Into Africa–February 14, 2013

Charlotte, Seamus, and I with Maputo in the background

Charlotte, Seamus, and I with the city of Maputo in the background

“When I let go of who I am, I become who I might be.” –Lau Tzu

This post marks the halfway point of my journey. Thanks for sticking with me.

My wife fell this week and injured her back. It feels very strange to be here, thousands of miles away from home, and not there to help her. I’m sorry Cheri. I love you. And I will be home soon.

Time has moved very, very quickly in some ways. In other ways it feels like I have been here for six months. I am overwhelmed at times by everything, with fear and uncertainty rearing their ugly heads, but I seem to settle myself down quickly.

Here’s a little note I made to myself about three weeks ago: “they have so little in terms of communications, I feel that what I am doing is useful and appreciated. It is not a bullshit bureaucratic exercise in wading through red tape and massaging egos. Maybe that perspective will change, but so far so good.”

I know that politics is inevitable in the workplace, and was under no illusion that figuring out what to do on the communications front and actually getting it done in a very different culture and language would take some very special skills. What I did not consider is that the politics and blockages would come from thousands of miles away.

While I was very frustrated at first, and felt like just throwing in the towel, I eventually came to the realization that in fact what I need to do us re-double and fine tune my efforts, and concentrate on those areas where I know I can make headway at the local level. I must remember how fortunate I am to be having this experience. I also have to keep in mind that this is much different from Nicaragua experience which was physical and hands on. This is office work, and mentally challenging, but just as important just in another way.

I am also very aware of the fact that my “Africa” experience so far has been through a big city lens. Maputo does not define Mozambique or the rest of the continent, so I am hoping to have the opportunity to experience life in other, more rural areas in my final four weeks, hopefully in the context of work and not as a tourist.

Last week I moved to the head office, a short walk from the apartment, and it has introduced a whole new level for my communication work. I am working directly with ministry of education staff, who appear keen and ready to develop and implement communications for the program. But this is a massive challenge because it means changing the culture of the organization. So I am working with as many people as I can, trying to show them how this can help them and the program. If I can get only a few of them to buy in, it will have been worth it.

There are about 20 staff at this office. Very difficult at first, but after a day or two, I began to connect and make headway with several. I am in one big, open office with about eight people. Great set-up to connect quickly. On Friday, Gilberto, who sits right next to me asked me about my upcoming weekend, and then invited me to his home Saturday afternoon! Very open and generous. My reaction at home would surely have been to decline, but not here. Timing did not work this weekend, but I am touched by his offer.

Friday night I was to meet Chico and the band for a rehearsal, but our space was occupied, so I met him at the Franco-Moz cultural center where many local musicians were playing outside in a relaxed, comfortable jazz-like atmosphere. Chude, our band mate was also performing. She was phenomenal–a cross between Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. Wicked, wicked voice, with so much depth and character. I also met Manuel, a very nice man who used to be the goal keeper for the Portugal soccer team.

Then off I went to another music spot–Xima–to catch another popular local band. The husband of a friend of a colleague is the trumpet player. They asked me to join them on stage that very night! Although the “unknown” terrified me at first (familiar ground) we agreed to a rehearsal first, followed by a performance with me singing lead, at that club in two weeks! We’ll see what happens. Either way, musically things are really clicking!

In some circles, I introduce myself as a singer from Canada. At first this felt inauthentic. Although I may not be as experienced as some others, I have a reasonable amount of talent, I am working on perfecting my craft, and I love it. So I guess I am!

During the performance at the club, all the lights went out…everything went completely black. But the band did not miss a beat…the sign of a very, very tight band. The generator kicked in about a minute later. In fact the power went out across the entire city, and stayed out for almost a full day. Getting home that night was certainly an adventure! The roads are insane at the best of times, so you can imagine the chaos without traffic or street lights! The power has been on and off ever since, which is causing some big problems for those that don’t have a generator (which is most). Appliances, rotting meat, no street lamps, internet. My apartment has one which is very fortunate.

Saturday night I went to a dinner party with my friends Mike and Liz, and a bunch of their Canadian friends and acquaintances living in Maputo. I knew nobody except for them. They commented later how impressed they were on how I “worked the room” which completely floored me. I don’t do this at home, and am usually very uncomfortable in these social settings.

And there was a clear divide between black and white folks…something I did not pick up until just before we left. I had unknowingly sat down at the “white” table, and was oblivious to the fact that there was a second “black” table. I have no idea how representative that is…perhaps in certain social settings. This is in sharp contrast to the rest of my stay here where “white” has always been in the minority wherever I have been. But this has not bothered me.

chalopa 2Sunday, Liz, her two kids Seamus and Charlotte, and I took a small taxi (chopela), and a ferry to Catembe, an area across an inlet with a good view back to the city of Maputo. Then a long walk on the beach (unfortunately strewn with garbage) to a small hotel for an overpriced but nice lunch (they know there aren’t many choices in Catembe and they make you pay). Overall a lovely day, and so nice to spend some time with them. It’s the first time I’ve been to the beach since I arrived, and I felt that wonderful calm sensation I get when I am near water. I wave of homesickness washed over me as well, and I was missing my wife terribly.

On the way back, the “state-run” ferry ticket seller guy tried to charge me double the cost (40 mets), and he refused to back down. He knew that no one was watching and he had a good chance of getting away with it. It was cheap anyway, so I was willing to just pay it, but Liz would not. Instead we walked down the long pier to the small ferry and I gave the ticket collector guy 20 mets cash (the actual cost), which he promptly put in his pocket. Still corrupt, but we were not ripped off!

These sorts of things happen all the time here, and constantly push your boundaries of what you think is right and wrong. You can hold tight to your values, and not get anywhere, or you learn to play the game, which makes you an accomplice. Hard to resolve this in my mind, but I keep reminding myself that the same rules that I am used to do not necessarily apply here.

Yesterday I was verbally ambushed yet again by someone selling sculptures. He chased me down the street, even though I repeatedly said no. I hit my breaking point. I stopped and looked at him in the eye. “Every time I walk down the street, somebody tries to sell me something,” I said. “Do you think I have enough money to buy everything everybody wants to sell me? Am I responsible because you are hungry and have not made a sale today.” He looked at me. I was on a roll. “How would you feel if every time you walked outside, many people harass you, and try to sell you many things?” It felt good to be heard. And I bought the bloody sculptures anyway.

I mentioned last week how unusually open I have been and the efforts I have made to get to know people, including the apartment staff. I tip at times, but also bring them pastries or little treats sometimes. I don’t want it to be all about money. On Tuesday, there was a knock at my door. Bernardo, one of the staff, had tried to write me an English note. With some help of another staff member, he explained that his father had just died and he had travelled to another part of the country to arrange the funeral. As the first son, it had cost him a lot of money. His wife cannot produce breast milk, and so his young child needs special formula. So he was asking me for help. Not necessarily money, he said, he just needed that formula.

I wrestled with it overnight. In my world, this request from a hotel employee is totally inappropriate. It really bothered me at first, that he had put me in this awkward position. And then all the yucky thoughts. I was suspicious. It sounded far-fetched. How uncomfortable would it be if I said no? And if I said yes, would all the staff come to me with their own stories? I also realized that if I tried to check his story with the manager or other staff, he might be fired.

On the one hand it could be that the staff see me as a sucker, and Bernardo was making a pitch to rip me off. On the other, it could be true. And I am here to help in any way I can. And $50 is nothing to me in the grand scheme of things. And it could be everything to him. So after work on Wednesday, I hunted around town, found the formula, and bought it for him.

Ubuntu is a philosophy of African tribes that can be summed up as “I am, because we are.”

My friend Jules first introduced me to this concept, and I was reminded of it recently by a fellow blogger. Although it does not describe my entire experience here, it continues to make me think. This short piece from David Icke is timely, and the perfect way to end this week’s post.

”An anthropologist proposed a game to children of an African tribe. He put a basket of fruit near a tree and told the kids that the first one to reach the fruit would win them all. When he told them to run, they all took each other’s hands and ran together, then sat down together enjoying the fruits. When asked why they ran like that, as one could have taken all the fruit for themselves, they said “Ubuntu, how can one of us be happy if all the others are sad?”

“I had a greater understanding of the place that ‘harmony’ has in my life,” writes Elle in her blog Reflecting a Life. “It is about simplicity and minimalism, not just in surroundings but in us. It’s about our beingness, about living in harmony with our world and everyone in it. This love within us manifests itself in good deeds, in sensitivity to one another, to caring and being compassionate towards each other and in being kind and generous and forgiving.”

Something to strive for.

‘Til next week,

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.


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…


Into Africa–January 17, 2013

Dear friends,

Today I am taking my show on the road–leaving my home, family, and friends in Canada to spend the next two months doing volunteer work in Mozambique, Africa. This follows a trip I made early last year, doing volunteer work in Nicaragua. Although for a much shorter duration, it gave me a powerful opportunity to open my mind and heart to others, and to demonstrate that in a meaningful way. Something shifted in me during that trip. It’s hard to put into words, but I have been hungering for something similar ever since. So now….Africa.

This time I will not be building a school, but rather providing communication advice and expertise to an education system that needs to reach more Africans. I look forward to the adventure that awaits me, and will use this space to update you on my progress and observations over the next several weeks.

I am so fortunate to have such encouraging and supportive friends and family around me. One such friend, Julie Truelove, just sent me this heartfelt little note. It seems a perfect way to start the journey. Thank you Jules…you have framed it beautifully.

People hear and read many things about Africa, but experiencing it all is a whole new reality. And it is unique to each person who experiences it. You may find the good, the difficult, the amazing, the ugly, the slow, and the beautiful all rolled into one day…and you will see it in your own way. It seems to me that every person who travels to Africa has “their moment”…a specific moment when it all hits you. This can be an inspiring moment or a gut wrenching moment and ultimately both really.

My moment was at a school in Tanzania when this very distinguished, well-spoken, and well-dressed male teacher stood up to welcome us and humbly said he was glad we came. And then his next statement was “don’t be sad for Africa” and that has stuck with me and served me well over the past few years. Another moment I had in the last few months was when someone, and I don’t remember who, said “sometimes you need Africa more than Africa needs you.” This was a more difficult one to get my head around but eventually I saw the light…even though I think Africa still needs people among many other things, but that is for another discussion.

So take it all in, all the tragic and the beautiful and the amazing, and find your moment when it comes. Let it reach you. When you have those tough times, and surely some lonely times, your moment will help you through towards the brighter days. It’s the fight inside that keeps you going, the inspiration that can help keep you positive and your heartfelt secret when people around you haven’t experienced it and don’t understand what you keep talking about.