Wednesday, 11 January 2012

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 Zamb├ęzia 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.