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Mozambique's Daughter

Present-day Africa no longer matches Teresa Heinz Kerry's memories of her childhood there.

February 24, 2004|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

Raema Sikanda, a nurse who worked at the cancer clinic with Heinz Kerry's father, says she remembers him leaving without any notice. "One day he was not at work. He did not say goodbye," she says.

Heinz Kerry's parents eventually settled in Portugal, where her father reopened his medical practice. He died in 1989. Her mother died in 1997 at Heinz Kerry's home in Pennsylvania.

The cancer clinic that Heinz Kerry's father founded in Maputo is still open today. The manicured lawns are overgrown with weeds, the radiology equipment is long broken, leaving the patients with no treatment choice other than chemotherapy.

Last week, a toddler with a facial tumor the size of a baseball was wandering the hallways. He is one of 16 children at the clinic suffering from cancer who lack adequate treatment, said Laura Velouro, 53, a nurse who also once worked with Heinz Kerry's father.

Her family's childhood home is also still standing overlooking the Indian Ocean, next to the Ministry of Defense. It is used for office space.

Heinz Kerry's decision to not return despite clearly having the means to do so is not unusual among many former residents of Mozambique. "They have idealized memory of history," says Marta Vilar Rosales, 34, an anthropologist from the University of Lisbon studying the personal histories of Portuguese colonialists. "These people don't want to lose the idealist view of what happened to the country. They wouldn't be happy to come here."

Most of the Portuguese who lived through the revolution in Mozambique remain angry with the government that took over, says Dieckmann, Heinz Kerry's childhood friend. "Her mother and father lost everything and didn't receive any compensation. Of course, she is pissed off," he said.

Still, some Mozambicans don't understand how Heinz Kerry can speak publicly about her love for Africa and yet refuse to visit.

"There are changes I'm not content with either," says Neo Simbine, the retired nurse who worked at the clinic. "I don't like to see garbage in the street. As a nurse, I studied cholera, but never saw it. Now it's here. What's bad is bad.

"There are people who can come back and take it. They make peace with the changes. Others cannot."

Muddied roots

If Heinz Kerry's relationship with Africa remains confusing to Mozambicans today, it may not be much clearer to many Americans

Officially, she is an American citizen. "But my roots are African," she told a reporter in 1995. "The birds I remember, the fruits I ate, the trees I climbed, they're African."

Other times, she straddles the divide, calling herself "African American," as she did in 1993, touching off a storm of criticism. Her spokesman defended the reference, saying she used the term without a hyphen. "African-hyphen-American belongs to blacks," the spokesman said.

Whatever she chooses to call herself, she would be the second foreign-born first lady if John Kerry is elected president. The first was Louisa Catherine Adams, wife of John Quincy Adams, who was born in London to an English mother and American father. Political enemies sometimes called her English.

Heinz Kerry would likely not take offense if the Republicans sometimes called her Mozambican.

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