23.08.2010 - 26.08.2010 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.
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.
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.