Aparna in Mozambique

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Back from the field....

Hi all,

I'm back from the field. Actually I got back on Friday, but I've been trying to catch up with sleep and seeing people all weekend, so didn't get to my blog until just now. But, writing in my favorite way is worth the wait....pajamas, coffee, sleepiness still not gone.....

As most people know, this was my first visit to the project site where I assisted in conducting a rapid needs assessment. I'll spare you the long details of what was up with the health situation, but overall I was really impressed. The site was different from many places even within Mozambique because it was considered semi-rural rather than rural and pretty near a good hospital, good water, and schools. The town didn't have a hotel because the one hotel in the town had been bought by a company, but most people thought that that company would bring more business to the community. There was one restaurant where we ate every day and I ate a lot of omelets and cheese sandwiches, which was not as bad as it could have been! Some of the days, we cooked lunch in the community and that was a fun affair as we always bought enough food for everyone in the staff team to eat so it became a big social event out of the ordinary as well.

In the community itself, there were still a lot of challenges, but community engagement was really high and it was so nice to see that the actual work was conducted by a group of about 5 local staff members, who are carrying the weight of the project. The other thing that was interesting for me was that I didn't see what I am used to seeing, that is the donor mentality. For example, we had a focus group session with leaders of the community and we asked them if a school feeding program would be good for the children. Instead of the yes yes that would be great, the leaders had thought a lot about their immediate needs. They said that nah, it wouldn't be a good idea. Their primary concern was food production and if they could produce more, then they could store some to feed the children. Also, the main leader was really funny, he often ended long speeches speaking only in Changaan with, yes, this is what we would like to do, and I hope that you all can help support us, and please quickly, before I die that is. I couldn't help but laugh, he had such a good sense of humor. Which I liked, life is serious, but never that serious when you at least have some of the things that you need to survive, right?

Most of the evenings I spent watching Brazilian soap operas, mostly 7 pecados (7 sins), which bordered on ridiculous, but of course, I love ridiculous. Then I would retire to my room and read loads, teach myself french, and watch some episodes of ugly betty, currently my favorite show on the planet.

One of the books I am reading, called Crossing the Line, actually got me thinking about a lot of different issues and was my go to every night (although I still haven't finished it). It is written by a journalist who also wrote a book about his time here in Mozambique to explain the war. This one is written about apartheid South Africa and his immersion in it. So he is a teacher from America in Cape Town. What I find interesting is his constant awareness of being an outsider and the problems associated with entering into a world that is not his own and imposing his values on others. The other observation that was interesting was how he kept trying to find importance in the day to day life of others on things that they didn't necessarily find important. In this case, he wants to know how important people's "color" is to them and how it affects their day to day life. He wants to find out why people are so repressed, why there is not more consciousness about the consciousness and freedom struggle. But, people don't want to talk about it. This doesn't mean that they don't think of it, but they certainly didn't want to talk to him about it or to process it in a way that he thought useful.

Both points made me think of my experience here. One thing to always be conscious of is entering into a community that is not one's own. I remember how strange I always felt getting off of the train in Washington Heights or near Yankee Stadium to go to work. But, somehow, driving up into a village in a white SUV is so much worse, yet people still accept it. I have no idea how to think about this in a productive way. In addition, I find a lot of time in Mozambique, people don't want to talk about the war. It was terrible, but since then, people have moved on. Never having lived in a war, it seems appropriate to me that its not really necessary to talk about it other than to entertain my wildest fantasies about what life in the war must have been like. People often also don't want to talk about color. Another relic of colonialism and probably not nice or pleasant to talk about. One thing I like in Mozambique is that color is often not an issue. Everyone is Mozambican if they were born here. But, I always think that it is really important to discuss color or rather being an outsider in this sense. Color makes you part of being an outsider. I think of it a lot because I somehow sometimes feel that I am different than a regular American because of my heritage and maybe that is a little bit true, but here no one actually cares and it brings me no additional skills with which to enter into a community. So, in sum, these are things that people forget about, that they move forward from. So, how important are they really, to the people whose lives you are actually talking about? I have no resolutions, but in short form, these are things that are on my mind and I can't really express in a good way at the moment.

I will leave this all unresolved and try and see what else there is to think about this week. In the meantime, I hope that all are doing very well and I hope you enjoy these pictures from our visit to the project site.

Trip to the Field


Sunday, April 20, 2008

Going to the Field!

Hello everyone!

Well, the time has finally come! After 3 months of being in Mozambique, I finally get to go to the field. It seems like its been a while and at first I was anxious to get started, but now I see that once again I've become acclimated to my city life. But, also, I see that there is a process that needs to be followed in order to get things done in partnership with the government, and this is important.

I want to think about it some more, but it is interesting to me that within big international organizations, things take forever because they work with the government. On the other hand, little projects with churches and NGOs get the quick wins because they can just do things really quickly. I guess lots of development people talk about this, but sometimes the right way actually takes longer. But, then if it takes long, is it efficient? If it is efficient, is it the right process and does it contribute to the bigger picture long term goals or is it just a piece of the puzzle.

I'm going to think about this a lot this week. I am truly excited to be doing this project. And whether I knew it or not, somehow I've landed into the field of development, albeit unintended, and as a result, need to think about what it means, how I understand it, and what my actual opinions are in the field. I've got my bag packed, an ipod full of french lessons so my french colleague can tolerate me and my americanisms, a book by my friend on amilcar cabral, william easterly's new book on development, and finally my newly found book by william finnegan on his personal experience and explanation of apartheid south africa.

As you can see, I'm planning lots of time for notes and reflection on this trip....

I'll be thinking of all of you and hope that you are safe, well, happy, and getting ready for the summer in the northern hemisphere!

Lots of love,

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Swazi Safari

Hi all,

Wow, so I've been having a lot of fun over here let me tell you.

Its a beautiful Monday morning. Maputo is starting to feel like fall is rolling in. Its still sunny but windy and with a chill at night, my favorite type of weather. Good news on the project I am working on for a rapid needs assessment. Research has been approved by all of our ministries and we are going to the field next week! Very exciting and putting me in a good mood. I also had a great night sleep last night, which put me in a happy mood this morning. Fighting my mefloquine induced dreams is hard, but guess I am getting better at it. And this weekend, well was wonderful. See for yourself.

Swazi Safari

I went on a 24 hour safari to Swaziland, which is only about 1.5 hours to the border and another hour or so to get to the park where we visited. I am not usually one for this type of tourism because I feel like it is very artificial but this one was so beautiful and non-intrusive. The place grew all their own vegetables and used their own meat. They didn't use electricity so it had this romantic candlelight dinner feel about it because it was all oil lamps and gas powered. And our rooms were huts but they were formed out of stone and natural wood with the space completely open. So, you would take a shower in stones and be looking out into the forest. Absolutely amazing. Not to mention the animals. We were within 10 feet of the animals, rhinos particularly. A baby rhino tried to charge our jeep and it might have been the cutest thing that I have ever seen. I can't explain how nice it was to take a trip to a place where I felt like I was observing, but in a productive way...this is the kind of tourism that I enjoy.

So, yes, I am in a good mood on this fine Monday morning. Not much has happened since last week. But, I've realized once again that life is good, I am lucky to have so many wonderful experiences that most people would never get to enjoy, and I am blessed that I am healthy and have so many wonderful people supporting me. I am basically at the point in my experience and I remember it from last year, where I am starting to feel OK with who I am in Mozambique and what I am doing here. And OK to know that even if I don't come home in August, I'll be OK to stay here until November because there are things that I can now see myself doing.

Thanks for all the comments and please keep them coming. They really contribute to my work and my thinking all the time.

Ate o proximo....which should be both before and after I go to the field...

Monday, April 07, 2008

Tofo (Tofu)

Hi all,


Here is my attempt at more frequent blogging, or less substantial blogging, not sure which one is a more accurate description. This time I am not in my pajamas, it being a Tuesday and all. Actually in my work clothes as I have 3 meetings today. I know, big deal for me, I much prefer being the permanent student and researcher but I guess that once in a while I need to be a semi-professional.

Yes, this last weekend I was in a place called Tofo, which is actually pronounced like Tofu. Kinda funny. Well, we ended up taking a bus up there, which took 8 hours from Maputo! I know, crazy. And then, all of our other friends that were meant to be there didn't come. We swam with whale sharks, rode horses at sunrise, ate at a delicious french restaurant, and enjoyed the georgeous beach. In a way, it was nice that we went, even though the others didn't join, because I would have probably never sucked up the 8 hour bus trip any other way.

On the way back from Tofo, I met a bunch of peace corps volunteers on the bus. I really admire what they do, but I kept thinking, wow am I glad that I am not a peace corps volunteer. It seems unnecessarily stressful. On the other hand, they are given jobs and these jobs give them purpose. They really identify with them. The one I was chatting to felt really comfortable in saying that she was a VCT counselor and that was who she was. I, on the other hand, struggle for words to describe my project, what I actually do, and how I do it! So, maybe it wouldn't be all that bad to have concrete ideas of what you are doing. Not sure. But, for the time being, I like being the pretend academic that I am. Although not quite sure how long I could do this for. The other thing that I thought about when I met them was communication. I've been thinking about this a lot anyways since my best friend is in a country where the communication is absolutely terrible, even though it is significantly more developed than where I was last year and this year. It just baffles me. And I finally get it, that when you can't communicate, you feel really far away, you get detached, you change, and then you forget that there are things going on away from you. I guess this is the point in all these really techie development projects. When people can see that there is something outside of every day life, outside of themselves, a bigger world in fact, and they start to think, I'm more than just me, well than that makes a big difference. I also think about this in terms of my family. Back then, when they came over, calls were expensive, so it makes sense that they felt really far away and that either people grew apart or came to live in our country. It was the only way. Communication is probably the most basic thing for people. And for someone like me who loves to chat, well, not being able to do that with someone who is really important to me, reminds me of how lucky I am most of the time...

Well, I guess I should prepare for my meetings. I will write more this week as I have more decisions rolling in about my future.

Happy April....