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

Into Africa–January 31, 2013

kids under tree1“Many people travel, but you are a journeyman.”

Thank you to my friend Morene for sending this my way…I hope to live up to it. This is indeed a journey on so many levels. It is the perfect quote to begin this week’s post.

It’s kind of a long post this week….but if you look at nothing else, don’t miss the two video clips below.

A little about where I am. Mozambique is one of the five poorest countries in the world with an average income of about $1 a day. About 12% of the 15-49 age group has HIV/AIDS. It has an adult literacy rate of only about 46%, but that is hugely improved from 30 years ago. Although a high percentage of children are enrolled in schools, they don’t all actually go. Further, many of those that do go don’t actually learn much because of the caliber of the teaching. Internet access is about 4%.

Mozambique is one of about 54 countries in Africa, and is about twice the size of California, or a little smaller than the province of Ontario. It is on the southeast part of the continent, hugging the east coast, just north of South Africa and Swaziland. It is also bordered by Zimbabwe and Zambia to the west, Malawi and Tanzania to the north, and the Indian ocean to the east. Marriages are often polygamous in rural communities, with men having 2, 3, or more “wives” here. It is not uncommon for 10 kids in single family, and I have heard of some men with upwards of 30 kids from a number of partners! What up, bro! Many fathers clearly do not take their role very seriously here.

The Portuguese settled this country, and it remains the official language even though they pulled out in 1975, after the war for independence. Then the civil war began, lasting 17 years until 1992. Add in floods, cyclones, cholera, and malaria, and you can see how Mozambique has its challenges.

Malaria is a nasty and sometimes deadly disease that attacks the liver, caused by a parasite carried by the mosquito. They tend to come out mainly at night and can only fly about a kilometer or two. People who live here tend to build up some immunity. Although malaria is more of a rural than urban phenomena, it is now rainy season here, making it even more widespread. There is one huge, main central public hospital in Maputo. Which mean that people come from all areas to be treated for their ills, including malaria. Which means that those that are bitten here in town pass the parasite onto these mosquitos, they bite someone else, and so on. All of a sudden we have a potential central distribution point for malaria!

I regard every mosquito with utmost suspicion, which then turns into a fight to the death. I am taking my pills faithfully just to be safe.

There are about 20 different languages in Mozambique, some very specific to different regions…and we think in Canada that two official languages is complicated to manage! Mozambique has a population of about 22 million, spread out over 10 provinces, almost 2 million of which are in the capital city of Maputo (in Maputo province), which is where I am. Maputo is in the very south end of the country, only about 80 km from the South African border. It’s hot certainly…about 30-34 C are typical highs this time of year. Quite humid and muggy, and not much of a breeze. But it’s bearable, and you sort of get used to it (I was expecting worse). Yet all the men wear long pants, and almost no one wears shorts! So do I for work, but I don’t like it.

The massive amounts of rain continues to be a problem just north of us in particular, with more than 36 dead, and almost 100,000 displaced since my last update. To make matters even worse, a crocodile farm flooded, releasing 15,000 crocs into the Limpopo river. They have recaptured only about 2,000.

For all of you who generously donated $800 in cash as well as soccer balls, pumps, and pens…I think that putting it all towards helping these flood victims might be the best use. Homes, schools, and entire villages have been wiped out. More on that when I figure out how to best do this.

Public transit in Maputo

Public transit in Maputo

Dirty, smelly, loud, bustling, hustling…Maputo is not much different from any other big city. Rich and poor. So many different people, classes, cultures, nationalities coexisting. People are generally well dressed (particularly on Sundays) and polite. There are hardly any street people here, compared to what I am used to seeing at home. I haven’t been asked for money yet. Hustled yes. Trying to sell me things…all the time. But no panhandling.There are absolutely no rights for pedestrians and I mean NONE (you have to be looking all ways all the time). Stop signs mean nothing. Drivers are very aggressive…it makes driving in Montreal seem like a field day. This is very different from how they are as people. Cars seem to have a way of bringing out the worst in people no matter where they are. So many cars here, and people park wherever they want, including the sidewalk (and no tickets!). There is garbage and broken glass everywhere. Certainly no recycling program in Maputo! Everyone has a cell phone which seems strange here, but I guess communicating remains a powerful human need wherever you are.

So many cars, so little space for pedestrians!

So many cars, so little space for pedestrians!

Everyone is trying to sell something wherever you turn. VERY enterprising people! The street and sidewalks are a mess…big gaping holes everywhere. I have yet to see a police officer, car, or station, although there are guards everywhere, along with gates, electric fence “deterrents,” and razor wire.It’s total chaos…but somehow…it just works. Not the way I’m used to, but it works.

This is purely anecdotal, but I sense that many of our western problems–for example guns, bullying, drugs and alcohol, obesity–are much less of an issue here. Which doesn’t mean they don’t have their own issues, but it is interesting to think about why, and how much people of different backgrounds could learn from each other. Wouldn’t it be great if we could cherry pick and combine the best traits of all cultures?

The cost of living is much like at home. No bargains to be had here on food, drink, clothes, accommodation, travel, etc…prices are usually at least as much as home, and often more. For example, $200-250 a night for a hotel room would be about average. Because Maputo is bustling city with money, people here charge what they think they can get, and strangely, stick to their guns, and can usually get it. They are willing to lose sale for the sake of keeping prices inflated. I stopped for some fresh flowers…they had tons of them, and it was the end of the day. They wanted about $10, which I felt was way too high. So rather than deal, they let me walk. I suspect this is a big city phenomena though, and that in the rural areas this would be a much different experience. I also wonder how long this over-inflated bubble can last. And I also wonder how people who live and work here manage.

It’s a very interesting and strange mix of things here. The street names in Maputo for example…Mao Tse Tung, Vladimir Lenin, Karl Marx….all over the map. Lots of foreign money here as well…the Chinese built the stadium and the presidential palace (using their very own convicts!). Maybe they’re just being friendly. Surely they don’t want anything in return!

Someone told me that one of the things they like about Mozambique is the diversity….and that anything that can happen, and usually does. There’s an up and down side to that I guess. It’s a fairly liberal place  compared to some other stricter African countries, with a definite Latino feel and flair. On Friday night for example I found myself at the opening of an art exhibit….at the German cultural centre! I was surrounded by Germans, Mozambicans, and many other nationalities, speaking all kinds of languages. I generally don’t like these sorts of gatherings as most of you know–too fluffy and stuffy, I am generally just uncomfortable, and for some reason anxious–but I tried to keep on open mind anyway. I especially enjoyed a couple of local musicians, and thanked them for their performance.

“Music is the language of a 1000 nations.”

More inspiring words sent to me by my good friend Thomas. Thank you….

Saturday afternoon I was walking around town, when all of a sudden I heard these beautiful sounds. I followed the sounds to a municipal garden on the ocean. As I walked into the park I saw this huge tree, and underneath it, a large group of very well dressed people. It was a wedding, and they were all singing and dancing. Another one of those magic moments. I tried to be as inconspicuous as possible (not really successfully mind you) and managed to capture this bit of video.

Then I started thinking that it would be a great thing to somehow connect and play with local musicians. Try to do here what I love to do at home, and how incredible it would be  to learn their style of music. So out into the universe that thought went.

Sunday night I went to see a local band perform at Cafe Camisa…a cool little local spot for music, and attached to Nucleo de Arte (art nucleus), a workshop/studio where dozens of local artists come to paint, sculpt, play. It was a wild show, with a thumping, almost hypnotic, rhythm.

The musician dude (Ivan) that I thanked on Friday at the German cultural centre (see above), was at this club and recognized me. I talked to him about wanting to play with some local musicians and he offered to introduce me to one of the band members who was just finishing a set. Chico Antonio is an older guy, very talented, and as it turns out is one of the best known and accomplished musicians in Mozambique. He is the main guy in the video clip. So I started chatting with him and he offered to jam with me, and introduce me to other musicians! I finally connected with him today, and hope it will lead to something. Regardless, it was pretty cool how all the pieces just sort of clicked together following my intention.

Being open to the flow

Faces look back at you as you look at them. Cautious mirrors cautious, open reflects open. Smiles bring smiles. Raising your hand as a greeting gets you the same in return. Pretty simple equation, but a valuable lesson and reminder in human nature.

I have connected with many of the staff at the apartment-hotel and know most of them by name. They appreciate the effort. I think they get a kick out of me for some reason. They have a special handshake here, and I have tried to learn it and practice it on them regularly. They love that…I can hear them all chuckling and laughing as I walk away, genuinely amused. Big white guy trying to do handshake, they must be thinking. Funny guy that Mr. Jonatan! Some of them are actually seeking me out…going out of their way to connect and say “ola,” so that’s kind of cool. It feels genuine.

At work I have connected with a few people, after ongoing effort and patience. Tomas (pronounced Tomash), an older educated guy, a telecommunications engineer who also teaches mathematics. He took me to lunch last Friday which I really appreciated. But my favourite is Helder…probably about my age. He is a driver, but also provides logistics and coordination support for the program. Really bright, thoughtful, deep guy who understands big picture issues. He picks me up and drops me off every day. And he has my back. In his limited English and my even more limited Portuguese, we somehow make ourselves understood. He wasn’t sure about me at first, I could tell, but after a day or two, he came around. I mean, how long did he really think he would be able to resist my charm?

I finally connected with one of the women at the office…Denise. We had never exchanged more than a few words. But Tuesday morning I complimented her on her hair, and all of a sudden discovered she could speak English! We talked about culture and music…turns out she’s a singer too, and she has also offered to introduce me to other local musicians!

Not knowing the language is a real barrier, but somehow I am learning to get by. It’s hard though. Now that the novelty of being here is starting to wear off, and the routine is setting in I am starting to find it more difficult in some ways. I get up, go to work, come “home,” usually go out for a walk and a quick bite, do some writing, watch some TV (two English channels: CNN international which is pretty good or bad movie channel), meditate, and go to bed. Then repeat. It is mind expanding and new, but also kind of a lonely, isolating experience in a way and I do miss my wife, son, family, and friends. I will have to find a different gear with six weeks to go. Highs and lows are to be expected….I know I must continue to embrace the opportunity I have here.

‘Til next week…

MoJo