A journey to the end of a River

Rivers are most majestic when they are about to meet the ocean. And that couldn’t be less true for the mighty Zambezi River, which touches nine African countries before it flows into the Indian Ocean on the east of Mozambique.

Zambezi River in some of its mightiness

Zambezi River in some of its mightiness

However this region is also a highly disaster prone and extremely vulnerable to natural calamities such as floods and cyclone.  Welthungerhilfe, the organization I am volunteering with under RLF, is running a project in some of the districts in Zambezia and Nampula provinces of Mozambique to increase the disaster resilience as part of Disaster preparedness program of European Commission (DIPECHO).

Few day back I got to visit one of the districts called Chinde (pronounced Shin-Day), which lies right at the mouth of the Zambezi river. First of all this district is so remote that it is only reachable by boat. A quick look at the google map might give an idea.

Chinde's location on map

Chinde’s location on map

One has to take a long and tiring three hours boat ride (on a fast motor boat) to this place. Bigger boats or a big vessel can take more than ten hours. BTW the winds were so strong the that I lost my cap twice (the boatman was kind enough to do a turn to pick it up)

District has a remarkable small town, also called Chinde, where the district administration has its office. The population of town is just over 16,000 although the total population of the district is around 150,000 people. The town has only about 5 cars (there was only 1 till few years back). Even electricity is also a fairly new addition to the district, introduced just 2 or 3 years back. There are some colonial buildings in the town housing government officials. Plus a couple of houses were used earlier by sugar trading company called Sena, now dysfunctional. Unsurprisingly, the largest building in the town was a Church.

Some of the administrative buildings in Chinde

Some of the administrative buildings in Chinde

Main avenue in Chinde

Main avenue in Chinde

The Church

The Church

I saw some peculiar looking (though aesthetically pleasing) houses. These houses had wooden frames filled with rubbles from old rundown buildings. On enquiring I got to know that the building material is scares and expensive so people reuse material from the old buildings destroyed at the time of civil war.

A frugal architecture?

A frugal architecture?

Town also had an FM Radio Station of its own. I couldn’t resist visiting it. I was very thrilled (for some strange reason) at the sheer pleasure of listening to the lone channel on my mobile right outside the station with earphone in one ear and other ear tuned into the voice of RJ / music from inside the station.

Chinde FM

100.6 Chinde FM

I also got to be part of one of the rituals in the town. Every morning there is a flag hosting and the guard whistles. I was on my way to beach at 6 in the morning when I happen to cross the place. I saw everyone stop. Out of confusion and respect for local tradition I did too. After the hosting was complete guard whistled again and everyone moved on. Now it feels like time did stop for those 10 seconds or so.

The project sites are spread across many islands that are only reachable by boat. Those were some of the most beautiful places I ever visited. At one of these places the scenery around the backwaters was nothing less than breathtaking.

Backwaters at one of the Islands

Backwaters at one of the Islands

On one of these islands I observed that all women on the island had these little marks spanning across their arms and chest. We asked some of the women and no one knew why they had them. Looked like it was a custom. They were etched when women reached puberty. It’s possibly a way to show that they are ready for marriage. I didn’t want to be judgemental about their practices.

In the name of tradition!

A woman with marks around her chest line

Oh yes and on another island the village leaders were slickly dressed. Although they didn’t belong to any military establishment, they wore uniforms.  This was tradition from the time of Portuguese and still prevalent though more than four decades have passed since independence. Quite interesting how power dynamics could change but traditions can stay.

In the name of tradition!

In the name of tradition!

There was also a fort like structure at one such place. Turned out it was a prison at the time of Portuguese. New administration couldn’t find a use for the place thus it has been abandoned now. Looked like they were lucky enough not to need a prison.

The abondoned prison

The abandoned prison

I can’t sign-off without talking about food. Whereas all my colleagues relished fishes, I fall in love with Matapa and peri-peri. Matapa is a local Mozambican speciality made from Cassava leaves and coconut (with few other things added sometimes). I was eating Matapa day and night. So much so that the people who ran the eatery remembered me as “The Matapa Guy”, when someone asked them to call me from the guesthouse once. Our Project director joked about naming a cassava plantation against me at a conservation agriculture farm.  Peri-peri is a hot sauce (pickled sometimes) that is a must have with food in Mozambique (and many other African countries). I generously ate it, sometimes just peri-peri and rice or ncima (local dish made from Maize). My love for peri-peri was so conspicuous that the owner of the hotel we ate at decided to gift me a jar filled with peri-peri.

Matapa on left and Cassava plant on right

Matapa and Cassava plant

The Peri Peri :)

The Peri Peri 🙂

The whole experience was nothing less than astonishing. I was soon back to utilitarian life of cities. But my three days at Zambezi river estuary were a crash course in culture, food, people and a life so different. A journey to the end of a river and a memory till the end of a life.

When is Losing an Option? – Lessons not Taught in B-Schools

I once read a famous man remark victory and defeat are two impostors and one should treat both the same. However, when you go to business school you are taught, how to make a winning strategy, how to win a negotiation, how to win a simulation and finally how to win games. It seems almost losing is never an option, but if winning and losing are two sides of the same coin then shouldn’t one learn about losing as well. This idea made me think about when is it good to lose?

After two glasses of tea (due to the unavailability of beer in the college) this is the best I could come up with. When someone comes up with an idea better than yours, it is better to lose than to win. When your team needs to succeed, it is better to lose your individual ego than to win. When your goals conflict with the welfare of the people you love, it is better to lose your goal than to win. When your pursuits make the friendships that you cherish to be lost, it is better to lose your pursuits than to win. When you’re single minded focus takes you away from the vision that you had for yourself, it is better to lose your focus than to win. When your loved ones want to win, it is better to lose than to win. When your defeat provides comfort and relief to the people around you it is better to lose than to win. Above all when your thirst for winning takes hold of your true identity, it is better to lose the thirst for winning than to win.  Having said all this, there is only one situation, where winning really matters, it is to keep the people you love and cherish with you through any struggle. Although, I learnt much about winning in the business school, but my process of self realization (luckily without any alcohol) has taught me losing is what makes anyone complete.

JBF

My Divine Supplication

Oh divine force these are my supplications to you

Give me wisdom to choose the path not taken

Give me courage to stand for those who cannot stand for themselves

Give me strength to fight injustices that I see around

Give me tolerance to accept the mistakes of others

Give me grace to accept my defeats

Give me humility to move on from my victories

Give me the power to change myself

Give me patience to understand others

Give me persistence to seek new adventures

Give me a vision to chart a new way

If all this is too much to ask

Then at least guide me to find my purpose in life

JBF