Kaninmambo, Mozambique!

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

Tag: Beach

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A Weekend in Paradise

It was with not undue excitement that I pulled myself out of bed at the ungodly hour of 3am on Thursday. The promise of five days in paradise was a pretty tantalizing one and even the pointless two hours spent in the bus station sitting on the chapa until it had filled up, failed to dampen my spirits. It was a pleasant enough wait watching hawkers selling everything from loo-roll to boiled eggs file on and off the bus, as chickens wove in and out between the legs of women who wandered about with their heads piled high with bundles and baskets. 

Finally, at 7 am, once the bus could not take another passenger (some were sitting on laps!), and the mountain of belongings and presents being taken back to the village were securely lashed to the trailer we towed behind us, we set off, leaving Maputo behind in a hot chaos of traffic and rubbish.

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Até já Maputo!

The journey was long and uncomfortable (I had a rather large lady sitting next to me who I  watched systematically ring every contact in her phone book until she finally fell asleep at around 11 am), but it was also completely  enchanting.

The bush stretched out of either side of us for as far as the eye could see, a tangle of green vegetation punctuated by Indian almond, acacia and coconut palms and the occasional flash of electric blue and pink as Bee Eaters flew from their perch on the telegraph wire.

This huge expanse of country was uncultivated apart from the odd, road-side machamba which blended so well into the surroundings, it  would have been easy to miss had not been for the women stooped over in their capulanas, weeding and picking out what was ready to be eaten.

Orange dirt tracks snaked away from the motorway towards clusters of houses which were just distinguishable through the trees. Some were round with daub walls and neatly thatched cane roofs, others were square and made entirely from woven palm fronds. I was reminded of the rush baskets my mum made when I was a child, and wondered if these beautiful houses smelled as good as they had.

The motorway was positively thronging with the people the whole way to Tofo: teenagers walking to and from school, men on bicycles, ladies with containers full of water on their heads, children playing with improvised toys. Every now and then we’d come to larger village and the road would be lined on both sides by stalls selling food, drink and just about anything else you could imagine. Hawkers would tap on the windows – “Mae! Mae!” (‘Mummy’ is the respectfully affectionate form of address reserved for females in Mozambique) and offer up tubs of cold drinks which were gratefully received by all on-board. We stopped frequently at the end of the aforementioned dirt tracks to let passengers carrying sacks of potatoes and rice off and watched as they were greeted by various family members.

As we trundled along all 500 km of the highway, I couldn’t help but feel like another faceless participant in that timeless African tradition of road-side, trading communities. I wondered if the landscape was all that different from the landscape the Europeans had encountered when they first arrived here. I imagined the advance of the Portuguese into the Zambezi heartlands, how they too had followed paths worn deep by thousands of years of traffic along the East African coast to the interior, how they must have felt bewildered as they were confronted by the weight of history and how clumsily they tried to subjugate it.

We arrived in Inhambane, a sleepy, clean suburban town perched on an estuary, close to Praia Tofo at about 3.30 pm and by 4.00 pm we had made it to Tofo.

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First sight of Paradise, marred by the thumb placed over the camera….

Tofo is a bit of an unreal place. The Bradt guide describes it as probably the most developed tourist spot in all of Mozambique which says a lot about how untouched Mozambique still is: Tofo is nothing more than a huge beach lined with unobtrusive thatched lodges with a small conglomeration of houses, restaurants, bars and cafes at one end which is known as the village. I described it as ‘Polana-on-Sea’ which is an opinion permanent residents of Tofo (waifs and strays from from all over the world) would be keen to shoot down, but one which I stand by, as there is something undeniably chi-chi about Tofo and the masses of well-heeled weekenders from Maputo who come seeking parties and down-time.

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View from the hostel. Look at that sea!

In fact, now I think of it, Bob Dylan almost certainly DID come here.

And when it’s time for leaving Mozambique (ahem – Tofo)
To say goodbye to sand and sea
You turn around to take a final peek
And you see why it’s so unique to be
Among the lovely people living free
Upon the beach of sunny Mozambique (Tofo….)

However, right behind all of these lodges and the semi-urban development of the village are REAL villages. Groupings of beautiful wickerwork houses in the coconut grove, perhaps surrounded by a fence made of branches and bits of rubbish gleaned from the beach, marking the boundaries of the family compound. Groups of children stand around playing and chewing at lengths of sugar cane, whilst mothers tend the machamba or plait their daughters’ hair or stir a pot sitting on an open fire. Chickens meander about as tethered goats chew on whatever weeds they can find.

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Coconut grove at sunset.

It was extraordinarily tranquil.

The following three days were spent in a haze of sunshine. Reading, sleeping, eating, lying on the beach and of course, there were a few parties too.

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Riding on the beach with Rui, my guide.

The most exciting moment came when I was stung by a bee and when a lizard fell out of the thatched roof of my cabin in the hostel onto my head. I also went for a spectacular and rather fast ride along the beach and through the coconut groves.

There was a bit of ‘culture’ too, of the most macabre kind: a dog walk with friends along Tofinho lead us to the Barraco do Assassinatos, a cave in the black, coral cliff where before drowning them, the Portuguese secret police gave suspected members of FRELIMO and dissidents slow and agonizing deaths by tying them to the walls of the cave, lacerating their bodies on the sharp rocks and allowing the fish to eat them alive. The monument commemorating the spot is a stout granite obelisk, unadorned but for a single arm raised in a fist protruding from the top. It gave me goose bumps.

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Suitably gloomy looking Barraco dos Assassinatos.

I also met some interesting people including an American girl who had just finished her peacecorps contract in Malawi. She was from a farming family in Montana and had been living in a village, 8 hours drive from the capital for two years. She had had no electricity or running water, and had got up with the sun and had gone to bed at night fall. She had had internet access only 3 times a week and was allowed a short holiday once a quarter. She spoke the language of the village people fluently, she participated in religious and other ceremonies, she had learned how to make their tools and how to use them, whilst also suggesting her own improvements. It sounded like the most extraordinary experience: to get anything done – projects educating the villagers about HIV, safe sex, and agricultural and water projects, she had to go and bribe the chief with the chickens she had carefully reared herself. She was even invited once to the villager’s version of a Hen party at which, she said bluntly, the women teach the bride to have sex!

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Did Turner ever come to Tofo? He should have!

I also met a German doctor who had been working for MSF in the Central African Republic and who had been living in the bush in very similar conditions to the American, apart from the fact she was also in the middle of a conflict zone.

She said that on her very first evening, mere hours after she had landed, there had been an outbreak of fighting and she had been forced to evacuate. The first week of her new job in the hospital was spent treating gun shot wounds and other severe trauma cases as gun fire and mortars exploded around the hospital. She said she spent most of her time running between the operating table and the corridor (the safe zone) when the sound of shooting came too close.

I asked her how she coped. She said calmly that she tried to sleep as much as possible. Although she did admit it was tricky at times to get things done as her French wasn’t very good!

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Since coming to Mozambique, I have met several aid workers (including my flatmate, Carmen who was also with MSF) and I never cease to be astonished by their stories of the things they have experienced and achieved.

The German doctor said she had chosen to quit medicine in Germany and go to the C.A.R because of a profound disillusionment with Europe and the pampered, stagnant first world lives we lead. Europe may be rich, but it is poor in spirit. That was something that really with resonated me. And I couldn’t help but agree with the American girl when she said she thought Peace Corps should be compulsory for everyone living in the States. “Our lives are too comfortable. We take everything for granted.”

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Tachau, Tofo! It’s been real!

Anyway, all in all it was a really pleasant weekend of living vicariously through the stories of extraordinary people in a beautiful place. I was pleased to have made the journey on my own too. It’s not treating gun shot wounds in the Central African Republic, but I guess it was a step for me, even if it was still firmly on the beaten track.

 

A Trip To Macaneta Beach

One of the first things someone said to me upon my arrival in Maputo was:

“Maputo’s nice but you absolutely HAVE to get out whenever you can.”

Perhaps not the most encouraging advice. But, it’s absolutely spot on when one considers how utterly estranged Maputo is to the rest of the country.

It would be fair to describe Mozambique as a funnel, and not just because of the shape of the country on the map. In Moz, money has always flowed South, to South Africa and to Maputo, which in many ways resembles an enclave of Mozambique’s prosperous, southern neighbour.

‘Getting out of Maputo’ is therefore absolutely obligatory if one wants to gain any insight or understanding of how the other 99.9% of the country lives.

Macaneta is perhaps the closest one can be to Maputo whilst still ‘getting out’. We drove for a mere 20 minutes out of Maputo as the sun set and passed groups of school children and women crossing the central reservation on their ways home to the small villages which lined the motorway.

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A sight for sore eyes.

Despite Macaneta’s proximity to Maputo, it still feels charmingly isolated from the capital thanks to the short river crossing you have to make in order to access the village. (A bridge is being built as I write which will no doubt completely change the character of the place.) There is a long way round but for convenience and safety’s sake we opted for the boat.

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The boat was really more of a glorified metal raft onto which 5 or 6 cars and 50 people squeezed themselves. We chugged across watching the bats swooping about in the half-light. The tide had risen by the time we reached the opposite bank and we had to take off our shoes and wade to dry land which caused much hilarity amongst the passengers.

As we waited for the cars to disembark, a woman dressed in a capulana with a baby on her back in a sling asked if I would sell her my hair. (This has become pretty commonplace for me: so far 4 women on separate occasions have asked to buy my hair, and even more have been known to absentmindedly grab it and play with it… All the manhandling makes me feel a bit like a new puppy at Christmas: “It’s so soooft!!”)

She then hit me with a stonker of a question:

“Do you want to be black?”

That question was so simple and yet so powerful and of course my natural reaction was to say, “Well, why not…?”. But then I was hit by a sense of my own hypocrisy. Institutional racism, lack of opportunities, prejudice: these are all issues which cause great suffering for people of colour in British society. I guess it’s easy for someone to say they would prefer to change the colour of their skin when they haven’t experienced any of these things.

Moreover, her question laid bare a tragic reality: by saying that she hated her hair and wanted to be white she demonstrated how even here, white ideals of beauty of imported from abroad and imposed upon black women. And I was suddenly hit by a sense of just how profoundly divided and unjust our world is.

And this whole encounter was made more surreal by the setting: standing in the shallows of a river, in the dark, watching 4x4s struggle down the very steep ferry ramp.

I’m very aware of what a sensitive issue this is so I hope you forgive the clumsiness of my responses to it. It had a pretty big impact on me at the time and I guess I’m still trying to work out what I think.

ON WITH THE JOURNEY…..

There followed a very bouncy  15 minutes on a dust road interrupted by  a herd of beautiful Mozambican cows chilling out on the road.

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Coos on the road!

We then had a very chilled out two days in deserted idyll, the most exciting moment being the discovery of a poisonous frog on the back of a garden chair and a sighting of a yellow sac spider in our kitchen….! If you don’t know what a Y.S.S. is, it actually features on GoAfrica’s list of Africa’s most dangerous and scary spiders……….

Yay.

http://goafrica.about.com/od/africanwildlife/tp/Africas-Scariest-Spiders.htm

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Sapo venenoso!

I had been unnecessarily nervous before departure.

The thought of leaving Maputo for the first time and being in a more remote area was exciting but also slightly intimidating, but Macaneta was as peaceful a place as one could imagine, comprising a sleepy village of small, single-storied houses made of breeze blocks with corrugated iron roofs where old men sat around in chairs watched the comings and goings of chickens, goats, and pigs, and children playing toys made from bits of rubbish and women carrying beautiful rush baskets on their heads.

And, as Ika explained, “No one would break into the house because everyone knows it is Miguel’s (the caretaker’s) house which he looks after.”

The village is positioned in a system of dunes next to a marsh through which the road from the ferry runs. We drove past bundles of rushes stacked up to dry and hundreds of black crabs sitting at the side of the road. We even saw a MONKEY in the dunes on the way back from the beach!

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Spot the tiny, leaping monkey!

On our way back to Maputo, waiting for the ferry, a guy came over to the car and began talking to us.

He then interrupted the conversation and said, referring to the rest of the Mozambicans waiting for the ferry, “They’re afraid to talk to you because you’re white.”

And so the race question loomed again and cast a sad shadow over the end of what was otherwise a blissful weekend.

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Fisherman pulling in the day’s catch. What looked like half the village came through the dunes to watch them. Taken at a distance because people here believe that cameras steal part of your soul.

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