Back from Mozambique a few weeks and already I’m taking for granted the luxuries that excited me on arrival: hot water in every tap, 24/7 electricity and water supply, central heating, fast internet, cheese, chocolate, brown bread, dustless sealed roads, flat pavements to walk on, stationery and tea/coffee supplies at the office…. cycling again!
I’ve felt so-called ‘reverse culture shock’ many times before…. especially obvious things like bewilderment in the supermarket at having to choose from a ridiculous number of varieties of butter, bread and loo paper, the outrageous price of apples and public transport, and the paralysing range of entertainment choices in London.
I observe other startling differences. Here in London the absence of colleagues from work in January is explained by colds and flu, but the much more frequent absences in Moz are usually hospital visits for themselves or to see sick family members, or to attend funerals – almost all a result of HIV/AIDS.
HIV prevalence among the 15-49 age group currently ranges from 25% in southern Gaza province to 3.7% in northern Niassa province, with women having higher incidence than men. Nationally in Mozambique, one in every 7 couples has one or both partners infected. Mother-to-child infection rates are also high, but decreasing now that preventive medicines are better distributed.
That means pretty well everyone in the country is HIV affected even if not actually infected. There are many child headed households, where both parents have died and grandparents (if still living) are too poor and/or infirm to support their grandchildren.
The NGO I worked with in Chimoio (Manica province) is one of many that try to support such people, often with only Christian spirituality, when all hope for the patient’s recovery has gone. Otherwise tireless NGO volunteers provide moral and practical/material support for the families or in the orphanages, though the government’s policy is de-institutionalisation and support for foster care, as well as de-stigmatisation. The latter remains a huge problem, despite the high prevalence.
The bad news is that institutional funding for these NGOs has dwindled since the 2008 recession and donors now seem to be turning their attention to apparently more trendy issues like climate change and recycling.
The first anniversary of the death of Mozambique’s most celebrated artist Malangatana Ngwenya (see my blog of 28 Jan 2011) happened on 5 Jan 2012. He had exhibitions throughout the world and was honoured with countless awards and decorations. None of this went to his head, and he continued promoting creativity through working with children and young people at his (as yet unfinished) cultural centre in his home area.
Malangatana once said he did not fear death, but only wished for his work to be preserved and live on as a testament to his country’s ravaged history of conflict. Sadly, this does not seem to be happening according to his family members…. I had actually noticed that his murals looked dirty and chipped and some paintings not well framed and protected. I’d also seen the works of famous sculptors left exposed to the elements….
So preserving the national heritage may be a luxury Mozambique claims it cannot afford when it comes to prioritising government spending. But one observes no hesitation in awarding luxury 4WD vehicles to new parliamentarians who seldom leave the capital, when it’s known that at least one provincial health service does not own a single ambulance. Same old, same old……
For me one of the thrills of returning to London was the public library. I had heard that libraries were becoming irrelevant, with many flagged for closure because of the internet, so I expected my local library to have become a mere shell of its former being.
Not a bit of it! Reference library: full of people reading and studying (and I had a browse through all the latest magazines), all the computer terminals occupied. Children’s library: full of kids and carers. Lending library: full of people borrowing books (as well as CDs and DVDs)…. so what’s all the talk about? I borrowed a pile of books.
On another upbeat note, one VSO colleague from London met the love of her life a few weeks after arrival in Moz, got married and is now expecting their first baby. The Mozambican dad-to-be is getting a taste of real winter weather in Yorkshire! After the birth they will go back and live in Maputo, after a big party in the north.
So I’m enjoying the UK creature comforts, but noticing the gloomy black or grey coats and jackets that most people wear (including me). I’m missing the bright blue Moz sky and ocean, the colourful capolana cloth, the music and dance, the 2M beer, even the old-man’s- head rock formation in Chimoio.
It’s another era now. The reality is London snow, not beaches and mangoes!