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).
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.
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.
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.