Sunday, June 10, 2007

My Mozambican Adventures (email from Amy)

Hey all,
Alright, before I tell you guys about Mozambique I thought I'd give a quick run down of my last couple of weeks. School has actually been treating me well- I've been making teaching aids like my life depended on it and I think I've really gotten my stride with teaching, which is pretty amazing. I actually don't feel out of control and I think the kids understand me at least some of the time. I've been reading of course- Over my holiday I finished "Saint Joan" by George Bernard Shaw, Naked by David Sedaris, Slaughterhouse Five, "The Threepenny Opera" by Bertolt Brecht, The Catcher in the Rye, and The Life of Pi by Yann Martel. Right now I'm halfway through The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler. This weekend I did a video show for the kids. We always do a double feature- so I showed X-men and The Fellowship of the Rings. We charged N$1 (about 15 US cents) to see the movie and we had over 150 kids, so we made a little over US$25- a nice profit which I have safely stored in an old powdered milk tin. They loved The Lord of the Rings and it was a lot of fun watching them react. My favourite part was when Arwen is taking Frodo on horseback to Lothlorien and they're being chased by the Ring Wraiths. The kids here know horses really well so from the very beginning of the scene they perked up (I think they were way more impressed just by how fast Arwen's horse was running than American kids would be- most horses here are skinny and kind of diseased looking so I don't think they're used to how healthy horses can react and, quite honestly, no horse can really keep up that fast of a fullgallop for long except in the movies.) Anyway, near the end of it they were actually applauding and shouting at the screen in KhoeKhoe for Arwen to go faster and I saw kids holding their head and snapping their fingers in astonishment and jumping up and down. It's fun to think about the way that they might think about the stories- it's a much more agrarian culture and there is still a very strong sense of the supernatural (pretty much everyone believes in witches and curses, witch doctors, muti, and fate in general) so I think there's a stronger connection with stories like that than we can have having been raised in a much more industrialized culture. Since it's winter here and in the desert it gets frigid as soon as the sun goes down we all bundled up and the kids shared the blankets from their beds. There are only about 30 or 40 chairs in the hostel so most of us sat on the giant well scrubbed tables and the little kids made beds with their blankets on the cement floor. Movie shows are fun, but in the way that a giant sleepover for 150 kids where I'm the only one in charge would be fun. I spend a lot of time telling the kids to be quiet and watch the movie or to stop going in and out to the toilet and trying to sneak kids who didn't pay in the back door, or telling the boys to stop teasing the girls- kids are kids. Anyway, I think I'll do another one this term and suggest to the teachers that we put aside all the video show money to buy cartridges for the copier.

OK, by popular demand (mostly from my parents) here's the Mozambique story including how we were almost left behind in South Africa and how we were picked up hitchhiking by a bus bounty hunter-ah the life of adventure I lead :) . So, I went to Mozambique this holiday and it was sort of by the shoestring kind of trip. We started by getting onto a bus in the center of Windhoek and driving south through the night. It was a fitful night of trying to sleep sitting up in a bus seat, although we did have a lot of fun playing spades and occasionally reaching back to close the bathroom door that kept falling open against Lindsay's seat. Sometime around 3 or 4 in the morning we got to the border with South Africa- a few stamped passports and a ridiculously long stretch of no man's land (I'd say there's at least 10 or 20 K between the two border posts- you drive for almost half an hour) later and we were on our way to Uppington. In Uppington they pitched us out of the bus with our luggage onto a street corner at about 5 AM and we switched buses. We drove across the northern Karoo, seeing quite a bit of the scenery of South Africa on the way. At this point everything seemed to be going fine-that is until we hit a town called Vryburg in the middle of South Africa. We had a little longer break than usual so we decided to try to get some Rand out of an ATM across the street- unfortunately the ATM broke when Angela tried to use it- it said it had taken money from her account, but it hadn't given out any cash- so while Angela and Lindsay ran to the bank the rest of us tried to hold the bus. The bus employees were adamant that they wouldn't wait for the girls, so, being unwilling to leave two girls stranded and alone in an unknown South African city, we decided that we had no choice but to all get off the bus and be stranded together. We started to remove our stuff. We figured that we'd just have to find our own way from there-probably by taxis or hitchhiking. As we were taking the last bags from the bus, one of the employees asked me if we knew where we were- "no, no we don't as a matter of fact." Anyway, to make a long story short, they finally took pity on us and agreed to wait, but they were just a few minutes short of leaving us alone and penniless (at least in SA currency) in an unknown city in South Africa, so it was pretty dang miraculous that we all ended up back on that bus. Anyway, we made it through the rest of the trip to Maputo pretty well with just a short transfer in Jo-burg.

Check out their route here

We got to Maputo at about 10 am, two days after we left Windhoek (ah, the joy of a 36 hour bus ride.) We didn't really know where we were or where the bus station to Inhambane was or when the bus left or much of anything (yes, we are so well organized that we didn't bother to bring a map of Maputo or Mozambique or a bus schedule, or really plan much of anything- that's just how we roll), so we ate some lunch at a falafel restaurant across the street and then walked all around Maputo carrying our hiking packs and other stuff (yes, people stared- imagine 6 people walking down a street in Chicago wearing huge hiking backpacks-we
were a little conspicuous.) We found out that we had missed the bus so we walked about 20 blocks back to find the youth hostel. When we got there a wonderful man helped us out. He gave us a map of the city (conveniently labeled with the areas that were dangerous to go to) and told us that even though the youth hostel was full for the night he could get us a reservation at a place called "The Central Boardinghouse" which was definitely as sketchy as the name suggests (we think there might have been prostitutes on the ground floor and there were definitely a bunch of overweight shirtless sketchy looking men on the couches just outside our room.) Anyway, we were all 6 in the same room so we were fine and plenty safe, although a little crowded. At this point I took 3 million metacais from an ATM and immediately used 1 million to pay for our lodging (21000 metacais equals about US$1.) That night we went to the fish market for dinner. At the fish market you choose and buy your meat (sometimes still alive) from tables in a sort of open market and then go to one of the restaurants behind it and have them cook it for you. It was a bit expensive and we might have been ripped off, but it was still an enjoyable meal and afterward we got some gelato, so all in all we were pretty happy.

The next day we headed off early to Tofo via Inhambane on a direct bus. Tofo has the white sand beaches and blue green waters that seem out of place anywhere other than on a picture postcard. We stayed at a youth hostel in a reed hut thatched with palm leaves and with a sand floor covered only by reed mats. There were a few problems with vicious mosquitoes but, through a combination of frequent applications of deadly chemicals to my body and the air around me and an assiduous, almost cabalistic, dedication to tucking in my mosquito net, I managed to escape mostly unscathed. We went swimming and the other girls had purchased snorkels at the Namibian equivalent of a dollar store so we found a tidal pool and took turns seeing an amazing variety of fish (although I had to hold my glasses out in front of my goggles so I saw a lot less than everyone else, still I did manage to look like a geek, so I have that going for me.) We walked on the sand beaches and collected some sea shells, reclined in hammocks on the beach, drank fruity beverages, the usual beach stuff. We got most of our food from the local market and, since we were sea-adjacent, seafood was the most reasonably priced stuff we could get. Mozambique is an amazingly fertile place (although, I was comparing it to Namibia which is pretty much all god-forsaken desert, so I might have a skewed view of it) and we could also buy fresh passion fruit, orange-citrusy things that tasted like tangerines, coconuts, and the most amazingly sweet, flavorful bananas I have ever tasted in my life. We spent most of four days barefoot and covered in sand eating prawns and bananas. We also got to meet some Mozambican Peace Corps volunteers, and we had a pretty awesome spades tournament (I know, we're dorks.) Near the end of our stay we realized that we might be in fiscal trouble so we took out all the currency that we had on hand and pooled it on the floor of our hut and discovered that if we stayed the fifth day we had only 200 000 metacais (US$10) left for food for the six of us for two days, in the end, though, we decided to go back to Maputo a day early just to be sure that we'd catch the bus on time so we were fine financially although I think by the end of the trip everyone had borrowed money from everyone else.

We had heard that the bus that we had taken to Inhambane cost almost twice the cost of hiking and, since we're so used to hiking, we thought we'd save some money and just hitchhike or take public transport back to Maputo. We got a combi back to Inhambane, but as soon as we got off the bus and told someone we were going to Maputo we were told that the Maputo bus had already left. The man kept hurrying us onto another combi that was supposed to take us to another city where we could find a ride to Maputo (it's possible that he was lying to us and just trying to get some business for his friend in the combi.) We were rushed onto the combi and it wasn't until our bags were tied on and we were all squished into the last seats that we realized that this could be a very very bad idea. After all, we were in a country where we didn't know the language, going to a city who's name we didn't even know, and where we didn't know a single person, so if we got stuck for the night we'd have nowhere to stay. We didn't even know if this was a large place or small place. We got a little more nervous when the combi dropped us off next to a highway in a dusty market with about ten women each with a bag of coconuts, but we figured we couldn't do much about it at that point. I admit that I did have a few panicked visions of begging people in this village in ridiculously broken Portuguese to let us sleep on the floor of their hut that night. A couple of volunteers went into one of the cuca shops and bought bottles of Coke for us to share while a few of us used their "bathroom" (that's in quotes because it was actually a square shaped roofless reed screen surrounding two rocks. You stood on the
rocks and squatted.)

After only about 10 minutes of waiting a completely empty full sized bus drove by, the volunteers who we had left by the road to do the hiking for us looked at each other a little bemused and shocked, then a second full sized empty bus pulled by and they just started running. Quite a ways down the road the bus driver saw them and stopped. I had just gotten out of the bathroom when the other volunteers gave their cokes to one of the ladies with the coconuts (they are quite serious about their bottle deposits in Mozambique and they would have run us down if we tried to leave with the bottles) and we all grabbed our stuff and started running. Everyone in the market was very excited for us and was cheering us on (I think we may have provided them with the excitement for the week-I can't imagine that 6 white people with hiking packs show up on a regular basis and chase down buses.) Anyway, we got onto this brand new 63 seat bus which contained only the bus driver and another guy. They were heading to Jo-burg via Maputo and offered us a ride. We offered to pay but they both refused out of hand. It turns out that these buses had been stolen right off the assembly line from Jo-burg two years earlier and these guys had only just tracked them down to Beira (a town on the central coast of Mozambique.) The man and the bus driver were partners who ran a business recovering stolen property for municipalities and they recieved a fee worth about 10% of the price of the vehicles they recovered (we figured that their fee for the buses worked out to almost half a million rand (about US$70 000) so they weren't hurting for petrol money- also when we told one of them how much money we make in a month he compared it to his 15 year old daughter's allowance- so we didn't feel too bad about taking a free ride.) We were also traveling with a fully armed convoy of customs officials, so it was pretty much the safest hike I have ever had (although they did warn us that the guy they took the buses from had sort of a vendetta against them so there was a reason they were traveling with armed guards.) The guy who gave us the ride had worked in emergency aide in Mozambique and Kwazulu-Natal (the poorest and least developed area of South Africa) and he gave us amazingly acute advice about volunteering, guilt, reverse culture shock, sustainability, and a bunch of other pertinent topics. Also, he bought a bag of about 2 pounds of cashew nuts and insisted that we eat them (cashew nuts are pretty much ubiquitous in Mozambique and incredibly cheap- you can get a one cup scoop for 10 000 metacais-about US 50 cents- and a large 2 or 3 pound bag for about US$2.50) He offered us a ride to Joburg, but we already had bus tickets and we didn't have anywhere to stay in Jo-burg (that place scares me) so we refused and they dropped us off just outside of Maputo. The convoy of customs officials that we had been traveling with was going to trade off with another group and I'm pretty sure the bus bounty hunter guy paid the customs officials a little bit to take us all the way to the door of the youth hostel where we were staying (we reserved beds ahead of time so we wouldn't end up in the Central Boardinghouse again.) We stayed there that night. The next day we had a nice breakfast, I bought some cloth (Jewell- if you've read this far, the cloth is going to end up in the quilt I'm making for your new baby) and we walked around Maputo. Maputo is an amazing city. Mozambique got into a civil war sometime in the 60s or 70s and the war only stopped about 10 years ago so Maputo has this old, 1950's architecture that is in various states of crumbling disrepair and a lot of the city looks scorched or bullet torn. One volunteer said that "it looks like it's falling apart, but in a beautiful way." It reminded me sort of the way pictures of New Orleans or Charleston look, except with war damage. Anyway, we also ended up at the art museum where we saw some amazing paintings and sculptures many of which dealt with war, peace, damage and hope. It was a very moving experience. That night at about 7 we packed up our stuff again, walked back through the streets of Maputo carrying everything we had on our backs, and got onto the bus.

There weren't any exciting events on the ride back, although I did have a difficult time getting through Namibian customs (they always want to know my address, but there are no street names or house numbers in Anker, and besides, why do they care so much? Do they have a huge problem with illegal immigration from America? I have a valid visa. What's the deal?) and when we were in Jo-burg it was like -3 degrees Celsius and one of the coldest streaks South Africa has had in a long time (it actually snowed in Cape Town.) We put on pretty much every piece of clothing we owned and wrapped up in our sleeping bag and blankets. At about 5 in the morning (we had gotten in at 3) an Israeli tourist who we had met in the youth hostel in Maputo found an open shopping area and bought us a cup of very hot, very sugary coffee, we promptly went and bought more coffee and hot fat cakes. Anyway, we survived the cold and got back onto the bus. We got into Windhoek at about 4 in the morning, took some money out of an ATM (we had gotten paid while we were gone) and hung out in the basement of an empty shopping mall until the sun rose and we all went our separate ways. I went to the Peace Corps office to do a little emailing and then went to Jason's house where I decided to stay the night so I could see the half priced showing of The Pirates of the Carribean (which is a very convoluted movie by the by.) The next day I started out at 8 AM and got really good hikes, so I got into Kamanjab at about 6 PM and then waited at the petrol station until 10 PM when Mr. Asser showed up from Outjo. I got back into my house at 11 and lit some candles (I didn't have any electricity left) and went to bed, ready to get up bright and early the next morning and go to school. And that's what I did on my summer vacation. Take Care

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