Saturday, July 31, 2010

First Impressions from the Visitor (Sean)

Hi all, this is Clancy’s boyfriend, Sean. I’ve been having a fantastic time visiting Mozambique the last 4 weeks, and I am about to make the long trek back to the U.S. tomorrow.

Being a visitor has been daunting, fascinating, and informative for both of us. For Clancy, a fresh dose of American perspective after 9 months of acclimating to Mozambican culture has reminded her of certain weird or abnormal aspects of the culture that have become second nature to her. (For instance, traveling with 26 people in a chapa built for 14 is not something you would normally expect to get used to). For me, having Clancy as a guide has allowed me to get a truly Mozambican experience without [most of] the frustration of being alone and disoriented in an unfamiliar place.

I’m getting familiar with the pace of life here, and beginning to understand “Mozambique time.” It seems that Mozambicans are active all day, but the pace is slower, and less can be accomplished in x hours. For instance, a half-day in town can be filled up by buying a single bag of groceries, printing 2 pages of a document, withdrawing money from an ATM, and getting an egg sandwich. Why? People walk slow, talk slow, and must chat with anyone and everyone in passing. Every item is purchased from a different person at a different stall, accompanied by a short conversation. I like it very much because you often meet the actual person who planted and harvested the item you will consume. Buying food from a vendor takes a while because money exchange takes several minutes for no particular reason.

Mostly, the infrastructure is lacking, so tasks take longer because technology is not setting up a foundation upon which to work, and no steps can be skipped as a result. Tangentially, cell phones must have improved the quality of life dramatically. People always seem to be on the move, but moving slowly, and never in too much of a hurry to hang out. “I’ll be there soon,” could mean anything here.

The big, bad, scary image of Africa as a sad, sick, dangerous place is wrong. Some parts are bad, but there are plenty of good strangers watching out to make sure you don’t wander into those parts. People will go an hour out of their way to make sure you get to the right bus stop. Folks are impoverished and live very difficult lives, but they are happy, thankful, and peaceful. At the market, if you buy a 10 met sandwich with a 100 met bill, the vendor will walk away to find change, and you can be confident that they will return with your change, even if it takes 10 minutes. If you get on an international minibus to Swaziland, you can turn your passport over to the driver knowing that you’ll get it back (though this did give me a minor heart attack the first time).

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