Wednesday, June 30, 2004

The Big Storm

There's a big storm tonight. Pouring rain, loud thunder and lightning, and the power has been going off and on. The nice thing about laptops is that you can work on them even without power, so when the power went out the first time (I was watching TV) I realized there was nothing I could do but turn on the computer and get to work. Odd, huh?

Friday, June 18, 2004

Nelspruit, South Africa

Yesterday we went to Nelspruit, South Africa. The drive was really pretty and just what I needed. There were lots of hills/mountains, greener fields, orange trees and poinsettia trees, and palm trees too. And the town had broad but curvy and hilly streets; it was really nice. But to get through the border took way longer than we expected, and then we had stuff we had to do, so by the time we had to go back we really were only able to do a few things of business, not nearly what we had on our list, and nothing of personal stuff. So it was bittersweet, because I had such a list-- warm clothes, blanket, mocha (I found a place!), and really I just wanted some leisurely shopping time. Originally we had asked (and been approved) to take an overnight on our own dime, and I was so excited about that. But then our trip was moved up in order to get a winch on the truck in time for someone to take it to the field, and an overnight wasn't really possible. Though with all that happened, I thought we might have to take an overnight anyway. And putting on the winch didn't work out after all. But the weird thing was that as the day got worse in terms of circumstances, it also got better because I threw more and more of my expectations out the window.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Mothers and babies in line for food.

Church by the river at the end of the road.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Road Conditions

Well, the potholes are just occasional, which are in a way more dangerous because the rest of the time you can go up to 120kph, but you have to pay attention for the potholes or else they'll flip your car probably. The worst one was what we thought was a branch in the middle of the road, and as we got closer we finally realized it was a huge deep hole! Thank God somebody thought to put those branches in to warn motorists.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Character Sketches

Chaúque (a name as common in Southern Mozambique as Smith)- 28 years old, from the Central Region, so his first language is Tete, or something like that. I like to follow him around because he speaks Portuguese (which I can understand okay) with the other Mozambicans instead of Changana. He spent 5 years in Malawi as a refugee during the civil war, so he's fluent in that language (whatever it is) too. His English is excellent, and he is very funny, as well as sarcastic. His response to appreciation is always "You are not welcome."

His life revolves around his desire to go back to school. He was trained as an electrician in the 14-yr Russian-style educational system, and completed one year of university in South Africa. He's been working to save money to go back for a degree in electrical engineering, but the Rand is working against him by getting continually stronger. He hopes and plans to return this December, though, and often makes statements like "One year from today I will be studying for my exams" but with glee in his eyes not found in most American college students.

Macuacua (as popular in Southern Mozambique as Johnson)- speckled gray hair, huge white smile, very smart and very gentle. He has children and grandchildren, lives in Chokwe, and has been working for SP since they first arrived in 2000. I've heard he's been a miner in South Africa, as well as a school-teacher. I saw the evidence of years of teaching last week when a problem arose in a candy distribution. My co-workers had the idea to give the neighborhood children each a piece of candy for the Children's Day, June 1. Well they were soon mobbed by uncontrollable, unintelligible (due to the language barrier) children, and they fled the scene. As they did, they made no warning to me, walking unassuming into an already volatile situation.

I was soon trapped as well but made my escape into the safety of the office. We thought that was the end of it, but pretty soon we saw that Macuacua was out there, miraculously organizing (with strength of purpose and gentle pushes) these children into 2 straight lines, girls and boys, smallest to largest. We just stood there on the porch, safe from the throng, with our mouths gaping.

He acts like a loving, fun father to the other Mozambican staff-- they're all guys in their twenties or early thirties, and it's fun to watch his role in their horsing around.

He always carries around a House and Food magazine, and we've been wondering whether he really is reading it or whether he just uses it as folder for his papers. I think it's the latter, though when I asked him yesterday he said he reads it sometimes too.

He says I'm a good keep-booker, and likes most that I admit when I'm wrong. I found this out yesterday as he told our whole managers' meeting one of my bigger mistakes. :-)

A Drive on the Wild Side

A Drive on the Wild Side
Or, road conditions and traffic patterns of southern Mozambique.

The highway from the Limpopo bridge in to Maputo is a lot like Route 20, the Mt.Vernon side of course, not the nice 4-lane Anacortes part. But add people walking all along the side, occasional livestock and bicycles, chapas (those taxi vans that probably seat 10 but fit 20) stopping on the side of the road to pick up passengers, no shoulders and random potholes.

Passing is common and expected, tailgating is prevalent in the time before passing, and there is something about flicking the headlights for communication, but I haven't figured out what they are communicating, though it's not what it would mean in America- your brights are on. And I'm suspecting it's about as vague and versatile a communication as is "Aloha."

In towns and in Maputo there is a third lane, which is a passing lane in the center. This is unofficial and unmarked, in fact it is right astride the dotted center line. But cars on both sides kindly stay towards the outside of the road when they are not passing.

Speaking of lines, most of the time I don't see any. But when I do, the outside solid line is yellow, and the center dotted line is white. Now you could say this is the opposite as America. But if you look at it a little differently, I say it's the same: in both cases the yellow is always on your left and the white is on your right.

Now here's a math problem: It takes us, driving in our Land Rover at 120km/hr (75mph) 3 hours to get from Chokwe to Maputo. Yesterday I asked how long the whole trip takes if you are riding in a chapa, because first you have to wait to catch a chapa, and then it stops all along the way to Maputo. The answer? Also 3 hours. Hmmm. The explanation is that the chapas are all in competition with each other: if one gets to a stop first, it picks up all the customers. And remember, you're never out of room on a chapa.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Not a straight line

I don't have much to say in a straight line, so I'll just include separate things that might help to give you a picture of the culture and life here– A popular story that explains livestock behavior:
There once was a cow, a goat and a dog that took a bus ride. The cow paid the fare full and fair; the goat got off at his stop without paying at all; the dog paid too much but the driver refused to give change. So that's why the cow doesn't move from the middle of the road when a car comes-- he paid his fare. Goats, on the other hand, run like crazy when a car comes because the goat knows he still owes. And the dog chases after the car trying to get his money back.

I was told this story (and found it to be very true) when last week I went on a trip to the districts of Chicualacuala and Chigubo. 25 hours of driving on very bumpy roads, all in three days. Chigubo especially is completely rural. One of our group from northern Mozambique who speaks great English, is just hilarious and lives with the expats-- put it this way: When I worried whether we had enough emergency money for anything that might come up while we were in Chigubo, he replied, "Even if you had one million US Dollars (that’s a lot of zeros in meticais), it wouldn't help you in Chigubo, because there's nowhere to spend it."

On a more sober note, many people--children, actually-- are dying around here. Mainly from Malaria. It seems every few days we find out about another of our employees whose child or nephew has died. One of them I had met the previous day, as his mother carried him around on her back while she worked. Every time I've told someone about that death, I've unconsciously held out my arms to indicate "he was this big/long" rather than saying he was about 4-yrs-old.

I count 6 deaths in the last month, plus 2 more very sick children, and 2 adults (including my humorous friend who went on our trip with us) who had bouts with Malaria but are better now. Just yesterday (after we'd already come to Maputo) we found out from Amos, my assistant who's just the dearest man in the world (I plan to write a character sketch sometime), that his granddaughter had just died.