Hot, humid and deathly - Writing about health in Mozambique

Posted on May 18, 2010.

The reality of poor health in Mozambique. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues

Life is frail in Mozambique. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues

Guest blogger Mercedes Sayagues

The health page was laid out late at night last week. I had a headache so I went home around 7 pm to lie down. Around 9:30 the editor called: our turn for layout.

It was unbearably hot and humid. The newsroom is in the basement of an old house. The proofreader was sitting on the steps to the garden. “Catching fresh air?” I asked.

Usually the health page is laid out in the afternoon and the proofreader comes in the evening so I had seen Leopoldo Fernandes only a couple times: a small, gaunt man with a balding head and a greying ponytail.

Ponytailed men in their fifties usually have a hippie, musical or artistic past, so I made a mental note to chat to him one day.

Tonight Leopoldo was coughing badly. He pulled out an inhaler from his pocket, like Benicio del Toro in the Che Guevara film.

“I am very sick,” he gasped between coughs. “I have emphysema.”  He lit up a cigarette.

Indeed he was sick. He walked back into the newsroom as if every step was a command he gave to his body. He stared at the computer as if words were vanishing. He had been proofreading the health page when he stepped out and left it open without saving. Someone else used the computer; his work was lost. He cursed and started again. I sat next to him quietly, patiently.

I felt his energy ebbing away word by word but he was set on completing the job. Several times a fit of coughs made him go out again.

At last he finished the health story. I gave it a final read, gently pointed out missed typos and got up. I touched his shoulder: pure bones. “Get well soon,” I said. He looked up and acknowledged. He was too sick to smile. Our gaze locked. Good night.

He died on Saturday. His obit told of an actor and singer, a rebel, a bohemian, “a friend to friends”. Back in 1977, he was sent to a re-education camp - a feature of the post-colonial Marxist regime - to no avail. He was “one of those guys who cannot be re-educated. Luckily some of these exist.” Leo got 50 lashes for smoking pot, fled to the bush, avoided leopards, and returned to the capital to continue a prodigious consumption of pot, tobacco, alcohol and women, said the obit.

I learned of his death on Monday. He was my age.

That Monday, around 7 pm, the reporter I was working with answered her cellphone. Her one-month-old nephew had died. Cause: unknown, she said. Another colleague who sits next to me was teary-eyed: her cousin, aged 28 and just graduated in pharmacy, had died over the weekend. Cause: unknown.  Must have been some bacteria she analysed at work in the hospital. The cousin, she said, “had been weeping tears of blood.”

The way language deals with disease in Africa can be quite poetic. “She had smoke in the lungs,” a fisherman told me, describing his wife’s death. I figured out she had TB. I cannot fathom the blood tears, though.

The following day, I am working with another reporter. “I have to go early for a funeral”, he says. Who died? “Some irresponsible person performed an abortion on my neighbour who was seven months pregnant. The baby lived for a few hours, she died overnight.”

The previous Monday, on the way to a slum to do a story on sanitation, I asked another reporter how was her weekend. “Tiresome,’ she said. Her in-laws had sent an urgent request for medicines for a five-year-old boy. They live in Inhambane province, 800 kms away.  By the time they put together a parcel and found a traveller to take it, the child had died. Would it have been more efficient to send money? The relatives don’t have a bank account and live far from town. What was in the parcel? Vitamins and fortified food. Cause of death? Unknown.

Last year I interviewed an anthropologist who works in a remote valley of the Venda territory in South Africa. The Venda people are known for spirituality, superstition and witchcraft. The anthropologist explained the Venda seldom name a cause of death.  The words may bring the disease or suggest you had something to do with the death.

We kept on chatting. The reporter had fired her new nanny, who is 18, four-months pregnant and feeling unwell.  I thought that was callous until I learned the background. The previous nanny, a sister to this one, was 20 years old and seven months pregnant. She had not told anyone. In December she had a miscarriage in the sitting room, in front of the reporter’s toddler. Her husband came from work to the gory scene. And the problems: finding a car to go to hospital, finding someone to clean the mess.

No wonder my colleague did not want another pregnant nanny in her house.

We arrived in the slum. It was hot, 38 Celsius, and humid. I felt dizzy and nauseous. I sat on the floor and did yoga breathing. My hands went numb, fingers bent into a fist.  I couldn’t open them. I thought I was having a stroke.

I remembered Jean Dominique Bauby, of the Diving Suit and the Butterfly, dictating stories letter-by-letter, blink-by-blink. No, please, no. We dashed to the Heart Institute - the topic of our first story. Hyperventilating, numb hands. I was so scared.

Bless that story and bless the Institute. The director was by chance at the emergency gate and took me straight to the heart unit. Ironically, it was the same area where we did our story, only now I am in a wheelchair. Turned out to be high blood pressure, plus dehydration and anxiety. The doctors gave me pills and left me in observation until 5 pm.

“I will never tell you a sad story again,” said my colleague and squeezed my hand, the one without a drip. She was going back to the slum finish the story. “It made you sick.”

“This is why I am here,” I replied. “This is what we do: we report on health and health care.”

Life is so frail in Mozambique, and death is so much part of life.

Mercedes Sayagues is a Knight Health Journalism Fellow with the weekly Savana, in Mozambique

56 Replies to "Hot, humid and deathly - Writing about health in Mozambique"


Emily  on May 4, 2016

Hello my name is Emily and I just wanted to send you a quick note here instead of calling you. I discovered your Hot, humid and deathly - Writing about health in Mozambique page and noticed you could have a lot more traffic. I have found that the key to running a popular website is making sure the visitors you are getting are interested in your website topic. There is a company that you can get keyword targeted visitors from and they let you try their service for free for 7 days. I managed to get over 300 targeted visitors to day to my site. Check it out here:


Cortez Bates  on May 12, 2016

Nice post. I used to be checking constantly this blog and I’m inspired! Very useful info specially the remaining part :) I maintain such info a lot. I was looking for this particular information for a long time. Thanks and best of luck.


chicken coop plans  on May 13, 2016

It is really a great and useful piece of information. I’m satisfied that you just shared this helpful information with us. Please stay us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.


boxer de calvin klein  on May 13, 2016

This is very interesting, You are a very skilled blogger. I have joined your feed and look forward to seeking more of your wonderful post. Also, I’ve shared your web site in my social networks!
boxer de calvin klein


flyer printing prices clubflyersprints com  on May 14, 2016

I’d have to examine with you here. Which is not one thing I usually do! I take pleasure in reading a post that may make folks think. Additionally, thanks for permitting me to comment!


Health and Beauty  on May 15, 2016

Thanks a lot for sharing this with all of us you really know what you are talking about! Bookmarked. Please also visit my site =). We could have a link exchange agreement between us!


Beauty bloggers  on May 15, 2016

Howdy would you mind letting me know which hosting company you’re using? I’ve loaded your blog in 3 different browsers and I must say this blog loads a lot quicker then most. Can you suggest a good internet hosting provider at a fair price? Many thanks, I appreciate it!


Vanna Mleczko  on May 15, 2016

certainly like your website but you need to check the spelling on several of your posts. Several of them are rife with spelling issues and I to find it very troublesome to tell the truth nevertheless I¦ll certainly come again again.


Rikki Rieper  on May 15, 2016

Some genuinely interesting points you have written.Assisted me a lot, just what I was searching for : D.


University of Petra  on May 15, 2016

F*ckin’ awesome things here. I am very happy to look your article. Thanks a lot and i am taking a look forward to touch you. Will you kindly drop me a mail?


cure for hepatitis  on May 16, 2016

It’s really a great and helpful piece of info. I am glad that you shared this helpful information with us. Please keep us informed like this. Thank you for sharing.


nadex trading signals  on May 18, 2016

Saved as a favorite, I really like your blog!


tiendas ropa interior femenina  on May 18, 2016

Your method of explaining everything in this piece of writing is actually nice, all can without difficulty be aware of it, Thanks a lot.
tiendas ropa interior femenina


subway surf  on May 20, 2016

You can certainly see your enthusiasm in the work you write. The arena hopes for more passionate writers such as you who aren’t afraid to say how they believe. Always go after your heart.


boots with fur  on May 20, 2016

There are definitely lots of details like that to take into consideration. That could be a nice level to bring up. I provide the ideas above as common inspiration however clearly there are questions like the one you carry up the place the most important factor will probably be working in honest good faith. I don?t know if best practices have emerged around issues like that, but I’m sure that your job is clearly recognized as a good game. Both boys and girls really feel the impression of only a second’s pleasure, for the remainder of their lives.


truc tiep bong da  on May 20, 2016

I am lucky that I discovered this web site, exactly the right info that I was searching for! .


work from home 2016  on May 21, 2016

I will right away take hold of your rss as I can’t to find your email subscription hyperlink or e-newsletter service. Do you have any? Kindly let me realize so that I could subscribe. Thanks.


Google  on May 23, 2016

The info mentioned in the write-up are a number of the most beneficial obtainable.


hampton bay ceiling fan remote  on May 23, 2016

Nice post. I learn something more challenging on different blogs everyday. It will always be stimulating to read content from other writers and practice a little something from their store. I’d prefer to use some with the content on my blog whether you don’t mind. Natually I’ll give you a link on your web blog. Thanks for sharing.


4x6 Club Flyer Deals  on May 25, 2016

My partner and I absolutely love your blog and find almost all of your post’s to be precisely what I’m looking for. Do you offer guest writers to write content for you? I wouldn’t mind composing a post or elaborating on a lot of the subjects you write related to here. Again, awesome weblog!


Club Flyer Deals  on May 25, 2016

Pretty section of content. I just stumbled upon your blog and in accession capital to assert that I get in fact enjoyed account your blog posts. Any way I will be subscribing to your feeds and even I achievement you access consistently rapidly.


Club Flyers Deals 4x6  on May 25, 2016

I’m still learning from you, while I’m making my way to the top as well. I absolutely liked reading everything that is posted on your website.Keep the tips coming. I loved it!


ropa interior mujer  on May 25, 2016

Excellent blog here! Also your site loads up fast! What web host are you using? Can I get your affiliate link to your host? I wish my site loaded up as quickly as yours lol


Print EDDM  on May 25, 2016

so much great info on here, : D.


EDDM Postcard Print  on May 25, 2016

You could certainly see your enthusiasm within the work you write. The arena hopes for even more passionate writers like you who are not afraid to say how they believe. Always follow your heart.


Anneliese  on May 25, 2016

I think this is among the most important information for me.
And i’m glad reading your article. But want to remark on few general
things, The website style is wonderful, the articles is
really excellent : D. Good job, cheers

my blog post: garcinia cambogia journal - Anneliese -


Print EDDM  on May 25, 2016

It’s actually a great and helpful piece of information. I am glad that you shared this helpful information with us. Please keep us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.


key west trolley tour  on May 25, 2016

I truly enjoy examining on this site, it has great blog posts.


trolley tour in key west  on May 26, 2016

Somebody essentially help to make seriously articles I would state. This is the first time I frequented your website page and thus far? I surprised with the research you made to create this particular publish amazing. Wonderful job!


trolley tour in key west  on May 26, 2016

You need to participate in a contest for probably the greatest blogs on the web. I’ll suggest this web site!


55printing club flyer  on May 26, 2016

Wow, incredible blog layout! How long have you been blogging for? you made blogging look easy. The overall look of your site is fantastic, let alone the content!


55printing club flyers  on May 26, 2016

Thanks for this post, I am a big fan of this site would like to keep updated.


average homeowners insurance rates by zip code  on May 26, 2016

Good write-up, I am regular visitor of one’s website, maintain up the excellent operate, and It is going to be a regular visitor for a lengthy time.

gravatar  on May 26, 2016

I like this internet site because so much utile material on here : D.


high heel shoes  on May 27, 2016

I am glad for writing to make you understand of the amazing experience my cousin’s child experienced viewing your web site. She came to understand several issues, with the inclusion of how it is like to have a marvelous coaching mood to make other people completely comprehend some hard to do topics. You truly exceeded her expectations. Thank you for delivering such warm and friendly, dependable, revealing and even easy tips about the topic to Mary.


ageless male review  on May 27, 2016

An interesting dialogue is price comment. I believe that you should write more on this matter, it might not be a taboo topic but usually individuals are not enough to speak on such topics. To the next. Cheers


boligalarmnorge  on May 27, 2016

Neglect it, as you will almost certainly get muscle along the way as you
lose fat which signifies some added weight.

Also visit my weblog boligalarmnorge


Jason  on May 27, 2016

I am sure this paragraph has touched all the
internet visitors, its really really fastidious piece of writing on building up new web site.


muscle rev xtreme reviews  on May 27, 2016

I was just seeking this information for a while. After six hours of continuous Googleing, at last I got it in your website. I wonder what’s the lack of Google strategy that do not rank this kind of informative web sites in top of the list. Normally the top websites are full of garbage.


nike air max 90 current moire grey  on May 27, 2016

I precisely wanted to thank you so much once again. I’m not certain the things I would’ve implemented without the actual suggestions documented by you on this area. It was actually a very scary circumstance in my view, nevertheless noticing the very well-written avenue you processed that took me to leap for fulfillment. Now i’m happier for the advice as well as have high hopes you recognize what an amazing job you’re getting into teaching some other people thru your webblog. Probably you have never encountered any of us.


Geek News  on May 27, 2016

one of our visitors recently advised the following website


car detail san diego  on May 27, 2016

the time to study or stop by the content or web sites we’ve linked to beneath the


All City Lock  on May 27, 2016

Another type of locksmith service exists to help the house along with business owners.

Here is my homepage - All City Lock


Jeramy  on May 27, 2016

If you wish for to obtain a good deal from this piece of writing then you
have to apply such techniques to your won webpage.

my website - garcinia cambogia and diabetes (Jeramy)


latest android apps  on May 27, 2016

Hey I know this is off topic but I was wondering if you knew
of any widgets I could add to my blog that automatically tweet my newest twitter updates.
I’ve been looking for a plug-in like this for quite some time and was hoping maybe you would have some experience with something like this.
Please let me know if you run into anything. I truly enjoy reading your blog and I look
forward to your new updates.


coffee from kona  on May 28, 2016

very couple of sites that occur to be detailed beneath, from our point of view are undoubtedly well really worth checking out


Clay Tempered katana  on May 28, 2016

SUPER fast shipping!!!!! Great item!!!!! Thank you!!!!!!!


salomon s lab  on May 28, 2016

I was recommended this web site by my cousin. I am not sure whether this post is written by him as no one else know such detailed about my difficulty. You are amazing! Thanks!


fitness  on May 29, 2016

just beneath, are numerous absolutely not related sites to ours, however, they are certainly worth going over


car detail san diego  on May 30, 2016

check beneath, are some completely unrelated internet sites to ours, however, they may be most trustworthy sources that we use


anal bondage  on May 30, 2016

free animal sex pics


Kiersten  on May 30, 2016

I just could not depart your site before suggesting that I
extremely enjoyed the standard info a person provide for your visitors?
Is gonna be again often in order to check out
new posts


real estate agencies  on May 30, 2016

Here are several of the web pages we advise for our visitors


sale house  on May 30, 2016

the time to read or check out the subject material or sites we have linked to beneath the


hack instagram followers  on May 30, 2016

I want to be in a position to draw in real men and women to my photography but if I go private the possible
to acquire new followers is out of date.

My website … hack instagram followers


Web Wealth System Scam  on May 31, 2016

Every when inside a although we choose blogs that we read. Listed beneath are the most up-to-date web-sites that we opt for

Leave a Comment