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.