It is the wet season in Gorongosa. The grasses are high, and much of the park is impassible – savannas and forests turned into swamp. As Steve and I drove to Chitengo Camp, the headquarters of the Gorongosa National Park, the skies opened and we got our first taste of a Mozambican shower, the torrential rain that turns the ground into muddy quicksand.
It was quite a welcome for Steve. This was his first time to the park, which was once among the top destinations in Africa but was all but destroyed in this country's long civil war. For me, it was a return trip. Photographer Jeff Barbee and I came here twice last year, reporting on the American philanthropist, Greg Carr, who is working to restore this place – an effort, he says, to lift the region out of poverty.
Steve is a producer and videographer with Azimuth Media in Washington DC. I am an American freelance journalist based in South Africa. We are making this trip to Gorongosa to get more footage for a television segment that will air on the PBS show Foreign Exchange with Fareed Zakaria – and possibly to make a longer documentary.
Why Gorongosa? We are interested in this place because it is an example of all sorts of issues topical to Africa and America right now. Here we can see the tensions between environmental conservation and human economic development – in other words, the conflict between saving animals and plants (with the idea that this will make a healthier, better world in the long-term) and the day-to-day needs of an impoverished population. We can examine how traditional beliefs are running smack into the challenges of modern times. We can look at the complications – and potential – of Americans trying to "help" Africa.
And – ok, we'll admit it – we get to spend time in one of the most beautiful parts of one of the most beautiful countries on this continent.
With this blog, we will let you know what we are doing each day, with the hope that our work might prompt classroom discussion – or just personal thought – about Africa, philanthropic work, environment, and inequality.
Today, for instance, we copied the commute that many park workers take each day - wading through the crocodile-infested Pungue River and then taking a dugout canoe to the small village of Vinho. We saw the new school and health clinic that the Carr Foundation is building there, and talked to the chief about the relationship between the park and locals. Our guide was Baldeu Chande, a Mozambican who is one of the top managers at Gorongosa, working to build trust between local communities and the park staff.
We will have more about our day-to-day work here in future posts. In the meantime, please feel free to send us – or anyone working in Gorongosa – your questions. Also, if there is a subject you are interested in, let us know – your suggestions might well help our reporting.
Stephanie and Steve