Into Africa–March 14, 2013

035“Goodness in your life does not come to you from someone else. When you see this, you will be free. Have courage, for what you seek is not outside of you. It is not a gift from another person. It is yours to give, not to acquire. Let no one, therefore, hold you hostage. Not your partner, not your boss, not your family…and certainly not your God.”

–Neil Donald Walsch

There is something about Sundays for me in Africa. Windy and stormy on the outside, unsettled and anxious on the inside. I think I felt it even stronger this week because it was also my 4th wedding anniversary. I’m sorry to be missing the day, my love, but I will be home very soon now. Home is close now, and it can’t come fast enough.

Aside from that, it has been a wonderful couple of days outside of the city.

My friends Mike and Liz and their kids Charlotte and Seamus joined me for my last weekend in Africa. We travelled to Bilene, a beach town about 180 km. north of Maputo in Gaza province, not far from the recent devastating floods in Chokwe. Bilene surrounds a natural salt water lagoon, fed by the Indian Ocean just on the far side, over the huge dunes. The beaches are relatively clean, the water shallow and warm. Nice, but it’s not quite the ocean. We all took Friday off and made it a long weekend. We arrived around noon on Friday in scorching hot weather, high 30s and no wind.

We finally found accommodation, a great big three-bedroom beach house with a massive deck, just steps from the water. It felt over the top given where I am. But it was nice and comfortable. There are no real deals to be had here, unfortunately, even in low season. Surprising as most of these places are South African run, and I would have thought they might have more business sense.

008By the time we got settled, we were all a little grumpy, so into the lagoon we went to cool off. We met a really nice guy named Jose walking along the beach. He is a local artist who works with wood and stone. I made plans to try and see him the next day on the beach or at the beach hotel nearby where he works.

Saturday was even hotter. Liz and Mike headed off for a long early morning run while I watched the kids. Although challenging at times, as all kids can be, I really enjoyed my time with them playing whatever games they wanted. They are so pure, unfiltered, and in the moment at that age, something I have lost, as most of us inevitably do. But it’s nice to know that I can go back to that place sometimes.Good for the soul.

Then I went wandering to figure out boat rides and alternate accommodation, as my plan was to stay on an extra night on Sunday, make my way to Macia on Monday, be picked up by my colleagues (Suzanne and Helder), and continue north past the capital of Xai Xai to Chidenguele for a conference.

022Although I had a small bottle of water, a sunscreen and a hat, the heat was crazy and I began to feel disoriented. I knew there was a hotel not far off the beach but I just couldn’t find it, walking almost from one end to the other. I finally found Praia del Sol, this cool and comfortable place, rustic grass huts scattered around the property, for only about $40 a night. “This feels more like it,” I said to myself. Yes I do this, quite often it would seem. I also found my artist friend Jose here, in his workshop at the hotel, and bought a few little things from him.026

After a cold beer and some agua, I headed back to find my friends who were happily splashing around in the water. Then the wind started to pick up, which is very dangerous in this kind of heat because it makes you think it’s cooler than it is. I should have taken this time to take the boat to the ocean, but figured I could do this myself the next day after they had gone.

But Sunday turned out to be too windy with no boats making the trip, so I was out of luck. My friends dropped me off at Praia on the way out and here I was, alone again, anxious, unsure, and unsettled. I walked the lagoon beach for a few hours…the beach always settles me down. Then back to Praia where I found Jose and spent the rest of the afternoon chatting with him, learning about his life, learning Changaan, and thinking of ways to help him earn a living. He has been saving for years to buy blocks, steel, and cement to strengthen his house. He calculates he will have enough in 3-5 more years. He carves and teaches other kids to do the same. He teaches them the value of work and to be proud of a craft, a positive alternative to begging and stealing. A really good and kind man.

028I was also greeted by David and Dino who manage the hotel. Two really nice guys as well. Dino earns 3,500 mets per month, the equivalent of about $120. On that he cares for his mother, two sisters, and two brothers. Can you imagine all of these people surviving on $4 a day? His father died about 10 years ago. I could see the stress in his face as he talked about it. But he is grateful to have a job. He is not bitter, and smiles a lot. A good guy with a good heart.


View from entrance to the bathroom to sink and outdoor, screened in shower. It gives a whole new meaning to room with a view!

020As night fell, I have to say I was a little nervous. The hut was comfortable, but certainly not “hermetically” sealed, with only a flimsy screen separating the back half from the outside. And all kinds of little creatures in my neighbourhood. And then the lights went out. Stay calm. Don’t focus on things you don’t want to have happen. And then it passed. I began to appreciate the sounds of the night, and the the wind whistling through the treetops to the screened windows of my stilted hut. And I finally drifted off to sleep.

I was up very early Monday morning to figure out a way to get to Macia, about 30 km. away, where I was to be picked up. My options were to hire a car which would not be cheap, or ride he local “chapa” which is Mozambique version of mass transit. Jam packed, open trucks where people pile into the back. Cheap, but not the safest or fastest way to travel. But as it so often has happened here, the universe responds. I met Christo, a South African staying at the hotel who just happened to be going in that direction and he agreed to give me a lift. Perfect! It turned out to be a wet and rainy start to the day, so I was happy not to be riding in an open-air chapa.

032I had heard negative things about South Africans in general, and felt that pre-judgement starting to sway me. So I stopped it. Christo is a mechanic who works for a group called JAM (Joint Aid Management) who provide a number of relief and sustainable development programs to seven African countries, including Mozambique. What I love best about their model is that they help people help themselves, so it’s much more than a handout….it’s a hand up. One of the food programs for example (which Christo is involved with), feeds 700,000 children, but only if they go to school. Right now their team and the entire area of Chokwe has been decimated by the floods I wrote about a few weeks back. So the remaining $200 I have left from funds I raised before I left Canada will go to to the feeding program there.

Anyway, a very nice man doing some wonderful work. We had a really good chat on our way to Macia. He dropped me off, and minutes later my colleagues Helder and Suzanne picked me up. Divine timing. We continued north about 90 minutes to the school management conference at a lake resort in Chidenguele.

The speakers were hard to follow (make that painful!) because everything was in Portuguese, but still interesting to see how they do things here, and to watch the non-verbal stuff going on. For a little while. We were introduced as the two Canadians visiting. One person, a professor, introduced himself to me. Non inclusiveness was to become the theme of the day.

At coffee break, I was amazed that the snacks were completely cleaned out within seconds, with people walking away with piles of food, and many others, like me, getting nothing. It pissed me off at first–how rude, how inconsiderate–but then I realized that although the people attending this conference have relatively well paying jobs, perhaps they weren’t always comfortable. Maybe they have been hungry before. And maybe the feeling of going hungry never leaves you, that feeling that there will never be enough. And it’s not the first time I have experienced this hoarding effect in Mozambique. But I take for granted that I will eat, and somehow know the food will be there. Probably not so for them.

I shared a two-bedroom apartment at the conference with Helder. I though it was perfectly natural to expect that each of us would have a key to the apartment, so that we could come and go independently. But not at all for Helder. It did not cross his mind to ask for another key, and he saw no issue with sharing one. When I asked the front desk, it was like the thought had never occurred to them, or they had never been asked the question. I have noticed lots of little things like this–an unwillingness or inability to think differently about things. To me it seems like a lapse in logic, or common sense. Like they have been taught one way, and that is the only way. Don’t colour outside the lines.

I spent the afternoon working on my own. Then a quick late early evening jaunt to the beach. I could hear it, and feel it, and smell it, but it was too dark. I would have to come back. I headed back for dinner. The language barrier was very noticeable tonight. And so were the cliques. And the politics. And I &%#* hate these. Over dinner, Suzanne and I were sitting with a few of the top people, most of whom I have worked with over the last few weeks. We were completely shut out of the conversation and the celebrations, barely acknowledged. Maybe my veneer was wearing thin, or I was feeling fragile or sorry for myself…but maybe not…regardless, it really felt isolating, and it really bothered me. I felt…resentment. And I haven’t felt that in quite awhile. It turned me off everything. My friend Jules warned me there would be low moments, and this was definitely one of them. But why do I feel the need for their approval? But as upsetting as it was, I knew that I couldn’t allow this incident to taint my entire experience here, so I wrote about it and went to bed. It will be better tomorrow.

I woke up Tuesday and decided not to put myself through that again. My wife gave me some good advice (which I cannot repeat here!). I skipped breakfast and the morning conference, and headed to the beach with Helder. I have been longing for the beach since I arrived and this was my last chance. It was only about 5 km. from the resort, but through narrow, bumpy roads.

There were many people of all ages walking along the road, on their way to school or work. Many were making a hand gesture to us…kind of like praying, but their hands were cupped. “It means thank you, deep gratitude, with all my heart,” Helder explained. Their way of asking and expressing gratitude for a lift.049 It’s a beautiful thought and gesture. We stopped and picked up a bunch of young girls on their way to school–nine km., each way, every day (see top photo)! Then we picked up some older folks on their way to work. “Welcome to Helder’s chapa,” I joked. The smiles from them all, and looks of curiosity they gave me were priceless. What a way to start the day!040

Minutes later we pulled up to an oceanside hotel, up high on a dune, overlooking the magnificent Indian Ocean. Breathtaking. I could hear the waves breaking in the background. It was a spectacular moment. 047We hurried down to the beach, and quickly I was in the water, minding the rocks, rip tides, and marine life. I even managed to body surf a couple of really good waves. And not a soul in sight, except for Helder. Magic.053

Most of the yuck of the previous day had passed. And I was so grateful for that morning at the beach. Feeling better, I decided to go to the conference lunch. And guess who I just happened to sit with? The universe works in mysterious and interesting ways. I approached them with fresh eyes and no resentment, and it was OK.

Tuesday afternoon, we headed back to Maputo, about four hours or 250 km. On the way Helder talked about the problems most Mozambicans have in business. Although many are involved in selling goods of all kinds, when it comes to quantity discounts, standards, caring for the client, thinking differently, and solving problems from a business standpoint, they can’t or don’t do it. This is a big problem. This simplistic or naive approach to business may begin to explain (and I’m extrapolating here) why so many Africans have been ripped off and taken advantage of. And with the eyes of the world on Africa’s plentiful natural resources, the consequences of not being business savvy, and allowing others to pillage will be dire.

We made a few stops along the way, connecting with some of the road side folk. Again I noted how much my behaviour and attitude affects outcome. When I approached these people with uncertainty, that’s exactly what I got back. As soon as I caught myself doing that, and turned on the “MoJo,” the whole interpersonal dynamic changed….smiles, jokes, handshakes…connection.

Wednesday and Thursday…back at the office, finalizing reports, and saying my goodbyes. And the weather has been mercifully cool and comfortable. First time in my two months here.

I had one final (let’s hope) brush with corruption walking back to the office from lunch on Wednesday. A policeman pulled me aside and asked to see my documents. I always carry a copy of my passport with me. He looked at my paper and said: “no, no…this is a big problem.” We went back and forth for a few minutes, arguing, clarifying, BS. He was clearly looking to be greased. I looked him straight in the eye (I had to look down) and said: “diplomatica de Canada…do you want me to call them right now?” “You can go,” he said, looking defeated. Jonathan 1. Corruption 0.

I closed out the week with two very heartwarming conversations. Wednesday night, in the hotel lobby, I was chatting with Domingues, the receptionist. “Your first time in Mozambique?” he asked? Yes…first time. “You have really learned about us, and our country, Mr. Jonatan.” And then with Ida, at work Thursday morning. “We have really enjoyed you,” she said. ”You are different. You have tried to become one of us. You care about us, you have brought empathy.”

One for the road
Here’s a really nice piece from Tiela Garnett’s blog. Something that is starting to click with me, especially after two months on the road:

“Our suffering as human beings comes from investing our focus in the external illusion rather than the internal reality. When careers, activities, and possessions become more important than humanity, compassion, and kindness, we know we’re in trouble. Our daily activity needs to be an expression of our true nature, rather than a way of defining it. We need to be who we are first and then allow our activities to flow naturally from that source.”

I have met many people and observed many different things over the last eight weeks. People who I have really liked, some not so much. People whose character I admire, others not so much. Customs, traditions, practices, and behaviours that are wonderful, others that have driven me right round the bend. They say that what you see in other people is simply a reflection of those same characteristics in you. This has given me lots to ponder. But overall, it has all been consistently positive energy, at least that’s how I have chosen to experience it, which tells me something.

Life on the road, immersed in the unfamiliar and unstable, seems to bring out the best in me. And yet I know the dark side is still there, as it lurks to varying degrees in all of us. Mine has a tendency to come out more often closer to home. I need to change that. I need to think about why it is that I become complacent with the familiar. Maybe I need to find ways in everyday life to keep myself off balance.

Whatever happens, I know that I have definitely tested and pushed the boundaries on this trip, in unfamiliar territory, in so many different ways, on so many levels, and that I have used all my skills to do it. Even some I had no idea I had. This has been a very expansive way to live my life: aware, conscious, and open to what is happening now, and recognizing how this will affect who I am moving forward. And there is no question that I have felt more alive than I ever have before. As Chico said to me a few weeks back, “don’t think, just do it.” And I have.

I’ve never really given much thought to the chakra energy centres of the body, but maybe this is what it feels like when they are open and energy is flowing. Four in particular I am aware of because of my journey to Africa:
–heart chakra…I nourish the universe and the universe nourishes me.
–throat chakra…detachment…expression of authentic self…my actions are blissfully free from the outcome.
–intuition chakra…connection to purpose…my life is in harmony with cosmic law.
–crown chakra…pure potentiality….I am a field of all possibilities.

I have observed people doing their thing. Living their lives. Animals doing their thing, going about their business and simply being who they are: crabs being crabs, birds being birds, elephants being elephants. The lesson for me is that I need to do the same…simply be who I am, and not allow anything or anyone–including and especially me–to muddy that.

I begin my voyage home in two days, and will be reunited with my wife, son, friends, and family. I know she is proud of me, but I am also proud of and grateful to her for giving me the room and encouragement to take this journey, thousands of miles away from home, into the heart of Africa. But perhaps more importantly, I have also made the journey within, into the heart of who I am.

Two months is a long time. In some ways it has gone quickly, but in other ways it has felt like a year. In a good way. I have tried as best I can to become part of something here, and succeeded for the most part. But I am ready to go home now.

Although this will be my last post from “inside” Africa, I still have lots of information to process. I will be back a few times over the next several weeks with some closing images and thoughts as I re-adjust to the life I knew, incorporating some of what I have learned.

Thank you for sharing the journey with me.



Into Africa–March 7, 2013

265Before I get into the week, here are a few random thoughts and observations. In many African countries, women still have no rights and are considered the property of men. Once she has been bought, a man is free to use and abuse her as he pleases. This used to be the norm across the continent; now less so, but still far too frequently which is very troubling. I firmly believe that if women ran countries there would be far less violence within and between countries. But I digress.

This does not seem to be the case in Maputo though, and I would guess most urban areas of Mozambique. Women are very aggressive and outspoken here. I have been asked by many local men why I don’t have a girlfriend. That is the culture. Friday nights are “girlfriend” nights. I tried to explain to one colleague why I cannot take part in that. “But you don’t have to tell your wife, she’s not here,” he said. I told him that that was not the issue…that I would know. It might be different if I where raised here to think that way, but I was not, and cannot. But I suppose the practice is not all that different from anywhere else, it’s just more socially accepted here.

Life expectancy in Mozambique is only about 50 years. Although there is hardly any obesity here and most people look healthy, the overall diet is terrible. Rice and potatoes (especially french fries) are staples with most meals, and not a lot of crunchy fruit and veggies. Lots of mushy food.

Part of it is poverty, but part of it I think is that they just don’t know about nutrition. All they know is what has been passed down to them from parents and family. They have not been taught otherwise.

Mozambique is the 4th fastest growing economy in the world. Really hard to believe in some ways, especially with the huge gap between rich and poor. Let’s pray that with a booming economy, increasing focus on education, and tremendous external interest in Mozambique’s natural resources, that gap will narrow in the coming years.

The week that was…

Minutes after last week’s post, I was very relieved to attend the closing reception of the international conference we hosted. It was cocktail party outside the conference centre featuring the same African musicians and dancers I wrote about last week, the same group that opened the conference…and my observation was that the whole thing felt quite unnatural.

IMG_1388Well, the universe works in some very interesting and mysterious ways sometimes. I was standing there, minding my own business, when one of the Zulu dudes grabbed me and led me to the front of the crowd. He put something on my head, and handed me a spear and leather shield and before I knew it, I was chanting and performing a Zulu war dance with them and three others from the conference! I was the only white guy up there, in a seersucker pants and a jacket. What a site it must have been. My body is just not capable of moving the way the Zulu do, but I gave it my best shot. As I have done with every aspect of this incredible journey.

I worked half a day on Friday, then off with my friend Liz, her two kids, and brother Sean235 for a whirlwind tour through Kruger national game park in South Africa and Swaziland. Sean and I went for an amazing three-hour open-vehicle sunset safari Friday night (or as Charlotte says, “safaaawee”…so cute) . Our Excellent guide (yes that’s his name) was a knowledgeable guy with a quirky sense of humour. He was comfortable and relaxed, but his eyes were fascinating–they never stopped moving, as he constantly scanned the terrain, on permanent alert. Like a predator.253

Kruger park is one of the largest in Africa, about 65 km west to east and 360 km north to south. It is home 547 species of birds, 147 species of mammals, and 114 species of reptiles.

I had no real expectations on what the experience would be like and what we might see. But in three short hours, it felt like the park animals gave us a real show, with impalas, hippos, elephants, wildebeest, buffalo, kudus, bush babies, porcupines, water bucks, and zebras all around us. We even spotted, albeit at a distance, a couple of lions and the rare black rhino. Apparently you can drive through the park for days and weeks and never see these. 247Rhinos, lions, elephants, buffalo, and leopards are what hunters refer to as “the big five” because these animals are so hard to kill, a reference that I dislike incidentally. We saw four out of the five, but the highlight for me was an elephant who just appeared on our right side, just feet away from the vehicle. I had spotted elephants at a242 distance a little earlier, but this was a completely different experience. It was MASSIVE, at least 15 feet tall…and so wise and peaceful looking. I stopped snapping shots and tried to just take it in. Magic.

One funny sidebar…about a year ago I bought this great safari-type shirt. Breathable, versatile, well designed and very comfortable. This will be perfect if I go on a safari one day, I thought. Ironic then that I did not have this with me for the safari (in the dirty laundry pile back in Maputo), and instead was wearing bright blue golf shirt! Very wilderness looking!251

Then up very early the next morning for another drive through the park, this time with the kids and Liz. More buffalo, elephants, zebras, as well as giraffes, vultures, turtles and more. Honestly, I wasn’t sure how well I’d fare inside a vehicle with two young kids for hours at a time, but I approached that as I have everything else on this trip, with openness to the flow. That attitude of acceptance changes everything.

The journey continued through South Africa to Swaziland, as we wound our way 110through the mountains of this small country (about 150×100 km), the last remaining monarchy in Africa. Interesting how this landlocked country, one of two in South Africa (the other being Lesotho) has managed to non-violently remain independent from British and South Africa rule. A country rich in tradition. Every year, for example, there is a national celebration where the king takes a new bride (he is about to about 13 now!). It is a showcase event for all the eligible women in the country. Is it a surprise then that about a third of the country is infected by HIV/AIDS.

The countryside is absolutely stunning, and there is certainly a different feel from South 283Africa and Mozambique. More orderly than Mozambique somehow, but not as modern as South Africa. We stopped at a little craft place with beautiful views, and minutes later, a massive water dam. We continued through the mountains, with pavement turning to dirt road. I started to feel that familiar tingle of worry and unease, not sure where we were headed and feeling like we had made a wrong turn. Being in the back with the kids, I had not really been paying attention. And we were beginning to lose daylight. No signage, and everyone we stopped to ask seemed to have no idea where we were. The what ifs started swirling around my head. Anyway, it passed and as it turned out, we were not off track at all. It just felt like we were.

We finally made it to the Mozambique border around 7:30 pm, where we discovered a problem with my entry visa. After about an hour of negotiation and waiting (thank you Liz), we sorted it out and were on our way. Just another part of the adventure. I probably should have paid more attention to the process, and been better prepared. As Sean pointed out, in the big picture it was a good thing because it showed that the immigration system can work the way it is supposed to. But I am so glad that we discovered this then, and not at the airport in a week from now, as this might have prevented me from leaving the country!

It was a wonderful tour, and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to do this with friends.

Sunday was a grey, windy, and unsettled feeling day. It matched the tumultuous feeling I had inside of me. I wandered across the street to the park where an afternoon music and food festival was unfolding. I just wasn’t in the celebratory mood. I was off. It happens. But much less often than it used to. And I know that it passes, and not to let it discolour everything else in the meantime. Learning.

I ran into Vally, a musician I met about a month ago in a club who, at the time, seemed very eager for me to play with him and his band. When I followed up by phone and text a few days later, he never responded. I saw him again about two weeks ago and he apologized and said his phone was broken. Then he asked me for money to get drugs for his sick child. I didn’t buy it because I don’t trust him. Then I ran into him again at this festival on Sunday. He apologized for his phone again and for asking me for money the last time we met. Then he asked me for money again. It really bothered me.

The relationships I have formed here, by and large have not been based on money. And this dude is shifty, insincere, and disingenuous. There is something about this sort of person that really stirs something up deep inside of me. I gave him a few bucks anyway, and off he went. I have since learned that Vally is a drug addict which explains why I felt the way I felt.

Later that day Domingues, one of the hotel receptionists, asked if he could borrow a cable to re-charge his phone. And then he said in his broken English: “I love you Mr. Jonatan. You are the best.” And everything re-balanced.

Monday was a better day. Less than two weeks to go and I feel my time running out. I met with someone from the Ministry of Education about website issues. Before we got to his questions, I pointed out that the average can’t even find or get to the website. Seems obvious, but I need to keep reminding myself of where I am. I keep hammering home the universal message that you must think and act like the audience you want to reach, regardless of where you are in the world.

I returned to the office and had a chat with Alberto, one of my colleagues. He was asking me about my visit, with some very insightful comments abou how difficult it can be in a strange place, far from home, different culture, language barriers, the feeling of being alone. “That describes it perfectly,” I said, “but I managed, with help, to adjust very quickly, and I am very proud of that.”

“Ahhh,” he said wisely. “But your approach from the very beginnning has been very open, and very friendly.” He’s right. I have been. Flexibility, awareness, thoughtfulness, a willingness to help and serve, and finding my rhythm quickly have made all the difference, and made this an experience I will never forget.

Tuesday I was flying, starting to wrap up meetings and reports. I met with Chico at the end of the day, and we practiced together, just the two of us, for about two solid hours at his home. He was sober, rested, and focused. I really loved this particular practice because it was more than just me learning his songs…I was actually collaborating with him, suggesting a few changes in wording and structure to his songs. He was open, appreciative, and into it. We’re working on three songs, which I may perform with him and the rest if the InTransito band next week. After we’d run through each of them about four times, he kept saying: “one more time, for the road.” Then his wife Anita made us tea. One tea bag, three cups.

This practice marked a turning point in that up until now, I have been driving the process. Tuesday night Chico asked me if I wanted to practice at his place the next night as well. He also gave me one of his percussion instruments. I will treasure this always, and hopefully put it to very good use in the coming months.

Wednesday we had another rehearsal together. Again, a very interesting practice…I made suggestions and am becoming more confident, and Chico was doing harmonies this time. The songs are evolving. No ego, no expectations, no agenda…just open. “Very good,” he said. “You are ready.”

This morning (Thursday) I was able to arrange a interview with the Canadian lead of this educational reform program at Radio Mozambique. It was a great 10-minute interview. The host was prepared, had good questions, and Suzanne delivered important key messaging like a pro.

Off to the beach this weekend for the first time since I arrived, followed by a visit to one of the training centers early next week.

I will close with a quote that I really like from Ram Dass which ties it all together quite neatly this week. Something to continue to strive for:

“We are all affecting the world every moment, whether we mean to or not. Our actions and states of mind matter because we are so deeply interconnected. Working on our own consciousness is the most important thing that we are doing at any moment, and being love is the supreme creative act.”

‘Til next week…


Into Africa–February 21, 2013

056Without a doubt, the highlights of this past week were my visits to two schools.

Soon after I arrived, I began asking friends and colleagues about schools that might be in need of all the things I brought with me, courtesy of many of you (money, soccer balls, pens). I also wanted to be sure that these gifts would not end up in someone’s pocket. Initially I thought maybe the flood victims would be a good place for it. But they are getting lots of attention now, with millions pouring in to help.

When I talked to Ida, a graceful woman who works at the same organization as I do, I had very good feeling (and I’m learning to trust those). She has lived here her whole life. She was part of the movement and war that led to independence in 1975, and then the civil war that started a few years after that, ending in 1992. The country emerged from that period of strife crippled, and the slow journey to re-build began. Ida is fiercely patriotic, determined to do anything she can do to improve Mozambique. She fights for human rights, is part of many causes, and is outspoken (not a common female trait here). She could be earning a very good living in the private sector, but chooses to stay in education to try to help the next generation. She holds down several jobs. It’s ironic that in a country that is trying to re-build its education system, they pay those that deliver it next to nothing…about $600 per month. Rent is about $500. This is a whole other issue for another time.

Anyway, Ida mentioned two schools that she has been involved that really need help: Casa du Gaiato (House for Boys), and Escola Secondaria Forca do Povo (Strength of the People Secondary School).

Casa du Gaiato is a school for boys who have lost their parents. It is run by a priest, Father Jose Maria, a very nice man who has been doing this for about 40 years. It sits on a site that used to be riddled with land mines. Most of the boys were found homeless and living on the street. Some have been bought and sold. They come from a range of horrific backgrounds, and predictably, many have serious emotional problems. There are 150 boys, ranging in age from 2 to 18. The school is not supported by the Government of Mozambique, but had been funded by Spain and Portugal when it began again 12 years ago. But they have stopped funding it since the economic downturn, and the school is trying to survive.018

There are five different houses for various age groups. The boys themselves run the houses, with a “chef” and “co-chef” in charge of each group. They meet every day to talk about problems highlights and lowlights in each of their houses and work on solutions. All boys are housed, fed, and taught. They all have responsibilities with their houses, working the land, preparing and serving meals, etc. There are no fences, so any boy can leave if he wishes.

It is a brilliant model. Many of the boys go onto university. One beautiful young man I met–Manuel–has shadowed a doctor for 10 years, and is now providing medical services for the school and the nearby village, while attending university in dentistry…and I think my life can be busy! Every day he commutes four hours to and from Maputo.

Manuel and Ida at Casa Gaiato

Manuel and Ida at Casa Gaiato

Ida and her husband Jose picked me up early Sunday morning, and we arrived about two hours later during the church service. A stunning open air building carved right from the rock it sits on. All the boys were there, as were the girls from the nearby village. I tried to sneak in quietly and sit in the back, but most were very curious, and kept sneaking peeks back at us. Check out a short clip from the serviceAfter church, we met with Father Jose. I gave him the equivalent of about $300 and a bunch of pens. Of course, many of the boys followed us around and were very interested in the four soccer balls! Then we toured the school: the library, infirmary, art workshop, classrooms, and some of the living quarters. Some of the older boys were a little guarded, but I just kept smiling and waving at everyone I made eye contact with, trying to find some way to connect. I tried to speak a little Portuguese and Changaan, which of course they got a real kick out of (in addition to the soccer balls!). If I want to make someone laugh, speaking Changaan seems to do the trick EVERY time!

A young student art teacher at Gaiato

Oasias, A young student art mentor showing off his work at Casa Gaiato. Imagine if he had some training…

We also visited the 2-4 year old house. No one was guarded here. The little toddlers mobbed us as we walked in…smiling and hugging us, trying to find a free arm or leg or anything to grab onto. Then I had lunch with Ida, Jose, Father Jose, and Manuel in the main dining room with all the students. A young boy was hovering around me at the end of the meal, and I felt a special connection with him. I gave him a yin yan necklace and tried to explain what it meant. His little eyes lit up.011

None of the boys “own” their own clothes. Everything is shared and rotated. It makes my wardrobe at home seem gluttonous. I will leave some of the clothes I brought to Mozambique, which I’m sure will also make my wife happy.

It was truly a perfect day, and I am so grateful to have had the chance to do this. Casa du Gaiato is an oasis of goodness and hope in a country where there is not enough of that to go around.

On Tuesday, I visited the second school with Ida, this time on the outskirts of the 045city…Escola Secondaria Forca do Povo. This school is run by Sister Helia, has 3,200 students (boys and girls), and runs morning, afternoon, and evening. In one class I visited, three students share the same desk at one time. This school receives some funding from government, but clearly not enough. Right now the sisters are also feeding and sheltering 400 of the people from Chokwe who lost their homes in the massive floods a few weeks back.

049We went on a short tour, and poked our heads into one of the classes in session. The kids were so friendly, curious, and communicative with me. I guess they must not get many North American visitors! I pinned a small Canada flag emblem on the class leader and she was thrilled.

Then on to outdoor gym class to hand over the soccer balls (see photo at top and video just above). These kids were wide-eyed, smiling, asking questions, giggling, laughing, touching, hugging, and shaking my hand. One even asked me for a signature, and after I signed his notepad, the rest of the class roared with laughter! One girl gave me a big hug and said “welcome to Mozambique.” A real sweetie!061

On the way home Ida brought me to the University where she teaches. She works tirelessly and selflessly and passionately to make Mozambique a better country. She is an inspiration. I asked her about the enormity of what needs to be done here. ”I cannot help everybody, and solve every problem,” she said. ”But I can try to help those in my small circle of life.”

She told me how a colleague of hers was blown up at the university by a letter bomb. Ida was with her just minutes before she opened the letter in a crowded room at the university, actually suggesting she wait til later to open her mail so they could talk. Little did she know at the time that this inadvertent decision would save many lives. Ida has lots of these kinds of stories to tell. She talked to me about the 32,000 students at the university, and how the majority don’t have enough to eat, don’t have electricity, or a desk, or even paper. Despite all of this, and even the poor quality of teaching, they still try to rise above.


Rel and Grishan, feeling a little “tired.”

Saturday I accompanied Mike and a bunch of his biking buddies on a four-hour ride into the hills outside the city. It felt wonderful to be out of the insanity of downtown Maputo. It felt even better not to be biking in 33 c weather! I drove the “support” vehicle for the group, providing fuel and fluids, and helping those who had flat tires. And, it was my first time driving on the left side of the road. Sure glad I was in the country for that experience! It was quite an impressive ride for the young and not so young lads. The halfway point was very close to the Swaziland border, and with my visa just about to expire, I had to leave the country to renew my visa anyway. So I walked across the border and back into Mozambique. But of a complicated process, and I was very happy to have Grishan, one of the local bikers with me. On the way I snapped this 026super cool picture on the side of the road. Love this shot.

Heating up
In other news, and in stark contrast to how I felt during my school visits, I felt myself boiling over on a number of fronts as the work week began.  Ready? The enormity of the challenge before me is becoming more and more obvious. A very different way of working. Reminder after reminder that goes unheeded. Basic systems that are not in place or not followed. Last freakin minute everything. We are holding an international conference next week, and all the key players will be here, so maybe I am feeling some of that as well.The constant lack of courtesy on the roads. Obnoxious, aggressive drivers nearly knocking me over on a daily basis. In the US, they’d surely be shooting each other. Everyone seems to be in a hurry, but for what? Cell phone calls that take precedence over everything it seems, particularly in person meetings or discussions. And virtually no one or nothing operates on time.The dirt. The garbage. The oppressive heat. I’ve been trying to get a few things fixed in my apartment since I arrived, including the AC, but everything seems to be a major problem. One morning this week I was drenched by 8 am. And Monday no AC at the office either.

Sometimes, oftentimes, it feels like trying to push water up a hill. And I don’t speak the language. That is a constant challenge.

All of a sudden I am overwhelmed by the feeling of wanting to get out.

Curious that all these things seem to be hitting me all at once. Maybe I’m having a bad day. Maybe it’s cumulative. Maybe being outside of the city for the first time reminded me of a more peaceful existence. Maybe home is calling me stronger now after five weeks. Maybe all of it cascading together into a big pile of yuck.

All of a sudden, I’m not feeling so “flowy.” Jules warned me about this. I need to calm the $%#& down and remind myself that I’m not in Kansas anymore. And switch off the judgment button again. I need to remember all the good things I’ve done and learned in the last few weeks. Good days and bad days are normal. This will pass quickly. Perhaps being in constant hyper awareness and input mode masks that.

I turned it around at the end of a bad Monday when I complemented the cook at the little restaurant across the street on her cooking. Then all the shite above, just faded. Sort of.

I put my head down again on Tuesday and tried not to let it get me down. Same shite, better attitude. Then the visit to the second school. Then one on one practice with Chico, which was powerful. He is a lovely, gentle man. No such thing as ego with Chico. Then some very good results trying to get Mozambican media to cover the conference next week. Who’d have thunk that, eh?010

I am remembering all the good that I have been involved with here, and that there is lots to be grateful for and proud about.

The lesson for me is to accept things as they are, not how I think they should be.

The lesson for the country is to not accept things as they are if things are to change.

‘Til next week,


Attitude of Gratitude

I have really been struggling with this of late.  So much to be grateful for, and yet this feeling of complacency and darkness creeps in. Not always, but more than I would like. It’s not a good feeling.

Gratitude has a way of dissolving negativity, and brings me back in tune with life. Makes me feel in harmonious. Things sort of just flow.

Anyway as so often happens, I come across inspiration when I seem to need it most (thanks Liane). A little helping hand from the universe.
I hope you also enjoy this short video.

Life Lessons From the Road

I often see things more clearly from the road—when I’m travelling or away from home. It gives me perspective and helps me better appreciate what I have. I seem to be more intuitive and better able to listen. And my recent trip was no exception.

My wife Deborah and I drove East along the Northern shore of the St. Lawrence river last week to see the whales, something she has always wanted to do. From Ottawa, it is about an 800 km. journey through Montreal and Quebec City, and then through the hills to the mouth of the Saguenay river which runs into the St. Lawrence. Whales, dolphins, and other marine life make the annual trip from the warm waters of the Carribean to feed on a huge buffet of krill.

Even before I left, that intuitiveness began to kick in. I am not mechanically inclined, but as I was leaving to meet my wife in Montreal, something told me that my brakes were not quite right. And I listened. Turns out the front brakes were shot and had to be replaced.

Two hours later, I arrived in Montreal. I picked up Deborah, and we made our way around the city, on our way to Quebec city. There was heavy traffic and lots of distractions. We came to a major fork in the road, and suddenly I realized I was in the wrong lane. I made a stupid, split-second decision to stop and switch to the right lane. A huge tractor trailer was barreling up behind me, and the right lane was thick with cars whizzing by. I managed to somehow just get out of the way of the tractor trailer, and into the right lane between cars. There was perhaps a two second window for me to make the move without causing a serious crash. I pissed off a few drivers, but I just made it. There was no time to think, just act. And I did. But that little maneuver had nothing to do with me. I know that something intervened.

I had not made any reservations anywhere, and really had no idea where we would end up and when. Deborah loves this kind of spontaneous trip, but this is something I usually have a really hard time with. I am a planner, and I always like to know where I’m going. It was very unsettling, but I did it anyway. I trusted that things would work out OK. There is a freedom in the not knowing, but it takes awhile to not be so afraid of it. And here’s how the accomodation part played out…

We came upon a beautiful little hotel in the heart of Quebec City, and they just happened to have one room left. We would never have found it if everything had been completely planned out. On the second day, we drove beyond the usual whale watching destination (Tadoussac) to the middle of nowhere. But we had heard that there was a gorgeous little campsite, right on the river. They were full, but we had chatted a little earlier with a very nice woman who just happened to be related to someone who ran the campsite. She phoned ahead, and somehow got a spot for us. We pulled in, checked with the person in charge, and wandered over to our site, which opened up through the trees to a small clearing. It was completely isolated from the rest of the site, overlooking the river. And by some miracle (of not planning), we had this little spot all to ourselves.

As we looked out over the river, a whale broke the surface of the water, and we heard the ‘whoosh’ as he cleared out his blowhole. And then another. This went on for hours, and then into the night. These magnificent creatures—so graceful, elegant, and majestic—and there we were somehow with them. There was something very peaceful about the experience. I felt very small in the overall scheme of things, yet somehow connected to something much, much bigger. Nature has a way of doing that.

The next day we went out in a small zodiac to get even closer to them. There were whales, dolphins, and seals all around us at times, coming to the surface, diving back down, gracefully doing what they were meant to do. Just being themselves, as nature intended, and allowing us the occasional glimpse into their world. Whales don’t know how to be be anything other than whales. I wondered what it might be like if I could be the same way. Just being who I am, without all the other things that I allow to get in the way.

We headed for home the following day, stopping in Montreal to visit with her family on the way home. I have trouble with this when traveling because I just want to get to where I’m going. But I surrendered. Well sort of, for a couple of hours. After visiting with her brother, John, she went to visit her aunt while I went looking for a bookstore with John. I had no idea where we were going and became agitated (once again) as we looked around for a bookstore. And then I thought to myself, who cares about the bookstore, and tried to just enjoy the drive with him. I began to let go of the burning need for a destination. We never found the bookstore, but by then it really didn’t seem to matter.

Leaving Montreal we drove through some very unsettled weather. I was anxious—my default state. And I knew it. But this time I tried to just allow the anxiety to happen instead of fighting it. And Deborah gave me some room. And then it passed.

As we neared home, there was a massive dark cloud on the left, and clear skies on the right. Yin and yan like as my wife put it.  And we drove right through the heart of it, together, as the rays of the sun pierced the clouds, an awesome light display of nature’s finest. A metaphor in some way for our marriage perhaps.

Lately I have been somewhat negative about our marriage, focussing more on the struggles and difficulties, and less on the good stuff. Deborah asked me to think a little more carefully about my words. She asked me to just try to enjoy our time together, like we did before we were married. I chose to listen instead of resist. And I remembered what a cool and joyful person she is. She gives me a soft place to land. I think it will be better now.

She also pointed out aspects of my personality that I have never been able to recognize in myself. I spread joy to those around me, apparently. I don’t see it, but I will take her word for it. And I am grateful to have a partner who cares enough, and is interested enough to help me see what I am unable to see in myself. Perhaps therein lies the potential magic of relationships…they allow you to see who you are, who you can be, and they give you the opportunity to work out the issues that are holding you back.

Over the last few days on the road I have been able to practice what I have read and written so much about over the last year or two. I’m not sure that practice will make perfect, but it definitely moves me closer towards the person I want to become.

The road reminds me of how little I really control in the big picture, and how exhausting the need to control can be.

It gives me perspective, as it always does, helping me to appreciate what I have. It reminds me how important it is to be in the moment. It reminds me that once I have set my intention, to let the universe work out the details and to have faith that things will work out somehow. It reminds of the extreme importance of attitude and gratitude.

And the road reminds me, yet again, that there are massive, unknown forces at work out there that are conspiring to help me. “The mysterious guidance that comes when we surrender,” as Anda so eloquently commented below.

I just need to get out of the way and let them work their magic.