Gracilia João (32) is a curious and ambitious young woman from Mozambique, who I admire for her self-leadership and perceverance. How much priority is given to curiosity in a country in which approximately 63% of the population (UNDP, Country Note 2018) lives below the International Poverty Line of $1,90 per day, per capita?
A dark and realistic analysis
Gracilia was born in Beira, in the central part of Mozambique. I met her in Beira, in 2003, when I worked at Universidade Católica de Moçambique. Since 2006, Gracilia lives in Maputo-Matola; a suburb of Mozambique’s capital Maputo. In this interview Gracilia shares her story about her curiosity and ambitions. How she looks upon the socio-economic situation in her country. And how she thinks this situation affects the curiosity of her fellow countrymen. Gracilia analysis is a dark and realistic one. It shows that there are not always simple answers and solutions to complex and uncertain situations.
Mozambique is an African country sharing borders with South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Swaziland and Tanzania. The official language is Portuguese. On the Human Development Index, Mozambique scores the 180th place out of 189 countries. The Mozambican economy had been developing at a fast speed, until the economic debt crisis in 2016. This initiated an econoic downturn, from which Mozambique started to recover in 2018. On March 23rd 2019, cyclone Idai hit the central area of Mozambique. April 25th, two and a half weeks after this interview, another cyclone named Kenneth, hit the North of Mozambique.
‘We are all born curious’. Gracilia João (32), Mozambique
Professions: System administrator and entrepreneur Previous profession: Database administrator
What does curiosity mean to you?
“My personal definition of curiosity is that it is something inside of you. You want to know more about a certain thing. It can be anything that makes you want to put effort in wanting to know more about this thing.”
Do you think you are a curious person?
“Yes, I think I am, but not always. Sometimes I am, and sometimes I am not. It depends on the subject. It really has to do with what interests you. Only this will make you want to know more about this certain thing or subject.”
What fascination do you have since you were young?
“It started when I saw the film Mission Impossible for the first time. One of the actors opened a locked door using a hair pin. I wondered: how did they do that? I wanted to be able to do it as well! I tried it several times, using different hair pins. Friends of mine tried it as well. But none of use succeeded. Even last year, I tried again. I accidentally locked myself out of my house. Again, I used a hair pin trying to open the door. I am now convinced it does not work. They just did it to show something interesting in the movie.”
What is the most curious thing you did?
“The construction of my second house. I have many dreams. When I am 35, I want to be financially independent of the government’s pension fund. I will have more than one house, I will be a mother and I will have my master degree. It is all about self-control. I will continue to work. But, I want a different life from my family. My parents were always concerned with making enough money to support their family. This way you cannot think about tomorrow.”
“I find building my second house very interesting. I learned a lot from constructing my first house. Because of this experience I am able to say: this is not correct. This is not how it is supposed to be. While building my first house I was anxious for it to finish. Now I know, it takes time. It is like having a baby. With the first baby, you probably take more care than necessary. With the second child you think, I can do this, without hurting the baby.”
How is your curiosity looked upon by your family and friends?
“There are two types. Those who like it and encourage me. And negative people, who make negative comments or make you feel weak. Like I am not able to do some things. If you have plans you have to know with whom you want to share these plans. Smart people ask me how I did and they try to do the same. Jealous people never congratulate you. They try the same thing, without telling you how you encouraged them.”
“The most important thing is to believe in yourself. I am a blessed girl. I had the opportunity to build a house. This makes me proud of myself. If somebody asks me about myself, I always talk about building my own house. It shows me and others how powerful I am. I do what I do, in the first place so I feel proud of myself. Secondly, I want my family to be proud of me every day. These are the most important things.”
Are there Mozambican proverbs about curiousity?
“A curiosidade matou o gato. Curiosity killed the cat. This stresses the negative side of curiosity. You have to know when to stop to be curious. Especially when it concerns another person. Suppose I won money in a lottery. I tell a friend that I won the money and that I hid it in a box in my room. This does not allow this person to come into my room and take a look at the money in the box.”
“Or when a person is crying. You should try to make this person calm. You should not ask what happened and continue to ask question after question. In this example you are not trying to help this person by calming him down. You are only trying to get information.”
Is curiosity a curse or a blessing?
“It is not clear. It brings good things. I can also be curious about bad things. I can experiment with drugs. See how it works, how it makes me feel. This is a bad type of curiosity. It all depends on the perspective you take.”
Do you think Mozambicans are more, less or equally curious as other nationalities?
“I think Mozambicans are less curious. People are poor. They are only focused on today. When we are fine today, we are not going to care about tomorrow. They are only curious about money. They are mentally poor. In Mozambique we do not have an open mind. For example, If am a successful person. Instead of asking me what I did to be successful, they only will want to talk about my successes. They do not want to learn from it.”
Educating women this way annoys me.
“I would like to be a Mozambican man for one month, so I can understand their mind. Why do they cheat even if you do everything for them? In the end most of Mozambican men have the same behavior.”
Do you think this is specific for Mozambican men? I think the same is said by women from other countries.
“I am Mozambican, I can only talk about Mozambican men. Sometimes I think we are poor in our upbringing. Parents teach you that you are a girl. When you are a girl, your toy should be a doll. When you are older, it is normal that your partner cheats on you. You have to forgive men. They are weak. If you split up with one, you will split up with all. Educating women this way annoys me. Nobody talks about feelings. They do not care about your personal feelings.
What stimulates your curiosity?
“When something is not easy, it makes me curious to know more about this thing. When I was doing my English course in South Africa, me and some friends went to a theme park in Johannesburg. There was a small mountain, you could rush down in a small car. People were screaming. My friends said, they were not going. They were scared. I told them: I have to go. I had to kill my curiosity. It was crazy, but I did it. I was proud of myself. It gives me more power to do what I want.
What tampers your curiosity?
“Repulse and negative feedback of other people. It discourages me. I become less curious.”
On March 23rd this year, cyclone Idai hit Beira and it’s surroundings, with disastrous effects. It did not only deprive people from their houses, infrastructure, food and medicine. It also created a breeding ground for diseases such as cholera and malaria.
Mozambique is in the news because of cyclone Idai. Can you tell something, you think other people should really know about the situation in Mozambique?
“What happened in Beira [ the city where Gracilia’s family is from and where she grew up] was very dangerous. I still cannot believe what happened. I do not have the strength to go and check with my own eyes. Luckily, something good also came from it. For the first time [Mozambique has been divided by first a civil war and later by politics] everybody was trying to help Beira. It makes us feel that we are all the same. We do not only share the same country. If one part of Mozambique is up we are all up, when one part is down, we are all down. So the best part of this story is that many people are helping.”
“The worst part of this story, is that people who pretend to help are stealing. I would really like to know what makes someone to steal from someone who has nothing. Because of this we are not sending money to Beira anymore. We are helping by buying products ourselves and sending it to the affected area itself.”
It is very complicated
“We have people stealing money and food. I watched a HIV-positive woman explaining that she could not take her medicine, because she had nothing to eat. It is crazy. I am sad to see people from my city cry. I feel like they are my family. I stopped watching TV.”
“It is very complicated. Some people are rich, others are crying every day. Babies are not eating. We are very selfish. It is so complicated. We are very poor mentally. Money changes people. They see this disaster and the money that is coming in for relief as an opportunity. And unfortunately I do not have the power to change it.”
Do you think this behavior can be explained by the poverty and insecurity people experience? Think of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs?
“I think it is not only poverty, but also mentality. We never have enough, we always need more. It does not have to be this way. My brother Tony for example. All the windows in his house were destroyed by the cyclone. Instead of complaining about it, he is volunteering. He helps those who have lost everything. Instead of taking three breads that you do not need. You can give one bread to another person. It is not possible to eat it all alone.”
Empathy begins with understanding life from another person’s perspective.
Listening to Gracilia’s analysis is painful, yet necessary. We are all born curious, but uncertainty, poverty and disaster can affect our curiosity. With this series: ‘We are all born curious’. I hope to trigger interest in the diverse ways we experience and express our curiosity. And how curiosity can be both stimulated and tampered by the environment we are in.
Mozambique might seem far away and not even part of your reality. By being curious and willing to learn from the reality that others are living, we can develop our knowledge and empathy, enriching our own and other’s lives.
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