Every so often, when browsing through the local market, I find a real gem sitting on the shelf. Sometimes that lucky find is fresh asparagus or perhaps shiny gold leggings. I have even bought a can of sardines just because the packaging was so good. But today I think I may have found the best yet:
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I’ve made a habit of posting images of me holding wonderfully random objects that have come into my life here; a jar of honey, a cashew fruit and nut, now this. It’s called a custard apple. I’ve also heard it be referred to as an Amazon apple and Annona fruit.
There is one blossoming tree in the compound and I’ve only been able to snag one or two before the guards get to picking them. They don’t exactly taste like apples, but they are delcious and have a great texture – somewhere between custard (appropriately) and a granular pear. Each segment has a single, hard, black, oblong, smooth seed.
I have known Andrea since I was in second grade and Alexi since eighth grade.
Both Andrea and Alexi live in NYC. But they love me so much, that they got on a plane and flew from NYC to Dubai to Johannesburg to Maputo then to Vilankulo. Two days and four flights later they arrived. All this for just one week in Mozambique.
This is how we spent our time:
A & A brought me gifts from home:
I made them walk around in the hot sun and go to work with me one day. So to make up for the sweat, we went to Casa Guçi, where
We caught a 3 am bus down to Tofu, where
Feeling bold and full of adventurous spirit, we hitched hiked to the nearest ATM.
We bought chocolate and lozenges,
They almost passed us by, but then stopped and came back. They took pity on us because they said they used to hitch when they were young.
The next day we relaxed and were lazy.
We then made the long trek back to Vilankulo.
On the last night we went to the market and bought fresh fish. So we
The next day, it was time to pack up. Lexi didn’t have much to do, since her bag never arrived. After lunch and one last dip in the Mozambican Channel, Andrea and Alexi got in a taxi and headed back to the airport.
Now, I have a quiet empty cabana all to myself.
It’s the sudden empty space and feeling from when people you love go back home. The vacuum reminds you of how grateful you are for your friends that travel half way around the world, but it also reminds you that you live half way around the world.
On Saturday, I was talking to my parents via skype, and giving them a tour of my place with the webcam. Proudly I told them about Simba’s heroic rat-hunting success from the previous night. As I was trying to get Simba to sit and pay attention to my parents on the computer he started barking and pacing in front of the wall again… I get one quick view of a rat tail slipping over the reed wall escaping outside.
I tell my parents about my hesitations about using rat traps and poison, but my father insists that I do something about it. Not because it’s gross, not because they are planning on visiting and staying me in several months, but because -
“Camille, if you don’t take care of your rat problem, snakes will!“
“Okay Dad, I’ll do something,” I say humoring him; not too worried, because I’ve been here for over 6 months, and I’ve yet to see a snake larger than 5 inches. I know it’s really only a matter of time, but frankly, rats give me more of the heeby jeebies than the idea of snakes.
The next evening, as if hearing my fathers transcontinental warning, I get a visitor. I was more shocked by the snake’s well timed appearance than by it’s actual presence, so I took a photo then went to ask the guard for advice.
The snake was coming in through a hole between the cement foundation and the back wall, but when the guard walked up with a stick it slithered back into it’s hiding spot. As advised, I poured hot water in the hole and prepared to jump to the side, in case it came rushing at me (as with the previous night’s rat escapade). Instead, the snake quickly slipped away into the back yard as the guard through sticks it at.
In Mozambique, all snakes are refered to as “cobras” even if it’s a garden snake or a mamba. I still haven’t been able to identify exactly what kind it was. It was black, 14 inches longish, and about the width of 2 pencils (not much to go by). I looked up photos online, and I’m pretty sure it was not a black mamba. So if you know your Ophiology, please let me know!
I have a rat (or several) that lives in or around my house. I’ve spotted it a few times, and thankfully it’s not NYC rat/monster size but more of a big grey mouse variety. Frankly there is really not that much I can do to keep them out since my hut is open to the elements and most of nature.
The only real extermination options I have are rat poison or a trap. I’ll admit, it’s less animal rights based and more about caution for my own wellbeing that has kept me away from the pursuing the murderous options. First off, I’ve been hesitant to use the poison since I am scared the dog might eat it. Secondly, I am nervous that if the rat did eat the poison, it then might go die in my reed roofing. That could potentially go really wrong and stink up the place. You’d think the easiest solution would be to encourage the Peace Corps girls’ cat, Cooper, to follow his instincts but he’s well fed and totally disinterested in doing his duty.
So that rat issue has continued and I wake up to scurring noises in the night, an occasional sighting, and the loss of several vegetables that get nibbled on while I’m away. But on Friday night, I found a new solution: Simba the Hunter.
Friday evening, Courtney and I were sitting in my cabana when the dog started making lots of noise and trying to get behind one of my shelves. I figured he smelled some variety of creature, but didn’t think too much of it. But as I pulled the cubbard away from the wall so that Simba could get a good look at the empty space – a rat came leaping out.
Eyes beedy and blaring – heading right for my jugular… Or so I assumed. I was too busy screaming and making a mad dash for a chair to get a good look.
Amidst all this excitement the dog lunged and actually caught the rat! I think he was more surprised than us that he actually got it. Meanwhile we shouted prizes and encouragement from the other side of the room atop our lofty chairs.
Once the animal was finally dead (it took a while) we were filled with adrenaline and pet owner pride. One rat down – hopefully not too many more to go.
As of today, I have officially been in Mozambique for half a year.
(Well, actually six months and 3 days if you count travel time)
Since time seems to fly here, I offer a feather from one of the pied crows that likes to perch atop my cabana. They are quite smart and I’ve read that they make great pets, however I think I’ll just let them go about their business standing vigil and occasionally dive bombing our poor dog.
The beginning of My Mozambican Life, Part II was marked by an extended excursion into the field for a training workshop –a big step both professionally and personally.
Inhassoro is a sleepy fishing town about an hour north of where I live and it was the location for twenty day product development workshop that I helped plan and co-lead. The objective was to train 25 participants, representing 10 of our weaving groups to create new products using their traditional materials and technique. The goal was to create products that were smaller, more accessible for the local transient tourist market and quicker to make – thus more financially lucrative for the women.
Our design consultant, Sivuyile came in from Durban, South Africa to help with the workshop. Luckily he had worked with our groups on a previous training, so he was aware of many of the limitations of the Xindzala technique and the sometimes stubborn personalities represented amongst our weavers. (Visit his design company’s website here.)
Before we left for Inhassoro Sivu, Sonia and I went to a local carpenter to see if he could produce some wood accoutrements we wanted for potential jewelry designs. It was rather fun to be able to draw something then explain your vision and see what would come out of the wood shop.
The jewelry was meant to follow a mixed media trend – combining hand carved wood along with softer woven palm details.
Our first 3 days in Inhassoro, we worked with our top 5 weavers. These women were selected because they represented either our fastest, most talented or team oriented of our groups. We wanted people we knew would be able to pick up new ideas and also help instruct other weavers throughout the training. I will proudly say that this was my idea to bring in the top weavers for the first few days –it was a great opportunity to see early on what designs were working and which were not; saving us a lot of time and material. Plus, it meant that we had finished samples already made and available by the time the rest of the group arrived, thus avoiding the awkwardness and anxiety of tackling new products from scratch.
Then 20 more of our weavers arrived. The first week we concentrated on the accessory designs, consisting of bracelets, earrings and necklaces. Then the last week all attention was focused on producing bottle shaped vases. These vases were an exercise in interpreting 3 different wine bottle shapes – but using the same stitch that is normally used for wider flatter baskets. From the beginning we understood that each bottle was destined to be a bit different and unique. So we embraced the organic quality of the vases and encouraged the women to really look at the forms and follow what they saw.
We tried out a new stitch technique that had the potential to be faster and cleaner – however, after several samples, we decided that it was not unique enough and the quality was rather inconsistent. So back we went to the traditional stitch – which was a good decision since part of the objective of our project is to maintain the heritage of the traditional Xindzala.
Now you might ask yourself, what the heck did YOU do this whole time Camille? Wellll, mostly I just sat under the tree with the women either trying to learn how to weave, tinkering with designs, or occasionally offering my approval and advice. There was a lot of sitting and watching. Luckily the women are great singers, and they would often break into song or get up and dance.
I also had great company – since Sivu is rather lovely. It has been a long time since I actually got to fluidly speak English to an African person. And I will admit that it was with great relief and surprise that I rediscovered I have a sense of humor! It’s not that I haven’t laughed here, certainly there have been countless lost-in-translation moments, but actually being able to respond in a timely and witty manner – well, that was a novelty.
So the weeks passed with good company and creative juices flowing. At the end of the training we had many great samples produced. I’m sure we’ll have to continue working on quality and production, but there is real potential for our new goods. Personally, I found a great sense of satisfaction seeing several of my designs actually come to fruition.
Sunday we made a group outing to Santa Carolina also known as Paradise Island, the most exotic and least visited of islands that sits off the coast of Vilankulo and Inhassoro. We took a local dhow boat out to the islands and were pretty much the only people there the entire day. It was the last big hurrah for the Pehams before they set off on their African road trip and move back to Austria.
The island used to be the gem of African honeymooners in the 1970s, pre-civil war. But during the fighting it was abandoned and now the entire island is a national park – no one is allowed to live, develop or sleep on the island.
It is gorgeous! I live on a beautiful beach, but this one is even more spectacular. Plus, after snorkeling, picnicking and swimming in the aqua waters – we got to explore the hotel ruins, and wandering through abandoned buildings is always fun.
That all said in done, there were two cheerless moments following the trip:
- Sea sickness. Yes, I got sick overboard. Pretty gross.
- I had to say good bye to the Pehams; my friends, neighbors, boss, yoga teacher and surrogate family here.
It was rather heartbreaking. In fact, I started crying before they got in the car and I couldn’t even give real hugs to the kids since I was a sad mess. I thanked them for their generosity and friendship and with a final hug, Helga told me to be happy and make the most of my time here.
As their car drove away, I had a clear understanding that that moment marked the closing of My Mozambique Life, Part I and transition into the next chapter.
Okay? … Yes. It’s gonna be more than okay.
The Pehams have been packing up and preparing to move back to Austria. As sad as their leaving is to consider, they are trying to visit and do all the last minute day trips and local adventures before they make their grand departure. Luckily I get to tag along with them for some of these trips.
One of their favorite places to visit, as well as one of mine, is the local sand dunes. The sand is a rich sierra mud color and rises up to overlook the bush on one side and the ocean on the other.
We have spent several long afternoons climbing the sands, sliding down the steep sides or running down the big hill that leads to the sea. I am always in awe of the colors, scale and exoticism of the environment. After exploring the sandy canyons, the beach beckons. Rarely is anyone on the isolated beach – so there is prime shell collecting, crab hunting and skivvy-swimming to be had.
I’m not exactly sure how I’ll get there without a car (maybe a three hour beach walk), but I look forward to having guests so that we can go camping on top of the dunes. I can only imagine the stars are extra big, bright and shiny up there. Of course, it is illegal to camp in Mozambique unless in a marked camp ground – but really, there is no one ever there and it’s apart of the adventure.
This picture above is just a journal entry about my sketches- the real ones are a bit bigger and better. The purpose of the drawings was to illustrate the different steps in the production cycle and help teach the rural women about the business model. Since most of the women we work with are illiterate, we rely on many visual aids and games for training workshops.