Tag Archives: friends

Friendly Visit

Earlier I wrote about how I get excited about visitors and start sampling my activity list before they arrive. The visitors I was referencing are two of my oldest buddies who came to see me in June.

John came all the way from London and Neena from the US. We’ve been friends since we were kids, so when we get together we’re a trio of chatter and giggles. Well, John is a quiet soul but Neena and I are not – so we made more than our fair share of ruckus laughing and being stupid together.

It was the first time for both of them to visit Africa, and since they were in Mozambique for just one week so we had to jam pack their trip with as many of the local sites as possible. I always like to take guests to the Red Dunes because I think they are one of the most beautiful and unique locations on the coast here. Luckily we ran into a local friend who was heading that way, so we quickly bought sandwiches, beer and chips and zipped north of town, past the paved road and through deep sandy roads to get to our destination.  We sat in the shade eating our snacks and enjoying the breeze, dunes behind us and shallow aqua seas in front.

Later, we were traveling in a chapa and even I was impressed with how many people they fit in the van. Normally chapas are overfull with 20 people, but somehow 28 humans managed to cram into the car for the 5 hour journey. Poor John was smooshed into the smallest tini-tiny spot having to hold his neighbor’s baby.

Oh how I wish I had a camera to capture John’s face at that moment. It was priceless.

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Introducting Mila

I think it’s about time that I offer a formal introduction to my new Peace Corps volunteer/ neighbor/ colleague.

Okay, this is Mila.

Mila, this is Okay.

Mila arrived mid-December in a blue truck along with a cardboard box,  a  big backpack, a few mats, a broom and a turtle in tow. She quickly went about setting up in her new home and making the space her own. (And oh how important that step is when you move into a house for two or more years).

Sometimes it’s hard  to figure out what the line is between what information is practical and helpful and what things someone will want or need to figure out for themselves.  But after showing Mila round town and helping her stock up her house, she has settled in rather quickly and well and I feel happy and lucky to have another new neighbor and friend.

To make matters a little confusing, Mila’s real name is Camila - which also happens to be my Portuguese Mozambican name.  While it does cause a little confusion at the office, it’s awfully easy to remember.  Because I’m tall and Mila is tiny and Puerto Rican, we decided that she can ought to use the shorter, sassier name. Makes sense, right?

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Apples & Oranges with Susan Fang

It’s rather surreal being in Mozambique and imagining the totally different lifestyles of my friends and family back home . So today I’d like to introduce a new series I’m calling Apples & Oranges to offer a little glimpse into the varying ways we lead our lives on different sides of the globe.

To start if off, I asked my friend Susan Fang to give me a few details and sketches depicting her life back on the state side.  Susan is lovely and is a great artists and designer.  We went to undergrad together at UGA and she has since gone to graduate school and moved on up to the Brooklyn, NYC. Funny enough, she’s living with my brother and his wife now (see below for more details).

So without further ado, I offer…

(click on image for larger view)

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Last Minute Adventures with Courtney & Sarah

It’s funny how eminent departures can act as catalysts, moving things forward with a sudden immediacy that often prompts the question, Why did we not do this more often!?

October was a whirlwind of activity and the 31 day countdown for Sarah and Coutney before they left Mozambique. I am (or I guess I should say was) neighbors with Sarah and Courtney,  two Peace Corps volunteers who just finish their 2 year placement, and  even though it was not me preparing to leave the country,  my weekends were spent participating in their big pre-departure adventures and events.

With a limited amount of days the desire for free-time was tossed out the window, and instead dates were scheduled, big parties were planned and opportunities to travel were taken. Not that these options hadn’t always  been available beforehand, but suddenly  it was time to fit it in all those last minute experiences.

So as the girls wrapped up their service, it offered a good opportunity for me to evaluate all the should-have, could-have and would-haves one year into my time abroad.

*   *   *

This is how I spent my October…

At the beginning of the month we took a road trip to Gorongosa National Park. There we happened to meet and hang out with Gregg Carr, the American entrepreneur who has taken on the task of revitalizing the park and bring it back to it’s former pre-civil war glory. He and Vasco, the head of tourism for the park, inspired us with their passion and vision for the project.  We went on a game drive the first day then climbed Gorongosa Mountain and swam under the waterfall the next.  You can read more about Gorongosa’s interesting history and our trip on Sarah’s blog here and Coutney’s blog here.

We invited several colleagues over for a big cross-cultural taco meal and they shared their stories about Mozambican Sex Ed – a lecture that we had been curious about for some time.

Apparently,  when Mozambican females are teenagers their mothers will sit them down and give them advice on “how to keep your man” and other notes on life.  It was a hilarious and enlightening dinner conversation.

We had drinks and another bon-voyage dinner at the local backpackers hostel, Zombie Cucumber

The house next to our compound often has late night parties that keep me up at all hours of the night. Finally, I decided that if I was gonna be up, I might as well be at the party. So Sarah and I made good on their invitation to stop by. Of course, Sarah subsequently flirted, offended and then got thrown out by the host. It was pretty funny!

Also, with all the packing-jitters in the air I needed to stay busy myself,  so I finally took the opportunity to go diving at the local 2 Mile Reef and…

When the stress was just too overwhelming, I decided we all needed to take a break and a deep breath. Moreover we really needed coffee and chocolate, so we hopped in the car and wentThen early on a Saturday morning, bags packed, car loaded, pets kissed – I drove them 16 km out to Pambara and they caught the bus heading south out of town. 

Now the end of November is drawing very close and I have drug my feet in posting this blog entry. Courtney and Sarah have since moved out of their house, closed their service in Mozambique, and have headed off on their separate travel plans. Life in Vilankulos got suddenly very quiet with their departure but the pause is only momentary.  Soon a new volunteer will arrive and I will be responsible for showing her the ropes as they did for me. I will certainly miss them– their company and friendship has been invaluable since my arrival in this distant little African town.

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Blog Love

Okay? Okay. was featured on Ariana’s beautiful design blog Inspire Me Like That. You can check out more of her pictures and posts, as well as  praise about this blog right here and here.

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Part III: a homecoming of sorts

I assume that most of you reading this are friends and relatives, though maybe not all, so I’ll go ahead and tell you that I lived in Swaziland as a child for several years.  I  think that was probably one of the most influential periods of my life; it certainly inspired a lifelong affinity for Africa and a real love of travel.  After 18 years of being away, I finally had the opportunity to return to the mountainous Kingdom of Swaziland.

Even at the border there is a clear difference between these two African nations.  Crossing from Namacha in southern Moz over to Lomacha in Swazi, was rather like a breath of fresh air. The roads are paved, there is less litter, the buildings are better maintained, people sport traditional garb, and English is spoken.   I am not saying that Mozambique is worse for it, (well, maybe I am) but it was sudden opportunity to re-acknowledge the stark  deficiency  in infrastructure and development that heavily weigh on Mozambique’s shoulders.

But OH Swaziland!!! It was more beautiful and magical than I even expected.  I felt an instant sense of being in more familiar territory.  The landscape is dramatic – sweeping grassy mountains, foggy mornings and fields of  organized agriculture.  I remember several years back when I moved to Sonoma, California thinking that the landscape there really reminded me of Swaziland and Kwa-Zulu Natal. But now returning to Swaziland as an adult, I kept thinking that it reminded me of the striking Sonoma terrain (with a few more exotic animals thrown into the mix).


And so it was through this great surreal landscape that we made our way to the festivities. Christopher, Courtney and I loaded once again into a series of chapas, busses and finally hitchhiked our way to our next locale.

We met up with 10 other Peace Corps girls and their friends at the Sondzela Backpackers Lodge located in the Milweni Nature Reserve.  Our house was surrounded by free roaming wildlife – zebras, warthogs, impalas, springbucks, and one particularly well-mannered ostrich called Eeeshhh.

Then we made our way to the Bushfire International Music Festival, and basically spent the next 3 days dancing and having a great time.

 

One thing that I really love and miss about Swaziland and parts of South Africa, is that people just walk around wearing a mix of western clothing and traditional garb. Not every one, but it’s certainly not out of the ordinary to see it.

The men in particular get to wear a dashing combination of fur head bands, patriotic fabric, leopard hide loincloths, beads, and sheep fluff. (I obviously don’t know the proper names for the parts of the costume.) Like all good fashion, it gets mixed up depending on the person and event, but it’s pretty awesome. 

The festival was a multi cultural mix – with lots of focus on traditional Swazi music, arts and crafts. There were two stages, but the main one featured an array of different styles of Afro-jazz, pop, and gospel.  Though none of us knew any of the bands, it certainly didn’t stop us from participating. Some of the highlights included the band Freshly Ground, the African goddess/singer Lira, and the funk-gospel band Ringo.

I got several funny though memorable comments while I was cuttin’ a rug.  One went like this:

African man next to me: Are you Swazi?

Me: I just smile, furrow my eyebrows and don’t say anything.

African Man: You must be, because you certainly don’t dance like a Mulungu!!!

HAH! I laughed and smiled even more. I’m not exactly sure what he meant but I think it was in reference to how into-it we were getting. I wasn’t trying to dance like an African woman and I’m not naturally blessed with “Zulu booty” but still I took it as a compliment. Thanks?!

After three days of non stop dancing, story telling, people watching, nature walks, cold weather, rain, fog, mulled wine and lots of laughter – it was time to head back home. Christopher made his way back to Johannesburg to catch his flight and I started my 2 day journey back to Vilankulo. 

***

I’m so happy that I got to share the experience of going back to Swaziland with Christopher. I have been waiting to return for years, probably since I left when I was seven, so part of me was nervous that the experience would shatter some of the idealistic memories I held from my youth. Needless to say, it was a really important trip for me and in many ways felt like a homecoming. I don’t know if I told him enough, but I was so grateful to have my friend there from home to validate and share the experience with. Every stop along the way, from Vilankulo to Bushfire was memorable. It was a trip of a lifetime.

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Part II: Christopher realizes that Tofu is not made of soybeans

After catching the 3 am bus to Maxixe, the ferry to Inhambane and a quick chapa ride we arrived in Tofu, the main tourist town in Mozambique about 350 km north of Maputo.  *(please note, that Tofu is actually spelled Tofo, but it’s pronounced like the soybean variety, so I’ll maintain my misspelling)

I had already crossed swimming with whale sharks off of my bucket-list when Andrea and Alexi visited me in March, but frankly it was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. So when Christopher said he wanted to do it as well, I was more than willing.  

The prospect of swimming with living dinosaurs seems to draw out quite the variety of thrill seekers from all over the world. One of the most visually striking people on our watery voyage was a Brazilian man who was covered from head to toe with tribal tattoos and expander rings. While he turned out to be quite soft spoken and friendly, Christopher did not take a liking to him since Mr. Tattoo Man did not listen to the instructions and made a big splash getting into the water, almost scaring away our illusive whale shark. 

Even with splashing and all our human noise we found it. We only saw one whale shark but it was HUGEbigger than the boat (almost 16 meters) and as an added bonus it was accompanied by a dolphin! You’ve got to see it to believe it:

Sure swimming with a whale shark was fabulous, but the real highlight of my day was when we returned to our cabana and I took… prepare yourself… my first hot shower since November!

The following morning I took a scuba refresher course and went for a dive.  It had been almost 6 years since my certification but luckily it came back pretty quickly. We didn’t see any manta rays as I had hoped, but I did see the biggest shell I have ever seen in my entire life. It was just sitting there on the bottom of the sandy sea. I kept pointing and trying to show my utter excitement –  big eyes and lots of hovering right over it. Maybe they were distracted by the schools of tropical fish or leopard eels, but none of the other divers seemed quite as impressed. What was wrong with them, I mean really, it was a very big shell!

The beaches in Tofu are very different than what I have in Vilanculo – the water is deeper and there are actual waves. I’m rather glad I don’t have that sort of motion of the ocean in front of my reed cabana, but it did make it awfully fun to body surf and watch the Roxy team show off cool tricks.

 The entire next day was dominated by one of the worst 13 hour bus rides of my life. We did walk away safely and without an accident, but it was quite awful. We had a mean driver and a trickster for a door man, a flat tire that was fixed with toilet paper, the radio blared even when there was no reception, luggage and boxes were stacked to the roof and on our lap.  

It felt something like this:

Christopher said it was different but comparable in misery to his experience of traveling in the 10th class train-car in India.

Finally in Maputo, we met up with Courtney and several VSO friends for dinner and recovery. 

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