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.

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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

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Into Africa–February 7, 2013

chico and jIt was a long weekend in Mozambique, as people celebrated Heroes’ Day. I spent part of it with my friends Mike and Liz and a few of their friends–for dinner, then live music. It’s the first time we’ve all been out together since I arrived. Probably one of the rare adult only nights for all of them. I think they all enjoyed the freedom, something I often take for granted.005

This long weekend also marked the official start of the Marrabenta festival, which means “to break guitar strings.” It also coincides with the ripening of a type of fruit, which is used to make an alcoholic drink called “canhu.” Marrabenta is a type of music, with sort of a Caribbean feel. Not something I can listen to for days on end, but I still enjoy. Anyway, Friday night I went to a show at the Franco-Mozambique cultural centre (I know…another strange combination…who’d have thought I’d end up there?), featuring many of the stars of this genre, who each did about three or four songs–the cream of the crop you might say. Many of the performers were older, with younger players supporting them. Very respectful of the older generation. Two in particular I enjoyed: Cheny, a young guy who played this xylophone looking thing with incredible flair and intensity and Neyma, a middle-aged female performer with a great voice and some incredible dance moves. The show went from 9 pm til almost 1 am. People were drinking, dancing, and having a good time. Again, no rules and anything goes….so very different from home.

My plan was to take the free train the next day to the actual festival, about 90 minutes north from here. But I had been trying to connect with Chico Antonio (the older musician dude I wrote about last week), and it happened he was free Saturday. It turned into one of those rare days that I will remember forever.

Chico and the band chico

I met Chico at noon outside Radio Mozambique, and we wandered across the street to a local outdoor terrace. I was not sure what to expect, but hoped we would find some common ground. We sat for the next four hours, had a few beers, and he told me about his life as a musician and life in Mozambique.

He is 55 and has won many awards. He sings, plays guitar, flute, percussion, and trumpet. He ran away from home at the age of six because he fell asleep tending the cows, and half of them escaped. He thought his father would kill him. So he left and has never seen them again. He lived on he street until he was nine, when he was helped by two white men who got him into school. From there he studied chemistry, and then music at the age of 19, and he has never looked back. He lived in France on a musical scholarship for several years. He has toured and played with the best. During our chat, people were coming up to him every few minutes to introduce themselves, say how much they loved his music, and shake his hand. We spoke a mixture of English, French, and Portuguese, but he speaks five or six languages.

There is a youthful intensity about him, yet you can see every one of 55 years etched in his face, and particularly in his eyes. They really tell a story.

I hadn’t made any plans for the day, so when he asked me if I would like to come with him to his home and meet his wife, of course I did. We walked about 30 minutes through the city and his neighbourhood, people waving and nodding to him along the way…clearly he is a well-respected fixture in the community.

anita and jWe walked up 12 flights of stairs to his very modest apartment. Decent by Mozambique standards I think, but certainly not by North American standards. Very run down, water leaking though the ceiling. But a spectacular view. He has lived there for 28 years. I met Anita, his wife of 15 years (his third…consecutive though, not at the same time!). She is 50 but looks 35. ”I chose well,” he says. Chico has only one child from his first marriage, and stepchildren from his last two. Anita showed me her photographs and made us dinner. Then we listened to a bunch of songs he is currently working on. He even lent me the only copy of the cd so I could listen to it on my own. He seemed so pleased to be able to share his music with me. Watching him listen to music was something special. It takes him somewhere else, to a different plane of existence, like he is flying. I am new to this part of the music business, but I get it.

He has done it all and seen it all. Now he plays once in a while, when it suits him. He looks for people and projects that will allow him to explore something different and new to him. He has a very interesting sound…I can hear so many levels and influences behind his music. Although generally not one to label, I coined the term “Africool” to describe his music, which I think he quite liked.

008Yesterday I met up again with Chico, this time with his band–Edmondo, a young, very talented Mozambican who plays mainly percussion, and Chude, and American Mozambican vocalist who has toured with Bruce Cockburn and Jackson Browne. They started with an interview with two dudes from Radio Mozambique, then got into their groove together. They play this free-flowing, rhythmic, experimental kind of music–fun and trippy. Kind of like musical improv. They start with a groove or rhythm, and then build on it. Chico calls the rehearsals a workshop…and I suppose that is quite an accurate description. They bring a whole bunch of different instruments–flutes, recorders, castanets,  bongos, all kinds of shaker instrument, guitars, etc–and play as the spirit moves them. Anyway he introduced me and told them I was keen to learn their style of music, and jam with them (and other stuff too I guess ‘cos they were laughing!). Then more magic: the three of them welcomed me into their band with open arms for the remainder of my stay! We played together for a few hours, and then went for a few beers. I was also their official photographer for the their promo photo! I must admit I am a little starstruck, but what the hell, I will give it everything I’ve got and see where it takes us. And I was so very touched by how warm and accepting and open they were with me. We have another “workshop” session Friday night!

Money makes the world go around?

Switching gears…I am particularly conscious of money here. Those who have, and those who don’t. Those that make it, those that spend it, those that are trying to get it. Much has been said about money and what it represents–good, bad, and ugly. I know that it can do so many positive things in the world, but it can also be the source of such pain and misery. I am beginning to see it as not necessarily any of those, but more as a source or transfer of energy. I heard it characterized recently in and of itself as neutral, but that it is our attachment to it that creates problems.

I can walk down the street here and have nothing left within about 10 minutes if I give it to everyone that approaches me. So why say yes to one and not another? How to decide if one needs it more or less than the other? It’s all how I look at it. How I judge it. If I feel hustled, I tend not to want to part with it. If I see someone who looks like they need it, I will give them some. Or buy a pineapple from them. Or give them my bread or whatever I might be carrying. I am starting to ramble a bit here I guess because I don’t really have any answers. But this experience, and in fact my life in the last year or two, is causing me to re-examine my thoughts about and relationship to money.

Case in point: I just received one of my daily junk emails, this one from Kijiji or Groupon trying to sell me:

  • LED candles (with remote!)
  • Automatic soap dispenser
  • Aviator glasses
  • Wishing lanterns
  • Gel pillows
  • Levitating bottle holder (now my life can finally be complete)

Really? Consider that 2.5 billion people (about a third of our planet) live on less than $2 a day, and this obscene consumerism could not seem any more ridiculous. This kind of frivolous waste has been bothering me since Nicaragua, and clearly it still is.

As I wrote in my last post, I seem to have a pretty good relationship with the staff at the apartment/hotel. In fact some of them are even trying to teach me their language of Changaan. Is this because I tip them from time to time, or because I make a sustained effort to connect with them? I think and hope the latter is true.

There are guys who sell crafts in the park across the street. One younger guy–Raymond–pushes me hard, and tries to get me to buy something no matter what. I explained to him on Monday how unpleasant it is to be hustled, and asked him he feels when someone tries to sell him hard. He heard me, but still wanted me to buy something. I gave in, and bought something small which clearly disappointed him. I think he ripped me off, but whatever.

But there’s another guy–Francesco– who sees me coming now and does not try to sell me at all anymore. He seems interested in just talking to me! Those are the kind of breakthroughs that make putting up with the Raymond types worth it. And there are many of these positive stories. Positive or negative, these people are very, very good at reading and reacting (and exploiting) non-verbal communication clues.

There are fair people here, as well as those who are trying to rip you off, nice and not so nice. I suppose that is no different from anywhere else.

I have talked about two very different types of experiences in this post. The question is how will I view them, how do I respond, what filters do I use, and how do I allow them to affect me?

One thing that strikes me…I am so busy absorbing and learning in this new environment, that I spend very little time judging. I am open, and that’s a good thing. A positive outcome of the unfamiliar.

Lots happening on the work front but I will save that for next week.

I will close with a few timely and relevant words by Neil Donald Walsch (that I know my wife will remind me of when I am home!).

“There is something ‘wrong’ with everything. No matter what you are looking at, you can find something wrong with it, something imperfect, something that is not okay with you. Don’t worry, if you look hard enough you’ll find it.

There is also something ‘right’ with everything. No matter what you are looking at, you can find something right with it, something perfect.”

I am doing well with this here, in the unfamiliar, but recognize that I must try to see more of what’s right always.

‘Til next week.

MoJo