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.