I have never been a morning person. These days, however, I get up easily between 6:00 and 6:30AM. Just one of numerous habits of mine that have changed over the past 12 months. Since I have moved to Beira, a town of estimated 600.000 inhabitants directly by the Indian Ocean in Central Mozambique, South Eastern Africa.
DISTANCE LEARNING FOR TEACHERS IN RURAL MOZAMBIQUE – A VISION AND A MISSION
I am here for a project of the Austrian NGO HORIZONT3000 to consult a local university in the field of online study programs and learning technologies. In Europe, distance learning by means of digital technologies is considered an interesting, innovative, and certainly challenging approach to increase diversity and flexibility of higher education. In Mozambique, with its enormous distances, scarcely populated rural areas, without a functioning post delivery system, but more and more stable internet access points like regional communication centers even in remote villages, online learning is potentially revolutionary. The Universidade Católica de Mocambique mainly offers part time academic programs for teachers in primary and secondary schools in rural areas. The path is rocky, the challenges are enormous – but the possible impact on the future scope of quality education are splendidly exciting.
In Beira, I live in a flat in an apartment building, presumably from the 1970s – built shortly before or shortly after the independence of the former Portuguese colony in 1975 on the pleasant, clean, and pothole free Avenida Eduardo Mondlane, named after the first president of modern Mocambique. The first person who greats me in the morning is the newspaper guy on the other side of the road. And I remember how happy I was when I discovered him a few weeks after moving here. Finding spots where to buy newspapers had been some kind of secret to me, and yet the Diário de Mocambique – the local newspaper for the province Sofala, is the main, most reliable and most up-to-date source of information for pretty much everything. Announcements of events, new businesses in town, about political developments, travel warnings, public holidays, market prices cannot be pulled from Facebook or online portals. But it’s all published in the Diário.
THE DAILY PRIDE: TURNING CHALLENGES INTO SUCCESSES
Finding a newspaper guy. Figuring out how to buy fruit on the street – usually, they are not sold per kilo or per piece, but per “heap”. Taking a Txoupela – a three-wheeled Tuk-Tuk taxi – for the first time. Buying crédelec – prepaid electricity – at a petrol station. Coming across an ATM that allows withdrawals of 20.000 Meticais – ca. 250 Euros – in one go. I face challenges like that almost every day, and they sound so tiny and ridiculous. But the truth is: It makes me so proud when I master them. Challenges turned into successes. I am quite sure that I never had so many successes on a daily basis before.
MOZAMBIQUE DOES NOT OWE ME ANYTHING
However, there are other situations as well. Drawbacks, struggles, difficulties, and they are so exhausting. Frequently, I find myself lost in translation. And lost in that intercultural vacuum, realising that I lack understanding without even being able to name the gap. There are times when I feel so out of place. On the level of language – I had only studied Portuguese for a few months before I came here. But also on so many others levels. How to behave, how to dress, how to interact. There are so many concepts I cannot grip, and it makes me feel so incompetent, ignorant, stupid. But I learned an important lesson: It is not Mozambique’s mission to make me feel comfortable. Mozambique does not owe me anything. It is up to me to learn, to improve – and sometimes to simply accept that there are things I cannot fully understand, situations where I will never fully blend in. And that this is okay.
ABSTRACT PROBLEMS – VISIBLE, TRAGIC IMPACTS
Mozambique is wonderful. But not everything is pleasant in Mozambique. Abstract problems deploy visible impacts. Take diseases: Mozambique has an HIV prevalence of more than 10 %, and it was even higher in the past. The enormous shortage of teachers is not uniquely, but to an important extent, a tragic result of the AIDS epidemy: Teachers get terminally ill and die. The same goes for any other professional guild. In contrast to most other lethal diseases, AIDS mainly affects young to middle aged adults – parents of young children, an economocially highly productive age group. “Double recruitment” is a common strategy in companies: Two people are hired and trained for one position – because chances are that one of them passes away prematurely.
Take climate change: Southern Africa suffered from an extreme drought this year. I notice the frequency of empty shelves in supermarkets. I notice that prices of basic groceries – eggs, drinking water, milk bread – have risen by up to 40 % in the past few months.
Or take political instability: Since February, political tensions have unfortunately triggered a series of attacks on civilian vehicles, even overland buses, in direct proximity of Beira. A few months ago, after a holiday in the stunningly beautiful region around Vilanculos, I arrived in Beira with an enormous delay – because somewhere on the road, my bus had to wait for military convoy to cross a particularly dangerous district.
WHAT IS QUALITY OF LIFE?
These issues make me worry. Not really for myself – I am a privileged foreigner here – but for my colleagues, friends, neighbors. And yet, I have learned that these circumstances are isolated from what I call “quality of life”. Because on a general basis, I am happy here, and so are my colleagues, my friends, their families. I live my every day life because I can, I have time for myself, time to spend with people I like, time to learn and immerse into the world here.
At times, I feel like a stranger. An alien from a different world. Most of the time, I know that I stick out. Every now and then, I feel like a part of the ecosystem here. I have never felt unwelcome. I do accept that there are situations where I will never ever blend in. I learned that my necessities and ideas of a fulfilled life do not fundamentally differ from those of my friends and acquaintances here – we all want to wake up in a good mood, we all have people we care about, we like to laugh and sometimes simply relax. And I learned that I can adjust my habits without force or reluctance. Like getting up at 6AM in order to have more hours of daylight in a tropical climate where the sun sets between 5:45 and 6:30PM – all year long.
Sophie is an educational technologist with a strong interest in languages and a former TEDxVienna member contributing to the TEDxVienna Blog. If you want to know more about her adventures in Mozambique, visit her blog “Some time in Mozambique“!
Photo credits: All images by the author.