Saturday, November 21, 2009

Women of Mozambique


Tal and I find it hard to believe that we have been in Mozambique for only five weeks, because in some ways we feel like it has been multiple months! We feel like we have immersed ourselves in Mozambique’s beautiful culture and traditions. Along with this understanding of Mozambique’s beauty, we have also come to understand some of its harsher realities. One of those harsher realities is the situation of women here in Mozambique.

This is Tal… The topic of women and women’s rights has been close to Anita’s heart long before we left for Mozambique. In fact, we have had many discussions about how women may feel all over the world and so I am not surprised she is writing a blog about it.

Back to me again… Just to clarify – I am certainly no women’s rights fighter, but this topic of women is close to my heart, because I am a woman and I can sympathize and empathize. And I am also writing about this topic because we have all heard this statement that people in third world countries seem so much happier than people in first world countries. So much so that some wish to figure out their secret to happiness. And I am not going to negate that we have found a lot of happiness here, but we have also found hardship and pain. And that is what I want to blog about today. Talk about a downer – sorry. So if you are not up for that, you can stop reading here…or skip to the end where there is good news.


So why not start of with Polygamy? Polygamy is a big, harsh reality here and I don’t think it is something that most women anywhere would like to deal with. 

History - Mozambique was colonized by the Portuguese around 1500 AD, but long before then, around 900 AD, Arabs started settling various areas of Mozambique. Alongside their culture they also brought with them their religion and as a part of that, polygamy. It is interesting to note however, that polygamy is not an exclusively Arab import here in Mozambique, because many tribal traditions were already supporting the practice of multiple wives as a status of power and wealth. I also want to point out that polygamy in Islam is no longer the norm and is only found in countries where traditional Arab cultures prevail. Many countries such as Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia etc. in fact prohibit polygamy. 
But over the centuries Mozambique, along with many other traditions, was able to hold on to polygamy and it is still a common practice today. In fact it is so widely acceptable that it has spread across many faiths and it is not surprising to see men with multiple wives around here.
Women, of course, have little to no say in the practice of polygamy and often have to simply accept the men’s decision on the matter. Even after a second or third marriage, most of the women will stay with their husbands, because much of their livelihood depends on their men.

There are, however, some signs of improvements as some women are starting to divorce the men who take on a second wife. In fact, there is a woman working for Care For Life, who divorced her husband because he took on a second wife against her will. So, although the percentage is low, many have started to stand up for themselves. 

IMG_3198 Boneze Inacio (Zona I) Amalia Gimo (Zona J)

This is Tal… Above is a picture of Anita with the two strongest women in the community of Mungassa.  The woman on the left (Boneze) wears with pride a T-shirt of the first female Secretary of State in Mozambique. Boneze is one of the women, who has a strong will and has learned to fend for herself since her husband passed away in the civil war a decade ago. She has 5 kids and teaches the “Stay Alive” HIV/AIDS training class to the 9-14 year olds in the community. The one in the middle, Amelia, is a fire cracker.  She doesn’t let anyone mess with her and has a mind of her own.  She jokes a lot and the other day greeted me with “oi meu marido” which means, “hi my husband”.  So we really enjoy the company of both of these women.

I tried to write about the third woman, the one on the right (and it was gooood), but my wife deleted it! 

Women’s subservient role in the society

Men come first most of the time and this is especially true in the poorer communities like Mungassa. For example, when we conduct interviews it is very rare that the women speak up in the presence of their husbands. The man of the house is the “chef” and therefore speaks for the family. The women only say something when addressed directly by us, otherwise they sit there quietly, knowing their place in society. Another example is when we arrive at a house in the community, the women rush out to bring chairs to sit down – chairs for us and one for their husband. They then proceed to sit on the dirt floor. Even when Talmadge gallantly offers them the chair, most shy away from it. Gentlemen behavior is unheard of here.          

It starts at a young age…

IMG_1767 Bernardo Charles (Zona I)

                                                                                                    This subservience, of course, reaches across many other areas. Another one is that when it is time to eat and meat is available (it is very rare for them to have meat in their diet), the man gets the biggest piece of meat, his wife gets a smaller piece, and the children almost nothing. This takes place even when the women are pregnant and need the extra protein and nutrition or when the children are already malnourished.                                                                              

We have noticed that many burdens of this society rest upon the women – literally. Women carry the heavy loads – we see them carrying water buckets filled to the brim (always on their heads), huge bags of sweet potatoes, tools for the fields, wood for building their houses, and pretty much anything else. And they will walk for hours carrying those loads. One woman told us that she just finished carrying wood (70 kg) for 6 hours back to her house! I have wondered what kinds of chronic pains they end up with from carrying those loads for all these years, but the sad thing is they hardly live long enough for us to know that. (The life expectancy of women is around 44 years).
Going back to the loads - up until now we have only seen one man carrying something on his head, but that was only because there was no woman by his side. If there is a woman with him, she is the one to carry the heavy load while he walks leisurely next to her. Talmadge is sitting next to me and just mentioned that he does see men carrying loads – just in a smarter way. :) Well, he is right in that men usually have bikes and carry their loads that way, but that brings up another question as to why women don’t have bikes... Anyway, so I guess I am only right in saying that men don’t carry loads on their heads…or in the presence of a woman.

The women also do all the house work – they work HARD every day. I often see women in the fields harvesting sweet potatoes, cooking the meals, tending to the children, cleaning their houses and surroundings while I often see the men sitting around chatting with their neighbors. At the same time, I guess a blog could be written about the hardships of men not finding jobs to support their families and what that feels like. The unemployment rate in Mozambique is currently at 90%. (Yes you read correctly – 90%!)

I am always impressed by the physical strength of these women, but know that their loads are certainly not only physical, but also emotional and we can often see it in their eyes.


While carrying their babies on their backs…


Tools on their head…


Even at a young age they know how to balance the weight


Making corn flour


Preparing lunch


Working in the fields


Women and sex

The topic that I find hardest to process is the way sex is viewed here. First of all girls get married off as early as 14 years old. This is rarely done out of their own free will – it often happens that their father negotiates a “deal” with a friend/neighbor (often an older man) to have his daughter married off (usually for a sizeable dowry).
The other way early marriage takes place is that the girl gets pregnant (often as early as 12) and marriage comes as an aftermath. These premature sexual encounters stem from the fact that many women don’t feel that they can say no when it comes to a man demanding sex. As a consequence they don’t have a healthy understanding of their own bodies and their personal rights.
We have also read that during times of need the husband/father will ask his wife/daughter to sell herself for sex to generate a little income for the family (never mind AIDS…). I cannot wrap my head around the emotions that these women may have in those circumstances.
Also, it is well known that many men are not faithful to their wife (wives) and often bring AIDS into the family. In Mozambique over 13% of the population is infected with the HIV/AIDS virus.

Young mothers…

IMG_1687 Chico Milione (Zona G)


Women in Mozambique don’t have many “rights”. In a family, the boys come first and that is also the case when it comes to education. Boys are sent to school, whereas girls are often kept at home because there is no “need” for them to be educated. As a result, most of the women we encounter here in the poorer communities are illiterate and have had very little or no education. (Please note that in the cities changes have occurred and many women are attending school and the universities. What I am describing here is mostly found in the rural and poor communities).
Aside from the fact that they are deprived of an education, it can also be detrimental for them when it comes to raising a healthy family. For example, without reading they are not able to identify any road signs and so it is difficult to take the bus or read road signs. Another example is that if any family member gets sick and they receive medication from the doctor, they are unable to read the prescription. In order to change the cycle, women need to learn to read so that they can register their children and send them (both boys and girls) to school. 

The faces of the future (see below)


The school in Mungassa (see below)


Typical classroom


At last a little bit of good news…

I hope you have stuck with me until here, because there is some good news too. Things are changing, although slowly. Just this year a domestic violence law was passed, because the women here had enough of being beaten up by their husbands without any repercussion and so now they have the law protecting them. This does not mean that domestic violence has diminished, but at least there is now a law in place.

The other good news is that more women are going to school. And through their education they are learning to support themselves and are no longer fully dependent upon their husbands. As mentioned above, there are many women attending universities in the bigger cities and men and women alike understand that education will change the future generations.

One of the girls in Mungassa studying for an exam

IMG_3264 Isaias Jose Bene (Madalena - wife) (Zona G)

The women here have wonderful, strong spirits. It’s fun to interact with them, to laugh, to joke, and to sometimes hear their strong opinions of what a man’s role should be. They are strong willed and not much different from women anywhere else in the world. These characteristics can best be observed when the women are together in groups. This is when their true selves shine. Yesterday we were at a celebration that Care For Life put together and it was so much fun to see the women dancing, singing, arguing, laughing and interacting with everybody.  In fact, in many ways they had more visible roles in the celebration than the men did.

IMG_1688 Celina Chico (Zona G)

These women are compassionate, they love their children and care for their families in beautiful ways. Care For Life is one of the hopes of change for the women as its program is supporting the role of women in leadership, at home and in the society. They are taught to read and write, they are taught to speak up about domestic violence and Care For Life encourages the men to treat their wives better. So in all of this, there is hope that things can and will be better for the women here in Mozambique. And they already are in some situations.

Women learning how to write with Care For Life


I hope you have enjoyed learning about the women of Mozambique and though this highlights some of challenges of women, it does not speak on behalf of all of the women and men here in Mozambique. We have also met outstanding examples of husbands, who love their wives and children and would do anything for them. Like all stereotypes, they exist because there is a huge population that acts like that, but that does not mean everybody. I in no way want to create an opinion of exclusivity, but I just wanted to show the reality of many women here in Mozambique. 

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Surveys, Interviews, and Focus Groups


Our task while here in Mozambique is to provide a detailed report on how the community of Mungassa has changed (for better or for worse) while partnered with Care For Life over the past three years.  Four days a week we walk the 35 minutes to the community of Mungassa to conduct surveys, interviews, and focus groups with the families.  There are 235 families in the community and although we have already met over 200 of them, we still have much to do on the surveys, interviews and focus groups. 

We find new, unique personalities every day.   For example, today we met the man in the picture below:

IMG_3165 Viegas Bango (Zona A)

His name is Viegas Bango and he is a Zone Leader in the community of Mungassa.  Viegas has the best looking latrine in the whole community (pictured above).  It has a tiled floor, a lock on the door, windows and even a toilet paper holder! 

Viegas has built his latrine with the rewards of Care For Life.  Each family in the community has made 10 individual goals with CFL Field Officers that vary from having a family garden to treating their water with chlorine, to keeping their yard clean.  If these goals are met within 6 months, CFL rewards these families with building materials for their homes or chairs for inside their homes.  Viegas chose cement and zinc roof panels as his rewards and he used them to build his latrine, a large kitchen…(see below)


a bath house (see below)


and a zinc roof. (see below)


Viegas has been a Pastor for his church for many years and it was so interesting to hear his story.  He and his wife had 12 kids, but only 5 are still alive.  He lost one child in 1980 to malaria, because nobody in the area knew what malaria was at that time and they only found out how to treat it after he had passed away.   Four of his other children were still-born and the other two only lived a week or two.  He lost a lot of his children during Mozambique’s Civil War (which ended about 15 years ago and I am currently working on a blog post about that war and the general history of Mozambique).  During that time of civil war, all the members of the community of Mungassa had to sleep away from their homes because Mungassa was in a war zone.  This difficult living situation caused much unrest in the community and is the main reason that so many of Viegas children died.  Mozambique has been through many difficult times in the last 30 years and we could see the pain from the civil war in his eyes.

It is difficult to walk around the community on some days because there are so many sad scenes and stories.  People die on a regular basis (mostly because of AIDS) and it is difficult to see women and children who are alone because their families have died or been killed by war, AIDS, Cholera, Malaria, Tuberculosis, and many other causes.  Yesterday one of the Field Officers of Care For Life had his baby daughter pass away of Jaundice, which is something that we have heard is treatable in most developed countries.  Last week an older man in Mungassa died, the week before a young girl from our church passed away unexpectedly.   These things sometimes weigh us down, but at the same time we see many more stories of the good things that are happening here.  Because of CFL we see healthy infants that get bathed every day, we see healthy children running around, we see men that have hope in their eyes because Mungassa is becoming a community that now has a road and will soon have electricity. 

It is so interesting to interview these people and learn how their lives have changed with CFL.  Below is a picture of Anita interviewing a man that was telling her about how many things CFL has taught him:

IMG_3128 Inacio Chico Armando (Zona F)

Most of the time we arrive at a family’s home and ask them if they have about 20 minutes to talk.  They bring a few chairs out of their home and set them under a tree and we start to talk.  The below picture is of a typical interview scene:

IMG_3179 Zefa Luis Moto   daughter (Zona A)

After the interview above, the woman in the purple (Jorgina) decided she would give something to Anita.  We walked past her house later in the day and the pictures tell the rest of the story…

IMG_3191 Jorgina Joao

IMG_3192 Jorgina Joao

IMG_3193 Jorgina Joao

This lady had a very unique story because she has lived away from Mungassa for the past four years and was able to see the “before and after” effect of Care For Life.  She told us that the road in front of her house used to be full of trash and was literally the community latrine.  She said it used to stink at her house because of the amount of people that used the latrine along the road.  She then explained that now all that has changed and that the road is now clean because everyone has their own latrine and the garbage is gone as well. 


The above picture is the road that has improved so much while CFL has been here.

At times these surveys can be a bit tedious, because it is hard to get an honest answer out of them. Not because they are not honest people, but because they are in some way used to figuring out what type of answers organizations are looking for and that is the answer they will give. We eventually figured that out and were not satisfied with those types of answers, because they don’t tell us the real picture and that is what we are here for. So we usually dig around with more open ended questions until they open up and we are able to get to the bottom of who they are, what the community is all about and what their true feelings are about the work with CFL. And that is when it gets so interesting and rewarding. Because it is during those moments that we see how we are all the same – that we have the same frustrations, desires and needs, even though our worlds (literally and figuratively) are so far apart.

And so during those interviews we have formed closer relationships with some of the community members and today we felt the effects of that. Just to give you a little background…usually Talmadge and I head to Mungassa separately from the CFL group, but today we went there together as they are during their follow up work in Mungassa every two weeks. And as we sat there at the meeting and looked over the crowd of leaders from the community, we felt connected to them. We have met with them, we have heard their stories, we are aware of some of their strengths and weaknesses and we could tell that our emotional attachment was definitely different than a month ago when we had just arrived here. And that was beautiful and that is when we realize that 2 months at Mungassa is nothing -we are just scratching the surface and we are just getting to know them. There is so much more to learn and we’ll keep talking about it with you in this blog.

Friday, November 6, 2009

A day in the life of A and T

Our typical day is as follows: 

6:30am Wake

Get ready for the day, eat breakfast, prepare a sack lunch, etc.

8:15am – Walk about 35 minutes to Mungassa  – the community we are working with

8:50-Noon – Interviews, surveys, get to know each family in the community.  We are going to finish visiting all 10 zones (235 families) some time next week.

Noon- 12:30pm - We eat our prepared sandwiches with bananas in the village pavilion that was made for the use of Care For Life.

12:30 to 3 or 4pm – Interviews, Surveys, and Focus Groups.

Evening – Compile notes, survey results, and videos/pictures from the day.  Dinner is usually at about 7pm.

Here are some pictures to give you an idea of where we walk and what we see during a typical day:


In the mornings, we walk out of the white door and head to Mungassa.  Out of respect for the locals,  Anita has started wearing the traditional clothes of the women here.  The skirt she has on is called a “capulana” and 98% of the women wear them here in the Beira area. This is now Anita writing - we get stopped every now and then by women commenting on how happy they are to see me wearing a capulana. The other day somebody mentioned to me that it was okay for me to wear the capulana because I work here every day and therefore, I am almost a Mozambican! I was glad to hear I am not just a white girl trying to look African…


We then walk right next to a paved street (as seen above on the right hand side of the picture).  The two young women pictured above are headed to school in their uniforms.


We walk past our favorite bakery on the left…Both breakfast and lunch come from this bakery. Unfortunately the only thing they have is white bread… we are really longing for some fiber.


We walk past our church on the right (only 5 minutes from our house)…


We then go off onto a dirt road where there are many little shops like the ones pictured above. Here you see the clothes hung up, but every so often they are just put on the dirt floor affixed by some rocks. Not the way I used to shop at Prada and Donna Karan!!


This area, where the shops are located, is usually very crowded with people. We stand out just a tad, not only because we are white and pretty much the only white people in site, but they have never seen a tall basketball player like Talmadge. We get stares and “hellos” all the way from home to the community.


These pictures were shot from the hip… This is Anita – picture this…we were walking down this dirt road today and Talmadge very inconspicuously held his camera at the hip and kept shooting. When I asked him a question he said, sorry I can’t answer right now, I am taking pictures… Maybe I am the only one that thought that to be very funny. You let me know in your comments.


Then we get to a smaller dirt road that usually has big puddles. We are a bit worried about the rainy season that is about to start. This puddle is only after one night of rain. We cannot imagine what it looks like after days of rain. Certain areas supposedly are completely covered and unable to be passed once the rainy season starts.


This is the biggest puddle of them all… It should really be called a small pond.  We have to jump from wood stump to wood stump to cross on the right hand side.  At times, this proves difficult for Anita and her capulana! And the last thing we want to have happen is to step into that water where all kinds of worms and diseases await us. A funny story about this place today was when the guy who lives right next to this small pond thought (and was very serious about it) that it would be a great business idea to charge people to cross…hmm…


We then walk through a small community and today we saw this man fetching water from the community well.


We stopped at a small vegetable/fruit stand and before we knew it, we were surrounded by children looking at us. This is not an unusual occurrence as children often flock around us and giggle. Some of them simply call us “Mozunga” – which means “white people” in their native tongue Sena. I guess that is the easiest way to identify us – the white people.

We are not only watched by children, pretty much all adults know our exact whereabouts. The other day we ran into a lady we know from the community and she said, “I saw you yesterday wearing the capulana as well, but it was a different one than the one you are wearing today”. So nothing we do goes unnoticed.


We walk on…


We cross this paved road…


And enter the community Mungassa.  These women stopped today to say hello.  We see women carrying loads like these on their heads all the time.  It is very impressive how they can balance so much weight without dropping their load.  We noticed as well that we rarely see men using this technique (which deserves another blog entry about men vs. women in this society).  It’s very backwards and very hard to see. Especially as a woman – I cannot imagine life the way these women have to live it…being considered second class.


Behind one member of the Mungassa community, David, you see the pavilion or “machessa” that the community built at the beginning of their three year agreement to work with Care For Life.  They use this machessa for community meetings and it is also the place that Anita and I take our break to eat lunch every day.  You will also notice a well (to the right) that was built by our church independent of the work of Care For Life.


Here is a closer view of the well mentioned above.


Part of the work that Care For Life is doing, is instructing the community members to build a latrine at their home. Up until the arrival of Care For Life, the community was not accustomed to using a latrine. They instead would relieve themselves pretty much anywhere. This was a major health hazard (aside from the unbearable stench everywhere) and made living in these communities very hard. The introduction of latrines has improved their health immensely. They started out building temporary latrines and are now working on these improved latrines, built with cement blocks that will last much longer (up to 10 years). Above you see the base of an improved latrine. Part of our work is to look at the development of these latrines that are expected to be finished to this point by next week.

IMG_1665 Estrela Castigo (Zona F)

This family was preparing potatoes for storage during the rainy season (which starts at the end of November).


Many are starting to prepare land for their rice crops, which will grow during the rainy season.


There were some guys playing cards with NBA players on them (which is much better than the white bikini babes that are on most playing cards in these villages).  I found some of the cards incorrect which was really funny to me.  One card had a picture of Tony Parker and below the picture it said, Vince Carter.  I love that kind of stuff! At least they got Karl Malone right.


Then we head back to the Care For Life office (which is also our home).

There are many more pictures from today and from other days that we have taken, but this will hopefully give you an idea of a typical day here in Mozambique.