We’re here! It was a long trip, but after traveling for 28 hours and navigating our way through 4 different airports, we were able to set foot in Mozambique. I am fortunate enough to have done work in this country a few years ago, which was when I first fell in love with Mozambique. I feel extremely blessed to be able to return and work in a new and challenging capacity. In our first two weeks here, we have spent time in Maputo, Maxixe, and Cambine; three places that could very well be three separate countries.
Maputo (pronounced “ma-poo-too”)
We spent our first three days in Maputo, receiving a warm welcome from the IRD staff and a brief orientation to the country and the work that is being done here. Compared to the rest of the country, the capital city seems to exist in a world of its own. Roads are well-paved (comparatively), multi-storied buildings are abundant, and traffic jams occur on a regular basis. Almost any food craving can be satisfied, from freshly caught prawns to pepperoni pizza and mint-chocolate chip ice cream. And if you walk through certain neighborhoods with well-kept yards and shiny new cars, you’d never guess that 75% of the country survives on less than $1.25 a day. But just like with most large cities, there is a large economic disparity between its inhabitants, and the slums can be found just a few blocks down from the mansions.
Maxixe (pronounced “ma-sheesh”)
After leaving Maputo, we came up to Maxixe, which will be our home base during our time here. It’s a medium-sized city by Mozambican standards, and is located along the coast in the southern part of the Inhambane Province. Buildings here are no more than two stories high and most of the roads around the center of town have been paved. While it lacks some of the hustle and bustle of Maputo, it still has that excited hum of a thriving, busy urban center. (At least until the sun goes down, at which point everyone goes home to eat and sleep). There are a few outdoor markets filled with a wide variety of fresh produce as well as a large number of small, privately owned shops where you can find just about anything you need. We’re slowly learning our way around. Big accomplishments from our first week here included: making friends with the market women, learning a few words in Shitzwa (the local dialect), and discovering who makes the best beans and rice in town.
Cambine (pronounced “cam-bean-ee”)
Due to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Mozambique, a large and growing number of children have lost one or both of their parents. We will be working with IRD on a project for orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs) and we were able to spend a few days with one of the community-based organizations that is partnering with IRD on the project. We drove about 40 km outside of Maxixe where we met with two of the local volunteers. We then proceeded to walk single-file through a maze of narrow sand trails for the next four hours. This is an area that has neither hustle nor bustle. There aren’t any streets to pave or any stores to shop. Houses are made of mud or thatch and have no electricity and no running water. We stopped at various homes throughout the day to check in with the children and their families, and it was the first time since arriving here that I really saw how HIV/AIDS is affecting the country. In one household, a single father was trying to keep three kids in school, take care of his house, and tend to his fields to keep food on his table. In another, both parents had passed away and the two teenagers in the house were responsible not only for their own well-being, but also for the well-being of their two younger siblings. And for me, the most memorable house we visited was the home of an elderly grandmother, who was in poor health herself, and who was trying to raise thirteen grandchildren between the ages of 4 and 17.
Over and over again I was struck by two things in each and every family that we met: their resilience and their hospitality. No matter what hardships they were facing or what challenges loomed in the future, they met each day head-on, knowing that they would manage to get by and they would do so with a smile on their faces. We were received graciously and respectfully in every household; we never left without a cold drink of water and an orange or a piece of mandioca to tide us over until we reached our next stop.