Body Politics

Cuamba is an industrial town in the southeastern corner of Niassa province that serves as the entrance to the rest of the province. One other route exists in the northeast, along the border with Cabo Delgado province, but the rainy season renders it generally impassable. 300 kilometers of poorly kept dirt road stretches between Lichinga and Cuamba like Niassa’s rigid spinal column, a bumpy causeway for the eighteen wheelers that supply the rest of the province with goods from the outside world. Lichinga, high and removed on its plateau, feels sleepy in comparison to the bustling activity in Cuamba. Foreign investment companies, local wholesalers, and government organizations all maintain a base of operations there. An actively running (albeit quite slow) train connects Cuamba to Nampula and the port city of Nacala It is one of the largest, non-capital cities in Mozambique. The lack of paved roads facilitates a permanent halo of dust in the air above the city, adding to the sentiment that here there is indeed movement. Cuamba brings to mind a railroad town in the American West, hustled development at the final rest stop before the mysteries enshrouded by all the dust beyond.

After spending the night at another volunteer’s site on the fringes of Cuamba, Evan and I needed a ride to the chapa stop in the heart of the city so that we could find a car back to Lichinga. A blue truck with an extra long truck bed idled its engine at a street corner while the driver reached out of his window to purchase phone credit from a boy in a yellow vest. We approached the passenger door.

“Good morning, sir. Are you going into town?”

The man turned his head to contemplate us. He had lighter skin and the soft belly of an auto mechanic. “Mmm,” he grunted and lifted his head, returning his attention to the credit voucher he punched into his Nokia phone.

“Could we go with you?”

“Mmm,” he grunted again and motioned for us to enter the cab of the truck. The man busied himself with his phone. Outside of his window, a thin man with an unkempt beard held an empty coffee mug and talked quickly.

“Please,” the bearded man said. His clothes were covered in dust from the road. “Please I just want to get into town to go to work. I have a job there that I need to complete but I just need a ride.” The driver concentrated on the numbers entering his phone. “Please sir, please, won’t you just let me in the back of your truck?”

His words faded away as the soft-bellied man behind the wheel slowly released the clutch and let his truck roll forward. “Please,” I heard the dirty man call again as we drove away.

Why did the driver allow Evan and I into the cab of his truck? Why didn’t he permit the Mozambican man to sit in the back? This is not an isolated instance. Throughout the last two years, I have met many kind Mozambicans that went out of their way to give me a free ride to my destination. On many of these instances, we sped past locals attempting to wave down a car, despite available space in the vehicle. These drivers tend to treat white foreigners with more deference and consideration than their own compatriots.

On September 19th I posted a link to the crowd-funding page of my friend and colleague Shupikay Mchopa. His name – Shupikay – means “problems” in Shona. Shupikay speaks Nyanja, not Shona. His father learned Shona as a worker in the mines in Zimbabwe. When Shupikay was born, a mining accident severed his father’s arm from his torso. And that is how he received his name – Shupikay, the harbinger of problems. Today, Shupikay cares for the fifteen children that his brothers left behind after AIDS severed their lives from their bodies. Shupikay also cares for his wife and their children. He wants to build a fishing boat in Lake Malawi to raise money for the children. The proceeds from his fishing project would allow the children access to healthcare, education, and more frequent meals.

13 people liked the post that I shared about Shupikay’s project. I do not know how many people read the post and ignored it. I do know that zero people shared the post and zero people donated any money. On the other hand, during my time in Mozambique various friends have sent me care packages and even money transfers. These friends worry about my health and safety. They want me to enjoy my time in “Africa.” They don’t mind taking a small chunk out of their wages so that gift-from-above-self-sacrificing-humble-volunteer James can buy a beer this Friday. None of them, however, can donate anything to James’ friend Shupikay, just another African sob story. To be clear, I am extremely grateful for all those who have supported me in the last two years. But right now I am also very frustrated with the unfairness of it all.

So please do not like this post unless you donate to Shupikay’s cause or share the link to his funding page with another person. Do not like poverty. Do something about it. Send this link to your sister or grandmother or wealthy uncle. Tell your boss, your church friends, or your drinking buddies. Send Shupikay five dollars instead of buying a pumpkin spice latte tomorrow (it’s winter squash, not even real pumpkin anyway). But whatever you do, please do not do nothing. Doing nothing is a choice. Poverty, oftentimes, is not. Do not be the driver who stops to pick up the white man and ignores his brother. Do something, please.


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