Storytelling appears to be as old as the human civilization. The remains of ancient cultures, in the form of carved and painted symbols, not only tell stories of past civilizations but also reveal how old storytelling is. The word ‘story’ not only means tales and fables but also refers to an account of something, something that has happened -- experiences and events. In this sense, at Preacquaint, we believe that everyone has a story to tell and invite people to share theirs. Our interviewee this time, Thomas Hayden Lefebvre, from the province of Quebec in Canada, is in the habit of retelling stories he has heard during his travels to fifteen different countries. He says, ‘One of my favorite activities while traveling is simply talking to the people from that country over some tea and some food; one can learn a lot if they just take the time to ask the right questions. We all have stories to tell, no matter what culture we are from and I have had the honor to listen to, and in some cases, to retell, those stories to others’. His extensive traveling has made him a plurilingual who can speak French, English Spanish and Portuguese.
Thomas has fond memories of his stay in Tanzania. This is his favorite place. He says, 'I have enjoyed my travel experiences a lot, no matter where it is I try to have a good time. If I had to pick one place which I liked the most, it would be Tanzania. It was a treat to be in a different foreign land where it doesn’t snow and the people were very nice. I remember having great weekends on a Safari in the Mikumi National Park, or spending a couple days on marvelous beaches in Zanzibar. Tanzania has also left great memories; yet unfortunately I have not had the luxury to go back'. When he visited Tanzania, he would enjoy seeing beautiful places, but later on, he began to see and understand the serious humanitarian issues.
The thing that has struck his mind during his travels is the ubiquitous prevalence of inequalities in the world. He points out, ‘Through my travels I have seen injustice and inequality on many levels (economic, social and moral), and this has been a predominant aspect of life wherever I go. And that perception has clearly come about form my travels in places where half the people live on less than 2 dollars a day’. He is actually referring to the poorest and the least developed countries of Africa’. Our traveler has spent six years of his life living in different countries of that continent, including the least developed countries of Mozambique, Madagascar and Tanzania.
There are more than 195 countries in the world. Out of these, 49 are the poorest and the least developed countries (LDCs) of the world. The majority of least developed countries (34) are located in Sub-Saharan Africa.
These include Angola, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Sierra Leone, Central African Republic, Chad, Togo, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Haiti, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Somalia and Southern Sudan. These nations are blessed with abundant natural resources. But as far as their economy is concerned, they represent the weakest segment of the world. We can very well imagine the level of the socio-economic development by comparing the population of these countries to their participation in the international trade output. This group of nations holds around 12% of the total population of the world, but the share of these countries in internationally traded goods is only 1%. In addition to extreme poverty and unequal distribution of wealth and scarcity of opportunities, these agrarian countries are marred by ongoing armed conflicts, chronic ethnic clashes, warlord rule, wild maladministration, dictatorial governments and political instability, as well as prevalent financial corruption. The agrarian economies have low productivity because of traditional agricultural methods, inadequate infrastructure and a poor road network. Another problem is inadequate health care facilities, especially in the face of rampant diseases such as AIDS. In this story, we highlight Thomas' trips to some of the poorest countries of the world-- Mozambique, Madagascar and Tanzania.
Mozambique is said to be named after an Arab trader, Mussa Ben Mbiki. In the past, the country was a center of slavery and slave trade. Tribal chiefs sold out Mozambique slaves to foreign traders.
The country remained a Portuguese colony for four centuries and gained independence in 1975. In 1977, an intense civil war broke out and ravaged the nation for 16 years. According to surveys and studies, around 54 per cent of Mozambicans live in abject poverty and ‘the vast majority of the rural population still lives on less than US$1.25 a day and lacks basic services such as access to safe water, health facilities and schools’(IFAD 2013). Talking about his stay in Mozambique, Thomas recounted, 'I spent most of my time in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. I also visited the Gaza province, more specifically the Chegua community'. In Gaza, he wanted to take pictures of the local people and this desire acquainted him with a harsh reality.
He says, ‘I tagged along with a family friend who worked for a NGO operating in the Gaza province. He agreed that I come along with him to take some pictures, in return I gave the family a soccer ball and we gave them some food'.
The food and ball brought smiles on their faces, which gave our interviewee spiritual bliss. He says, 'These people were extremely happy to see me, I was in good company, we brought them food, gifts, we played a little bit of soccer. In retrospect I realize that these people didn’t have much going for them. But I am extremely proud to be able to say our presence put a smile on their face. It was a heartwarming, emotional and thought-provoking experience'. When they turned to the woman in the family, they discovered the harsh reality, 'The mother was terminally ill with HIV/ AIDS, the boy was not HIV positive but had no family besides for his dying mother. Last year I learned that the mother passed away, and that the boy’s well-being was unknown. It saddens me to talk about this, but it is a harsh reality’.
AIDS is not the only harsh reality there. He explains, ‘I've found the people of Mozambique to be quite depressed; I believe that this fact comes from many years of horrendous Portuguese colonization which some of the Mozambicans consider their apartheid, and after that they went through many years of civil war which was disastrous for the people, the country and the economy. The people of Mozambique are very poor, jobs are not available and they do what they can with what they have. Politically speaking, it is a very unstable country, with riots arising every couple years. Militias form the RENAMO party still attack police stations, jails and army bases. I found the people to be quite oppressed by the current regime; one example is that during riots all SMS’s and calls are blocked in the capital city. This leads to tensions which are only getting worse each day, and are at sky high levels, in addition to extreme poverty. Life in Mozambique is incomparable to life in the West . In reply to our question, he tried to juxtapose life in Mozambique with life in the Western hemisphere. He says, ‘People in the West are quite lucky. They are born in societies which have accessible healthcare, education, and food / water…basic needs for human life; especially when compared to people who have not had that luck from day one. . .’
The problem with the poorest countries is not the absence of resources but the absence of intelligent and impartial utilization of the latter. People living in rural areas are deprived of facilities. This is what our interviewee noticed, ‘What shocked me most in Mozambique was the inequality. Some people lived in shacks while their neighbors quite literally lived in some of the nicest houses I have ever seen, mansions basically. What I also saw was the difference between resources in the city and in the countryside. It was like being in two different worlds. Life in the country was not comparable whatsoever to life in the city, in all possible ways (jobs, healthcare, roads, security, and schools)’. He concluded the discussion about his impressions about life in Mozambique with these words, 'As mentioned before I think that the people of Mozambique are oppressed by their government and the social elite. Another major issue in Mozambique is safety, the police are massively corrupted, they can be very abusive, and in some cases do more harm than good. The military is the same'.
He found similar images of poverty in Madagascar. The island nation of the Indian Ocean is geographically isolated, but it is rich in natural resources and is known for its unique biodiversity.
According to the World Bank, 59% of the population of this fourth biggest island of the world is extremely poor. The average income is $1 US per day. Most of these immensely impoverished individuals are farmers and live in rural areas. Cyclones and floods aggravate the situation. Children face chronic malnutrition. Unclean water is a problem and drinking water is not easily accessible. People have to rely on natural lakes, rivers and ponds .
He concluded the interview about the problems of the people of Southeast Africa by saying, 'We all have the same emotions no matter who we are, what we do or where we are form. All humans are the same at base. We all live, we all cry, we all sweat and love, yet some people do so while living in a shack and some do so in the mansion they were born in. This makes the prevalence of global inequalities so much more unjust; the fact that we are all the same at origin. All the odds are against them'.