Monday, 20 February 2012

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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