Living in Mozambique has certainly required some adjustment. Some good things, like more variety in the food available (due to a mix of ethnicities – Arab, Indian, Mozambican, plus heaps of others from parts of Europe, Asia and the rest of the world). Some bad things, like extremely high rents (think US$5000 per month as a somewhat average rent for a house – of course, a nice house). But something different has been on my mind: how to describe and portray Mozambique to friends and family?
Mozambique is one of the poorest countries in the world, coming in at 178 out of 187 countries in the 2014 Human Development Index. Poverty varies between the regions, but generally more than 50 per cent of the population lives below the population. Less than 50 per cent of women are literate. Men fare somewhat better with 60 plus per cent literacy rate. Although more than 70 per cent of primary school children are in school, most (and I mean most), especially in the Northern regions like Zambezia, cannot understand even one word of Portuguese (the official language of Mozambique), nor can they count.
What reaction do you have upon reading the above information? You’re probably imagining how the country looks, imagining poor, ragged children and their mothers.
While that probably isn’t so far from the truth (but I must say that I have yet to leave the capital city to see the reality of life in the rural areas), how can we avoid making these people victims of poverty and our imaginations? How can we empower them through our language, not just making them destined (at least in our conscience) to live and die in a poor shithole?
What you probably didn’t know is that Mozambique has one of the fastest growing non-oil economies in Africa, growing at more than 7 per cent per year. Recent gas and coal discoveries mean that will probably continue, bringing in huge revenues as it is projected that the discoveries are similar to the size of Australia’s reserves. (Putting aside the worry about carbon and climate change (especially the fact that Mozambique is heavily affected by natural disasters)).
Does that change what was going on in your imagination? Mix it up? Confuse you?
What I’m learning here, is that nothing is straightforward or simple. Especially when it comes to poverty, money, and working with people.
I have yet to share any photos of Maputo (the capital city) as I mull this over. My idea so far is to try to share photos of the rich, lavish parts of the city, just as much as the poor. Because even though the poorest of the poor live in this country, there are too the rich of the rich.
How do you do share the complexities of your world?