Friday, December 21, 2007

Happy Christmas!

Today is my last day at work before the Christmas holidays, and I'm looking forward to a well-earned break. I've succeeded in making mango jam, decorating the Christmas tree with the boys, baking (and eating) biscuits and fairy cakes - this is one of Joaquim's favourite activities of the moment, and buying all but one of my Christmas presents. Not bad going. I'm pretty sure that much of my time over the next week will be spent chasing the plumber, the painter and the builders so that we can actually move into our new house before the end of the year. If I succeed it will be worth it! I'll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, I thought I'd just wish you all (yes, that's all three of you) a very happy Christmas and New Year and see you some time after the 3rd of January.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Ok, you didn’t like the politics, so let’s move back to the safer grounds of domestic trivia, with a little run-down of the week-end.

Saturday was a busy day. In the morning we attended the graduation ceremony of Maria Moneiro. We met Maria in our very first months in Mozambique, as we camped out in her uncle’s back yard up on the Makonde plateau, trading cashews with our single-cab hilux. She was pretty, plump and sweet-natured, studying in the local secondary school, and earning some pocket money doing our washing and that kind of thing. Soon afterwards, she moved to Pemba to finish her education, and we offered to pay for her to do so. She had a baby, missed a year of school, but then went straight back in. When she decided to train as a teacher at Pemba’s teacher training college we contined to support her financially, and on Saturday we were there to witness the culmination of her efforts. I admit to a tear in my eye; it’s been quite a struggle for her as she comes from a poor rural family and single motherhood and studying are not easy things to juggle. She was obviously extremely pleased that we were there, and I felt a great sense of pride in her acheivement and a certain amount of satisfaction at the results of what has been essentially a very small investment on our part. Small gestures can make a huge difference to people’s lives here.

Elements common to other graduation ceremonies I have attended were the graduates smartly turned out in black and white, the crowds of proud relatives, the heat, the grandees handing out the diplomas and the festive yet (initially) formal atmosphere. Elements unique to this ceremony were the singing (national anthem but also a rather moving teacher’s hymn sung with great tunefulness and emotion by the graduates), drumming and dancing (following the handing out of diplomas) and joyful ululations (during the handing out). I know I’m getting soft in my old age, but it was a very emotional event. It was clear that for many of these families the professional qualification of a family member was a very important event, one that had cost them a lot in terms of financial and emotional commitment and perhaps even the first time this had happened. A far cry from my own Cambridge graduation, which was emotional too, but in a different way.

Then in the afternoon was Joaquim’s school play. The set was beautiful, but the costumes were absolutely breathtaking. Martie, who runs the school, was a professional upholsterer in her previous life, and the lady can sure wield a sewing machine. There were delighful mermaids, colourful fish, a red crab, a blue sea-horse and a delicate pink star fish. But the stars of the show were Joaquim, an impressive black and white orca, and Milan (his best friend), a scary grey shark. All was going well – in the way of performances by 3, 4 and 5 year-olds – until Joaquim’s big entry. Overwhelmed by stage fright, he refused to go on, despite Martie, Paulo and my coaxing. Then, when he realised they had continued and finished without him, he burst into tears: “But I didn’t go (sob) I didn’t go and go grrrrr to the fish (sob) I didn’t go…” I was nearly in tears myself, so intense was his disappointment. He did at least go and join the group for the singing afterwards, although he didn’t actually sing, and after that he also cried “But I didn’t sing…”. It was heartbreaking, especially as he had apparently been one of the best in rehearsals, going at it with great energy and enthusiasm, and he had been so excited about being a shark. I didn’t know what to do to make him feel better, until my friend Gal (mother of Joaquim’s friend Yael) came over and asked if he wanted to come to her house to light some candles and eat some cake, at which point his tears dried and he beamed a happy “Yes!”.

And so we spent the evening with our Israeli friends celebrating Hannuka with candles and doughnuts (Jewish readers, care to deepen my understanding of the event?), and Joaquim was entirely restored. Since then, he has only talked about it in a positive way, so obviously no long-term trauma there. Amazingly resilient, these little people.