30 May 2007

What is up with the news?

The New York Times has just gotten around to publishing a piece about Maputo's munitions dump explosion in March that killed 103 people, left more than 400 injured, and 80 children orphaned.

Fear Lingers in Mozambique Over Unexploded Ordinance

Three months? Yet daily, US residents turn on the news to hear about Hollywood starlets arrested over drugs, people tempting Darwin's ghost, and feel good fluff. The news we get about Iraq is filtered heavily. I saw an historic piece on the British liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp at the end of WWII which I doubt would have made US news in the current climate. When people here ask me why Americans don't care about suffering in other parts of the world, I tell them that Americans do care. However, when you don't know about things (and it isn't easy to find out) you can't care.

When I see stuff like this I have multiple, simultaneous reactions.

1. Stories that make US news are a modern version of Roman "Bread and Circuses" designed to pacify the public. If one is entertained, one could care less about the shady maneuverings behind closed doors. I also think this is pretty valid, given the crap that makes headlines back home. I've been getting my news online for a few years now. I love being able to browse BBC, Al-Jazeera, AllAfrica, etc. Most big city newspapers are ridiculous (the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is a huge peeve of mine), and forget about FOX or other TV channels for the news.

2. People are tired of hearing bad news. My response to that is, if you're tired of bad news, do something already. People do act, their actions just aren't always big things or considered "newsworthy."

3. People care immensely, but don't know what to do. They turn off the bad images and stories to feel less guilty. I think this one is pretty valid. When offered potential ways to help, Americans do respond - tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, even just everyday stuff. Our government may not always have its act together, but as individuals citizens we are willing to help.

4. People really are stupid enough to care more about some Hollywood star's train wreck of a life, than the general suffering of their own lives and those of the rest of the world's population. Sadly, this is also valid. Rubbernecking is an art form in the US. Seeing someone else suffer worse makes a person feel better about themselves.

Does the news media catering to what people want to see? Is it supression of certain types or sources of news? Is it lack of journalists on the ground? Or something in the middle? To be fair, regular news out of Africa isn't the only hole in US mainstream media. News from news from Asia, Oceania, and South America is also thin. Much of what does get published from outside the West is negative. Good things happen outside North America and Europe too.

29 May 2007

The Price of Bread - Part 2

"One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise."
- Aldo Leopold, Round River

I’ve had 2 comments in the past couple of days over my bread blog. Both my friends brought up ethanol and biofuels. Originally, I had another paragraph in my blog about the affects of bread increases on local biofuel use, but I confess I had not thought the commodity chain through to the other end.

Here is the original article that appeared in AIM online:

Bakers Put Up Price Of Bread

Damien, an Australian living in rural Indonesia, commented on how people are expressing similar fears where he is living. Food prices will rise as farmers switch from food crops to crops that can be used for food, animal feed, and most importantly, biofuels like ethanol. My friend James, back home in Athens, wrote me a couple of long, darkly humorous emails on ethanol and the price of bread. He never posts this stuff as a comment (hint hint) so I cut and paste his emails here.
“Sadly, the price of bread and most other foods made from grain is going to increase sharply over the next few years now that cars are competing with people for food. Stupid ethanol. Unfortunately, the whole corn ethanol situation isn't very funny.... it just seems like a big scam to me. The positive energy balance for corn ethanol isn't very high, and some scientists say that under certain conditions it's actually negative. Ethanol from sugarcane is a lot more efficient but it's hardly problem free and it still removes valuable agricultural lands from production. As governments increase ethanol subsidies and as the demand for ethanol grows we are going to see major changes in the global food economy..... farmers are going to switch from wheat to corn when possible..... animal feed is going to become more expensive so milk and meat prices will also rise... the US might even get to the point where we stops exporting corn because we can sell it internally at higher profits for use as ethanol. Of course, once the oceans start dying we can turn them into giant algae farms and get our ethanol that way. :)”

One of the points I left out of my bread blog concerns local effects on the environment from bread price increases. Bakeries make bread at a central location for a lot of people (economy of scale). When people start cooking more at home because they can't afford bread, they need energy to do so. Here in Mozambique, that means firewood and charcoal. More people will need to harvest wood, more trees will be cut, and more biodiversity (species, habitat, ecosystem services, etc.) will be damaged. Additionally, since most of the people that will switch to wood/charcoal live in the city, they don’t see the daily affects of their actions which makes it all the easier to live with.

To me, this argues for an increased focus on agroforestry (sustainable biofuel and food production), local production of foods and services (cut down on fuel use, provide work, and ensure some sort of stable food supply adapted to local conditions), and vegetarianism (eliminate animal consumption of crops, this isn’t going to happen but I can dream). Food security, in Mozambique and elsewhere, is not going to get easier under our current and predicted environmental problems. We know the many problems associated with oil consumption, and it seems that ethanol has its own set of accompanying issues. Electricity, while cleaner, also creates problems as the electricity has to come from somewhere. Lots of electricity in the US comes from coal-fired power plants, diesel, hydroelectric dams, and nuclear. Solar, wind, and tidal may be good alternatives - but the scale of their use needs to be increased. Biofuels from crop waste (stalks) or poop could be useful. So where do we go from here? How soon do we get it? And how do we transfer these new technologies quicker to places like Mozambique?

27 May 2007

The Price of Bread

Nine days ago, a small article appeared in AIM online about changes to bread prices in Mozambique. I read it, but didn't really think about the affects of a 43% increase in the price of a loaf of bread until today.

I've stopped eating most bread in the US because it sucks. It tastes like sawdust, has no consistency, and lasts longer than a food of that type should (in my humble opinion). However, Mozambicanos can make bread. They learned from the Portuguese who also make good bread. Chewy crust on the outside and decent chewy consistency on the inside. You can get white, whole wheat, and 7 grain, but you have to eat it fast. There are no preservatives so it only lasts a day or so. The smell of freshly baked bread wakes me up more than the smell of hot coffee. It is absolute heaven to pass a bakery early in the morning in Maputo.

Bread is a staple food in Mozambique. People eat a lot of rice and tschima (corn mash/pap/grits) with various meat and vegetable stews, but every day I pass pão vendedores on the street corners selling warm loaves slathered in butter or a groundnut paste (unsweetened) for breakfast and lunch. For some, the only meal they can depend on daily is a piece of bread (sometimes with butter or nut paste) and a cup of tea from the HIV clinic or church kitchen at the orphanage.

Today I stopped in at a small bakery next door to my neighborhood grocer's. The electricity was out in my apartment so my stove wasn't working. In times like these, peanut butter and strawberry jam always comes to my rescue. The price of pãozinhos (rolls) went up in the past week from 1 metical each to 1.5 meticais. The current exchange rate is 25.8 metacais = $1 US, so a roll costs approximately 4 cents US. That is not a lot for me, but for someone living on the streets it is a lot.

Mozambique grows only a very small amount of wheat in Tete province. Corn (milho) and rice are major grain crops here. Pretty much all of the wheat consumed in-country is imported. At the end of April a 50 kg sack of wheat flour cost 550 MTN ($22 USD). In two weeks, that price rose to 595 MTN (about $24 USD).

The bakers blame the millers, and the millers blame the international markets. A 250 gm loaf now costs 5 metacais (20 cents), and there is some fear that people will just stop buying bread. Other people are concerned about selling loaves that are smaller for the same price. It probably seems silly to anyone paying $1.50 or more for a loaf of bread in the US, but back in the States people have other food options. And now that winter has set in, that extra meal provides the energy to ward off shivering on a cold tropical morning. Many rural residents will continue to subsist on what they always have - foods like tschima and rice cooked over a fire. It is the urban and suburban residents who will feel the pinch.

25 May 2007

Winter in Africa - Part 1

For some reason, I haven't been able to log in for any good length of time on my blog to post for the past couple of days. I'm not the only one who's had issues with the internet here, but I'm happy to say it is working tonight.

Winter has finally arrived. We've been flirting with it on and off during the past few weeks, but this week it finally stuck. Mornings are cold (40-45F/4.5-7.2C), and in the daytime the temperatures climb into the high 70s (25C) and low 80s (28C). That sounds pleasant, but when you are used to 90F (32C) at 6:30 AM it is freezing. I vaguely recall wearing shorts and a sweater to school in northern NY on spring days when the temperature climbed to 40F and melted the remaining 2 feet of snow on the ground. I don't think I could do that anymore.

I started wearing a sweater this week, and have stopped rolling up my pant legs to catch a cool breeze. No more tank tops, or skirts, or even shorts. Three nights ago, I broke out the blankets. I've been sleeping much better now that I don't spend half the night shivering.

People here look funny all bundled up in snowy weather gear in the early morning. Big puffy jackets and hats with fur trim. But that's mainly for people who can afford it. Sometimes I do a double-take because men wear coats or sweaters that are obviously made for woman. The colors (lavender, baby blue, mint green) and flower embroidery are a dead giveaway. At the same time, many women wear men's woolen suit jackets - brown, grey, tweed. Roupa usada. Africa is full of castoffs and hand-me-downs.

Most people wear several layers of thin clothing and a sweater. A lot of the women wrap themselves and the babies on their backs in multiple capulanas. In the early mornings they might also wrap themselves in a blanket. Wool touks are very popular. All the babies wear them, most men, and quite a few women. More traditionally dressed women wear cotton head scarfs.

Homes here don't have insulation. Sometimes they don't even have walls - just thin reed matting. Women charcoal sellers hawk a day's worth of fuel for cooking all year round, but as winter sets in this fuel source becomes more important for household heating.

A lot of the charcoal sold in Maputo comes from the forests and woodlands at my field site, and from other communities in that region. A big bag costs about 100 MTN ($4 USD) and can be stretched to last a month (sometimes a little longer). The driver and botanists that accompany me and other researchers from the university, regularly buy big sacks of charcoal offered for sale along the road to the reserve to use at home. I always feel a bit strange riding in the biology department car when the roof is loaded up with charcoal. It doesn't feel kosher.

21 May 2007


I check my mail at the US Public Affairs Office once a week. Because I am on a Fulbright, I get diplomatic pouch privileges within certain limits. I can order a book now and again from Amazon, and my mom and dad can send letters.

So I believed myself out of the reach of junk mail for a year. Ha! Visa must be really desperate to be sending me a credit card application in Mozambique. What a waste of taxpayer money and trees. I'm really surprised this was forwarded.


Thanks again to everyone who has dropped me a line. My Dad is doing okay. He had to rescedule his appointment for 1 June, so no more news until then. :(

17 May 2007

Getting By With A Little Help From My Friends

The past few days have been rough. I haven't been sleeping or eating much. And I really haven't been motivated to work at all. My entire situation would normally trigger a plummet into the depression that accompanies me everywhere. However, this morning I woke up feeling tired, grey around the edges, but otherwise okay. My Dad's condition is still unknown, but I don't feel a midnight blue. So what's different?

This time I told lots of people about how I was feeling in my blog. Normally, I bottle up everything and dump on a select few. Chris usually shoulders the majority of my burden, and for that I am very sorry. Everyone else gets a smile and absolutely zero knowledge of how I am truly feeling. (A psychologist I once consulted termed me a smiling depressive and said it was difficult to believe I had problems. That was my last visit with him.) But this time, it was too much to deal with on my own.

Of course, I have spoken with Chris and my brother Wil, but they are family and know how I can be. I love them dearly, but I am slowly coming to realize that with really big stuff, sometimes it is good to have more than one or two people to lean on. They get tired. Shared burdens really are easier to carry.

In the past three days, I have had concerned emails and instant messages from friends all over the world and even a phone call (on Skype). There hasn't been any pity (which would have made me crazier); just a concern about how my Dad is and how I am doing, and whether there is anything they can do to help. Thanks everyone. Just asking is a big help. It has really meant a lot to me. You have done a good deed, and hopefully, someday I will be able to return the favor.

14 May 2007

O Coração: Você É Uma Coisa Muita Frágil

On Mother's Day my parents called me. It started out well, but then my Mom said, "You Dad has some news for you." Her tone of voice was not good. It was the same tone, and almost the same words, she used when she told me she had cancer (my Mom is in remission).

My Dad is 80 years old. He has had 2 (or 3?) heart attacks, open heart surgery for a triple bypass, a couple of stents, and a pacemaker. He also has prostrate cancer, but lots of older men do. They usually die of old age first. In the past few years, Dad has gotten more fragile (cracked ribs). He falls a lot because the medications he takes make him dizzy. Despite all that he was still climbing up on the roof to replace shingles last fall.

So I waited for the news I knew that I was going to dread. The only question being, what is going to bring an end to my Dad's life?

"My heart is fibulated." Huh? His words, which may or may not be a complete understanding of what the doctor told him. The top chambers of his heart no longer work; the muscle is all stretched out like a rubber band. The bottom (larger) chambers are the only part ensuring that blood still pumps through his circulatory system. The doctor disconnected the pacemaker wires to the top half to save on the battery (Save on the battery? WTF?). There is a lot about artial fibulation online, but it is difficult to sort through. I'm still reacting right now.

My Dad tried half-heartedly (bad pun, but my Dad always appreciates a pun) to crack some jokes. I told him to take it easy because I want him to see me walk at graduation. He said he would be there regardless. It made me think of my friend Li-Kuang who just graduated with her doctorate from UGA. Her father died while she was in the process of writing her dissertation. During her defense, she placed a photographed of her parents (both are deceased) on the stand so that they would be with her in spirit. I'm being selfish, but I really don't want to put a photograph of my Dad on the lectern when I defend. I want him there to give me a hug.

I think that my Mom started to sense I was dissolving into banshee wailing mode. I do that sometimes - like when my parents tell me they have a potentially terminal illness, and I can't fucking do a thing because I'm not a deity and I live on the other side of the planet. They got off the phone in a hurry, despite having spent an hour trying to reach me.

My Dad kept telling me not to come home and that he is very proud of me. That I can't do anything. I don't know what to do. I would rather see him now while he is still alive and we can enjoy one another's company. Once he's gone, it is too late and I don't want to regret that for the rest of my life. We don't always see eye to eye, but he is still my Dad. Still the Dad that built me a tree house, put up with all my questions about how stuff worked and why, taught me to fix things around the house and on my car, shared music with me, pulled me out from underwater under an overturned tractor, told me stories and sang me to sleep when I was little...

I've known my Dad's time was getting close for a while. He's 80 years old and doesn't follow the doctors orders about his diet or health very well. It still sucks.

I haven't been sleeping well, but last night and tonight I can't sleep at all. When I am alone, all I want to do is cry. My chest feels all hollow and it gets hard to breathe.

My Dad will find out how long he has on 25 May. Meanwhile, my younger brother is considering quitting his job to go home and help my parents out (depending on the news). He lives in Pennsylvania and is a little closer to them. This is the downside of my work - being far from my family when they need me most. I don't know what to do.

11 May 2007

Student Presentations: Anthropology and Geography

Linda Manjate is an anthropology student at Universidade Eduardo Mondlane. She is interested in the connections between environmental, community, and personal health. Her research will look at how the Reserva Especial de Maputo affects the health of Gala's and Madjadjane's residents, the status/abundance of medicinal plants within reserve boundaries, and whether differences exist between medicinal plants harvested for personal use and market sale. lmanjate at yahoo dot com dot br

Vânia Pedro is an anthropology student at Universidade Eduardo Mondlane. She is interested in traditional wild plant knowledge and how people acquire this knowledge. Her research is looking at how plant knowledge is transmitted and the relationship between types of knowledge transmission and plant management practices. vania.pedro at nambu dot uem dot mz

Sergio Julane is a geography student at Universidade Eduardo Mondlane. He is interested in the socio-economic and physical environment factors that influence where people choose to live and build their homes. His research will assess the spatial distribution of homesteads in Gala and Madjadjane; looking at the influence of factors such as water supply, soil fertility, and livelihood. sejojulane at yahoo dot com dot br

Student Presentations: Biology

Ângelo M.M. Francisco is a biology student at Universidade Eduardo Mondlane. He is interested in how ecological factors influence people's decisions about using space, locating their homes and agricultural fields, and choice of resource harvest locations. a.fra2006 at yahoo dot com dot br

Márcia Langa is a biology student at Universidade Eduardo Mondlane. Her research will assess firewood harvest in Madjadjane and Gala. She is interested in the types of firewood people harvest, local management practices of firewood harvest, and potential damage to vegetation caused by over-harvesting or poor management practices. marcia_langa at yahoo dot com dot br

Leocadia Naiene is a biology student at Universidade Eduardo Mondlane. She will be collecting climate data from Mozambique's National Meteorological Institute, as well as conducting oral history interviews with older residents of Madjadjane and Gala about climate and vegetation changes and storm events. By comparing data from both sources, Leocadia will build a picture of the area's environment and changes to such over the past 50 years (at least). leoangy at hotmail dot com

10 May 2007

Research Preparations & Presentations

From L to R: me, Vania Pedro, Linda Manjate, Angelo Francisco, Márcia Langa, Leocadia Naene, and Sergio Julane

My research group finally got to present publicly today. Even if the public that turned out consisted of 4 professors and a geography student. I was very disappointed. We originally planned to present our research proposals last week, and I had sent out emails early last week in anticipation. About an hour after I got out the last email, I got a call from Cornélio requesting that we move the presentation to this week because people at the Dept. of Natural Area Conservation (Ministry of Tourism) wanted to attend. He wanted to give the students an extra week to polish up their presentations since they would be presenting to more than just the department. Okay. That sounded good. DNAC is a potentially good connection for students who are looking for work or internships after they graduate. So, I emailed everyone again. Unfortunately, two of the people that would have definitely attended were in the field today.

Students got their titles to me by Monday. I forwarded the flyer to Cornelio for posting in the biology department. I came in Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday to help polish the presentations as best I could, but some of the language stuff still flys over my head. Late Wednesday, I received 2 flyers for posting in Geography and Anthropology. Angelo and I walked them over to the other departments and posted them, but I didn't have a good feeling about it.

Anticipating that people would be a few minutes late, we used our extra time to upload everyone's slide shows and correct last minute typos. I learned that attention to detail surpasses national boundaries. Mozambican biology, anthropology, and geography students are just as picky as their US counterparts when it comes to making presentations look good. They might even be more detail oriented. Angelo spent 10 minutes making sure all his fonts matched and were large enough for easy viewing. Linda and Vania (picture) looked over their presentations to anticipate potential questions - which they then proceeded to ask one another.

Angelina Martins, a botany professora that I am working with, showed up about 20 minutes before we were to start. Cornélio had asked her to introduce our group, and make sure we had a projector set up. Already done (that was me being anal retentive). A colleague of Sergio's from geography showed up a few minutes before 2PM to see what we were planning and to support Sergio who was pretty nervous about presenting. (He did a fantastic job BTW.) Then Esmeralda Marianas, an anthropology professora, arrived a little late but she had just gotten out of a meeting and rushed over. Esmeralda is going to be teaching ecological anthropology next term and co-supervises Vania and Linda with me. Cornélio Ntumi and Eunice Ribeiro, both biology professors, arrived an hour into the presentations, but they had warned me that they might be late because they had to attend a thesis defense for another student.

That was our audience. I can't tell you how disappointed I was - pissed off might be a better term. The students worked very hard to improve their presentations - practicing, rewording slides, reformatting to make them clearer, etc. We presented to ourselves and our audience of one. I am not counting the professors because we've been working with the students all this time already. Well perhaps Esmeralda counts since she didn't know too much about the biology projects in advance. But no DNAC, no other professors or students from biology, no professors from agronomy (they were invited). Remember, I didn't have a good feeling about posting the flyer so late in geography or anthropology. One can always hope, but the pragmatic part of me did prepare to be disappointed from that direction.

I can post their work here and reach a huge audience. Over the next couple of days I will be posting a description of the projects (and linking to presentations if I can figure out how to do this). I will post a picture of each member of our Maputaland Landscape and Culture Research Group (the link goes to a separate but related project), with the title of their research, a brief description of the project, and contact information (they requested the last part). If you are interested please comment.

Africa/Afrika - video test

I wanted to test out the video posting capability of my blog. Occasionally, I find video clips of Mozambique (and may be making small ones with my camera) I'd like to post, but there always seem to be glitches.

Sometimes the covers are way better than the original. I really enjoy Tukuleur's cover Afrika (Toto sang the original). Tukuleur are 2 brothers from Senegal who rap in French. The song is on their album Njibinaami (2000).

I hope you enjoy this cover too. It is a little different. The guitarist is good IMHO.

09 May 2007

A nonTraditional Hash Wedding

Every Saturday that I am in Maputo and not sick, I run with the Maputa Hash House Harriers. It is a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon and Hashers are drinkers with a running problem. get out to see places that I might not go on my own. After the run, we go back to the Maputo Aeroclube (where we're based) for a drink. Hashers like to think of themselves as drinkers with a running problem. Most people have a beer. Sometimes I go for a beer, sometimes a Fanta. Mozambicans bottle beer in 40 oz. bottles so I only drink if I can find someone to split it. 40 oz. is way too much (for me anyway).

On Saturday last, after the run, we had an impromptu and nontraditional Hash wedding. The wedding party were all Hashers and the 50% of the guests hashed. The other 50% were either relatives of the bride and groom or locals who just laughed and shook their heads at our craziness. Wonder Woman and Hotzenplotz were married in an official ceremony a few weeks earlier in Europe. This one was just part of a party to celebrate with their friends here in Mozambique.

The couple had an Irish "pope" (Big Gun) preside over their nuptials which included promising to love, keep each over inebriated, and overlook the occasional sheep shagging (bride promised) or milkman (groom promised). An acappella Hash version of "Amazing Grace" ensured that the musical bases were covered. The locals sang the real words to the hymn in Changaan.

Before kissing one another, the bride and groom had to drink a down-down (i.e. a beer). That made some of the older local men and women looking on chuckle. Afterwards everyone shouted, ululated, yipped, howled, laughed, and expressed their happiness at yet another couple being committed.

Parabens Wonder Woman and Hotzenplotz!

08 May 2007

Rare Species Discovered

A rare species of tree grows in Mozambique - the boy tree. These boys were trying to get a good view of the Hash mock wedding ceremony I attended Saturday afternoon - more on that later.

I will keep my eye out for a girl tree.

07 May 2007

Do you have children?

"Do you have children?"

Inevitably, this question comes up in every extended conversation I have with native Africans of all nationalities, genders, ages, and cultures. To say that children are very important to Africans is an understatement. Children represent so many things - future, fertility, wealth, adulthood...

So how do I respond? I am sorely tempted to lie. People, especially older women, always give me these pitying looks like I might as well be dead because I have certainly proven my uselessness as a woman. There is also a slightly scornful cast to their pity, because without children I am not a grown woman. But I don't lie. "No, no children yet." I always add that yet part, because if I don't they will ask why. This is just as bad as the pitying scorn. The why is so very complicated. And who knows? The women in my family often have children late. I have some time.

Today, I explained a little bit of my complicated personal reasons to the anthropology student who asked. "If you are a woman and want to be a scientist in the United States and to advance, it is pretty difficult to do so and have children." Linda started nodding. "Yes, it is the same here. Women are seen as just factories for making children."

The situation is more complicated in Mozambique, but Linda and I didn't really need to get into the unstated understood. For instance, more than 70% of agriculture, especially subsistence agriculture, is done by Mozambicanas. So women are food factories too. Mozambique is also ranked first in the world for Female Economic Activity (82.8%). The US ranks 58th, with 58.8% in case you were wondering. Let's just say that Mozambicanas have a pretty difficult life.

I'm not sure how many Americans would publicly state or agree with the baby factory comment. However, the sentiment that a woman's role is to take care of children still permeates US culture. Obviously, not everyone believes this. I've met single dads, stay-at-home dads, and dads that share childcare equally with their spouses.

I've also experienced the pitying looks and "You'll regret not having children later" type comments in the United States. Again, mainly from other women. I don't know; maybe I will and maybe I won't. I do know for certain that I am tired of having people, sometimes complete strangers, constantly harp on my lack of children to me. Why am I so much more patient about answering this question when someone outside my own culture asks?

Do men even get asked these kind of questions?

06 May 2007

NSF Funding

May Day had a pretty exciting start for me. The first thing I do in the morning is read my email as I eat breakfast. I have been expecting a rejection letter from NSF (National Science Foundation) for my dissertation proposal now for over a month, but to my surprise my proposal was sent on by my cultural anthropology reviewers for finally approval by the head of NSF (or whoever it is that approves these things). Let's just say I didn't need a cup of coffee to get going that morning.

Holding back my excitement was really difficult. I can't just randomly shout for joy in a city. Srs. Pedro, Jaime, and Sergio, my building guards, would probably take issue for the false alarm. Instead, I did a silent Snoopy dance; taking care not to stomp too loudly because of my downstairs neighbors since it was pretty early. It might seem silly to get so excited, but I felt the same when I received word that I had been awarded a Fulbright. In fact, I had Ted Gragson, my faculty advisor, read my Fulbright acceptance email just to make sure that I wasn't hallucinating. I actually turned cartwheels that time.

I wasn't going to post about it until I had a confirmation letter in hand (but I got scooped), because there is still the off chance that the US Congress will completely lose it and NSF will lose its funding budget. You might find that a bit unbelievable, but only the day after I found out that I would most likely be awarded NSF funding for my dissertation, there was a vote in the House to stop funding certain anthropological research. Two congressmen, Campbell (CA-R) and Garrett (NJ-R), decided that some of the titles were too ridiculous to fund, regardless of what they might tell us about humanity and human history. Some of them had funny titles like "the accuracy in the cross-cultural understanding of others' emotions" or "cognitive model of superstitious belief" or "bison hunting on the late prehistoric Great Plains" or "social relationships and reproductive strategies of Phayre's Leaf Monkeys" The House representatives also proposed to limit NSF funding in general.

This is just typical of the anti-intellectualist and over-the-top fundie religious bullshit that has been directing my country for at least the past decade. Fortunately, H.R. 1867 got voted down. If people wonder why the US is slipping in science and math, or why more native-born US citizens don't become scientists, this might be a clue. I seriously doubt that if these studies contributed to building better bombs or killing people more efficiently that they would have ever been considered for funding restrictions. [sarcasm] Understanding how emotions work in other cultures could only contribute to greater understanding between people working in cross-cultural situations, so lets screw that project over. What a complete and utter waste of Americans' tax dollars. [/sarcasm]

In the interests of full disclosure of where your tax dollars are going, here is the abstract I submitted to NSF for public review. A silly title is attached. Thank you everyone (including my advisor and the anonymous NSF reviewers) for contributing to my education, a greater understanding of the relationship between culture and landscape, and the advancement of science. Seriously. In the words of one of my reviewers, "It is not flashy or very exciting but it may be a useful contribution, and it has a practical side as well."

Ronga Wild Plant Harvest and the Conservation of Coastal Savanna Landscape in Southern Mozambique

Social and ecological factors, as well as, the spatial and temporal patchiness of resource distribution, direct resource user behavior in a landscape. Southern Mozambique's coastal savanna landscape is rich in flora and faunal species due to the highly diverse range of available habitats like forest, grasslands, and wetlands. This landscape’s spatial and temporal heterogeneity offers Ronga horticulturists a high diversity of wild plants to harvest for various subsistence needs. Preliminary fieldwork shows a high dependence on plant resources by Ronga communities in the region. This dissertation project proposes to (1) analyze the importance of various social and ecological factors in directing the spatial and temporal patch choice and use of Ronga wild plant harvest, and (2) investigate the specific effects of Rongan wild plant harvests on coastal savanna vegetation diversity, abundance, and distribution.

The proposed research combines ethnographic and ecological approaches to gather information about current and historic Rongan use of wild plant resources and landscape in two coastal savanna communities over a 16-month period. Incorporation of user spatial behavior, and the factors directing it, is critical for developing realistic landscape conservation management plans that meet locally specific needs for both humans and wild species. The proposed research will be used to develop a management plan recognizing Ronga resource use and needs for the Futi Transfrontier Conservation Area (TFCA). It will also serve as a methodological model for documenting the community resource use information needed to create conservation plans at Great Limpopo and Gorongoza TFCAs in Mozambique, and potentially elsewhere.

05 May 2007

Microcredit in Matutuine District

Last year, Dr. Muhammed Yunus and the Grameen Bank (the bank he created in Bangladesh) shared the Nobel Peace Prize for an idea that is helping people help themselves get out of poverty. Microcredit loans provide individuals the capital they need to do things like buy farm animals to raise for profit or a sewing machine to set up a tailoring shop or repair a vehicle that they use to transport goods and people. I've even heard of women buying cell phones with microloans, and then becoming the telephone service provider for their entire community.

Very few individuals default on these tiny loans. There is pride and social pressure, and people who default on loans cannot borrow again. But also, as monies are repaid, they get reinvested in new entrepeneurs. Many of the microloans go to women. In the short term, this allows women to support their families and send their children to school. In the long term, it raises their political, economic, and social status.

Today, as I was reading the BBC news online, I came across a site that connects loaners directly to low-income entrepreneurs in the developing world. You actually can pick where and to whom you want to loan money. The basic amount the loaner contributes is $25, which is about 12 large regular coffees at a fancy coffee shop.

Crap, I sound like some sort of Sally Struthers advert for starving children in Ethiopia. Cue the flies and suffering please.

I'm not writing this because I drank their koolaid or they slipped me a 1000 metacais under the table, but because I think that it is a pretty cool idea. Also, because they are operating in Matutuine District, Mozambique where I work. Right now there are 62 small businesses that have started, 63% owned by women, with an average loan size of $800. People have bought chickens, set up small grocery stores, repaired vehicles to run bus services, and repaired fishing boats and nets. In many cases, the entrepreneurs are now employing other people (and thus supporting their families). I've actually bought dry goods from one of the women entrepreneurs listed on Kiva. She operates a little loja (store) in Salamanga. Now I know how she started up her business.

The average wage in Mozambique is less than $1 per day. Things cost less, but people still work pretty damn hard for that less than $1. There are very few beggars here, most people would rather offer some sort of service or product in return for your spare change - carrying your purchases at the market, watching your car (people love to steal anything removable, including the car), selling batiks, hawking fruit and veg on the sidewalk, etc.

Occasionally, I'll have this moment where I get all weirded out thinking about the fact that I'm carrying around more money in my pocket than some Mozambicanos see in a week of working. Then I usually do something like buy roasted peanuts (that I don't necessarily want to eat right then) from barefoot and raggedly clothed 7 year olds hawking them on the street when they should be in school. But, of course, they can't go to school because they can't afford the $4 uniforms, school supplies, or tuition fees, and/or they are orphaned with no one to care them.

I'll continue to buy roasted peanuts, but loaning money directly to people with plans to put it to good use is something I can support as well.

Just another link if you are interested in Kiva:
You Too Can Be A Banker To The Poor - Nicholas Kristof

04 May 2007

The Zen of Waiting

Espera. Espera. Breathe in. Espera. Espera. Breathe out.

I do a lot of waiting in Mozambique. Time runs differently here. The viscosity of time varies more widely depending on the scale. On a minute by minute, day to day basis, it flows very slowly. I find myself waiting on appointments, waiting for businesses to reopen after the two hour lunchtime, waiting for emails to appear in my inbox, waiting for meetings to be held so that I can consider beginning my interviews, waiting to get out to the reserve... As I look back to January, the time has flown rapidly. It seems like I only just arrived, and I get nervous about completing the research tasks I have set for myself.

Waiting is tough for me. Chris says that I am high strung (anxious) and I won't disagree. Waiting forces me to recognize that I have no control and I just need to go with whatever happens. Letting go like this is a very difficult practice for me. Yet, amazingly things always turn out. Maybe a little later than I would like, but you can't always get what you want.

Espera. Espera. Breathe in. Espera. Espera. Breathe out.

The students I work with, particularly the anthropologists, find it funny that I am always on time or a little early. "That's so American." They tell me. "A Mozambicano will be at least 30 minutes late, if not 3 hours. That's why we carry cell phones; so we can call to see if the other person even remembered we were supposed to meet." We laugh.

But it is very American of me. Vania and Linda, both anthropology undergraduates, are good about meeting with me on time. The latest they have ever been is 20 minutes. Understandable for 2 serious, intelligent, and beautiful young woman busy with coursework, jobs, and being young and single. They are also hip to American culture and we talk lots about differences between our respective cultures. Maybe it's that they are anthropologists, but I appreciate their understanding.

Espera. Espera. Breathe in. Espera. Espera. Breathe out.

01 May 2007

Todos os Trabalhadores do Mundo

The Ideas of Marx, Engels Live the wall across the street from my apartment announces.

May Day was pretty quiet for a socialist, democratic country. I didn't even realize what day it was until I walked down to the US Public Affairs Office and found it closed. Many of the proletariat were still working - the empregadas, the trash collectors, the MCel card sellers, the tomato and banana vendors, the candy men, the cashew and peanut girls, the building guards...

Sr. Pedro, one of the 3 gentlemen who guards my apartment, laughed when I told him that I had forgotten what day it was. "Everyone around the world celebrates May Day, how could you forget?" When I told him that we didn't celebrate it in the US, he was shocked. "What about the workers? They deserve a day." Considering that he was working today, I wondered that he didn't choke on the irony of his words. I quickly recovered by telling him that we celebrate Labor Day on the first Monday of September.

But you know, it just isn't the same. I know that the Soviet communists usurped the Celtic celebrations of Beltane to turn May 1st into a day for workers and unions. And that fear of communism is why the US doesn't celebrate Labor Day on May 1. (May 1 is officially Loyalty Day in the US.) However, there's something to having solidarity with workers everywhere at least once a year. And I don't say that just because I come from a pro-Union family (teachers, steel workers, railway machinists, etc.)

Are you HIV positive?
My post generated an interesting response from my friend Josh. He wrote to say that,

"The HIV one was particularly striking. However, and I don't want to belittle the seriousness of HIV, Sen. Duane of NYS senate is an openly HIV positive man who is doing quite well. I know he has a whole world of difference in terms of health care availability etc. but the point I guess I want to make is that it is important to recognize the life in the individual, not the virus in them."

In a much more eloquent manner, Josh stated what I was trying to say with my post. HIV status passes through my brain briefly, and may return if I notice that someone is visibly ill, however, it is the life, the skills, the joy, the wisdom, and the love of the people that I interact with here in Mozambique that really matters. And that is what I focus on.

I found his comment to be an appropriate reminder today for focusing on what we can do to make the world a better place - regardless of our HIV status. So, I tip my hat to Josh, and to Todos os Trabalhadores do Mundo.