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.

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