Search no more. I believe I have found the most beautiful corner of sub-saharan Africa. Mozambique lays on the eastern side of southern Africa, forming a long stretch of coastline on the Indian Ocean. Not only is the country itself magnificently beautiful, but the people exude beauty from their language to their welcoming manner. Mozambique was colonized by Portugal, causing Portugese to be the official language. Yet the dialect spoken is ‘africa-fied’ in such a way that could only create a perfect mix of Bantu and Romantic tongues.
In an effort to cut back on the number of absolute travel nightmares while roaming in Africa (although they never cease to make the best stories after the fact), my friends and I decided to fly first to Johannesberg in South Africa and continue on from there to Mozambique by bus. At this point in my Peace Corps service, I have no qualms with experiencing a bit of westernized culture for the sake of my sanity. South Africa never fails to be somewhat of an oasis for the Peace Corps Africa volunteer community. McDonalds, malls, customer service, 4-lane highways, sandwiches, diversity, and did I mention McDonalds?? Maybe I should find it a bit shameful to admit that 75% of the time we had in Johannesberg was spent at the local shopping mall. But just to have so many options and people who are willing to help you make decisions; to have efficiency, to be perfectly honest… it made me ridiculously happy.
After spending one night in the big city of Joberg, we hopped on a 6-hour bus headed for Nelspruit (near the border of South Africa and Mozambique). I believe I’ve mentioned this multiple times already on this blog, but you learn to fly by the seat of your pants when you live in Africa. When you make plans you only set yourself up for disappointment; whereas when you let go of any expectations and just let the cards fall as they may, you are bound to be pleasantly surprised. Although this philosophy conforms nicely to my lifestyle in Zambia, I realize it will need to be adjusted upon my return to Americaland. Having some sort of game plan seems to work out much better that side of the Atlantic.
Upon our arrival in Nelspruit, we made our way to the mini-bus station in hopes of getting on a last-minute bus going to Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. Living in a peaceful country such as Zambia has increased our naivite when it comes to traveling in Africa. As we were walking to the bus station, multiple people pulled their cars over to concernedly inform us that we should not be walking around this town as foreigners; that is was actually incredibly unsafe. Stuck with only the possessions on our back, no car, and no clue when it came to our orientation in Nelspruit, we justified our will to get to the bus station by the false security of power in numbers. I can honestly say that it was not the best situation to be in and we should consider ourselves fortunate that everything ended up working out sans any sort of confrontation. We got on a cramped mini-bus to the border and proceeded to Maputo knees against the seats in front of us, necks cocked to the side, heads pressed against the roof. All we wanted and needed to do upon arrival at the backpackers in Mozambique was shower. There was no water. We camped on the roof of the kitchen and due to pure exhaustion were able to fall asleep despite the stagnant humid heat that would come to be a common theme for us on Mozambiquean nights. We woke up the next morning dirty and stinky, but with beach on the mind and the determination to get to our next destination.
We were told by staff at the backpackers that due to the nightmare that is transport in Mozambique, we should abandon dreams of making it to Vilancoulos (our northernmost destination), and instead stop in Xhai-Xhai first, then head onto Tofo. Of course when you don’t own a vehicle in Africa, public transport becomes the only option more often than not. But we were just one hellish, hot-box, cramped mini-bus (termed chapas in Mozambique) ride away from surf and sand in Xhai-Xhai. We were like children when we finally arrived at the beach, running to the water through the sand with the energy, it seemed, to swim all the way to India. Someone from above smiled down on us when we scored our own beach house for what amounted to about 10 US dollars per person per night, complete with air conditioning, kitchen, grill, shower, and our own private stretch of beach. Needless to say, we extended our stay in Xhai-Xhai by a few days and found it hard to tear ourselves away from that paradise and brave another round of transport to Tofo. We cooked lobster for Christmas, along with prawns and even shark on other nights. We bought the shark while walking along the beach, intentionally in denial of the fact that the very location where we were swimming was obviously where it had come from… A couple of Mozambiquean teenage boys offered to skin the shark for us, and I can safely put that meal on my ‘top ten most delicious meals ever’ list.
Most vacations I have gone on in the past two years have not been ones that have championed rest and relaxation. From sandboarding in Namibia to snorkeling in Zanzibar, I have tried to take advantage of the all the adventures that sub-saharan Africa has to offer. Mozambique was beautifully different. You couldn’t help but just chill out and soak in the beauty all around you. I went on long walks on the beach, swam in the crazy ocean surf, read my book in the sand, and most nights my friends and I stayed up late into the night, looking up at the stars and out at the endless abyss of the ocean, having conversations you can only ever really have over a campfire; on the beach; in the middle of nowhere.
Reluctantly remembering we are 25 years old and have a duty to get crazy on New Years Eve, we said goodbye to our perfect little haven in Xhai-Xhai and hitch-hiked to Tofo. If Xhai-Xhai is the epitomy of r&r, Tofo is party central, serving as a popular New Years Eve destination for both Mozambiqueans and South Africans. We found ourselves in a tent city in the sand at a backpackers on the beach. It felt a bit like Woodstock Tofo-style. I say this with the realization that I am making a gross generalization…but stereotypes exist for a reason…and white South Africans are small-doses people for me. I actually can’t really stand them. They remind me of the epitomy of racist, southern, conservative ignorance, and they were inescapable in Tofo. I won’t go off on a tangent, but I will say that I fear for the future of South Africa whenever I meet white South Africans in my travels. Again, I know I am generalizing here, but if I never meet another Afrikaner…I’m ok with it. However, I did witness something on the beach in Tofo that gave me hope for humanity. There were two Mozambiquean boys, probably about 8-10 years old, making jewelery on the beach to sell to tourists. I was resting in the shade about 10 yards from where they were working. There was a white South African boy of about the same age sitting with them. He was learning how to make the jewelery, and would run off with one of the boys to the beach whenever they saw potential buyers. I overheard one of the Mozambiquean boys give a bracelet as a gift to the South African boy. For the next two days these three boys were inseparable, playing together around the beach and in town. Racial differences seemed not to exist, and economic, social, and cultural lines were blurred. In a place where one is constantly reminded of their skin color, I found hope for the future of Africa in these children; blame it on the part of me that, through all my frustrations, still knows a solution exists in this crazy world when it comes to hate and discrimination.
New Years Eve Day some of us decided to snorkel with whale sharks. They are the largest fish in the sea; incredibly graceful, beautiful creatures. And we were able to swim right alongside one of them! Of course I had to talk myself out of a freak-out the entire two hours…oceans and sharks are two of my biggest fears. Sharks are actually way out of my league…I’m afraid even of fish. But I can now add it to my list of things that were fun to do exactly ONCE. There was a live reggae band performing on the beach as a full blue moon rose over the ocean on New Years Eve. I’ll never forget what it felt like to welcome a new decade (and the year I get to come home!) in such a beautiful setting. I’m a lucky girl.
Transport from Tofo back to Johannesberg was anticlimactic, just the way I like it. We had one more day at the mall there, and I flew out of that magical airport knowing that the next time I will be there will be en route to Americaland! As I’ve said before, the familiarity of returning to Zambia always makes me feel as if I’m returning home. But I can’t deny that I’m excited for the day when my home makes sense to me.
Speaking of which, it looks like I’ll complete my Peace Corps service at the end of April. The new country director in Zambia seems to be blanketly denying all applications for an early close-of-service. I applied to leave one month early due to finishing work early in the village. Oh well, what’s one more month when I’ll have been here for 25 already? I’ll see all the people I came to Zambia with next week at our close-of-service conference in Lusaka, where we should receive our final ring-out dates so we can book our flights home. And when I say ‘ring out’ I mean it literally. Before we leave the Peace Corps office in Lusaka for the last time, we hit a metal tire rim with a stick, symbolizing the official end of our service. This is of course accompanied by nostalgiac and uplifting speeches, hugs, and sometimes tears. I promise to shout it on the mountaintops once I know the date I get to partake in this ritual.
I hope everyone enjoyed a warm and cozy holiday season, wherever you may have celebrated. I heard there was a lot of snow, and still is! Take care, and much love from Zambia.