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.