PictureMr. João leading the way in the foothills. The perspective is not good here; this is not flat. We are going UP.
JUNE 21: We are scheduled to leave for Mandambuzi today, but there has been a snag. Mr. Joe is once again my scheduled travel companion.  In the five days between our last trip and this one, he had to hike and then catch a chapa to Metangula and Lichinga in order to run errands.  Yesterday he had to get some documents renewed in Metangula, and he waited in an office there only to find out they couldn’t help him because some important personage or other was in town and they could not be bothered with his issue.  In all the bureaucratic delay, he missed yesterday’s chapa and will have to take today’s.  Now at the lodge this morning we are debating what to do.

My suggestion is to wait and leave very early tomorrow.  We must pass through Mbueca, Joe’s village, on the way.  What if I head out at 5 in the morning and pass by his home and then we go together from there?  Of course, this does presuppose that Joe will be able to take today’s chapa and will actually be back.  Given that he has completed his errands, however, that seems likely.  Though I have not been, there is apparently little to do in Metangula, especially if all his errands are complete.

Lily is not comfortable with this.  Though it is true that I am scheduled to begin with the choir tomorrow at 7:30, and though it is also true that not a single choir thus scheduled has begun anywhere close to that time, that does not mean that we should not honor our commitment as the Trust works to bring the villages into a concept of time that comes a little closer to the rest of the world’s.  There is a man at the Farm who is known here as John but whose real name is João.  He is the man on Farm Day who put me in the group of students taking the farm tour in Chinyanja.  He is from Litanda, the second town on our itinerary.  It is another sort of “twin village,” the Chicaia to Mandambuzi’s Cobué.  This solution concerns me because although I like and respect João very much, as does everyone in the villages we will be visiting, he is not experienced in musical vocabulary or translating.  Still, it is decided to keep our time commitments as given in the letters that were sent, so this is the best solution.  Messages are dispatched to the farm to let João know of this plan, and we begin a hasty packing job.  We will go this afternoon.

It takes an hour and a half from the lodge to hike to the village of Mbueca.  Here we leave a letter at Joe’s home with his wife explaining when we got there, when we left and where we plan to be.  The hike to Mbueca has a couple of hilly spots and some beach walking, but nothing I am not used to by now.  From Joe’s house, though, things are looking up.  Way up.  We are going back into the mountains, and the foothills start right away.

For the first time since I have been here, I am feeling grumpy about being on a hike.  Because João is from the area and is anxious to see friends and family, he is going at a quick pace - or at least it seems quick to me this day.  It doesn’t help that this is by far the toughest hike I have been on yet here in terms of terrain.  The entire path is on a course for a steady to sometimes steep incline as we work our way through the mountains back into the high plateau.  Our destination will be more or less the same valley as the previous trip, but much further south.  

PictureOur campsite, complete with fence and bamboo market stand, looking across the road at a neighbor's home.
On the trail, rivers have carved deep ravines in places, and we must make quick descents and equally rapid climbs on a very rocky trail.  The ascents are practically vertical at times. At those points it is necessary to grab rocks with both hands and hoist oneself up and over them.  I learn after a couple of tries not to hoist myself too enthusiastically, otherwise the weight of my backpack keeps my momentum going forward after I clear the rock, once almost taking me off the trail and down a steep hill that would have put me in a river.  I am huffing and puffing, and for the first time on a trail since I got to Africa I have to ask to take a break.  My shirt is so wet I can literally wring it out; I tried it on the bottom of the shirt just to make sure I wasn’t exaggerating in my mind.  This is not normal for me; it is starting to dawn on me that my mood and this excessive sweating might be telling me that if I am not sick, I am on the verge and I had better take it easy if possible.  It is not possible at the moment, though.

João does not know me very well, and he is trying to be kind. “This is probably very hard for you.  Africans are used to walking, but I know you Americans drive your car everywhere.”  Despite the fact that this is true, it does not help my mood at all.  I keep quiet and keep moving.  “Slowly, slowly,” he is saying, although it doesn’t feel slow to me at all. Grrrrr….

My mood lifts a bit when we get to the summit of our third mountain pass and there, spread out before us, is a valley much broader than anywhere on the last trip.  The beautiful vista (and the end of the climbing) comes suddenly and as a total surprise.  I feel at that moment it was almost worth the hike.  Almost.

We make a slight descent into the village of Litanda.  We have to cross a small pond, which is spanned by a log with a bamboo handrail planted into the mud at the bottom of the pond but not attached to the bridge itself.  João goes first, but halfway over his sandal slips on a wet spot and he falls onto the log.  Fortunately he bends his right leg as he goes down, otherwise his injury would have been much more serious.  The log catches the bend in his leg and he is flipped into the pond, backpack and all.  He jumps up quickly and claims to be unhurt, just wet and a bit embarrassed.  I am not convinced.  I offer my first aid kit, which he refuses, and resolve to watch him carefully for any signs of pain.  We move on, but not before he insists that I walk around the pond.  Although I have been on bridges before much more precarious than this one, I won’t argue.

We stop briefly at the home of the mfumu of Litanda to let him know we will be returning the day after tomorrow.  After a stretch of a mile or so down another dusty road (the main road from Cobué to Metangula), we arrive at the home of the chief of Mandambuzi.  His compound is right on the main road; he has a bamboo roadside stand set up to sell wares and produce to the passers-by.  I later learn that “the chief’s house” is the name of this particularly busy stop when one wants to be let off here on the chapa.   

At first the mfumu thinks we will want to camp at the church, but João and he go to investigate and find that this will not be suitable at all; there isn’t enough space for two tents and there is no place to build a fire to cook.  He tells us we should stay at his compound, and we set up camp near the roadside stand but behind his fence.


The mfumu is a nice, older man.  Before the day is out I also meet two of his three wives.  Polygamy is not unusual at all here: João himself has two wives.  Usually these truly blended families all live together in the same compound, though there are some men who maintain completely separate homes for each wife.  In some ways this entire concept still seems so very strange to me; but because I was thrown so quickly and so completely into the culture, I have not had much time to think about it.  It’s just the way things are, that’s all.  Here is the chief’s eldest wife.  And here is his second.  I never met the third.  Regarding his own family, João tells me that he works at the Farm and stays there all week because he has a home in Litanda where he supports his two wives and seven children, his mother, and various brothers and other relatives.  I am trying to imagine how that can even be possible on the type of salary one earns here, even a job as good as the Farm.  Fortunately for them, they don’t have to live off of my imagination.

The night is cool, which is helpful, since we arrived too late to do any washing.  We are both exhausted.  I am watching him for any signs of limping, but so far at least, João honestly seems fine; I don’t even see any cuts or scrapes. We say our good nights and head to our tents.  Tomorrow’s schedule begins at “7:30” with a meeting with the choirmaster and a small committee of choristers.  I am very tired, and I hope a good night’s sleep will help me to feel better.    

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    A choral conductor walking cheerfully over the world...


    May 2013