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:
Emerald-Spotted Wood Dove
Red-Faced Mouse Bird
Mangrove Kingfisher (r)
Little Bee Eater
Madagascar Bee-Eater (r)
Black Headed Oriole (heard only)
Black-Throated Wattle Eye
Gorgeous Bush Shrike
Purple-Banded Sun Bird
Scarlet-Chested Sun Bird
Blue Wax Bill
Yellow-Faced Canary (sic)
Red-Capped Robin Chat (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.
“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.
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?