Saturday, August 2, 2008

Dona Micaela

In early July I spent about a week traveling around Monapo district with the Oxford team, visiting several rural communities that were experiencing different levels of water service. The idea was to get a glimpse of the big picture—how water points are (or aren’t) functioning, what sort of local governance structures are responsible for their operation and maintenance, how people feel about their water situation, and so on. In research this known as the scoping phase, when you build a theory using ‘ground-truthing’ exercises, with the hopes of informing a future a proposal that will get funded. It’s really pretty enjoyable because you get to see a lot, think broadly and creatively, and come home at night to hash it all out over a beer.
Being adopted by this team was an incredible experience, and frankly I was quite lucky that they were willing to let me tag along. I don’t speak any language that’s useful here in north, I have zero experience working in rural communities in developing countries, and I stand out like a sore thumb in these places, creating a bit of a distraction. I suppose the one thing I have going for me is that I plan on working here on and off for the next 4 years (hopefully allowing me time to improve on the aforementioned), so their bringing me along was an investment in the future of this project of sorts. I guess.

However, one team member that was worth her weight in gold is Dona Micaela, an experienced community mobilizer who has spent years of her life running the NGO she founded called Salaama, from which she recently retired.
I bring her up because over time she has become a vital friend of mine here, and already my debt to her is enormous. My first conversation with Micaela involved a feeble attempt to introduce myself to her in Portuguese, which soon turned into a patient and gentle lesson in verb conjugation and sentence construction. Even when I tried to escape out of embarrassment, she wouldn’t let me–and thus began my ongoing tutorial, which is benefiting me hugely now (even if learning this new language is worse than pulling teeth sometimes).

That day I was also introduced to the art of wearing a capulana. In rural areas just about every woman and girl you see is wearing a multi-colored cloth that she wraps around her waist and secures using one of several methods.
Micaela spent considerable time showing me all of these tricks, and since then I’ve succeeding in keeping my capulana in place for about an average of 10 minutes, at which point it always comes loose and I’m left running for a bathroom. My capulana is now serving as a tablecloth in my apartment until I figure out the secret that everyone else seems to know.

I don’t think it’s possible here to really describe all that this incredible woman has done to help make my stay a safe and comfortable one here – but I wanted to try so that my parents know I’m being taken care of. She has cooked me numerous traditional meals of peixe grilhado, xima, batatas fritas, lulas, salada, and frango zambeziana. She let me stay at her home for 3 days when I was between apartments. She came to my rescue when I had difficulty figuring out all of the paperwork at the immigration office. She accompanies me to church each Saturday night and brings an extra scarf along in case I’ve forgotten mine (and let me keep one that is absolutely beautiful). She comes by my apartment at least every other night to make sure I’ve made it home safely from work. Even when she gets frustrated at the way I consistently butcher the language, the next minute she’s insisting that I put on some música de África so she can dance in my living room. And just today, she arranged for my weekend lodging at Ilha de Mocambique (a touristy island community a few hours outside of Nampula that’s supposed to be magical) and let the owners know I’ll be coming ahead of time.


Yvonne said...

We're enjoying reading about all your adventures. Sounds very interesting and we're excited for you. Love seeing all those pictures, especially the ones of the children with all the colorful clothing. You must be having a great time. Can't wait to see all the other photos and hear more stories. Hope you continue to enjoy your days there.
Yvonne and Joe

stelet said...

I love Dona Micaela. And you.

Here's to capulanas and saris on kitchen tables... or grad dorm room floors... ;)