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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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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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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The Long and Winding Road from Quelimane to Morrumbala

The turn off from the main road to Morrumbala is at a village named Cero. 
It is a conglomeration of thatched huts and market stalls under huge mango trees.  The branches of the trees are used to display an assortment of brightly coloured second hand clothes, sarongs and shoes, their laces looped together and hanging from branches in chains of assorted sizes.
Suddenly the tar ended, and we were now bouncing and banging about on a bush road full of corrugations, ruts and pot-holes in the truck that OLAM has supplied to Graham as his company vehicle.
I thought gratefully about the sports bra I was wearing. Any woman with breasts larger than walnuts would not be a happy person without the support of a good binding around that area of their anatomy! 
The truck is a working vehicle. Certainly not a luxury one and the ridged shock-absorbers are not kind on one’s back or boobs!
It was now twilight and we still had an hour’s driving to complete before reaching the OLAM cotton complex where the staff houses were safely surrounded by security fencing.
OLAM Offices, Morrumbala
Native houses nestled in the midst of their small patches of maize and manioc, lining the sides of the bush track in an endless seam of humanity. Mozambique boasts a huge population of approximately 24 million people.  I remarked to Graham that I noticed mainly young adults that appeared to be in their twenties, teenagers and infants, only occasionally did I see an old person. (Perhaps they were all sleeping.)
At last we pulled in to the grounds and arrived at the Manager’s house and I was pleasantly surprised. It was one of five well built houses which had been constructed by the company that owned the cotton company before OLAM bought them out two years ago.
Our House
“Welcome home Babe,” Graham said to me as I eased my aching bones out of the truck. It had been a long journey; I was tired, dusty and interested to see the inside of my new abode.
“Not bad”, I thought. Lounge/dining room, kitchen, three bedrooms, bathroom and 2 WC’s. Each house has a house-keeper and a gardener to look after the “Boss” as the managers are called here by the people who work for them. However, the house-keepers, (they are generally men and apparently know basic cooking) are used to working for bachelors and have no idea of cleanliness.
A thick film of grease covered every surface in the kitchen and the furniture was covered in red dust. The gardener’s idea of gardening is to sweep the grounds around the houses with home-made brooms that look as if they escaped a Harry Potter novel, and lay huge importance on vegetable gardens which are well stocked and could supply an army. (Well, actually they do as they gather the veggies in bags before they leave work in the evening. I presume they either take them to sell in the Morrumbala market, or home to their families.)
Shanty-Town Surrounding OLAM Complex
The entire complex is surrounded by a massive shanty-town that has attached itself to the borders of the Morrumbala village, evolving and stretching to the boundaries of security fencing that protects the OLAM cotton gin, ware-houses, offices and staff houses.
There is a constant buzz of people’s voices, loud music, the base on full blast, bellows from huge speakers strategically placed in the door ways of numerous moon-shine bars where people can be seen outside whistling, dancing and gyrating, their bare feet pounding a rhythm on the bare ground, sweeping up swirls of dust whilst slapping clouds of flies off their ebony skins.
Everyone appeared oblivious to the mingled smells of cooking, refuse dumps and night soil. Occasionally the cry of a slaughtered animal entwined itself in the continuous buzz of the human vocal hum.
Graham saw me looking at the state of the kitchen, chuckling to himself more than at me, I heard him say “I warned Pedro to clean the place before you arrived, seems he did not listen.” He then went on to tell me, “These people allocated to the houses do not like to work very much. They always think they can do a chore on another day or at another time.”
Even although it was late evening it was humid and the temperature was 40°Centigrade. 
It was far too late to worry about Pedro and the thought of taking a shower to slake off the dust from our trip, and then imbibing in a nice ice-cold drink and eating a sandwich was more appealing.
Pedro and Illoma
Tomorrow was another day and would be a new challenge.  I had never spoken Portuguese in my life and I was going to have to somehow communicate with not only Pedro the house-man and Illoma the gardener, but with people in general. I would be living in an ex-Portuguese Colony for the next three months.
The Eagle had landed.
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