Last month I went to Mozambique with the Leprosy Mission. There was much that was heartening compared with my trip to Ethiopia two years ago, which left me praying for the Apocalypse to end such suffering, as I visited the dwellings of the outcasts, picked my way through human excrement and marvelled at the faith which bore it all.
The single biggest obstacle to progress in fighting leprosy is stigma. It isolates people with the disease, which in turn means they go into denial about having it until it is too late to prevent serious disability. Governments, eager to pretend they have met the World Health Organisation’s well-intentioned but misconceived aim of eradicating the disease altogether, also go into denial about the extent of leprosy within their countries, which means there is no education about it, including the signs to watch out for.
The areas of Mozambique that I visited were mercifully free of this attitude. Instead of leprosy sufferers being herded into disease-ridden slums and avoided by the rest of society, there appeared to be no stigma at all, with everybody mixing and living quite normally in ordinary villages. There were mobile clinics and self-help groups. Tellingly, none of us was ill throughout the whole trip.
Nevertheless the poverty was appalling, and as ever, the aspect of it that struck me so forcibly was how very little it takes to bring about quite disproportionate improvements in the lives of the poor – which brings me to the watering cans.
On a visit to Litamanda in the district of Macomia, I visited an agricultural project where one man proudly demonstrated to me his watering can. I had to watch while he showed me how it worked. The others said how much they would love watering cans too, instead of the makeshift devices they were using to carry and sprinkle water on the plants.
Well, I thought, that’s easy enough. It won’t cost a fortune to supply one project with a batch of watering cans. It is not as though we are being asked to set up a power station or water purification plant or to supply watering cans for the entire population. What could be simpler?
To my utter stupefaction, my suggestion to get them watering cans was resisted by all except the wonderful Judy Atoni of Food for the Hungry. First of all, I was told the poor souls should not be made “dependent” on Western technology. “Technology?” I spluttered.
“It’s a blinking watering can.”
Then I was told watering cans were unobtainable in Mozambique. So I suggested asking the Women’s Institute to collect second-hand ones and we could send out a container load. That would involve too complicated logistics and import taxes. And so it went on.
Afterwards, I asked myself why I had been led into such complicated schemes. Surely they were not necessary, because it must be an utter nonsense that you cannot get watering cans in Mozambique.
Ambassadorial residences had gardens and I did not believe the watering cans came out in the diplomatic bag. Hotels had gardens and I saw someone using a watering can in the garden of the one we were staying in. Expats had gardens. Common sense screamed that watering cans must be able to be bought in Mozambique. All I had to do was find a source and send out a cheque to Judy of Food for the Hungry.
Thus it was that this week I sat down and began a hunt on the internet. Mozambique is a big country and the ones I have found were too far away, but I will find a nearer one. So if anybody reading this knows where you can get a watering can in Pemba …
As I was hunting I kept seeing adverts for British suppliers of decorative watering cans and sadness overwhelmed me. I have no objection whatever to people jollying-up their garden tasks with motifs of roses or Pooh Bears on their equipment and I’m delighted at the employment the demand generates, but what a comment on the world it is that in parts of it people yearn for something as simple as a basic watering can and in other parts we fuss about the colour, style and pattern.
So I have set myself a target of 100 watering cans, to be obtained locally, not only to simplify the task but also to boost the local economy; though a mere dozen would make an ocean of difference. If I go there again I shall take one with me, and just for the fun of it (they don’t have much of that commodity) I shall take a decorative one.
Let ye who have two watering cans give unto him that hath none, to misquote Our Lord only slightly.
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.