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Last Updated: Monday, 24 November, 2003, 21:46 GMT
Sorrow and triumph in Mozambique
By Emma Thompson
British actress and Aids activist

Emma Thompson, British actor and Aids activist with child in Mozambique
Ms Thompson met many Aids orphans on her trip

British Oscar-winning film star and Aids activist Emma Thompson went to Mozambique as ActionAid's international ambassador. These are extracts from her diary.

Monday 23 June 2003

On the plane to Johannesburg. I'm excited. If I see the work at first-hand, I can beg for money with a bit more confidence.

Wednesday 25 June 2003

Our last visit of the day feels by far the most hopeless. André is 31 and is married to 21 year-old Rosa.

We've seen Mozambican society in a tall, thin slice, from the grassroots to the seat of power, and in every part found terrible sorrows cheek-by-jowl with enormous personal triumphs
Emma Thompson
He has a three year old, and five other foster-children, all from siblings who have died of Aids.

The last few years have crippled him financially and emotionally.

Andre enquired about social security and says two gentlemen did come from the department, looked around and said they were probably eligible for subsidy. They then left and nothing's been heard since.

André and Rosa, already demoralised, haven't the confidence or know-how to follow this up.

Getting enough food on the table for the family is hard enough - sometimes it runs out, and then the eldest orphan runs away for a few days. They do not know where. So far, he has always returned.

Thursday 26 June 2003

Bernardino points at Amelia and says "then she says I go out and get Aids". Amelia shrugs.

Emma Thompson, British actor and Aids activist with woman in Mozambique
The actress met people ranging from the poor to the president
She's clearly accused Bernardino in the past of sexual infidelity and suddenly we seem to be at the centre of the dispute.

"I'm out all day with the cattle, and grazing them in the evening - when am I supposed to be catching Aids?"

This theme continues when we arrive, an hour or so later, at the Stepping Stones Community meeting - about 30 women under one tree and 30 men under another, neighbouring tree.

With Amelia's story in my mind, I ask a bold question. "Do you think men's behaviour must change in order to get to grips with this disease?" All the women shout in the affirmative, whilst the men, looking comically shifty, aver their innocence and loyalty.

Friday 27 June 2003

Back in the car, I clean my hands and feet carefully and change from Birkenstocks into white sandals. All in honour of Graça Machel, the widow of Samora Machel, President (1975-1986) murdered in 1986, and now married to Nelson Mandela.

Graça is like a leopard dressed in Chanel. Unbelievably vital, graceful and authoritative, she expresses every problem perfectly.

Saturday 28 June 2003

We stop at an old ActionAid project, a school where the community have gathered to greet us.

Emma Thompson, British actor and ActionAid international ambassador in Mozambique
Ms Thompson hoped her visit would boost the work of ActionAid
A man apologises for crying yet again upon ActionAid's shoulder, but there are no basic services, and no tools with which to repair things.

I stand watching and listening, wondering how many of them have eaten today.

After describing the situation, he says he'll stop because they have a saying in their tribe - if you bang a drum too much you can break the skin.

We leave, all much cast-down by the difficulties faced by people living so far from any kind of infrastructure and without transport.

Sunday 29 June 2003

Back in Quelimane, we visited a family of nine orphans. Stella, Paito, Keiki, Blandina, Eo, Isaiah, Marni, Alesta and Hamid lost their father in 1997 and their mother in 2002.

They live with their mother's sister, whose husband left when he found out how his sister-in-law died.

I ask the 10-year-old Stella if she has to look after her brothers and sisters. "Yes," she says. "Actually, I would like to be a nurse, because a nurse helps the sick."

Stella didn't have money for her school uniform and was thrown out of school. She went and found the director and said "you should come and see how we live - then you can chuck me out".

She was reinstated.

Monday 30 June 2003

The president is in a big room with two aides and two flags. At first, he's very ceremonial, an elderly but valiant-looking Mozambican in a formal suit.

We talk about peace, then HIV/Aids and suddenly find ourselves discussing sex.

I remark upon what a very sexy place Mozambique is, upon which he brightens immediately.

I say the problem with making love wearing a condom is it's not that nice. He says no, of course, love is so much better when it's spontaneous.

Making love with a condom is like eating a banana with the skin on.

Then he tells me not to repeat him and that eating a banana with the skin on is very nice too!

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