Friday, April 9, 2010

Mozambican Women’s Day

This morning I awoke to the sound of running water in the backyard and sprung out of bed, not bothering to tie up my mosquito net. It’s the first time water has run on the compound in quite a few days so I wanted to take advantage and fill up our water barrels before it shut off again. The rough awakening put me in a bad mood and I was impatient with the pile of puppies I found outside my front door. They are cute but unvaccinated and crawling with mites so I took a broom and swept them and the accompanying pile of dirt off the veranda. I was short tempered also because of a lack of sleep in the past few weeks. My malaria prophylaxis gives me vivid dreams and sometimes I find myself wide awake and very disturbed at odd times of night. I resisted the urge to go back to bed and instead readied myself to walk over the bridge to the next village to celebrate Mozambican Women’s Day. We decided to go on Mozambican time (i.e. an hour late) and got there right as the festivities were beginning. I joined a mob of women and bought a capulana printed with Josina Machel’s face and the words “7 de Abril.” Josina was the wife of former president and revolutionary Samora Machel and she is a heroic female figure in the war of independence against the Portuguese.
I tried tying the capulana around my waist but was quickly intercepted by some ladies who tied it for me the proper Mozambican way. We then began singing songs in Changana and marched to an oddly shaped town monument that I have taken to calling “the lemon squeezer.” Dona Olga, Jenna’s friend from the hospital, translated the songs for me from Changana to Portuguese. The first sang about a mother’s irreplaceable love. The second was about Josina herself and how she went out to the battlefield with a baby on her back, a rifle on her shoulder and a pot of food for the soldiers on her head – a model Mozambican woman.
The celebrations brought people from the village and surrounding communities. All the women had on capulanas and some had head wraps. Babies were strapped to their backs or cradled in front, suckling unashamedly at their mother’s breast. That’s quite common here, by the way. Unlike in the States, breasts here are considered solely utilitarian and it’s not uncommon for a woman to pull one out, feed her baby and then forget to put it away.
After the placing of flowers on the lemon squeezer, we heard more songs and speeches and watched some traditional dancing by local school kids. When celebrations broke up we went “a passear” (“strolling”) through town. First we visited the home of a man who had been ill. We sat awkwardly in their unfinished cement-brick home on plastic chairs and straw mats, saying little. I was relieved to see that he looked strong and was feeling better. It could have been malaria, it could have been AIDS-related illness… but I won’t know since such things aren’t talked about openly.
We then visited the house of another friend and had an unsettling conversation about the civil war (the subject of the next post). After this we caught a ride to the city, got sandwiches for lunch and navigated the muddy market looking for produce. With the rains, the produce selection has greatly improved and I found such delicacies as pumpkin, plump eggplants and green bell peppers that are big enough to stuff.
When I returned home I unloaded groceries and was just settling in for a much-needed nap when our neighbor, Nelia, called me over to witness the roasting of cashews. I thought it an unremarkable event to disrupt my nap but went out anyway. They had a piece of metal roofing set on cinderblocks above a fire made with sugarcane husks. Two girls stood away from the fire and used long sticks to constantly turn over the nuts, still in their toxic husks. Nelia pulled me away from the fire and explained something, making quick gestures and spreading her fingers. I didn’t understand until the pile of nuts suddenly erupted in flames as if doused in gasoline. The girls squeeled and jumped back as the flames grew. Apparently the same compound that makes the husks toxic before roasting is also extremely flammable. They had to use sticks to turn over the metal sheet onto the grown, the flaming nuts spreading across the sand and the flame diminishing into a blue smoke. It was quite dramatic, the whole production, and it made me appreciate the roasted cashews I buy in plastic bags on the street.

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