Goodbye Morrumbala, Goodbye Jack

Me ‘n Jack

My last morning walk with Jack started around the usual time, 6 am.
He was waiting for me outside the kitchen door and gave me his usual talkative “Hello!”
I felt sad as I could not tell him that this would be the last time we would be taking our tour around the OLAM cotton complex here in Morrumbala.

Tomorrow, Graham and I shall be leaving early for Quelimane, where I shall say goodbye to him at the airport.
My first leg of the trip back to South Africa, via the Mozambique capital, Maputo.

At least this time I can understand most Portuguese and am able to make myself understood. Coming here three months ago was different, I had no idea what anyone was saying to me!

Getting back to Jack, he has been my friend, I shall be sorry to not have him around as he’s a great conversationalist. But at least he will be here to keep Graham company.

Next posting shall be from England. What a contrast it shall be, – from the extreme heat of Central Africa to the icy cold of Europe!

Thanks everyone, for sharing my early morning walks here in Mozambique, it’s been great to know you have been tagging along with me in cyber-space.

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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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Mud Abstract

When the sun comes out after torrential tropical downpours here in Morrumbala, Mozambique, the earth cracks into dry geometrical shapes.
Here is a digital abstract I created from one of my photo’s:




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Chicken in Paradise

Last Sunday we decided to go to the local restaurant here in Morrumbala called “Paradisio Resturante”.
The proprietor is a rather paunchy Old Portuguese fellow, married to a local lady who does all the work whilst he looks on and shouts instructions every now and again.
Usually he can be found slouched in his chair at the entrance to the restaurant’s pub, with one of his pet poodles lurking between his ankles.
As you pass by, the poodle makes a rush at you, growling and gnashing his pointy little teeth until his master swats at his backside, shouting “comportar-se voce merda, se comportam!” (“behave you little shyte, behave!”)
Tail between his legs, he slinks back under his boss’ chair and waits for his next victim. 
It is not the cleanest of places and definitely not the best I have ever been to. They serve char-grilled peri-peri chicken and chips and the beer s are ice cold. So, if you ignore the state of the kitchen and make darn sure you do not use their bathroom, eating there can be a reasonably good experience.
Also, if you close your eyes to the t-shirts that the waiters are wearing, and do not allow your imagination to run riot as to whether they really do have AIDS, as broadcast in the slogan stamped in large letters on the front, you can get on with the business of ordering your meal.
It is also a pleasant change to being confined within the OLAM cotton complex compound and Graham was concerned that I was going a little stir-crazy after three weeks lack of Internet and unable to communicate with people on the “out-side world”!
We got there and said hello to the landlord, avoided his poodle and made our way to our usual table in the corner.
Then the noise started.
A high pitched yowl permeated the four corners of the place.

“Wow Babe,” I said to Graham, whilst looking in the direction of the kitchen, “someone must have ordered goat for lunch.”
I visualised a goat being slaughtered outside the kitchen door.
“Nope,” Graham pointed at three men sitting around a table some distance away, “there’s your goat.”
It did not take long for us to realize that one of the men was a very drunk deaf mute.
He was interesting to watch as he acted out what he wanted to do with one of his companions. It was not very friendly. He mimed that he’d slit his throat, stab him in the chest and then every now and then forgot about that and indicated that he was hungry and wanted to eat.
Or perhaps I was being naïve and he wanted to eat his friend after cutting his throat.
Our chicken had arrived and we tucked in, trying to ignore the blood curdling yelps from across the room.
Above us was a pergola with a tangle of creepers covering it,  I looked up, there looking back at me was a large black rat, his beady eyes darting backwards and forwards, looking at our food.
Then the poodle arrived at our table and sidled up to my chair.
“Shoo!” I shouted at him when I saw what he was about to do. He hopped off on three legs, the fourth leg waiving half-cocked in the air.
The cacophony of yelps continued from the drunken man.
“Sounds like a yeti. Well what I think a yeti should sound like,” I mumbled as I tucked into my peri-peri chicken.
“Time to get out of here,” Graham growled, standing up and pushing out his chair.
We returned to our house in the OLAM complex.
The three shebeens (moon-shine bars) in the shanty town were competing with one another for customers and blasting out their loud local music.
“Even they are quieter than that noisy guy in Paradisio,” I remarked.
“Yes,” agreed Graham, “but at least here we can close the doors, shut the windows and turn on the air-conditioner to drown out the noise!”
I am not sure that we will return to Paradise in a hurry.
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Tropical Storms in Mozambique

For the past three weeks there has been no Internet due to tropical storms in the region.
As there are no land-line telecoms here, everyone relies on cell/mobile phones.
Again, with the adverse weather, they do not work well all the time.
To top all of this, power cuts are frequent and we often find ourselves sitting in the dark.
On the positive side of this state of affairs, the incessant music that plays without respite from the shanty-town that pushes itself up against the OLAM cotton complex’s security fencing stops with lack of electricity feeding the huge speakers and there is a welcome silence for a while.
However, living in such a remote part of Mozambique Internet is paramount to keeping sane. The lack of it for a writer such as me brings on withdrawal symptoms similar to when I try to cut down on my coffee intake!
 No complaints though, the three weeks gave me time to update my work resume’s, rewrite articles I had been procrastinating about sorting out, and time to catalogue photographs that had been backed up on my external hard-drive for months.
Further to this, my knowledge of garden landscaping and design had been offered by Graham to the OLAM senior management prior to my arrival in Morrembala. This has kept me busy during the days when Graham is at work.
His immediate boss had mentioned to Graham that the cotton complex needed what he called “beautifying” and when my husband heard that, he said I was the person to fit the job description. When I asked Graham if this would be a paid job, and if OLAM would supply a budget for me to get a plant nursery going, to purchase plants and so forth, all I got was a huge belly laugh from him, “Babe,” he said, shaking his head, “I have been fighting with them to honour my salary payments for the past three months, which have not been forthcoming. I doubt you would get paid or any financial support. If you take the job on, you will have to improvise.”
Astounded at the news that Graham was fighting to get paid monthly by what is one of the world’s largest commodity broker companies, I was more interested in why he was prepared to continue working for them. From what I was told then made me shake my head in astonishment.
Apparently the last email sent  by Graham to his immediate boss asking for what is legally his had a return response to the effect that OLAM Mozambique were trying to make a plan to pay him, but they could not make any promises.
“Goodness Babe” I exploded, “Why on earth are we still here? It’s not as if this is the best place in the world to live with amazing attractions,” with that, the high shrieking of a pig that was having his throat slit in the village that surrounds the OLAM complex covered an un-lady like expletive I had made after my question.
That was just before the Christmas holiday, the particular boss who promised to “sort something” eventually organised to pay Graham what he was owed, but only after he had handed in his resignation.
When the boss phoned Graham and asked him to withdraw his resignation, he refused as there has been no solution made as to where the money from January 2012 and onwards was going to come from. Considering OLAM is a huge International company with their main offices bases in Singapore, I find all of this amazing. Only in an African country does this sort of abuse of work ethic seem to take place.
The end of this month is coming up and I am sitting on the side-lines watching the whole issue play out with interest.
My flight out of Mozambique to Johannesburg is in seventeen days, where I look forward to spending a couple of days with my Uncle and cousins before flying to UK to work for a couple of months.
Fingers crossed something really positive happens for Graham before then… 
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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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"Very nice, I think you should give her to me."

I soon found the days merging into the first fortnight of my three months stay in Morrumbala, Mozambique, before returning to work in England in the New Year.
My Portuguese was slowly improving, as much to my delight; I discovered some really good web-sites that offered free lessons. Logging on to them has become part of my daily routine, – if the Internet is working, – before settling down to writing my 1000 words a day. (This has not been very difficult to carry out. There are not many distractions here.)
The Shanty-Town at the foot of my garden.
My lap-top was set up the next day of my arrival on the table in the lounge/dining room which is the coolest place in the house where there is an air-conditioner and a ceiling fan. Both of them work 24/7, pushing the heavy air around.
My new Home
Pedro had cleaned the dust and grease off all the surfaces in the house and kitchen, laundered the shower curtain that surprisingly turned out to be white and not brown in colour, and had got used to the idea that sheets on our bed had to be washed and changed once a week.
The gardens in the OLAM complex had been sorely neglected for two years since the present management take-over and to alleviate total boredom, I happily became involved with revamping them. After all, there is a gardener allocated to each of the five staff houses, and two at the company office block. The only gardens that looked as if they had been cared for when I first arrived appeared to be the one surrounding the offices. The rest were swept yards with a vegetable garden in ours that Graham had started in anticipation of my arrival, (he knows I love eating salads, and leafy green stuff!)
On occasion, when Graham does not have to take one of his cotton supervisors with him on his trips to the peasant farmer cotton out-growers in the Zambezia Province areas, he phones me and asks “Fancy a road tip today?”
Always happy at a foray out of the confines of the OLAM complex, and excited about seeing a new area which may reveal good photo opportunities, I never turn the offer down. So, I quickly put a bag together with my cameras, a couple of bottles of water and make up filled rolls for a picnic lunch.
An OLAM Bush Station
Some of the places Graham has to visit are as much as two hours’ drive away from Morrumbala, making the round trip a good four hours. This excludes the stops at the OLAM cotton stations and the peasant farm smallholdings. It is a long day in the hot sun and the bush roads are like rusty old roller-coasters that rattle one’s bones and teeth!
On our first trip together, we went to an area called Lipembe.
En route we were stuck behind a funeral procession. It was interesting to see that all the mourners on the road and surrounding our pick-up were men. The vehicle carrying the coffin had women sitting around it, keening and howling. They sounded like very sad banshees.
Women Mourners
One of the men stopped us and warned us to go very slowly. So Graham slowed right down, (when in Mozambique, or any African country for that matter, listen to the man on the street, it can save you a great deal of mis-understandng and trouble!) The men swarmed around our truck and we kept a respectable speed.
Rolling down his window, Graham asked the man who was walking next to us in his local African language, who the person in the coffin in front of us had been, “Businessman, big businessman. Many wives, many goats, many children” was the answer.
The Funeral Procession
Eventually the procession pulled off into the entrance of the local school and we were able to proceed. It was good to get away from such a woeful crowd.
Soon after leaving the funeral, we saw a truck bumping along the track towards us. It had a load of people sitting in the back, clinging on for their dear lives. “Ah, that’s one of my more wealthy farmers” said Graham, slowing down.
“Hello Patrick” Graham greeted the man driving the overloaded vehicle. Patrick stopped his transport, jumped out the door and rushed over to greet Graham enthusiastically.
I was duly introduced, “Patrick, this is my wife.”
Patrick’s Passengers
He looked me over, “Very nice, I think you should give her to me. She can come and live in my house and stay with me.”
He and my husband continued to discuss this idea for a while. From what I understood, Graham thought it better that I came home with him as I was far too cheeky for Patrick.
Graham winked at me and we drove off.
I think Graham knew that I’d be very cheeky towards him if I’d been handed over to Patrick. I am used to “living it rough” in the bush, but I have no intention of going to live in some mud hut and have the lesser status of a minor tenth wife!
Graham with his Station Managers
What impressed me on that road trip and with other trips that have followed is the affection all the OLAM station managers and the farmers appear to have for Graham. He has a way of encouraging the African people to be more productive. Also the fact that he speaks three of their languages goes a long way to good communication and understanding. Since he has been working for OLAM the ammount of
cotton planted by the outgrowers have increased from 600 hectares to an expected 6000 hectares in six months, something the company has
never seen before.
Late that afternoon, upon return to Morrembala, Graham stopped off at a house in the town. Asking him where were, he told me he wanted me to see some of the staff houses that had been built for “upper” Mozambican staff working for OLAM. There was a street of small brick homes with corrugated roofing, each with about a ¼ acre of garden and fenced.
“Very nice”, I remarked, “the people must be thrilled to have homes like this.”
“Yes and no.” Was Graham’s answer, “The houses have been here for a couple of years, equipped for running water, but never had it connected. The workers have to come into the OLAM complex every day and collect water in drums from our borehole there.”
Shocked, I said to him, “But what about sanitation?”
I was well aware that the huge mud hut village that has evolved on the outskirts of Morrembala and stops at the borders of the OLAM security fencing is pretty “rough and ready”. They have to go to the toilet in the bush on the outskirts of the village, but the basic infrastructure of the actual town of Morrumbala was created in the Portuguese era, with proper buildings, houses and sanitation.
These houses were built in this part of the town and should have all the luxuries of the senior management houses and offices have within the complex.
Shanty-Town Children and Guinea Fowl.
With a huge sigh, Graham said to me “My immediate boss seems unwilling to fork out and get a decent borehole dug to service the houses. But I am working on it even although housing is not my department.” He went on to say, “There is an Indian company here with borehole rigs and I aim to get one sunk as soon as I can convince the OLAM powers that be in Beira to part with some funds.”
This was two months ago and I’m proud to say that the bore-hole is now sunk and as of a fortnight ago, the houses have running water. Graham tells me he was very touched when he walked into the OLAM offices and received a standing ovation from the staff. They were very grateful that someone had cared enough about their personal welfare.
I have started to see a pattern here with OLAM. It appears to me, (and this is a personal observation) that they think that if you are working for them and they supply a house to live in, you should be overwhelmed with having a roof over your head. No matter what the condition. Also, if terms are not met in a workers contract, such as a company vehicle that is meant to be supplied and does not materialize, the worker/s should still carry on, making no complaints because they have a house, with or without lights and running water!  
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