PictureThe view that greeted me. The island in the distance is Chizimulu: "Cheesy" for short.
I am off to the villages again - this time three villages in five days. Sorry to leave the blog hanging mid-trip, as it were; but there is no cliffhanger; just a trip that was too long to put in one post. I will be back on Tuesday night and hope as always that the internet may be working a little better upon return.  We shall see...

JUNE 6: I wake up early, a little worked up that I am scheduled to be on Likoma Island for four nights.  Mozambique does not recognize volunteer work, so I am here on a thirty-day-at-a-time tourist visa.  It is lucky for us here that Likoma Island is so close – approximately fourteen kilometers, I believe.  Most volunteers, then, take this voyage once a month.  The boats from the lodge need to have guests on them in order to be profitable, so the lodge cannot afford to transport volunteers one by one. We “hitch” rides on scheduled runs.  Thus, I will be going on the Cobué – Likoma run this day when the boat picks up guests from the airport there, but the next guests are not scheduled to leave Nkwichi until the 10th, when I will return on a boat laden with supplies as happened last time.  On the bright side, this extended stay does mean that I will be on the island for a church service on Sunday.  The cathedral here is very famous, so I am looking forward to that.

On the way to Cobué, we have to pick up and drop off some oil in Mala.  As we are leaving from the north side of Mala, a little girl of six or seven tries to push the boat as we are leaving.  “Atithandiza,” I say – “She is helping us.”  Again this causes my travel companions to laugh; this invariably happens whenever I speak Nyanja.  Once again I worry I made a mistake, but instead I am asked how my Nyanja got to be so good!  This is the first time someone has asked me about Nyanja, not Chichewa, so I feel as if maybe I have been making some improvement after all.  This is encouraging, because lately I have been feeling a little stagnant in my language progress.

As a result of this bit of kindness from a staff member, I am feeling brave when we get to Cobué.  The immigration officer knows me by now from the times he has seen me in Cobué, and he greets me in Nyanja right from the start.  We conduct the emigration process in Nyanja!  In fact, the staff member from Nkwichi assigned to help me through Migração [Immigration] in case there are any problems leaves halfway through to complete his own paperwork for the boat trip.  This was a good day if for no other reason than this; I guess I really am getting more acclimated!

The lake was extremely smooth, and we made the crossing quickly.  I got off in the “big city” of Mbamba Bay, returning to it about a month after I first saw it.  We disembarked by the landmark Hunger Clinic and went to the immigration “office” [stall] near my beloved soap sign.  Nobody is there, so we called the junior officers who were having trouble figuring out where and how to stamp my passport last month.  They tell us to go to the senior officer’s house about a mile away, which we do.  He recognizes us, welcomes me back and tells us he would love to help, but this is his day off and he doesn’t have the stamps or paperwork with him.  I congratulate him on his day off and we set off for the junior officers’ headquarters.  Why didn’t they tell us to come to them in the first place?  Maybe they forgot that they did in fact have the materials.  We get to the building where they are… I am not sure whether it was a house, office, barracks or all of the above… and we finish the passport process. They are certainly much more efficient this time around!

After accompanying me down the path and getting assurances from locals that indeed we are going the right way to my “backpackers lodge,” staff from Nkwichi wish me a good stay and head back, since they must run errands similar to the ones they ran the first time I came and must also pick up the guests at the airport.  Now, I am alone on a rural path in Africa for the first time.  I only ask if I am on the right path once; otherwise I look for the occasional rocks with “MD” painted on them for “Mango Drift” where I will be staying.  Some also have helpful arrows painted on them as well.

Likoma is actually quite mountainous, and it is hot and dry as I go over the spine of the island.  But the view when I crest the road!  The mountains go much closer to the western shore where I am headed, which is probably why that side is not as developed.  There is a small village here, though, and the view of it from the highest point in the road is spectacular.    

PictureMy hut at Mango Drift compared to the baobab. For scale, the steps leading up to the hut are about six feet
I arrive at Mango Drift hot and sweaty.  I am greeted warmly, offered water and shown to my “chalet,” situated right next to a tall baobab.  The chalet is up several stone steps, and it has a porch with two cushioned chairs and a table.  The inside is quite large, with a big bed and a wicker couch.  Everywhere is decorated with bougainvillea petals, which are in bloom all over this part of Africa now.  My room looks out over a beach to Chizimulu Island and to the sunset.  I feel myself relax almost instantly, which surprises me.  I was not stressed at all.  It must be the change of pace and the fact that I have no responsibility here.  I think I’ll be fine in Likoma….    

PictureHalf of the cathedral's courtyard, with the usual child getting in the picture. It is unusual to only have one child there, actually.
JUNE 7:  It turns out that two other volunteers from Nkwichi, Carole and Fred, are also staying at Mango Drift while I am here.  Carole and Fred are aquaculture specialists from France who just finished a project creating a fish farm in the village of Litanda.  They are on their way to new jobs in Corsica, but they enjoyed their stay in Likoma so much that they decided to extend their time here before heading back.  They ask me to join them in exploring the island together a bit today, and I readily accept.

We first head to Mbamba Bay, where I must buy a toothbrush for the one I forgot.  I get a nice one for 200 kwacha (about 75 cents).  Fred got an extremely short haircut at “Uncle Jim’s.”  He asked for the “Standard Cut.”  I shudder to think what the “Buda Cut” would have been!  Carole bought zitenje (cloth used for the traditional African skirts), and went to a local official she knew to exchange her Mozambican meticais for Malawian kwacha.  With the help of my calculator, we agree on a fair rate that includes a small fee for this official (for obvious reasons, I am leaving details out concerning the transaction).  He tells us to come back in five minutes.  We go to Uncle Jim’s to get the newly shorn Fred, and then head back to the official.  He waves money in the air and jokes loudly to Carole “I want to make you rich!”  We all laugh, as do the bystanders.  This is black market currency exchange - with a government official no less; but really, with no banks for over a hundred miles, what choice does anyone have?  There is no other option.

From Mbamba Bay we go up the hill to see the cathedral.  It is indeed justly famous.  What a magnificent structure!  It was built only a little more than one hundred years ago by missionaries who were fortunate enough to have a trained architect among their crew.  Perhaps in another post I will explain the importance of the various Christian denominations in this area’s history, but suffice it to say that Likoma and the area of Manda Wilderness in Mozambique are historically Anglican. Likoma is the seat for the bishop of Northern Malawi.  The cathedral’s courtyard and gardens are impressive enough, but the structure itself is quite imposing.  It even has stained glass windows.  The tin roof is the original from 1905.  Much of the material was imported to the island (almost everything is imported to this island), but at least the bricks were locally done.  The sexton gave us a tour – giving me a little extra time and pulling me away from the other two to show me some artwork because he was so pleased I could speak some Chichewa.  For the first time, someone speaks to me in the regional way: by holding my hand during conversation.  Men only will hold hands with one another in public while conversing.  I have been told this comes from a time when tribal conflicts were quite common.  Hands that were clasped could not produce a weapon.  Contact between men and women in public never happens incidentally, even between spouses.  Women also do not touch one another in public.    

PictureThe sexton of Saint Peter's Cathedral showing us the altar and pulpit area.


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