June 10, 2011
Mozambicans engage in a number of crafts for everyday purposes. For instance, when we have been out in the field, we often see homes with an interesting-looking apparatus for the weaving of reed mats (see picture). This is something that can be done at home with readily available materials, so it seems that many families just make their own mats rather than spending scarce money to buy one. For me, who can’t even mend a shirt, this is pretty impressive. I get excited and ask to take pictures, and people very kindly indulge me.
Even more impressive than the homemade reed mats are the houses and walls, which are constructed from extremely tightly woven palm fronds or reeds. I asked my IRD coworkers and they told me that these palm/reed houses can be constructed in less than a week, and then they last about 5 years. Wow.
On one of our recent home visits, I found something that went far beyond crafts. We were in a remote district of the province with a local partner of IRD, visiting the home of Fastinia*, who was recently diagnosed with HIV. As we approached from the back, her home resembled all of the others we visited—a small, basic reed hut in a larger dirt compound with a few other small huts. As we walked around to the front of the hut, though, we found something totally unexpected. While compounds are usually just bare, cleanly swept dirt, this one also was surrounded and filled with a variety of beautiful ornamental and flowering plants. Looking closely, I could see that there were supports and strings being used to train the plants to grow in a certain direction, just like I’ve seen in other ornamental gardens. The centerpiece, though, was a stunning arbor with twisting vines weaving together from the ground to spread with thick green leaves and yellow flowers to create a shady ceiling for the arbor. I have only seen things like this in fancy botanical gardens. And here it was, halfway across the world, seven hours up the highway from the capital, two hours down dirt roads, through the town, down another dirt road, and make a right.
I asked Fastinia who had planted all these beautiful plants, and she replied that it was her. I asked why she did it, and she replied, “It makes me happy to see them.” I felt honored to meet Fastinia, who had such a gift of creativity and talent and the ability to express it through the art of her garden. I was reminded of a museum in Baltimore I once visited, the American Visionary Art Museum.
I am struggling to put into my own words how to describe what was so striking to me about Fastinia’s artistic expression, so I will use the museum’s mission statement, which does it so well: “art produced by self-taught individuals, usually without formal training, whose works arise from an innate personal vision that revels foremost in the creative act itself…visionary art begins by listening to the inner voices of the soul, and often may not even be thought of as ‘art’ by its creator.” To me, there was something deeply touching about seeing Fastinia create art for the pure joy of it, because it makes her happy.
*Name has been changed.