Tuesday, 25 September 2012


This fountain is the bane of my existence and the embodiment of everything that is wrong in Mozambique.
It is a moldy, stagnant, bacteria-and-malaria-breeding eyesore in the midst of a lovely grove of trees. But that’s not the problem.

I walk by this festering fount daily. One day a few months back, however, I noticed as I passed that it had been drained. Finally! I thought, no more disease-ridden water reserve. It’s about time.

When I passed a day later, city workers were painting the inside of the fountain blue. That’s nice, I thought, people won’t even notice the lack of water.

The next day, the faucet was on and the fountain was filling up. Ever the optimist, I thought, well, maybe somebody finally decided it’s worth the upkeep and will actually maintain it for a while.

The fourth day, President Guebuza came to town. His caravan of tinted, black SUVs passed rows of cheering citizens and a beautiful, sanitary, fully-functional fountain.

The following day, President Guebuza and his troop of important government officials left. The fountain was turned off. With the exception of cigarette butts, doomed insects, empty plastic bottles and malaria-laden mosquitoes, it hasn’t been touched since. It has returned to its original state.

Unfortunately, this is what I see as one of the biggest flaws in the Mozambican culture – the obsession with empty appearances.

It is the reason why my school has sanitary hands-free automatic soap dispensers mounted on the walls that have never once held soap.

It is the reason why people will eagerly agree to attend a meeting set for Tuesday though they know they’re going out of town for a week on Monday.

It is the reason why school directors will give speeches on women’s rights but turn a blind eye when teachers blatantly sleep with their students.

It is the reason why the government education department shows glowing grade reports to international donors, after local teachers have spent the past week adding points to tests so 80% of their students don’t fail as they should.

It is the reason why so many people die of “an illness” rather than the super-taboo HIV/AIDS.

It is the reason why nothing ever changes – because it’s so much more pleasant to make things appear better to those outside than to do the work to actually correct it on the inside.

It's certainly not a problem unique to Mozambique. But it is something I pointed out to my journalism students. Maybe someday they'll start asking questions and someone will realize the regular people who see and live next to it on a daily basis are much more important than the big-wigs that occassionally pass by.

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