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Muito Obrigado

A time for reflection

Johnny Cash - "Hurt" (Click Here)

When I was preparing to leave USAID, I had a lot of fellow employees ask, "So what did you learn?"

I gave rather poorly crafted answers because I simply did not know. I had been in a different environment for so long that I had not had adequate time to gain perspective on everything that had transpired. This entry is meant to discuss what I took away from the experience and thank those who showed me the door to becoming a more complete human being.

Before I left for sub-Saharan Africa, I was in a spiraling state of self-destruction. I was constantly worried about the future and how I would cope with the obstacles ahead. Over the course of my stay in Mozambique, I had a plethora of obstacles. I dealt with each one successfully and began to gather confidence that I could indeed tackle tough challenges. This slowly eroded my fear of the future and allowed me to be more at peace with myself and the world around me. I now realize that my previous state of perpetual worry was because I didn't believe in myself. I couldn't see my true capabilities and, as a result, I pushed away many of the ones I loved. Unfortunately, this newfound confidence in my abilities quickly grew out of control and ultimately led to my downfall.

From the start of the year, I had played with fire. I had driven at break neck speeds across the United States and not been caught, successfully kicked out an unruly tenant with empty threats, challenged corrupt cops to shoot me, and placed myself within striking distance of some of the world's most dangerous animals. At each attempt, I had walked away unscathed. The more I tested the odds and won, the more hubris filled my veins. The more I succeeded, the more brash my moves became.

This newfound confidence became a drug. With each high, I searched progressively for more dangerous situations to put myself into and test the limits even further. I began to feel untouchable, and then it all came crashing down. In the ashes of the fallout, I realized that I had neglected those I loved because of my selfishness and hurt them because of my pride. I had taken those in my life for granted and lost the one person that meant everything to me. I looked into the mirror and a villain stared back - I had become the antithesis of what I wanted to be.

This endowed me with a sense of humility and understanding. In my past life, I had rarely sympathized with the poor decisions of others before because I didn't understand how such egregious missteps could be taken. Once I had tested dangerous territory and finally lost, I was able to identify with my own humanity and therefore that of those around me. I had tarnished my honor, and was left with empathy. I was finally able to do something that was near impossible for me to do before - forgive.

These lessons were learned over a long and tumultuous road, but I feel that I have grown exponentially in the aftermath of these events. I can only hope that this understanding for myself and the world around me is not a transient one. These reflections are a deeper glimpse into the question asked by my colleagues at my departure. It is far from complete, but I am okay with that. I hope that I gain even more perspective on who I have become, but I am letting the universe show me the way for now. Thank you to...

Tara

Tara


Maria, Ana and Madalena

Maria, Ana and Madalena


Gledisse

Gledisse


Cassie

Cassie


Della and Sereen

Della and Sereen


Marta

Marta


Branca

Branca


Tia Cherry

Tia Cherry


Mary Ellen

Mary Ellen


The boys

The boys


And Susanna

And Susanna

You have all made my experience incredible, and I thank each of you for sharing a part of your journey with me.

Posted by mbeymer 01.10.2010 14:04 Comments (0)

Outside the Wire

Kruger National Park, South Africa

Kruger National Park is a transfrontier reserve straddling the borders of Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe. It is reputed to be one of the best game parks in the world, and it did not disappoint. Susanna and I left Maputo on Friday, put up with the normal border hullabullo, and arrived at the Berg en Dal Rest Camp on the Southern edge of the park just before dark.

Susanna did some research and found that the early morning and evening game drives were highly recommended. These canopy vehicles take about 9 people out for 3 hours at a time to different sections of the park. They are organized at the days' end and beginning in order to spot animals at their most active times. The advantage of these rides over guided walks is that the animals supposedly see vehicles as just another animal. The human scent is overpowered by the smell of gasoline, and due to the traffic in the park, the animals have become rather accustomed to and unafraid of vehicles. As long as you stay in the car, they are more or less apathetic to your presence.

The first night drive was definitely exciting. The guide gave a disclaimer about how we might not see anything and that all of the sightings were largely dependent on luck. After 15 minutes of driving, we heard a lot of noise by the side of the road and shined the spot light to more clearly witness the commotion. A pack of about ten rhinos were trotting through the grass right next to the road and were within about 20 feet of the vehicle. I considered this my first true sighting in the wild of one of the “Big 5.” The other four of this group include the leopard, lion, cape buffalo, and elephant.

After about an hour without any more sightings, our driver was flagged down by another truck that was approaching from the opposite direction. They pulled up side by side, exchanged a few words in a local dialect, and then our driver suddenly peeled out. The car had been racing down a network of gravel and dirt roads for about thirty minutes when I heard Susanna gasp. We came to a screeching halt and observed the fruits of our conquest. Sitting just off the side of the road were a male lion and his lioness. We stared in amazement, and they just looked at us quizzically and resumed relaxation. Within 5 minutes of our arrival, the male stood up to proposition the female. He approached her from behind and commenced with his mating attempt only to receive a series of growls from his mate which I took as an indication of rejection. After all, I am very familiar with this concept and the opposite sex! Once we had our fill, we traveled back the same way and actually stumbled across another lion pair. The male lion also attempted to mount his female companion, and his quest was a bit more successful than that of his peer. After the deed had been done, the male lion slowly sauntered up to the side of his companion, sat down and gently placed his paw on hers in a display of affection. I had made it to the bush.

Impala Lily

Impala Lily


The Picanto was apparently also terrified of the animals

The Picanto was apparently also terrified of the animals


The Berg en Dal rest camp

The Berg en Dal rest camp


Lions relaxing

Lions relaxing


"So what do you want to do?"

"So what do you want to do?"


Answers that question...

Answers that question...

We got up early the next morning and went on another game drive which was very different from the first. We saw a pack of elephants, a few giraffes and cape buffalo from a distance. The best part was the end of the drive when one of my fellow passengers used his binoculars to spot a leopard having an early morning snack from the bough of a nearby tree. We were not able to get that close, but we jockeyed for position with the other motorists, and I was able to get a few good shots.

The early morning game drive

The early morning game drive


Grazing elephant

Grazing elephant


Balancing leopard

Balancing leopard


Observing from a safe distance

Observing from a safe distance


Alert giraffe

Alert giraffe


Strike a pose

Strike a pose

We got back to Berg En Dal and migrated with our faithful Kia Picanto to Lower Sabie at the Eastern edge of the park. Our accommodations at this camp were much more luxurious as we occupied a beautiful chalet on the banks of a river full of hippos and crocodiles. The night game drive was initially uneventful. We saw a few cape buffalo here and a few hyena there, but there was nothing substantial. Towards the end of the drive, everyone in the truck collectively gasped as our roaming spot lights came upon one of the rarest animals in the park – the African Wild Dog. There are less than 2,000 of these in the world, and the park estimates to only have about 250. If a visitor sees one, they are considered incredibly lucky. We were fortunate enough to come across a pack of 5!

They were relaxing by the road, and like the lions, did not rise to meet us when the truck came a halt. We watched them for about 30 minutes play with one another and scamper about. As we got ready to leave, one saw a jackal in the distance and started off in hot pursuit. Although these dogs look benign, they have been known to take down both antelope and impala. After we saw these dogs, I knew that I would be satisfied with the trip even if I didn’t see another animal for the rest of my time in the park.

My slice of heaven

My slice of heaven


Cape buffalo (with awesome hair style)

Cape buffalo (with awesome hair style)


We have contact!

We have contact!


The African Wild Dog

The African Wild Dog


Lean and fierce

Lean and fierce

Susanna dropped me off at Skukuza in the central part of the park the next day and we said our goodbyes. She headed back to Maputo, and I prepared to go off deeper into the bush for my upcoming wilderness trail. We saw a lot of cool animals on the way including a pack of about 50 baboons with their newborns and a few street savvy giraffes with some not so aware drivers.

Chacma baboon and child

Chacma baboon and child


Animal crossing

Animal crossing


Vervet Monkey

Vervet Monkey


Southern Ground Hornbill

Southern Ground Hornbill


The "noble" male kudu

The "noble" male kudu

The wilderness trail was completely different from the previous game rides that I had taken. We were taken by two guides to a camp about an hour’s drive. The camp was definitely Spartan in that it only had 4 A-frame huts and a very modest kitchen and dining area. The area was surrounded by an electric fence to keep the surrounding animals from any late night snack searching. We sat around a small camp fire, and one of our guides told us what the next few days would have in store.

We got up at about 5 AM and set out when the first rays of sun shot across the horizon. Our two leaders, rifles in hand, opened the fence and one by one we stepped outside the wire. I was nervous at first because I had a car to protect me before. Now, I had to pray that the guides were great shots if we came across anything daunting. We had been hiking for about 3 hours when the guide alerted us that he had spotted an elephant and we were going to go in for a closer look. He informed us that elephants have a great sense of smell, but they don’t see very well. He reasoned that if we moved downwind and then approached it, we would be able to get relatively close before it felt threatened. I got within 30 feet of the noble animal before it seemed to notice me. It starred at me inquisitively and I looked back with equal curiosity. It was initially terrifying because of the sheer size of the animal and my defenselessness, but I eventually relaxed and was able to marvel at the fact that I was standing so close to such an amazing creature.

A few hours later we saw vultures circling overhead, and the guide gathered us around and indicated that there might have been a kill. Lions typically eat about once every 3 days, depending on the size of the pride, so it is a rare event if one actually got to witness a feast. We used the flock in the sky as our compass and found lion tracks on the way, but the lions had departed by the time we arrived. Lions have an excellent olfactory system, and we were told that it is rare to even get close to them on foot. Despite their reputation for ferocity towards humans, they actually tend to run at the sight of humans unless they feel that their young are being threatened. So we didn’t see any lions on foot, but it was a thrilling chase.

The next day was a lot of walking without a lot of sightings. We were walking up a fairly steep grade single file when the person in front of me stopped abruptly. I looked up a bit disoriented and saw the guide frantically motioning with his arm to move in the opposite direction. Still confused, I looked passed the guide and saw a white rhino about 20 feet ahead examining our moves. He had been eating and was not entertained by our sudden arrival. We retreated quickly and periodically looked back to observe his movements. The rhino decided we weren’t worth his time, and he resumed his meal.

E.J. talking about the giant land snail

E.J. talking about the giant land snail


Phillip and I

Phillip and I


The elephant we surprised

The elephant we surprised


Tracking lions

Tracking lions


Picked clean

Picked clean


Grazing

Grazing


A rhino like the one we ambushed

A rhino like the one we ambushed

The walking trek provided me with a lot of time for reflection. I realized a lot about myself, and I was finally able to process some of the events that had transpired in the past two and a half months. I reflected on who I was when I had arrived and what I had now become. I knew that my life had been affected, but I didn’t realize the profundity of the effect until I had that time in the bush to walk and contemplate. And then, before I knew it, I was out of Africa.

Untitled

Untitled

Posted by mbeymer 27.09.2010 22:29 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

466 / 64

Cape Town, South Africa

sunny 22 °C

This trip was originally planned for a long 4-day, 2-holiday weekend during the first week of September, but riots over bread prices and subsequent security issues stimulated the U.S. government to confine me and the rest of its employees to the city limits. I was initially saddened by the prospect of not getting to see Cape Town while in the region, but then I remembered what my glassblowing teacher, and surrogate mother, had once taught me. Whenever I was working on a piece that seemed hopeless because of incurred mistakes, she would exclaim, "We fix!" - and after 5 minutes of her magic and dexterity, we would be back on track. I applied this maxim to my travel plans, and after talking to individuals for 4 different bookings, I only incurred one change fee of $57. We fix!

That was only the first of a series of unexpected events. When I landed in Cape Town, I tried to withdraw money from an ATM without success. I called my bank, and they verified what I thought was going on - my debit card had expired. I explained my situation, and after 3 different representatives, the message finally registered that there was no way to solve my predicament. I tried to call my credit card company to see if I could use it at the ATMs. They told me that I just needed my pin that I used to set up the card. Since I had never used a pin with a credit card, I had no idea what it was.

"We can send you the information in the mail," the representative said.

"I'm in Cape Town," I logically reasoned.

"Well, we can send it to your address in the U.S., it will be there in 10 days, and then someone can call you with the information."

"I'll be home in 10 days."

The conversation was clearly not going my way. After two banks the next day, and one very melodramatic phone call to the credit card company, I got those magic words, "okay, give me 4 numbers that you want as your new PIN." Hallelujah! I thanked the individual for being my guardian angel, promised him my first born child, and presto, I had 1500 Rand in hand.

After I realized I wasn't making significant headway on the aforementioned issue the first day, I immediately dropped my stuff at the hostel and scouted out the waterfront. I walked quite a bit before darkness hit, and played tourist taking pictures of all objects unique. When my legs couldn't take it anymore, I went to an amazing deli down the street from the hostel that had been recommended by my friend, Taryn. I talked with a group of South Africans until about 12 AM, and then I promptly passed out.

Giovanni's

Giovanni's


So would this be a cloudfall?

So would this be a cloudfall?


Welcome to Cape Town

Welcome to Cape Town


Taking a rest

Taking a rest


The lighthouse

The lighthouse


Green Point Stadium - one of the venues for the 2010 World Cup

Green Point Stadium - one of the venues for the 2010 World Cup

My first full day in South Africa was spent just outside the town of Kleinbaai, a town about 2 hours South of Cape Town. This township is famous for its proximity to Dyer island, an area known to have the highest concentration of Great White sharks in the world. On the drive over, I met a few cool people including an Australian businessman, a couple from Saudi Arabia, and a scientist from England named Kayleigh. Kayleigh and I discovered we had a common penchant for crude jokes and extreme sports and hit it off famously.

The boat ride out to the spot was relatively short. Apparently, the Great Whites congregate more towards the shore in the summertime and hang around the island during the seal pupping season in the Winter. The captain found a good spot, we anchored, and we were given a safety brief on how to enter the shark cage and precautions on how to not get eaten. They commented that there was a possibility that we may not see any sharks, and everyone started to frown like children who had been brought to Disneyland only to find out that all the fun rides were broken. Luckily, on that day, their disclaimer didn't apply.

Within 15 minutes after the safety brief, Great Whites had been spotted in the water. Kayleigh and I were in the first group, and we were told to put on our wetsuits, boots and weights. 5 of us slid into the cage and watched as the sharks calculatingly swam by to observe us and reap any food rewards that awaited in the periphery. The water visibility was amazing, and I was momentarily upset that I had forgotten my underwater housing in the states. Nevertheless, I was struck with fascination while observing these beautiful, ancient creatures.

After 20 minutes, we were told to switch out with the next group. I was allowed to go back in since there were only 3 in the next set, and I occupied the outside left corner for the second dive. The viewing initially seemed less eventful as it appeared the sharks' interest had waned. At one point, myself and the guy next to me were watching a shark slowly swim by when the shark suddenly jerked to the left and opened its jaws. I watched in fear as the shark propelled itself directly towards me, and I threw up my hands just before the jaws reached the cage. The shark latched onto the cage literally 6 inches in front of my body. I was terrified at first, but I quickly remembered the barrier and just watched the shark in amazement. It stared at me intently for 10 seconds, its left eye fixated on my terrified exterior. I looked back with an odd mixture of respect, fear and curiosity.

After the shark had been affixed to the cage for about 5 seconds, I saw a finger come out from my right peripheral vision moving towards the shark. I looked incredulously over at my cage mate in order to silently question this bold move. He wanted to touch the shark. Then we heard voices from above yell, "do not touch the shark! We will take you out of the water!" I thanked them silently for their verbal reasoning, and the guy next to me backed off. I was a bit shaken up when I got out of the cage, but double counted all my appendages and decided I was fine. Once we got back on shore, the adrenaline quickly wore off and fatigue set in. The van dropped me at my point of origin, and as I was walking back to my hostel, and I saw a sign that I felt was fitting considering the days events (see below).

Put it in the water!

Put it in the water!


I don't know what pose I was going for here, Mic Jagger?

I don't know what pose I was going for here, Mic Jagger?


Open the shark cage door, Hal

Open the shark cage door, Hal


The Great White

The Great White


Chasing the chum

Chasing the chum


She's a big one

She's a big one


A pun to appreciate

A pun to appreciate

Sunday was an equally active day. I walked to the Nelson Mandela Pier and took the short ferry to Robben island. I was met by a tour guide which took us around the island by bus and explained the history of the prison. It started as a penal colony in 1631 and was used by various occupying powers until South Africa built a maximum security prison in the 1960s to house its political dissidents. It would house major members of the Pan African Congress and African National Congress, including Nelson Mandela.

Prisoners at the institution were not referred to by their names but instead by their prisoner number. The code consisted of two numbers separated by a slash. The first number represented the chronological number of the person sentenced for that particular calendar year, and the last two digits indicated the year of the sentencing. Nelson Mandela was the 466th person sentenced in 1964, he was known as 466 / 64.

I was unprepared for how seeing Mandela's cell would affect me. I will never truly know what the man went through, but seeing his cell made me begin to realize how amazing of a person he was for preaching reconciliation upon his release after 27 years of incarceration. The guide who gave us the tour was an ex-prisoner and had an amazing story himself. After observing his pregnant girlfriend innocently shot by police during a peaceful demonstration, he joined the militant arm of the ANC. He trained with resistance fighters in Angola and East Germany, and upon return, his first mission was to use a bazooka to blow up a government petrol truck. His team miscalculated the shot, and they were discovered, tried and convicted for high treason. He spent 11 years on the island and was among the last of the political prisoners to be released in 1991.

He also described the harsh punishments that the prisoners would sometimes have to endure. The most vile among them was when the guard instructed them to dig a hole, only to remain in the hole and subsequently be filled up to their neck in sand. After some time, the guards would return to urinate on the head of the trapped prisoner. I came away with a new respect for those who think for themselves, question the established order and refuse to be the victims of oppressive and unjust tyranny.

I think we can all learn something from this

I think we can all learn something from this


Welcome to....prison?

Welcome to....prison?


On Robben Island

On Robben Island


Benjamin lecturing on his experiences

Benjamin lecturing on his experiences


Cell 4

Cell 4


Prisoner 466 / 64

Prisoner 466 / 64


Confined

Confined


The lime quarry where Mandela and his fellow political prisoners were subjected to hard labor

The lime quarry where Mandela and his fellow political prisoners were subjected to hard labor


Mural for Mandiba

Mural for Mandiba

After a long walk back to the hostel and a lot of reflection, I took a cab to the trail head of Table Mountain. This iconic feature defines the skyline of Cape Town as it encloses the city with the breaks of the Atlantic. I was told the hike would take about 2 hours to the top, but I of course resolved to complete it faster than the average time - see "Y chromosome." The trail was straight up and was definitely not what I would classify as an easy trail. It seemed to progress endlessly, and I would periodically rest under the guise of observing the view up to that point in the trail as more intrepid individuals passed.

Up

Up


And up

And up


And up some more

And up some more


Cut from shadows

Cut from shadows

After 72 minutes and a waning water supply, I reached the top of the mesa and marveled at the panorama. I was unexpectedly even more fascinated by the different types of flowers that graced the top slopes. I looked more like a botanist with my camera than a tourist, but there were so many unique species that I couldn't stop taking pictures. Since I was unable to find the names of the flowers via the internet, I decided to name them myself based on their characteristics (actual names also welcome).

Eccentric

Eccentric


Elegant

Elegant


Open

Open


Guarded

Guarded


Multi-faceted

Multi-faceted

I took in the sites for about an hour and decided that I preferred not to punish my knees and take the cable car down. The car to the base took about 5 minutes, and I suddenly felt quite slothful about the time I had been previously proud of. I returned to the hostel, had a burger and chronicled my exploits to my fellow travelers. I went to bed with only the regret that I didn't have more time there - if you find yourself in this part of the world, Cape Town is a must!

The Cape

The Cape


Lion's Head with Robben Island in the distance

Lion's Head with Robben Island in the distance


Twelve Apostles

Twelve Apostles


The easy way down

The easy way down

Posted by mbeymer 13.09.2010 14:47 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

Culture in Controversy

Ezulwini, Swaziland

22 °C

Due to the technicalities of a business visa, i.e. I need to leave the country every 30 days, and in the interest of culture, I decided to head back to Swaziland for the weekend to observe the annual Umphalaga festival. This week long event is one of two national celebrations held each year and typically takes place at the end of August. Virgin maidens come from all around the kingdom to present reeds to the queen mother in hopes of being selected as a new wife to the king. The past 3 years the king has not selected a wife (he already has 13), but it still acts as a forum for Swazis to celebrate their culture and traditions. Since foreigners are only allowed to visit on Sunday and Monday, I planned a couple more activities with my roommate to fill out the weekend.

Swaziland is also famous for the beautiful candles that it produces, and we decided that the factory would be a good first stop on our journey. I talked at length with one of the artists, and he said that one candle typically takes the sculptor about ten minutes to create. They press patterned plates into the wax to create the unique decoration on the candles and shape the figure with their hands into various animals. We admired the art, played with some of it, and bought a few trinkets. We also had lunch at an amazing restaurant annexed to the factory. I wouldn't have thought that a chocolate chili brownie would have been good, but I was fighting my roommate for the last piece of it.

Vibrant tableware

Vibrant tableware


Parking fail

Parking fail


I don't care if it's not a hat

I don't care if it's not a hat


Swazi candle

Swazi candle

We then drove the car to the camp we were staying in and checked into our beehive hut. I'll rewrite that just so that you know it's not a typo - we stayed in a beehive hut. I'll admit that I was skeptical when my roommate booked the accomodation, but it was pretty cool. It was essentially a structure made entirely out of reeds and sticks, interwoven together into a massive dome. Despite the look, the inside was rather nice in that it had a cement floor and a modern bathroom connected. We then intrepidly drove our Kia Picanto, nicknamed the week before as the brave little toaster, around the dirt roads of the park to explore. Despite a few wrong turns and almost getting stuck, it was a fun little jaunt.

Quite possibly the weirdest thing I've slept in

Quite possibly the weirdest thing I've slept in


Hanging out in the beehive

Hanging out in the beehive

We woke up in the small hours the next day to go on a horseback ride through the game reserve. On safari, the most animal sightings are typically seen in the early morning and early evening as the animals like to sleep during the hot hours of the day. Our early rise allowed us to see a lot of cool animals, and rather up close, including yellow warblers, zebra, and blesbok. We also got a good view of execution rock, where the custom was to throw people off of the top of the rock if they had been found guilty of murder. They don't practice this form of justice anymore, but I could imagine that it was probably an effective deterrent as I glanced up at this impressive geological wonder. After the guide decided that we were rather good at following directions, he decided to let us trot the horses at the end. It was a bit hard at first but fun once I got the hang of it. As those of you who have seen me dance know, I am rhythmically challenged so I naturally thought that my mastery of the trot cadence was a great success.

The Bad (The Good and The Ugly not pictured)

The Bad (The Good and The Ugly not pictured)


Blesbok in the early morning

Blesbok in the early morning


Someone took a lot of time painting this horse...

Someone took a lot of time painting this horse...


Execution Rock as seen from horseback

Execution Rock as seen from horseback

It was the plan to have our guide met us to take us to the reed dance shortly after the horse ride, but upon arriving, he looked confused and informed us that it wouldn't start for another 4 hours. I chalked this piece of miscommunication between myself and the tour company as another point for the tourism in the developing world and decided that we would set out North to see some ancient bushman rock displays. The drive was absolutely beautiful as we weaved through Northern Swaziland. The rock paintings were also very cool with a scenic hike that overlooked the Komati River.

Maguga Dam

Maguga Dam


Flowers in winter

Flowers in winter


The Komati River

The Komati River


Nsangwini rock paintings

Nsangwini rock paintings

The last stop on the trip was the reed dance held in the Ezulwini valley of the Western part of the kingdom. The festival has been met with controversy in the last few years since Swaziland has an HIV prevalence of over 26%, one of the highest in the world, and the event is looked at as promoting patriarchal values that potentially lead to the further spread of HIV. I was familiar with this sentiment before going, but I wanted to hear from the perspectives of Swazis and observe the tradition for myself.

We watched regiments of these bachelorettes march by, singing and dancing with their reeds. After presenting their tribute to the queen mother, they descended upon the stadium to dance for the king and his dignitaries. Although the costumes were beautiful, it was rather tedious to watch group after group march into the stadium. There are typically over 10,000 maidens at this event, and after 2 hours of watching the parade, we decided that it was probably best to get back to the border to cross before it closed. We digitally captured the pomp and circumstance and then decided to take our leave.

The procession

The procession


Reeds in hand

Reeds in hand


An interesting fusion of the traditional and the new

An interesting fusion of the traditional and the new


Mass of maidens

Mass of maidens


Acting foolish

Acting foolish

Posted by mbeymer 31.08.2010 12:42 Archived in Swaziland Comments (1)

Fame

Quelimane, Mozambique

21 °C

Right after I got back to Maputo, I got up early the next day and set off with my boss to Quelimane in Central Mozambique. The plan was to spend four days observing various projects run by John's Hopkins that were currently receiving funding from USAID and hold focus groups to monitor their progress. We arrived in Zambezia province and were picked up by a 4WD truck to take us to our hotel. The driver warned me that there was a lot of potholes and to watch my head. Since I commute down Wilshire boulevard weekly in Los Angeles, I am all too familiar with the concept of potholes and snobbishly remarked that it couldn't be worse than Los Angeles. It was. Let's just say that I now know how a bobble head feels. I heard a rumor as to why the roads were in such a state of disrepair. This populace of this town frequently votes for the main opposition party, and the word on the street (or what's left of it) is that the party in power was "punishing" them for this lack of allegiance by not fixing the roads. That doesn't exactly sound like a way to win the hearts and minds.

After a very bumpy 20 minutes, we arrived at the Hotel Chaubo which was like being transported back in time to the 1960s. Before the civil war, it had been one of the nicest hotels in Mozambique. The province suffered the brunt of the war, and although the hotel itself was not harmed, tourists understandably stopped coming to the area. For this reason, I was told, nothing had been updated in over 40 years aside for one thing - they replaced the orange shag carpet with a more contemporary blue rug. So it goes.

As we rode up to our floor in the equally ancient elevator, my boss pointed to a plack that adorned the upper part of the wall - "Ascensores Schindler" (or "Schindler Elevators"). My boss remarked that these elevators had been made by Oskar Schindler, a man immortalized in the classic film, "Schindler's List." This man was a member of the Nazi party during World War II, and brokered a deal with the Germans to take Jews from internment camps to work in his factories. This exploitation was short-lived, and he developed humanity in the process. He shifted his thinking radically from business exploitation to doing everything he could to protect these Jews from Hitler's gas chambers, sometimes at great personal cost. They would later honor his sacrifices by calling themselves "Schindler" Jews.

Why have just a red window when you can also have blue?

Why have just a red window when you can also have blue?


Retro

Retro

The Hotel Chaubo

The Hotel Chaubo

Apparently they also use this shower to clean elephants

Apparently they also use this shower to clean elephants


Oskar's legacy

Oskar's legacy

The day after we arrived, we were taken to a school on the periphery of town to present certificates to professors who had completed a course designed to teach youth about HIV. As we exited the car, about a thousand children stopped dead in their tracks to observe us get out of the truck. A swarm of primary school students amassed and many smiled and jumped to grab our attention. I was unprepared for this welcoming reception, and to recover, I waved and smiled at as many as I could.

We sat in the school house as each teacher was presented with their certificate of completion by the staff. All the while, children would peer into the classroom through the cinder block windows and periodically be shunned away by an alert professor. When we emerged an hour later, it seemed as though the crowd had doubled in size. I took out my camera to capture the scene of the contingent, and this sent our admirers into hysteria. I took pictures of the groups of the children who had made it to the front of the frenzy, lowered my camera to show them, and they would giggle as they observed their digital doppelgangers.

Professors receiving their certificates of completion

Professors receiving their certificates of completion


Ready for their photo opp.

Ready for their photo opp.


Fame

Fame

I amassed such a following that I was eventually pinned to the wall and decided that I would shoot a video of my new found friends. I yelled "Boa Tarde!," now becoming a favorite expression of mine, and tried to have them follow suit but was unsuccessful on the first attempt. The second try was met with a few replies in kind, and the third was executed in perfect unison as if it had been rehearsed a thousand times.

I shook hands with as many as I could, and then my colleagues and I retreated to the vehicle. I waved as we exited, and a few enterprising youth chased our vehicle for as long as their legs could take them as we traveled back to our point of origin. I may never actually be famous, but at least I had my 15 minutes.

To a job well done

To a job well done

Posted by mbeymer 30.08.2010 10:05 Comments (0)

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