Nacala is a rather quiet place on most mornings before 5:00, and amongst the wider world as well. We are nobody next to Tokyo or Paris, by far. However it may as well be my African New York.
By approximately 6:30, the town comes alive. Teeming with roosters, scrawny street dogs, Mozambican water-carriers, 4x4s, cranes, and villagers on their way to various points of irrigation and fishing it is crawling with excitement. My relative absence in the fashion of ink and digital press is not for lack of wanting – things have been busy here.
I took a week-long sabbatical to South Africa at the end of May to gather my bearings and in the meantime was offered a job in social responsibility. This is new and also, not so new as I was volunteering my time with health initiatives in the area when my research was becoming stale. The state of affairs is quickly going to become a source of panic and chaos as fodder for electronic epistles so this is a quick note to bring my readers up to speed and in the meantime, wrestle with some good tunes.
My entrance into the private sector will be tempered by educational and health campaigns that I can lead and manage so research can be put into practice. Cheers to new beginnings.
Among Giants – the backdrop of cranes that tower above me is not new anymore. (Can you spot me in the photo?) The job certainly will be though.
You shall be hearing from me soon. As I am now surrounded on many sides by Africans from Botswana, Malawai, South Africa and Mozambicans of course – snippets of new languages will be entering my lexicon. Today is straight from the mouths of the Afrikaaners I speak to often – since I am new at this it doesn’t apply to me but to most people I see every day in this teeming mini-metropolis. Hulle is moeg gewerk – They are fed up/tired of working.
Soon folks. Soon – in the meantime, I am breathing easy. Happy to begin again. Mozambique awaits.
On a construction site yesterday, I watched these broad-shouldered men carry planks of large steel and other various materials to build something that would take months to create, several metres high, stretching into the sky. As I watched it was a reminder that the goals we strive so hard for may seem unreachable or hard to imagine…but they are often just a matter of the will. A thing that looks a stretch of the imagination is only 16 weeks away from the end.
Take Mia Couto’s perspective on the identity of Mozambique: tortured by a history of colonialist impositions by Portugual, divisions of tribes and regions by the strains of political parties like Frelimo and Renamo all in the name of liberty … and so what is the country left with today? Languages that began from the founding FRELIMO members: Swahili, Makhuwa, Bantu, and/or English. Indeed, the irony is that Portuguese is the official language. How strange that the identity construction is one outside of the modern foundation of the independent Mozambique that is recognized today. This is a topic I will revisit later this month but I find fascinating in light of the way foreigners here view the identity of a country that puzzles them so.
It is lazy, it is strange, it is not as they imagined – we can reduce this concept to the people or the villages or the work we see but that would just oversimplify. Mia Couto, winner of the Noustadt International prize (only before the Nobel in literature) envisions Mozambique as a nation that is constructed by the way history, poets and others ‘write’ the narrative. You can find him on my february 21st entry here of the poetry catalog: http://wp.me/P4e2Bz-6U
If this is the case, these foreigners are a part of history too. Like these buildings I see reaching their arms towards the heavens, it is Mozambique that will become something, capitalist monster (U.S.A), wild card/alien (North Korea) or the new kid on the block (China). What should we expect next?
For now, we will wait in expectation as I do for my own question marks that poke and prod my reflections – only travel is what inspires me to recraft my identity. (Morocco below) So that must do for the moment.
The guys like adventuring and while adventure is certainly one of the middle names yours truly does carry on occasion, I find it easy to wear out on a hot day. Take this past weekend.
I decided to take the plunge. This comes in all forms: rectangular, straight, and crooked. For some it is a leap off the high-dive platform while for others it is a springboard into a river cannonball. Or, it could be a dive into the unknown.
It is the fifth week in this blistering heat and savannah country I call home. Nacala is off the South-eastern rift of the Indian ocean. Known for its unseen coastlines and sultry views of the Mozambique channel, it is territory charted but not always explored. After several days of being kept indoors, the troupe I acknowledge as the guys travels across to the main port on Sundays for sunshine and their own brand of plunge.
Scuba. An enthusiast of sport, thrills, and bendy sorts of activities, diving seems to be my kind of crazy. There was only one minor element that made the chills begin to spike on the hairs of my neck. The prospect of going under water without the naturalized gulps of air I have grown so accustomed. Breathing is a biological right. Humans are meant to eat, sleep, walk, run, and jump. Swimming, however, breaks the barrier of what a land animal does on a normal basis. Certainly I can do so, but to go under water for longer than the accounted few minutes I might be able to hold my breath seems more than just strange.
It is another shade of crazy.
This is a minor fear I have had for years probably tracing back to the haunting day my Mother hid around the corner during my five-year-old swimming class where she abandoned me in 4-foot water despite my screams in a glass-encased pool house. You could hear the echoes as I was held by my bewildered teacher, “Help! Police. Help! Police!” Doesn’t Mommy and me class mean Mommy and me? Tough love, she would say. Yes, yes. Unfortunately, that sweet narrative has followed me around on too many embarrassing family outings where strangers would show up asking for childhood tales of the girls. Why don’t my sisters have any run-ins with the law in their early years?
Needless to say, getting my feet wet this weekend was more than a chore. D’s close friend Adrien, we shall call him, decided this was the Sunday I made my debut after a month of ‘safe’ snorkelling. Adrien was trained in Thailand as a diver and instructor so his expertise over many years has lent him the title of resident certification guru to teach others on his free time. Generous as it was, I still just tried to keep mastery over my teeth which internally ground each other as he explained rules. First, there was the importance of breathing, the possibility of injuring one’s lungs, how the ribcage could collapse if the chest was expanding too quickly, and of course, the challenge of placing your regulator on in case it ‘disappeared.’ Eh!?
Slipping on a brand-new mask and full black dress, I wondered why a diver needs to look like Catwoman out for a fish-hunting session with four eyes on her head. Perhaps that was for when I was hungry? Next time. We walked down to shore in the sweltering sun, carrying fins and tanks, although D carried mine as a kind gesture for my first time.
Putting on the vest and oxygen tank, there was an immediate sense of what I was prepared to do. The thrill rose up to my chest immediately but I pushed down the tide of fears that threatened to destroy my courage. My toes grabbed the corners of round and wet black rocks that glistened with drops of the ocean in low tide. Each step made my chest more conscious of the short breaths I took, puffing creepily in front of me. The dank air oppressed my skin and was met with the feverish sweat pouring down my back. In the shallow sea, I felt the salt water fill my mask slowly. I slid it off my brow to clear the fog as my unhurried descent made me feel colder and colder in my heart. New masks are simply not ideal for first dives.
Adrien playfully discussed how his ex-girlfriend would simply rip off his mask as a joke, tease, or prepare him for other such expert diving shenanigan. Clearly this was another level. Out of the corner of my eye, D was noticeably swimming nearby without a care in the world. Certainly he would find it normal while I did not. Especially not at 10 metres or 40 metres under the surface.
However, we were simply floating just below the horizon of the sea, my eyes peeking beyond the East-West of the port. As we slowly dipped under the current, my eyes adjusted to life below the water and the unsteady “hhhhhhhhhe shhh” of the regulator haunted my every pore. Instead of backing away, I rose to the surface once more.
-Is everything alright?
-Almost. Just give me one second.
1,200 seconds later, I had mastered three diving skills, gone below the surface for just under four minutes to view a sunken car, and lost one scuba fin. I managed to accomplish this, and continue to breathe. Needless to say, I had hoped I could dive for longer, but it seems I am more like that turtle than I thought. (Read my post on If you want to go fast, go alone.http://wp.me/p4e2Bz-R) Fear not. I will be trying for 10-30 minutes this weekend. Despite all, open water is not so much the great unknown any longer.
The hardest part may be leaving the sea and carrying all of the gear to the top of the hill. This is where lunch beckons your return. Lunch will not scold you for losing your shoe. Or your fin, for that matter. Who am I? Cinderella?
By the time the troupe had driven back home, we all were in a delirious state of mind. While the guys decided to practice shooting with a pellet gun, I took myself on a thirty minute walk just long enough to spend some quality time alone on a nearby rock just smooth enough to lean on and do absolutely nothing.
Nacala-a-Velha is a quiet place. Quiet equals discretion, hidden gems and silent thoughts. So that is how the day ended on that final Sunday evening as the sun descended on the shade of Baobab trees who silently glanced at my shadow that walked among them.
An American student researcher explores the beauty of Sub-saharan African terrain