Welcome to Africa! It’s been a busy 2 weeks since my last post. I left London on Saturday 29 July for my first audit in Mozambique (MZ) and along the way had interesting experiences and personal life changing events seeing the people and work that the Malaria Consortium does in the field.
After a 16 hour flight and layover in Addis Abada we arrived in Maputo and were greeted after passport control by our driver with a cheery ‘Allo’. It was an interesting rider from the airport as we passed many a makeshift store, residence and fruit and SIM card sellers that lined the sidewalks.
The guest house (hotel) was quaint, secure and reminded me of my previous times in Kenya. Was thankful for the mosquito netting that was secure around my bed for as I said in my last blog – mosquitos just don’t out at night but also during the day. As a result, many an hour was spent under the netting working on my lap top, taking phone calls or reading. Whilst I may be on malaria meds for the next few months, I still wasn’t taking any chances since it was still early.
What I enjoyed most was the daily walk to and from the office in Maputo – it provided some sense of normality. You would pass stands selling fresh fruit, juices, peanuts, sandwiches and light snacks. The flower vendors had multiple bouquets for sale and more than once I was tempted but didn’t cherish more insects my room than necessary. The office was a home and located in a quiet district among tree lines streets and other offices or embassies. Even the guest house was located next to the Consulate of Tanzania. There was a local school nearby where the locals would congregate for lunch (lots of chicken in this country) and so many nice places to eat dinner under trees and live music.
Upon meeting the staff I got an instant feeling of welcome – overall that is a feeling I took away – you are always welcome…..except by the Police!
Now I did read all the pre-arrival security information for travel to MZ – you need to carry your passport and a copy with you at all times (residents and visitors alike) because the Police like to harass you and if your paperwork isn’t in order they look to take you to the police station and hope for a little money under the table (to supplement their income?). Regardless, once was fine – but the second time a bit much. Where my paperwork was considered oK when first stopped, it was the second occurrence when the police carrying automatic weapons was ready to take us for a trip to the Police Station. Luckily the passport met their approval and you could see in their eyes they were deflated (the $ signs in their eyes were replaced with sighs). What was the most hilarious part of it all – they said; ‘have a great day and please visit again’ – really? This all happened in Maputo and whilst they don’t many tourists (<50,000 visitors a year) if they keep this up I don’t think people will come back. The scenery in Maputo was beautiful. Beaches along the road and building up on the hillsides – modern and yet colonial at the same time (the Portuguese left only 30-some years ago and internal conflict has taken its’ toll in the city centre but the historic sites were pretty (the old fort on the harbour, the train station, the central market, the churches and the parks – there was a number of weddings in the park and the music and dancing were very entertaining whilst sitting and people watching. Like all cities, you need to watch yourself but I never once felt threatened by passers-by. The most fun was playing a version of ‘Mancala’ – a shell jumping game played with a game board that was handmade by the same man I met in the park to having a beer chatting with an expat from the UK that had been living here for 20 years and loves the people, the food and the weather.
The co-workers in the field office in Niassa (Lichinga) are hard working. They do what they can with equipment and resources and it’s amasing what can be accomplished from here as it relates to the field offices in general. In order to visit the Niassa Province and the city of Lichinga required a flight from Maputo with a stop in Nampula. It was from this office in Linchinga that mosquito net distribution was organised as part of the Global Fund program. Beside auditing the local office here (yes auditing on behalf of the Malaria Consortium is my project), I got to see first-hand the work in the field. Once we were done with the office work, we ‘audited’ in the field to see about the program and how it was received.
The morning began with meeting the Provincial Governor (no pics allowed inside government buildings – didn’t want to push my luck) but through this meeting we heard about how well the net distribution had gone in the Niassa province and the hope for continued collaboration with the Malaria Consortium. If you read my last blog you know that mosquito habits are changing and the government official talked about this during our conversation. In the NGO world you gather information, what has worked well, what has not, and you take it back to HQ – NEVER promise anything – that you’ll take concerns back and that you appreciate their candid feedback. Afterward we started our drive to the villages of Chimbunila, Calambana, and Macanela. I don’t care how much you read or what you see in the news, nothing quite prepared me for the emotions that ran through my mind and in my heart as we drove further out of town. The homes made of mud bricks bricks being made and dried in the cool winter sun, roofs of grasses being cut with machetes on the side of the road by both you and old alike – washing clothes in the streams and drying them over tree limbs and the people either walking with bundles of sticks tied 2 meters long on their heads, or riding bikes with bundles of charcoal balanced on the side as the pedalled along with the passing trucks. It pulled at me – people barefoot and yet walking and smiling as we passed. We take so many things for granted in the western world.
Once we got to the furthest village (Chimbunila) we met with the village nurse and doctor. The clinic was basic at that – a desk, a chair, a scale, a bed with netting, and a table with medicines. They were very humble and more than happy to tell us about the work the Malaria Consortium was doing to help the community, and the impact they have seen with a decrease in malaria cases especially among the young and elderly. I really felt guilty that we were taking time away from the line of mothers and children that stretched out the door and around the building. Afterwards we met with some of the community supporters, those who undertake the day to day interaction with the village and go out sometimes 12km one way by foot (sometimes without shoes) to take the message of malaria prevention. You can see that they were proud of the consortium’s support and wore their brightly coloured tops, hat or wraps. We could hear signing as we approached the school building and I got choked up when I realised that they were singing to welcome us and cheered our arrival. The team consisted of the village elders, three elderly men and the rest of the team (both young and old). They presented to us how they were trained, how they educate the community and how they get together monthly with the MC’s local field office to stay abreast on how things are going. They shared what they could (a bag of oranges with us) and afterwards we shared as a community. Whilst this trip was only 30km away and took just under 90min on roads that even in good weather are questionable, the field officer rides a motor bike the same distance that takes her 3 hours one way – talk about dedication!
(NOW I know the video is showing upside down – somehow it uploaded incorrectly – but when you click play it’ll show correctly) – at least I hope!
It was on another trip through the county side that another team of community workers (I guess had seen our truck pass earlier) – one way in and one way out – met us on the side of the road. We stopped, got out, heard their stories and I couldn’t help but want to go play with the kids that had gathered. Whilst I didn’t play, I did get a number of handshakes from this little guys and the widest smiles I had ever seen.
As this update comes to close (similar to an audit discussion with management that was earlier today) – I board a plane for Abuja Nigeria where I will be based over the next several months. The PULSE team is waiting for me and I look forward to looking for a flat this weekend and being hosted at a BBQ with the rest of the team on Sunday afternoon.
I’ve had a lot of doubts over the past few weeks – still wondering if I did the right thing – wondering how my work really impacts the Malaria Consortium, the people in the community and coming to some insights – thinking that by now most of my work trips would have come to a close and I’d be headed home to some comfort food and the faces of my family. I still appreciate the support they are providing allowing me to go on this journey.
So as I close; I think about my blog and the blogs I read of fellow PULSE volunteers….they remind me how all our stories are interwoven – that what you do is part of my story and what I do is part of yours! Journey on…..