1. as I clip my toenails on the veranda of our sloping bamboo and thatched roof hut I hear some noises in the bushes around me, dry grass and tall trees sing in the wind, dust blows and sticks to every surface, the sea-like lake has waves that crash today – the noises, I see them, baboons; one perched in a thin twig like tree grabbing fruits of some sort; I look left, another baboon on the path, scratches itself, looks at me, cares/doesn’t care, darts off, I cut another nail- I smile at my participation in this self-grooming primate & homo-sapien subsistence.
a silver and bright-blue skink chases an insect across the floor
a 1.5m monitor lizard clomps through the bush
I dream of leopards – at least three times, of other animals too, they’re frightening, the dreams, perhaps, she says, preparing me for a confrontation one day soon. One dream; I looked out the back of the hut; it was over a hill, very green, lots of big acacias, (not like here), all sorts of animals, elephants, giraffes, hyenas, etc. just being, sleeping moving – suddenly the front door makes a noise, there’s a leopard there, its fighting to get in, I’m holding the door shut, screaming for a knife. – I wake.
Another dream, similar, where I confront it, with a machete, but I wake. It’s always dark, mostly blue like light. I learn later that these dreams may have come from Larium, the malaria medication we’ve been taking. Possibly contributing to the mental and emotional tug of war that’s been happening lately. We switch to doxy but we’ve run out.
2. these weeks have been filled with sounds and smells, stepping backwards, stepping forwards, words and thoughts, writings and images; here in the manda wilderness (ghost forest); volunteering with the trust, working on projects at the farm, collecting bamboo (.3), carrying rocks, making paths, tightening bolts, banging hammers, chopping tomatoes, making chutney, making sauce, swimming in the lake, playing volleyball, sitting around fires, walking through villages to get information for writing articles on remote health-care, agriculture, and environment issues, working with the community trust by travelling to villages and having meetings (.4) about community problems and giving info on mining +’s & -‘s (mostly -‘s)… thinking forward thinking backwards. Trying to research for a new body of work here, where to start? mostly feels like a long process of attempting to understand life here, how removed it is from my own, but also how normal everything has become.
2.1 – IPS articles:
3. emmanuel leads us through the bush, me, machete in hand, happy we’re off the constructed paths at the lodge and into the scrub – we walk along a dry riverbed, 5 of us to collect bamboo. We find a patch and start chopping, I’ve no idea of the method-I’ve never used a machete before, only had nightmares about them after reading Mandela’s biography, and watching Hotel Rwanda and The Last King of Scotland, but walking around the sand being pointed out leopard tracks has made me desperately want to own one…- So we’re chopping, emmanuel (the farm manager) laughs at my lack of skill, but he shows me, I learn, but still hack away using more energy than needed, we all do this for a while, then pile them up into bundles of 8, these are thick pieces of bamboo, to use for making paths, to use for everything it seems, they find the right kind of tree-bark for twine to wrap around the bamboo, emmanuel gives me the smaller bundle, and tries to balance it on my shoulder, its heavy, but more painful than anything; it digs into my shoulders and he thinks I can’t do it. “we’ll come back for this one,” he says, “no, no, I can do it,” I say stubbornly.
we start walking through the scrub, the bamboo, maybe 3-4meters long, throws me off balance – it starts to really dig in to my shoulders, so painful I want to cry, but it’s just a mental process isn’t it, pain? I try not to focus- alexis, the community project manager is also struggling, so I don’t feel so hopeless. Maybe we walk for half an hour, or less, but it feels much longer, stopping occasionally to rest, i feel like giving up – feeling my shoulders caving inward, bruising or weeping… but we reach the farm and I throw the pile on the ground, delighted and sore that we made it – emmanuel and the other farm workers laugh – why was that so hard? this is something we do every day in half the time… we all laugh.
Lessons in African livelihood are white-peoples tales.
3.1. loveness, emmanuel’s child, she’s 4. We can’t communicate through language, but we get the message across, she helps her mum at the farm, she shows me how to carry a baby on my back wrapped around with a sarong, like all the other women-mothers here- but I’m carrying a teddy-bear, not a baby, she’s proud of what she’s taught me, I smile. Later, we pick weeds from in between the herbs, someone’s singing, everyone’s watering, 2 hours in the morning, 2 hours in the afternoon, the thatched shades crackle in the late-morning sun, I pick some rocket from a bed and nibble at it, loveness giggles. Later, I’m helping joyce (loveness’ mum) around the farm; her smaller child emma, she’s 1.5yrs old, and loveness are in the tool shed, there’s hacksaws and machetes lying around, nails and bolts and rakes on the ground, im stressing, trying to say ‘be careful, don’t touch that’, but joyce seems unfazed by the potential disaster, kids just seem to know how to get around and do things without too much damage. perhaps because they start carrying bricks and water on their heads from age 2.
4. it’s the wind that starts near 4am that wakes me, it sounds like a motorboat – but no one has one of those here (or maybe just one person does) – just dhows, going the way of the wind. Dozing for an hour before the sounds of women and children washing and cleaning pots pans plates and cups and babies in the lake begin – we’ve an audience here on the shore of lake Niassa, kids gather and stare as we pull ourselves out of our tents and start a fire for tea- james and charles, translator and companion, are carrying weight and leading the way through these villages of mud-brick and thatched roof homes we’re visiting this week. 5 in total, 5 days, no roads, just paths, sand, a lot of sand, dirt, huts, homes, trees, farms, cassava, maize, tomatoes, greetings, laughter, formality, chiefs. We have community meetings about problems the communities face (lack of employment, poverty, lack of infrastructure/development, too many students- not enough teachers, falling down schools, no desks or chairs, no health-clinic, long distances, problems with hippos destroying crops, leopards eating the dogs that scare baboons, virus affecting the cassava, insects eating the cabbages, water wells drying up/breaking down.
4.1. at the first village, Chicaia, a 3 hour walk from the lodge, our responses are mostly from one man, sceptical, with good reason, of us, and ‘who are you?’, and ‘you’ll never come back anyway’, ‘we’re poor here, so we’ll except the mine even though it has problems’. It changes throughout the villages, and people are concerned about the problems and are happy to hear about the problems and benefits. The next village, Mataka, we walk to that afternoon, just 1.5 hrs from Chicaya, we meet the chief and ask his permission to camp on the lakeshore, a we do in every village, we buy some mustard leaves for dinner and set up camp. The lake is still-glass and the sun is just going down, we jump in the freshwater to wash, but don’t stay too long for fear of crocodiles.
4.2. in some places along the track children dance and sing us songs, we say ‘bon dia’ ‘bon tarde’ ‘mula bwanji’ ‘good afternoon’ ‘hello’ more times than we can count, every single person greets us in some way, with a respectful two hand wave-clap, or a smile and a shout. Men sit under the shade listening to a radio, or manning their tiny shops with sachets of sweets and washing powder. Each village we visit is only an hour or so walk from the next, so it’s not difficult. We buy vegetables literally from the tops of women’s heads who are coming home from the days harvest, 50kwacha (Malawian currency because this area is so isolated from the rest of Mozambique) for 2 huge bunches of mustard leaves (about 40c), a pile of tomatoes for under $1. Mango and banana season is coming, but it’s not here yet, and there’s no other fruit around.
4.3. we sleep and wake early, our meetings discuss depleting supplies of fish and firewood, we try to understand why – more people, more poverty, different fishing methods, using mosquito nets, catching the young fish, people need an income, this helps. The women walk for up to 6 hours to collect firewood from the mountains; they are having to go further and further because they collect only deadwood, they say. The women do most of the farming as well; I’m humbled by life here. I feel endlessly privileged and useless at the same time. There’s no health clinic, or there is one, but only volunteers, or one nurse, and hundreds of people come here, from other villages too. It’s too far to a hospital…
4.4 you start judging one community as being wealthier or better off than the next based on whether the school has desks or not, or whether the community has a school at all. Sense of judgment is totally skewed “this school, at least has concrete on the floor”.
It’s also surprising to notice the differences between the villages even though they’re only 1.5 hours walk apart. As we hit the furthest north one we were visiting this time, Ngofi, it had pubs (mud brick constructions with open doors and windows, blaring African reggae, the men either yelling from inside or lounging outside, it’s amazing how quickly alcohol changes the feeling. This place has more in it’s tiny shops, instantly I feel as if I should buy something, do I need something? I can’t think of anything.
4.5. the women in Ngofi seem more present in the committee, more vocal, stronger, they even ask to talk to emma and I afterwards, about business ideas they have for the women in the community, starting a bakery, starting a chicken house, agricultural training, things to empower the women, things they can benefit from; we’re overjoyed with this because the women have had such little voice in most of the meetings, we wish we could just say “yes, of course, we’ll start these straight away,” and these projects would only need such a small amount of money to begin, but a lot of work in terms of training and resources and distances. But we hope. Any ideas?
5. so for now, back at the lodge, we’ve been summoned to immigration, we hope it’s not because of our meetings in the villages, hoping that it’s just the immigration official with malaria in Cobue is bored. We have more meetings in the closer villages this week and then we’re going to 3 inland villages next week for 5 days of long hikes for more meetings. But I’m aching for the mountains, to see the forest and inland life.
6. and so. still dreaming about coffee back home, dreaming about the smells and sounds of home, still dreaming about the faces of friends and my own community there, wondering if I’ll return before the end of the year – there’s still so much I want to do and see in this continent before I leave. If I can get some more work writing articles and taking photos then I’ll try to move around a bit, but home calls often these days…