Not by bread alone

Staple food in Mozambique includes rice, manioc, potatoes and xima (sheema) – a dazzling white mash made of maize meal or cassava flour prepared by pestle and mortar with much female elbow grease. But there’s also an enduring attachment to the European legacy of bread.

Bashing xima into nice white pap

The line that beggars on the street trot out is always about giving spare change “so I can buy bread”. They can all say this in Portuguese. (In London the line is usually about a cup of tea). Raggedy kids hang around the bakeries, pleading for misshapen rejects or rolls that have fallen on the floor.

You can tell when the new batch of fresh bread is due out of the ovens by the crowd milling around any bakery, and of course the unmistakable smell of hot bread wafting about. In Maputo I used to join the (fast moving) queue at the bakery opposite my flat, and could rarely resist devouring a hot roll on the way back home.

Queuing for fresh bread at Indico bakery

The bakeries are mostly independent and no bread is packaged. They all make similar bread – mostly white rolls, half size chunky ‘baguettes’ and pan loaves – but everyone has a favourite place, and an opinion about what good bread is, and which bakery does the best for this and that purpose. I have my own views now as well.

The usual bread fare

Bread is rarely served up with meals here, except with soup, or as a hamburger. An egg sandwich is not a UK-style hard boiled egg mashed up with mayonnaise, but a hot fried egg (with runny yolk) in a crusty bread roll with a shot of chilli sauce – great for street breakfast on the run!

Local people don’t make toast. Butter and jam came from Portugal originally, now mostly from South Africa, and are on sale at inflated prices in the import shops. 

So I wonder what it is about bread that is so important to Mozambicans… mostly they seem to eat it just plain as a snack.

But bread is certainly symbolic of food and survival. During 2010 the price of several essentials was creeping up – water, electricity, petrol – mainly because of the depreciation  of the Mozambique metical against the dollar, rand and euro. The increase in the cost of living was hitting the poor hardest, so when a big increase in the price of bread was announced in September.  There were demonstrations, street barricades and the burning of tyres.

The protest slogans and rap songs all focused on bread and hunger, and in this clip the song refrain is ‘povo no poder’ (the people in power). The police, already known by human rights organisations for its violence and excessive use of force, fired on demonstrators with live ammunition, killing 13 and injuring over 500, while around 300 were detained.  

After this mayhem, a government U turn restored subsidies that had not helped the poorest much in any case.  Economists report that the subsidies on fuel and domestic electricity mostly benefit the richest section of the population. As for bread, 42% of the subsidy on wheat flour benefits the same rich people, with only 6% of the subsidy benefiting the poorest.

When bread prices went back down, it seemed like a popular victory at the time, and the rioting stopped. But the local people say that the bakeries, while maintaining their original prices, seem to have gradually reduced the size and weight of their various products. 

As for me, home cravings kick in at times. One Sunday I absolutely had to have poached eggs on toast… so I rigged up a toaster with bits of wood, a couple of wire coat hangers and a few paper clips.  It does the trick well enough and I get that gorgeous toast smell.  I also splashed out on a jar of South African raspberry jam!

My own electric toaster!

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From blues to postcard blue

This is the extraordinary colour of the Indian ocean at Vilanculos… doesn’t it make you want to plunge in right now?

The sea is this colour

Going to Vilanculos, Inhambane province, was my escapade #4 out of Chimoio. 0300 bus departure and by 0900 at destination, lodging with fellow volunteer in a thatched house overlooking that blue blue (never mind the ant invasions and the scuttling of other many legged creatures)…. To sleep to the sound of waves each night, with a sea breeze, and see that view every morning is my idea of heaven.

Traditional thatched house

View from the back garden

Finally I got to use the snorkel mask that had collected dust since my arrival in Maputo. With a dozen other people I made a day trip on a partly motorised dhow sail boat to Magaruque island, the nearest to the mainland in the pristine Bazaruto Archipelago.

The snorkeling was at a rock barrier, with some corals, that stretches down the west side of the island… not perfect visibility but good enough to see the big turquoise and pink parrot fish, the prickly ‘puffer humbugs’, the zillions of little yellow and back striped ‘tiger’ fish, the shoals of transparent ‘window’ fish hovering there (all my silly nomenclature) …and dozens of others… fabulous.

After working up an appetite we then gorged on fresh crab and barracuda that the crew had cooked up on the charcoal in the boat kitchen….

The kitchen aboard the dhow

Magaruque island scene

Leaving the island

I spent time walking around the beaches in Vilankulos, including to the fancy lodge area, where the Mozambicans serve and clean the beach for the (usually South African) ‘white man’ who can be seen loafing about drinking beer at 10 am.

High tech lodge swimming pool seems to merge with the ocean

Morning beer o'clock in the lodge garden

Raking the beach for the lodge guests

I learned later that the frequent helicopters passing overhead were not for security, but for taking ‘top end people’ to their exclusive beach resorts on other islands of the Bazaruto Archipelago. This way they don’t have to mix with the riff raff in Vilankulos town.

There are a few more basic places to stay for other mortals, with dorms and camping areas, but such is not the case on the islands that belong to a national park. These resorts have to operate to strict rules including not being able to dispose of any trash except by its physical removal from the islands.

The tranquillity of it!

Why do I have to leave?

Strolling along the beach road

Beach side stroll beats the dusty Chimoio walks!

Any time football

But Vilankulos belongs to the people, who flock down to hang out near their favourite beach side bars on Sundays before sunset. It’s also a great football ground, always with a fresh breeze blowing.

Bye til next time

The worst part was having to leave, having to get back to Chimoio on public transport on a public holiday. It took 11 hours (twice as long as coming down) because the chapas stop all the time to load, unload, drop and pick up people…. But I had a book and sighed deeply, repeating to myself the word ‘paciencia’ – a virtue one cannot help but develop here.

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Small town blues

I miss Maputo.  Now I live in Chimoio, Manica province, a one horse town where everyone goes home to family after work, there’s no cinema, theatre, music, beach, river…. only a few all-men bars with pool tables. I have no kindred spirits beyond skype and internet. So what could a lone foreign pax do after work? take up embroidery? meditation? the church (that would go down well here!)? learn to cook local food? Yes, could, but ….

I do read more, am becoming versed in the official Frelimo line on TV, I watch films or UK TV comedy downloaded to my laptop, I study the complexities of the subjunctive mood in my Portuguese grammar book and go for endless dusty same same walks.

Endless dusty walks

I’m aware of too much sitting …. I bought a skipping rope in a Chinese shop, with a view to the odd 5 minute indoor workout, but my ceilings are low so I use it as a rainy day washing line. I could be more of a workaholic and spend evenings browsing national HIV infection statistics, health plans, the Mozambican economy….

Great HIV murals abound

But then a planning and plotting tendency sets in: where to go?? to escape to places that don’t require 10 hours of broken seated backbreaking chapa (bus) with departures at dead of night (usually at 0300 )….

Back breaking chapa buses in the glorious sunset

Adventure # 1 was a day trip to Manica town, a one hour hop away on a good road that continues over the border into Zimbabwe. This is a half horse place: one road and a few straggling dirt trails leading up and down the valley. Great avocados in the market (none in Chimoio).  A VSO colleague who works there and I failed to find the renowned ancient cave paintings, but got some hot tea to sit over and later ate cabbage sandwiches (lunch) with a couple of hung over Peace Corps volunteers.

Adventure #2 was a long weekend to Beira on the Indian Ocean coast. Four hours of being crammed in the corner of a chapa with no springs, a neighbour’s sleeping head bouncing on my bag-on-my-lap, passing pine forests and being passed by vast fuel tankers thundering along this ‘Beira corridor’ that connects Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia to the sea.

Mozambique’s second city, population around 570,000, Beira was refreshing – space, air, wide avenues with old trees, decrepit but characterful period buildings, beach and breezes, a pink and white striped lighthouse and FISH again!

Beira: Pink seems to be a favourite colour to paint buildings in Mozambique

Beira: Shady avenues without noisy traffic

Beira: Faded colonial glory (my type of dream house!)

Beira is altogether a liveable place… I looked up the brother of a Moz friend in Maputo, went to a live music venue, and got my batteries fully recharged for the following week in Chimoio.  

Beira: Space and sea breezes at Makuti beach

The sea front in Beira town

Beira has a dilapidated 1950s luxury hotel overlooking the sea that became a refugee camp during the war,  and now has trees growing out of the walls.  It is home to around 350 squatter families who live there as a working community, with no utilities, but with their own internal organisation.  A film has been made about the place. 

Adventure #3 was having my first house guest here. A colleague trekked all the way up from Inhambane (ten hours bus) and we hunted down a small lake out near Chimoio airport where you can get beer and (maybe some day) swim, when the owner gets a jetty fixed…. we found it through google maps – yes that works even here!

Small lake discovered through Google maps

As I waited in line in the bank today, I stood reading John Updike’s ‘Rabbit Run’…. depressing small town USA in the early 1960s… makes me think of the Chimoio equivalent in a different age and culture, as development advances apace. New banks seem to be the growth industry here, all have permanent long queues for the ATMs and counters, together with the local queue games and protocols, such as giving someone at the front of the Q a tip to deposit cheques, thus extending the jostling wait for everyone else. I spent two hours queueing for my allowance, only to find it hadn’t come… then I felt guilty about being so annoyed about it and also about not being able to get the bank’s phone number, when I stepped out to see the blind and destitute begging in the dirt outside.

Permanent queues and crowds at the banks

So there is no avoiding the reality of people’s real lives and the struggle they carry from one day to the next. As a sign off, and as I plan my next escapade, here’s a hopeful piece about needy people helping each other…. in Tete, the province just north of where I am. Click through the photos at the top that illustrate well this part of the country.

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From Maputo to Chimoio: capital city to small town

Moving to Chimoio on a 1.5 hour domestic flight from Maputo involved the same amount of packing as moving from London, plus all the extras like bedding and other post-arrival purchases.  I’d been told I’d be getting a “cleaned and prepared” small house recently vacated by two VSO men. But the beds were broken (literally collapsing), mattresses rotten, bedroom walls a ghastly dirty blue, toilet leaking, front door locks broken, etc. And a whining landlady saying she had no money to fix anything.

Dingy inside, but dinky looking outside with its own mango tree and orange tree

Living room draped in capolana cloth

Super kitchen facilities (most people cook outside)

After a couple of weeks, a pestering strategy, and own effort, things have improved. I pegged capolana cloth over the vile curtains, got a new mattress and unpacked a TV someone had left behind. Now I fear I’m getting addicted to the Brazilian soaps that are on every night! I tell myself it’s all good for extending my Portuguese vocabulary. I also have a choice of two small plastic couches (below) to potato-out on!  Plus I can get BBC world service loud and clear at all hours, as well as Moz stations. In Maputo I could only get Radio France International [RFI].

My work task here is to set up a programme monitoring and evaluation system for a large well established NGO called Kubatsirana (= mutual aid) that’s working to combat the devastating effects of HIV/AIDS among the most vulnerable. 

It’s going OK so far. I’ve had to get used to the Christian underpinnings of all the approaches, but do realise this is the only way to reach the grass roots community: everyone belongs to a church. More on churches in a future blog post, just to say here my comfort zone is being sorely tried with prayers to thank the lord after every meeting…. Plus the work day starts with 15 minutes of prayers – like old fashioned school assembly.

When people asked me on arrival “onde e que voce reza?” (where do you pray? = which church) and I replied “eu nao rezo” (I don’t pray) they were shocked, so I had to add quickly that after living many years in S E Asia, I had a Buddhist meditation approach, but no church.

World Church of the Power of God. Circular sign says "the hand of god is here!!!"

Vila Pery was the name given to this town in 1916 by the Portuguese colonials, after the then governor. It was renamed Chimoio at Mozambican independence in 1975, after a local chief. Facebook does not register Chimoio, so my fb location is up as Vila Pery. The only Vila Pery in Chimoio now is an eponymous hotel.

Chimoio in Manica province is in pale green area on left

This small town, capital of Manica province, population 260,000 in 2010, is a criss-cross of six or so sealed roads that then fizzle out into dirt roads. It’s now growing, and the bigger shops, mostly Lebanese owned, deal in construction materials, truck and 4WD vehicle parts and imported bales of old clothes. The goods-only railway shuttles between Beira on the Indian Ocean coast, and Harare in neighbouring Zimbabwe.

Shop dealing in bales of old clothes

People buy a bale then peddle the clothes on mobile carts or in the markets

There is a mix of people here – the majority African, speaking Shona (as in Zimbabwe) and half a dozen Mozambican languages. The Indians (originally from Goa) and ‘Arab Muslims’ have run trade here since the 17th century, at times in competition with the Portuguese. Today the Muslims deal in household, motor and food imports, historically they exported ivory, gold and slaves brought in from the bush by the African chiefs, in exchange for Asian cloth and European beads.

Thriving competition 

The only notable landmark in Chimoio is the so-called Cabeca do Velho (old man’s head), a formation of rocks that when seen from the side looks like the profile of a reclining old man. In the rainy season the streams that form are said to be his tears falling. Last Sunday I climbed to the top, and walked a trajectory along the old man’s profile.

'Old man's head' seen from ground level.....

.... and seen from the roof of a building

Chimoio is on a plateau and has a cooler climate (sometimes like the UK, dull, wet and grey!) and good agriculture, tons of fruit and veg, some lake fish… but of course no seafood! I now have gastronomic dreams about prawns.

Fresh greens always available

Proper old fashioned fresh peas (no frozen pea factories here!)

One sees a lot of poverty and vulnerability in the streets here that’s maybe more hidden in Maputo. Yesterday I saw a small kid (6 or 7) leading a blind man along, and a blind woman tottered behind the man, clutching his shirt. Many small children are on the streets begging with disabled people. Today I saw a young blind woman whose two kids of around 3 and 5 were shaking coins in tin cans. A lot of children have lost their parents to the AIDS scourge, and can be household heads at the age of ten! Or they live rough on the streets. More on all that in a future blog.

Yellow caption says "Be prudent, always use a condom"

I feel ashamed to complain about my leaking toilet, crumbling concrete floor and dirty walls when I see how most people live here – in dark shacks with an outside latrine surrounded by a frame of old rags and plastic, and water to be hauled in buckets usually from a distance. Some people drive fancy 4WD cars but live in small houses with no running water or indoor kitchen. They cook outside on charcoal. Some have a well or tap in the yard.

Outside privy - a nice big one

Typical facility in the yard

Makes my indoor cold water bucket system seem a luxury

I have noticed quite a few drunk people around (male and female) at the weekends. The hard stuff (40+%) comes in small plastic bottles at 30p in the market and in all shops, when the cheapest bottle of beer costs around 70p.

Cheap booze to get wasted on


Knock Out brand gin or whisky

Nothing to do at night here, not even any street-side cafes to sit in, only a few bars full of men…. Maybe people who have their own transport manage to entertain themselves more, as we are close to some pristine wilderness areas: Gorongosa National Park (full of animals and birds), Chimanimani mountains, sites of ancient cave paintings….. access is the problem.

Last Saturday morning I saw from afar a big crowd and thought something exciting was going on – street theatre? musicians? – it turned out to be a soap powder promotion with a few free T-shirts on offer. Sigh. That’s maybe the only cultural activity to expect here… provided by the multi-nationals!

The only show in town

And of course, the socialist imagery is still in evidence here.

Axe and hammer wielding: the Organisation of Mozambican Women

Local Frelimo office with portrait of President Guebuza

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Not the Maputo tree massacre

Typical street anywhere in Maputo

Maputo must have more tree lined avenues than most cities in Africa.  It’s known as the City of Acacias.  

At one time of year the flame trees burst into a mass of red flowers, at another moment the frangipani bloom and shed their fragrant blossom, while the acacias spread out their eternal branches and keep the pavements cool.  Much business and social life takes place under the shade of Maputo’s trees.

Post-cutting Avenida 24 Julho

I had a shock one night when walking home from a restaurant. Piles of leafy branches were piled up on the ground between the trees, and there were bald stumps on trees where glorious foliage had grown before.  I looked further and saw that more and more trees had been ‘cut back’, some reduced to stumps and some removed altogether. Some people were busily collecting firewood..

Good firewood opportunities

Well, you could call them sculptures

With my environment conscious conditioning, l suddenly felt indignant about what looked like a tree massacre. What was this for? Was someone getting some cheap logs? The next day I saw even more of the same. The African Games are about to take place in Maputo, and the city should look attractive for the masses of visitors, now it will look ugly around Avenida 24 Julho, one of the main arteries.

Who would want to destroy this ancient witness of the street?

But other giants hit the dust!

I ask Maputans what’s going on, and learn that this is just a regular occurrence, every five years or so. Urban trees have to be managed, especially in a tropical climate. Trees have a lifespan that comes to an end eventually, when they have to be cut down. Traffic lights have to be installed on some street corners. More car parking is needed…. urban stuff….

Now this bus shelter will be a hot place

A temporary street sculpture until the new traffic lights appear

Quite a few trees become informal pissoirs, especially those located close to beer bars, and eventually (it is explained to me) the quantity of men’s urine over many years kills the tree, or hastens its ‘drying out’ ….. hmmm, interesting logic.

This tree was the victim of an overdose of urine....

... provided by users of the beer bars and bottle shop opposite

OK, but the ‘tree surgery’ looks more like hatchet work as men with machetes dangle in trees and set to with gay abandon. The piles of foliage are left to dry on the pavement for a few weeks, where they become trash traps. Finally the branches are loaded on to trucks and driven away.

I just live in fear that some of the more spectacular trees will fall to the hatchet… one never knows who wields the power when it comes to this kind of decision.

Elephants seem to climb the ancient trunk......

...of this massive sunshade and umbrella

But I was reassured – they do grow back.

Looks like a kids' drawing of a tree (and it's outside a nursery!)

And some Mozambican trees live for ever immortal, like the one below now in the British Museum, made out of random ordnance collected from the civil war.

This will be my last blog posting from Maputo.  I have just moved to the small town of Chimoio in Manica Province, close to Zimbabwe.  I’m working in a local non-governmental organisation that’s involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS. It’s quite a change from the throbbing life of the capital.   More anon. 

Mozambique's immortal tree, now in the British Museum

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Waiting for miracles in Pemba

On our first morning at the Tambo Tambolani Tambo festival site in Nanhimbe village, near Pemba, we found the kitchen had not yet been set up, so the two of us sallied out into the village to find some breakfast.  We found a few ladies selling bread, doughnuts and fried bean patties, but alas, no hot water for the teabags we’d had the foresight to bring along. Then a young woman who spoke Portuguese offered to heat up some water for us at her house nearby.  When we arrived there, we were greeted like long lost friends by a young American woman who was sitting on the ground near the house surrounded by a group of dusty skinny children.  ‘Oh hi there, so good to see you, how ARE you?’  

[Oh dear, who’s this?  did we meet her somewhere and forget her name already? No, she was a complete stranger.]

This wide-eyed twenty-something was exuding goodness and light, telling us excitedly that she and her colleagues (there were two others in a neighbouring house) were here to ‘do some loving’ (sic). She said that the little girl sitting mute beside her, whom she was incessantly hugging and kissing, had been left deaf by malaria. The girl had also suffered polio and had no use of her legs, nor any means of moving around. “We’re just waiting for the miracle that will cure her”, she said, as if this were the most natural thing in the world to expect.

We smiled lamely and went into our host’s house for the tea, chatting to her as she fed her baby.  Afterwards we greeted the other young Americans and the mothers of the children, and went our way.

Not great for snorkeling

The following day while enjoying a beach stroll, we spied a lone white man coming out of the sea wearing a snorkel mask.  We’d been hoping for some snorkelling, so called out to ask him if he’d seen any fish or coral.  He said this was not a good place to snorkel, adding that he was one of 270 trainees at the nearby Ministry of Arco Iris (ministry of what??). “Yes we’re here for school for 3 months, but it’s like being on vacation in this kind of place.  We’re learning how to spread love and god’s message here and in the world”, he told us.  

"Ministry of Rainbow" in Pemba

Blue sign says " Village of Joy, Ministry of Rainbow"

Speaking in an unfamiliar formula… what can this be? Two hundred and seventy American twenty-somethings doing what in Pemba? That must cost a fortune. 

Some days later we were in the only restaurant that had coffee (our camp had none), and saw two American girls hosting lunch for ten boys in their charge: prawns, steaks, chips, fizzy drinks. [We considered this place too expensive for ourselves to eat at.] They did not even finish their meals:  they may have been more used to eating a pile of rice and sauce. All the while the girls proudly talked to others in the restaurant about what they were doing… along the lines of ‘we’re saving these godforsaken kids’.

Saying grace before lunch in the restaurant

Phew, this is a lot of food!

We thought about the food a hundred of us were eating in the Tambo Tambolani camp twice a day: a mountain of rice, noodles or xima (pounded yam) topped with a small bit of chicken or fish and a slosh of sauce. After getting through half the rice/noodles/xima, there was an orderly system for the hungry village kids to polish off any leftovers. The restaurant bill these American girls ran up for ten could have fed an African meal to 200 kids! Or bought some crutches or a wheelchair for the deaf lame girl.

A few of the kids looking out for lunch leftovers at the Tambo Tambolani camp

Nanhimbe village kids always hungry

Standard toilet facilities for most Pemba kids

Africans like to go and hang out at the beach at sunset on Sundays, when the heat is down. The Arco Iris girls do too, we saw them colonising the beach-front of an expensive restaurant, not the public beach. They all wore the same ‘modesty’ calf length shorts over one piece bathing costumes. A couple of older women were with them.  We saw they were all reading religious books.

So what do the local people make of the ‘Ministry of Arco Iris’ (Rainbow) and the ‘Village of Joy’.  Some of the beach boys, who sell beads and handicrafts and boat trips, laughed about their interaction with these young women. When the boys asked them ‘do you have a boyfriend?’, they would reply ‘I only love god’, ‘I only love jesus’.

Other local people told us that Arco Iris was a well resourced set up for providing educational opportunities for AIDs orphans and street kids. The kids in the Pemba “Ministry” are not from the area, they may be from Maputo or anywhere else – they are usually moved away from where they were picked up so they won’t leave, get back into “crime” or otherwise “get lost”. The ‘education’ is christian: they are to become pastors (why not? better than starving), but at least they learn literacy and other basics that they missed from school. Some get to travel abroad, to the USA, some to be placed eventually in childless homes;  a kind of long term fostering or adoption….?

Hold on, this sounds a bit like slow motion child trafficking, with palms well greased. Well, this organisation is allowed to operate openly in this mainly muslim province of Cabo Delgado. And some official or other approved visas for the 270 young white people to come to Pemba for their 3 months training.

Street poster reads "Day of Judgement 21 May 2011"

As soon as I got internet access again, I googled Arco Iris and saw that it’s all about a rich blond saviour called Heidi who stars in her own ongoing movie.  She delivers bibles by the plane load to the African bush and hosts mass river baptisms. Check out the website of Arco Iris Ministry here.

An enduring image for me from Nanhimbe village is seeing the deaf girl with atrophied legs sitting alone outside her home, abandoned by all the able-bodied others. Still waiting for that miracle.

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Tambo Tambulani Tambo

Tambo Tambulani Tambo, Tambo Tambulani Tambo, come one, come all to Nanhimbe village, join in with the Tambo Tambulani Tambo festival… celebrating cultural diversity – in Portuguese, in Makua, in Maconde, in Shangana, in Swahili – music, theatre, dance, films, poetry, drama, story telling, rap, rumba, drumming, arts and crafts, comedy, singing – from Mozambique, from South Africa, from Zimbabwe – Tambo Tambulani Tambo, there’s food, there’s beer, come one, come all along, we want to see you there, join in, bring your songs, your drums, your poems,Tambo Tambulani Tambo, Tambo Tambulani Tambo…..”

We are crammed into the back of an open truck, a motley crowd, with a loud hailer being passed from one language speaker to another as we drive along the glittering sea coast at Pemba, with its multitude of massive shining baobab trees.

Pemba bay from the road

We are in northern Cabo Delgado province, not far from the Tanzanian border and a regional flight of two hours and twenty minutes away from Maputo. When I think that’s the same as going from Rome to London, I realise how huge this country is!

Cathedral sized baobabs all along the road

Baobab used as signpost to the Tambo site

The village festival has been going on a few days already, and we are on the way to see the islamic Damba song and ‘kneeling’ dance at the ancient Paquitequete mosque.

Islamic Damba dance

The kids pick up everything just by watching

This was the last big push to get the crowds to the Tambo festival over the last weekend, and they sure flooded into Nanhimbe, hosted by the local Tambo Tambulani Tambo theatre group whose women organised, cooked, acted, sang, danced, fixed tents, removed burrowing bugs from our feet, and did pretty much everything else except the sound and light technicals.  We got to know them quite well that week.

Tireless Tambo Tambolani Tambo women drumming

Multi-talented Ineera - actor, comedian, singer, dancer, cook, mother, wife, etc. etc.

Village kitchen facilities cook basics for 100 people

Village Tambo 'doctors' use local materials to extract our foot bugs

Only a 15 minute walk away from Nanhimbe village is the sandy coast road that stretches along the vast but secluded Pemba bay on the otherwise tempestuous Indian Ocean.

Walkway at low tide

Sigh... when you're in England during a wet summer

Here there is an ever lengthening string of South African owned beach side holiday homes whose inhabitants have never heard of Nanhimbe – a nondescript village, invisible 51 weeks of the year within the shade of its huge leaf- laden mango and cashew trees, where people are dirt poor, but where creative talent and the urge to share it are rich and vibrant.

Mango tree shade in Nanhimbe village

Nanhimbe village main street

What a feast of culture it was!

We English ladies were among the small handful of non-Africans staying at the camp.

Our humble dwelling at the Tambo site

Five star compared with the tent

My companion Marion outside our tent

We could hear drumming until 2 am, and then again from 6 or 7 am onwards. It was even too quiet to sleep after a week of such loud lullabies, especially the rumba, which the men dance in long lines into the early hours, shaking their shoulders in amazing sync… it’s indescribable.

Rumba drums finally at rest in the morning (with toy rifles)

The other traditional dance – most involving impossibly gyrating of hip joints and shaking of the behind – is clearly learned by both boys and girls almost from birth. We witnessed hundreds of 5 to 10 year olds in their raggedy clothes already accomplished in these sexy dance movements.

There were several didactic plays about HIV/AIDS, a terrible scourge in this country, but the humour injected makes the message really memorable, including for the small children, many of whom are being raised by grandparents in common cases where both parents have died of AIDS. [There are currently about 40,000 small children in Moz who have been on retroviral drugs since birth when they caught HIV from their mothers].

The Mapiko dance was performed a few times.  It’s a frenzied response by young girls and boys dressed in beads and tassles, to the Portuguese tyrant and spirit who wears a conquistador style mask and costume and whose dance movements are jerky, weirdand scary. 

Sr Constantino sings and plays his own made 'banjo' in the van

There was a great choral threesome called Noma (mouth) that was playing early one morning loud on CD, an amazing sound that flowed into everything like a huge tide. Mbila, the metallic ‘thumb piano’ was played a lot, at high volume, with other percussion. Constantine, inseparable from his home made banjo, sang scurrilous songs that got everyone in stitches. A group of rehabilitated ex-prisoners, including two disabled men (one from polio, one amputee) made fantastic traditional music and hilarious comedy acts in between songs.

A fire was often built after dark to warm up the skins of the drums (to make them more resonant), and for people to warm themselves during the screening of films about art and disability and agriculture. One night there was a big session round this fire, free space where anyone could get up and do something. Many kids got up and told jokes and stories in their various languages and there was poetry, story telling and songs.

Unfortunately I don’t have photos of the stage and other shows run mostly at night because my camera charger disappeared somehow in Maputo and the spare camera could not take flash/night pix…. I can only try to describe them but the images live on in my head.

I’ll say more about this northern province in a future blog post.

Pru with Urso (bear) the Tambo dog who could sleep through anything

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