Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Culture (and the Nyau)

The Opening Day Parade

These photos were taken on the opening day of the Zobue District Cultural Festival.  The festivities-- dances, songs, and readings-- took place on the soccer field of the elementary school and continued for three consecutive afternoons.  The event kicked off with an Opening Day Parade, wherein each participating district made a small demonstration of their talent and skill. After the parade, the Zobue Gymnastics team took the stage to perform a synchronized "Children's Dance."

Children's Dance

After the Children's Dance, each of the districts brought forth their Nyau dancers to make a presentation.

Nyau Cultural Dance

The festivities continued well past sunset, and the crowd continued to grow.  Zobue was swimming in culture, music, and alcohol from Thursday night until the Pentacost.

At the end of the day

The most fascinating part of the festival was the arrival of the Nyau.  We'd seen the dancers before, a few times, but this was the first time that I had been able to photograph them.  You see, in the Chewa culture, it is obligatory to flee in the presence of a masked dancer.

We first heard about the Nyau from the Zobue site visitors in November.  When the girls returned from their site visit, they gave us a full report of their trip to Zobue.  Amongst their descriptions was an account of the Nyau.

"It was crazy!"  They said.  "There were these drunk guys outside my window at five o'clock in the morning, covered in mud and banging on drums."

I saw my first masked dancer two months later, while teaching an afternoon class in January.  Abruptly and without warning, my students stood up and slammed all of the windows closed.  I turned from the board, prepared to scold someone, when I saw that nearly all of my students were hiding under their desks.  Outside the window, a masked man was peering in.  He ran his machete along the length of the windows and disappeared.  With a collective squeal, my students all ran to the front of the room and braced the door shut.  It was exceedingly difficult to maintain order after that, and my kids were terrified.  I just wished that I had my camera.

From then on, the Nyau were glimpsed only occasionally, in moments of mass confusion.  Once, when walking down the path on the way to the market, Dan and I heard a rumble approaching from behind.  We sidestepped from the path just in time to avoid a crush of villagers, fleeing from the approaching Nyau.  Somebody grabbed my hand and led me into a neighbor's house, where we watched from the safety of the mud-brick doorframe.  The Nyau, it seems, are not to be trifled with.

So who are the Nyau?

The Nyau (Chichewa:  mask, or inititation) is a secret society of the Chewa culture.  While most aspects of the Chewa culture have disappeared or been altered by the arrival of western missionaries, the society of the Nyau has survived intact for hundreds of years.

The word "Nyau" actually refers to a variety of things, including the society itself, the religious beliefs of the society, the dances performed at ritual ceremonies, and the masks used to perform.  Because the society is actually a "secret" one, the belief system of the Nyau is confusing and rather shrouded in mystery.  People in Zobue don't seem to talk about the Nyau very often, usually referring to them as "bichos" (Portuguese:  bugs, or beasts).  Whenever the Nyau are spotted on the street, everyone will drop what they are doing and run away in terror.  It seems that the Nyau, who are considered to be animated representation of the spirit world, are not responsible for their actions while in character.  This means that, while in costume, they may act violently and with impunity.  Failure to respect the Nyau is considered a crime.

The Nyau have two main costumes.  There is the elaborate festival costume, made of rags and feathers.  These costumes represent evil characters (vices), whose misbehavior is meant to teach social values to the audience.  Characters include wild animals, spirits of the dead, slave traders, and even modern inventions, like the helicopter. In Zobue, we have even seen a few "white men" characters, with a chubby faces, black hair, and dark sunglasses. The other costume is a costume of mud paint, topped with a few feathers, a wooden mask, and a machete.  These particular Nyau, I have found, are what really scare the people of Zobue.  Liable to pop out of any bush at any time (but generally on holidays or after a funeral), these are the beasts that chased me into a neighbor's house and frightened all of my eighth graders.

In theory, there is a third type of Nyau costume-- the animal costume.  These elaborate costumes are woven  out of basket fibers and often require two or more performers.  The elephant character, for instance, requires four dancers and only appears at important funerals.

Women and children, who are excluded from the secret society, are told that the masked men are dead people who have been revived and that the animal Nyau (the Nyau yolemba) are real wild animals.  It is disrespectful for a woman or child to refer to a Nyau dancer as a human being.  Instead, dancers are referred to as "nyama," or animals.

Dancing on the part of the Nyau requires a great deal of talent and athleticism.  In addition to extensive costumes and elaborate headdresses, the ritual dances involve intricate footwork and a lot of running, kicking, and spinning.  Their performance at the District Cultural Festival was the first instance of Nyau dancing that I have seen, and my first real opportunity to take pictures.

Our district won the festival, by the way, so our dancers will be making an appearance at the National Cultural Festival in Nampula in mid-July.  Some of our neighbors think that we will win the entire competition, and that Zobue will be crowned the "capital of national culture in Mozambique."  It has been a source of great pride for the entire community.

Google Image Search:  Nyau

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Flap-necked Chameleon

"The flap-necked chameleon, one of the most common true chameleons in Eastern Africa, can grow to an astonishing 14 inches long!  Like other chameleons, the flap-necked chameleon has eyes located on cone-shaped turrets, which can move independently, allowing it to look in two different directions simultaneously.  The flap-necked chameleon has an long, extensile tongue and can change color rapidly when excited or ready to mate... The greatest threat to this chameleon species comes from the US pet trade.  More than 50,000 individuals were exported between 1977 and 2001, alone."
ARKive, Flap-necked Chameleon

Dan and I found this little critter on Sunday morning, while walking home from the market. It was picking its way across the path slowly, extending one leg at a time.  It moved with a sort of back-and-forth rocking motion.  Chameleons, I realized, were actually very dainty.

Thrilled, I got on all fours to take a picture.  

"Teacher Lisa!"  Exclaimed a few of my students, who were standing nearby.  They sounded shocked.  "Why are you on the ground?"

Wordlessly, I pointed at the chameleon, who was still tip-toeing from one side of the path to the other.  This was the first time that Dan and I had seen a living chameleon in Mozambique, and it was spectacular.  Her wary eyes, covered in green scales, were swinging back and forth in all directions. 

"Yes," said my students, wisely.  "Camaleao."

"Can I touch it?"  I asked.  The chameleon was walking so slowly.  It was tempting.

"Yes, you can touch it," said my students.  Then, as an afterthought, they mentioned, "But then it will bite you."

And so I let the chameleon go, watching it until it disappeared into the green grass on the other side of the path.

Back into the grass

Monday, May 28, 2012

Lisa and Bwino

Lisa and Bwino (January and May).  Note the jeans and sweatshirt
 in the second picture.  It is getting cold in Africa!

It's hard to resist posting this.

One of the best parts of our service has been adopting a puppy and watching him grow.  Bwino walks with us when we go to the market and he follows us to school.  In terms of popularity, he is the most well-known individual in our household.

Walking down the street, we are as likely to hear "Bweeno-Bweeno-Bweeno!" as we are to hear, "Lisa!" "Dan-ee!"  "Lisa!"  "Dan-ee!"

I'm also proud to announce that our dog has finally graduated from puppy to guard dog.  When a drunk man stumbled into our yard last week, waving his arms and bellowing, Bwino charged and chased him away.  Ever since then, the dog has been wary of every suspected drunk. Even the smell of alcohol is enough to bring on a fit of barking.

It's great.  Dogs are great, and every night we feel very secure with Bwino sleeping on the front porch.

He doesn't really "get" pictures, though.  In general, he would rather be playing elsewhere.  He's not that mature.  He is a dog, after all.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Crazy, Beautiful Country

It's official.  School is canceled from Tuesday, May 22nd until Tuesday, May 29th.

Initially, I was disappointed about this.  This week was supposed to be test week, after all.  I had worked really hard to write my exams and to prepare my students for their tests, and I was excited to see how my kids were doing.  For the first time, I was feeling confident as a teacher, and confident in my students.  

When I arrived at the school to find everything inside-out-- desks on the lawn, students carrying mops and buckets-- I could have cried with frustration.  

Why is this happening?  I wondered.  Why didn't anyone warn me?  And why (WHY, WHY, WHY?) is there no emphasis on education?  It seemed like school was always being canceled, for one reason or another.

My disappointment soon gave way to a guilty sense of delight, however.  

"There's nothing you can do about it," said Dan, reasonably.  "Give your tests next week.  Let's just hang out."

And suddenly, I realized that I had a free, unexpected vacation.  

This morning, in celebration, Dan and I decided to do something that we have wanted to do for a very long time.  Today, we decided to climb Mount Zobue.

Mount Zobue, the neighboring smaller mountain, and the pathway in between

Don't get me wrong-- we've tried this before. The first attempt was in January.  We were hiking with a friend, and, instead of taking us up the big mountain, he decided that it would be better to start small.  Instead of climbing Mount Zobue, we climbed a smaller, neighboring mountain. It was a beautiful trip, but as the picture above illustrates, it was not Mount Zobue.

Then, in April, five of us got to together to launch a full-scale attempt on the steeper, unchallenged slopes of Mount Zobue.  We went without a guide and, though the hike took us deep into the forested crevasses of Zobue's many domes, we never did find the "top."  The mountain remained shrouded in fluffy, clouded mystery.  

Today, though, was different.  Today was special.  The weather was cool, the town was quiet, and we had the two first-rate guides.  Our friend Gift would be coming with us and, even better, so would his little brother.  This doesn't sound like a boon, but it was.  Gift's little brother is a mountain-side pig hunter. 

With the odds stacked in our favor, we started up the mountain.  The weather was so cold that Dan's glasses fogged up.  Sweat was dripping from our noses, but we kept our hands stuffed in our pockets.

The first leg of the journey was around the base of the mountain.  From there, we started the upward climb.  After a few hundred feet, the grass gave way into ferns and palm fronds.  Then, halfway up the mountainside, we took an unexpected turn into the forest.  

Tromping through the vegetation
And squeezing through the crevasses
Tree ferns in the forest
Flowers on the mountain
Fall foliage in Mozambique
Flowers on the mountain

I held my breath for as long as I could and crashed through the vegetation, praying against snakes, rats, pigs, and giant, gaping holes in the mountainside.  As it happened, Bwino actually did fall into a hole, but Dan caught him by the scruff of the neck and pulled him to safety.  

After twenty minutes of hacking and tripping and tugging our way through the forest, the trees opened up to reveal a giant, rounded, stone dome.  We had reached the first peak of Mount Zobue.  

At some 1,400 meters tall, the dome was the highest point in the surrounding area.  The clouds overhead were moving so fast that they swirled like smoke.  The edges of the dome were dizzying.  Bwino actually started to cry, and sat as far away from the cliffs as possible.

On the border between Malawi and Mozambique
On the border between Malawi and Mozambique
The view from the top of Mount Zobue

Mount Zobue is different in that it has three peaks, not one.  Ours was the smallest, and the closest to the actual town of Zobue.  The other two, from what we understand, are impossible to climb.  Or rather, says Gift:

"You can climb them.  But then you have to stay there.  Forever."

Dan and Bwino resting at the top.  Note the "impossible dome" on the other side
Tree, Mount Zobue
Overlooking Mozambique
Overlooking Malawi

We stayed on the mountain for a few hours.  The sun was warm on the rocks.  Gift listened to music on his phone while I took pictures and looked for parrots.  Dan traced the tangled network of paths that laced the fields below.  

"It's crazy to see our town like this," he said.  "The hills seems so insignificant."

The town of Zobue, Mozambique

Schematic of Zobue, for comparison

On our way back down, I had a few questions for Gift.

"Have you ever seen a monkey on the mountain?"  I asked, jogging to keep up as we pushed through the strangling vegetation.  

"Sure," he said.  "Often."

"And do leopards still live on the mountain?"

"I don't know.  Some people think they do."


I decided right then and there that I would be back.  And the next time, I would bring a book.  I think I might decide to stay for a while.

What a crazy, beautiful country.

A composite photograph showing the town of Zobue (Mozambique- left), the town of Mwanza (Malawi- right), and the footpath between the two.  You can also see where the international border runs along the mountain ridges.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Oh My GOD, Mozambique...

I want to fit in here.  I really do.  Sometimes, though, I feel like I will never, ever, ever understand this culture.  There are times where I want to put my head in my hands and cry out,

“Mozambique, WHY?!”

Today we found out, unexpectedly, that classes are canceled for the rest of the week.  For the record, today is TUESDAY. 

How, exactly, did we find out that school was canceled for an entire week?  Were we notified in an email, perhaps?  A memo or a personal note from the School Director?  Nope, nope, nope!

We found out that school was canceled when we showed up, chalk and lesson plans in hand, only to discover that all of the desks, chairs, and students were OUTSIDE THE SCHOOL, ON THE LAWN.  After a few little inquiries, we found out why.  Here is a near-exact transcript of our conversation with another professor.   

Lisa and Dan:          (Clutching notebooks and pens, looking perplexed)  "...What is this?"

Professor Watch:     "There's no school this week.

Lisa and Dan:           "But… why?  Why is school canceled?"

Professor Watch:     "Because masked dancers are going to be sleeping in our classrooms, that’s why.  This weekend is the District Cultural Festival."

Lisa and Dan:           "But… why is school canceled ALL WEEK?  The festival is only a few hours long."

Professor Watch:      "Because today, Tuesday, the students are cleaning the school.  They can’t clean the school AND have classes.  Ha-ha-ha!  Then, for the rest of the week, the school will be CLEAN.  So the students can’t go in and make it messy again."

Lisa and Dan:            "What?

Professor Watch:      "You heard me.

Lisa and Dan:            "Why didn’t anybody TELL us?"

Professor Watch:       (shrug)

In addition to this unexpected blow, the trimester has been shortened by three full weeks in anticipation of the National Cultural Festival in July (the continuation of this week's District Cultural Festival).  So, here is the original trimester plan, juxtaposed against the new, crippled trimester plan.

Old Plan
New Plan
Verbs (Present)
Verbs (Present)
Reading Comp.
Reading Comp.
Exam 1
No School
Exam 1
Question words
Question Words
Exam 2
Provincial Exams
Verbs (PresCont.)
No School
Provincial Exams
No School
Trimester Review
No School

Oh, Mozambique.  Sometimes, I feel like I will never, ever understand. 

Note:  There was no school for most of week 3, either, due to a funeral.  The school janitor died.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Budding Conversationalists

The results from the first trimester are in.  Out of 250 eighth-grade English students under the tutelage of their American teacher in Mozambique, 148 failed.  102 passed.

My director was kind enough to call a staff meeting to divulge the school-wide results, making a note of the fact that my students had the lowest grades in the entire high school.  The final count?

I have a forty-one percent pass rate.  Fifty-nine percent of my students failed. 

Here is a visual, in case the numbers aren’t stark enough.

My poor students...

So what happened?  First of all, I refuse to lie.  If my students don’t come to class, don’t do their homework, and don’t take their tests, they get a zero.  Secondly, a LOT of my students don’t speak Portuguese.  If they can’t speak Portuguese, how can they be expected to learn English?  Oh, my poor little students.  I love them so much, but some of them have gumdrops for brains.  Just… sweet little gooey gumdrop brains. 

Don’t get me wrong.  Some of my students are doing a great job.  Some of them.  41%, in fact.  The other 59%, however….well.    A least they are cute. 

So in a school without access to extra paper, large printers, and copy machines, how do professors divulge their grade?  Here in Mozambique, report cards aren’t actually a feasible option.  Instead, professors have opted for a much more injurious method of sharing end-of-trimester results. 

They read them.  Out loud.  To everybody.

It was Friday morning when Seni (my neighbor, house-hold helper, and student) came over to ask if I would be his guardian that afternoon at the trimestral grade divulgence. 

“My aunt said that she can’t come,” said Seni.  “Can you act as my guardian for today?  For me and Pascoal, both.”

Pascoal is his cousin, the son of his aunt.  They live together in the same house, along with four more of Pascoal’s little siblings.

“Why can’t she come?”  I asked. 

“I don’t know,” said Seni, “She just can’t.  Will you come instead?”

“Of course,” I said.  “I can come. That’s fine.  I’ll be your guardian.” 

I was touched.  Dan and I have a real fondness for Seni and his cousins, and we are aware of his situation at home.  To put it gently, one could say that Seni’s aunt is not always the most attentive parent or caretaker.   Seni spends most of his time on our porch or on our couch, reading books and avoiding his family.

That afternoon, Dan and I showed up at the school with a notebook and pencil.  A massive crowd of parents were already outside, sitting on the grass.  I saw immediately that I needn’t have dressed up.  Most mothers were wearing head wraps, T-shirts, and capulanas.  Some of them were even barefoot. 

At 4PM, the students poured outside to invite their parents into the classroom.  Pascoal ushered me inside and showed me to an empty desk.  I sat next to Seni, who was twitching nervously.  Everyone was staring straight ahead, at the Director da Turma. 

The Director cleared his throat. 

“Welcome to the divulgence of the grades for the first trimester.” He said.  “Before we begin, I would like to make a few announcements...”

For the next 45 minutes, the Director talked (scolded, really), covering everything from student tardiness to the value of planting trees.  I don’t know why I was surprised.  We wouldn’t be in Mozambique if every meeting didn’t start with such prolonged and exhausting verbosity.  I thought that Seni was going to die from nervous anticipation.  Finally, the Class Director took a seat and unrolled a giant grade sheet. 

“Amilton Almoco?”  He read.  Hamilton Lunch?

“Estou,” said the student.  I am (here).

“Encargado?”  Said the Director da Turma.  Person-In-Charge?

“Estou,” said Amilton’s guardian, sitting next to him and brandishing a pen over a piece of notebook paper.

“Grades for Amilton Almoco,” read the Class Director.  “Portuguese, 10; English, 16; History, 12; Biology, 11…”

Amilton’s guardian dutifully copied his grades, and, when the divulgence was duly recorded, the pair ducked their heads and left the room.  The sense of relief was palpable.  Hamilton Lunch had passed his first trimester with an overall average of 13 points out of 20. 

More students would follow, and with varying results.  Sometimes, when an especially low grade was announced (Catarina Fote earned a three in English, for instance), a murmuring titter could be heard rising throughout the classroom.  When one girl earned a zero in Chemistry, some people outright laughed out loud.  Even the Director da Turma poked fun at her.

“Did you really do that badly in Chemistry?” He said.  “Did you even take a single test?”

The girl hung her head.  When her grades had been divulged, she and her barefooted mother left quickly and wordlessly, heads hung low. 

My two “children,” Pascoal and Seni, squeaked by with low passing grades.  At least, however, they passed.  They were a part of my forty-one percent. 

As cruel as the system seems, in does make sense to read grades in Mozambique.  It would be too expensive and wasteful to print results for every individual student (though we only have six classrooms, we have over 800 students), and the technology just isn’t available.  And as far as hurt feelings go, I found that the worst students tend to avoid the situation all together.  They leave school early or neglect to invite their guardians, and their names will be omitted from the reading list.  The other students, the ones who stay for the reading and invite their parents, usually feel some degree of pride in at least a few of their trimester grades, and are proud to have them read out loud.  Even Catarine Fote got a 10 in Design.  

I am learning to focus on the forty-one percent of students who are doing well in my class, rather than dwelling on the 59% who are failing.  Emotionally, this is less taxing.  In that vein, I am pleased to announce that 102 of my students passed their first trimester of eighth-grade English.  


That is a lot of budding conversationalists.  

Friday, May 4, 2012


So, in the end, our trip totaled 1657 kilometers.  We traveled by chapa and bus from Chimoio to Buzi, by chapa and boleia from Buzi to Vilankulo, and then by boleiachapa, bus, chapa, and chapa from Vilankulo to our little yellow house in Zobue.   Was it worth it?  Absolutely.

Travel in Mozambique is difficult.  There's no denying it.  On this trip, in particular, we spent four hours waiting by the side of the road, three hours on the bed of a pick-up truck, thirty minutes waiting for our driver to buy a goat, and one terrifying minute swerving all over the road while our bus blew a tire.  

Why do we do it, then, if it's so difficult?  The truth is, there are several good reasons to travel in Mozambique.  First, it presents an opportunity to meet other travelers.  We met Ruth and Jacques, a truck driver and his niece en-route to Pemba, who taught us how to count to twenty in Afrikaans.  We also met Guni, a 25-year-old driver from Maputo, who drove us, two Mozambicans, a damaged car, three goats, and four chickens more than 500 kilometers from Inchope to Vilankulo.  Secondly, it gives us an opportunity to go to the beach.  Since arriving in Mozambique, Dan and I have never actually gone to the beach together.  Finally, and best of all, traveling is a good way to spend time with other volunteers. 

Mary flags down a boleia on the road outside of Chimoio

Adrienne and Dan wait on the side of the road

Adrienne, Dan, Mary, and I didn't actually make it out of Chimoio on our first attempt.  Sunday is a classically difficult day for hitchhiking, and, after a few failed attempts at finding a ride, we decided to get up early and catch the bus on Monday, instead.  That's when we discovered that getting to Buzi (Adrienne's site) is hard.  First, of course, there is the bus ride.  Imagine fifty people crammed into a bus the size of a washing machine, bouncing across potholes like a ping-pong ball.  Imagine, also, that the back door doesn't close and that the exhaust pipe is filtering fumes from the outside, in.  The woman in front of you keeps closing her window so you find yourself with your mouth clasped against the crack between panes.

"Don't worry," said Adrienne, wryly.  "This isn't even the worst part."

The bus dumped us off in the dusty town of Tica, where we crawled, exhausted and with aching lungs, into the back of a pickup truck.  There, we waited for THREE HOURS, as the back of the truck slowly filled with other road-weary passengers.

Adrienne shuffled her deck of cards patiently.  "Don't worry," she said.  "This still isn't the worst part."

Then, it began.  First, there was a little jolt as the engine on the truck began to sputter.  Then, we pulled away from the shade of the trees.  The sun was burning.  As the truck began to pick up speed, we realized that something was wrong.  The truck had no shock absorbers!  The road was not maintained!  FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, WHY!?

It is ironic that Sofala, the flattest of the provinces in Mozambique, also has the bumpiest roads.  In fact, the highest point in the entire province is a pile of rubble on the berm of Highway 1.  The lowest point is at the bottom of a pothole outside of Tica.

You do whatever you can to survive the bumpy ride to Buzi.  Some passengers sit on bags or purses.  Others stand and hold on for dear life.  Some just sit on their bare bottom and stare blankly ahead, with milky fish eyes that appear dead to the world.  We were all, every single one of us, slipping in and out of consciousness.  My teeth were rattling incessantly.

Playing cards in the open-back chapa, waiting to depart.

Hiding from the sun on the open-back chapa

Hiding from the sun on the open-back chapa

After three hours of wincing, crouching, and bouncing, we finally made it to Buzi.  Adrienne led us through the town (sandy streets, palm trees, and shrimp vendors) to her house, which is located directly alongside a very active, very noisy, primary school.  We explored the house and took a few pictures, then discovered the broken window leading into the back bedroom.  We leaned in to inspect the window a little more closely, and then I took a picture.

"Was this broken before?"  We asked Adrienne.

"It most certainly was not," she said.

For someone who had her computer stolen just two months before, she was surprisingly calm about this most recent security threat.

"I'd better call Safety and Security," she said, and walked inside to get her telephone.

Luckily, the bars behind the broken window were still in place.  Nothing had been stolen.

Theft is all too common in Mozambique, though, and it seemed likely that the thieves would try to return.

"I think I need a site-mate," said Adrienne.  "I don't know if I am comfortable living alone any more."

Adrienne's house in Buzi.  Note the neighbors that live directly across from her.

Safety and security issues:  A common concern amongst volunteers

Despite the threat of the broken window, however, our visit became very pleasant.  From Adrienne's neighborhood rooftop bar, we could watch the bats take flight after sundown.  We watched as swarms of giant fruit bats streamed out of ceilings and awnings and treetops across town.  Just before dark, we saw a large hawk swoop down and -SMACK- collide with a bat, talons outstretched.  The bat, weakly flapping a single, undamaged wing, was carried away onto a distant rooftop.  The four of us stared, transfixed.

Buzi, we discovered, is an ecological wonderland.  The town itself is located on the mouth of the Buzi River, which flows left or right, depending on the tide.  It is also home to a delightful little fish.  This little guy, the common mudskipper, can WALK ON LAND!

In addition to seeing bats, hawks, and amphibious fish, we also saw about thirty different types of mosquito. We even saw a Mozambican throw a rock on a snake!  (Not a rock at a snake.  A rock on a snake.)  It was a fascinating and auspicious start to our journey across Mozambique.

Sunset over Buzi (with fruit bats)

Adrienne and her 11th grade class (teaching the lyrics to "Wavin' Flag" by K'naan)

Adrienne and an 11th grade class

After leaving Buzi the same way that we entered (and earning a string of bruises across my thighs), we made our way back to Tica and then westward to Inchope.  From Inchope, we flagged down a boleia with a large truck heading directly to Vilankulo.  It was a slow ride, but it was pleasantly predictable.  If only our driver hadn't kept stopping to buy livestock.  We made it to Vilankulo just as the sun was setting.

For the next two nights, we stayed with fellow volunteer Drew Garland on the beach in Vilankulo.  His house, a three-bedroom condo with electricity and running water, is located directly behind a fancy seaside resort called Archipelago.  It is the most beautiful site I could have ever imagined and the four of us, Adrienne, Dan, Mary, and I, worked hard to convince ourselves that we weren't jealous.

"I bet he doesn't have fish that walk on land," I said.

"I bet he doesn't have a cloud forest," said Dan.

Drew got in contact with one of his friends, a woman who runs a horse-riding business from inside the resort, and got us on a trail ride along the beach and surrounding cliffs.  For 500 Meticais per person (less than $20), we rode for two hours on the sand in Vilankulo.  It was beautiful but, sadly, very painful.  My bottom, which, thanks to days of traveling, had previously been a delicate shade of blushing pink, quickly turned blue, then purple.



Sunrise in Vilankulo

Early morning in Vilankulo

Riding horses on the beach

Adrienne riding her horse on the beach

After two nights at Drew's house, we pitched our tent at Baobab Beach Backpackers to await the oncoming crowd of Peace Corps Volunteers.  This weekend, April 28-29, was a special weekend.  We had been hearing about this date since we first arrived in-country, and we had been given clean instructions:


This weekend was Beer Olympics.  

Baobab Beach Backpackers
Baobab Beach Backpackers

Camping at Baobab Beach Backpackers in our new bug tent.  Thanks Wendy!  

Beer Olympics, now in its fourth or fifth year as an annual Peace Corps tradition, is a full-scale drinking competition between the three regions of Mozambique:  North, Central, and South.  It involves rounds shots, beer pong, drinking relays, and lots (and lots) of chugging.  Volunteers from every province show up to participate, and Baobab Beach Backpackers becomes inundated with more than fifty Peace Corps Volunteers at their cheerful, sudsy best.

It's a lot of fun, but, unfortunately for Team Central, Dan and I are not exactly heavy drinkers.  Dan was sick and I was simply non-participatory.  Instead of drinking, we took a walk on the beach to collect fish.  It was a fascinating afternoon.  We returned just in time to cheer for our teammates as they made the winning shot in beer pong, cinching a first-ever win for Mozambique Team Central.

It was a huge event.  

It was almost as exciting as finding a dead lionfish on the beach.


Still, though, we got our faces painted and celebrated along with everyone else.  The night got quiet after the sun went down, and I enjoyed some quality time with the volunteers that I loved the most.  For the first time, I realized that it would be difficult to go back to site.

Mozambique is a giant, varied, and beautiful country.  I am grateful to be living here, amongst the fruit bats, mudskippers, stone-throwers, hitchkikers, and dead tropical fish.  If only I could take all of it-- all of the people, all of the fish-- back to site with me.  The ocean is breathtaking and, from Tete Province, it is so far away.

"But," Dan reminds me, "Zobue has a cloud forest.  And Zobue has Bwino."

The next morning, we left.  To return home, we traveled by truck, by bus, and by chapa.  We lost one wheel, met two Germans, and, from Chimoio alone, made three transfers.  After 18 hours on the road, we finally hefted our bags onto our front porch and went to look for Seni, our house-guard.

After retrieving our keys, what did we do?  We hugged our dog and gave Seni a teddy bear, of course.  It was a happy homecoming.  

The tide going out...

...Leaving a few beautiful tropical fish stranded on the sand

Tropical fish stranded on the beach

Tropical fish stranded on the beach

Tropical fish stranded on the beach (a lionfish!)
Another fish on the beach... a flounder!  Pictured from the bottom (left) and top (right)

My favorite dead fish-  a little puffer with horns! 

The boys of Team Central

Dan and me in Team Central warpaint
Showing off the results of Beer Olympics 2012.  

At the end of the day

The beach at Vilankulo