by Kolby Granville
The Director of the Secondary School down the road is standing in my doorway. He is drunk and leans in too close when he speaks. “Kolby come outside, it is an emergency, you must come right now!”
I rush into my room to put on long pants. What could possibly be the emergency at 9pm? When I come out of my room the Director is on his hand and knees looking under the table in the living room. At first I wonder if he throwing up.
“Where is the rest of the stereo?” he asks.
“What? You mean the portable CD player? That’s it. There isn’t a rest of it. That’s the whole thing. Now let’s go to the emergency.”
“Ok, but first, make it play some music for me. I want to hear.”
“I’ll play the music later, let’s go to the emergency.”
The Director comes up off his knees and stands up proudly. “The emergency is, we are celebrating a birthday! But you are right, we should go,” and with that, he heads out the door. I race after him through the barrack style teacher housing to where I see four other teachers sitting on the front porch with their feet propped up on coolers of beer. Scattered around them are empty 40oz bottles of 2M, the beer of Mozambique. Mozambicans take their drinking seriously, so it only comes in 40oz bottles. A 16oz bottle would just be an insult.
As I walk up, I count the empty bottles and people. Twenty-five bottles between four teachers and the Director. Even after taking the Mozambican liver into account, that means they are drunk. As I walk up to the group, a conversation in my head begins.
Why are Mozambicans always drunk?
Now Kolby, you can’t stereotype a race.
Fine, I won’t stereotype a race, I’ll rephrase the statement. Why does Mozambican culture seem to promote drinking?
No, Kolby, you can’t think that either. Cultures of the world are all different. Saying that getting drunk and passing out three times a week is wrong is a value judgment based on your American culture. You can’t say one set of actions promoted in a culture is more or less valuable then a set of actions promoted by another culture. That’s ethnocentric.
Well then, how can I say that everyone here seems to be drunk all that time and nothing ever gets done and that is why everyone is poor!
You can’t, you are suppose to relish the cultural exchange.
Now that’s hardly satisfying now is it?
This is stupid. Mozambique is poor. That is fact. Many Mozambicans men drink beer instead of working longer hours. That is a fact as well. If they—
You can’t say “they.” That creates an us-against-them scenario, which is the basis of inappropriate value judgments.
Fine, I’ll rephrase it. If the Mozambicans who drank instead of working extra hours quit drinking and worked more, the country wouldn’t be so poor. These are all facts.
True, but you are assuming that the goal of Mozambican culture is the same as the goal of the American culture, which is a cultural bias. Maybe instead of talking with yourself you should answer the person talking to you before he thinks you are weird.
I snap to and see that the School Director is holding the beer cooler open with a 40oz beer in his hand. “Do you want a beer or not?”
“No thanks, I don’t really drink. What are we celebrating anyway?”
“We are celebrating the birthday of the wife of one of the teachers at the school.”
“So, where’s the wife?” I ask.
“She couldn’t come to the party.”
“So whose wife is it?” I ask looking at the men in the group.
“It is none of our wives. The husband left this morning.”
“So you started drinking the morning?” I say surprised.
“Kolby, why must I explain so many things to you? Maybe you don’t understand my Portuguese.” The Director leans in closer and begins to yell, reeking of sweat and alcohol. “We started drinking last night, the husband left this morning!” Why is it every time someone thinks you don’t understand what they are saying they start talking louder? As if the volume level you speak at and the size of my Portuguese vocabulary were somehow related.
“Ok, I understand!” I yell back, imitating his wild arm movements. “What about school tomorrow morning! And if the husband and wife went home this morning, what’s the point of drinking now!”
The Director and the teachers stare at each other as if this is a strange question to ask and are unable to furnish an answer. My mind jumps in again to help out.
There is no point. Drinking is the point. The point of sitting with friends and getting drunk is simply to sit with friends and get drunk.
Well now, that’s stupid.
Only to you, everyone else here is Mozambican. And really, you should quit having these conversations with yourself while other people are around, it makes you look strange.
The dialog complete, I stand up to address the group. “I have orange juice in the refrigerator at my house. I’ll go get it so I can sit and drink with you. You drink beer, I’ll drink orange juice.” I run off to the house, grab the orange juice and a glass, and run back to the group and sit down.
As I pour the orange juice into the glass the group looks at me, mouths open, as if I’d just lit up a crack pipe in the Vatican. “Kolby,” the Director said, looking at my glass of orange juice with a combination of humor and disgust, “in America, are things very different than in Mozambique?”
“Yes,” I replied, “They are very different. Too many things to name. For example, the beer bottles are smaller.”
The Director stands up, holds up his hand, and points his finger to the sky like a Military General making a speech to 10,000 people. “Then I will stay in Mozambique!”
As he stumbles off to find a tree to pee on I could hear him grumbling to himself, “Smaller beers…I don’t know why anyone would want to live in America…so rich, and can only afford small beers…Americans should come to Mozambique where we have many friends and big beers…”
image courtesy of istockphoto.com