what can i say of walking through these villages that you’ve been to before; you have seen it before haven’t you? I’ve seen your pictures. You have said it before haven’t you? I’ve read your book. Nothing to add of another mzungu voyeuristic experience, of clicking and noting, and seeing your cracked walls, cracked roofs and knowings of survival.
I’m chasing james, our compadre and interpreter, through the fields of cassava southwards along the lake by the light of the moon only, it’s nearly full now. You can’t differentiate between a mound and the flat, we weave through the ghostly plants, – such a stable here, of such subsistence here; and along the houses, homes of many, fires lit inside, a baby cries, someone’s cooking, nsima, fish and some more, a dog gnarles, barks and comes closer, “give me your machete james”, the dog stops short, I hurry on, “im not going to chase you two, my feet are blistered, and this fucking sand, I hate this fucking sand, isn’t there another way?”
There’s fires blazing in the mountains on the left, ahead, behind; they told us earlier, lit by travellers passing from village to village, lit by careless cigarettes – lit by them, not us, we don’t burn anymore, they told us not to – the smoke is so constant, thick, perpetual, it’s the smell of this place, this earth, these days, nights. \ when the rains come, what happens? These paths impassable, these homes unreachable, these fields ungraspable?
We’ve finished our village visits in-land, just three, no clean water there, those interior villages rely on the dwindling rivers, used for every action, washing, cleaning, drinking, irrigating, also for animals, baboons, buffalos? Elephants? The like. I look there, dead trees and murky water, we have water-purification tablets, but what do you have? The ability to move? To boil? To.. stay. “we get diarreha, stomach pains, billhazia, it’s hard to say what, because we don’t have a doctor here”
This night, the sounds of birth penetrate through the valley, through the plastic-lining of my tent- I hope it is birth, I hope, I pray to some being that it is birth – maybe three hours of the sounds of pain, of occasional baby cries, of, a woman in ritual, tradition, – in the other direction, the drink, blasting reggae and arguing, laughing, loudness, they drink the lords gin, and a clear-skinned beer, – under a mango tree here, in front of fields of cassava, more. Some goats behind us, moving, stuck in a small pen, safe from leopards, safe.
I lie awake, listening to the intricacies, notes, leaves falling and landing on the tents, a scream, or groan or shout, a bicycle wheel spins past, remote but living life here.
So we walk, from Magachi the last of the northern villages within the project area, through the mountains, and downwards towards the lake – arriving as if the last four days have been a year, of water engulfing blisters and sweat, dirt and a headache; but so common for others these treks; hot, long, waterless perhaps a common route, not novel like for me, for us, occasional, meetings, talks, under the shades of the biggest trees or in the church (we pray under him, maybe for another piece of tin roofing), under the annex of the chief’s house – after fresh papaya, after tea.
So, this fucking sand, we’ve been walking for 5-6 hours? I don’t know, less, more, but a while in the dark, in the light-shadows of the moon, my shadows, listening to the crackling of carbon, crackling of grass, smells of dried fish, smells of…dust… the familiarity of here.
Arriving in Cobue to the site of the boat from the lodge, we’re relieved- no more footsteps for now, blistered, like I said again, and tired. We wait at julius’ bar, it’s packed, completely, overflowing, people sleeping on the sand outside on the waters-edge – the tv is blaring, music clips, or FRELIMO campaign programs, ads, songs, etc. it’s tiny, the tv, but all eyes there, a gathering, nightly, to electricity, to noise, sounds, community… “I only profit if they drink.”
A bucket of boiling hot water – I stand, naked, under the moonlight behind the bamboo walls of the wash-room; waiting for the water to cool, when it does I step in, and stand, allowing my feet to come alive again – I wish I didn’t leave my boots in England, I wish I wasn’t trying to minimise. Fuck this sand, fuck these sandals. It’s beautiful here.
The boat; packed with booze, packed with nuts, cabbages, people, we drink warm beers, and look up at the stars the moon, the lake waves, the clean water, outwards, to nothing now, the water, the reflections, the shades of blue, grey, black, ndilipo, I’m here.