PictureThe unfinished classroom in Mataka. Notice the patched structural crack on the right.
Ways in Which One Enters a Nineteenth Century Novel and Comes to See that Such Things Did Indeed Come to Pass

NOTE: I am about to enter some new adventures.  First, Mozambique does not recognize volunteer work as a reason to be in the country.  This means I am traveling on a tourist visa.  I must leave the country every 30 days.  How fortunate Likoma Island is so close!  Likoma has electricity (!), but I am not sure I will have access to internet.  I will be there until the 10th.  From the 11th until approximately the 16th, I will be back in Mozambique and traveling to two more remote inland villages.  I will be taking my first chapa, and I will be traveling with someone who speaks only Nyanja and Portuguese for the first leg of the journey. No internet or phone at all on this trip!  Please be patient with the ways of travel here.  If I am unable to post further in the next four days, look for another update around the 16th or 17th.  Thanks for reading!

MAY 20:  After rehearsal in Mataka, we return to the compound, say our thank yous and make our way to Chicaia, where we will spend our last night before being picked up tomorrow in Cobue.

We pass Mataka’s schoolhouse.  It has three classrooms, but six grades.  This means half the children go to school in the morning, and half go to school in the afternoon. This is not an unusual arrangement in many villages in Mozambique when there is a classroom or teacher shortage, and not only in Niassa province. The floor is finished with cement in two of the classrooms, but the third has only dirt and random bricks left from construction of the school.  The children have lined the bricks up in rows, apparently to use as chairs.  In Ngofi, we saw 100 seven-year-olds in one classroom.  I wonder what class sizes are like in the brick and dirt classroom.  We notice a wide double crack that runs from floor to ceiling on the end of the building outside the dirt and brick classroom.  Can it be fixed? Lily and Joe check the condition of things and try to account for six bags of cement the Trust sent for the school’s floor. Now the school is empty between sessions, but soon the schoolmaster will go out to the forlorn tree in their hard dirt yard and bang on the rusting car wheel hub that serves as the school bell.  How long will the roof hold with such serious structural damage on one end?  Is it possible the wall could fall when school is in session? We say our farewells and move on.

Although we waited until two in the afternoon to start our hike, it is still hot this day (it is often cooling off by that time).  Much of this hike is again in sand, which I think has to be one of the most difficult surfaces to hike on.  Still, we reach the chief’s house in Chicaia by around four.  Rather than setting up camp right away, we store our gear in the front room of the mfumu’s house and set off to look for choirmasters or members of the choirs in Chicaia and Cobué [aka Khango].  These two villages are very close to each other – twin villages, in fact – but Cobué is by far the larger of the two.

We meet a choir member from Chicaia on our way, with help from the mfumu, who had an errand to run in Cobué and so is accompanying us.  Once again there appears to be some confusion with the letters.  It is possible that a letter never even arrived in Chicaia at all! Eventually we get the date and time straight with this chorister who promises to inform the rest of the group, and we continue on our way.

On the outskirts of Cobué we stop at a house where the chief told us the choirmaster lived.  He was away, but a woman calls for a girl inside who is a member of the choir to come talk to us.  It turned out she didn’t know much, but she thought her neighbor might.  He was her age, maybe slightly older, and claimed to have the letter itself.  He ran home but returned soon, unable to produce it.  We tried to make clear to all present that the rehearsal would be the 23rd and not the 22nd as they all thought it was, letter or no letter.  That was really all we could do under the circumstances, so we set out for “downtown” Cobué for provisions for the evening meal.

While we were walking down the main road, Joe and Lily spotted Francis from Nkwichi Lodge, and he told us that he was waiting for a chapa (basically a pickup truck that carries as many passengers as can possibly be crammed in the back) to arrive to bring someone home who had gone to Lichinga (the provincial capital) to get supplies.  They would then all be returning to Nkwichi that night on the larger passenger/cargo boat that the lodge owns.  This meant that we could come home with them if we wanted that night, no last night of camping!

As we were discussing how this would all come to pass, a man came running up to us who turned out to be Chicaia’s choirmaster.  He had heard that we were in the area and ran from the chief’s house in Chicaia to find us.  His English was excellent, and he and I talked while Lily, Joe and Francis got caught up on the events of the week.  It turned out that Wednesday morning would not be good for the Chicaia choir because so many members are in school, so I will train them from 2 – 5 instead.  This means we can leave Nkwichi at 10 that morning instead of the 5 o’clock departure time previously scheduled!  Better and better….

On the way back to Chicaia to get our belongings we stopped at the Catholic rectory to speak with the Korean priest, who spoke mainly Portuguese, about using rooms there at the rectory for the choral festival.  He was very kind and accommodating, and it appears that Manda Wilderness will get the rooms they need for the festival and the following choirmaster training for no charge at all.  Cobué has a very large Catholic church, which was burned during the civil war here and still has bullet holes visible on its facade.  Just this past year, the church got a new corrugated roof; it had been meeting in the open air for almost two decades.  Now they are working on restoring the former school nearby.  The entire complex must have been massive; it looks as if it will take a long time yet to get everything done. Fortunately, patience is a virtue in ample evidence at all times here.

As we kept meeting people and as information changed and plans changed, I somehow felt I had entered a Dickensian novel.  In so many nineteenth century stories, the characters meet other characters by chance at a dock or on a path, and suddenly circumstances change as a stranger brings unexpected news.  I always thought such events were a little far-fetched, but here a minor version of it was happening to us every ten minutes or so!  Life is indeed very different without twenty-first or even twentieth century means of communication.

By now, it was getting dark.  We came back to the Chicaia chief’s house and had a visit with the amfumu and amayi that was very brief by Nyanja standards, picked up our tents and supplies, and then we were hurrying on our way to the beach at Cobue to be picked up by the Miss Nkwichi, now waiting for us.  She is a slower boat than the speedboat I had taken before; the ride was about an hour-and-a-half.  We dropped off our chapa passenger and some of his family at the beach near Mala and then continued under the beautiful night sky, a cool breeze making everyone else don jackets and cover up with blankets.  I only found it refreshing after all the week’s heat and stayed just the way I was.  I drank all the water in my water bottle now, since I would be able to refill it while at the lodge as I need with no worry.

When we get to Nkwichi, a boat is in the way preventing us from docking, so there is nothing to do but take off our shoes, roll up our pants, jump in the lake and wade ashore.  A short walk on the shore and we are at Volunteer Beach, where everyone is finishing up dinner. This means we actually get to eat tonight, too! I had a craving for orange Fanta, and had in fact had that craving for about a week.  Sometimes I had imagined a bottle of it hanging somewhere above my head while I was out on the paths, as if it were the water in a mirage, always just beyond reach.  I drink two Fantas tonight, one for the road and one for the lodge. A toast: To my first hike, I thought to myself.

After nine days, here is a night in a bed (only my fifth night in a bed since I got to Africa); and with a battery-powered LED light overhead to read and write, I am able to stay up until nine this evening…  then, a good night’s sleep after recounting to myself over a week’s worth of adventures.  I have already learned a lot, and I know this is just the beginning.


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    A choral conductor walking cheerfully over the world...


    May 2013