Kaninmambo, Mozambique!

One girl's misadventures studying abroad in Maputo, Mozambique.

Date: 4th July 2016

Travels in the North: Day 12

When my alarm went off at five today, I momentarily forgot that I was meant to be going bird watching. It was a struggle to drag myself out of bed and into the cold dawn air but I was rewarded Ibo style with a peaceful view of the mangroves and a sky the colour of rose petals. People get up with the light here and there were a few women carrying buckets on their heads down the main street, already on their way back from the water pumps.


It was my first time birdwatching with a guide and it was intense; we (I was tagging along with an South African family who were staying at the lodge) were out for only two hours but we managed to see over twenty five species. I don’t know if that is a lot but it certainly felt like it. Our guide seemed very knowledgable, indeed and knew rhymes which mimic the calls of birds e.g. ‘little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheese’ in both English and his native language, Shona. I was completely out of my depth as I was able to identify nothing apart from sparrows and bee eaters which I’ve spent many afternoons watching in the shade of the Indian Almond tree at the fort.

At one point, we found ourselves walking on an old, fossilized reef and came upon a gigantic clam the same size as a suitcase buried in the earth.

The highlight of the expedition had to be the view we got of the Gorgeous Bush Shrike, which is an aptly named little bird of near-kaleidoscopic colouring.

The full ‘list’ (for Father) as follows:

Woolly-Necked Stork

Klaas’s Cuckoo

Burchell’s Coucal

Emerald-Spotted Wood Dove

Red-Faced Mouse Bird

Mangrove Kingfisher (r)

Little Bee Eater

Lilac-Breasted Roller

African Hoopoe

Cardinal Woodpecker

Madagascar Bee-Eater (r)

Black Headed Oriole (heard only)

Dark-Capped Bulbul

Sombre Greebul

Black-Throated Apalis

Brown-Breasted Barbet

Black-Throated Wattle Eye

Black-Backed Puff-Back

Gorgeous Bush Shrike

Sacred Ibis

Purple-Banded Sun Bird

Scarlet-Chested Sun Bird

Blue Wax Bill

Black-Crowned Tchagra

Spectacled Weaver

Green-Winged Pytilia

Yellow-Faced Canary (sic)

Red-Capped Robin Chat (sic)

Hardihars (sic)

The rest of the morning was spent at the fort, leisurely finishing my final piece of jewellery. We had run out of lemon so we cleaned it with azedo (dried green mango). A large group of Italians came into the fort which provoked a flurry of activity and ‘muzungo-ing’. True to Sulemao’s national stereotypes, they refused to pay the 60p entry and instead sat in the entrance talking loudly before they finally left in their Jeep. Bizarre.

I went straight over to Cadria’s house after leaving the fort and, after she brought a plastic chair out of the house and firmly told me to sit in it (she sat on the ground – I wondered whether this was the colonial mindset still rearing its ugly head, but hoped it was merely Mozambican hospitality), we set to cleaning the fish she had bought the day before. She showed me how to cut off the spines and the fins and we chatted about this and that until her husband suddenly called out,


“I’ll be back in a bit,” she said and disappeared for fifteen minutes as she ran an errand for him. This is the Mozambican patriarchy in action. (I have noticed that the women on Ibo refer to both husbands and fathers in the same way: Dono – which loosely translates to Master. Make of that what you will.)

In her cooking hut in the garden, Cadria showed me how to cook peixe toxada which is basically a simple fish stew of tomatos and onions, flavoured with the azedo which adds a lemony sourness and something else very savoury; it is mouthwateringly good. We also cooked a xima the proper way and all this specially for me because they were all fasting.

A worried looking chicken inspects the kitchen.

A worried looking chicken inspects the kitchen.

“Now you can go back to your country and cook this for your mother (I am officially a spinster in her eyes and therefore have nothing better to do but cook for my mother) ,” she said, giggling. She’s always laughing which I like.

I ate with her brother-in-law who is also not muslim, seated on a rush mat outside the house. We ate with our hands as is the custom and competed with twenty mad chickens who were all desperate to get a beak into the xima too. Cadria ended up having to run about with a stick and shoo them away, but every time she managed to beat some back, four others would sneak up from somewhere else. This resulted in great hilarity and many disgruntled feathers.


She called me ‘Dona Eleanor’ (again, I don’t know whether this is a respectful form of address reserved for people you are still getting to know or what). I instantly corrected her, “Not Dona, just Eleanor. Or amiga Eleanor.”

I wondered what she must think of me. A girl only two years her junior, travelling alone, unmarried when she has already been married eight years. Unable to chop wood in the proper way (I have never seen such deftly produced kindling), not knowing how to cook xima or how to de-spine a fish. It was obvious I had never done a days work in my life when she gets up at four am everyday to go to the mosque and from five until seven she fetches water and does the laundry. Then she goes to the market to do the shopping, then she cleans the house, then does the cooking, looks after the children, then this, then that… Without a bite to eat or even a drop of water. Then it was nine o’clock and her bedtime. Not long to rest before it all begins again.

She rang her mother and father and got me to speak to both of them on the phone. I tried to ask all of the right questions – how are you? How’s your health? I explained Cadria was teaching me to cook toxada. They barely said a word, the mother just made little gasping noises like she couldn’t believe she was actually speaking to a muzungo, but then again, perhaps it was just that she couldn’t speak Portuguese.


Preparing mandioca.

Despite the formality, it still felt surprisingly convivial – I washed up, tried to help with the cooking, attempted to chop wood before she laughed at me and took the axe away… It was sweet and just a little bit uncomfortable. I wanted to be Cadria’s friend not her ‘Dona’, so I made a big show of calling her my ‘teacher’ and ‘amiga’ which she seemed to like and I thanked her profusely for her hospitality as we left the house and she walked me back to Miti Miwiri.

We discussed the preparation of the cakes for Eid. Then we said goodbye and she went in for the parting kiss which had caught me by surprise before. She took my face in both hands, leant right in and kissed my neck, just below the ear, on both sides. I explained that in England we kiss on the cheek and so we did that as well and finally, with all the kissing over, we went our separate ways.

It was a really special day. I knew I made the right decision staying until Eid. This is what I have been craving since arriving in Mozambique – simple, country living. Cooking xima over fires surrounded by chickens. And I feel both humbled and extremely privileged that Cadria has invited me into her world like this when it would be so easy for us to shut ourselves away. She has so little and yet what she does have, she shares with me. How on earth do I repay that? Some people wonder what you give someone who has everything; isn’t it just as hard deciding what to give someone who has nothing?

Travels in the North: Day 11

Back to the fort. Jorg has started referring to me as ‘The Artist’ which makes my head swell terribly. Every time I get in in the evening he asks to see what I have made.

“It looks just like it was made on Ibo!”, he declares. Well, it was.

When I arrive at the fort, Sulemao greets me with a tupperware of rice doughnuts.

“I had my wife make you these bolos de arroz,” he says and beams at me. I begin to thank him (again) and, after a moment of deliberation – (Should I eat one? But I’m not hungry. I’ve just had breakfast. Will it seem rude to leave them until later? Or is it rude to eat in front of them when they’re fasting? ) I eat one dutifully, making appreciative noises. They aren’t bad, similar texture to the inside of a crumpet but sweet and well, ricey. I’m touched that he should have thought of me like this.

He reminds me that I am going over to his house to cook with his wife on Monday. I volunteer to make a Victoria Sponge (Cake exchange?) and instantly wonder how on earth I was going cook a Victoria Sponge over a charcoal fire. I attempt to explain what a Victoria Sponge is. They lose interest quickly.

“You can teach her how to make English cakes,” says Sulemao. “They will be better than hers.”

I suddenly wonder if I’m in line to be second wife.

The day progresses more slowly than usual. I am starting a big project from scratch which means making wire. This is a laborious and irritating task when using the usual equipment but we did not have the usual equipment and instead had to push against bits of metal with our feet whilst pulling the wire through tiny perforations. It was backbreaking.

On the upside, I got to assist Sulemao with casting an ingot into a length of palm wood.

On the upside, I got to assist Sulemao with casting an ingot into a length of palm wood.

A rather portly Portuguese man walked into the fort. He only greeted me (this is actually not uncommon for white tourists). The silver smiths talked excitedly amongst themselves and I asked what they are saying.

“Very fat muzungo!” said the one with the club foot.

Sulemao started talking about America.

“The Americans have many weapons,” he said, “Americans like war. They don’t have machambas (vegetable patches), in America they have munitions factories.”

How true.

Later, as we walk home, Sulemao continues to give me his version of national stereotypes.

“Australians have a lot of money. So do the English. They never ask for a discount. But the Italians and the Portuguese…! They are never happy paying for anything. They hate paying. They always argue. I tell them, I’m an artist, but they don’t care. The Spanish are the same. They try to rob you.”

I don’t know whether it’s a compliment or not to be considered ‘rich’. It probably isn’t beneficial so I try to explain that the Portuguese and the Italians are not poor, just mean. I don’t know whether he gets it.

Travels in the North: Day 10

Not having any rocks to crack or baskets to weave (two important activities on Ibo), I decided to go back to the fort. I took the back-route through the village of reed, mud and stone huts, enjoying the shade cast by the mango trees; it was only nine in the morning but it was already hot. A man with a wheelbarrow appeared.

“I can take Misses to the fort in this,” he said and gestured to the wheelbarrow.

I did my best ‘surprised/amused’ “Eeeeeeesh!” noise and swung my head round in the customary manner (this gesture is as typical here as the shrug is in France), hoping to communicate something along the lines of “You’ve gotta be kidding!”, though for a moment I did wonder how the others would react if I turned up in a wheelbarrow… I was reminded of one of Mia Couto’s stories in Vozes Anoitecidas when the eccentric Goan insists on riding through the bush perched perilously on the back of a bicycle peddled by his man servant as if it were still 1910 and the bicycle was a sedan chair.

The guy with the wheelbarrow looked disappointed with my response or perhaps he was just trying to work out whether the muzungo had a nervous twitch or was in fact mad (I’m still not confident in my ability to judge the ‘Eeeeesh!’ and it isn’t exactly a discreet gesture if you do get it wrong).


Bundles of thatching material (?) outside a house.

Anyway, I eventually arrived (on my own two feet) at the fort. Sulemao and the others were surprised to see me and I explained all about the weather situation. Sulemao nodded vigorously and said that it was much better that I’d decided to stay.

“You should only go to sea when absolutely necessary,” he said, and proceeded to tell me a long story about how he had been ship wrecked once whilst on the way to another island.

“I swam for 45 minutes until the tide went out and then we all walked home. I said I’d never go to sea again.”

I sat down next to him and before I could tell him what I’d like to make, he had deposited a load of hoops in front of me and about fifty silver squares.

“Put them all together,” he told me and handed me a pair of pliers. And so for the following seven hours I sat painstakingly wired a bracelet together. This was my first experience of making chains and chain mail and it was as utterly repetitive and fiddly as I had expected but I did enjoy it in a peculiar way. The constant burble of kimwani combined with the repetition of the work made for a rather therapeutic atmosphere. Occasionally, they switched into Portuguese to ask me something.

Another new creation.

Another new creation.

Sulemao tried on my glasses and we had the conventional chat comparing our descriptions (funny, how glasses-wearers always do this, no matter where they are from in the world). The cheerful silver smith with the club foot interrupted us to declare that he was going to America to meet Obama (I believe this was wishful thinking).

Sulemao then began complaining about the battery he had taken out of his phone.

“Made in China,” he said in a thick kimwani accent. “I don’t get it. How can it be made in china if the phone was made somewhere else. These chinese, always rip you off.”

As he began licking the battery, I tried to explain that the separate parts would have come from different countries but I don’t think he was listening.

“Does it have any energy?” I asked, as he licked the battery again.

“Yep!” he said, with a grin.

Cadria got me to talk to her mum on the phone at one point, which was entertaining. And we made plans for me to go to her house on Sunday to see her cooking with dried, green mango which looks like bits of old leather and smells faintly of olives.

At lunch time, they all disappeared off to mosque, leaving me holding the fort… literally.

“You’re responsible now!” cackled the silver smith with the club foot.

I ran out of silver hoops and nearly fell asleep in the sun watching the bee eaters flying from the Indian Almond and back. Their gait is astonishingly delicate and they barely flap their wings, seeming to rely instead on the wind and thermal currents. As a result, their flight has a kind of fragility to it, almost like a paper plane.

A view I'll miss; light through the leaves of the Indian Almond tree.

A view I’ll miss; light through the leaves of the Indian Almond tree.

That afternoon, Sulemao showed me how they melt silver and make ingots, pouring the hot metal into a mold cut into a piece of green palm wood.

At around four, Cadria turned up with the beautiful peacock capulana that I had been admiring for so many days.

“I have nothing else to give you, so I give you this.” I could hardly believe it, I was so touched, and told her I would think very hard about what to give her in return. Nothing seems good enough.

I walked with Sulemao back through the town. He taught me some words in kimwani – road – barrabarra and baobab – lamba.

When we arrived back at Miti Miwiri, he suddenly launched into an anecdote about the woman who used to live in the house (Sulemao was born on the island and has lived here since independence in 1975).

“She used to sit at that very window and she had someone who she employed to go and bring her the mangoes which fell from the tree in front of the house. Whenever anyone else picked them up, this fellow would go running to her and tell her they were stealing her mangoes. She’d always call out then, “Are you the son of Cadril?”. If you said yes, she would let you take the mango home.”

Then he paused, “You must come over for dinner. Next Monday, I will tell my wife and you can come and cook with her during the day and see how it is done here.”

I thanked him profusely and we shook hands (I was going for the Mozambican handshake but perhaps he thought I was being frightfully European). He beamed at me and then turned and headed on up the hill.

I wonder how on earth I can thank these people for their generosity.

Travels in the North: Day 9

I had finally started to reconcile myself to the fact I was actually leaving the island when the news broke over breakfast that it was a no sail day due to strong winds. I was initially almost disappointed (I had begun to look forward to a night on a different island) but then it occurred to me that after so much to-ing and fro-ing in my plans, this was obviously a sign: I was MEANT to stay and not just for one night, this was Divine Intervention as far as I was concerned, which meant I should definitely stay to see the Eid celebrations. Jorg kindly offered me a room for a discounted price as “You’re a friend now”, and I went back upstairs with a spring in my step and unpacked everything again.

That afternoon I walked down to the old Portuguese cemetery which, fittingly, is totally neglected and overgrown, with one section of the thick wall completely collapsed. It seemed the perfect symbol of an extinct empire and, as I walked amongst the graves, I tried to imagine what it must have been like for these 19th century Portuguese inhabitants of Ibo. I wondered how those who emigrated here as part of the Portuguese crown’s failed immigration schemes had adapted to life on this strange isle which was once constantly under attack from the Dutch, French, English and Malagasy privateers? I thought about the old fort and how many people Salazar’s secret police had killed and buried in the mass graves under the coconut trees. How absurd and futile it had all been.


I walked back to town along the mud. A woman appeared out of the heat haze: she carried a bundle on her head and walked with her eyes closed as though she were sleep walking. I could hear a ghostly babble of kiwami issuing from the mangroves and the thud – thud – thud of someone pounding cassava leaves. The Catholic graveyard seemed suddenly even more incongruous; a strange corner of Portugal, populated only by corpses, stubbornly clinging on in the midst of this ancient island on the fringe of the Indian ocean.


That night, I told Muhammad, the guy in charge of organising the boat trips that I was staying on the island until Eid. He jumped up, laughing loudly and high-fived me. Then he apologized and explained he was very excited for Eid as it was the first time he’d ever managed to keep ‘Juju’ (fasting during Ramadan) and that he couldn’t wait to have a beer when it was all over. “My Mum’s Catholic.” He added.

“But really,” he said, suddenly serious. “I’m twenty-seven. It’s about time I showed my parents I was responsible enough to do ‘juju’. How am I meant to find a wife if I can’t do ‘juju’? I’m getting married. I’m going to go to Quirimba and find a wife. The women are pretty on Quirimba.”

I hoped they would have the right kind of women in stock when he got there.

Travels in the North: Day 8

It was with a heavy heart that I decided it was time to tear myself away from this wonderful place. Unfortunately I had a flight to catch and it was about time I embarked on the second leg of my journey and headed down to Ilha de Mocambique. I made plans to sail to Ilha Matemo on a dhow departing early the following morning, where I would spend the night sleeping in an A-frame on the beach, before sailing to the mainland and catching a chapa (groan) back to Pemba.

My last sun-drenched day in the fort was an entertaining one. An Australian couple had come to film Cadria making msiro (the white, face mask made of ground down msiro wood) and she put some on me too! I think she found it hilarious that it barely showed up on my skin.

Making msiro.

Making msiro.


She told me her little boy had cried after I left her house the day before,

“He said he wanted the muzungo to sleep over!” She said, laughing (again). I think I am a source of great amusement.

I said my goodbyes to everyone – Cadria was disappointed that I hadn’t given her more warning – “I wanted to give you something to remember me by, and you should have given me something too,” she said. There was something wonderfully old-fashioned about this sentiment and I was struck once again by the warmth of the Ibo islanders. We take so much for granted back at home, especially novelty; new experiences have become a kind of currency on social media, a way to rack up as many likes as possible. Here, I was confronted by such a different set of values. For Cadria, our meeting was a special and should be marked with a physical exchange of a gift, something to be treasured as much as the memory itself.

On my way home that evening, I passed a group of children sitting in a line on top of a wall cracking nuts. They waved at me with grubby hands as I went past. I had a last wander round town during the final hours of the golden afternoon – I was not ready to go!



One of the grandest ruins... if you look closely you can still see the paint work on the column on the left and the stencils on the walls. A stone basin sits atop the pile of rubble.

One of the grandest ruins… if you look closely you can still see the paint work on the column on the left and the stencils on the walls. A stone basin sits atop the pile of rubble.

Goodbye Ibo!

Goodbye Ibo!

Later that even, Sulemao turned up at the hotel with a bag of freshly roasted cashews. I don’t know whether you have ever tasted a cashew straight off the tree and freshly roasted. It is a fine thing. Similar to a roasted chestnut but with an almost peppery after taste.

“I thought you’d like these for the journey.” He said. “Travel well.”

I found myself astounded yet again at the warmth and generosity of him and Cadria. I thanked him profusely and headed upstairs.

Just as I turned on the landing and put my key into the lock of my door, I jumped. There, hanging from the ceiling just over my head, was a big, bulgy-eyed fruit bat. His snout quivered indignantly and I thought he bore a striking resemblance to a certain Italian greyhound I used to know. Was this the island’s parting gift?


Travels in the North: Day 7

Gripped by a sudden desire to be on my own and leave the bustle of town behind, I decided to go on a solo expedition to the lighthouse on the far North of the island. This walk is only to be undertaken at low tide and I was told by Jorg, the owner of my hotel, just to follow the path north as far as I could until I reached some mangroves.

“If it feels a bit dodgy, just do it, you’ll be heading in the right direction,” was his sound advice.

I stopped in at the fort on my way past to say hello to everyone, forgetting momentarily that I was immodestly dressed in shorts and a t-shirt. Cadria could barely meet my eyes and I kicked myself for not having anticipated her reaction: after our shopping trip the day before, my wearing shorts was almost insulting. I beat a hasty retreat hoping she would have forgotten all about it by the following day.

The sun was hot but the walk was thoroughly enjoyable. After passing through a village of mud huts with racks of fish drying in the sun and a makeshift boat yard where children played around the skeletons of dhows, I was soon into the bush, basking in the sun and the liquid burbling of sun birds and orioles.

The boat yard.

The boat yard.

Hard work!

Hard work!

The walk to the lighthouse was long (nearly six hours there and back) but it was well worth it: not only did I have my first experience of being inside a mangrove, though unfortunately there was not a dugong to be found, I also encountered some interesting island characters – the turbaned fisher women catching tiny silver fish in a net floated with flip flops, the lone spear-fisher in the distance who floated like an apparition out of the mangrove and who I would later ask for directions, and, the fisherman on the rocky outcrop where I would find the lighthouse who told me that he knew the island like the palm of his hand and that I had to walk on the low tide line through the water instead of struggling, as I had been, over the razor sharp fossilized reef.

Ancient path through the mangroves.

Ancient path through the mangroves.

Mangrove crabs.

Mangrove crabs.

The beach with the light house in the distance.

The beach with the light house in the distance.



The lighthouse is perhaps the most isolated spot on the whole island. An island itself, it is cut off from Ibo’s mainland by a thick mangrove forest and is only accessible at low tide. No one lives here, only ghosts and itinerant fisherman who shore up to mend their nets and sleep in the shade amongst the purple flowers called ‘Beijo de Mulatta’ (Kiss of the Mulatta) and dream of big fish.

Two boys who were with the older fisherman showed me around the ruins of the lighthouse and the old lighthouse keeper’s house.

The 'lighthouse'.

The ‘lighthouse’.


Lighthouse keeper's cottage and my future home.

Lighthouse keeper’s cottage and my future home.

“It is beautiful here. And there are big fish in these waters,” said one of them, simply, when I asked what they were doing here.

They couldn’t let me walk back alone they said so they accompanied me all the way back across the bay to the beach path which I had strayed off earlier, pointing out treasures such a sea cucumbers and star fish on the way.

Under water path.

Under water path.

Busy junction.

Busy junction.

I arrived back at Miti Mwiri at around four, baked by the sun and covered in cuts and bruises where I had slipped on the reef, but elated. Not only had I made it to the lighthouse, I had also been bowled over by the beauty of the island. It is an idyll and the kindness and openness of its people is humbling. Everyone who I spoke to on my walk asked me who I was going with – “not alone, surely?”, they said. “Let me accompany you.”

Forget, ‘You will never be alone in Barcelona’ – ‘You will never be alone in Mozambique’, more like.


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