Archive for December, 2007|Monthly archive page

My reading list

My lack of a television and a slim selection of print reading material has led me to find other ways of staying connected to what is going on in the reast of the world. These were some of the interesting things that I read about this past week.


The AIDG blog presents an interesting graphic on the interaction of the latest craze for ethanol and its consequent negative impact on world food supplies in The Ethanol Effect and Global Hunger.

Mozambique is ranked in the top 20! It’s a shame that the ranking is on the annual UNDP Human Development Index report. Mozambique is ranked 17 in the listing of the bottom 22 countries in the report.

The Millennium Challenge Corporation has its share of critics. The New York Times explores a deficiency that is the core of the agency’s responsibility: disbursing foreign aid to developing countries. Read more at U.S. Agency’s Slow Pace Endangers Foreign Aid.

Continue reading


How not to give a health warning

This is an email that I received from the American embassy about the still growing cholera outbreak. Keep in mind that today is December 10 and this outbreak has been growing since October. Oh and lest I forget, over 500 people have been diagnosed and seven people have died. I guess compared to Uganda, Mozambique is doing pretty well.

Embassy of the United States of America

Maputo, Mozambique

Consular Section

10 December 2007

The Mozambique Ministry of Health and local media outlets have reported
an increase in cholera cases over the past few weeks. Health officials
have reported cases in Quelimane, Beira, Cabo Delgado, Maputo Province
and Maputo City. While Maputo and many areas of Mozambique encounter
cholera cases annually, the Embassy reminds all American citizens of the
importance of food and water preparation to prevent cholera and other
water-borne illnesses.

Information on cholera is available from the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention (CDC) website at
htm> . Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such
as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be
obtained from the CDC’s hotline for international travelers at
1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s website at
information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the
World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at
<BLOCKED::BLOCKED::; . Further health information

for travelers is available at


Now I’m going to assume that everyone that received this email is fairly intelligent and cognizant of health risks. However, how many people have dealt with/encountered cholera? Why did it take so long for the embassy to send out the warning? After all, it is just a brief email with links. Furthermore, would it have been that much trouble to reproduce the essence of the CDC recommendations in the email rather than relying on people to click on links? I doubt that many people took the time to click through. It makes it difficult to trust that the government is up to the task of handling public health risks.

When less is more, sometimes it really is still less

The last few days have been good, even beyond Mozambique standards. Part of living here means learning to take pleasure in little things. Often, the major issues are just so massive that they are paralyzing, and frankly a little depressing. My long lost packages actually arrived last week, bringing me my much beloved and missed movies. (Hey, living alone without a TV and furniture is a little rough!) And I am not ashamed to say that I did a little of a happy dance when I brought them home. I am also going home for the holidays, so I will get to see family and friends. I also get to not cook for myself for a little while 🙂 Today, I even bought a blender after having a nice conversation with my doorman.

So this afternoon, I felt pretty good about how the week started off. This is until I resumed my daily battle with He Who Shall Not Be Named aka my landlord over repairs that still need to be made in my apartment. I futilely called him this morning and send a text message. This afternoon I texted both him and the owner of the apartment. She seems to be the only person concerned with how things are going. Her heart is in the right place, but it’s a shame she can’t get the landlord to do anything of substance. This afternoon, he actually responded and sent over two of this men to pick up some of the bills from before I moved in. And then they dropped the bomb that I knew in the back of my mind was coming.

The repairs will not be made because there is no money left and apparently, the water heater problem is actually in the walls as well. What seems to be a minor leak is symptomatic of a major plumbing problem. I have three options: I can live here and do nothing; I can pay for the repairs myself; or I can break the lease and find another apartment. My first thought was that the lack of money bit was so he can get rid of me. By either doing the repairs or moving, he can stop the daily phone calls from me. And even now, I am sure that is the case. Knowing how little he has actually done in contrast to the several things that he is contractually bound to complete in the apartment gives me no incentive to stay here. I also don’t want to deal with plumbers and handymen to break into the walls to find where all the problems are coming from. Therefore, I think I may move when I come back in January.

The prospect of never having to speak to my landlord again is appealing, because he is by far the rudest and most conniving person that I have met since I have been here. However, this joy has been replaced by a little anxiety at the prospect of apartment hunting again. Having the ability to get out of my lease is a mixed blessing. It is difficult to find reasonably priced apartments in this area and most prefer that you sign year-long leases.

At least I have a little experience on my side with having a better idea of what to expect and what to demand. Getting anything here accomplished requires a directness that does not come naturally to me, but I am quickly catching on. I guess that I should have realized that any country that has police officers carry Kalashnikov rifles as a daily sidearm would engage in more direct conversation and negotiation.

Looking for holiday spirit

I am having a hard time accepting that it is the holiday season. Maybe it is the weather. It is becoming increasingly warmer here. But I am not sure that is the culprit. I have had some unseasonably warm Christmases in Texas (sidebar: it seems weird to make the word Christmas plural). There are very few window displays here with fake greenery and snow to remind you that Christmas is soon. I don’t have a television, so perhaps I am missing all of the advertising that tells people now is the time to buy all that you can. It also might be the noticeable lack of holiday music. There are no huge mall complexes to wander around in with overhyped Christmas releases from the newest pop artist or oldest has-been. I listened to “O Holy Night” two days ago when it came up on shuffle in iTunes. I had to turn it off because it didn’t feel quite right.

Nevertheless, I did brave the elements today to do a little Christmas shopping. The Feira Nacional de Artesanato has been in Maputo since Tuesday, showcasing the works of artists from all over the country as well as a few from Zimbabwe and South Africa. The variety of artistic endeavors on display was staggering, especially the woodwork. It was hard to know where to start.

I have realized that bringing back gifts from travels is one of the most difficult occasions for gift shopping. Not only are you considering their personal preferences in general, but also you feel pressure to bring back something emblematic of the place that you are in. This delicate dance involved me wandering among all of the vendors for some time, debating with myself about what items I could bring back. Complicating matters are the space restrictions in my luggage for the trip back for the holidays. I guess I will learn next week just how well I pulled it off.

Chasing windmills?

While talking to my mother on the phone last week, she remarked that I am fiercely independent. She also said that she doesn’t know where I got that from. I don’t know why she is surprised. Both my grandmother and mother have a history of achieving great things in spite of some tremendous obstacles, ranging from financial limitations to segregation. Is it that surprising that I may have inherited a gene for determination and perseverance?

And that is how I find myself in this somewhat quixotic situation of trying to work in a country that, in general, does not want people like me working here. People like me meaning foreigners. Whether you can attribute the current climate to a fear of neo-colonialism or simple economic self-interest, I am not saying that the government should not try to protect the livelihoods of its people. The salary and benefit situation is objectively inequitable due to the resettlement packages that expats receive. So the Mozambican government has recently passed a law, placing an extremely high bar for organizations that hire expats for jobs. The expected effect is that more Mozambicans will have access to jobs that might have been previously occupied by expats. The actual effect is that the work of NGOs has gotten that much harder.

I spoke with a friend who also recently arrived about working here. She said that her country director has a general rule: You can not expect to do both capacity building and program implementation well in the same project. Capacity building means that you are teaching and training someone, and inevitably this means that work is generally less efficient. The end result for the organization is that they have to cope with the even slower pace of work to follow the new employment law or spend precious time and resources to get personnel that they truly need to do work that saves lives.

Paradoxically, all of these impediments make me want to try even harder to work here. I have realized that I work even better when faced with obstacles. I think it makes me break out of my typical thought processes and behavioral patterns. As a result, I become more resourceful. I am sure that this adversity has contributed to my improved work prospects, although still not without some frustration. My volunteer work has begun to open doors, making my goal seem that much closer.