acacia blossoms

acacia blossoms

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

mozambique dreams

We arrive at night under a star spangled sky – too tired to think of anything but sleep after eighteen hours on the road. Morning arrives early with the soft watery sound of tidal floods trickling into the mangroves. The sea is flat as glass and the sun, just up, promises a languid day.

Despite the fog of too little sleep I have to leap out of bed and into the day. Trotting eagerly down the sand steps and along the board walk – sun bleached wood hard under my feet. Bright water coasts in covering fiddler crab holes and swirling between mangrove stems clothed in barnacles and whelks. I step onto the soft white sand already dazzling in the morning sun, to greet the ocean with sleepy feet. Silky warm water washes over my toes and ankles and I drink in the scene.

Distant sailing dhows coast silently past to fishing grounds. Sunlight bounces off the ripples left by fish activity just below the surface. Hermit crabs beetle past on a meandering path to somewhere. Their tracks intertwine and converge along the shallows and I have sand in my toes again.

The Bazaruto archipelago is a jewel in the crown of Mozambique’s 3000km tropical coastline. Seen from Google earth it is a swirl of indigo and turquoise seas hemmed in by a chain of islands and an outer reef that keeps the big seas and giant sea creatures at bay.

Here poverty and wealth are rubbing shoulders like so many places in Africa. After fifteen years of war in this country the islands have become a world famous tourist destination. Ski boats race past traditional dhows on their way to trawl the fishing grounds of the reef; conservationists fight to preserve marine life, while dhow crews net the shallows endlessly day and night. Tourism has created on ongoing market for seafood – and growing families need to be fed.

Perhaps it is the contrasts in Africa that draw our attention so insistently. So many opportunities to make a real difference – so much huge potential lying in wait. Held back, in the main, by bureaucracy, human greed, and corruption – global influences that escape the common man.

We spend Sunday finding our feet, unpacking our toys – fishing gear is set out and tackled up; brightly coloured fins and goggles appear; pale bodies seek the sun; camp supplies sorted and fridges stocked.

Monday I go with Lucas, the camp manager, to Morape School. Morape is the nearest village and the one the camp staff hail from. For several years now, we have been dropping boxes of school stationary and educational material at this school – all collected by my amazing friend Angela ( in Germany – paid for with monies earned from teaching English to neighbours children. The boxes are packed with exercise books, pencils, paints, toys, footballs, Portuguese text books, second hand reading glasses, first aid kits, chalk, and small bonus personal items. Into each box I add a photograph of Angela so that the teachers know who the gifts are coming from. Lucas translates for me and we ask the teacher for indicators of anything special they need for next time.

The original school house – a large thatched roof building – was blown down in the cyclone of 2007 – although the concrete base is intact and the flag pole has been re-erected at one end. It needs to be rebuilt. The school yard is an acre of sand fenced in with hand hewn poles. Within this yard are several loosely constructed shade dwellings with rows of bench seats made of poles. There are no desks as such and I wonder what the pupils lean on when doing their work. At the end of each room is a modern looking blackboard; in one room there is an impressive teacher’s desk.

Children gather round in open curiosity as the boxes are unpacked onto the concrete foundation of the old school. The teachers struggle to maintain discipline and keep children in line while books and pencils are handed out. There is much excitement – some children enjoy the camera, others look perplexed and wary; all are entirely engaging in their own way with guileless and spontaneous smiles.

Finally waving goodbye we leave the teachers to get on with their classes and wend our way on sand tracks to the beach to buy seafood from the dhows. A sleepy scene greets us. Fishing nets strung on a pole next to a monkey, tied by the waist to a tree stump in the shade of coconut palms. On seeing our interest in the monkey, a child taunts it gently to provoke interaction. The monkey bounces on his chain but never stretches the limit of its range.

Here the tidal reach is shallow. A dhow is on its way in so we walk down to meet it. Further along three figures are pulling in a net, but the catch is small and hardly replaces the energy expended on heaving in the net. We buy some calamari – strange sea creatures out of their element; fleshy soft beings with enormous blue eyes.

Perfect coastal days flee by – exploring mangroves on fishing canoes – those lovely broad ones that are so stable. With clear calm waters fish explode out of the water around us like silver bullets chased by our shadows. Snorkelling on reefs and sea grass beds where the many coloured starfish lie like cartoons dropped from above; bizarre and beguiling creatures amaze and intrigue. I have to pop my head up from time to time to be sure I am still on the same planet. Fabulous crabs that look like mobile pebbles graced with soft pink seaweed; urchins and slugs, clown fish, anenomes, and a carpet of bling from broken sand oyster shells.

In the reserve the first game introductions have started. Three zebra were released a month ago, and at the bomas, nyalla and wildebeest acclimatise to their new surroundings. Next week, more nyalla, wildebeest, waterbuck, eland and giraffe will arrive. They have been a long time coming as the Sanctuary (Vilanculos Coastal Wildlife Sanctuary – have prioritised community upliftment projects.

The moon waxes and wanes, the rhythm of the tides controls our days, and all too soon a week rushes by with the last outgoing tide. We drive through the night, taking turns at the wheel. There are people walking along the road all through the night – drunkards and partygoers make way for early risers and the workforce with never a break in-between. It is a constant stream. By morning we are back in the drought stricken interior. Hopes of rainfall in our absence are dashed. The skinny warthogs come trotting in when they hear our vehicles approach – and the monkeys return around sunset to watch for gaps in doors and windows. The coastal dream becomes a memory package to be stored and revisited at whim.


Kate said...

As usual, I feel I'm inside your eyes, skin and whatever! Your posts are amazing, driven by a world unfamiliar to me, yet you make it so accessible with your consummate writing skills. Bravo!

Angela said...

Val, how beautiful! And I admire your ability to drag us in - I feel like snorkeling beside you and gazing at the starfish! Wish I could have been there! - I remember the pictures of the simple school there was before - and now even that one has gone? ...And so much luxury and waste elsewhere! I always marvel at the happily beaming children, though. Wish I could have hugged them all!

Val said...

Katherine - thank you for your kind words! Really appreciate the encouragement :-)

Angela - yes I must talk to Sanctuary to see what can be done about rebuilding. the children are a treat - full of fun and shyness at once - they love your parcels!!!

Reya Mellicker said...

What a beautiful piece. Val, thank you! I know I always say that, but I mean it every time.

I've read so many articles about Africa, but until I started reading your blog I never was able to feel it. (Whatever I mean by that!)

You're a great writer, yes, but it's your capacity to really SEE the world around you, it's your compassion and clear heart that makes your writing so absolutely great.

Wonderful holiday! As always I am praying for rain for you and the skinny little warthogs.

Much loving appreciation for the gift of this blog. THANK YOU.

J said...

Wow !what a beautiful post, I felt there, really. But I soon as I gazed thru my window, I saw a grey, windy cold cold day but your post warmed my heart. Thank you!

Val said...

Gosh Reya I am blushing - but of course loving the great compliments! I am delighted that you can see and feel the beauty of this amazing continent through my eyes. thank YOU for your gifts :-)

Joelle - greetings and thanks for visiting - of course you know a grey rainy sky sounds appealing to me right now :-)


Lori ann said...

Val, I am so glad you such a wonderful time in this incredible place. If it would be ok with Reya, i would like to just copy exactly what she said. I don't really have the words to say how much I enjoy your blog.Except that I agree with Angela too, I wish I could have been there and i wish i could have hugged all those children too! I LOVE the photos!

Lori ann said...

oh, why was the monkey tied to the tree? and... are there stingrays? and calamari...yum! this post gives me a lot to think about!

Fire Byrd said...

What a fantastic piece of writing. It makes me feel so many conflicting emotions, the joy of the wonderous place, and the juxtoposition of the needs of the community.
The school is lucky to have friends like you and Angela.
And it all ended with that feeling sadness that there is still no rain.

Anonymous said...

What an absolutely beautiful post. Your writing carries me away.

CJ xx

tam said...

Beautiful post, Val. Gosh I so need a week of sea waters. I LOVE giving donations of stuff to schools, it was the best part of my last job. What a pity Angela can't be there herself to see those shy and happy faces herself.
The rain IS coming, hang in there. And let me know when you're next in Jozi, ok?

Val said...

Lori Ann - the monkey is a pet i think - probably started off as a cute youngster, then became an unmanageable subadult as so often happens when they are habituated; we often see manta rays there when they leap out of the water in the bay - always a treat!

Fire Byrd - thanks so much! last night we had a big lightening show again and sudden winds, but no rain yet.. at least it feels like it might be on its way now.

Crystal Jigsaw - thanks :-)

Tam - yes I feel almost guilty that i get the best part of the whole school boxes effort! Geli would LOVE it i am sure.
OK will do! xxxx

Unknown said...

You write so very beautifully, so incredibly evocatively. Because I know a little what this all looks like, I can connect so to your words, see through your eyes, feel the sun, the water on my skin.
For goodness sake, go and get this published somewhere.

On another note, ah yes, the contrasts of Africa, the greed and wealth alongside the abject poverty. So very hard to find or create the balance. Yet we must try.

Funny, we were thinking of going to Mozambique in December but decided we'd both melt and fry and be eaten to death by mozzies.

Thank you for sharing this - and thanks to both you and Angela for your wonderful community involvement.