MAPUTO, Mozambique - On sweaty summer nights in this tropical East African port, people searching for relief can go to A Fofoca Pub. A sticky sea breeze staggers through the open windows, and the pub's prized satellite television offers patrons news of places much cooler - such as Wisconsin, the site of last week's Democratic presidential primary.
When a customer shouted that he saw U.S. Sen. John Kerry on the screen,
heads turned to focus on a CNN report about the Democratic front-runner's
wooing Midwestern voters. People looked not so much to see the lanky senator
as to get a glimpse of his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, the woman they
affectionately call "Mozambique's daughter."
It's a title Mozambicans bestow proudly, perhaps because it's how Heinz
Kerry sees herself, too.
On the campaign trail, Heinz Kerry has many ways to introduce herself: She
is a senator's wife, an heir to the Heinz family fortune, a celebrated
philanthropist, an environmentalist, a feminist and now a possible first lady.
But Heinz Kerry, 65 and never one to conform to anyone's expectations,
surprises audiences by introducing herself as someone much simpler - a girl
born and raised far away in the African savannah, a land she calls "her
Growing up in the Portuguese colony of Mozambique, she learned if you swam
at dawn or dusk you could get eaten by crocodiles or sharks, as she recently
told a group of high school students in New Hampshire. Speaking to a largely
African-American congregation at a Baptist church in Detroit, she said she saw
first-hand the horrors of racial segregation in apartheid South Africa, and as
a college student there marched against the white-minority government. To
health-care workers, she fondly recalled being inspired by her father, a
Portuguese doctor, waking up before dawn at their weekend country cottage to
help him treat poor black villagers suffering from disease and lacking the
most basic health care.
"I learned that [even] if I had to be in a little rondavel" - a hut - "in
Africa with a cement floor and a thatched roof and I was caring for people, I
would be supremely happy," she told a group of nurses last month in Concord,
Maybe she would have indeed been happy in those circumstances, but
Mozambique's daughter has strayed far - physically if not emotionally - from
her African roots.
She left Mozambique more than four decades ago, first for South Africa,
where as an energetic, church-going teen-ager she attended boarding school,
then for Geneva to study languages at a translation school, before coming to
America in the 1960s to marry Pennsylvania millionaire and future U.S. Sen.
John Heinz III. (He died in a plane crash in 1991; she married Kerry in 1995.)
Instead of a thatch-roof hut, she can choose to sleep in any one of her
numerous homes, including a ski lodge in Idaho and an estate in Pittsburgh.
She owns her own jet, manages a fortune equal to nearly a quarter of
Mozambique's annual Gross Domestic Product and moves in a pampered world of
high-society dinners and fund-raisers. In this world, Africa is a faraway
place to which the wealthy send checks to battle AIDS or hunger.
It's hard to imagine what she has in common with people in one of the
poorest nations on Earth. Even her memories would strike residents here as
hopelessly out of touch with the country's hardships.
In her speeches and writings, Heinz Kerry recalls an idealized world - her
hanging upside down from guava trees in her back yard, chasing snakes and
bugs, contemplating the balance between nature and human beings while sitting
under the starry night skies. The scenes seem torn from The Lion King or Out
Which is not to say she didn't witness hardships here. Her family lived in
under a dictatorship in which free speech was not allowed. Following her
father as he made rounds, she glimpsed the dismal world of black Mozambicans
living under the thumb of Portuguese colonialists.
But to many Mozambicans, Heinz Kerry's Africa is not theirs.
After she left, Mozambique slid into three decades of armed struggle -
first against Portuguese colonial rule, and then, after independence, in a
murderous civil war stoked by South African apartheid forces. More than a
million people perished during the fighting.
Thousands of white colonialists - including Heinz Kerry's parents - fled
the country's Marxist revolution, losing cars, homes and life savings. The
nation's economy collapsed, and more than a decade after embracing capitalism
and democracy, the country is still struggling to get back on its feet.
Like many former white residents of Mozambique, Heinz Kerry has never
returned here. She has no friends or relatives here, nor any desire to visit.
"I have basically not wanted to go back home since, because I just didn't want
to see all the kind of changes," she says.
Which makes Heinz Kerry's desire to speak about her African upbringing
publicly all the more puzzling for Mozambicans.
"We are proud she is a daughter of the land," says Neo Simbine, 75, a
retired black nurse who worked with Heinz Kerry's father. "But you have to
live what you say. If she really loves Mozambique and has lots of money, why
doesn't she build us a hospital?"
Through the Heinz Family Foundation, Heinz Kerry has done some giving in
Mozambique, including a contribution to a Save the Children program there to
help children deal with the trauma of war. Heinz Kerry would give more, a
spokeswoman for the foundation says, if she were more confident the money
would be managed properly.
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