Category Archives: Photos

Productive Chaos in the Face of Unemployment


The scene is familiar to what we see in the states: A member of the group gives a PowerPoint presentation in front of the larger groups. The presentation is filled with statistics and findings from their area health center. Each slide paints a more detailed portrait of life and work for the presenting group. However, a harsh criticism hits the air.


“These numbers are horrible,” he interrupts the speaker. “Where is the rest of your data?”

“Doctor, we collected all the information, and these are the results,” the presenter responds.

“Well it’s not good enough,” the doctor says. “We have to do better.” He turns to the group. “We are not playing here, we are working.” The group shifts in their seats. I catch eyes with one of the ICAP Mozambique team members. She gives me a soft smile and opens her eyes wide before returning attention to the doctor who is in charge of the group.

“What he is saying is that the information is all accounted for, it’s just lower than we want,” another member of the group says in support of the presenter. “But it’s all there.”

The group erupts in conversation, and the presenter patiently stands at the front waiting for the time to continue. The leader is now looking at his cell phone and smiling. Members of the nearly 20-person group are having loud, fractioned conversations about the data and presentation throughout the room.

There’s a name for this kind of environment: productive chaos.

In the United States (in most cases, or at least the ones I am most familiar), we are all about productive order. We sit, listen (or pretend to listen), smile, read along with the information, and wait for the appropriate time to ask our focused and polite questions to the presenter, the expert.

There is a somewhat artificiality to our system of presentations. The presenter knows what is expected of her or him, and the audience knows what is expected of them. With the exception of jokes and stories thrown in for effect, it is a polite ritual that goes back throughout our history.

As the only two Americans in the room, I lock eyes with another Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) who is sitting across the room. She and I shrug our shoulders but sit in silence waiting for the chaos to settle. We expect the harsh comments to draw criticism or spite from the members of the group.

Yet, the conversation never turns toward the negative. Instead, the environment feels productive, energetic, fruitful. While it does cause the meeting to go two hours over time, we leave feeling like we just witnessed something truly refreshing: a meeting filled with criticism that doesn’t leave the group feeling like a failure. A level of honesty from a culture that cuts through the bullshit and gets right to the point.

The Issue of Employment
In the world of international non-governmental organization (INGO) work, the pressure to provide results is sometimes overwhelming. The groups on the ground need to show that they are worth the paycheck they are receiving, or else the worst is possible: being replaced.

As a developing country, opportunities are rare and hard to acquire. The availability of open positions is limited (although with the export of gas and other natural resources, the demand for more labor is increasing). Even for those who have higher educations, it’s a battle to fill positions in hospitals or government offices. This is why many Mozambicans live far away from their families for months or years at a time.

My supervisor just had a new, baby girl with his wife who lives in Maputo on the other side of the country. He opens his phone and shows me a photo of her in a pink hat. It’s easy to tell from his talking of her that he loves and misses her dearly.

Another colleague is a newlywed. He took advantage of the holidays in November and December to travel to Maputo to marry his now wife. His wallpaper on his phone is an image of her standing along the beach, the wind blowing her hair.

For them, being in Namapa and working for an INGO is simple: a good job with good pay to support the families who they love, who they will be able to see again once their contract is complete. They understand the rarity of a quality job and will do their hardest to succeed.

While unemployment in the United States is always a societal concern, we often make the decision on where to work based on the location of our families, loved ones. We need their constant presence to keep us motivated, grounded. Mozambicans need this as well, but until the day comes that more opportunities are established, the work they often do separates them from their support networks.

Action and Accolades
The meetings with ICAP groups from around northern Mozambique comes to an end. Additional chairs are brought in, and the drivers of our groups join the larger group for one last item on the agenda: awards.

The productive chaos is replaced with a slow clapping as the names are announced of the community groups that produced the best numbers for the past three months of reporting. My team (header photo) is awarded three times, and each time they stand to receive a rousing applause. They shake hands, hug and kiss, and sit down to examine their reward: an expensive pen still in it’s box. Photos are taken by a professional photographer.


The accolades come not only with a gift and feeling of success, but a sense of security regarding employment. While similar to the states in the sense that we perform to keep our jobs, employment and purpose for Mozambicans goes beyond earning money. It falls firmly in the strong national pride that all Mozambicans hold dearly.


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Photo Series: 16 Doors of Ilha de Moçambique (+Extras)


Ilha de Moçambique (Mozambique Island) is located in Nampula province off northern Mozambique, between the Mozambique Channel and Mossuril Bay. The island is quite small (about 3 km long and 200-500 meters wide), but it is home to a rich history as it was the country’s first capital (now Maputo) prior to 1898. The island is glowing with tightly packed buildings, architecture unique to the Portuguese colonial era, and beautiful sights of the Indian Ocean. The island is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of Mozambique’s fastest growing tourist destinations, complete with small cafes, hostels, and water activities (Lonely Planet).

Today, a friend and I travel across the 3.8 km bridge to access the island for our very first time. The island is accessible by car, motorcycle, bicycle, or by foot, and the bridge stretches out across the water with beautiful views of the island ahead. We are told by a couple who are joining us on our journey to the island that it’s home to about 14,000 people, has delicious food ranging from seafood to Italian cuisine, and it’s possible to spot dolphins and other wildlife swimming off the coast. Needless to say, we are excited.

We walk around the city in early afternoon to take in the environment of the colorful city, speak with locals about its rich history, and capture images of some of its architecture’s most beautiful elements: the doors. Because of the island’s size, the buildings are constructed closely together, creating a labyrinth of alleyways, complete with door after door of unique design. The first door we come across (above) turns out to be my favorite. The rest are complete with their own unique design.


This door is spotted inside a backpacker’s hostel, where the interior resembles much of the outside city with exposed walls, access to an open-air roof with furniture and views of the city, and hidden rooms complete with netted beds for visitors.


The bright blue doors of the island remind me of the doors in Namapa with their eye-catching colors displayed against the chipped and destroyed stone walls. Much of the city is in this shape, as many of the buildings are starting to fall apart due to the environment and time.


The yellow. It’s all about the yellow with this door. Many of the buildings are painted with yellow that has since started to chip and fall from the stone.



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We lose ourselves in the city as the day’s light starts to fade. The island is without power because of the floods that struck the northern part of the country. Generators begin to start throughout the city, and we find our way along the main street to an area with small shops, complete with buzzing lights, cold drinks, and music that closes the day and welcomes the dark night.



While there are countless doors throughout the island, we also photograph sights around the island, including one of the country’s earliest hospital (above), the many beaches, and inside the Palace and Chapel of São Paulo, built in 1610 as a Jesuit College and eventually used as the Governor’s residence, now a museum (with an entrance fee of 100MT).

Sights Around the Island

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Inside the Governor’s Mansion

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Photo Series: 8 Doors of Namapa


The clash of worlds between the Mozambique before independence and the country after is visible through countless lenses, but none more striking than the architecture. The structural remains of colonial Portugal are still intact today, and, while slowly succumbing to the land’s erosive ways, they provide a colorful glimpse into another time and make for one gorgeous walk to work.

Today I’ve decided to take a walk through my community and capture only a small piece of this structural landscape, but also my favorite: the doors. Whether a freshly painted entryway to a local loja (store), or a locked and forgotten passage tucked away down an alley, the doors in Namapa, to this observer, are as unique and beautiful as the country itself. Each door has a story, and hopefully through these photos, the stories are brought more to life.

Blue Symmetry
The above photo is the inspiration for this post. I pass this building each day on my way to Saul’s bar. The symmetry of the windows and the bright blue door always grab my eye. While taking the photo, a group of men on break for lunch are staring at me, wondering of what and why I am taking a photo.

Old Bread


This door belongs to a small building next to the building above. The writing above the door indicates it’s an old bread (pão) store, long-since shuttered. Bread is a staple item in Mozambique. No matter which province or town you find yourself in, fresh bread is available from padarias (bread stores) or from vendors on the street. Nothing quite reminds me of home here like soft bread and a cold Coca-Cola, which…

Coca-Cola Red


Ask anyone about the availability of this soda in the country, and they’re bound to respond with either despise for the company’s vast reach or a giant smile, because the soda is sold everywhere (read: everywhere). Organizations have even started partnering with the soda giant to distribute much needed medication in hard to reach areas of the country through the company’s delivery trucks.

The Window


Many doorways look like this as I walk through the community. The entryways open up into large, shared spaces for houses or apartments. They’re a mysterious window into the lives of the residents who live within its view.

Frelimo Proud


During election season (and still) this building is used as the Frelimo headquarters for the community, hosting large political rallies, motorcycle brigades, and a constant supply of Frelimo swag. Frelimo has since won the election, but the remains of the campaign remain…

Lagoon Blue Green


When it comes to colors here, this does it for me. I pass this door on my way to the market, and the color reminds me of a lagoon in the province of Inhambane, where I celebrated the holidays with close friends. The Frelimo poster falling apart in the corner reminds me that my time here is quickly running out.

Little Rise


From the looks of it, this gate (or half a gate) stands tall; however, the gate is about to my chest and leads to a staircase for higher apartments.

Dragão Negro


Finally, a door that I pass on my way to the market. It’s one of my favorites because of the branding of one of Namapa’s local spray painting gangs, Black Dragon, and the touch of yellow. I am able to spot the group’s name on various buildings around the town, and each time I whisper it to myself and smile at the world in which I’ve found myself.

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