BY Jamil Khan
When going to a holiday destination one is inclined to abandon the stresses and burdens of day-to-day life. That is exactly what I planned to do during my holiday visit to Bilene, Mozambique this past festive season. As I drove through the picturesque province of Mpumalanga in South Africa, I felt the holiday mood enveloping me and a sense of excitement started building for my tropical beach holiday. Once my family and I conquered the border control offices at Ressano Garcia, the holiday had begun.
When I entered Mozambique, I quickly realized how much had been lost in translation of reality to the brochure. As a first time visitor, the experience was most sobering, because I got so close to abject poverty I could physically touch it. I looked into the faces of smiling Mozambicans who still had the politeness to welcome me into their country and my eyes fell on their dust-laden feet with a heavy heart. Passing by them, in an air-conditioned luxury SUV I had become one pole of the inequality that characterizes the African continent. A further realization slapped me in the face – I am that pole in my own country as well.
Making our way through the dilapidated capital city of Maputo, the ruins of war assaulted my senses. The ruined buildings and inadequate infrastructure set the landscape for a holiday that had already transformed itself into an awakening rather than the sleepy celebration I had intended it to be.
A long drive ensued through the countryside and I was taken deeper into the truth of the country – desolate destitution is a way of life for many people in Mozambique. Vendors stood scattered along the side of the road selling cashew nuts against the backdrop of tiny ramshackle houses interspersed between cornfields. The questions came flooding in: Whom do they sell to? How often do they make a sale? How much could they possibly make from a bag of cashew nuts? How do they live? These are questions and realities all of us should carry in consciousness, yet it remains a far-fetched plot of a novel most likely formulated by a western imagination.
When we arrived at our little piece of paradise, 7 hours after crossing the border, I could hardly believe I was still in the same country. Luxury villas lined the shore of Bilene lagoon like celebrities at a front row screening of a future Oscar-nominated movie. We settled in for our promising coastal sojourn and the anxiety abated, for a while. My brochure holiday lived up to its promise and I spent most days by the pool while cold drinks and tropical temperatures placated my conscience. The lull didn’t last for long.
My family and I ventured out of the resort and into the surrounding village market to buy some local produce. I rummaged through stalls, managed by local entrepreneurs, looking for authentic Mozambican artifacts until I reached a vegetable stall. As the vendor approached, I smiled and exchanged greetings while my sister bought some fresh vegetables. The vendor took out a spring scale in order to price the goods for us. She hung the upper end off her left arm; it was amputated just below the elbow so that a little crook remained. I was mortified.
Time flew by and our holiday drew to a close, I was left with a bittersweet remembrance of my holiday and a renewed vision of my own country. I was flooded with gratitude, even for the misfortunes I had suffered in previous years. Now that I have seen it, I cannot unsee it nor can I see life the same way again. My gratitude extends beyond my life, and into the lives of the many dedicated angels at United Colors Of Fashion (UCOF) who dedicate themselves to the plight of so many people. They will never meet some of them, but yet they are dedicated to them.
UCOF will visit South Africa in March to deliver funds and supplies to children at Mapetla Day Center in Soweto, Johannesburg. This forms part of the mission UCOF drives to help people with HIV/AIDS, sickle cell anemia and paralysis in South Africa. We are striving to expand this mission to Haiti and the rest of the world in future.
Today, I personally thank UCOF for its dedication to this mission and I hope I have made the vision of UCOF available and the reality of Africa and so many other nations more tangible to our readers.
Aluta Continua – the struggle continues!
Jamil Khan is a Psychology graduate from Stellenbosch University with a keen interest in fashion, social upliftment and research. He is a United Colors Of Fashion press intern, based in Johannesburg, South Africa.