Reality Check (Elizabeth Fitzgerald)

| Elizabeth Fitzgerald | 23 July 2012 | Maputo, Mozambique |

Prior to arriving in Mozambique, I knew that it would be eye-opening to work and live in one of the poorest countries in the world. As I expected, it was a shocking experience upon arrival. Police searched our luggage at the airport, children played barefoot in busy streets unattended, women carried almost everything on their heads, and people piled together on the backs of trucks as transportation. Thankfully, Tatiana and I had already been working via Skype for Lisa Kurbiel, the Senior Social Policy Specialist at UNICEF Mozambique, and she picked us up at the airport, fed us dinner, and brought us to our new home.

Our guest house is located in the downtown area of Maputo. The first thing I noticed was the dramatic differences in this location compared to that of Lisa’s home and the UNICEF office.  While diplomats and UNICEF workers usually live in large colonial-style homes with guards and high gates, our guest home was located near a hustling and bustling area of the city and did not have a guard. The first night, while driving home and seeing people carrying AK-47s, and with music blasting throughout the night, I began to wonder if coming to Mozambique was a big, dangerous mistake. But after surviving the first night, Tatiana and I realized we would be fine and that it was going to be a great experience. It turns out that only the police carry guns, and we befriended the family that maintains the property of our guest house.

There were more shocking reality-checks ahead of us. We only had hot water for approximately 30 seconds to one minute each morning, so we immediately learned to appreciate and conserve water! We also cannot drink the water because it is unsafe. We learned to sleep under a mosquito net and apply bug spray twice a day. Luckily, our malaria pills did not make either of us nauseous.

One of my most eye-opening experiences was seeing two young boys drinking water from a puddle in the street. At that point, it had not rained the entire time we’d been there, so I do not know where the puddle water came from, and water was unsafe to drink in Mozambique. The boys were scooping the water into bottles, but they were so thirsty they drank from the bottle and then continued to scoop. In addition, the family that maintained the guest house property where we were staying lived in what looked like one room, and they only had one outdoor cooking burner where they often ate “xima;” of the most tasteless foods I have ever eaten. It looked like mashed potatoes, but it is thicker and has no flavor whatsoever.

Learning about the poor conditions of locals continued on our first day at work. We learned that approximately 75 per cent of people in Mozambique are subsistence farmers, meaning they only grow enough food to feed themselves and their families. Almost half of all children in Mozambique suffer from stunting, or chronic under-nutrition. Lisa gave us tons of reading material about the current situation and had us attend meetings the entire first day. Needless to say, it was a very overwhelming first few days!

Learning about and witnessing the poverty in Mozambique made it so much easier to work hard at what we were doing. It is such a different experience to work in the country office than it is to work from my studio apartment in Queens!


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