Category Archives: Beauty

Time…the heart of Mozambique?

Mozambique is a hard teacher. The days are long and harsh; the sun is heated and the air cloys with sweat and sticky dust, peeling from your sunglasses. The last few weeks I have been literally sweating out my stress during these summer days, shedding the old cliché that I am a female, thus I cannot perspire. Far from the truth.

Two days ago, I opened a school I helped put together for months. We built it where there used to be a simple one-classroom hut into five, with administrative offices and desks for 250 children. It is really something.

It doesn’t change the bitter note I tasted when I was asked for special accessories like air conditioning (I’m sure Mac Air computers and tablets are not far behind) on the very day I presented the entire school with Christmas gifts and a brand new library. No one understands the money that is already behind this school.

Nacala kids

The rewarding piece is that the children are innocent and smiling, giggling while hiding behind trees when they ask me, “How are you?” despite my various attempts to speak in both Portuguese and the local language, Makhuwa. They want to catch my attention. I do what I do for the one child who might recognize the opportunities of going to a school with a real desk and a chalkboard. The 7 year old who might grow up to study law, lead her country, change corruption. The engineer who starts his own business in 10 – 15 years. The children can see. The men and women who lead Mozambique today…often they just can’t.

It doesn’t, however, change the fact that Mozambique is a hard teacher. Not just Mozambique – but Time. Time is as harsh as the ground my conflict boots are treading.

“Time present and time past

Are both perhaps present in time future

And time future contained in time past.

If all time is eternally present

All time is unredeemable. …

… Desire itself is movement

Not in itself desirable;

Love is itself unmoving,

Only the cause and end of movement,

Timeless, and undesiring

Except in the aspect of time

Caught in the form of limitation

Between un-being and being…”

  • “Burnt Norton,” The Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot


It has been several months since the last epistle on this travel blog and in no small part because of the amount of work and the kinds of challenges I have faced in Nacala. Today is a chance to reconnect with my audience as the heart and soul of la vie in Mozambique has been wrapped so much around work that sometimes it is easy to be distracted from the amount of time that has passed by. A line caught my attention today from T.S. Eliot about the stillness in a moment – only in that moment, he said, can we find the dance. I thought it was a beautiful place to start considering where time has brought me today, and I found Eliot’s musings on the ticking bomb of movement a good place to be.

Rather more puzzling than illuminating, Eliot seems to be stating the enigmatic matter of time and coincidentally, literature. Time is strange certainly. Perhaps most of all it is strange because one can wake up and wonder if the events happened in just the few waking moments before sleep or if it truly was hundreds of days before.

I said Mozambique is a hard teacher, but really it is Time that gets to us. Time is constant, but it is also moving. The movement is the elusive bit. As Eliot states, “Desire itself is movement / Not in itself desirable / Love is itself unmoving / Only the cause and end of movement , / Timeless, and undesiring…:” When I think of the Moçambicanas I am surrounded by each day, I am reminded of my own love for what I do. If I really do have passion for human rights and for the people who are on the losing end of this battle, I cannot move. It is the same for the passion I feel for my kindred spirit here in Nacala, and for my family back home in the U.S.

But I still have bad days.

I guess the reason that love is so complex is that it always begins with desire. The desire to change something here in Africa. The desire to care for my family. The desire to be a good girlfriend. Really loving something though – to want to do something with my whole heart – means that I must not let the desire come and go; it is just desire. Love is that which does not waver, does not move, and is somehow still stuck in the movement of time. The complex nature of it is that love is the cause and end of movement – so it must be that which makes me want to keep going.

So the sun will set again tonight and the clock keeps on ticking. I simply cannot be between what is being and unbeing – the honeymoon is over Mozambique. You have been kicking me down, but I will not move. I am driven to love this country because it is a challenge. It has heart. And so have I, Nacala. So have I.


The author taking life seriously as always.
The author taking life seriously as always.

Dreams of an Isle

The scent of coffee drifts across my nose from the remnants of the last 30-minute café siesta; it reminds me of how the morning sweeps across us so quickly.  What seem just a few minutes are actually three hours and two cups of coffee later.  Legs crossed in lotus position at my desk, I am the picture of anti-professionalism, but then again the door is closed.

Just over two years ago, I stepped onto the great continent that is Africa for the first time.  As I relish what it felt to step onto that soil and smell the dusty air, I am overcome with peace.  The fragrance of clean earth and salt in the wind prickled against your skin when you stepped into Madagascar.  What is fast everywhere else was slow and tranquil.  It was good.

Within the usual cogs of life’s blood and the ticking time bomb that is industry here.  Life here in Mozambique is dangerous and charming all at once – a manifestation of the typical stereotypes and surprises combined with foreign investment and strange expatriates.  Getting caught inside the insanity is part of the fun.  There is more to African states outside of what I see here.

That is what Madagascar was to me – it was just more.

My recent work with a local health and agriculture NGO is opening my eyes to the pitfalls of organizing African projects.  It is possible for things to go well – but often one must expect they will go wrong.  Yesterday’s meeting happened over an hour after it was planned and the main contact performed a no-show (there are still no messages on my cell phone from this person).  Frustrating yes, but I learn. May be motivated to do more in fact, from my experience.

My partner-in-crime, D, lived in Madagascar twice in his life, for approximately 3 years.  The way he tells it, it is the dream.  He isn’t far off.  You may have some of the usual irritations like the inconvenience of the power shutting down and lack of public transport, but this is tempered by the local restaurants which don’t serve food with European pricetags, the thriving expatriate community, and the wonders of the surf.

Tea Time in Fort Dauphin

Dusk along the veranda
Dusk along the veranda

The latter is one of the most important.  Mozambique shares some of this pride in its sand and sea, but there are few waves and seemingly fewer expatriates in this part of town.  On Sunday, a short church service was followed by work (it doesn’t stop even for holidays here sadly) but the office was left early to share a celebration in the middle of Nacala-a-Velha where we laughed about the days gone by while the rain drizzled off the rooftop of a Portuguese restaurant, chilled wine in hand.

It is easy to take much here for granted.  In fact, some aspects of this sub – Saharan region (if one considers Mozambique part of this cluster) is 100 percent convenience – laundry washed, full dinners cooked, and water bottles delivered to your door with a can of mosquito repellent.  Perhaps an ideal living standard doesn’t include that last one but it is fairly necessary if you want to enjoy the gorgeous twilight as the sun descends on the sleepy villages.

Hobbies here include scuba, snorkel and laughter by the ocean, of course.  One of the favourite spots in Nacala Porto is along the shore where I capture scenes of children playing next to groups of boys casting their fishing nets.  Events and people here are shaped by moments much simpler than mine and they are happy.

Running through the bright greens of the bush


Wild life in lovely Saint Luce, Madagascar
Wild life in lovely Saint Luce, Madagascar

In St. Luce, Madagascar the pictures were the same – humbled lives driving boats around corners, fishing along streams and carrying all their belongings across roads and through bushes.

Sunburnt and Surfin’ Africa

Using my first board on any continent anywhere.  Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeee
Using my first board on any continent anywhere. Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

So, as I reminisce about the Isle that is Madagascar from the wonderful day I was first brought to Africa, I cannot help but wonder:

How can my life ever be the same after this?  Some might say that life is difficult here but how else could I really appreciate when everything falls into place perfectly?   No – nothing goes to plan here but then, life goes.  Life adapts.  You adapt.  I do too.

Truly I am dealing with the harsh realities of racism, abject poverty, polychromatic visions of time (which means some don’t even really believe in time as much of anything except a number to point to) and a lack of understanding about littering and toilet usage but that’s not important, really!  It is a small price to pay when I can see so much more that is humble and beautiful.

Even then, when I do go home, when I speak to my family on the phone, when I eat brie, goat’s cheese and fresh fruit, well… it doesn’t get much better than that.  It is so rare these days.

What is rare is special.

As I said, how can I see what perfection is?  How can I appreciate it until I first go through the challenges of adjusting to an existence rife with challenges?  I think we were brought on this Earth to go through trials in order to see the good.    La vie belle would lack that je-ne-sais-quoi that is impossible to deny.

First in Fort Dauphin, I was introduced to a world so unlike my own and I fell in love with the people, the place and the mystery of Africa.  Now, Nacala.  It is not a coincidence that a certain fellow who first showed me the unusual complexity of Madagascar is the one who also gives me so much joy now.  I am so thankful for day number one with this guy and certainly for today.

Life is never boring and it never will be.



Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

When a person loses so much sleep, there is a strange phenomenon that occurs.  It is almost as if your nightmares begin to tread with you during the day – like a shadow you cannot shake.  This shadow haunts your steps because any actual accomplishments are obscured in knowing that dark cloud is still with you.

I just departed from my time in Africa for some precious days in Ireland not 2 weeks ago where friends took a similarly long journey from Canada, Australia and the like for a wedding.  There seem to be several of these lately.  No matter: it was a much needed respite from the tyranny of the humidity that lays waste to what I call home in Nacala.  Neglecting my composition responsibilities, I have resumed in full flush deciding that these pages will require more ink than usual in the coming weeks.

What awaited in Cork was bitter cold and daily rainstorms but the latter has become a daily habit of Southern life at home.  As D always says, “It was all grand. All lovely.”  Yes, there was singing, dancing, hugging, and the depths of conversation explored – my favourite.

A private beach near Kwalala, in Nacala Porto.
A private beach near Kwalala, in Nacala Porto.

On my return, I was plunged back into a world of mud, thunder, and lightning which conveniently occurred in the middle of the night during most storms. I haven’t slept in five days.

Thus, the psychosomatic daydream I carried from the weekend may be an indicator of the subconscious just waiting to resurface. My nightmares are always the same – manifestations of weirdly real and ugly elements conjoined to my fears. All I can dream about is the NGO sector and as this is clustered with some distorted faces and chases in which I always fail.  The solution, I decided, was to go running when my dreams had no control over my chases.  Outside.

4:35am. Darkness covered the tall baobabs outside the house, and I strode towards the hill. Giving myself two minutes to wake up my mind, I quickly trotted into full stride thinking about all of the messy factors that are interrupting my natural sense of calm – the uncertainty of life in Africa, incomplete research, and job opportunities that continually appear and disappear within days.

4:44am. One shoe hit the pavement and the other followed. I could feel the callouses building underneath: the satisfaction in knowing that your muscles will be properly tired later. As my breath steadied into a rhythmic bent, the trees began to lift their branches, as if unburdened as the clouds drifted apart to let the sun begin its slow ascent.

4:53am. My eyes adjusted to the grey haze that comes from an early morning that is still truly the end of the evening, and no mosquitos or flies to be heard or seen. (That, of course, does not mean they were not there.) Why is it that calm escapes when it is so attainable?

4:59am. A figure came towards the road in a long skirt and misshapen body – it is actually the form of a semi-wicker basket type container balanced on a long, lean shape. Just a few moments passed as I turned to quickly head across in order to return before another 30 minutes had gone by. Another shape huddled behind a tree and climbing from the shadows appeared and began to materialize in the sunlight as I turned a corner.

5:05am. Brilliant in pink and yellow, the ball of light pierced the sky with its unflinching gaze and squinted at the Earth below. I think that calm is definitely attainable.

5:15am. On the floor and staring at the ceiling, I breathed in the artificial air that colors my ability to think in any appropriate manner. Hot, hot, hot. The pulse in my wrist throbbed and would continue until I could feel the cold from the floor begin to dissolve into me.

The truth is this. Living in Mozambique requires more than the average amount of patience and as one tries to build anything of substance, it slips through the fingers like grains of sand. A praying kind of girl myself, I have taken to a lot of solitary moments. It is one of the only ways I begin to feel sane and yet, my human levels of patience are just that. Human.  It is like the beauty of this country – always beautiful, always there but elusive when the thunder and the lightning mask the trees, the ocean, the beaches with its angry roars and sharp light.  Thunder and lightning is beautiful and mysterious in its own way but it doesn’t compare to the day the storms pass and the peace after resides on the shores.

When I look around at the people who work so hard and receive so little in return, it seems such a small price to pay – patience. I suppose that is what African living is actually about, at least for me: humility. Awe in light of the fact that things do not always go the way one plans. And being okay with that. Perhaps then Africa could start to feel like home. Perhaps then my restlessness and ambition could materialize …if the waiting can teach me anything at all.

Welcome back, I say to myself in dreams. Welcome.