Here too I saw World Vision working with integrity and talent. And I discovered, in one particular incident in which a colleague had the courage to ask a naive question, that compassion for the poor required an ability to see what was happening right under your nose. And enough humility to say you didn't understand it.
18 - A Crack In The Door
Somalia was a country being torn apart by a war led by uncompromising generals. Mozambique was just emerging from this same nightmare after seventeen years.
Here again, the pattern of over-powerful leaders and oppression of the poor was easily recognised. Here too I met another of these so-called leaders, General Dhlakama, the head of the anti-government forces, Renamo. Here was a leader for whom power meant more than anything. Such people were anathema to a development approach which valued people and worked to liberate the best in them for the sake of community.
The Mother Of All Delegations
Mozambique was so fertile. There was no excuse that it could not feed itself, really. In a similar way, Baidoa was the bread basket of Somalia. Yet there were no crops there either.
John Yale, our Mozambique director, welcomed us at Maputo as 'the mother of all delegations'. Graeme Irvine, the president of World Vision International, had asked the heads of World Vision offices in Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia to accompany him on a trip to Mozambique and Somalia. Both countries were coming out of relief mode into development mode, and he felt we needed first hand knowledge to formulate new strategies. Together with our communications people and others we were a group of over a dozen.
John briefed us on the local situation. He said there had been profound scepticism about Renamo's ability to deliver peace. But virtually overnight in October 1992, three months before, the warring stopped, suggesting Renamo really did have better control over its people than had been widely assumed.
Much of the food for World Vision's aid program was being purchased locally: in the last year 8-10,000 tonnes of food were local. John mentioned Australian rice being sold in Tete and the money being used to buy local food for the hungry. The sale of some donated food into the local market was a common practice.
He spoke proudly of World Vision's commitment to accountability. Food monitors were a feature of the program. A complicated commodity tracking system worked. An Ernst & Young audit tracked food from donor country to beneficiaries. I was very impressed with the integrity of the audit trail.
The main concern, John said, was food security. Not in terms of preventing food from being stolen by bandits, but in terms of the capacity of ordinary people to have secure food supplies to feed themselves. So the World Vision program was more than just feeding. From day one, distribution of Ag Paks had begun. Each of these cement-bag sized packs contained locally suitable seed, a digging implement and farming instructions in both pictures and the local language. Even in a full-scale emergency feeding situation we had started working for agricultural recovery.
A Fleet Of Cessnas Await
The next morning, four of us climbed aboard a twin-engine Cessna 402 to fly to Caia in the centre of the country. The others left in a King Air, a much larger plane. It was faster and passed us on the way.
Caia was not a huge place, but probably because there was once a thriving cotton or sugar business there, it had an excellent surfaced runway. Thus it had become the staging point for aid deliveries into the nearby towns along the huge Zambesi River. It was already hot when we arrived, and we sheltered in a concrete bus shelter (that's what it looked like, although this town had seen no bus for a while).
We were met by a line of local officials, but our formal visit there was not scheduled until the next day. We transferred almost immediately to five smaller Cessnas which could take off and land from the small dirt strips that most towns have. Our next stop was to meet the President of Renamo, Dhlakama.
Dhlakama was at Meringue, which it surprised me to discover was pronounced merr-ing-way with the emphasis on the ing. This was about a forty minute flight away. As we flew towards a large dirt strip we saw the King Air already on the ground. Apparently it had another job, to pick up someone from Renamo.
Trail Riding With A Freedom Fighter
No-one was around. There were no crowds lining the strip. No cars. No soldiers. As we circled to come in, all I could see was an ordinary looking village. Nothing that resembled a headquarters.
The planes taxied to a stop and two trail bikes came roaring down the strip. On the first was a youngish looking man in a military uniform with four stars on his epaulettes. He was wearing fashionable glasses with thin mock-turtle shell frames. This was Dhlakama himself. On the second was a man in a smart pin-stripe suit. It was already in the high thirties, but he looked more comfortable than the rest of us.
Dhlakama got off his bike and greeted us with a huge smile of perfect teeth. Apparently seventeen years fighting from a jungle hideaway didn't keep you away from the dentist.
'The other two bikes crashed on the way', he said cheerily. 'I'm afraid we have no car here yet. We shall take you on the bikes.' All fourteen of us.
The international World Vision president, Graeme Irvine, along with Margaret Jephson, my Australian colleague, were the first to be pillioned. Before they left, the other two bikes arrived. I wasn't riding with any two guys who had 'crashed on the way' so I volunteered to walk. 'It's about a twenty minute walk', they told us as we set off down the strip.
The bikes returned from each trip to find us closer to base each time, and gradually everyone was shuttled off, with me being one of the last volunteers. I waited until I could ride with the General. 'He has the most to lose', I suggested. He also looked to me to be the best rider.
The reason we could not see any official buildings became apparent soon enough. The site was cleverly hidden under the canopy of trees. A large area was mottled with shade and swept clear. Nearby were a couple of meeting halls and several living quarters made from jungle material. Incongruously, several young men in white shirts and ties walked from place to place.
You Can Buy Coke Everywhere
The General sat at the head of a table in the open air and offered us Coca-Cola. Of course.
I had long ago learned that some commercial companies can do what development agencies cannot. I recall spending a whole day travelling to a village. We flew for an hour, then drove until the car could go no further, then walked through the jungle and across streams, including one that was waist deep. Finally we arrived at a spot which seemed to have no connection with the outside world. A truly remote place.
And you know what they offered us to drink? Coca-Cola. In a village that didn't even have clean drinking water.
This simple example puts the lie to any suggestion that the world does not have the ability or know-how to solve its problems. If one company can bring its product to the ends of the earth, it is certainly possible to put clean drinking water into every village on earth. We do not lack the resources. We lack the will.
Dhlakama's Coke was not cold, and it got hotter as time passed until it tasted like tea. The flies were thick and I put my cap over my Coke can to keep them off.
Politicians Revise History
'The war is over', the General assured us. He claimed that it was Renamo which had been the great champion of democracy, fighting the Marxism of Frelimo to establish a peace based on true democracy.
This bare-faced revisionism was stunning in its audacity. Renamo was set up by the Rhodesians without any real ideological mandate of its own. It was part of Rhodesia's, and later South Africa's, regional geopolitical strategy to keep the neighbouring black states weak. Even when I was in Mozambique four years before, it would have been stretching the imagination to suggest that Renamo had any clear ideological system. It was a guerilla movement engaged in a stupid, power-mad, disgusting campaign of destabilisation, destruction and damage. For its own sake.
Still, Dhlakama was so innocent-faced it was easy to believe him.
I found myself wondering if my interpretation of history was correct after all. At least, I thought, it was much nearer the mark than this 'we're the hero' stuff Some local commentators said the real motive for Renamo taking this position was pure, self-preserving political opportunism. The country was so heartily sick of the war that Renamo had no choice if they were to survive but to find a place in the new, peaceful Mozambique.
We sat for well over an hour, with the hot sun mottling us as well as the ground around. We talked about the need to get access to the people who were streaming out of Renamo areas. Too many were coming into the towns. Better to get food and Ag Paks to them where they were, otherwise the towns would be crushed. And the people would suffer further deprivation because they would be unable to plant adequately. Or they would be victims of epidemics.
Finally we prepared to leave and the general revealed that there was a shorter walk back to the air strip. Apparently security considerations had prevented them from bringing us this way before. The walk took around ten minutes, and we arrived at the same time as those on motor bikes who had gone the other way.
Dress For Dinner, Sir
From Meringue we flew to Quelimane, and it seemed exactly as I remembered it from 1989. Perhaps there were more people on the streets.
'One hundred thousand more', reported Leland Brenneman, who had returned from his stint in Somalia. That was a huge increase. Perhaps it was a deliberate hyperbole. I doubted that there had been more than 20,000 people there in 1989, and Leland figured that would have been right.
The Chuabo Hotel was as ever; I think I even had the same room. This time there was no running water so we ladled ourselves for the next two days. My room had an air-conditioner in the corner, but it struggled against the extreme heat.
In the evening we enjoyed the unique restaurant on the top floor. Here in the middle of nowhere they abided by one of the strictest dress codes in Africa. No thongs. No shorts. At least you could wear a T-shirt over your moleskins.
Our table had huge prawns and lobsters, while I had grilled steak. The fried chips were cold, which is the Mozambican way (hot food is bad for you).
Morning In An African Street
I watched the street dwellers from my fifth floor window as they stirred in the morning light.
A small girl moved on her cardboard bed under a shop awning. Yawning. She raised her head and looked about, then dropped it again. A minute or two more rest before another day.
Her mother was already awake. She sat over her tribe waving a cloth over them to cool them with morning air. The temperature was already in the high twenties and it was steamy. The girl stirred again, conscious of her duties, rose, folded up her bed and walked off. Soon I saw her scrubbing a pot at a tap in the neighbouring church yard.
An adult man shuffled along the footpath. Holding his elbow was a blind man. They met a friend and talked. The blind man was not included and stood at an awkward angle to the conversation.
A man stood and stretched. A cat played with his feet. Beside him, under a blanket, a teenage boy poked at the cat around him.
The mother swept. By the time I looked again she had swept the whole area in a fine pattern in the dirt. She was making this place habitable. A sense of pride for her surroundings was not lost just because she had become a refugee from hunger in her own country.
A fire was started for cooking. Kids cleaned their teeth with twigs. A man went back and forth with a blue garbage bin full of water on his head. His steps were measured and heavy, his burden immense.
An Air Armada Of Angry Gnats
I joined the rest of the team for a devotional time in Graeme's room. At seven we had breakfast upstairs, when even Don Scott put a dab of Vegemite on his roll. 'I've had it twice now', the Canadian said, 'first and last time'.
We were at full sweat by the end of breakfast. The temperature was already well into the thirties and would climb to forty plus this day and the next.
We assembled for the air armada and took off like a series of angry gnats. It was about forty minutes to Sena, a large refugee camp.
As we landed, an Antonov flew in behind us. This was a large Russian freighter with a payload of six-and-a-half tonnes. Its presence was powerfully symbolic of the change in world politics: a Russian aircraft, crewed by Russians, carrying US grain organised by World Vision. The plane dumped its load and turned around in less than fifteen minutes. The pilot made the most of a spectacular takeoff opportunity, lifting his wheels and banking when he was only a few feet off the ground.
Yet Another Refugee Camp
Under a tree there were a hundred or more people sitting together. These were the new arrivals. They were coming in for food every day, mostly from villages not too distant.
Malnutrition among them was very high. That meant most of the people were less than seventy-five per cent weight for height. Recovery from less than sixty-five per cent weight for height was considered unlikely by the nurse I spoke to. The new arrivals were registered and classified. Under seventy-five per cent got you a red band. Between seventy-five and eighty-five per cent got you a blue band.
There were four special feeding centres, square huts made from rough hewn poles, grass roofing and earth floors. Each hut represented one of the four phases of recovery from malnutrition. While hunger was obviously a very great problem still in Mozambique, the food was arriving, That was why the people were coming. And most were recovering.
In Hut 1 there were many bad cases. It was tragic to watch sick children and their parents' attempts to get food into them. They pushed away the very thing that would save them. The despair in mothers' eyes was pitiful. Gut-wrenching.
One child seemed especially ill. Dr Terry, a World Vision staff doctor, said she was a bad case; she had been receiving food for many weeks but was not improving. 'She has a vaginal infection, and TB', she said. 'I think it is AIDS.' AIDS ran at ten to fifteen per cent of the population in the cities, so it seemed probable that we should see some cases.
We walked down to where the people had set up a huge rambling hut community beside the destroyed railway bridge across the Zambesi. The heat was intense.
Amidst Universal Suffering, Some Are Worse
Under a water tower, Charles Clayton, from World Vision UK, stopped to see a family. He was bothered by the look of them. They were skinny and listless. He pointed them out to a World Vision nutritionist who began to investigate. Yes, they had tried to get registered, but somehow they weren't successful. The nutritionist thought they went to the wrong place. They had given up and lain down here to die.
Four lives were saved because Charles thought to ask what others of us might have felt was a naive question: 'Why are these people here?'
Hold On, The Harvest Cometh
Jonathan White, our British agriculturalist, took us to see the Ag Paks growing. 'Little Ag Paks are sprouting on the Ag Pak bushes,' he said dryly.
What we saw, of course, was maize. As high as an elephant's eye, some of it.
If only we could deliver more of these Paks and get more grain planted. One tonne of Ag Paks resulted in fifty tonnes of food. It took just two agricultural cycles, in theory less than a year, to have families self-sustaining. That required two Ag Paks. In practice we looked at two years, since people didn't always get the complete benefit. Either they were unable to plant the full area required, or they didn't plant in time.
But imagine how quickly Mozambican agriculture could recover if we could supply enough Ag Paks! Less than two years and the problem of food security would be history.
An Ag Pak weighed sixteen kilograms. The Antonov carried six-and-a-half tonnes. I calculated that the Antonov could deliver 406 Ag Paks, and the cost of the Paks (at around A$50 each) and flight would be around A$20,000. Two flights per year for two years would fix food security for 400 families. For $80,000.
A door had cracked open in Mozambique. We could continue to pass food packets through the crack, or we could lean on the door with our Ag Pak program and swing it open to let the full light of self-sufficiency shine in.
After a time videoing we traipsed back. Praise God and one of our staff for the soft drinks each plane carried in a large Esky. We gorged ourselves on mineral water, Sprite or Coke. The kids hung around to snatch the precious empty cans. It occurred to me that they would find the contents equally precious. But we were privileged. Clearly and undeservedly so.
It was now well into the afternoon and we had intended to be at Sena only for an hour. Videoing always takes longer than anyone estimates, but there were no problems about rearranging the schedule.
We returned to Caia, this time for a proper visit. The town administrator, the local army chief and a dozen other officials lined up for a handshake. Then they took us to yet another tree, in yet another village, where yet another bunch of new arrivals was being processed. Many of these wore clothes made from tree bark, their own clothes having long since worn out. A few were wearing clothes made from the sacks in which the grain was delivered.
'Let's go see the feeding centre', said the administrator. Good, I thought, this will be nearby. It was two kilometres away. The sun was red hot. The air heated your throat as you breathed. Sweat refused to evaporate in the steamy air.
I only had to carry my camera and myself and I was weary. Women passed me carrying whole sacks of grain on their heads! These people gave new meaning to words like tenacity, endurance, perseverance.
Children by the path said 'Visao Mundial' as we passed. Awareness of World Vision in these communities was very high and our work appreciated.
The feeding centre was in an old school or hospital building in an area once occupied by a Portuguese company. What looked like an abandoned sugar mill stood nearby. Around the area were the blasted and decayed remnants of large, two-storey manor houses. Rooms in the feeding centre were allocated as at Sena to the four phases of malnutrition. The story was depressingly the same.
The Soup Joke
We left in time to be back in Quelimane by 5.00 p.m. to avoid a late landing charge. That night there was pork on the menu and a different soup, which turned out to be the same bean soup we had the night before. I made the usual joke:
Me: What's the soup tonight, waiter?
Waiter: It's bean soup.
Me: I don't want to know what it's been. I want to know what it is now.
Two of us ate the pork, though Graeme said he always worried about pork. It might make you sick. It seemed everything on the menu had caused Graeme to be sick somewhere, sometime! When the next table ordered, they were told the pork was finished and all that was left was liver. But lobster and prawns seemed in plentiful supply when the waiter was pressed.
The little game played by the elegant waiters in their white three piece suits brought memories of my last visit flooding back In those days there was only one thing on the menu, and when it ran out, too bad.
On that previous trip I had travelled with Neil Finn of Crowded House and Penny Mulvey, an ex-Ten journalist. One breakfast our sound technician, Don Connolly, joked about the 'lovely hot shower' he had enjoyed. There was, of course, no hot water in the entire town. Penny, not realising he was joking, asked whether all our showers had been hot or cold. Naturally we lied, leaving her to believe that only her shower had failed to heat up.
Next morning there was a knock on Don's door. It was Penny. 'Have you got hot water?' she asked.
Don, seeing a practical joke staring him in the face, replied, 'Yes, just got out. Had a lovely time.'
'Mine doesn't seem to be working', said Penny. 'I just hate starting the day without a warm shower.'
'Know what you mean', said Don caringly. 'You hop into my bathroom. You can lock the door and be real private.'
So Penny, who had come armed with her shower pack and bath towel, went in and got in the shower. Don said he thought the whole of Quelimane must have heard the howl of dismay as the icy cold water hit her.
She completed her shower and emerged from the bathroom.
'How was it?' asked Don ingenuously.
'Oh, what a shame. It must have just run out. It was so lovely and warm earlier.'
Quick Formality Then Good-bye
Soon we were on the way to have a drink and cashews with the local governor who, according to John Yale, wanted money for his local soccer team. Then to the airport for the flight to Lilongwe, Malawi, in one of our chartered Cessnas.
The immigration person in Quelimane was supposed to be there to check us out of the country, but he didn't turn up. Rather than wait forever, we checked ourselves out. I think we'd paid all our bills in Mozambique.