Friday, 6 January 2012

I Like to Spend some Time in Mozambique

This time last year I would never have imagined I’d find myself sitting in a remote village in Mozambique called Morrumbala.
With my husband Graham, working as an agriculture consultant dealing with peasant farmers growing cotton for an International company called O.L.A.M.

We are into the first week of 2012.
It’s Friday, there is a tropical downpour, and the sweet smell of rain mingling with the hot, baked earth is permeating the air. It wraps itself around me with a sticky humidity.
Fat rain-drops crash down on the roof, its corrugated iron sheets sounding a drum beat which is competing with the heavy base blast of the surrounding African village’s sound system in the nearby moonshine bar.

Outside my window is a flock of little sparrows, their wings a fast beating flurry, as they duck and dive after a myriad of flying ants that emerge from giant termite mounds when the rains start in this part of Africa.

Two weeks ago every surface was covered in a film of fine red dust.

Now the rains have come it seems as if nature has taken a giant paint brush and splashed green hues of colour on the once parched foliage and splodged a bright primary pallet of red, orange, yellow and blue on a variety of tropical flowers and shrubs in the garden surrounding our house here in the O.L.A.M complex.

Just over a month ago, I flew from Cape Town, via Johannesburg where I changed planes to Maputo, (the capital city of Mozambique.) 
There I had to wait three hours for a plane to Quelimane, where Graham had travelled five and a half hours from Morrumbala to collect me.

On the day of my departure, I booked a taxi for 5 am to pick me up from our home in Cape Agulhas, the very last little village in the south of Africa.
We drove for two and a half hours to Cape Town International airport. 
I took an internal flight to Oliver Tambo Airport in Johannesburg and transferred to the International flight on the Mozambique airline that my travel agency had recommended to Maputo. 
However, nobody from the agency remembered to tell me that after I’d made the booking, the airline had put on an extra plane that they hired from South African Airways because the Mozambique offices had overbooked the plane by 90%!

Eventually I discovered what was going on, went to book my luggage on the plane I thought I had a seat on, (I even had the seat number) and the lady behind the desk told me I was on stand-by, “first come, first served” she informed me
“But I have a firm booking!” I insisted,
“Never mind,” she shrugged, “that’s the way it works on this airline” and promptly turned her back on me and some other passengers who were furious.
About twenty minutes before the flight was due to take off, she beckoned to us and said, “Go, now, you are OK to go!”

We all rushed through customs, then made our way to the plane, running all the time as we were told that we only had five minutes before the gates closed. 
As I got to the top of the stairs into the plane everything went black. I had fainted in the first class galley. When I came round, I was sitting in a first class passenger seat and the senior steward was fanning me with what looked like a fancy menu, “No, I said, I am in the wrong seat, I did not have enough money to pay for this seat.”
“It is fine,” the steward told me as he handed me a coke-a-cola, “the GM of radio and television, Mozambique has given you his seat. He is sitting in yours. Now drink this for the sugar”
With shaking hands, I gratefully took the coke and gulped it down. I still felt disoriented and embarrassed that I had made my entry onto the plane in such a dramatic manner, “thank goodness I’m wearing jeans.” I thought to myself, “If I was wearing a skirt, I’d have had it up around my ears with my nickers on display, when I did my duck-dive onto the floor!”

The gentleman sitting next to me tapped my arm and introduced himself, “Hi, you feel better now?”
“I think so.” I replied, feeling foolish.
“Oliver, head of Mozambique security,” he informed me with a smile.
“Oh heck,” I thought, “did I look like I was so bad that I now had a watch-dog to keep an eye on me?”
Oliver then went on to tell me that the man who gave up my seat was very important and a good friend of his.
“Yes, I hear from the cabin crew he is in charge of broadcasting in Mozambique.” With a chuckle I said “don’t think my taking his seat will make front headlines though.”

The plane started to speed up along the runway for take-off…
The next thing we knew the senior steward started screaming at the top of his voice, “Emergency! Emergency, heads down between your legs, heads down! ” and with that the plane rocked violently from side to side as the Captain slammed on brakes, dumping gallons of fuel at the same time.
The plane screeched round in a semi-circle before coming to a grinding halt.
I thought I was going to faint again, this was truly frightening, the plane I am sitting in has nearly crashed and I wonder why my left hand feels so sore. 
I look down and Oliver is holding it in a vice grip.
“Um, Oliver, I need my hand back please,” I say to him.
“Sorry, thought that was lights out,” his face as white as a sheet.
The Captain’s voice came over the speakers, “Sorry folks, looks like one of the emergency doors is open. We have to go back to our parking bay to get the engineers to look at the problem. Also have to re-fuel which will take a while.”
Dumping fuel is a necessary precaution in case the plane catches alight. It is also an extremely expensive exercise.
We taxi back to the parking bay. Two engineers traipse into the plane and find the problem. 
We wait for the refuelling and a time slot for the plane to take off again.

I am relieved to say that the forty minute flight to Maputo went smoothly and Oliver gave me his business card, saying that if I have any problems whilst in transit in Maputo, to call him, he’d sort things out for me.
My suitcase had been booked through from Johannesburg to Quelimane, but I thought that with the bad luck I’d had so far, I’d find it on the luggage carrousel. And so it was. 
Happily going around and around with all of its baggage friends that it had made in the hold.

Fortunately I had a three hour wait for my plane to Quelimane, so after clearing customs I made my way to enquiries to ask where I could book in for my flight. It was difficult, as the staff only spoke Portuguese, and the only foreign language I spoke at the time was French.
Eventually, with much hand waving and jumping about, I found the right area and got my boarding ticket.
I headed towards the domestic lounge, found a corner by an open door where the breeze flowed over me as I settled down with what turned out to be a long wait, the plane had been delayed.

We took off an hour later. 
The plane was full and the fellow sitting next to me was as drunk as a lord! (Payback time to me for sitting in someone’s first class seat on the last flight, I thought to myself.) 
The passengers sitting close to me all looked on in sympathy as the idiot drunk tried to rest his head on my shoulder. I pushed it off and turned my back on him, his breath was foetid.
For an hour and forty minutes, I pretended to be asleep. 
He continuously tapped me on my back, trying to chat me up until I’d had enough and hailed the air-hostess who said something to him in the local lingo and he stopped bothering me.
What a relief it was when we finally landed.

As I arrived late evening, Graham had booked us into a local Bed and Breakfast called Nagars
He had business to conduct in Quelimane the next day before returning to Morrumbala.
I was pleased as the trip from South Africa to Mozambique had been a long and eventful one and I did not think I could cope with a further five and a half hours of travel that night.

It was good to see him again. We had been apart from each other for a few months while I was working as a Care Giver to the elderly in England, and then returned to our home in L’Agulhas, South Africa for six weeks to get the place ready for holiday rental before travelling to Mozambique to spend the Festive Season together.

We dropped my luggage off at Nagars and then went to a restaurant run by a Lebanese family. 
I ordered pizza, but was too exhausted to eat, so asked for a doggy bag, thinking it would be a good thing to nibble on our long journey back to Morrumbala the next day. 
Much to both of our surprise we had to pay for the take-away! Yes, we paid for the pizza, and then paid more to take it away with us. When Graham asked the waiter why we had to do this, he looked at us as if we were being very silly and slowly said “take away, you pay more you see?”
We paid more, and left clutching the pizza.

“Welcome to Mozambique,” Graham said to me with a twinkle in his eye, “they do things differently here.”
“So I see.”
PS: Bob Dylan wrote:
I like to spend some time in Mozambique
The sunny sky is aqua blue
And all the couples dancing cheek to cheek
It's very nice to stay a week or two
And maybe fall in love just me and you.

There's a lot of pretty girls in Mozambique
And plenty time for good romance
And everybody likes to stop and speak
To give the special one you seek a chance
Or maybe say hello with just a glance.

Lying next to her by the ocean 
Reaching out and touching her hand
Whispering your secret emotion
Magic in a magical land.

And when it's time for leaving Mozambique
To say goodbye to sand and sea
You turn around to take a final peek
And you see why it's so unique to be
Among the lovely people living free
Upon the beach of sunny Mozambique.