Last night, I assisted my friend Cristina in making dinner. They had just built a new bamboo and reed outside-kitchen (after their old one was destroyed by a wind storm) so I was helping to inaugurate it. They had strung a light bulb outside so we were enjoying a nice, leisurely few hours of watching leaves cook down and corn flour become the corn-paste-ball-things that Mozambicans love so much. Cristina is one of my students but also my best friend in Invinha, and her husband is a teacher at my school. Her husband once told me the story of his life: essentially, he grew up super poor about 100km from Gurue and during the civil war, as a child, he walked with his family 250km to the nearest refugee camp to get some food and clothes. Now, he has a great job with a beautiful wife and daughter (though he did impregnate Cristina, when she was a student of his…). Cristina is incredibly patient with my cultural and linguistic mishaps and loves to hear about America. As she removed a pot of boiling water from the coal stove with her bare hands, I gasped to make her laugh and commented on how I am weak because my hands would not be able to handle that. She then made an extremely adept anthropological and cultural observation that resonated with me: “Well, you can put ice in your mouth without suffering and I can touch hot pots.” Cristina grew up in the bush a few hours away, without electricity, and therefore without the ability to make ice, and so she can’t manage the cold like I can, someone who grew up with popsicles. I have grown accustomed to pot holders and therefore my fingers can’t hang with the heat. Well put, Cristina.
Speaking of popsicles, we then began to make some Mozambican ones. Cristina started this business last week and swears to me it has already been lucrative. She mixes juice powder with dirty river water, scoops it into plastic sleeves and ties the top. They spend the night in the freezer, and then a young girl (who I refer to in my head as her “child slave,” though it is culturally normative to hire a girl from the bush to do your bitch-work if you have any sort of monetary means to do so) sells them at the market for a met a piece to thirsty and sweaty passers-by. You bite a hole into the bottom of the plastic baggie and it is near heaven on a hot day. The girl, by the way as Cristina informed me, makes 50mt a month for sitting at the market all day. That is less than $2 for a month’s work. Oy.
I was eager to help Cristina in her popsicle-making business because of what she explained to me a few weeks ago: her husband leaves her some change on the chair in their bedroom on the days she should buy food. When he doesn’t leave her money for whatever reason, she is shit out of luck. One day, she confided in me that her husband had not left her any money and so she didn’t know what she was going to make for dinner. I mean come on dude, dish out a few mets for your wife to make you leaves in a broth of tomatoes, onions, and salt. Apparently this is a typical wife-husband interaction and so I was thrilled that Cristina was starting to do something towards some financial independence.
As I commented on how proud I was of her, the conversation then turned to one of the other students in Cristina’s class, Amede. To put it nicely, I do not like this kid. And he is not even a kid; he is married with 2 children of his own. He’s a drunk: he showed up wasted a few times to my afternoon classes and totally caused a scene. When I brought him to the dean, the dean said he would take care of it, and then he just let it slide. Cristina told me how Amede beats his wife and she keep going back to him. As I attempted to explain the idea of battered woman syndrome and how it is normal for women to have trouble leaving their abusive partners, and that maybe she needs some help to do so from a good person like Cristina, Cristina assured me that it was of no use. I attribute this to a cultural disparity and not a lack of caring. But it is still devastating, as this guy was my student last year and I failed him since he never comes to class or turns in any work, and is continuing the trend into this year. As a foreigner, there isn’t much I can do to help his wife, who Cristina says is super thin because Amede spends all their money on beer, and not food. And it’s not like there is any social support for women in this situation here, so after our dinner of leaves and corn mush, I came home in a somber mood.