As a secondary school teacher, I mostly come in contact with people who are Mozambican middle/working class (I apologize if that is politically incorrect, but it is true). The kids come from families that are somehow able to get the money together for matriculation fees, a uniform, pens, notebooks, and test costs. The kids must live close enough to (or have someone who is caring for them that lives close enough to) a secondary school to walk there and back each day, which means they can’t be too far out in the middle of nowhere (only kinda far). The teachers have some education at least and a steady job, and therefore are upper middle class usually, if not wholly upper class. But then again, many students are from families that are dirt-ass poor. These are the kids with clearly hand-me-down, faded uniforms with holes, showing up to a test without a pen. Daniel, the kid that works for me, is one such student. Now that he has a “job,” he appears to be a little more well-off, because he knows I will always give him pen and paper and I bought him new uniforms this year. But, as I learned first hand when I paid his family a visit last week, he is one of those kids doing whatever he can to get out of the situation he was born into and give back to his family.
Daniel had invited me months ago to his house, but I could never go because you can only get within 7km of his house by car on Thursdays. So finally, last Thursday, during the school break, we went. We got in a chapa going to the feira in Nipive that happens every Thursday (“feira” being big market and Nipive being his home locality, about 50km from Invinha). We got out and started our 7km trek through the bush. We passed a smattering of super spread-out mud huts and fields full of beans and mandioca. We scrambled over rock faces and over streams, until we reached Rio Licungo, a huge river that is just near his family’s house. I swear, it was idyllic. Apparently, as Daniel told me later, he was very worried that I would complain about how long the walk was, and was surprised and relieved when I didn’t. Thanks for the vote of confidence, man. We got there, and though Daniel had called someone with a phone who lives around there the day before to inform them we were coming, no one had passed on the message, so here Daniel comes striding into the yard with this white lady behind him. All trillion of his nieces and nephews came running up to hug him, as their uncle from the “big city” (Invinha being a big city because you can buy salt and onions everyday of the week!) had finally paid a visit. They were followed by a horde of female relatives. After greeting us, the women went to work to feed us. It was 8am and they labored to pound the shells off the rice from their fields, cut up fish, and wash the “fancy plates.” While they worked (I was not allowed to help), I took in the view from their reed mat. The compound had 3 one-room mud houses and a bamboo-ed cooking area, with tons of banana, orange, lemon, mango, and avocado trees. The mountains that grace Gurue district splashed the background. It was interesting to see Daniel in this environment, where he and his “big city” nature are king: he was checking in on all the kids, giving out small-value coins, sitting in a chair (while women sat on the ground), and was dressed to the nines to show off his status (in all borrowed clothes that he had told me he had ironed, though how I do not know).
Daniel’s aunt, that matriarch of the massive family, who had taken him in when his mother and father passed away, was this adorable little old woman (probably like 45-50) who I could actually talk to because she had been to a few years of school during colonial times. The 25 year-old-ish women did not speak Portuguese, so I mostly interacted with this one aunt and the bloated-belly, dressed in rags kids who were currently enrolled in primary school, but if I have learned one thing in almost 2 years as a Mozambican teacher, probably not learning much. The whole time, the aunt profusely apologized for not making a good sauce for our fish and rice because she didn’t have any oil. It was a sauce with water, salt, and tomatoes, made in one of those super old-school clay pots. I told her I didn’t like oil anyway, and that the fish was very tasty, and she seemed slightly relieved. And the fish was actually some of the best fish I have had in Mozambique (the taste most likely improved because I had walked 7km in the hot sun and because it wasn’t doused in oil like Mozambicans are prone to doing). We were also treated to mucodo, rice soaked in water, and then pounded into a crumbly yet brick-like substance with sugar. After we ate, per usual, as when I meet Mozambicans not too familiar with Americans, we went through the whole song and dance: “In your land, do you have bananas?” Yes. “Rice?” Yes. “Fish?” Yes. “Salt?” Yes. “Garlic?” Yes. “Corn?” Yes. “Xima?” Not exactly. Sad, confused face on the part of my interrogator ensues. Soon enough, it was time to head back to the feira and catch a car home. But not before the white lady handed out the stuff from the “big city” that she had brought: on Daniel’s instruction I had brought 2kg of sugar, 2 kg of salt, bricks of soap, a bag of bread rolls, and some capulana for the women. All things they can’t make at home. I had also brought snickerdoodle cookies for them to try. At first Daniel wouldn’t let me pass them out because he said they wouldn’t like them as the taste would be too foreign. But I insisted: who doesn’t like a snickerdoodle? And low and behold, they loved them. So we trudged back, with me promising to come back again with my “machine to take photos” (my camera is currently broken) and to spend the night so the aunt could teach me how to make some dish I had never heard of. I hope I get the chance. Once at the feira, I bought us some Mozambican “popsicles” (slightly frozen juice in plastic baggies), bought a cabbage from another aunt who was selling there, and bought the first aunt some clearly-desired oil. I only ran into 3 people who called me “Ingrid-ee,” after an American woman who had spent a year living in Nipive doing research on a Fulbright scholarship. I have met Ingrid and she is blonde. But all young, white woman are the same, aren’t they? Overall, it was a really great day.
Now, I lived with a Mozambican family for 3 months at the beginning of my service, but they were relatively well-off. This family was not. They literally live off what they grow and what the few older siblings that have married slightly closer to opportunities are able to send home. Daniel failed 10th grade last year and is repeating but he is still the most educated person ever in his family. I am helping him build a house here in Invinha so he no longer has to rent (when I am gone and therefore stop paying his rent), and I told the aunt that she must send some of the younger kids to the house so they can take advantage of the slightly better primary schools and the secondary school in Invinha. We shall see what happens. I am also going to try to get one of the young girls into the girls dorm here with the nuns. She had impressed me with her addition and subtraction skills when I quizzed her. Congrats Juleca.
Only recently have I been witnessing the poorer, and more prevalent, Mozambique up close. It is easy to forget in the education bubble that even though my students seem illiterate and at times utterly hopeless, they are still probably some of the most literate and with the most opportunities in their entire families. Many of the women giving birth at the hospital have definitely not gone to school and are from butt-fuck nowhere, but are doing the best they can. Daniel’s family graciously took me in and showed their gratitude for giving Daniel a job and house (the aunt bowed to me when I gave her a capulana. Awkward).
And finally, my favorite relative I met that day was one brother-in-law we saw in the road. (Daniel has only 2 sisters yet like 5 brothers-in-law; clearly their term is more inclusive than ours because though men can multiple wives, women are bound to one man). This guy must have some sort of miniscule income. Note the outfit: he had on bright pink pants, a yellow polo that said “Chloe” on the pocket, a checkered tie, one glove, a faded Cincinnati Bengals beanie, and he was carrying a white, pleather purse. Stylin’But in good news, some genius finally learned how to fix the water pump. Apparently, there was something blocking the water in the pipe. For 5 months. But now it is clean and working like a charm.