Aparna in Mozambique

Saturday, January 26, 2008

It’s raining, it’s pouring….the old man is snoring…..

It’s raining, it’s pouring….the old man is snoring…..

Well, this week I have spent a lot of time doing things that you do to settle into a place. I took my first ride on a chapa or a minibus. I opened a bank account. I walked around town. I met with the professors that I’ll be assisting here at the UCM College of Medicine. But, most importantly, I just kept my eyes open and tried to take a look at what Beira is really like.

And what I see is, like so many other places I have been, a city of contrasts. To the extent that I saw the division of wealth in Malawi, I can’t say it can compare here. In the city of Beira, at least, there is a bit of a middle class. There are expats, but generally, in Beira at least, they are less extravagant. And there are the poor, of course. But, the difference is that Beira is a city that feels much older than Blantyre. You can feel it in the streets, in the weathering of the buildings, in the way things were constructed. Not much stands out, in fact, as a modern building except for the Bulha shopping center in town. It has a high tech electronics store, a beautiful bakery, and a flat screen TV where you can watch CNN. Nice.

But Beira aches of old age. The streets are cracking. The paint on all of the buildings is peeling. The rocks near the boardwalk are misplaced and misshapen. To its credit, it has been through a lot. Beira was, after all, the epicentre of the war between FRELIMO and RENAMO. This was a war of looting, not of modern day warfare. So, what happened was the degradation and sacking of all things useful in the city. If there was a nice roof, gone. If there were good stones, gone. So, what was left after the war was a skeleton of a city. Many of the buildings were never refurbished. So now people use them as a place to put garbage or simply for those who have no home to squat. The buildings have almost an eerie emptiness to them. And a stink. And then you see the little eyes of people inside. It creeps me out. The other things is that, the sewage system is totally terrible in Beira. You see sewage on the street. You smell it. You smell garbage. Mmmm, nothing like the combined smell of garbage and raw fish being degutted on the beach in the morning when you go for a run. So this sewage issue got me thinking….

It has been pouring rain here for the last few days. I am sure that some of you have heard that there are floods in Mozambique. Part of the reason for this is the poor drainage system in my opinion. The water has no where to go. On Friday morning, I went to the bank. No rain so I was in the clear. By the time I had opened my bank account. Boom, rain. And rain and rain. I decided, the American that I am, that I would walk home because I had an umbrella. A tiny totes umbrella mind you, not the sturdy sort that one would need when caught in torrential downpour. So I casually walk past all of the people standing in the shelter waiting for the rain to stop.

The walk home proves to be an Olympic exercise. I am weaving through the streets in order to avoid the water. Which minute by minute is accumulate in any sort of depression in the streets or the sidewalks. In fact, the sidewalks are not even safe from the water. I look in the inlets in town of shops. Completely flooded. Imagine a Euro-style inlet with shops, many stories high, flooded 3 inches with water. I look at the mud paths. Flooded. I sometimes walk on the raised edge of the sidewalk and pretend I am on a balance beam. At other times I walk in the middle of the street. Did I mention I am also dodging the cars, who are dodging the water as well so that they don’t get stuck in the yes, paved streets. And then I see more water. It is coming from everywhere. Near the golf course, it is streaming off the side of one side walk through the street to the other side and into the course, which also has fields nearby where people grown rice so the water is good. It looks like a river. And it is coming from nowhere identifiable. A river from one sidewalk to another crossing the middle of the street to the golf course. Only in Beira. The water is pouring onto the roofs. It is being collected in jugs. It is falling off tarps meant to patch roofs. It is washing away crops. It is washing away shoes. And mostly, it is washing away the sewage and the garbage. The smell again. Raw fish and human products. I realize I am probably walking in sewage. Now, after a year of hearing of feco-oral water borne diseases, this thought is not exactly pleasant to me.

But, what else is there to do? Stand in the rain and wait for hours. I’m way too American for that. I need to get home and do, well, things. Unidentifiable things, but things none the less. I stand from time to time to distract myself from my sewage water covered self. At this point I am soaking and a verifiable spectacle to passersby. Guess my TOTES rainbow umbrella for one didn’t do the trick. I look at the buildings. And they look old. Old and sad. They creak, they groan, they spew out water and waste. And they still survive. They seem with each moment, a little more weathered. What’s another rain to a building that has seen years of war and years of decay. Not much I guess.

So again, I return to my original thought. Beira is an obvious city. You see what you get just by looking around and you can physically see what this city has been through. The once splendour of the Portuguese, now just wasting away time like that crazy old lady Miss Havisham from Great Expectations. I’ve never been somewhere that told its own story so well. Man, what a bunch of urban planners and architects could do for this city. Just recreating the landscape would improve the lives of so many. I hope they come in before the country’s major telecom companies begin to paint their ads on every building in town, as they have already begun to do.

All in all, it’s been a good first week here. I have met some wonderful people that have opened up their homes to me and I feel like I jumped right into the game. No culture shock. No overwhelming feelings. Just think that I’m ready to get to work and to get my hands dirty. One thing that I like here is that I blend in. No one stops me to stare and call me a white person. Because there was a lot of mixing here and there are actually many Indians here, no one even gives me a second glance. Its really amazing and refreshing and I feel like I can just get on with my business instead of have every experience out of my home be like me going to the circus for the neighbourhood kids to watch. Thank you thank you for this experience….I can already feel that it is going to be a good one!!

--Rainy Sunday morning still in my PJs Aparna


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks be to God for modern plumbing! The say it's saved more lives than penicilin. Mike Casey

5:57 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home