Through Another’s Eyes

looking_backDear readers…it’s been awhile. A long while. It seems that I am inspired to write on the road…less so when I’m home.

 

But I received this from a reader recently, Cecile, who I have never met. She began following my journey several years back. My life looks a whole lot different than it did four years ago, and although I know deep down that I have made much progress in so many ways, day to day the evolution feels tiny, incremental. I found her note to be very powerful because it summarizes my journey quite succinctly. And although I try to remain present and forward looking, it reminds me of the critical importance of occasionally looking back and tracking my journey over longer periods, with a view to recognizing and celebrating the key milestones along the path that have led to growth. Sometimes it takes someone else with an objective perspective to help you see them. Thank you Cissy for this incredible gift that you have given me.

 

A few years back, I found out that our whole lives we’d been lied to and deceived, and that lots of unnecessary lives had been lost, and more were being sacrificed. There was so much confusion and sadness in my heart, and all the animals were suffering more and more, and it continues to this day.

 

But one day, I found this website called Tiny Buddha. All the writers there were great, but one stood out to me. His name was Jonathan, just like my own little brother Jon who is lost to me now. So I really began to pay attention to all that he was trying to teach, and little by little the crazy chaos in my head and in my heart started to click, and the brain cells started holding hands again.

 

And so one day the brave and good man did go to Africa, far from home he went, to help the children there. And I followed him closely. He didn’t know me, but I left comments and I continued to learn. Then when he came back home, things had changed, and he had to face some harsh truths that would have broken any good man.

 

But my friend Jonathan hit the slopes when the powder was right, and he shared his pics and his fun. That old dude sings a mean song too, has his own band, and he’s just as cute as they come. Pure goodness and love this one. Tonight he sneaks in the back door in his own endearing way with a modest FB post to get our attention again.

 

He hasn’t lost his MOJO, that’s for sure. Love you Mr. Lareau! P E A CE buddy!–Cissy

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Out of Africa–On Purpose

IMG_4815This is my final post of a series of lingering thoughts from my recent trip to Mozambique, Africa. This post is on finding my life’s purpose.

I don’t know that I’m any closer to figuring out what to do with what’s left of my life, yet perhaps this experience has made things a little clearer. I know I like to help those who need it. I realized that whatever it is I am doing, I have to enjoy it–no more endless, meaningless drudgery with no connection to who I am. I was reminded that I still abhor the bureaucracy and bullshit that gets in the way of progress and putting talents to good use.

I discovered that I really enjoy the consultant or advisor role, and the fact that in a short-term contract, volunteer or otherwise, there is a beginning and an end. I am not entrenched in the organizational culture, and that allows me to approach the issues and situation with fresh eyes.

I enjoyed the structure and challenges of the work, the commitment to a purpose, but without the attachment to that purpose. I realize that once I’m gone it is out of my hands…and that feels good and freeing somehow.

I re-discovered that unfamiliarity brings out the best in me and helps me tune in to my inner voice that has all the answers.

I will close by paraphrasing a few relevant and meaningful thoughts that I heard recently from Deepak Chopra that have been bouncing around in me ever since:

Fear and desire can cloud our intuition. But beyond that is the source of all intuition. The law of detachment helps us embrace the unknown. Uncertainty is essential in our path to freedom….it reinforces our need to trust ourselves. Uncertainty is living from within, able to trust our inner being. No barriers, no limitations. Into the field of all possibilities. The intuitive heart knows. Listen closely. It will always lead you in the direction of your soul’s purpose.

Out of Africa–On Guns

IMG_4815Over the next few weeks, I will continue to post a few lingering thoughts from my recent trip to Mozambique, Africa. This post is on guns.

I was comparing the gun situation in Mozambique to the massive gun problem they have in the US, where guns are entrenched in their culture. South Africa is very close by, and shares that dubious distinction of also being one of the most violent countries in the world, clinging stubbornly to their right to bear arms, refusing to evolve.

Mozambique is certainly not a crime-free country by any stretch, but widespread gun ownership and use does not appear one of their problems. Is it because of the people themselves, is it because they can’t afford them, or is it because there is strict access to them (you must make a case for why you need one)?

My sense is that it may be a combination of the latter two, and that easy and inexpensive access would lead to gun mayhem in Mozambique, just as it is in the US and South Africa.

For the past 30 years or so, Mozambique has basically been a peaceful country, having had more than its share of violence, and yet their flag features an AK47, the only country in the world to do so. I find it sickening. And primitive. Is there no other way to symbolize independence?Flag_of_Mozambique.svg[1]

Out of Africa–On Education

261Over the next few weeks, I will post a few lingering thoughts from my recent trip to Mozambique, Africa. That trip changed me, and I find some aspects of re-adjusting to “normal” life quite challenging. That unsettled, disconnected feeling is back. I will write more about this later, when what’s behind it is clearer, but for now I will focus on things I seem to have a firmer grasp on.This first one is on education.

Lack of education I think is the basis for most of the problems in Mozambique, as it is in all countries, developing or otherwise. Education is the only way path to a better future. And that means a quality education, with well-trained, fairly paid teachers. They play a critical role in forming the next generation, and yet we continue to attach so little importance and worth to them. I can think of no better definition of “short-sighted.”

Education should not only teach you about things, it should also teach you how to think. It should teach you to ask questions. It should teach you to see things differently, beyond your own narrow scope, and to consider bigger issues and implications. It helps make you a global citizen. Education makes you more employable, which means you have a chance to earn a better living. It makes you less dependant. It opens up options, which makes you less desperate. And desperation makes people dangerous.

Education changes everything at the source, and I believe this is where most of our energy and resources should be channeled.

Chico and the Man

jandchico3Perhaps the most rewarding part of being in Africa was the relationship I formed with Chico Antonio. We met one night between sets at a local live music club. I asked him if I could sing with him, and learn his music. I had no idea at the time that Chico is a very famous and respected musician in Mozambique. And one of nicest, kindest souls I have ever met. He took me under his wing and introduced me to his band, and invited me to rehearse with them. Often we would just spend time together, chit chatting, laughing, and enjoying each other’s company. But my favourite times with Chico were when we practiced together, just the two of us, at his apartment. Calm, peaceful, focused.

We worked on three of his songs in his native Zulu language of Shangaan, a beautiful dialect that I will write more about in upcoming posts. On my very last day, sitting together in our favourite little watering hole, we sang the songs together, and I recorded them. I present them to you now, filmed by a very nice man named Emidio Noormahomed, who unfortunately I only met at the very end of my stay in Mozambique. But somehow he was sure our paths would cross again.

This first song is called Podina. Podina is the name of a woman Chico dated many years ago. She is upset, and even when she smiles, her eyes are not smiling. He is asking her where she is, and pleading with her to come back to him. This is maybe my favourite for a number of reasons. I love the sound, and how it makes me feel. Over several weeks, I also made several suggestions to change the some of the words and structure of the song, which Chico embraced and incorporated. No ego, just open. All the “home, home” parts, which sort of sticks in your head, and kind of gives the song a lift.

The second song is called Zizi, a young boy of about four years old, the son of one of his bandmates Jose Maria. They were practicing one day, and while he was playing with his toys, seemingly oblivious to the music, Zizi began speaking some of these words about how the sun was setting on Chico and Jose Maria’s life, and how his was just beginning. That nothing in life is forever. Out of the mouths of babes. Anyway Chico turned it into a song many years ago, and as you will hear, I added a little North American twist at the end. “Improv” as Chico refers to it.

The third and final song is called Sinongue, and it is about calling someone from the heart. Chico is playing a very interesting African instrument known as a thumb piano.thumb piano His is a home made version that looks something like this, mounted in a construction hat for better acoustics.

Happy Easter, and I hope you enjoy this musical offering!

Into Africa–March 21, 2013

242“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”–Maya Angelou

Friday, March 15 was my last official work day in Mozambique. And what a day it was–finishing my last few reports, copying files, debriefing the director. “We appreciate the way you do things,” Edmundo said simply at the end, which apparently is high praise. I’ll take it. He seemed engaged and interested as I summarized my findings, accomplishments, and recommendations. Who knows what will happen once I’m gone, but I am satisfied that I gave them everything I could, and that I have moved the communications bar up a few notches on several fronts. I have shown them how strategic communications practices in certain key areas can improve their program.

And then the goodbyes. Helder and Suzanne took me out for lunch…you choose your meat, and then they cook it for you! Some of my other work colleagues even took me out for a beer at the end of the day…very thoughtful. Even Laura, who has been stone cold with me since the beginning, finally cracked at the end!

Then onto what I knew would be perhaps the toughest goodbye…Chico. I met him at our usual cafe. We played our three songs together one last time. This time I recorded them, which will not only be a great memory, but it will also give me something to practice with as I try to recreate them at home. Saying goodbye to Chico was very hard…maybe this is what they mean by “bromance?” He has been so kind, open, and accepting of me over the last two months. I will be forever grateful.

Working with Chico and the band also reminded me of what Ron and Rob, my music teachers and mentors in Ottawa, have drilled into me for so many months–the importance of being flexible and versatile, bringing more than one talent to the musical table, and being familiar with what others are doing in the band so you can speak their language. I have done well on the first one, but definitely need to work on the last two.

I capped off Friday night with a boys night out with Mike. BBQ meat, beer, and pool. Arrrrr! Great to have some one on one time together, and a nice way to close things out. I am grateful to him for opening his life to me while I was here.

After a short, restless night of sleep, I was up packing and getting organized to go. A few more goodbyes. Francesco at the park insisted on giving me a gift, so I chose a small stone rhino. Very generous, and rare, as I have not noticed much gift giving here. And then to the hotel staff–Moyenne, Cristina, Matoush, Orlando, Editio, Domingues–who also seemed genuinely affected. I surprised them when I said “salanini,” which is Changaan for goodbye. Liz and the kids picked me up, and off we went to the airport. I will always be especially grateful to Liz for opening this African door for me in the first place, and being so generous and welcoming with me in so many ways. This could be the start of a whole new chapter for me.

Although I am so happy to be going home, the goodbyes were much, much harder than I could have imagined. That must be a good sign.

The voyage home began uneventfully Saturday afternoon from Maputo airport. A quick hop to Joburg where I had about three hours to kill before the 8 pm flight to London. I was feeling a little off, but chalked it up to the stress of leaving, and not having had much sleep the night before.

Right before boarding, sitting in a jam-packed waiting lounge I began to feel very strange indeed. Everything started to feel distant and distorted, becoming opaque. And then the nausea kicked in. I put me head between my legs to try and control it. Then I passed out, not sure for how long. When I came out of it I was drenched in sweat. There is no way I can board this plane like this, I thought (or spoke?) to myself. But it passed, and I mustered up enough energy to board what would be a brutal 11-hour, jam-packed flight to London.

I remember having some very interesting chats with an elderly South African man sitting next to me, as I drifted in and out of consciousness. I also remember the nausea and the pounding headaches. I just have to get though the next hour, I kept thinking, over and over again.

When I arrived in London, I did not have the strength to get my stuff off the plane. I was greeted by some very kind airport staff and paramedics who checked me out, and wheeled me to a quiet lounge where I could rest and re energize for five hours before the next flight. Those Brits were so good to me, which I know will make my mother very proud! This was in stark contrast to what happened in Joburg, where not one person asked me if I was OK. Although one incident does not define a nation, I do get the sense–as I have throughout my trip–that there is an overriding lack of human compassion or consideration for others. It’s every man for himself.

I have never felt as defeated, weary, and alone as I did on that final leg of the trip, sitting on an airplane toilet with diarrhea, the shakes, fever, headache, and sweats. Little did I know this would define the next few days. Just need to make it through this flight, I thought. Just need to make it off the plane. Just need make it through customs. Just need to get my bags. Then it will be OK.

It took everything I had (and some of what I didn’t know I had) to make it home. It was a very gruelling 30-hour trip, but It could have been worse. If I had become sick just one day earlier I never would have been able to make it. I am grateful for that.

Although it was not the homecoming I had envisioned, I was so very happy to see my wife. I hugged her for what felt like a long time, and remember not kissing her in case I was contagious. My great friend Tommy was also there, decked out in full St. Paddy’s regalia! He has been a rock, and I am very grateful.

I don’t remember much after that…my wife and son tell me my colour was grey, and that I was somewhat delirious for the rest of the day on Sunday.

As I write this, it is Wednesday, and I am in the hospital where I have been in quarantine since Monday morning, trying to figure out what’s wrong with me. Typhoid, dengue, H1N1, and cholera are the front runners. They’ve ruled out malaria. My body has done and produced some things in the last few days that I would not have thought possible, or even human. I haven’t eaten since Sunday, but finally think I can start.

And now, Thursday, they think they have identified the bacteria responsible, but after doing some research, this explanation does not cover off most of my symptoms. So I am preparing my case for when I see the docs later today. I began to feel better on most fronts late yesterday, that’s the good news, but there were a few complications that will keep me here until the weekend. Oh well…might as well deal with it all while I’m here, eh?

But lots of good news so far today: they’ve taken out the IV, I am keeping solid food in me, all my symptoms are fading, my tongue is pink, and my blood level indicators are all normalizing.

The hospital experience itself is a whole other story–good, bad, and ugly. I won’t go into this part in detail, but I will say that if you do get sick, make it some sort of infectious and contagious disease. You get to bypass that usually horrific emergency waiting room scene, you get your own private room, and you get our own dedicated air supply. Luxury!

On a serious note, I cannot stress enough the need for someone to advocate on your behalf while you are in hospital, and that you yourself keep track of what is happening as best you can. Write things down when you have lucid moments…questions, comments, what’s happening to you, symptoms, etc. Hospital systems are usually big and clunky, and not designed for the personal, intricate issues surrounding you and your health. There is so much going on–decisions being made, medications being prescribed, changes in staff, dissemination of your information, politics, and priorities other than you.

As the patient, and depending on your condition, you are hardly in a position to keep track of all this. There have been several key decision points during my hospital stay where if my wife had not stepped in, things could have easily gone off the rails for me. Remember that how well you are feeling is not the only determinant to what happens to you in hospital (although it should be). Bed availability, other patient’s conditions and requirements, and cost of care all factor into the decisions made by hospital staff and administrators. So it is absolutely critical that you have someone who can follow what’s happening, and push for the right decisions to be made that are in your best health interests, at least until you are well enough to take over. Thank you, my love, for being that someone for me.

Having said all that, I sure was happy to be back in Canada for all this medical madness. Getting treated in Mozambique would have been an adventure. If I were in the US, I’d have to take out a second mortgage to cover the costs.

I keep asking myself what the lesson is for me in all of this. I’m not sure yet, but it will come. It always does. I just don’t always see it clearly right away.

Oh…and one other work-related thing I am quite proud of: my commitment to describing the journey in this blog. I wasn’t sure that I would have that much to say, or even that I would know how to say it. And I am so grateful to those of you out there who have taken the time to read about it.

This was not the wrap-up I had envisioned, so I will be back in the coming weeks with more “uplifting” thoughts and images from Africa. I will close with a quote I really like from an excellent blog called What is Real True Love.

“At every moment we’re either becoming more aware and more sensitive, or we’re becoming more self-preoccupied and numb; we’re either moving in the direction of becoming more alive inside, or internally dead; more ego driven or more soulful and guided by perennial universal and noble principles.”

‘Til next week,

Jonathan
(MoJo just doesn’t seem to fit today)

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.

031

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.

MoJo

007

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…

MoJo269

Into Africa–February 28, 2013

Me and Jackson just outside Nelspruit, South Africa.

Me and Jackson just outside Nelspruit, South Africa.

I finally took a day off last Friday, and travelled to South Africa for the weekend. Liz was running a race on Saturday, so I hitched a IMG_4738ride to Nelspruit, about 200 km west of Maputo. I felt the difference as soon as I crossed the border–from third world, to what seemed to be more like my normal. Roads are in good shape, the land is irrigated and cultivated, buildings are well maintained, no garbage, malls, good medical services, everything is stocked, etc. Ironic that in Nelspruit it is not safe to walk alone at night.

Liz dropped me at Jorn’s B and B…an immaculate little place where everything has been carefully thought out; everything is just so (run by a German). This cute little dog was there to greet me and Johannes, a very gentle, man made me feel welcome. IMG_4740A very nice man–Jackson– picked me up and brought me to a mall for dinner. Safer that way he said. I had a nice steak and a huge glass of wine for about $14. In fact food and accommodation here in Nelspruit are quite inexpensive, and top-notch quality and service.IMG_4742

I had not planned ahead, and unfortunately was not able to get onto any local tours of what they call the “Panorama Route,” but negotiated a deal with Jackson to bring me to a few places. He picked me up at 10 am Saturday morning, with our first stop being the Sudwato caves, a huge system of dolomite caves inside a mountain, formed hundred of millions of years ago. Stalactites, IMG_4756stalagmites, and all kinds of other formations that have taken millions of years to create. The guide pointed to one that was quite small, but grows only 2.5 cm. every 100 years! Part of the cave system had been excavated to build a 400 person amphitheatre where they have concerts and other events. Something about the type and porousnous of the rock make the acoustics incredible. I hadn’t really thought that I’d enjoy the caves, but it ended up being a pretty cool experience.

IMG_4760Then onto the chimp sanctuary where they rescue and rehabilitate abused chimps from all over Africa. Some come from circuses where their fingers have been cut off. Some were bought and sold as pets, and become abused once they are not quite so cute and cuddly anymore, and clearly can’t be kept as pets. Many have been fed junk, given booze and cigarettes; in fact many arrive at the sanctuary as full-blown alcoholics (maybe a whole new clientele for my wife!). Sorry…not funny.

Each of the 34 chimps had a very unique and tragic story of being abused. Cozy is regarded as the crazy uncle by one group of chimps. He was given experimental “test” drugs for many years by a drug company. When they did not need him anymore, he was sold to a circus. Then he ended up on the street of Italy, beaten, castrated, and abused by his owner so he would perform tricks. No wonder that now he is a little crazy and not fond of humans. In fact none of the chimps are. No surprise.

Chimps are now being poached by the truckload in different parts of Africa. Their numbers in the wild have dropped from 1 million to 120,000. Apparently chimp meat is an expensive delicacy, but I can’t imagine eating something that shares about 98% of my DNA.

But really the best part of the day was spending it with Jackson. He is from Zimbabwe originally, and has been in South Africa for about 20 years. He is married with three kids, and is about 43 years old. he is VERY talkative, with a very easy temperament. And very wise. He talked about all kinds of things during our time together, about his country, culture, traditions. But he also had some simple but profound wisdom on life, relationships, marriage, career, purpose, business. Jackson is not much of a listener granted, but that was OK by me. I was happy to just soak it up. I mentioned surfing at one point, and how much I love it, but that I’m not that good at it. “Not that gewd (good) implies comparison to someone or something else,” Jackson said. “And that just doesn’t matter.”

While I was touring the chimp sanctuary, Jackson picked a bunch of leaves from the gum tree, and gave me a whole pile of them. You boil them and inhale the vapour, and apparently cures colds, the flu, chest problems, and congestion. I tried it Sunday night, slept like a baby, and woke up feeling great Monday morning.

It is very curious sometimes how and why we meet certain people. Jackson was put in my path for a reason and I am grateful. “I’m happy to see the sights,” I said to him, “but the best part of the day was spending it with you.”

Saturday night I enjoyed a lovely meal and wine tasting with Liz and her friends at their B&B. Beautiful food and wine for $25. And on the way back Sunday, we had to slow down for a family of baboons crossing the highway, from one banana plantation to another! It didn’t really phase Liz, but it certainly got my attention!

All in all a real treat. I welcomed change if scenery, and a nice break from the big city and everything Maputo. Although it did make me think…I travelled from third world to “civilized” country in a couple of hours, and yet it’s not safe to walk the streets at night in much of South Africa apparently. A mugging here could easily be a murder. Not so in Maputo.

But what both countries have in common is what little value they place on human life. Everyone is expendable. If I got knocked down by a car in Mozambique for example, life would carry on, and there would be few repercussions. About two weeks ago, a woman jumped from an apartment building, landing on a car many stories below. This happened steps from my office. Two hours later, some people showed up to clean up the mess (not really sure who they were). The way they treated the remains was appalling. They unceremoniously scooped up the remains and shovelled it into the car. No human dignity.

Life means very little, but the pursuit of money means everything. And money means corruption, which starts at the very top. It’s really quite depressing. So if you live in this environment, how do you not become cynical? How do you not get overwhelmed by an overriding feeling of futility?

Working it out

On the work front, we hosted an international conference this week. Organizing something like this here is very different from home. Everything is last minute, and many things don’t get done. Getting a quote, approval, or signature is a major ordeal. There is rarely the sense of urgency I am used to when approaching a deadline. Everything takes much more time, especially if you need other people. Internet is unreliable, as are printers and other office basics.

Helder and Ilate the night before the conference. We just stuffed a conference bags!

Helder and Ilate the night before the conference. We just stuffed a conference bags!

Just trying to get a few extra tables set up at the conference took three separate meetings with a total of eight people! WTF! One of the only times since I arrived where I kind of lost it, but at least they don’t understand English swear words. I get overwhelmed by it all sometimes and wonder how we will ever get the job done, but I have also learned to surrender to it. I flip back and forth between maddening frustration and surrender. At times I have been very critical of some people and situations and that does not feel good.

I am trying to break down barriers and create relationships everywhere as best as I can, including work, and that has taken me a long way here. But I also realize that I will not succeed in connecting with everyone, and not everyone will like me (as hard as that may be to belive!). But that’s ok. I am learning not to care so much. I do the best I can and try not to get too wrapped up in the outcome.

IMG_4775One (of many) though-provoking moments was at the opening. There were 12 African musicians in full costume playing and dancing. Having been here now for six weeks, it seemed like the most unnatural thing to be happening in a conference centre. But I guess if I were a participant travelling from another country, I can see how this might feel like a fun, typical, and “cultural” way to kick off the conference. We also managed to get lots of media attention….TV, radio, newspaper, and online which was a big plus.

And on the first day, this paraphrased thought from Neil Donald Walsch came my way. The timing was perfect:

Although conditions on the exterior of your experience will change, your highest benefit will come when your conditions on the interior remain the same.

In the end, the conference came and went and was successful. Certainly not exactly the way I would have wanted it in a perfect world, but well received overall. I am and proud of what we were able to do under the circumstances, and in particular, the in depth media coverage by Mozambique’s biggest TV station. I worked this one really hard, and this story will be a very important example to demonstrate the power of working with media to shape the message on why education reform is good for the young people of this country, and how they can access these new programs.

With two weeks to go, I still have lots of work to finalize

And thoughts of home are swirling around in my head.

He shoots….

A bit of a tangent here, but I will wrap up a story I watched on CNN that really bothered me about the Israeli soccer team. They recruited two Muslim players for the first time ever, and the reaction of many fans has been nothing short of hateful, and the hate is spreading. Many are violently opposed to this, and will only support a purebred team. In the words of one fan “muslims are my sworn enemy, even if they are a good person.” Somewhat ironic given what their ancestors lived through. This hard line, inflexible, intolerant approach reflects what I think is perhaps the biggest problem in the world today. How can their ever be peace with this attitude?

I will close this week’s post with a short but relevant and poignant story from the Dalai Lama:

Someone asked the Dalai Lama, Why didnt you fight back against the Chinese? The Dalai Lama said with a gentle smile, Well, war is obsolete, you know. Then, his face grave, he said, Of course the mind can rationalize fighting backbut the heart, the heart would never understand. Then you would be divided in yourself, the heart and the mind, and the war would be inside you.

Til next week,

MoJo