March was quite the month. My family was here in Mozambique for nearly 3 full weeks. We stayed in Nampula city (the city they flew into) the first 2 days to give them a chance to relax and lets be honest- to not have complete culture shock. I think they were pretty shocked anyway. I saw them as soon as they stepped off of the airplane. Well, I saw a white man with a safari hat and large fanny-pack and figured it had to be my dad. I walked around and met them outside of the luggage pick-up. We were immediately swarmed by taxi drivers and airport staff looking for a quick tip by carrying bags. I'll never forget the drive from the airport to our hotel. My mom and sister were screaming at literally everything. Completely mundane, everyday things. “Look at that man standing in the back of that truck!” “Look at those tires on the side of the road!!!” And my personal favorite, “oh my gosh, you're really speaking Portuguese!” I mean, really? I've lived here for 2 years! Of course I'm speaking Portuguese to the taxi driver. Its pretty surreal having your family in the place that you've come to think of as home and suddenly realize that they know next to nothing about what your life is like.Probably the greatest thing I learned from their time here is just how much I've learned living in Mozambique.
Our time in Nampula was fairly uneventful, from my end at least. My mom and sister were able to do some souvenir shopping and I took full advantage of the meals we enjoyed at restaurants I normally can't afford to eat at. I was a nervous wreck walking around the city with them and all the valuables- tons of cash, iphones, video camera. To this day they don't realize how dangerous Nampula can be. I'm so grateful they didn't witness it in person while they were here. Our closest call happened at the Sunday market, a place where you can buy anything from baskets and jewelry to furniture and chickens. The Sunday market is always jam packed with locals (few tourists brave the crowd) and some punks took advantage of the environment to try and pick-pocket my dad. One of the kids pretended that my dad had stepped on his foot and while he was distracted another kid went through his fanny pack. Thankfully, there was nothing in it.
We had planned on leaving Nampula for Monapo early on Monday morning. Long story short, our driver was completely incompetent and we left 7 hours later. This would be their first lesson in a very important aspect of Mozambican culture- no one is ever in a hurry. The phrase “Estou a vir” or “I'm coming” can mean the person will be there anywhere between 10 minutes and 3 hours. I knew they were freaking out, so I tried my best to assuage their anxiety. “It's gonna be ok guys- TIA (This Is Africa).”
We arrived at my house in Monapo about 6:30pm. It was pitch black out but that of course didn't stop my neighbors from hearing the car pull up. I knew how excited they were, knew that they'd been waiting all day for our arrival. The kids helped unpack the extremely full car and we set up the mosquito net for the extra mattress. Its difficult having additional people in your house (with no running water and spotty electricity and bugs and dust like you can't imagine and a cat and 3 kittens...) but it's even harder when those 3 additional people are Americans who have never before been to Africa. I was expecting the worst.
The 3 days we spent in Monapo flew by. We would wake up early and before you knew it, it was getting dark outside and we were deciding on what to do for dinner. We spent the majority of the days out in my yard playing with the neighborhood kids and talking with some of the adults (rather they talked and I just translated). When my dad wasn't doing yard work, he was sitting under this shaded structure in my yard writing in his journal or acting out charades with my neighbor. My mom brought tons of toys for the kids and jewelry for the adults. Everyone was pretty wild over their gifts!
Later in the week we left Monapo for Chocas- a touristy little beach town that is very difficult to get to and quite possibly my favorite place in Mozambique. The road isn't paved and gets pretty messed up during the rainy season. My family was completely freaked out but I kept reassuring them, “Don't worry! This road isn't even that bad! I've been on ones MUCH worse!” Needless to say, we have some entertaining video of the trip. Once again, TIA. Carrusca, the resort we stayed at in Chocas, is an additional 3km outside of the town. Other than a few locals and fisherman that pass through, the place is pretty isolated. Except for Saturday and Sunday, we were the only ones on the beach for as far as the eye can see. This part of the trip is what I'd call a typical “vacation”. Sleeping in, enjoying breakfast on the veranda of the bungalow, laying on the beach, taking a nap in a hammock, getting dressed up for dinner and then coming back to star-gaze and drink wine. One morning Janine and I took a dhow boat (wooden sailboat) to an island just off the mainland. It wasn't my first time to the island but it was still beautiful. Little tide pools full of sea creatures and beautiful shells everywhere. I think we saw at least 15 big, bright starfish. But you must not forget, this is Mozambique and of course is not without its challenges, even when you're on vacation. Our first night in Chocas the electricity went off around 6pm and we ate dinner by headlamp-light. There is no bank in the town of Chocas (ie- no ATM) and the credit card machine at the resort's restaurant wasn't working. So we really had to watch our money to make sure we'd have enough to get out and move on to our next destination. Janine and I woke up one night to a mouse crawling directly above our heads on the palm-thatched roof of our bungalow. That was a long night. And finally-the restaurant serves seafood and chicken, so when your body starts to reject the rich and buttery lobster, fish, clams, shrimp and squid, you're left with very limited dinner options.
I knew they'd be excited to move on to the tourist-friendly Ilha de Moçambique (Mozambique Island) as there are more sightseeing activities, shops and restaurants. There's also a bank! Ilha was once the capital of Mozambique so it has a unique history and rich culture. We toured the museum and were shocked by the lack of security for the items on display. By the end we couldn't help but joke- “This carpet we are walking on is definitely from the 1500s.” On Friday the Peace Corps Volunteers were having a beach party for St. Patty's Day so we went and had dinner and drinks with them. It was nice to have my family meet some of my friends here. The next night Janine and I went with the others to the island's discoteca or dance club. It's just an ocean-front area with tables and chairs and a small cement dance floor. But we don't need a fancy space to have a good time. We danced until 2am and ended up being the last out of our group to leave. We walked the whole length of the island to get back to our hotel and less than a minute away from the hotel's front door, my purse was stolen. This kid just ripped the body of the bag off the strap (the purse was made out of braided plastic bags). Luckily, I only lost about $4 and a fancy lipgloss. The hotel, unfortunately, lost a key to their front door and our guest-room. I had absolutely no confidence in the police to patrol the surrounding area and prevent the thief from coming back and coming inside. TIA. And, because we were the hotel's only guests, I moved my mattress out to the hotel's lobby and my dad sat on a couch with a hammer. I guess we can both cross guarding a Mozambican hotel off the list. The rest of our time was less eventful. We would walk around the island during the day taking pictures of the unique architecture and beautiful people, then go back to our rooms to wash up and go out for a fancy dinner. I go to Ilha de Mozambique quite often but I normally only allow myself one fancy meal out (and one fancy drink to go along with it). So it was quite the luxury ordering anything I wanted at the fanciest places on the island and a glass of wine on the side!
We spent a couple of days back in Monapo before their flight out. We brought back fish from the island and helped my neighbors to make a delicious fish dinner. Besides playing with all the neighborhood kids we also visited some people my family didn't get to meet the first time. There is an American missionary family with 4 small kids. They regularly invite my sitemates and me over for incredible home-cooked, American dinners. And colleagues stopped by to meet in person the people that I so often talk about. Overall, I was super impressed by how well my family did during the trip. Living here sure ain't easy but what many people don't know is that “vacationing” in Mozambique is challenging as well. The good together with the bad results in three weeks that will definitely stand out from my approximately 116 week-long service. Saying goodbye to my neighbors was hard for my family but also very difficult for me. A wake-up call to the fact that I will be doing the same in a few months. We parted ways in the Nampula airport but it wasn't too hard to say goodbye. For as hard as it will be to leave Mozambique, I have family and friends waiting for me, and the wait is over in just 4 months.