Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Drums of Mozambique

Here are two blogs you should check out:

ganzmozambique – This is the story of our friends Pamela and Riley Ganz. They were in our Portuguese class with us, and are still here training and learning Portuguese. Pamela is a PA (which means she’s a doctor in Moz) and Riley is a computer guy with a lot of experience in network administration and data management (he was at Microsoft for 7 years). They’ll be headed off to either Ilé or Gile at the beginning of next month. We’ve been nearly inseparable for the last month and a half, and it will be sad to see them go.

The Adventures of TAS (the African Suz) – This blog reports the happenings in the life of Suzie Dyer, our friend from back home in McMinnville. She’s a Peace Corps volunteer in Mali (which is about as close to Mozambique as Nashville is to Alaska) teaching entrepreneurship classes, and, it sounds like, a host of other things. Suzie is going to be living in the sticks of Mali in a place that, get this, might even have running water! You go girl!

Okay, back to us. Three weekends ago all of our American friends had abandoned us again for a trip to Malawi to deal with their visas. Lara and I had the whole house to ourselves, which, as we realized, is really freaky. It was just after we’d had dinner that we sort of looked up at each other and reflected upon how we were in southern Africa where the paved road meets the dirt path with no police and no ambulance to call and the only thing standing between us and the wilds of the Dark Continent were locked doors and a guard with a walkie-talkie. We made it through fine.

The next morning I had an appointment to go buy drums with Paulo. Dr. Paulo Pires is the Program Coordinator for FGH in Quelimane, and I wish every one of you could meet him. He’s a Portuguese expatriate who speaks excellent English, dances well, and smiles constantly. Agnes (pronounced an-yes), his wife, is French and speaks absolutely no English whatsoever. They call her a gypsy, but I can’t confirm whether she is or not. The only way we can communicate is through our heavily America-accented and her heavily French-accented Portuguese, so one of our big goals in our Portuguese study is being able to consistently speak with her.

We were headed to one of the outlying communities to pick up the drums. We took Paulo’s car, but he didn’t know the way, so one of his security guards came with us. He had been to this village and knew many of the people there. I had been down this road before. At the very edge of the pavement there is a giant open-air market that you could buy everything you found in the stores for half the price. But today we weren’t stopping at the pavement.


Roads outside of the city proper are always one lane wide, and usually not paved. The quality of the road also depends on where the road is located. This road was essentially a causeway through what will become a swamp during the rainy season. The picture here is of one of the best parts of the road. Two-foot ruts are common, as well as passages that are too narrow for a car due to new growth. Then, inexplicably, there is a perfectly sturdy steel bridge that someone put in probably fifty years ago. The scariest part of this road is a bridge the locals built over a creek. It consists of a pile of dirt about four feet high on one side of the creek, a similar pile on the other side, and four or five loose coconut tree logs for the car to drive over. It looks like a beaver dam, and our car passed it with maybe 6 inches of clearance on each side.

We traveled for about a half-hour on this road in Paulo’s Mitsubishi Colt (an SUV/pick-up style car with an extended cab), jolting and jostling all the way, until we came to a small village. The road we were on continued forward, but we turned right between two mud huts. This turn slowed us down considerably, and as we did boys from the village ran up and jumped in the bed of Paulo’s truck. As more and more kids hopped in, the rest of them lost their inhibitions and we were soon as packed with children as we could have been.

As if I hadn’t had enough reason to feel like I was outside of America yet, I felt really American for thinking, “What if one of these kids falls off and breaks their leg and we’re held liable?” This concept, which is very familiar to Americans, wouldn’t even begin to enter the collective mind of Mozambique. It’s one freedom that Americans don’t have: the freedom to help someone out without worrying what the consequences will be.

One more turn off the main road put us in the narrowest passage I’ve ever attempted on four wheels. Imagine the stakes: your mudding in your friend's Jeep way out in Warren County, your car is full of kids, and there’s not a winch for a county radius. We made it through safely, though Paulo said he’d never try this again in his car.

The passage opened up into our destination village. I’d never been in a place like this, and it was exactly as I had imagined. The mud huts were spaced far apart, maybe fifty feet between, and a path wide enough for our car wound it’s way back into the forest. As we drove back, mothers tended to dinner at small fires under tree trunks that shot up like fireworks to the sky. The children of the village all came running out as if they’d heard the ice cream truck, and they waved and squealed with delight to see their friends from the next village over riding in the back of a big white truck. The ubiquitous coconut tree canopy both connected the far corners of the community and set it apart from the surrounding country so as to impart an overriding oneness to the abstract layout of the homes. Warm, protected, comfortable, connected: this place was everything a community should be.

We stopped just before a cul-de-sac at the north border of the village and got out. There were two tree branches had been driven into the ground about four feet apart with another lashed between them at waist height to form what looked like a small old-style football goal (the “H” type). Three drums of increasing size were leaned against the cross bar at a slight angle. A man about my age stood over the drums with a torch made from a bundle of dried fronds. He held the flame to the head, then would take it away and hit the drum a few times, then repeat, for maybe five minutes. It took me a minute to finally realize that he was tuning them.

They’d set up a table and chairs behind the drums, and a fellow that Paulo knew came to greet us and beckoned us to sit. As we walked to the table the drums suddenly started.

Another fellow had taken the place of the tuner. He straddled the middle drum from behind, with his legs between the two outside drums and the middle. This stance put his hands at the perfect angle to strike the drums. His right hand kept a steady beat on the deepest drum, which alternated between a syncopated and dancy boom boom-chik, boom boom-chik and a straight boom boom boom boom that landed unrelentingly on the beat and made you want to get out of your seat and jump up and down like a madman. I can’t describe the sound of this drum in any written language that I know; the sound didn’t enter your body through your head. The first organ in your body that this drum talked to was your heart, followed immediately by your liver. Eventually your nervous system recovered from the onslaught enough that you were able to process the sound in your conscious mind. The sound can only be described as a boom, the most round, rich, and perfect boom you’ve ever heard in your life. It was about an octave lower than a monastery chanting om, more like a didgeridoo but without the nasal reediness. No one was in charge of the dance except this drum, and when it spoke everyone listened.

The two other drums were higher, and fluttered about between the barrage of the first drum like two chickens daring each other to dart between the legs of a charging elephant. The rhythm teetered constantly on the brink of disaster (at least to my Western ears) but never once fell over the edge. Instead, it invited you to the edge and grabbed you by the collar to throw you over as soon as you came near.

On top of all that, there were auxiliary percussionists. Two guys, one of whom was wearing a black dress shirt straight out of The Matrix with hair in cornrows and wrap-around sunglasses to match, had maracas made of tall-boy beer cans and sticks for handles: shukkashukkashukkashukka. Finally, there was a guy sitting on a stool to the left of the drummer with two sticks a little larger than claves. He was beating the sides of the smallest drum in a pattern the sounded like a dozen boys throwing pebbles at a tin lean-to. I couldn’t begin to reproduce it, and I don’t think I can even remember it. I’ve played experimental music with jazz orchestras alternating between 5/8 and 7/4, but I couldn’t follow this guy. Not only was the rhythm schizophrenic, it was LOUD and it was FAST. I can’t imagine how this guy kept it up, because each dance lasted about ten minutes and immediately went into another one. He didn’t stop until after the third or fourth dance when another guy took over for him.

As they started, folks from the village came to dance, mostly children. A circle formed around the drums. The dancers bent at the knees and waist and stomped their feet to the rhythm, methodically snaking their way around. They stuck their backsides out and moved them up and down. They were so close to each other that one person’s head hovered over the next’s sacrum. It seemed inconceivable that no one stepped on another’s toes, but it never happened.

Children were doing this dance. Babies were doing this dance. Toddlers with their baby brothers on their backs were doing this dance. The youngest child could not have been two years old. Obviously this dance is how they teach the children to walk, because everyone knew it.

The circle being formed, the singing began. There were about forty people dancing, mostly children. One of the drummers would call out a line in Chuabo (the local language) and everyone in the line would sing back. The chorus was mostly children, and it was beautiful. Clear harmonies rung out over the drums. I don’t know the first word of Chuabo, but celebration reverberated from each tongue in the line, and the message was clear.

While every young girl in the village was in the line, every young boy in the village had gathered around the table to stare at us. The funniest little guys you’re ever seen, probably between the five and eight years old, all bunched up together. They all wore tattered clothes and were covered in dirt (just like I was when I was four). They all kept their heads pointed down (as if they weren’t staring at me) but their eyes were open and every pupil was aimed my way. Of course I tried to interact, but it was like trying to touch two magnets together: they kept a radius of about five feet the whole time.

The group played for half an hour or so, and then Paulo went off to purchase the drums that we’d come for. I was left all alone with my broken Portuguese in an African village miles from the city that didn’t yet feel like home. I sat and watched from inside the gaggle of boys feeling very foreign. Then one of the leaders of the group sat down beside me and we started talking. From what I could gather, he was telling me about how he wanted to buy matching capulanas for the whole group but they couldn’t afford them.

So here’s a good time to introduce what will become a recurring theme for us: if you’re white, about once a week you’ll run into someone who will unabashedly ask you for a large sum of money. It’s really disconcerting, because they’re not even shy about it. The format is usually the same: they start by talking about how they need something, but they can’t afford it. Then they usually try to get you to ask how much it costs, or just wait there for you to say something about it. Then, if you don’t say anything, they ask you for it straight out. This situation is awkward enough when you speak the same language, but imagine how I felt after I finally understood after asking him to repeat the same sentences two and three times. Once I got what he was trying to say, I sat quietly and watched the drums trying to ignore the new tension at the table.

Then, about a thousand years later, Paulo came back with four guys carrying drums. They put drums in the bed of the truck and Paulo came over to where I was sitting.

“Amazing, isn’t it?” he said in one of the greatest accents ever to speak English.

“Oh yeah, these guys are incredible!” I told him. He sat down between me and the capulana guy, who promptly started in on Paulo. Paulo just nodded and smoked, and he didn’t respond. Maybe that's the approach I need to take.

After a few more minutes of dancing, a lady came over and talked to Paulo. Paulo nodded and stood up.

“I’m going to get some… salad,” he said to me. “You can come if you want.”

I was totally intrigued. There wasn’t a restaurant in 15 miles, but we were going to have lunch? I wasn’t about to sit there by myself again, and this “salad” mystery had really captured my curiosity. I followed Paulo, who was following the lady down a footpath away from the drum circle. At first it seemed a little weird for the entire audience (Paulo and I) to just get up and leave, but everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves and continued to play even after we left.

We walked past a few houses before I realized that one of the boys was following us. He was probably about seven, and could have been the child of this woman but I couldn’t get him to speak at all. He followed us past a graveyard and some of the best scenery I’ve encountered yet in Mozambique. The path led past what I could only describe as miniature savannah, flat grasslands that spread for two hundred yards until the next bit of forest.

We came to the end of the footpath and this lady’s mud hut. There was another woman there, and a young girl nursing a child. I stood there for a moment as Paulo spoke to the women (I didn’t understand much) and took in my surroundings. Paulo broke away from the women when another man walked up carrying a full burlap sack big enough for fifty pounds of coffee.

Paulo motioned to the girl. “That baby is fifteen days old,” he told me. He asked the girl if that was her baby, and she nodded. He asked her how old she was, and she told him, “deziseiz.” Sixteen.

Next, we continued down the path that I thought had ended to a garden where another young woman was sitting. Here Paulo began pointing to heads of lettuce in the ground, and I finally understood what he meant by “salad.”

“It’s much cheaper here than in the market,” he said. “Do you want some?” I told him to negotiate two heads for me, and he did. They wrapped them in sacks, and we headed back.

We stopped at the house to exchange pleasantries before heading back to the car. By then the coffee sack was open and a fifth of its contents were flopping around on the ground. Live fish, each about ten inches long, of a type I’d never seen before. They had flat heads like catfish, but scaly bodies that mutated into a tail that you would associate with a small mouth bass. They reminded me of sour cream packets. I found out they were called “aguadoce,” or Sweetwater. They asked if I wanted to buy some, and I respectfully declined for fear that whatever substance had altered their DNA might somehow infect mine. The man shrugged his shoulders and began taking each fish in his hands, snapping its neck, and tossing them into a boiler pot.

We headed back, the lady in front, Paulo, me, and our little tag along behind. I asked the little one if he wanted a ride (we’d passed a man with a child on his shoulders on the way in), he nodded, and I picked him up and sat him on my right shoulder. We made it back to the cul-de-sac, said our goodbyes and thank you’s, and headed to the truck.

As soon as they sensed we were leaving, about 20 kids surrounded the truck, expecting a ride back from whence they’d come. Paulo was happy to oblige but had his guard instruct the kids to be careful of the drums in the back. The four together were large enough to fill the bed, and standing up would require being ankle deep among them.

And that was my first taste of real Africa. No pavement, no buildings, no Internet, no electricity. Nothing but raw, beautiful humanity and genuine community. I hope I get to see it again soon.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Kevin hanging with the Mozambican kids..


















These are Aguinaldo's kids and nephews with me. They're all incredible.

I have really big legs.
















Pics from village...


Boys from the village where we saw the drumming. They were excited to have their picture taken! The other picture is sunset over the village we visited.

Yet more video...


More Video

Trying to upload video to Mozamblog has proven to be a little tricky. In the future we'll upload videos to YouTube and link to them from here. My user name is kevincreedharvey, and here are three videos at YouTube you can go see now.

Also check out Battle at Kruger Park on YouTube, if you haven't already. South Africa has one of the great wildlife reserves on the planet, and they're right next door to us.

More video of this.....

Drumming and Dancing


More explanation about this video later. The internet is slow and it's actually amazing we got this up, even without an essay!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Drums...


So, last weekend we got to visit a small village near Quelimane. We drove (actually bounced) on dirt tracks in the trucks for about 30 mintues to get there. There were several sketchy-looking, homemade, small and highly arched bridges over gullies we crossed. They looked like someone made them of spare parts. One was just two sheets of some kind metal with nothing in between that you had to aim the truck wheels for. We finally pulled off the track and parked the trucks. We were instantly surrunded by curious children, some of whom had been running behind the trucks. The followed us all the way to their village. As we walked, I felt a little hand on my arm. When I looked down, there was a kid walking next to me and he said somberly, "Mosquito." They continued to swarm until full night fell.


We were there for a drum performance. It was unbelievable. The entire village appeared. Men played drums they made from coconut tree trunks and the whole village sang a call and response to the beat. Even the smallest of the kids could do this dance in a circle around the drums. Some even did it with baby brothers and sisters tied to their backs. I've attempted to put a short video of it up here. Some of our group jumped into the dance circle and you can see them in the video. The dancing went on until after dark when everything was lit solely by the half moon that was out. There were no other lights. The moonlight was relatively bright and cast moonshadows as it lit the way back to our trucks when we said good-bye.


Then this morning, the head village guy showed up at our house for a visit. Through a very circuitous route of gossip, he had found out who we are and where we lived (nothing is a secret in small African towns). He wanted to know if we wanted to buy some drums. Kevin and Troy decided to order some. They will be ready in a few weeks and they are going to take drumming lessons.


Saturday, September 15, 2007

Electrifying....

9/14/07: A clinic

Pamela and I visited one of the HIV day clinics today. It’s a smallish building with small rooms lining an open area with benches where patients wait. Outside lining the wall is a covered area with more benches where overflow patients can wait. We observed the counseling room first. A tecnico medicino gathered about 8 patients in a tiny room with their files and green cards that describe their HIV treatment course. About half looked healthy and half were gaunt with temporal wasting. One man was so thin, he had only sticks for arms and legs. His eyes looked huge in his skull. A nurse had to help him out of the room when he left. The tecnico medicino sat behind a desk (inexplicably adorned with a small stuffed Bambi) and told us about what he does, while the patients looked on stoically. We weren’t introduced to them and we felt a little awkward about that. He explained that these were patients recently diagnosed with HIV at the local hospital or other center and were sent to enroll in treatment. He told the patients that they would need to have a CD4 count checked every 6 months and they would need to take medicine twice a day for the rest of their lives. He told them how to protect their families and to take care of themselves by eating lots of fruit and vegetables, not working to exhaustion, and not becoming stressed. His lecture had the cadence of a sermon or the telling of a fable. He started slowly and then became more and expressive with gestures, his voice got louder and he sounded very stern at some points, especially when emphasizing that the medicine was extremely expensive. He told the patients that they were getting it for free, that many people were waiting for medicine, and that they wouldn’t continue treatment if they weren’t serious about it. The patients watched intently. Then he started to wrap it up with more smiles and phrases like "Nao e?" (Isn’t it so?), that invited their agreement and participation. It had the feel of a performance of some kind. It was interesting to watch, though very different from the counseling style recommended in the States. He then addressed patients individually, hearing a bit of their history and then filling out the needed lab requisitions, sending them to the doctors’ rooms across the clinic, or telling them when to return for their next appointment. One woman, who looked to be in her late teens and her second trimester of pregnancy, told us that when she told her husband she had HIV, he abandoned her and their children. She may have gotten it from him. She had moved back in with her mother and they were trying to raise the children and make enough money to live. Another man in the second round of patients to be counseled, had a cough for a year that wouldn’t go away. He was tested for TB repeatedly, always with a negative result (Note: the test he had was likely a sputum smear, which can fail to discover the TB bacilli especially if done improperly. Additionally, because of a host of immune system changes, HIV + patients have a higher rate of "sputum smear negative TB" and "extra-pulmonary TB"or TB that has spread to other sites in the body. ) He was treated for TB anyway and developed "yellow eyes, yellow palms, and strange colored urine" (Possibly liver damage from the TB drugs. This can be exacerbated by alcohol). The cough was still present when he was finally tested for HIV and found to be positive. He was thirty years old and very, very thin.

A digression on the combination of TB and HIV.......

Mozambique is among the top ten nations for people living with HIV/AIDS. The prevalence of HIV varies from province to province. Nationally, it’s about 12% and is as high as 25% (1 in 4 people!) in some places. Mozambique is among the top twenty nations for TB cases and the prevalence is growing. Forty-seven percent of those with TB are HIV+. Each disease complicates the treatment of the other. TB can hasten HIV progression. HIV+ patients are more likely to have extra-pulmonary TB or sputum smear negative TB. TB is the most common opportunistic infection in sub-Saharan Africa and the most frequent cause of death among HIV+ persons. It is a very big problem and many international health organizations are extremely concerned. Many cases of active TB in countries with few resources to treat it sets the stage for increases in TB transmission and the development of drug resistance. There is a large push toward better integration of TB and HIV care. Currently, in some places there are both TB and HIV clinics, but no communication between them. No one walks a TB patient across to the HIV clinic to get tested for HIV. There is also complex pharmacological interplay between anti-retroviral drugs and antibiotics used to treat TB that could use supervision.

Back to the clinic...

We took a break and ate sandwiches out of our pockets in the backyard of the clinic. There is a covered building with a cement floor in the back that is used for monthly support group meetings where patients are given a meal and encouraged to talk to other HIV + patients. Staff put on skits and musical performances around the theme of living with HIV. There are beautiful abstract murals painted on the wall of Africans taking pills with the red ribbon interwoven. Painted on the concrete floor is the phrase, "We hope for treatment for all."

Back inside, we looked at the lab. It is a small room with capability to do basic chemistry, CBC, and CD4 counts. The equipment was all new and in good shape. We met the two techs working on the day’s batch of labs. The small clinics in Quelimane lucky enough to have this stuff are in charge of doing lab work for the entire district. Hundreds of samples get trucked in, they run them, and have to keep the paperwork straight when the results are sent back. This is difficult for the districts as they have to wait for important information and they can’t just order a repeat lab if needed. The lab guys told us they were trained in Maputo, the capitol city, which was the only place in the country to get such an education. Lab support is in short supply in Mozambique and is one of the major hurdles to building good care networks. FGH is searching for laboratory techs for all the district sites and is finding it pretty difficult.

Today we didn’t see many children. We went to the clinic yesterday and waited on the side bench outside while some other physicians went to see about introducing us. There was a woman next to us with a child on her lap of maybe four or five years of age. He was covered head to toe with small crusty lesions (3-4mm, dark brown to black, scaling, flat macula, in the same stage of development, covering the entire surface of the body including corners of his mouth for all you medical people.) I wasn’t sure if it was a childhood disease like chicken pox or if he was HIV+ and had some opportunistic infection. At any rate, he was laying listlessly in his mother’s lap until we sat down nearby and then he began to whimper. We slowly slid off our white coats, careful not to look him in the eye. I don’t know if it was that or his mother’s jostling, but he quieted down again.

9/12/07: A Funeral

I saw a pick-up truck go by today with a rough wooden coffin in the back. People were sitting all around the edges of the truck, maybe 20 in all. They were all singing and clapping their hands to a beat with mournful faces. One man was standing in the back holding a wooden cross upright on the top of the cab. Many cars were following. People in the streets stopped what they were doing and watched. In the "noticias," we see announcements of the anniversary ceremonies (described in an earlier entry) of people’s deaths. Most of these notices have pictures of the deceased attached and the people in these photos look very young. The announcements describe the sadness of the family at the loss of their loved one and the date and time of the ceremony. Friends and family show up on the appointed day and time. We passed a house while walking one day where one of these ceremonies was taking place. People were drumming and singing in the yard. It was hypnotic. Aguinaldo says that sometimes santaria is practiced at these ceremonies. Or what sounds like a mix of santaria, ancestor worship, and Christianity. The city of Quelimane is surrounding by thousands of thatch settlements. Sometimes in the evenings, we sit on the porch and watch night fall with a stunning swiftness and completeness at about 6:00pm. We can hear drums start up in the distance in the midst of those homes and we wonder what’s happening. They can go on until 1 or 2 in the morning.

9/15/07 Domestic Life....

We have moved in with Dr. Troy Moon, new faculty in Vanderbilt’s Pediatric Infectious Diseases Department. The house is poured concrete and painted white. It sits on a dirt lane off a road in Quelimane. We don’t appear to have an address. The house has a back yard with palm trees surrounded by a wall. There is a ton of interesting fauna. At night, huge bats swoop down from the palms. A friend assures me that they are fruit bats and are not interested in people. There are also large rats in the back. I wish the bats ate rats. We were discussing some system of tying fruit to the rats and seeing if the bats would carry them off. Sometimes at night the neighbor kitty jumps over our wall and chases them. We cheer for her.

Troy has spent the last few years at Tulane in New Orleans. He survived the flood (though his house had some serious problems) AND a tornado that took his roof while he was under it. At some point in the midst of all that, an itinerant rooster made his home in Troy’s backyard and they got to be friends. So now we’re considering getting some pet chickens. We don’t know if the bats and rats would be a problem though. We might teach them to defend themselves against the rats. We have a bathtub sitting in the backyard (randomly). I think it would be a good place to raise chicks if we cover it with chicken wire or something.

There are many bugs around, luckily most have not found their way inside. We leave the screened windows and doors open because the majority of the house is only cooled by fans. It’s not so hot now. I don’t know what December will be like. It’s very different to have the windows always open. You feel a lot more connected to the neighborhood. We hear people passing in the lane and the drums in the distance. You hear roosters crow in the morning. You catch whiffs of smoke from the ubiquitous trash fires. I’m not yet used to it; I still leap up and check down the streets to see what’s burning. I don’t think concrete will burn easily, but all the windows and doors are covered by iron bars which is disconcerting. Also disconcerting is fire among the miles and miles of thatch housing in the dry season. When rainy season arrives, our mosquito nets will have to go up. Many geckos have found their way inside. There are always a few hanging out on the walls. These guys are my favorite and I welcome them. They eat bugs. We’re on the same team. They range in size from really big to "Baby Geck," whom we found in the pantry one night and is maybe an inch long.

Casa de Lua is working out well. I get up in the morning, hop in the shower, which may or may not have water, which may or may not be hot. Every day is full of surprises. We struggle a little with the pump and the heater. Our bath window looks down into the neighbors’ yard. There is often a gray-haired man lying naked on their porch. I think he’s probably demented. He’s only the second gray-haired person I have seen here in Quelimane. I guess that’s not so surprising when you remember that the life expectancy here is only mid-40's. I come downstairs and we make coffee and sometimes toast in a pan on the stove. I’m surprised how much I miss pre-sliced bread, and bread that is wrapped up in plastic before flies get on it. In the mornings, our group has a little breakfast and practices Portuguese for a couple of hours in the backyard before splitting up to attend to various things. The mornings are really beautiful, not too hot yet and very sunny. I have learned a lot about cooking in Mozambique, one of the most important facts is that stoves often are not grounded electrically. My innocent looking toast shocked the fire out of me one morning and nearly curled my hair. For awhile I was only approaching toast or pan handles with hot mitts on both hands. It was really waking me up in the mornings; I didn’t need coffee. Then, we got an empregada who taught me the importance of wearing shoes around non-grounded stoves. I should have known this from high school, but whatever. If anybody’s heart ever stops I’ll know what to do. (Take off their shoes and make toast.) Our empregada’s name is Esmeralda and she’s very nice and corrects our Portuguese. The first day, she took us with her to the market, which is open air with thatch stalls on a muddy plain. There are wooden planks over the ditches and holes and you have to be careful crossing while you are carrying your bananas or whatever. I try to arrrange with her in the mornings what we need her to cook and clean for the day. We decide on a menu, she tells me what is needed, and I send Paulo (who lives in a hut-thing in the back) to the market. We do our best to communicate, but it’s hit or miss what we have for dinner or when we eat it. We ask for it about five, but it’s variable when it comes. I only just realized she doesn’t have a watch and is going by the sun. I think there are some cultural differences as well. Troy bought a couple of nice pans in Malawi when they went for Visas. We only had one tiny aluminum pan before and it’s really hard to make a meal for 7 people in it. The pans he got were very shiny and one had a fluted bottom. Esmeralda kept asking me if they were for cooking. I think she thought they were too nice for that and must be only for serving food. I reassured her that, yes, these were for cooking. Yes, "para coisinhar." Yes, on the stove. I’m not sure I convinced her because when we came home that afternoon, our old tiny pot was bubbling away and she pulled Kevin aside and asked him as well if the new pots were actually for cooking. We mostly eat rice and beans or rice and vegetables and salad. Two of our group are vegetarian, which I think is also confusing to our empregada. Here in Mozambique, they eat a coarse corn flour boiled to make a paste thing that they shape into balls. It’s called "xima" (shee-ma) and you use your hands to dip it into stews and sauces and eat it. Very good if you don’t have silverware. Uncooked, it looks like grits. I boiled some up one morning and left it runny instead of pasty, and added butter, salt, garlic, hot pepper, and cheese. Esmeralda was watching me with concern. I explained I was making something we eat in the states, similar to xima (I was NOT just making a runny mess and squeaking when I got shocked, thank you very much) called grits. She repeated, "hreets? gwits?" I said "quere provar?" (Want to try?). She said she liked them. But really, who doesn’t? They’re a grainy international passport.

Electrifying....

9/14/07: A clinic


Pamela and I visited one of the HIV day clinics today. It’s a smallish building with small rooms lining an open area with benches where patients wait. Outside lining the wall is a covered area with more benches where overflow patients can wait. We observed the counseling room first. A tecnico medicino gathered about 8 patients in a tiny room with their files and green cards that describe their HIV treatment course. About half looked healthy and half were gaunt with temporal wasting. One man was so thin, he had only sticks for arms and legs. His eyes looked huge in his skull. A nurse had to help him out of the room when he left. The tecnico medicino sat behind a desk (inexplicably adorned with a small stuffed Bambi) and told us about what he does, while the patients looked on stoically. We weren’t introduced to them and we felt a little awkward about that. He explained that these were patients recently diagnosed with HIV at the local hospital or other center and were sent to enroll in treatment. He told the patients that they would need to have a CD4 count checked every 6 months and they would need to take medicine twice a day for the rest of their lives. He told them how to protect their families and to take care of themselves by eating lots of fruit and vegetables, not working to exhaustion, and not becoming stressed. His lecture had the cadence of a sermon or the telling of a fable. He started slowly and then became more and expressive with gestures, his voice got louder and he sounded very stern at some points, especially when emphasizing that the medicine was extremely expensive. He told the patients that they were getting it for free, that many people were waiting for medicine, and that they wouldn’t continue treatment if they weren’t serious about it. The patients watched intently. Then he started to wrap it up with more smiles and phrases like "Nao e?" (Isn’t it so?), that invited their agreement and participation. It had the feel of a performance of some kind. It was interesting to watch, though very different from the counseling style recommended in the States. He then addressed patients individually, hearing a bit of their history and then filling out the needed lab requisitions, sending them to the doctors’ rooms across the clinic, or telling them when to return for their next appointment. One woman, who looked to be in her late teens and her second trimester of pregnancy, told us that when she told her husband she had HIV, he abandoned her and their children. She may have gotten it from him. She had moved back in with her mother and they were trying to raise the children and make enough money to live. Another man in the second round of patients to be counseled, had a cough for a year that wouldn’t go away. He was tested for TB repeatedly, always with a negative result (Note: the test he had was likely a sputum smear, which can fail to discover the TB bacilli especially if done improperly. Additionally, because of a host of immune system changes, HIV + patients have a higher rate of "sputum smear negative TB" and "extra-pulmonary TB"or TB that has spread to other sites in the body. ) He was treated for TB anyway and developed "yellow eyes, yellow palms, and strange colored urine" (Possibly liver damage from the TB drugs. This can be exacerbated by alcohol). The cough was still present when he was finally tested for HIV and found to be positive. He was thirty years old and very, very thin.

A digression on the combination of TB and HIV.......
Mozambique is among the top ten nations for people living with HIV/AIDS. The prevalence of HIV varies from province to province. Nationally, it’s about 12% and is as high as 25% (1 in 4 people!) in some places. Mozambique is among the top twenty nations for TB cases and the prevalence is growing. Forty-seven percent of those with TB are HIV+. Each disease complicates the treatment of the other. TB can hasten HIV progression. HIV+ patients are more likely to have extra-pulmonary TB or sputum smear negative TB. TB is the most common opportunistic infection in sub-Saharan Africa and the most frequent cause of death among HIV+ persons. It is a very big problem and many international health organizations are extremely concerned. Many cases of active TB in countries with few resources to treat it sets the stage for increases in TB transmission and the development of drug resistance. There is a large push toward better integration of TB and HIV care. Currently, in some places there are both TB and HIV clinics, but no communication between them. No one walks a TB patient across to the HIV clinic to get tested for HIV. There is also complex pharmacological interplay between anti-retroviral drugs and antibiotics used to treat TB that could use supervision.
Back to the clinic...
We took a break and ate sandwiches out of our pockets in the backyard of the clinic. There is a covered building with a cement floor in the back that is used for monthly support group meetings where patients are given a meal and encouraged to talk to other HIV + patients. Staff put on skits and musical performances around the theme of living with HIV. There are beautiful abstract murals painted on the wall of Africans taking pills with the red ribbon interwoven. Painted on the concrete floor is the phrase, "We hope for treatment for all."
Back inside, we looked at the lab. It is a small room with capability to do basic chemistry, CBC, and CD4 counts. The equipment was all new and in good shape. We met the two techs working on the day’s batch of labs. The small clinics in Quelimane lucky enough to have this stuff are in charge of doing lab work for the entire district. Hundreds of samples get trucked in, they run them, and have to keep the paperwork straight when the results are sent back. This is difficult for the districts as they have to wait for important information and they can’t just order a repeat lab if needed. The lab guys told us they were trained in Maputo, the capitol city, which was the only place in the country to get such an education. Lab support is in short supply in Mozambique and is one of the major hurdles to building good care networks. FGH is searching for laboratory techs for all the district sites and is finding it pretty difficult.
Today we didn’t see many children. We went to the clinic yesterday and waited on the side bench outside while some other physicians went to see about introducing us. There was a woman next to us with a child on her lap of maybe four or five years of age. He was covered head to toe with small crusty lesions (3-4mm, dark brown to black, scaling, flat macula, in the same stage of development, covering the entire surface of the body including corners of his mouth for all you medical people.) I wasn’t sure if it was a childhood disease like chicken pox or if he was HIV+ and had some opportunistic infection. At any rate, he was laying listlessly in his mother’s lap until we sat down nearby and then he began to whimper. We slowly slid off our white coats, careful not to look him in the eye. I don’t know if it was that or his mother’s jostling, but he quieted down again.

9/12/07: A Funeral
I saw a pick-up truck go by today with a rough wooden coffin in the back. People were sitting all around the edges of the truck, maybe 20 in all. They were all singing and clapping their hands to a beat with mournful faces. One man was standing in the back holding a wooden cross upright on the top of the cab. Many cars were following. People in the streets stopped what they were doing and watched. In the "noticias," we see announcements of the anniversary ceremonies (described in an earlier entry) of people’s deaths. Most of these notices have pictures of the deceased attached and the people in these photos look very young. The announcements describe the sadness of the family at the loss of their loved one and the date and time of the ceremony. Friends and family show up on the appointed day and time. We passed a house while walking one day where one of these ceremonies was taking place. People were drumming and singing in the yard. It was hypnotic. Aguinaldo says that sometimes santaria is practiced at these ceremonies. Or what sounds like a mix of santaria, ancestor worship, and Christianity. The city of Quelimane is surrounding by thousands of thatch settlements. Sometimes in the evenings, we sit on the porch and watch night fall with a stunning swiftness and completeness at about 6:00pm. We can hear drums start up in the distance in the midst of those homes and we wonder what’s happening. They can go on until 1 or 2 in the morning.

9/15/07 Domestic Life....
We have moved in with Dr. Troy Moon, new faculty in Vanderbilt’s Pediatric Infectious Diseases Department. The house is poured concrete and painted white. It sits on a dirt lane off a road in Quelimane. We don’t appear to have an address. The house has a back yard with palm trees surrounded by a wall. There is a ton of interesting fauna. At night, huge bats swoop down from the palms. A friend assures me that they are fruit bats and are not interested in people. There are also large rats in the back. I wish the bats ate rats. We were discussing some system of tying fruit to the rats and seeing if the bats would carry them off. Sometimes at night the neighbor kitty jumps over our wall and chases them. We cheer for her.
Troy has spent the last few years at Tulane in New Orleans. He survived the flood (though his house had some serious problems) AND a tornado that took his roof while he was under it. At some point in the midst of all that, an itinerant rooster made his home in Troy’s backyard and they got to be friends. So now we’re considering getting some pet chickens. We don’t know if the bats and rats would be a problem though. We might teach them to defend themselves against the rats. We have a bathtub sitting in the backyard (randomly). I think it would be a good place to raise chicks if we cover it with chicken wire or something.
There are many bugs around, luckily most have not found their way inside. We leave the screened windows and doors open because the majority of the house is only cooled by fans. It’s not so hot now. I don’t know what December will be like. It’s very different to have the windows always open. You feel a lot more connected to the neighborhood. We hear people passing in the lane and the drums in the distance. You hear roosters crow in the morning. You catch whiffs of smoke from the ubiquitous trash fires. I’m not yet used to it; I still leap up and check down the streets to see what’s burning. I don’t think concrete will burn easily, but all the windows and doors are covered by iron bars which is disconcerting. Also disconcerting is fire among the miles and miles of thatch housing in the dry season. When rainy season arrives, our mosquito nets will have to go up. Many geckos have found their way inside. There are always a few hanging out on the walls. These guys are my favorite and I welcome them. They eat bugs. We’re on the same team. They range in size from really big to "Baby Geck," whom we found in the pantry one night and is maybe an inch long.
Casa de Lua is working out well. I get up in the morning, hop in the shower, which may or may not have water, which may or may not be hot. Every day is full of surprises. We struggle a little with the pump and the heater. Our bath window looks down into the neighbors’ yard. There is often a gray-haired man lying naked on their porch. I think he’s probably demented. He’s only the second gray-haired person I have seen here in Quelimane. I guess that’s not so surprising when you remember that the life expectancy here is only mid-40's. I come downstairs and we make coffee and sometimes toast in a pan on the stove. I’m surprised how much I miss pre-sliced bread, and bread that is wrapped up in plastic before flies get on it. In the mornings, our group has a little breakfast and practices Portuguese for a couple of hours in the backyard before splitting up to attend to various things. The mornings are really beautiful, not too hot yet and very sunny. I have learned a lot about cooking in Mozambique, one of the most important facts is that stoves often are not grounded electrically. My innocent looking toast shocked the fire out of me one morning and nearly curled my hair. For awhile I was only approaching toast or pan handles with hot mitts on both hands. It was really waking me up in the mornings; I didn’t need coffee. Then, we got an empregada who taught me the importance of wearing shoes around non-grounded stoves. I should have known this from high school, but whatever. If anybody’s heart ever stops I’ll know what to do. (Take off their shoes and make toast.) Our empregada’s name is Esmeralda and she’s very nice and corrects our Portuguese. The first day, she took us with her to the market, which is open air with thatch stalls on a muddy plain. There are wooden planks over the ditches and holes and you have to be careful crossing while you are carrying your bananas or whatever. I try to arrrange with her in the mornings what we need her to cook and clean for the day. We decide on a menu, she tells me what is needed, and I send Paulo (who lives in a hut-thing in the back) to the market. We do our best to communicate, but it’s hit or miss what we have for dinner or when we eat it. We ask for it about five, but it’s variable when it comes. I only just realized she doesn’t have a watch and is going by the sun. I think there are some cultural differences as well. Troy bought a couple of nice pans in Malawi when they went for Visas. We only had one tiny aluminum pan before and it’s really hard to make a meal for 7 people in it. The pans he got were very shiny and one had a fluted bottom. Esmeralda kept asking me if they were for cooking. I think she thought they were too nice for that and must be only for serving food. I reassured her that, yes, these were for cooking. Yes, "para coisinhar." Yes, on the stove. I’m not sure I convinced her because when we came home that afternoon, our old tiny pot was bubbling away and she pulled Kevin aside and asked him as well if the new pots were actually for cooking. We mostly eat rice and beans or rice and vegetables and salad. Two of our group are vegetarian, which I think is also confusing to our empregada. Here in Mozambique, they eat a coarse corn flour boiled to make a paste thing that they shape into balls. It’s called "xima" (shee-ma) and you use your hands to dip it into stews and sauces and eat it. Very good if you don’t have silverware. Uncooked, it looks like grits. I boiled some up one morning and left it runny instead of pasty, and added butter, salt, garlic, hot pepper, and cheese. Esmeralda was watching me with concern. I explained I was making something we eat in the states, similar to xima (I was NOT just making a runny mess and squeaking when I got shocked, thank you very much) called grits. She repeated, "hreets? gwits?" I said "quere provar?" (Want to try?). She said she liked them. But really, who doesn’t? They’re a grainy international passport.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Bom frango!!

This is a story that I forgot to tell you.

Before you can become fluent in another language, you have to abandon simple translation. Learning Portuguese words and conjugations in relation to English is the first step, but to truly communicate you have to cast aside the dictionary associations in you head and embrace what words mean to the person with whom you are speaking. As my friend Riley said, “You have to forget how to talk and just talk.”

This is a story about my inability to do that.

When we first arrived in Quelimane, we stayed at the Hotel Flamingo. The Flamingo is one of the nicer hotels in Quelimane (read: the only place I would allow my mother to stay). If you remember from a few entries ago, it was a little too expensive and our budget dictated our departure.

Every hotel so far, no matter the quality of the room, has featured a breakfast of some sort. As a matter of fact, the quality of the breakfast has been directly proportional to the quality of the room. At the Flamingo, it was always nice and every day there was something a little bit different.

Keep in mind that we hadn’t had many Portuguese classes yet. We only knew a few words, two of which were “bom” (good) and “frango” (chicken). However, ask anyone in our class: if I knew any words, I would try them out on someone.

On our second to last day at the Hotel Flamingo, they served a nice grilled chicken breast. Being the cultural ambassador of the group, I decided to let the staff know that we liked the chicken.
On my next trip to the buffet to refill my coffee, I tapped the waiter on the shoulder.

“Bom frango!” I said gleefully. My enthusiasm was met by a bewildered stare. Then, a few moments later, “Ah! Bom frango, sim! Muito obrigado!” (…yes! Thank you very much!)

Connection made, right? I returned to my table to relate my latest linguistic adventure.

“Guys, I just told that guy ‘bom frango’ and he looked at me like I was crazy. I always feel like I’m saying it right and they never understand me.”

“Listen to what you said to him,” said Troy. Troy is a sage man. “Out of the blue, you told this guy ‘bom frango’. That sounds like ‘bom dia’ (good morning). Imagine if some guy from a foreign country walked up to you and said ‘Good chicken’!”

As we realized that I had just greeted the waiter with a ridiculous, if hearty, morning salutation, everyone at the table got a genuinely tear-jerking laugh at my expense. And since that day, anytime any one of us says something ridiculous, or if what we had translated in our heads doesn't really fly in Portuguese, the code word is “bom frango.”

I have told this story to many native Portuguese speakers; it flops every time. This story mostly flies with English speakers learning Portuguese. However, no one has laughed harder at this little ditty than our Portuguese teacher Olivia. It seems that, being a near-native Portuguese speaker, she has a particular appreciation for an American smiling joyfully at an unsuspecting waiter and wishing him “Bom frango!” But as hilarious as the story is by itself, she's got the best line:

“He should have said 'igualmente'!” (you too!)

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Project News…

The U.S. Assistant Secretary of Health and the head of the CDC have made a trip to Quelimane. They wanted to see first hand the work being done here under the PEPFAR program by Vanderbilt, Columbia University, HIA, and other organizations. Additionally, the U.S. has given funds for a new malaria initiative which is very exciting. Columbia has been in Quelimane for quite awhile and runs a large urban treatment program. Vanderbilt is taking a more rural approach to HIV treatment and prevention by having multiple sites in rural villages. I can’t wait to be done with our language training and see the rural sites (though I will miss our professora!). Currently, there is a lot of interest in improving cooperation between TB and HIV programs, since those diseases walk hand in hand and are both so prevalent and devastating. There isn’t an overwhelming amount of data on TB here in Zambezia, so hopefully I can get to work and be of help in that area soon.

The relationship of NGOs to this country is really fascinating. Foreign aid has been a mainstay of Mozambique’s health care for many years. NGO’s have come in, hired away the best and most well educated medical staff with higher salaries that the government can’t afford to match. While that work has been crucial in moderating health crises, the Mozambican Ministry of Health has a vested interest in developing a Mozambican health care system and infrastructure, one that won’t disappear when a foreign government decides to cut funding. It’s a wise goal to have, but it can make things a bit more complicated. One of the ways they are going about it is to require all NGOs who hire Mozambicans to pay them on the Ministry’s pay scale, thereby eliminating one incentive to work for NGOs. Some workers have agitated to have higher salaries as in the past and NGO’s have had to explain that their hands are tied. Also, a NGO cannot hire a foreign health worker without first proving they couldn’t find a Mozambican to do the job. An ad has to be placed listing the qualifications needed and there is a waiting period of some weeks. You can see the loophole this leaves open.

Daily Bits……

8/31/2007
Today I put my toothbrush under the faucet, turned on the water, and foamy black junk spilled out. 1 toothbrush down and I now know never to put anything under the tap without turning the water on first. Also, don’t crack eggs into a bowl of stuff you’ve already mixed.

9/1/07
Today Olivia and I went for a walk around the city early in the morning and we saw a small monkey tied to a wall and chewing on, oddly enough, a green golf tee.

Mini essays and details on our life here that y'all may want to see.....

Un pouco sobre moda,

The ladies here often wear capulanas, 2 meter lengths of cotton cloth wrapped around the waist as a skirt, arranged as a headdress, and slung over the shoulder as a baby carrier. These have been traditional dress for many years. They are fantastic because they are cool in hot weather, comfortable, useful for storing change, and can be an instant towel or potholder. Some women wear one capulana as a long skirt and wear another around their waist like a utility belt (á la Batman). Various regions of the country are known for different styles of capulanas. In some regions of Zambezia women make blue dye from local plants and make capulanas with a characteristic tie-dye look. Nowadays, most people buy capulanas printed in large quantities from companies. However, the really interesting thing about these is that they are now also used for expression of political views. There are capulanas printed with names of political parties and descriptions of important days in Mozambican history. There are capulanas with renditions of The Last Supper and maps of the United States. Very much like t-shirts. I have been so intrigued by these things that I went to a shop to buy one. I was careful to pick one with an innocuous peacock design. (Never talk or wear politics in a foreign country) It took awhile for me to learn to fold it well enough so that it doesn't fall off, but I think the trick is to place it waist high. I still haven't worked out how to tie the tail into a change purse, but I'm working on it.

Un pouco sobre a comida,

There is no skim milk to be had in Quelimane. Actually, there aren’t that many dairy products at all. Milk comes in 1-liter boxes that you don’t refrigerate until after you’ve opened them, and there is very little cheese (sigh.) You can buy Diet Coke one can at a time from only one place in town, and they only stock 6 or 7 cans at a time. Mozambicans are a bit mystified by the idea of making food less fattening. Also, there is no nutritional information on anything. That is actually rather nice; you have no idea how many calories are in what. However, if you're trying to teach basic principles of nutrition to people, it makes it difficult for them to use the information.
Most people here have tiny portable, outdoor charcoal stoves they cook over. The charcoal is homemade and sold in little pyramid stacks on the street. Most people eat a diet of rice (sometimes made with coconut milk) or chima (a starchy something), beans and fruit. Sometimes chicken if they have enough money. Almost everyone is very thin. In fact, we saw a Mozambican man with a potbelly at Zalala beach and our first thought was, “He must be wealthy.” You automatically equate overweight with wealth, which is different from the states. There are open-air markets where people sell fruit, fish, veggies, grain, etc. There are thatch stalls where people sell things. The produce is much smaller than what we buy in the states, which makes me wonder what we're doing to the food at home. The market can be a bit overwhelming because there is often dirty water running between the stalls and many people beg for money there. I’ve started keeping small change on me at all times. Olivia is teaching me how to purchase food, what greens we can eat, and how to cook without the ingredients we’re used to with only one stove eye, and most importantly, how to wash and prepare it so we don’t get sick. What would we do without her? She makes a mean eggplant mousaka, but my current favorite dish we make is guava smoothies. I want to work on fried bananas.

Un pouco sobre as animais,

There is a house a few down from Michele's (where we have class). They keep a rather large beige monkey tied to a tree by his tail. I'm not sure what kind of monkey he is. (I keep meaning to google image east African monkeys, but the internet is too slow, so I never get to it) He's about the size of Babycakes and has a dark face and a long tail and tufts of hair by his ears. He sits in the same spot every day and looks very sad. I don't know why the family keeps a monkey. There are many rats in Quelimane, we see them in the streets frequently, especially along the marginal, a long street that runs by the river. We also see many chickens and ducks hanging around. We want to get a chicken for a pet when we all move into Troy's house. I saw one today that is a fine candidate. He was a beautiful white and black rooster that was calmly walking down the sidewalk toward me. Not running, not squawking, just strolling along. He then stepped off the curb and (I swear this is true...) looked both ways before crossing the street. At a stroll. I don't know why. (ha ha). He stepped up on the other sidewalk (stepped, not jumped) and continued down the street.

There are also very, very large bats here. Near our rented room is a huge baobab tree that has a diameter of probably 10 feet. It is huge and ancient and full of bats the size of cats that talk and swoop all night long. There are geckos everywhere. One is living in our bedroom. Fine with me, he's a friend. It's the bichinhos (portuguese for “little beasts” or bugs) that give me a turn. I have a routine when I get up and go into the bathroom for my icy shower every morning. I click on the lights and wait a few seconds before opening the door. If the cockroaches run away without me seeing them, everybody wins. Then I go in and make a bunch of noise, shake them off the shower curtain and throw stuff at the soap dish if any are hanging out there. Sometimes, they charge at me and then it’s every man for himself.

A Noite,

At night, you can see many more stars over Quelimane even than in McMinnville. Stray dogs and puppies roam, homeless people build small fires with coconut shells on the sidewalk. The few cars that there are seem to drive even more recklessly at night. This is a place with ZERO traffic signs or lights, with huge potholes, dirt roads, open sewers, bikes, people and animals filling the roads and drivers careening through it all at top speed. I shudder to think of the traffic fatalities every year. Last night, we were walking home and two cars came from behind actually drag racing, filling the entire road. We had to leap onto the sidewalk to avoid being hit. One morning, Olivia and I were walking and we leapt out of the road because a garbage truck (which I didn’t know Quelimane had), came barreling down the dirt road at a speed I have never seen a garbage truck achieve. It then executed a tight corner and then another without slowing down AT ALL. I just knew it was going to topple over. People were jumping out of the road left and right. It almost looked like a live thing, a dinosaur or something, chasing a smaller animal.

About Quelimane….

200,000 people live here, but that number is misleading. Most live in mass thatch settlements around the city and many are on the edge of survival. The average lifespan in Mozambique is mid-40’s or so. For younger people, the HIV prevalence is about 1 in 5. That number varies according to age group and location, but it is still pretty striking. There are really only a few paved streets and concrete buildings. Most of the buildings are poured concrete and haven’t seen maintenance in many years. Some are only half built, construction stopped by lack of funds. Often these lots have squatter gardens full of tomatoes and other things. The people who live in town have to hire night guards to protect against theft. There isn’t much violent crime, but people are just so poor that things are stolen right and left from anyone who has valuables. Every window is covered by iron bars. I know we look very foreign as we walk the streets and I definitely feel very, very out of place. We hear people say “musugos” when we walk by, which is chuabo for white people. However, I think a big part of that is not so much our color as economic status. We are hugely wealthy here in comparison with the average Mozambican. I think that’s what creates the biggest gulf. Kevin is doing a great job of trying to bridge the gap by chatting, taking local transportation, buying local food, waving at kiddies, etc. Little children follow us and say, “Hello! Hello! Hello!” in English and then giggle and scamper off. But there still is a distance. I think everybody is curious as to who we are and what we’re doing here. And they’re waiting to see what the crazy huge white guy is going to do next.

We have seen a post office here, but I not am sure there is a mail system. Because Quelimane is on a bay, shrimp fishing is a big thing. The biggest company is called Krustamoz. I can’t help thinking of Krusty burger. Right now it’s winter and the dry season. It’s still REALLY hot. So hot, the hook and eye fasteners on my underthings have rusted. That’s my new definition of hot weather. Has anything I’m wearing rusted? The sun is merciless and dust swirls in the streets. Our empregada Regina tells us that this is nothing; December will be when the real heat comes. Also the rain, which brings malaria season. Even now, the roads have large lakes and sewers overflow, so I wonder what the rainy season will be like. Some roads must be impassable and humidity must be insane.

That's all for now, I'll try and add some more tales from Moz a little later, but hopefully you can see a little of what our life is like!

Acting like a Mozambican

NEW TO MOZAMBLOG!!!!! Previously, you'd only heard from me, Kevin Harvey, about our adventures in East Africa. Beginning today, however, we'll be having a new contributor: my lovely wife Lara Bratcher. You'll be able to tell the difference because my posts will continue to be in this font, and her's will look like the one above. Enjoy!

Here’s a picture of our class. From left to right: Troy Moon, Riley Ganz, Lara, me, and Olivia Manders. Pamela Ganz is behind the camera on this one. This was our temporary classroom on the porch of the FGH office.

Our little group is starting to take on its roles. Olivia is our teacher, minister of finance, and our de facto leader. Troy, the clinical director for FGH, is beginning to take charge from Olivia’s regency as consult calls start to come in from the medical centers in the countryside. Riley, who I’ve yet to introduce and who worked at Microsoft for several years, is our minister of technology. I, obviously, am the cultural ambassador.

Every morning Riley, Pamela (Riley’s wife who is soon to be working at of one of the FGH clinic sites), Lara and I walk from our hotel near the edge of town to class nearer the office. Our road is Avenida 7 de Setembro, which means 7th of September Ave. (nobody knows why that date is important). It’s lined with vendadores (street vendors). Every day they stare at us as we walk by, and it always makes us a little nervous.

Two days ago, I decided to try to bridge the gap. They sell these little fried dough balls, a little lighter than a dinner roll but heavier than a doughnut. Sometimes they roll them in sugar, but more often not. They taste like an un-sweet funnel cake at the fair, and cost 1 metical (about 4 cents; plural meticais).

Before we go any further, a note on the currency: inflation was rampant in the nineties. It got to the point that a loaf of bread cost over 1000 meticais. So, in order to fix the problem, the formerly Communist government recalled all the money and reissued it at 1000:1.

I sauntered up to the vendors and asked them how much the dough balls cost.

“Mil meticais.” (one thousand meticais, so about $40)

“Como?” (what?)

“Mil meticais. Mil, mil.”

Now, as one of the 11 white people in this town of 200,000, I was used to getting jerked around on prices. As a rule of thumb, you can assume that they are charging you double the going rate. I turned to Pamela and Riley.

“I think he said it costs a thousand.”

“Yeah, that’s what I heard,” said Pamela. “He said a thousand.”

By now, every vendor for 20 yards (which turned out to be around 30 young men) was watching us, and most of them were helping our vendor explain to us the price. Finally, one of them held up a big silver coin. In tiny letters along the bottom, it said 1000 meticais. As it turns out, the government hadn’t done the best job recalling all the money, and some of the old coins were still in circulation.

“Oh, mil!” I said. The sound of the vendedores’ laughter reverberated off the walls of the nearby buildings. I bought five, and we were on our way to class.

The next morning I had woken late, and everyone else went to class ahead of me. Now traveling alone, and enthused by my recent success with the dough balls, I decided to take a taxi.

There are regular car taxis in Quelimane, but they are few and far between, and you have to arrange them by phone. The prevailing for-hire transportation here is bike taxi. They are nothing more than a bicycle with a standard rack on the back. The only defining aspect is the small leather pad that sits atop the rack for passengers. Bikes are constantly riding up and down main streets with at least one person straddling the rear wheel. Frequently you’ll see a mother with a child or one person on the back seat and another riding side saddle on the cross bar. The folks who’ve been here longer say they’ve seen as many as five people on one bicycle. The most surprising cargo I’ve seen was three dinner chairs. Again, I was one-upped by the veterans: they’ve seen an entire bed cruise by on a bike taxi.

The first leg of our walk to class is a small hill, followed by a flat but pot-holed stretch. I walked up to the same spot where I’d successfully negotiated breakfast the previous morning, and asked one of the bike taxis:

“Pode-se levar me?” (Can you carry me?)

“Sim, sim.” (Yes.)

By now we’d caught the attention of all the same guys from yesterday. I explained to the driver that I wasn’t going very far and I asked him how much it would cost. He told me 10 meticais. I said that I’d heard it was 5. After a little discourse, and doing his best to not let his colleagues hear, he agreed.

Here’s where the fun begins. I’m literally twice the size of the average fellow on the street, and, well, have you ever tried starting a bicycle with someone else on the back? It’s not easy.

Remember the little hill that heads up from our hotel? I climbed on the back of the bike, and all the vendedores immediately went wide-eyed.

“Ele e muito forte, nao e?” (He’s very strong, isn’t he?) I boomed to the crowd while slapping my driver on the back. Laughter erupted. More people stopped to watch.

The driver tried to pedal and started rhythmically turning the wheel left to right to keep us balanced. The crowd went “whooooooaaaa!” like any crowd does when they’re watching something enormous that’s about to topple. Instead of allowing them more entertainment at my somewhat sheepish driver’s and my expense, I stepped off the bike and the driver and I walked together to the top of the hill. I jumped on, and we started with a little help from my dangling feet, Flintstone style.

There is probably one bike repair shop, and they charge accordingly for new tires. Henceforth, every bike taxi in town is driving around on less than perfect tires, and my driver was no exception. If you’ve ever been on a bike with really old tires, you know that slipping feeling when you go around a corner. In Quelimane, cyclists have to needle a path through the potholes, and that slipping feeling is ever present. Moreover, the potholes can be a foot deep, and one single slip is potentially disastrous. Imagine me on the back of a rusty steel frame bicycle, struggling to keep balance and seeing this guy’s dry-rot front tire coming within centimeters of utter destruction.

However, we made it to class safely without incident and pride intact. I gave the fellow a few extra meticais for his struggle, and had a good laugh telling my classmates that bike taxis were in fact safe for Americans.