Monday, December 20, 2010

China, India and Brazil. Reppin' it in Mozambique

Chinese construction workers. The chinese are responsible for a lot of the newer buildings and roads that are being built, including the brand new school I will be teaching at this coming year.

 As I was walking through the streets of Nampula, Mozambique's third largest city,  a tabloid-y headline caught my eye: CHINESES FRITAM COLEGAS (Chinese fry co-workers). Next to the headline was a  large photo of a Mozambican man with a badly burned face.  A few weeks earlier, I had read an article about a Chinese boss who had punished his Mozambiquan employees at a coal mine by burning them with hot oil. I think that's what this tabloid was about. Later that day, I went to a “chinese store”-that's how it was described to me -where we were told we could buy cheap guitars (the guitars ended up being super cheap both in quality and in price). The store was owned by a Chinese man who has been in Mozambique for three years doesn't speak a lick of Portuguese. His Mozambiquan employees don't speak any Chinese so all communication happens through gestures and the numbers on the boss's calculator. As we were walking back to our hotel, I peaked into a photo store that sold cameras and developed film and guess who I saw taking pictures? A chinese guy. This was all in one day. I'm from California, have visited China, and went to Yale (a school that has a bizarre love affair with China) so it's not that I'm shocked to be seeing Chinese people. It's just that, I didn't expect to see so many of them in Mozambique. I took development classes in college and read about all the Chinese investment in Africa, but it's different when you see it. Oh! And the school where I'll be teaching at for the next two year along with the adjacent teacher housing where I'll be living. It's all brand-spankin' new and guess who built it: the Chinese. This is one of the things I hope to find out more about during my time here – China and it's relationship to Africa. Seriously. I think I've seen more Chinese writing out and about, on cars and products, than English which makes me believe that maybe China really is becoming the bigger imperialist in these parts.

But actually, if we're going to talk about foreign influence in Mozambique, I think Brazil would win the award for having the most influence in this country. Last year when I was visiting my relatives in Brazil, I started watching a hilarious soap opera, Caminho Das Indias, which tells the story of an upper class Brahmin girl who falls in love with Dalit -untouchable – not knowing that he was a Dalit since he had been abandoned by his family and raised by a Brahmin. She gets impregnated by the Dalit, but can't marry him when she finds out his social class, so quickly gets married to some Brahmin guy who had been dating a Brazilian girl -and who also impregnated her-but who couldn't marry hers since she wasn't Indian. And well, it gets complicated and these soap operas are wont to do. All this to say that I started watching it in Brazil last year, but I left in the middle of it, before the plot had really taken off, and then I show up in Mozambique and guess what soap opera is being shown on prime time, 8:30pm TV? Caminho das Indias. But it's only one of many Brazilian soap operas that get played over here. There's also a Portuguese soap opera that plays on the Portuguese channel, but I don't hear anyone talking about that one.  So it's pretty much the Brazilians running the television over here. The two main channels that were watched in my Namaacha home, TV Record, owned by the Igreja Universal do Reindo de Deus, and a channel that started with an “S”, play Brazilian programming all day, save for a couple hours of news. There's one show called “O Melhor do Brasil”  (The Best of Brazil) which plays what my mom would call porcaria, junk. It's kind of sad, but I'm definitely not proud of the media that Brazil is importing to their Mozambican brothers and sisters. However, I do beam with pride every time I see someone sporting a Brazil shirt, sandal, flag or anything Brazil, and that happens a lot. I usually tell people I'm Brazilian first, 'cus they seem to like that more, and then if we talk more, I'll mention that I was born in the US.

So ya, that's a bit about the Chinese and the Brazilians, and now, I got to talk about the Indians. I don't have that much to say about them except that they are the businessmen of Mozambique, and they have been for quite some time.  When I was in Pemba, five years ago, I remember that the main grocery store in town was owned by a very nice Indian gentleman. In Namaacha, one of the food shops that sold a lot of stuff was owned by an Indian, and here in my little town of Ribaue, two of the main stores, along with a huge water bottling plant at the foot of the mountain, are owned by one Indian family. Unlike the Chinese, however, the Indians who are here seem to fully Mozambican since they've been here for quite awhile. The storeowner in Namaacha, for example, has never been to India, and when asked, didn't express any desire to visit. He's just as Mozambican as his African customers.

All this to say, Mozambique has its fair share of diversity, which I didn't expect coming here and it's been pleasant and interesting to see.

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