Concept of Money

November 6, 2014

Concept of Money

Concept of Money

Mozambique, a country that has recently held elections that are being disputed by the opposition calling the results foul,  whose currency is not available for purchase at Travelex Currency exchange centers. A currency that is called Metical and is 50 to 1 to the UK Pound. Many people do not use debit cards, and ATMs out in the bush are non-existent. Some towns and villages have the luxury of a travelling ATM truck that will come once a month for people to withdraw cash. For those far-flung corners of the country where roads or electricity does not exist a travelling ATM is unheard of.

Since July 2014 I have been on an assignment in the province of Nampula in the north of Mozambique. The people working there come from all over the world as well as Africa. The main contingent is from South Africa, Zimbabwe and of course Mozambique. One of the Mozambican guys is a manager of a department and has several hundred technical staff reporting to him. This fellow is in his late thirties and comes from the province of Inhambane to the south.

How he got here is an interesting story to say the least. Growing up in the bush in a village far from any major city meant life was agrarian. His household consisted of his parents and his five younger siblings. His father grew whatever crops they could and what he could not grow they got from the land. The area they lived in was very fertile thus a lot of the fruits and vegetables grew wild, so all they had to do was pick them for their consumption, as such there was no need to buy or sell any produce. The concept of money was alien, they did not use money as there was no need for the land provided for all their food needs. He had not seen any money growing up and his father did not use any money. That was until his father came upon an idea to overcome a key deficiency in their lives.

The biggest issue they faced was drinking water, to which his father came upon a solution. His father decided to collect rain water for their personal use. They did this for many years and his father devised methods to collect more and more rainwater, until they came to a point where they had surplus. This surplus he would help his father to sell to other people in the village and surrounding countryside. Thus they came upon money for the first time.

His father decided that he would send his eldest son to school and forego his help with selling rainwater. So as a youngster he went to school and over the years he demonstrated aptitude for academia. His success at school led to higher education and eventually university. His father did what he could to pay for his son's tuition and he got a decent job upon graduation.

While he was going through higher education his younger siblings joked with him that he was wasting time with studying and he can stick with his books as far as they were concerned. However, as they witnessed his success and the job he was offered upon finishing his degree, they wanted a bit of what he had. He was more than happy to see his siblings showing interest in education. He paid and helped them all go through higher education, if only he thought it would get them a job out of subsistence living.

From growing up where money was an alien concept to using money to educate himself and his siblings to a better life. Today he is a successful manager, one of his siblings is a doctor in the U.S., another works for the U.N. in Mozambique while the others hold various professional jobs.

Upon being asked if he missed the days of no money and how does it compare to his life now with money?

His answer was that even though life before was simple and what he described as pure freedom, his life now was that much better. Money afforded him things he could only dream of as a child and his world was that much more expansive. He could not see himself return to a world that he had outgrown. He was happy with his status and he was working hard to ensure an even brighter future for his offspring.

If there is one thing that money could buy for every person in the world who is in less than an ideal situation, it is education. Just like in the case of this chap in Mozambique whose father used whatever he earned to send his son to school, that lifted him out of poverty and a life of subsistence living. The outcome of education may not be the same for everyone no matter where they live, but it could expand their world, where they could become engineers, scientists, writers and thinkers that could advance the people on this planet to a whole new level.

The Real 'Hunger Games'

September 5, 2014

Young Boys at A Soccer Match

Young Boys at A Soccer Match

I am out in Mozambique at the moment on a short work assignment for 6 months. I have never been to Southern Africa before and this is my first time in Mozambique. Mozambique lies on the south-eastern corner of the African continent and it is slightly smaller in expanse than twice that of the US state of California. The country has just over twenty-five million people with over 50% living below the poverty line. According to a UNDP report of 2013, Mozambique ranked 185 in the world out of 187, meaning it was the 3rd poorest country in the world.

Vast majority of the people live in the rural countryside and this is where I am working up in Moma District in the province of Nampula. Of the people I work with, most of the management team and technical experts are expats from South Africa and beyond. There are supervisors and junior technical staff from the cities of Maputo and Nampula. The bulk of the blue-collar workers are from the local villages consisting of both men and women, with men comprising the majority.

One of the Mozambican guys I work with is a young man in his twenties and is a training officer. He comes from further north along the coast closer to the Tanzanian border. One morning not so long ago I am in the office and he comes in and takes a seat in front of me. I looked at him and he appeared tired and haggard and lacking any vim.

"What's up buddy? Are you OK?" I asked.

"I have no energy, I feel weak," He replies.

My initial thoughts were that he had malaria, which is prevalent in this part of the world and every day someone at work is getting sick from it. A few weeks back five guys in one team got bitten by mosquitoes on the same night and all five got malaria, being out of work for four days.

"Have you got malaria?" I quizzed.

"No, I am just tired," He replied eyes half closed.

"Did you have breakfast?" I queried further.

"No I don't eat breakfast, because it is a habit," He replied.

"What do you mean habit?" I continued.

"As a child I never had any breakfast before school, and the first meal would be lunch and sometimes only dinner," He explained.

Not even thinking I continued my quizzing of the young man, "How comes you did not eat any breakfast as a child?"

"We never had any food Shah, we simply never had any food," he said sadly.

"I'm sorry man," I apologized.

He continued to explain how even today many families and children do not have enough to eat for breakfast, let alone three square meals a day.

It made me think about this country and how the local villagers in particular have a lifespan of only forty odd years. With malnutrition rife kids suffered the most. It must be one hell of a battle for kids to survive those formative years and make it into adulthood.

I saw further evidence one Saturday when I went to the local village soccer field to watch a game. I was the only non-African person there which caused me to be the center of attention for a group of boys from the age of three to ten. Their inquisitive eyes and smiles shone through their desperate outward appearances. Their clothes were tatty, their faces mud streaked and most had no shoes. The one distinguishing feature was their distended bellies. A protruding stomach was a clear sign of malnutrition. Such a sight was disturbing to say the least. I thought how does a child contend with malnutrition, malaria, tsetse flies, HIV and all else that nature throws at them in this part of the world to get to adult life and think about what to do. As a child in London I did not have to think about my next meal, nor fight any diseases that could be fatal to my life.

On another day the hunger faced by people in the locality hit me even more when around 5pm I was on the company bus being taken back to camp. The roads are dirt tracks and the going is slow to say the least. The roadside is jungle and bush with all sorts of flora and fauna spilling out on to the road. As the bus turned a corner I saw a group of ten-year old boys facing away from the road and intently focusing on a bush. I maintained a keen eye to see what they were doing. This rag-tag group of boys with only tattered shorts on as clothing and no footwear were picking some kind of berry from the bush and putting them in their mouths. They all had the swollen bellies I'd seen previously, and they seemed busy picking away at the berries in what seemed like a desperate bid consumer as much as possible in the shortest time frame.

As the bus drove on up towards the crest of a hill, I contemplated the dire status faced by children and their parents here. Don't get me wrong I have seen hunger and poverty in a lot places on my travels but not to this extent and in such a concentrated manner. Hunger even exists in developed countries, however there is a safety net in most of those nations.

People in this part of the world are literally subsistence living, whatever they can get from the land, rivers and seas they use to feed themselves. Up until a few years back rearing goats did not exist, the main food source is still cassava.

I remember as a 14 year old in 1984 when Band Aid was formed by Bob Geldof highlighting the plight of Ethiopian famine sufferers. Over the years I have seen images of millions of people suffering from famine caused by nature or man-made catastrophes. The impact of images on the 9 o'clock news has been nothing until what I have seen here almost every day.

Mozambique may be a country at relative peace, people here face hunger that is very real, very present and here to stay.