|Saturday, 7 February 2004|
Personality of the Week - Josephine Simao
by Ilica Malkanthi Karunaratne
Here recently, on a private visit, was the Foreign Minister of Mozambique, Mr. Simao, with his junoesque wife, Josephine, who is our personality this week. She carries herself like an African Princess, with an abundance of regal grace.
She is from Senegal, and met her husband, on one of his travels as Foreign Minister, in a very romantic setting. High up in the air, on a flight. It is a fantastic way of meeting man of your dreams and to have the mutual feeling of wanting to spend the rest of one's lives together. The name Mozambique, to me, conjures a vision of an exotic Paradise, ablaze with colour and rhythm. I was eager to hear about Mozambique, from Josephine, as it is now her country, as it is her husband's. 'Whither thou goest, I will go, thy people will be my people'.
"Mozambique has often been described as a land of peace and promise. The Portugese explorer, Vasco da Gamma, first landed on its coastal shores in 1498. At first, Portugese colonial occupation, was limited to the coastal areas of the country, where it gradually replaced Arab influence. But effective occupation of Mozambique by Portugal, began in 1885. The official language is Portugese, but there are several dialects of the country too.
The country has a wonderful President, Joaquim Chissano, who ensures freedom of the press, freedom of economic activity and freedom of movement for both people and goods. Our closest neighbours are South Africa, Tanzania, Malawi and Zimbabwe which are English speaking countries. The medium of instruction in schools is Portugese, but English and French are taught too.
What made you visit Sri Lanka? "I am a business woman. I wanted to see your country and contact people who are involved in the production and processing of all products based on coconut, as I intend to start this industry in Mozambique. I was told that Sri Lanka was wellknown for their expertise in all aspects of coconut production.
We are the guests of Mr. Chandra Senanayake, here and have visited his factories, which produce both peat and activated carbon.
I am very interested in peat, made from the coconut husk, which is known as the worlds best, to grow plants because of its high level of moisture retention. We visited the De Silva Mills too, which produce desiccated coconut and coconut oil. I would also like to go into the possibilities of producing fabric from coconut fibre."
What other products does your country produce? "Our natural resources are coal, natural gas, titanium, hydro power, graphite and our main exports are, prawns, cashews, cotton, sugar, timber and bulk electricity. Many people are Christians, stemming from the Portugese influence and others are Muslims, due to the Arab influence."
What about food customs? "There is a lot of similarity with your country as we use a lot of coconut milk in our food. We eat a fair amount of rice with curries which have coconut milk and a common favourite is 'Oosha', a kind of maize, ground and made into dumplings which are eaten with a soup made of ground peanuts, coconut milk and spices. This is perhaps why I enjoyed your food and didn't find it strange.
We cook rice in milk. I hear you do this too, and call it 'kiribath'".
How did you adapt to life in Mozambique as you were born and brought up in Senegal? "African culture is very similar, so it was not unfamiliar, and besides, this is where my heart was and I wanted to be. Senegal was a french colony; we spoke French and I went to University in France, where I did my degree in Political Science."
Josephine has a certain Parisian chic about her in her style of dress, probably through her years in France. Although she did her degree in Political Science and is married to one who was Minister of Health for six years and has been Minister of Foreign Affairs for nine years, she stresses that she leaves politics to her husband and doesn't get involved in it at all. In life, each one of us must follow our own instincts and our own star.
Life gallops by, and if one doesn't grasp the good times, the bright interludes, ones soul can shrivel and life can become grey and monotonous.
"I'm fortunate in my husband, he is a wonderful man and no male chauvinist. He wants me to be my own person; doesn't expect me to sit at home and twiddle my thumbs, being nothing except a house wife. I accompany him when he travels abroad.
He encourages my own career and my independence, and has been a great support. Fortunately, we have domestic help and I ensure that our home runs on oiled wheels, although my office is elsewhere. I work in real estate and in Imports and Exports. I get contractors to build houses and sell them and deal in everything that goes into a house like furniture and interior decor.
I love reading and dancing, I think all Africans love music and dancing. I enjoy cooking too, although lack of time doesn't permit me to indulge in this hobby too often."
From our chat, I learned the Mozambique offers an unique cultural and historical heritage, together with tropical beaches, coral reefs, spectacular landscapes and rich architecture.
Mozambique's distinct local style, consists of a vibrant blend of African. Arab and Portugese influence and thus provides a refreshing contrast to other countries in Southern Africa.
The people of Mozambique are said to have a passion for life, visible from their modern bustling streets, pulsating night life, colourful markets and fishing villages.
Their pristine coast is one of the few unexplored pleasures of the Indian Ocean and has a dazzling display of marine life. They also have a town called 'Baira', probably owing its name to Portugese influence, like 'Beira' lake.
They have vast National Parks and animals that can be viewed there, range from leopard, lion, buffalo, elephant, hippo, waterbuck to kudu and sable.
The remnants of Mediterranean charm are said to have lived on in cultural traditions imbued in colonial times and food served in restaurants have taken on a Afro - Portugese flavour. Night clubs specialize in music with a latin beat, as western pop gives form to the verve and snap innate to Mozambicans, whose warmth, exuberance and liveliness are well-known.
They have a rich artistic tradition and produce some of the finest art and sculpture in Africa. Coming from a Paradise such as this I wondered what impressions Josephine had of our country?
"Your people are very warm and hospitable and I felt instantly at home. I didn't feel like a stranger. Your beaches are absolutely beautiful and the food everywhere, in hotels and homes was delicious. I am taking back several gemstones for which your country is famous. I have bought sapphires, rubies and diamonds.
I shall be back, as I have lots more to learn about the processing of various products of coconut." Josephine is a woman of great and steely determination, who has natural flowing grace and individual style-all her very own.
I count myself singularly fortunate to have got this interview, as she tells me that she has refused to be interviewed ever before.
Produced by Lake House