Some genius yet masochistic Peace Corps Volunteer decided it would be a good idea to bring 5 seasons of Bravo’s hit show “Top Chef” to Mozambique. I stupidly decided to start watching it. It is one of my favorite shows back home (I mean what could be better than a reality show about people who are actually talented, and that talent being in the realm of creating delicious food) and I soon became engrossed in it. But, it was a unique type of torture because I am wholly unable to make, or even purchase, any of the food I am seeing on the screen. Here are people making 5-star food while I am eating starchy pasta with no sauce because the market didn’t have tomatoes that day. But one lazy Sunday afternoon, I was in my room watching an episode of this beloved show when all the kids of the neighborhood came tramping and screaming up to my porch. I unhappily dragged myself away from my computer and asked them what was up. “BOWZER RETURNED!” they yelled. I told them that was impossible since Bowzer died two months ago, and they just repeated themselves, “BOWZER RETURNED.” And then as if on cue, a little runt of a dog that looked exactly like my adored, deceased dog Bowzer streaked in front of my house. Upon further inspection, I obviously noticed that this dog was not in fact Bowzer, but probably his offspring. And now the whole neighborhood thinks it is hilarious that my one-balled dog had succeeded in procreating, and in producing a similarly one-balled child at that. I aptly named this new dog Bowz Jr, a nice appellation in comparison to most of the other bush dogs that were christened by me as Black Dog, Brown Dog, Piece of Shit Dog that enters my house and chews things like my computer charger chord, STD dog, etc. He is totally scared of me, as all non-Peace Corps Volunteer dogs are in the face of people here, and I do not touch it or allow it in my house, because it has not received a Rabies shot I’m sure, but I can’t help but feel a certain connection to it. One neighborhood woman called him my grandson…oy.
This past weekend, I took some of the kids who do morning announcements at my school to a leadership conference (if leadership is mostly related to learning about gender, sexual health, and HIV…) with 3 other schools put on by PCVs. Overall, it went well, but per usual, the participants (students and teachers) were greedy about everything. Some idiot foreign aid official decided decades ago that giving people in developing countries a massive per diem when attending a training or conference was a good idea, and now every time we put on a training or conference, we reap all the negative effects: “This free money is not enough,” “My free t-shirt is too big,” “I must go walk around the city and buy a keepsake before I go home,” “I don’t get my own room?!” “Do you have any smaller bills?” “I don’t like this free food” were just a few of the complaints. It is just frustrating because they think that because we are foreigners were have an infinite amount of money to spare and they are owed their share, when really it is not our personal money we are using, the training took a lot to plan and a thank you could go a long way, and the training is not supposed to be for money, but rather to gain skills and knowledge, FOR FREE I might add. But overall, it was a good, informative weekend.
A few of the students, however, got “sick” at the workshop. And not matter how minimal the symptoms, the other teachers wanted the volunteers to take them to the hospital. I outright refused to take the kid with slightly swollen lymph nodes who I had just witnessed wolfing down his lunch and running around during free time. But I conceded for the girl who had chills, a fever, and was crying, and the kid who said it hurt when he took a breath. All the other teachers were certain that the girl had malaria, but I reminded them that yes, she had some of the symptoms of malaria, but until we did a test, we shouldn’t call it that. They were also pissed at me for not taking the other boy who also “had malaria,” though in my non-expert opinion, that diagnosis, without the presence of a fever, is complete crap. I understand that people often get very sick very fast here, and often die, but that does not mean that you need to miss this once in a lifetime conference for a stuffy nose. Mozambicans go to the hospital here like it is their job and it annoys me because they always miss school and other commitments simply because they aren’t drinking enough water in the hot Mozambican sun and got a headache. But I took these two kids to the hospital and it was an eye-opening and very explicatory experience, as it was the first time I had gone to a Mozambican health center. We got there and there was no line or seeming order to the place. Some creepy technician warmed up to the female, crying student, in a manner that reeked of sexual harassment and took some blood for her malaria test. The other kid was simply given a prescription for some meds. I asked him what the nurse had said, and he replied that he should take his meds twice a day. What meds? I asked. He didn’t know and handed me the baggies. It was an antibiotic and some ibuprofen. Now I am no doctor, but I know that just giving out antibiotics for everything is not advisable. And he had not received even the hint or a diagnosis or the concession that he even had something wrong. Two hours later, the girl was also given a baggie of meds “for malaria” she told me. I took the baggie (I had given her the money for the meds, so it was my due to see what it was) and saw it was another antibiotic. Again, I am no doctor, but I know that the anti-malaria was not this med, so I asked her if her malaria test was positive or negative, and she said they had just given her the meds. I figured it must have been negative since they didn’t give her the anti-malarial, and I proudly boasted that I had been right about her diagnosis when I got back and reported to the other teachers. But is struck me: the hospital staff were just on one big power trip. They don’t inform the patients of anything because this is what gives them power: a population of people who don’t know anything about their own health, go to the hospital for the smallest of symptoms, and just blindly follow the advise of medical staff. I was rather pissed off at the whole process. I mean come on, the girl wasn’t even told if her malaria test was positive or negative, leaving her to believe that the meds she was given were to cure her malaria. I hate to think of what goes on when the hospital administers its anti-retrovirals for HIV positive pateints…
And finally, at this conference, one of the other PCVs there eloquently summed up what I had always sensed being here but was never able to rightly express: “The schedule and agenda that Mozambicans demand that every event has don’t actually exist, but the people attending the event do exist. Therefore, as long as there is someone who has something to say, the time and the uncovered topics are irrelevant and the person can go on talking until the end of time.” No matter if no one is listening or if he is repeating what has already been said seven times by other people, it is his right to delay everyone because the schedule is this ethereal, intangible concept. Nicely put.