Small Town Vibe (Elizabeth Fitzgerald)

| Elizabeth Fitzgerald | 31 July 2012 | Maputo, Mozambique |

Although Tatiana and I worked remotely for months prior to arriving in Mozambique, I still felt overwhelmed with the various United Nations agencies and how they interacted with each other.  As I sat in on meetings with UNICEF Mozambique’s head of nutrition, with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) economists, and with civil society groups (non-governmental organizations), I immediately realized that I should have researched how the UN works! I took detailed notes at all meetings and tried to absorb as much information as possible but the second Tatiana and I returned to our desks, we hurriedly printed a map of UN agencies to consult.

I later learned that each country has a somewhat different organizational structure, which made me feel much less incompetent!  For example, the UNICEF Mozambique’s social policy team compiles and publishes budget briefs of the Mozambican budget, which the government itself uses as a reference.  As far as we know, no other UNICEF social policy team does this.  In addition, our team researches the extractive industry, and is working to ensure that this booming industry in Mozambique minimizes social harms and maximizes social benefits.  While other country teams’ social policy teams unify the office by creating goals, our social policy team focuses more on educating other sections and agencies about the extractive industry and its effects.  This is done by giving presentations to various UN groups, both within and outside of UNICEF.

Throughout these presentations and meetings with various UN and international agencies, I realized that the key to success within the UN is communication and unification.  Tatiana and I sat in on many coffee meetings listening and participating in an explanation of UNICEF Mozambique’s work on the extractives industry.  We witnessed the G-19 group of aid donors in Mozambique discussing their approach to the extractives industry in Mozambique. It shocked me that so many high-level and important people are so accessible here. One moment Tatiana and I are laughing away with the head of UNDP, and another we are chatting with members of government ministries, and we are only lowly interns!  I had no idea Maputo would have such a small town vibe, both in its social life and in its business affairs.

The small town vibe made me feel right at home within a week or so.  After figuring out how on earth to use phones (sim cards and minutes you buy on the street from men wearing yellow vests), how to get to and from work (we are overcharged every single ride), and how to contact our families (thank God for Skype!), Maputo began to feel like home, and Tatiana and I began picturing ourselves working and living there.  Many UN workers have their families with them, and the city is safe and beautiful.  There are palm trees everywhere, and beautiful beaches and coral reefs are only hours away. My only complaint is that it is winter!  Because Mozambique is located below the equator, the seasons are opposite.  Luckily, winter in Maputo is not like winter in New York, so it is still warm and sunny.

My only other (slight) complaint is that there is no African food!  In Maputo, everyone generally speaks Portuguese only (no English, and no other African languages). While many women wear head and skirt wraps “African-style,” everyone generally wears western-style clothing. In addition, although Mozambique was colonized by the Portuguese, most Mozambicans focus more on Brazilian culture than Portuguese culture.  All of these things surprised me because I have a Senegalese boyfriend, and in Senegalese culture, most people speak French and at least one African language. They also eat West African dishes, and often dress in Senegalese clothing.

So, ironically, while in Mozambique, the major things I miss are (West) African food and heat!  The fact that Mozambique is different makes me want to travel the entire continent even more than before. It forced me to accept that Africa truly is very diverse, and that one idea of Africa does not come close to representing every country.

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