Oram office and pretty much passed out. I pulled it together pretty quickly and Fawn had managed to bring my first aid kit, which now Boffite and I both needed. I’ll probably come back with a black eye, but the good news is that Boffite’s toothache has been treated and he’s feeling no pain.

Our closing session with the Oram folks and their journalists was very moving. The people here are doing great work with next to nothing. None of the journalists has been educated in this field. Their communities selected the most promising young storytellers and sent them to Quelimane, hoping they could learn the skills to explain their problems and celebrate their successes. It’s really humbling. They have so much passion and potential. They want to tell their stories and establish a rural Mozambican voice in the world. They just need the technology to get it done. Fawn and I are brainstorming to figure out how to help them in a way that truly helps. The international aid here, the way the Mozambicans explain, comes to them in bloated bureaucracies that keep the international community here well supported, often through imposing dictates that breed resentment and frustration. The key is to provide direct help to grassroots organizations like Oram, step back, and let the folks here find their own uniquely Mozambican path to self-determination.

Tonight, the Mozambican friends we met are cooking dinner for us. Don’t know what that might be, but I know we’re sure to enjoy it.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Day 3 Quelimane, Mozambique

Day 3 Quelimane, Mozambique

Today was an intense day of training at ORAM, a grassroots Mozambique rural development organization. Eleven representatives from four villages and ORAM staff practiced videography and editing with help from Fawn and me. Terra Institute, a land tenure nonprofit group based in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin, arranged the session, which was sponsored by CALS International Programs. Lourenco Duvane and Catherine Ribeiro, the Director and Executive Secretary respectively, had an air conditioned room set up to provide relief from the 90+ degree heat. All was going well until we experienced a power surge. ORAM’s computer whiz, Osvaldo, had to uninstall and reload some programs, but got us back up to speed within an hour. That gave us a chance to snack on the best mango and pineapple I’ve ever tasted. The Mozambican journalists have been using Sony’s Vegas Movie Studio to do their editing. We introduced them to another Sony program, Acid Movie Studio, an easy-to-learn music composition program that uses loops. Within five minutes the editors were composing music and feeling pretty confident about the software. As it turns out, Vegas Video is pretty popular in Mozambique. At dinner, we inquired about some Afro-Reggae music we heard playing off a laptop at the next table. That conversation led to an invitation to join a pretty eclectic group of local musicians, health workers, and activists. Don Karigambe is a Djembe player whose group was featured in a music video edited on Vegas Video. He’d worked with loops before, but hadn’t heard of Acid. One thing led to another and I brought out my laptop and showed him how it works. He, in turn, gave me some .mp3s of songs he had recorded. Here's a sample:

His friends included Xavier, who works for an HIV-AIDS education project, his friend Nyllon, and Luis, a Portuguese vehicle inspector. Fawn and I had wonderful conversations about world music, politics and dirty tricks, the media, the dissemination of American pop culture (both good and bad), educational systems, and Aid to Africa. Conversations like the ones we had tonight are the best part of travel.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Day 2 Johannesburg-Maputo-Quelimane

Day 2 Johannesburg-Maputo-Quelimane

The day began with Fawn greeting the sunrise with her camera, snapping photos of flora and fauna (mostly bugs and birds) around the Birchwood Hotel, a lovely sprawling complex in Boksburg, just outside Johannesburg, South Africa. “Malls and walls,” was how one fellow traveler described J-Burg, as it’s known by the locals. Lots of homes, businesses, and nearly every hotel is gated and walled— some, like our own, had razor wire along the perimeter, a reminder of J-Burg’s high crime rate.

We took a hotel shuttle to the airport and coasted through immigration and customs and had time for a quick breakfast of yogurt and coffee. The flight to Maputo was short (50 minutes) and uneventful. We sat next to a financial advisor who had been educated at the American-run International School in Kenya and then a school in London. She gave us some advice about the food in Quelimane and recommend the Galina Zambeziana, grilled chicken Zambezi-style, a highly regarded regional dish.

When we landed we were met by Catherine Chapema, ORAM’s executive secretary. She helped us get settled in the Hotel Flamingo, our home for the next five days. Mozambique, by the way, has no flamingos and origins of the Hotel’s name are unknown. After settling in, we hit the hotel’s restaurant and ordered the recommended Galina Zambeziana and it was fabulous.

We had chosen to eat outdoors, but were chased inside by a ferocious thunderstorm. Lightning bolts split the sky accompanied by torrential rains. The storm knocked out power briefly, but the hotel staff cheerfully lit candles and it was business as usual. One casualty of the storm was the Flamingo’s internet service. So we’re not sure when we’ll be able to post this. Tomorrow we start the training.

Word of advice to anyone visiting Mozambique. ..ome banks are open only until noon and others until just 3pm. We’re having a difficult time finding ATMs to withdraw cash and receipt collecting takes creativity and patience. Very few folks speak English and we, unfortunately, do not speak Portuguese (the national language) or Bantu. We have found a few folks with a limited knowledge of English, but with pantomime and cheerfulness, we usually can get answers to the questions we’ve had.