Monthly Archives: February 2010

Sorta Kinda Bush Trip

I was all excited because I was to take a few days off of work and go on a bush trip this week. The plan was for me, Andreas and Uli to make four day driving/camping trip into the very rural Mozambican back country all the way through a national park and to the border with South Africa and Zimbabwe.  I felt like I was getting to partake in a rugged boys expedition. My friend Elizabeth said my plans sounded like a scene from The English Patient;  visions of story telling and quoting Herodotus around a campfire.

However, the trip didn’t really work out quite as planned. The first attempt to go was canceled several weeks ago because Uli’s mother passed away back in Germany.  So understandably the trip was postponed. Upon his return, the excursion was rescheduled and we reorganized our provisions and loaded up the car.  

3 1/2 hours outside of Vilankulo, literally as we were passing into no cell-reception zone, Andreas received a text that his son Caspar had a fever.  We stopped for an hour, waiting to hear the results from the Malaria test. It turned out to be negative, but we still decided that we should go back just in case.

We did made one stop before we headed home at a beautiful spot called Banamana.  Drive 35 km northwest of Mabote along a single lane dirt road with tall bushes on either side, then all of the sudden the bush just stops and you’re looking out on an expansive grassland and small marshy pond.

The sky was huge and the clouds were massive and menacing.  The grass was this electric shade of green, and the rarely traversed dirt road bright rusty orange. All that was missing were the herds of zebra and a few elephants.  It was truly beautiful.

Once we got home Caspar’s fever had already subsided and he was feeling fine. A bit frustrating, but I can imagine that it could have been quite stressful for Helga if Caspar had been really sick and we were all out of contact for 4 days.   Anyway, the next day the car was still packed and I had already requested Monday off of work, so Uli and I went out to see some property he’s trying to buy.

The ride was lovely and the site is gorgeous.  It’s a hill top that looks over a flood plain and the Save River. You can see miles up the sandy banks and even a small pod of hippos. We could watch as the clouds and sheets of rain made their way down the valley to the hillside.  There’s no development way out there and only a handful of people. Just a few mud huts in the valley with little paths treaded through small corn plots, bush and grass. 

For entertainment we experienced a series of automotive breakdowns. First,   the car got stuck in a mud hole – with the help of a random man who rode past us on a bike and returned soon thereafter with a shovel, it took about an hour to get free from the sludge.  Then back at the camp site, I noticed a quiet hissing noise coming from the car; flat tire.  The next day when we decided to do some exploratory back road driving – Uli accidently drove over a cement corner stone that was hiding in the grass. We drug the block along with us a few yards, then had to dig it out from under the car. This of course, had pushed one part or another of the undercarriage together. SO, after finally resolving that last issue, we decided that it was time to head back without tempting the African car gods anymore. 

So, I didn’t get to go on our four day bush excursion, but I did get to camp one night and learned a lot about how to jack up a car and position planks behind muddy tires. 

That was how I spent my Saturday, Sunday and Monday.  No Herodotus or campfire jokes, but pleasant conversation. The most interesting revelation of this whole trip however, was that Uli told me that he thought I was 32 until rather recently. Which I guess could be taken as a compliment to my maturity, but really it makes me think that I need to boost my SPF regimen from 70 to 100.

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The Seedier Side of Life

My oh so lovely friend Maggie sent me an email the other day, telling me about a friend’s experience of traveling through Mozambique in the 80s or 90s. His tale included several riveting stories about hobnobbing at secret parties in Maputo with Soviet ambassadors and the KGB.  Glory and great stories are garnered from risky travel, but I have realized there are some adventures that I don’t seek out.

I have yet to encounter myself surrounded by any KGB thugs, and for all the past Soviet presence in Mozambique, I must say I have yet to meet a Russian here or even see any lingering indication that they once had their finger in the pot at all. Perhaps the only real Soviet marker that I have noticed is an occasional massive construction truck that looks like it came blasting out of Mad Max 50 years ago.

I am not living in a bubble and there are certainly some risks that are taken here. I have walked around Maputo alone and hitched rides to work and around town with strangers, but I’ll be the first to admit that I hardly flirt with real danger. 

I imagine that there is this underbelly to Mozambique that I have yet to scratch. As intrigued I am by the prospect, I’ve never really been one who was good at finding a culture’s real gritty, interesting backstreets.  The ability to travel more securely and discreetly in third world countries is often reserved for men. As a tall, white, freckled, red head I hardly blend in with the locals (say, unless I happen to be in Scotland). Freud would hardly be able to control himself while I say this, but when I think about this aspect of travel and society that I am cut off from, I do admit a slight tinge of penis-envy.


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Mulungu.

My life includes all these funny habits and my routine is strangely more consistent than I had expected to have here. Even on the other side of the hemisphere, in a Mozambican beach town, office work seems to dictate most of my day.  I sit here at my desk, in a little office shared with 3 to 5 people. The room is messy with too many tables, no trash can, piles and stacks of baskets, broken drawers, crossing wires and plugs, holes in the cement, a crooked portrait hung on the wall, and paper that flutters around whenever the wind decides to blow. This is my office, and I’ve claimed the desk that faces the door – I can watch and wave to anyone who comes by.

I do take an occasional trip to the field. Last week I stayed in Mabote for 4 days. It’s a small town about three hours inland from Vilankulo. We work with several rural weaving groups in the region and were there to lead training lessons and observe our Extensionists. The town is really small, not quite a village but certainly not a metropolis. In fact it looks a bit like a cement and African interpretation of an old western frontier town. There are no white people that live in Mabote- at least none that I actually saw. My presence was not shocking, but it certainly aroused lots of attention and many random shouts of “Mulungu, Mulungu!” or “white person, white person!”  This blunt acknowledgement of my skin color is nothing new. In fact, I get it all the time from almost every child while I walk to and from work in Vilankulo. But In Mabote it was not just kids, even an occasional 60 year old man would come out running from his hut to have a good look at my odd red hair and freckles.

Anyway, on my last day there I was wondering around the small market, tucked behind a cantina-esque building, perusing the second hand clothing and trying to find fashionable gems amongst the piles of polyester and worn cotton t-shirts. By the time I started walking back to the small guest house where the other CARE staff were waiting, I had a variable crowd of 10 people, giggling and talking in hushed voices, following in my wake.  There is certainly a quality of novelty and flattery to be given such attention, but it’s also a keen reminder that I am an outsider.

In all honesty I kind of anticipated that my experience in Mozambique would be more like this one in Mabote; a random, rural village where I would be the obvious foreigner, but with time and a big smile, I would find my way into the hearts and daily lives of my community.

In Vilankulo I get a mixed bag – I still get called Mulungu when i walk down the street, but because there is a relatively large expat community of white Africaners, Zimbabweans and tourist passing through I am not the only Mulungu walking around town. This certainly has it’s pros and cons. My life here is a bit of a combination of some western convinces and many African quirks. It has it’s challenges and frustrations, but really I feel like I’m learning quite a lot – especially about myself.

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the long & winding road

3 hours in the back of a truck, speeding over a muddy, rugged, dirt road, while constantly swerving around pot holes… and a tendency to get car sick.

I have NEVER been so relieved to get a flat tire.


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A Heavy Load

Today I saw woman walking down the road carrying a cumbersome, heavy looking package on her shoulder, a live squawking hen in one hand, and a breast feeding baby slung on her chest. All executed with humble strength and grace. 

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