28 February 2007

An interesting quote

This morning I dropped into the PAO library (US Public Affairs Office) to catch up on the print news and found an interesting quote. At least interesting to me as a historical ecologist studying interactions between landscapes and cultures.

"Comparative history provides a way of dissecting the roles of chance and necessity, of assessing how and to what extent the time invariant and space invariant laws intersect with the unique attributes of individuals and their surroundings (250)."
- G.Vermeij, Nature: An Economic History (2004)


I wasn't actually reading the book, I was reading a review written by an economist in the Journal of Economic Literature. Somehow I was able to overcome my inherent phobia of financial matters and browse the economic journals to which the library subscribes. (I am able to do my own taxes and follow my investments, it just isn't something I get a kick out of like other people I know and love.)

The actual review was interesting as well - comparing the fields of biology (mostly evolutionary biology) and economics. However, I was disappointed that the author didn't mention economic anthropology. Another book for my ever-growing reading list.

Makyr, Joel. 2006. Economics and biologists: a review of Geerat J. Vermeij's Nature: An Economic History. Journal of Economic Literature 44: 1005-13.

27 February 2007

Maputo Baixa Saturday Art Market

Every Saturday morning, artists and craftsmen (and the ubiquitous middleman) hold a market in the Baixa of Maputo. The Baixa area is the oldest part of the city and is located below the sand escarpment that dominates your view if you come via water to Maputo. The big N-S avenues like Lenin, Marx, Engels, and Cabral all lead down to the waterfront. (Cabral was an Marxist African revolutionary that founded PAIGC. ) Mozambique is a socialist democracy for anyone who's having difficulty with all the communist/socialist hero worship. Socialism and Communism don't preclude democracy, its just the way they get applied to reality (see also Capitalism). I love the irony of the bourgeoisie shops full of technology and gadgets lining Avenida Karl Marx.

On to the shopping...



Wire lizards, snakes, and bugs. The 3 that look like they are about to run away, came home with me. I got a cockroach, a snake, and a chameleon. This picture makes cool wallpaper by the way.



Wire and beaded sculpture is very popular. It is often made with scrap and recycled materials and a lot of attention is paid to little details. Vehicles have wheels that spin, little guitars have strings, little critters have realistic (and fantastical) colors, shapes, patterning, etc. The smaller the item the more expensive it is, because of the labor that goes into creating all the detail.



In many markets, there are middlemen who do the selling. While there are middlemen here, artists often sell their own work. Usually, they sit in the back working on a project. If you don't see something you'd like, you can put in an order and come back in a week or two. These guys were just chilling out and shooting the breeze. The one that is waving wanted me to take a picture so that I could take the picture (I asked) to Europe. I told him I was from the US and he asked where because he has friends in LA. Of course, they told me to come back and buy more another day.



This sculptor had some really neat pieces and knew what his work was worth. He uses tree trunks and branches to form people. The faces, and sometimes other parts like hands, are polished to a high sheen, but the rest is left rough. Some of the women figures wear capulanas or head scarves in traditional print - so a wood and fabric media. They are very beautiful.



A traditional instrument and musician adding to the sounds of market bargaining.





Tourists trying to bargain. Most items in the market are not all that expensive though. Bargaining is an art, but Mozambicans don't practice it to the extreme of a Moroccan or Turkish carpet seller. ;-) It is relaxed and more about getting a deal for buying multiples rather than singles of things.



This is my village and my people - I bought it and the elephant that is sneaking up to raid the homemade beer that is fermenting outside the little hut. Probably the only time it is okay for me to say this as an anthropologist. I haven't named it yet. I'd bet interviewing here wouldn't get me far. Informant responses would be rather wooden and stiff. Sorry, couldn't resist.

I didn't see these the last time I was here in 2004. The little tablas remind me of Dia de los Muertos boxes containing everyday scenes that I've seen for sale in San Antonio's Mercado (Texas) - sans skeletons. They make them for all sorts of events. I bought a bush school for Chris for his birthday - the little boys and girls were learning the alphabet which I thought was appropriate for a 2nd grade teacher working on his doctorate in "Literacy and Learning." They also had people getting blood transfusions, fugitives, Hash runners, a football game, government officials sitting at a table planning Mozambique's development, a woman giving birth in a tree*, bars, and markets. My friend Natalina, a Senior Fulbrighter (there's a pic of her son following), studies informal markets and she got a miniature Xipamanine Market because that's where she's done many interviews.



My new bicycle. The wheels turn and the front hand-brakes work. Its about 1 foot tall by 1.5 feet long. I have no idea how I am going to get this home or through the mail without it being totally thrashed.



My friend, Etienne, is very pleased with his toy helicopter that his mom just bought him. The helicopter is made out of wire, with hand-sewn leather seats, and a battery hook-up to make the blades turn on their own. Really cool!



I'm not sure what this man is weaving, but its common to see men weaving in Maputo.

*A woman gave birth in a tree during Cyclone Eline in 2000. Her and her baby's rescue was all over the news. Everyone in Mozambique knows about the woman who gave birth in a tree.

Outside the City - Pequenos Lebombos Dam

The past couple of weeks have been pretty busy now that the national archives are open. I'm finding good stuff. I found one source that provides a very detailed snapshot of flora, fauna, and human communities at the Maputo Elephant Reserve from 1972/73 - maps, species lists, cattle herds, population sizes, crops, etc. That was a pretty exciting find (so I'm easy to please). I also have some materials from the 1990s on species presence, agriculture, and human population size. It looks like one of the big areas I will ask about during oral histories is the time period during the Civil War.

I have left the A/C of the archives to get out into the city and countryside. The following pictures were taken this Saturday on a Hash Run at Pequenos Lebombos Dam. The dam holds back the Umbeluzi River. Some websites talk about how this is where crocodiles pee into Maputo's water supply, but I was told this weekend that the water is primarily for irrigation. The dam is about 5 km outside of Boane and 45 km outside Maputo.


The Maputa Hash House Harriers are about 1/3 Mozambican, 1/2 African (at least), and majority "drinkers with a running problem." No one forces anyone to drink (and there is always water and sodas), but everyone can kick back with a beer after the run (and sometimes on the run).

Runs are usually 5-12 km (that's 3-7 miles for those who don't get commie units).

This part of the trail was quite nice and went through a guava orchard. I didn't illegally pick any guava here. ;-P Most of the fruits were green anyway. There was a wild tree growing at the base of the dam that 2 Mozambicans and I picked some ripe fruit from.



The funny looking plants in the center are members of the Euphorbia family. The milky latex they produce is not something you want to accidentally rub into your eyes. It is poisonous and can cause "intense irritation to the skin." Rhinos (probably Black Rhinos) eat some types of Euphorbiaceas. Cassava and Poinsettia are 2 members of this family, and natural rubber comes from another member.

Most of the trail was fairly rocky and followed cattle paths.

Sunset on the Mozambique-Swaziland border. The mountains in the distance are the Lebombos.

14 February 2007

Zambezi Rising

I've gotten a couple of emails about rain in Mozambique and how I am doing. I am okay. To put it into perspective, its kind of like if I were living in Washington, DC and you asked if a snow storm in Boston was giving me problems. There is about 800 miles between Maputo and the mouth of the Zambezi River. Mozambique (308,882 sq. miles) is a little smaller than 2x the size of California (163,707 sq. miles), and its coastline at 1,553 miles is a little shorter than the length of the entire Gulf Coast (1,631 miles).



The problem, I think, is that Africa is this monolithic place to many people. Its where wild animals and Tarzan live, where slaves came from, and where godless black people eat monkeys and dance naked to the sound of jungle drums. Lies, damn lies. I haven't met Tarzan yet. ;-P

Unfortunately, I can't be sarcastic about the realities of HIV/AIDS, other diseases, hunger, illiteracy, political corruption, child soldiers, war, genocide, crime, and grinding poverty. Those things are all too true. (I'm talking of Africa in general here, Dad, not Mozambique.)

Before leaving for the field, sometimes when I told someone (not in my department at UGA and not everyone I spoke to thank goodness) that I was going to do research in Mozambique, their first response was, "Where's that?" Okay, I understand, no oil so not really on US radar. When I said it was in Africa (southeastern to be more precise), I would then be asked if I was going to need to learn African. African, not Afrikaans which is an African language, but African. Like everyone in Africa speaks the same language. UNESCO puts the number of African languages at 2000 (probably an underestimate), Mozambique has 43 living languages and a whole lot of dialects.

But back to the weather... Maputo has been getting a bit of rain at night, and some terrific thunder and lightning storms in the late afternoon/evenings. It is the rainy season, so I've been expecting some sort of wet in addition to regular sodden clothes humidity. I've figured out that when the wind picks up out and blows big clouds of sand and black plastic shopping bags down the Avenida Lenine, rain will most likely follow in 15-20. minutes. Sometimes the shopping bags take off and try to migrate to safer, drier places in Swaziland and South Africa, but they don't get far. Black clouds in the west/northwest are a big clue too.

Links to the most recent news on flooding:
Floods Force 68,000 to Flee Homes in Mozambique

Mozambique: Worst Floods in 6 Years, More Expected

Unlike, Bush & Co., the government here had actually made good preparations by coordinating with NGOS to stock up on water, food, and tents for displaced people. However, the floods have lasted longer than they planned for and supplies are expected to run out by the end of March.

The Zambezi floodplain is very fertile farmland in a country that is primarily agricultural. I doubt people will be deterred from moving back home when flood waters subside - even though that is the current recommendation. Since it is the growing season here, hunger will probably be a big issue in Mozambique during the coming dry season.

10 February 2007

China, Cargo Cults and Growth


On Thursday, Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Mozambique during his whirlwind tour of Africa. I think that I may have seen his motorcade pass on Ave. Eduardo Mondlane that afternoon. Not too many people rate 10 motorcycle police, 4 sedans with darkened windows, an ambulance for a private clinic, and 3 large truckloads overflowing with Mozambican soldiers carrying AK-47s. The whole thing took about 5 minutes to pass and made a hell of a lot racket (almost as much as the 4-wheelers young men drive on the streets of Maputo for kicks). The people on the street looked up briefly, but then went back to whatever they were doing. The atmosphere felt resigned - the equivalent of a "Whatever" this doesn't matter to us.

According to the the local paper, China has forgiven Mozambique $20 million USD in debt which is a good thing. That's a lot of money. They also pledged to continue to invest in Mozambican markets and build a sports stadium in exchange for Mozambique increasing the amount of Chinese imports they let in. I won't summarize any further. Here's the link to the article itself.


Mozambique: China to Cancel Debts

Agencia de Informacao de Mocambique (Maputo)
February 8, 2007

This story is being played out all over Africa, and has been historically. Historic evidence and patterns say that these types of treaties, no matter how well meaning, lead primarily to increased dependency on foreign investment (or complete takeover, see National Geographic's coverage of Nigerian Oil). I can be optimistic that it won't happen, but the pragmatist in me says get real.



I probably wouldn't be thinking about this so much if I hadn't run across a paper in the Journal of Southern African Studies recently that discussed Mozambican attitudes towards development and land (citation below). I read the paper mainly because it talked about how the 1997 Land Law gave communities and individuals the right to delimit and register land as their own (i.e. local communities and people can now claim ownership to traditionaly occupied lands). Under this law, Mozambican and foreign individuals and companies must negotiate leases with these individuals and communities to use/develop the land and then register the lease with the government. Problems arise because local people may not receive payments for the real value of the land that they are giving up for the next 50-100 years. The author describes cases where communities only receive 1 USD/ha, the entire community is not consulted, the community doesn't understand what is going to be done on the land, the payment is distributed unevenly, absentee landlords and hobby farmers who don't care for their land or let their cattle graze the neighbor's cornfields, leasees don't understand local cultures and so don't get a lease, etc.

The point that jumped out (sorry for the huge tangent) was the belief that economic progress in Mozambique will only come from outside - hence the reference to cargo cults. (Yeah, it's wikipedia, but it's a quick and dirty overview of the topic.) And it wouldn't have struck me as so odd except for the combination of Hu's visit and my conversation with R. about business education with locals.

R. is a British man who teaches business development classes to local residents on Saturdays (He might do other stuff, but that's all we've talked about so far.). He's been working with locally grown churches to help locals (of all faiths) grow their own businesses without outside investment. He told me earlier this week that local people just don't believe that any businesses can succeed without foreign startup funds and support. They tell him that good ideas and funding can only come from the outside. What a sad commentary on your own country (and what a total snowjob past foreigners/experience has done on the mindset of many people here). I wish R. the best of luck in his endeavor.

Hanlon, J. 2004. Renewed land debate and the "cargo cult" in Mozambique. Journal of Southern African Studies 30(3): 603-625.

The photo above was taken at the Museum of Natural History in Maputo. The wood sculpture, carved by a native in the late 1800s/early 1900s, depicts a foreign colonial drinking something - perhaps a gin and tonic?

09 February 2007

Eye All Better

Thank you to everyone that sent me an email with best wishes on getting better. I wasn't looking for that, but it was a pleasant surprise. I mainly just wanted to write about going to the doctors. Thanks for the sympathy (and the offer of goggles!).

It sounds like many people run into strange allergies, infections, and conditions in the field that we wouldn't necessarily come into contact with at home (conjunctivitis in Fiji, skin infections in India,...). Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that my friends and colleagues all tend to travel to places with strange microbial fauna, warm moist conditions, and less than sanitary (by US standard) conditions. Of course, US standards vary depending on location, but most people these days don't run around barefoot on farms or have dust covering everything. Right.

So for anyone reading this and contemplating travel, finding treatment overseas is realitively easy. You can even buy drugs direct from a pharmacist without a perscription (just make sure you can spell it and know how much you are supposed to take - esp. if the pharmacist can't speak English). But if you can, bring antihistimines. I have loratadine (generic Claritin), benedryl gel, and a bee sting kit (just in case, I've had reactions to bee stings in the past). We humans might think we're in charge, but we're not. There are more insects, and definitely more microbes, in the world than us. (Insert cockroach with an evil laugh here). Plus wash your hands whenever possible and don't touch your face. Until I had this eye thing, I never realized just how much I touched my eyes during the day (thanks Josh).

I now look normal now. No swollen eye, no listing boxer-look, no overdone fuschia eyeshadow. I still don't know what caused the reaction. It will be filed along with the hives outbreak I had in Northern Ireland. That was fun. Chris and I think it might have been some strange clove-flavored candy I ate that gave me a week-long bout of hives. Itchy blotches covered me from neck to knee. But since it was Northern Ireland in the middle of summer, I could cover them all up without looking like a freak. I kept the occasional scratch to a minimum so the locals wouldn't think I was a meth addict or something. (When you live on the I-5 corridor on the US West Coast you see a few things.)

06 February 2007

Adventures in Portuguese: The Medical Clinic

Recently Maputo has had a lot of rain and wind. The rain is good. The wind not so good, because the city is built on sand.

Between the sand and my allergies to dust, my eyes are red by the end of the day. Last night, I was sitting in Changaan class and couldn't figure out why my right eye felt like someone had punched it. When I got home I noticed that the eyelid was swollen but I chalked it up to a developing stye. This morning when I woke up, I could barely get my eye open the lid was so puffy. At this point, lacking a stye, I was thinking pink eye. Fun times.

I walked over to the Sommershield Clinic, about 3/4's of a mile from my apartment. Its a very good private medical clinic that most foreigners use if they have medical issues (emergency or otherwise). I was hesitant to go because (1)I hate going to the doctors, and (2)I wasn't sure that my Portuguese was up to it.

Why do I hate going to the doctors? I don't hate doctors, its just that going usually means I'm sick and I really hate being sick. Hospitals are even worse - because if I'm not sick, someone I probably care about is. As a result, I don't go to hospitals to visit a friend unless they are really in a bad way or just had a baby (which could be considered in a bad way ;-P). Anyway, I got to reception and was immediately confronted with my dearth of advanced Portuguese. In Portuguese a 5 year old would use, I explained that I believed I had conjunctivitis and said I didn't have an appointment in Portuguese. The receptionist handed me a form in English and Afrikaans, all the while speaking to me in Portuguese. I understood her. So far, so good.

After filling out the form, I waited about 40 minutes before being sent back to an office. I sat down, took off my glasses, pointed at my swollen eye and got out about 2 Portuguese sentences out explaining what I thought was going on before the doctor asked if I wanted to speak English. The doctor flashed a light in both eyes looking for dirt and infection. Then he asked, "Have you eaten anything strange recently?"

Well, hmmmm... Define strange. Define recently. I can think of a lots of strange food I've eaten in the past month - just because I've moved to another continent. The only thing I can think of was the mafurra fruit (Trichilia emetica) I bought on Tuesday and ate a little of on Friday. I only ate about 5 pieces before deciding that it was a little too bland and mealy. The picture shows the fruit in pods which contain several pieces.

I really can't think of any other strange thing that I have eaten recently. Of course, T. emetica bark is used as fish poison and oil from the seeds is both eaten and used as soap. Personally given my allergies to dust and mold, I think that the dust blowing around the past week is the culprit.

Anyway, the doctor perscribed Loratadine and an eye ointment containing tetracycline (just in case). I told him that I had a supply of Loratadine that I brought with me from the States. He seemed surprised that I could get it at the grocery store. Then I had to pay and get my perscription for the ointment. Another round of negotiations in Portuguese (no wonder 5 year olds aren't considered capable of looking after their own health), I got my perscription and headed home with only a few linguistic bruises and a puffy eye.

04 February 2007

Maputo From My Roof Redux

Apparently the pictures didn't show in my last post. Here they are in the order I describe them.





03 February 2007

Maputo From My Roof

Last week I discovered that I had access to my apartment building's roof. It is quite cool up there in the mornings and evenings and overall gets a good breeze. Of course, Google Earth does a great job of letting peer down at the landscape like supreme beings, but if you're reading this blog you probably can access Google Earth on your own. ;-)

This photo shows Avenida Lenine running southwest towards downtown and the waterfront around 0600. This shows the Ciudade de Cimento (or Cement City) that urban dwellers work and aspire to live (if they don't already).


This shot shows Avenida Lenine at 1730. My apartment building is only 6 stories high. The lens is aimed eastward towards Universidade Eduardo Mondlane which is a 15-20 minute walk from my front door. I live at the edge of the Coop bairro (pronounced coop as in chicken coop - jeez running afoul of chickens has left some karmic scars). Maputo has a lot of trees within its boundaries, many of them produce edible fruit like mangoes and mafurra (Trichilea emetica).

Not a great shot of the Ciudade de Cani├žo, but from up on the roof it is the best I can do. So, stay tuned for in-depth coverage of Maputo's cane suburbs. The area is called a cane city because most of the houses are hand built from recycled materials and cane. People are building cement block homes but it is a slow and expensive process.


Coop barrio at 0600. For anyone wondering why I use military time, its just easier for me. I got used to using it in the field doing ecological and anthropological research and it just stuck. Kind of like the metric system, or commie units as my brother Wil likes to call metric units.

Its fun watching people as they go about their morning business. A lot of people sleep, eat, and pretty much live outside even in the city limits. There is one family living near me with an outdoor bathtub in their backyard that gets used as a bathtub. I haven't seen any adults using it, but a bunch of little kids were enjoying the water on a hot afternoon. One of the older boys living next door at the mechanic shop sleeps outside on a mat. It is most likely cooler than being stuck inside a cement building with no fan. But before you ask, I do not spend my days peeping in on people. I do like to watch people on their way to work or coming home from school or just hanging out and chatting.
The bairro. You can sort of see the corner of a garbage pit located next door to my building. I think it originated as a basement for a building that was either knocked down or never built. At any rate, garbage migrates daily into the pit and gets burned a couple of times a week. I've been collecting pictures of garbage and recycling in Maputo to post. The smell of burning trash in Maputo is dominated by plastic with an undercurrent of rotting vegetation that leaves a vaguely nauseating afterfeeling. I have gotten used to it. It reminds me of upstate New York or Oregon on Saturday mornings, but without the distinct musty leaf smell.

Meu bairro in the other direction. I've never heard the bells toll. That's probably a good thing. Just beyond is Avenida Karl Marx - full of shops and shop keepers.

01 February 2007

My Apartment on Avenida Vladimir Lenine

My study base where I check my email, analyze data (when I get some), write my blog, and talk to my sweetie Chris. And yes, that is a parquet wooden floor. The black mark under my desk came with the apartment and just tells me that the previous renter had their desk in the same spot and had dirty shoes. The walls are spackle over cement, making hanging things difficult. I'm using white sticky tack, so if I can't remove it all when I leave, university housing might not be able to tell the difference.


The Kitchen. I haven't had too many cockroaches yet. That probably has a lot to do with the little geckos that live in the corners. They are very cute, but camera shy. The counter top is marble on one side. My stove runs on electricity and gas, but I only have electricity. I suppose I could buy gas, but I don't really cook all that much. It's too hot. Sandwiches are good when you have the right kind of bread.

The bathroom with all the mod cons. I have hot running water, but I haven't used it yet. Cold showers are more lukewarm than cold. In Mozambique's sauna like heat, cold to lukewarm feels pretty good though. The shower curtain doesn't do much in the way of keeping water in. So I learned quickly how to contort myself to prevent large amounts of water from ending up on the floor. I mop up the rest. Can you detect a yellow and white color scheme yet?


My bed and dresser with the door opening onto my little patio overlooking the street. My bed is only located about 4 feet from my desk. A deadly combination for me because I love taking naps. Jessie and I used to talk a lot about bringing yoga mats into the Ecolab and taking an afternoon siesta. In hindsight, that might not be such a good idea for me. Being able to sleep where you work just means you end up working lots more and take way more naps.

My living room, which doesn't actually see me much. Its more of a book and dirty laundry storage space. I have cable, but really don't have any interest in watching TV (and yes, I can get English-language programming if I like).

I have one more room in my apartment. I has an extra bed and dresser, but I keep it shut because otherwise my apartment feels even bigger than it already is. Overall, my apartment is huge - way bigger than the one I live in on Roger Road Graduate and Family housing.

So what do basic necessities cost?
I pay $300 rent, plus $12 for electricity, ~$5 for water, $90 for cable/internet service, $30 for cleaning, and $8 for building guard salary. I believe that part of my rent may be subsidized, as other people have told me apartments usually rent for $500-$600 a month in my area. It is university housing which also might be part of that. So, I pay about $445 a month for a bigger apartment than I rent in the States. Today, I had 2 windows fixed in my apartment, which took pretty much all day to do. Sr. Jaime, the man who fixed them, also works as a part-time guard at my apartment. Total cost of supplies and labor was $20.

Food is relatively cheap and fresh. I think I might be spending about $80 a month for groceries which includes non-food items - but I live alone, eat vegetarian, and go out for a beer only once in a while. I did find out from some little boys on their way home from school that I can get a soft-serve vanilla ice cream cone for $0.12. That was fun and I didn't get sick. A 1/2 kilo of tomatoes or mangoes costs $0.50. A box of juice (100% juice, no added sugar, from Ceres) is $1. A half dozen eggs (they only sell brown eggs, no difference from the white kind) for $0.84 which is a little more spendy than the states, but I need the protein. Dry beans are still cheap - less than $1 for 2 kilos. Rice is $1 per kilo. Peanut butter is expensive at $4 a jar. Good bread (European style) is $0.14 a loaf. I don't buy the pre-sliced kind because it gets moldy before I can eat it. Some green foods aren't meant to be eaten. Plus, I already have a supply of anti-biotics.

Chapas (minibus taxis) and buses are 5 metacais (~$0.20) per ride. I'm not sure how much car insurance and fuel expenses run here though. A round trip bus ticket to Nelspruit, if you definitely plan to go the day you buy the ticket for, is $25. Walking is free but sweaty. ;-)