JULY 9: We left early in the morning from Nkwichi on the slow boat Miss Nkwichi, which I think has been my favorite boat all along.  It is slow, which allows for one to see the scenery, especially nice at night under a moon (as happened at the end of my first hike), but it is also sturdy, for those days when one must go on the lake when there are kumwera winds.  Today is such a day.  Someone gets seasick on the way; the rest of us just try to look at the horizon and enjoy the ride as best we can in spite of the rocking.

The boat is loaded with empty bottles and containers.  The managers of the lodge are making a run to Lichinga in the lodge’s truck parked at James Bondo’s in Cobué.  There they will get all the supplies the lodge will need for the coming month.  Lily and I are making a run to Likoma:  I because it is that time once again for my visa, and Lily because the farm needs a dog or two to fend off monkeys and baboons from stealing all the food just before it is ready for harvest.  The farm had a very nice dog, but about three weeks ago he simply disappeared.  Nobody knows if he wandered off or if he was attacked by baboons or another wild animal.  Since he has been gone, however, farm staff has spent much of its time chasing primates instead of doing the jobs needed around the town.

Since we had to stop in Cobué for immigration anyway, Lily and I were going to run errands for the choral festival while we were there.  This was old-fashioned small town errands and visiting at its finest, and I enjoyed it immensely.

When we first landed, we helped unload the crates and bottles onto the beach.  Then, while the boatmen and managers were going to take them up to the truck, Lily and I struck out for our errands.

As you know by now if you have been reading many entries, Cobué is situated on the lake.  Almost immediately from the beach, the town begins to rise into the foothills; no matter where one lands on the beach it is necessary to begin with a short uphill hike to get wherever you want to go.  I often wonder about people in wheelchairs who might want to see this part of the world.  In most places it simply would not be possible.  Cobué is such a place.  I think the immigration officers would come down to the beach, though, if they could bring all of their books, stamps and cards.  Then the person in a wheelchair could land at Nkwichi, perhaps.  I'm just not sure.

Anyway, you can think of the roads in Cobué (the actual, genuine honest-to-goodness someone-could-drive-something-on-this roads) as being in something of a U shape, with the U lying on its side, prongs to the right.  The top leg of the U, then, is uphill; and the bottom leg runs parallel to the lakeshore though up several feet from it.  The picture two previous entries before taken from James Bondo’s window shows the tailors’ store, which sits where the U takes its turn from the lakeshore segment, where all the stores are and where the secondary school and borehole well are, to the upper segment, where many of the government buildings and the primary school are.  The big Catholic Church takes up much of the curve of the U, with the church to the south of the road and the rectory and former school to the north.

Since it is close, our first errand is to the Catholic rectory.  We hope to find the priest and ask if he might be willing to deliver a benediction before the festival, since the church is hosting the event.  Mr. Patson had lectured Lily before that there must be a prayer this year, since the event cannot be considered to have started properly or be blessed without a prayer.  Unfortunately, nobody answers at the rectory, so we move on up the hill and turn the “corner.”

Lily wants to stop in at the primary school just to visit briefly with the headmaster.  She is usually so busy with whatever project is at the fore at the moment that she says she seldom has time to simply visit with people and learn what needs or concerns they might have regarding the work of the Trust.  Their visit is brief; all is well at the primary school at the moment.

Our next stop is the office of the chefe do posto.  We want to be sure to invite him and his wife to the festival, where he will have a place of honor and be asked to say a few words if he is able to come.  It is around eight thirty and he is not in his office, although the man working in the main room hastens to assure us that he is busy at work from his home and will be there soon.  We ask if he might be able to come to the office so we can speak to him.  The man offers us two chairs and we sit in the corridor waiting for him.

As we wait, one of the police officers pulls up on his motorcycle; the main police station is next to the office of the chefe do posto.  Lily jumps up and flags him down.  We need two police officers to provide security for the event; would he and his colleague who did it last year be available and willing to do the same this year?  He says he must discuss the fee with his colleague and that he will meet us at the maritime police station (in the picture two entries ago) when we come back down the hill.  With that, he speeds off.

Shortly after, the man comes to tell us that the chefe do posto has arrived and will see us now.  We go into his office, where he is seated under a giant portrait of President Guebeza.  We exchange the standard greetings and pleasantries. It turns out he will be on vacation during the time of the festival and will likely be in Metangula with his family, but he is not certain.  Lily lets him know there will be a place for him regardless and if he were in town he would be welcome to say a few words of greeting.  He thanks us and gets to the point he wants to get to.  Lily has brought him a digital camera from a previous trip to the United States, and now he wants to work the video portion of the camera.  It takes a while to figure it out, but eventually Lily is able to show him.  He then shows us some of his pictures.  He turns to me: “Here is one of the chapa we took together!”  It is full of people, as it must have looked when he arrived in Metangula.  Life here certainly circles around in strange ways!

As we leave, Lily asks the chefe do posto to say hello to his wife for us.  He tells us that she is at home and would be happy to have a visit; she has nothing else to do now.  This means of course that we must now go and say hello, so off we head to their home.  Their two youngest children are working outside; they have six children, three boys and three girls.  The boy is an older teenager; it turns out that he is deaf which is why he is not in school.  People with handicaps are treated with respect here, but there is little available to help them integrate into regular, everyday life.  The girl is sweeping and putting sticks and leaves in a box to take out of the compound; we never find out why she is not in school.  Mrs. Posto is inside but comes out on hearing we are there.  Of course the chairs come out in the standard arrangement: a chair for me, a slightly lower bench for Lily and Mrs. Posto sits on the doorstep of the home.  Our visit is actually quite brief, only long enough to find out that she is not in good health (heart problems, perhaps brought on by stress) and to learn a bit more about her family.  She too explains to us that they are likely to be in Metangula during the festival, and we let her know she is invited to come if they are in town, and that we will save them seats.  With that we head back down into the main part of town.

Our first stop there is James Bondo’s.  We are hoping we can store items such as firewood in his lodge, and that he can cook for the choirmasters during choirmaster training.  It takes him a good while to do the math for all these various unexpected requests, but eventually we settle on a good price.  If thirteen choirmasters come to training, they will need breakfast and lunch for three days and dinner for two.  He agrees to do all this for the equivalent of $134, roughly $1.30 per meal per person.  Lily settles the bill for Joe’s, Elias’ and my stay at his restaurant the week before.  For the tea on the day of my detention he charges nothing.  “We are all friends here, and we must help one another.  I will not charge for this.”  I have come to like Mr. Bondo, more each time I come to Cobué it seems.  With thanks for this generosity, we exit the front door of his restaurant onto the walk facing the road.

The policeman is waiting by the maritime office.  Lily asks if we can meet with him on our way back, but he tells us he is very busy and must speak with us now.  He wants 1000 meticais for the two policemen to work at the event, or about $15 per person for a six-hour event.  Lily says this is much too high, and she pulls out her computer to show him that in last year’s budget it was only 700 meticais.  Faced with this evidence, he agrees; but he does complain that they did not get enough chicken last year, only two bites each, and they were tough!  She agrees to feed them better, and egos thus salvaged with a slightly sweeter deal, we are able to move on.

We walk down to the secondary school, checking on the way to find out the price of ground corn for the nsima for the choirs.  We don’t find anyone who knows at the moment, but a boy says he will go try to find out.  While Lily speaks to the director of the high school, I go down to the new boarding school for girls.  Since Cobué has the only high school in the entire Manda Wilderness, the Trust has built a boarding school for girls from the other villages to come and study at the high school.  The actual dormitory is finished; it will be able to accommodate sixty to seventy girls in four rooms.  There are no kitchen or toilet facilities yet; the hope is to have the boardinghouse completely ready by the start of the new school year .  We will be using this boardinghouse to give the choirmasters a place to stay for the two days of training after the festival, but Lily needs to go to the secondary school office to check with the school’s director to see if we can use the school’s toilets and devise a place for the choirmasters to wash.  While she is working this out, my job is to measure the windows of the boardinghouse for mosquito netting and privacy curtains.  I finish quickly and return to the headmaster’s office.  He and Lily are conversing fluently in Portuguese.  He readily agrees to all our requests; it is clear that the high school and the Trust have a good relationship.

On the way back through the shopping area, the boy has found someone to tell us the price of corn flour.  It is sold by the bucket here, and the man assures us that one bucket holds twenty kilos of corn flour.  I am a little skeptical, but since I am not the one who will be picking it up or using it, it doesn’t really matter what I think.  We are not buying it now at any rate, just getting prices.

We continue our journey back up the lakeside road to arrange for chairs and tables.  Mr. Ntali has six plastic tables and twenty chairs for 250 meticais.  We will need more chairs than that, but we take what he has.  We go to immigration and check out with no problems at all, to my relief, then head down to Julius’ beach.  Before we board the boat again, we speak with Julius and arrange for twenty more chairs for 200 meticais.  We got a lot done to prepare for the festival!

Taking the Miss Nkwichi to Likoma from Cobué is like going on a cross-country trip on a tractor.  The boat is lumbering and slow, and the waves are again tossing us back and forth rather strongly.  The boat is creaking, and my side of the boat almost touches the water a few times.  Lily, who never gets seasick, is a little green; and I can feel it, too.  It takes us two hours to make a crossing that takes about half an hour on the speedboat.

When we arrive in Likoma, we stop at the beach outside an immigration officer’s house because we have arrived during lunchtime. He stamps us in and out, “to save time tomorrow.”  He uses the exit stamp for today for our exit tomorrow, and I only hope they don’t give us a hard time about that back in Mozambique.  Then we get back on the boat to go to Mbamba, the main village of the island, in order to start running errands on Likoma.  We are a bit leery of getting back on the boat, but this side of the island is sheltered from the kumwera and we have a smooth ride.

First we try to regain our land legs by having lunch at the Hunger Clinic.  The waitress seems as unhappy about serving us as she did the first time I came here two months ago.  I order in Chichewa, though, and she manages a little “Hmm!” under her breath before she heads off.  A drunken man who hung around the restaurant two months ago is back again, this time inside.  He starts to rail at Lily and me, but the owner comes out and points at me.  “He speaks Chichewa!”  “Ah!” says the drunken man.  “Muli bwanji?” [How are you?]  I answer him politely.  For whatever reason, my ability to speak a few words in Chichewa seems to have defeated whatever purpose he might have had, and he left.  We finish our huge portions of rice and beans and mchicha [local greens] in peace and pay our 350 kwacha each – a little over a dollar apiece.

I am going to check us in at Mango Drift then rejoin Lily in town.  I head out and am soon accosted by a teenager whose name is Alexandria.  He appears to have been named after the Egyptian city, and he is very interested in geography and in practicing his English.  He goes to the secondary school and is in his second year there.  He wants to be a journalist or a pilot, but his mother remarried and his stepfather told him he had to leave in the next five days.  He is looking for a job, maybe at Nkwichi.  I explain a little how things work there.  I mention that Lily is here because he seems to know her (or at least of her), and I tell him that she is looking to buy a dog.  He just so happens to have a dog and will check with his mother to see if he can sell it.  He shakes my hand and goes his way.

After I check in at Mango Drift, I head back into town.  I eventually find Lily outside the local veterinarian’s office with her new puppy.  The puppy is cute but starving and riddled with fleas and parasites.  She went to the vet to get flea powder; the treatment is working but causing the puppy to itch terribly.  She buys some nsima from Alexandria’s mother’s nearby restaurant to feed the dog, and it eats it ravenously.  Then she wraps it, fleeing fleas and all, in her scarf to carry to Mango Drift.  We are accompanied almost the whole way by children who are fascinated by us and by Lily’s cargo.  A nice older man joins us and insists on carrying some bags for us.  He is speaking some Chichewa to me, but the children are telling us “Give me money!  Give me balloon!  Give me sweetie!”  I know that this abrupt way of speaking is simply a direct translation of Chichewa to English; Chichewa’s politeness comes from the verb form you use for the command, not by putting in extra words like “please.”  Thus, in translation their requests sound like demands.  It puts Lily off a bit, and she tells them that they must keep going to school, learn enough to get a good job, and then they will be able to buy their own balloons and candy.”  This answer pleases the older man very much, but I don’t think the children understood it.

The night at Mango was very pleasant.  A beautiful sunset, a dinner with some beef (I believe my first beef since I have come to Africa), and a fairly good night’s sleep, although those biting fly things are over here, too, apparently.

No long stays this time: we will be returning to Mozambique tomorrow.    

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    A choral conductor walking cheerfully over the world...


    May 2013