Into Africa–January 24, 2013


I have been travelling for almost two days…but I’m almost there (Ottawa, Canada to London to Johannesburg to Maputo). Tired, but underneath that somewhere is a sense that I am really doing something very different, giving up what I know for awhile, and putting myself out there…into the great unknown. Literally.

At the very end of my trip…just about to leave the airport in Maputo, immigration searched my bags and decided to tax me on the 12 soccer balls I brought (generously donated by Mike Doucette at Footlocker!) to give to kids in schools here. Frustrating and ridiculous, but an important lesson in how things work in Mozambique. Corruption is rampant. Exhausted after two days of travel, I argued nonetheless, and he agreed to take “only” $25.

So far (travel days 1,2,3) I get the sense that everyone is very friendly….but now I wonder if that’s just a reflection of me. I tend to be more open and friendlier when I travel compared to home. Why is that? Am I just seeing more of what I am putting out there?

The first days on the ground (days 3,4,5) have been a bit of a blur and uncomfortable–getting over jet lag, meeting lots of new people, not speaking the language, trying to learn the culture, figuring out where things are and how to access them, trying to figure out the education program I will be providing advice on. Where do I fit in?

Thousands of miles from home, family, friends, my wife, my son. From all that is familiar.

But I am so very fortunate to have friends here–Mike and Liz. They have been so kind, helpful, and welcoming…I cannot imagine how difficult it would be were it not for them. My supervisor Suzanne has also been an absolute joy.

Days 6,7,8..starting to find a flow. Walking around town, cautious but more confident. Trying to find ways to connect with my Mozambican colleagues, and everyone I come into contact with. On the surface we have so little in common but it is simply a matter of digging. I know that I will find a way to connect and that the breakthrough moment will come. And I realize that I don’t make this kind of effort at home. Funny.

It is rainy season here, and they have been very heavy recently, with major flooding in some areas—near where I am and a little further north. Last week a power line went down during the storms here in Maputo and some young kids were electrocuted as they waded home from school through high water. A very sad thing for those families. In one day Maputo received 158 mm of rain…309 houses were completely destroyed and more than 400 damaged. And it is much worse in other areas just north of us, with more heavy rain forecast for the weekend.

There is a different value placed in life in this environment. Life and death…is more accepted and understood sort of. It’s hard to describe. Almost like they don’t fight it the way we do in the west.

I have written a communications proposal to produce a series of radio testimonials from young women who have been though the education program. With low literacy rates, little access to TV, radio is one of the cheapest and most effective way of reaching a fairly wide rural and urban audience. Almost 90% of Africans own a radio, and it is common for families and neighbours to gather together to listen to radio. It is an uphill climb here to get young women to consider training in non-traditional vocations (or any for that matter). But I will try to help in any way I can.

I learned today (Tuesday) not to use my left hand when taking or handing things to people. Some cultures (who do not use toilet paper) use their left hand to take care of that business, and are therefore offended if you use your left hand with them. So interesting….I would never have guessed that. I will be keeping a more careful eye on everyone’s left hand in the future!

And making an effort in their language…although my Portuguese is very poor, a little effort goes a long way. In fact making any effort…to be friendly, to connect somehow, to say hello….changes the entire picture. Every time.

Mozambique is one of the poorest countries in he world. But you would not know it in Maputo. Life seems pretty normal here. There is garbage everywhere, but there is clearly money here, relatively speaking. I have been to the outskirts and have had a glimpse of the way most people live in this country. And that is why I am here.

I walked by a cafe on Wednesday. there was a Mozambican singing Lionel Richie. Tourists listening, no locals. I guess some people need the familiar when they are far from home. I can see why that might be tempting, but it’s not for me. Feeling like a fish out of water brings so many skills into play. I think that being uncomfortable, in unfamiliar territory brings out all the best I have in me. It keeps me present and in the moment. And that is a good thing.

I think I had a breakthrough moment with one of the staff–Oaldo–in my office yesterday. He came to see how I was doing and told me about his job. It’s the first meaningful contact I have had at the office. I will nurture this relationship.

Today (Thursday) I have made a point to engage in some way with everyone I come across, and have connected with four more colleagues–Thomas, Miguel, Bruno, and Yvonne. But there are two in particular who I really like–Helder and Tomas. More on those dudes next week. The walls are coming down! Feels a lot more flowy and a lot less intimidating than it did only three days ago! 

Today I also put together brochure text for this program, trying to streamline and improve upon what they have, which is very little. In fact, concerted, strategic communications are virtually non-existent.

The lesson of the week? So many really, but overall….when it comes right down to it, we are all really not all that different, despite how it might appear. This immersive experience helps me remember that. More on this next week.

And the icing on the cake? Tonight I walked though the art park across from the apartment. The sun was setting, and the African night sounds were starting to hum. I stopped to watch a couple of locals playing checkers. They didn’t hustle me. They invited me to sit down and watch. Magic.

I will close with my new nickname…what do you get when Jonathan goes to Mozambique?



5 thoughts on “Into Africa–January 24, 2013

  1. Splendid post, Mojo! I am so proud of you; you are so brave! And so giving of yourself! Thank you for being the person that you are! Good luck and maybe you can tell us more of the countryside sights and sounds, what you see, and I hope the rain lets up so the poor people can get on with their lives… I am glad that I can read about your work as it is very very important! Peace and love and good luck with your teaching! Cissy in Texas

    • Thank you Cissy in Texas…haven’t really been out of the city yet…working every day…but I will provide more info on that next week. I can tell you that there about 7000 crocc on the loose nearby as a result of overflowing dams. Luckily I’m on the 2nd floor of my building!

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