My family and friends will be surprised to hear how often I find myself walking alone in Africa. Before leaving the States, I promised my mom, “I'll never be alone, I promise! I'll always have Dan with me wherever I go.” The ironic thing is, I am usually walking alone because I'm here with Dan. Let me explain.
Namaacha has one main street with a bank, secondary school, soccer field, internet cafe, and a couple of bars. The street is the only paved road in town. To the east, it travels downhill to Maputo and the sea. To the west, it stretches to Swaziland and South Africa. In the center of town, the roads are broad and shaded. Several of these roads intersect to form a checkerboard pattern of larger, sprawling houses. From this patterned epicenter stretch the four main Bairros: Bairro A, Bairro B, Bairro 25, and Bairro 25 Total. Bairro A, mentioned before, is a collection of tiny houses along a hillside on the Swazi side of town. Biology and chemistry teachers live in Bairro A with their adopted families. Dan and I live in Bairro B with the other math teachers. Bairro B is more spacious and is centrally located, just downhill from the center of town. Bairro 25 and 25 Total, where the English teachers and teacher trainers live with their adopted families, are located on the other side of the main road.
Because I live with the math teachers and am a future English teacher, I am obligated to walk from Bairro B to Bairro 25 in order to attend class with the other individuals in my cohort. That is why, every day, I find myself walking up the broad road of my neighborhood, though the “Checkerboard,” across the soccer field, along the sidewalk of the paved main road, past the Wednesday/Ssturday market, and into Bairro 25. The entire walk is about one mile long and takes twenty minutes. Because we eat lunch at home with our adopted families, I do this walk twice in the morning, to and from class, and twice again in the afternoon. That adds up to about eighty minutes of walking alone.
I would have panicked at the prospect if I had been told in the States that this would be so. Just three weeks ago, I had no concept of Africa. I remember being incredibly nervous. I was unable to picture myself in Namaacha and assumed that I would feel ill-at-ease and out-of-place wherever I went in our adopted country. Thankfully, this has only been the case in larger cities. The people of Namaacha have been gentle and kind.
I start my walk in the comfort of my own neighborhood. Our most immediate neighbors, a 25-year-old man, his 22-year old wife, and their six-year-old daughter, start playing music at about 6AM. The music follows me up the street until I leave Bairro B. Along the way, I pass a few sets of children. Some are in their school uniforms and walk in a tight bunch, while others are too young to go to school and watch from the side of the road. The little ones are doing a variety of adorable (unmonitored) things. Some roll tire rims around with a stick, while others push toy cars made with bottle caps and wire. A few criancas (young children- think “critters”) are headed to “Little School.” These three- and four-year-olds waddle alone down the road with giant backpacks that sag past the back of their knees.
I say “Bom Dia” to everyone. The schoolchildren reply “Bom Dia!” in chorus. The little ones just stare- they don’t speak Portuguese yet. I give them a little wave and a smile. A few people are sitting in their yards or walking on the road, so I greet them, as well. “Bom Dia, Bom Dia!”
They give big smiles in return. “Bom Dia, minha filha (my daughter)!”
I turn left at the top of Bairro B and make my way through the Checkerboard. A few people are scattered throughout, walking up, walking down, carrying water, sweeping their yards. “Bom Dia, Bom Dia!” I say.
Older women always look so surprised and flattered when I greet them in Portuguese. “O! Bom Dia, Obrigada!” Sometimes they will ask, “Tudo bem?” as I continue to walk past.
As is the custom here, I keep walking and talking at the same time. “Tudo bem! (Everything’s good!) E voce? (And yourself?)”
Their voice has almost faded away by the time I hear, “Sim! Tudo bem! Obrigada!”
The soccer field is already hot by 7:15AM. I follow a well-worm path that runs across diagonally. School children are pouring down the main road and into the Secondary School. I keep up a brisk pace because, in general, I am late. “Bom Dia, Bom Dia!” They say. “Bom Dia, Obrigada!”
I pass women on their way to work who nod appreciatively when I greet them. A man putts by on a motorcycle with a pre-schooler on his lap. As they bump-bump down the road, I hear a little voice say, “Bom deeeeee-ah!” The dogs in the road scatter to the side as I walk past. A few puppies limp behind me and then settle into a pothole to rest. A mother goat tied to a tree “naaaaaaaahs” at me while her two kids “nehhhh” plaintively.
I arrive at my language class at 7:30AM, out of breath but smiling. I can’t remember why I was in a bad mood that morning. “Bom Dia, Professor!” I say.
After class, it is the same routine, only backwards. I say “Bom Dia” until I hear my first “Boa Tarde.” Then I know it is time to switch.
“Boa Tarde, Boa Tarde! Obrigada! Estou BEM!”
“Good afternoon, Good afternoon! Thank you! I am GREAT!”
It seems that one never truly walks alone in Africa.