Don’t Pay the Ferry Man…

For the best part of the last six weeks Internet here in Morrumbala has been intermittent.
I have realized just how frustrating it is without this luxury when living in the back of beyond in a third world country.
Without Internet, there is no knowledge of what is happening in the lives of beloved family and friends. One cannot catch up and read current affairs, world events and news. There is no ability to carry out scheduled work loads, uploads, downloads or phone conferences via applications such as Skype, Google or other IM’s.
Checking on bank balances, making transfers, booking tickets for bus, rail or air does not happen.
Without modern technology, upon which we are fully dependent, we have allowed ourselves to become totally castrated when it fails.
There is no longer a post office in most villages.
Even if there was, they are not able to function without Internet.
No more is there the luxury of purchasing a stamp, licking it and placing it on the top right hand corner, (as straight as you can) of an envelope that has your hand written letter specially scribed and securely sealed inside, the address of the intended destination written in the middle with at least a one inch surrounding border.
On the back of the envelope, your return address, in case of no delivery.
Or if you needed a message to get somewhere in a hurry, the logical thing to do was to send a telegram.
It had to be carefully written as you had to pay for each word:
“Arriving Wednesday Stop Please meet me airport Stop 18.30 Stop Susan”
A specially trained telegraph operator would decipher your words into code and send it off with a series of dots and dashes.
Miraculously your message would arrive at its destination within 24 to 48 hours!
Two cyclones have been whizzing around the Mozambique Channel.
Buffeting the Island of Madagascar and the coastal towns of Mozambique. Bringing with it torrential rain storms that have besieged Morrumbala on and off since early December last year.
This interferes with cell phone connections and often we have been without the ability to make calls or send text messages.
Again, isolating us from the outside world.
There are not many land lines here in Mozambique. The twenty year civil war put paid to any developments like that. So the country relies on cell phone companies to put in place huge masts along the main roads that link major towns and cities. But, they are not immune to extreme weather or vandalism.
It is so exciting when you hear the “beep” of your mobile coming to life again when connections recommence.
When that happens, you immediately send off quick text messages to people as soon as possible in case everything shuts down again, letting them know you are thinking of them and still alive!
I could go on about the lack of electricity and television, but then I’d never get this Blog out to you.
(I have to transfer it to a memory stick and take it down to Graham’s office where they are lucky enough to have a weak Internet link. The inclination to do this is not huge, as it’s raining cats and dogs today.)
A few weeks ago Graham and I took the two hour trip to the ShireRiver as he had to talk to the ferry man about his ferry which was stuck in huge banks of floating reeds and was not working. OLAM needed to get a truck load of supplies to one of the farmers on the other side of the river and the truck had been stuck for a couple of days on the river bank.
When we got there, we realized that the ferry man was not going to do anything about clearing the reeds unless he was bribed into doing so.
I watched Graham approach the operator and then settle down on a bench outside a hut under the shade of a large old mango tree.
It looked as if he would be there a long time negotiating and cajoling, so I threw the strap of my camera over my shoulder and went in search of photo opportunities.
Soon a group of children swarmed around me and followed me, stopping every time I stopped and keeping a respectful distance as I snapped away.
After a while I tired of taking pictures of people being shipped across the river in huge dug-out canoes with their goods that ranged from chickens, luggage bundles, bicycles and even motor-bikes.
Focusing on a child wearing flip-flops many sizes too big, I felt a tug on my skirt.
Looking down I saw a smiling little girl who had been encouraged to approach me by her friends. They signalled me to follow them, which I did. They stopped on the river-bank and pointed towards a group of happy youngsters splashing in the water, their swimming companion an albino hippo.
“Delightful” I thought.
They all shouted her name, but to this day, I am not sure what it was.
Secretly I wondered if they were teasing me and saying that I had the same colour skin as their animal friend.
Hopefully that was all, and not saying I was the same size as the creature.
The elders from the village decided to join us and much to my amazement, some of the men shared their beers with her.
Goodness, a friendly white hippo that was a beer guzzler!
I am not sure if it was from drinking beer in the full sun, but she eventually tired of swimming and beached herself on the bank, dropping into a deep sleep.
Graham had come to the end of his indaba (meeting) under the mango tree.
I made my way back to the pick-up truck feeling like the Pied Piper of Hamlin with all the village children in tow.
Stopping on my way, I decided to show my group of followers video footage I had taken of them with my camera.
They were soon intrigued and fighting over prime viewing positions, laughing and pointing at themselves on the screen.
It dawned on me that they had never seen television, let alone play-back images of themselves.
Who am I to complain about lack of modern technology like Internet, cell/mobile phones and the like?
My three months stay ends on Wednesday morning at 4.30 am when we have to make the drive from Morrumbala to Quelimane. I dread the first two hours of back breaking bush track to the main road to Quelimane which is a further 3-4 hours, (all depending on what happens on the road with it’s bicycles, people, goats, long haul trucks and other vehicles.)
Although my first leg of air travel to Maputo only starts at 14.30, I have been warned to get to the airport by midday. Even although I am booked on the flight, it is a case of first come, first served on LAM – the Mozambique Airline.
I shall be biting my nails that we take off in time as I only have an hour in Maputo to check in to my International flight to Johannesburg and I now have the knowledge and experience of how long the customs and immigration can be in Mozambique.
So fingers crossed for me everyone!
Once in Johannesburg I look forward to spending a couple of nights with my cousin before leaving Africa for England on Friday evening.
Saturday will see me rejoining my daughters, son-in-law and grandson for a week before I start work again for a few months.
I am so excited to see them and already wondering if my grandson will remember me after a five month break.
The sad part is I leave Graham to return to work at OLAM in Morrumbala on his own.
I often found the place lonely and remote, even with his company after work. How will he feel when I am gone with no one to come home to in the evenings?
A few years ago when Graham and I were working on cruise liners together as art auctioneers, I mentioned to him that I felt so sorry for couples who had to live apart for months on end like many of the crew had to.
Little did I know that the world recession would affect tourism to South Africa and thus leave our little bed and breakfast empty more often than not.
Africa is a place of contrasts, and with the way things have been in South Africa, we have been forced to take jobs where we can find them.
The distance between Mozambique and England will not be so huge, just so long as the Internet works!
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The village has woken for the day here in Morrumbala…

Boom, boom, boom!
At 2 am in the early hours of this morning, the proprietor of the shebeen situated closest to our bed-room window decided to play his latest music. The speakers on full blast, we sit bolt upright in our bed and listen to him drunkenly sing along to some incomprehensible lyrics from an artist that has likely had his music pirated. 
“Eu gostaria que a sua parte inferior grande em minha embreagem”
Translated into English, I think the words are: “I would like your big bottom in my clutch,” or something like that. 
But pardon my ability to understand or speak Portuguese at that time of the morning!

We drift back into a light sleep and then Graham’s alarm screeches at 4.30am. It is time to start the day here in Morrumbala, Mozambique.

It’s my birthday today and I wonder if my husband has remembered, after all I did say something about it yesterday.
Just before he goes to work, “Sorry Babe, almost forgot, happy birthday!”
OK, he’s forgiven, he remembered.
My day continues the same as any day here in the lost wilderness in the back of beyond. If it’s not raining, I get out for my early morning walk around the OLAM cotton gin and factory before it gets too hot.
I spot something lying on the side of the road. It’s Johnny the crow who has been grounded for three weeks with a broken wing and I have made friends with him.
For weeks I have watched him survive, with his other crow buddies looking after him. He hops along on the ground and his buddies perch on branches in close by trees or on the factory roof tops, swooping closely over the heads of anyone or thing that gets too close to him. They even drop scraps of food to help him survive.
Johnny Crow
I once tried to get close enough to catch him in order that I could set his wing with a brace, but he hopped off into the tall grass before I had to crouch low because of the flurry of wings over my head from his protectors.  I decided that he would be fine and live out a reasonable life with the way his Karma had fallen.

Johnny did not mind me.  I often brought him stale bread which I’d scatter on the ground for him. I just was not to get too close to him, that’s all.
I walk over to the side of the road and take a look.
Johnny is dead. One of the factory workers has broken his neck and left him lying there. 
Poor Johnny, life is cheap here in Mozambique.

There is a horrendous stench as I approach a section of the complex. Huge piles of cotton waste and seed have been burning for days in an attempt to clean up the grounds. Everyone has been running around sorting the place out because the very big OLAM bosses are arriving for a few days. They hail from Beira and Maputo.

I wonder to myself why the place cannot always be so tidy.
When I return to our house, I hear the loud music of the other bars competing with the one that started up with the 2 am enthusiast.

The village has woken for the day here in Morrumbala …














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There’s a Lot of Pretty Girls in Mozambique

Tropical storms have done what no man can control. Wrecked communications, determined which power stations may or may not operate and switched off the lights on entire areas in the Zambezia Province of Mozambique.
Fire Beetles arrive with Thunderstorms
As I write the draft on this Blog, the Internet is still not working, it’s stinking hot and there is no air-conditioning keeping me reasonably cool, (and sane) but life continues.
The surrounding village of shanty-houses and open air markets heave with humanity, flies and happy voices. Africans are philosophical and get on with their every-day lives of foraging, digging in their maize fields, swapping stories in the shade of ancient mango trees and zooming about on the main mode of transport in Mozambique, the bicycle.
One positive aspect of a huge voltage shortage is that the four bars in close proximity to my present abode are not beating out loud, conflicting music. I count this as a reprieve, as the music sometimes starts as early as 5am in the morning!
Giant African snails have come out with the rains. I am fascinated to watch them creep up the walls of the house and lodge themselves under the eaves where the little house sparrows angrily dive and swoop at them, possessively guarding their untidy nests in the roofing.
Giant African Snail
The rains have brought with them an array of creepy-crawlies, some of them not so inviting. Big hairy rain spiders as large as a man’s fist scuttle into the house if the door is left ajar. When confronted they raise their front legs and show you they mean business! I normally head off speedily in the opposite direction and leave Graham to deal with the scary beasts.
I was making our bed the other morning, and a scorpion dropped out of the blanket that we had kicked off onto the floor because it is too hot for blankets in this part of the world. Lesson learned, the blanket was folded and stored in a drawer for some insane visitor who may ask to use a blanket.
Our Morrumbala Veggie Patch
To keep myself busy, I have started to develop a garden.
 Illoma the gardener is very confused as he can understand a garden vegetable patch, and is happy to dig and toil over veggies that can be eaten. However, he is still trying to get his head around the fact that I am designing flower beds, planting trees, and striking cuttings. I can see him looking at me side-ways and thinking I am “not very well in my head.”
Graham has offered my landscaping knowledge to the company. His boss, who bases himself in Beira and makes an occasional foray to Morrumbala, said on one of his visits that the OLAM grounds and five staff house yards needed “beautifying”.  So Graham volunteered my expertise.
When I asked him if they were going to give me a budget for the project and if I would be paid for my services, he threw his head back, laughing and said, “Babe, I struggle to get paid monthly, do you honestly believe you would get anything?”
Graham and the accountant-early morning meeting
with OLAM workers
Under these prickly circumstances, I shall keep my council and just get on with the job.
It does give me pleasure and like I said earlier, it keeps me occupied when I am not writing, illustrating or taking photographs.
PS: This Blog was drafted on 16 January, and posted today…there has been no Internet, or mobile phone communications until now!
(All photos on this blog are taken on my morning walk with my cell/mobile phone.)



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Early Morning Walk in Morrumbala, Mozambique

I have decided to attempt uploading pictures on a daily basis taken with my cell/mobile phone.
At present I am in Morrumbala, Mozambique where my husband Graham is working as Agriculture Manager dealing with small holder cotton out growers for a large International company called OLAM
By 8am the heat here is unbearable, so I try to get out for a walk before 6am. That way the swarms of flies are not so bad and I don’t jump around like a deranged rabbit, flapping my hat at them and shouting obscenities that should not emanate from a lady’s mouth! 
Derelict Cotton Furnace

There are five staff houses where the managers, accountants and mechanics live, plus the huge cotton gin and warehouses here in the OLAM complex.

It is security fenced, with a bevy of security guards that pop up from behind trees and bushes and greet me with a cheery “Ola!”
On the fringe of the fence boundaries a massive village has evolved, with a mixture of  thatched mud houses and for the more affluent Mozambican a compact brick abode. 
In between the houses is a huge open market and moonshine bars, each with a music center strategically placed at the doors, their large speakers blasting out local music that thumps loudly with an ear shattering din of base boom-boom. 
It wouldn’t be so bad if there was only one of these bars, but there are three, all within a stones throw of each other and they all have different music blaring, trying to entice customers in to drink. The music starts at about 5am and continues throughout the day into the night until about 11pm.
In desperation I cut 3 CD’s of my music and asked the gardener, Iloma to go and give them to the owners of the bars. Two days later the same loud music was being played and when I asked Iloma where my music was, he looked at me in surprise and told me that he liked it, so he took the CD’s home with him!
(The locals here are delightful, friendly, child-like and see no reason why they should not “take” things.)
Beautiful Flamboyant Tree and Blue Skies
There are so many subjects to photograph, from the people, the old Colonial Portuguese architecture to the lush, tropical flora and fauna.

I have two fantastic cameras that I use for my professional photography, but seeing as I always have my mobile on me, I thought this would be a good way to have you “walk” with me and “see” what I see on a daily basis.

So, enjoy your daily walk…

(Oh, PS: if you like Susan’s Light-Box posts, you may also like to read my longer Bare Foot White African Posts.)

The Sunny Sky is Aqua Blue

Nagar’s in Quelimane is supposedly a four star bed and breakfast establishment.
Perhaps I am prejudiced because Graham and I ran our home, Beachcombers, in Cape Agulhas as a very successful bed and breakfast for a couple of years. It was awarded three stars by the South African Tourism Bureau of Standards and their criteria for star status was very strict.
At times the last people one wishes to have staying in your hotel establishment are other people who understand and have worked in hospitality. But in all fairness to Graham and me, we make a point of not making an issue of any accommodation unless it is justified.

Nagar’s was rough, ready and very expensive. One thing positive I’ll say for the place is the bedding was clean and the buffet style breakfast was edible, except for some very strange cocoon-like items that lay in wait for unsuspecting gourmets next to the bread rolls. I took a bite of one of those and had to discreetly deposit the contents of my mouthful into the paper serviette provided. It was old, rancid rice that had been moulded into glutinous ovals and left a bitter taste in my mouth. There were other items there of unrecognisable substance that I steered clear of after my adventurous attempt at the “cocoon thingies.” The cold pizza take-away from the night before became a more attractive alternative!

As Graham had purchases he needed to make for before leaving Quelimane, we left my luggage at the local offices. The O.L.A.M company vehicle he drives is an open pick-up truck, and anything in the back that is not tied down is quickly stolen. People literally clamber in and make off with things as big as generators, fridges and motor-bikes. So a couple of suit-cases would be an easy target and I could not see myself dressed in Graham’s clothes for the three months I planned on staying with him in Mozambique before returning to England for another stint of Care Giving.

My first impression of Quelimane was the smell of sewage. Open drains were piled high with discarded refuse, where scrawny dogs and cats rummaged for a possible tasty morsel. Children splashed and played in stagnant pools of murky water on the sides of the roads.

Driving from place to place in the sprawling town, I was so glad that I had my camera handy. Quelimane’s main mode of transport is the bicycle, there are thousands of them everywhere and they do not follow any form of traffic rules. They stop, turn and go where ever and whenever they wish. I saw one with a family of four people concertinaed between the handlebars and the carrier, shopping balanced on their heads and a baby one their backs, another transporting three fat goats, all winding and wheeling between huge pot-holes in the roads. Hooting vehicles travelled at high speed, miraculously avoiding the bicycles. All the time there was a loud beat of music blasting from loud speakers strategically placed outside shop doorways, enticing passers-by in to buy.

Once magnificent buildings erected by the Portuguese settlers crumbled with neglect along avenues of ancient flame trees that seemed to be trying to cheer the old dwellings up with their bright flowers that had dropped on the pavements, creating red carpets of swirling colour.

Women wore scarves magnificently knotted in fancy styles on their heads, or had their hair braided with a rainbow array of plastic beads. Sashaying in their bright congas, with baskets of goods balanced on their heads as they went about their business.
Men sat in groups on corners going nowhere slowly. Shouting out greetings to people they knew or saying something suggestive to the passing women.

At lunch we drove to the Quelimane delta and ate Portuguese piri-piri chicken at a restaurant situated on the river banks. Many early missionaries’ journeys and great white game hunters are associated starting or ending at this port. One of them David Livingston with his quest to spread the word of God to African tribes inland along the river, ended his famous west-to-east crossing of south-central Africa in 1856.

At last my piri-piri chicken arrived and I watched the fishermen in their dugouts and reflected on the story I have heard about how Quelimane was named.
Apparently when the great explorer Vasco da Gama, arrived on these shores in 1498, he asked some natives who were digging in the fields outside their village what the place was called. They thought he was asking what they were doing, so they said “kuliamani” which meant in their language, “we are cultivating”. And so that was the name recorded in his ships log. Quelimane was originally a Swahili trade centre, and then later grew as a slave market. It was founded by the Muslim Kiwa Sultante and was one of the oldest towns in the region.

In the 16th century, the Portuguese founded a trading station at Quelimane. Sisal plantations were organized by German planters in the beginning of the 20th century. The town started to grow and attracted several communities from different backgrounds, including Muslims and Indians, and new infrastructure was built by the Portuguese authorities. The busy port handled tea as its major export grown and processed in the district of Zambézia then coconut plantations were also grown, transforming the town into an important bustling city.

The chicken was polished off my plate and Graham informed me it was time to leave, so we set off on our journey back to Morrumbala. I was grateful there was air-conditioning in the truck as it was 40° and I was used to a more temperate Cape Agulhas climate. 
We stopped at a fuel station on our way out of town and stocked up with cool drinks, water and biscuits. I made sure the pizza was easily accessible too!

Huge areas that used to be rice paddies edged the main road for miles, the soil rich and black. Neglected palm plantations stretched to far horizons. Thatched huts nestled in groups under the trees and along the edge of the road. 
Peasant farmers cultivated their small vegetable gardens of manioc and maize.
Groups of children clutched chickens for sale by their feet and waved them at us as we passed by, in the hope that we would stop and buy. 
Every half mile or so I saw sacks of charcoal under make-shift shelters, the owners hoping someone would stop and make a purchase of a bag to cook a daily meal.

Everyone in Mozambique appeared to spend their time looking to make a living. Most of the people are poor, but they seem to always be smiling, bustling about like ants, greeting each other, selling, buying, talking and networking.
As we drove along, I said to Graham, “It’s one great big endless market; the sides of the road are one endless place of small innovative businesses. These people amaze me!”

He did not answer me as he was avoiding pot-holes in the road and keeping an eye on a man riding a bicycle in front of us transporting a goat, a chair and a woman.