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]

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…


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,