Monday, July 23, 2012

Lake of Stars: Cape Maclear

It was dark when we arrived in Cape Maclear.  The stars were out and the fisherman were in their boats, bobbing on the water and shining their lanterns like a string of lights across the horizon.  It was too dark to see anything else, but we could tell that the water was close.  It made a soft, lapping noise on the beach, at the foot of the bar.

It had been a long journey to get there.  Dan, Jamie, Hoang, and I left the house at 8AM and elected to travel from Zobue to Lake Malawi by way of Blantyre.  We exchanged vehicles six times over the course of the day and had to fight with every conductor to negotiate a fair price.  By the time that we arrived at the lake, 11 hours later, we were thoroughly dust-ridden, wind-whipped, and road-weary.  Our hair was sticking up in clumps and our bags were heavy on our shoulders.  The last leg of the journey, the 26-kilometer stretch of dirt road between Monkey Bay and Cape Maclear, was the worst.  Jamie and I huddled against the cold in the back of a pick-up truck, leaning against two 50-gallon drums of petroleum.  Dan and Hoang sat on the edge of the truck, gripping the metal ledge and bouncing along for dear life.  

Now that we arrived, we would be staying at the Malambe Camp.  From what we could see, it was a small and homey place: a well-lit bar area with wooden picnic benches, surrounded by delicate reed huts and strung with Christmas lights.  For 2,500 Kwacha (about $10), Dan and I got our own little hut, two twin beds, two mosquito nets, a little table, and a temperamental little lamp that swung from the ceiling.  It was a good deal, and we were happy.  

The next morning, we were able to see the lake for the first time.  The sky was grey and cloudy, but the sun was just starting to rise over the edge of the Cape.  Our hut was located on a short, sandy beach, just meters away from the water.  A small, wooden bridge connected the huts to the sand.  

It wasn't yet six o'clock, so I decided to sneak out of bed and take a few pictures.  I assumed that if I got to the beach early enough, I would find it deserted.  I quickly realized, however, that that would not be the case.  As I stepped out towards the water and turned my head from left to right, I realized that I would have no chance for privacy. The lakeshore was brimming with activity.  

I was embarrassed to bring out my camera, so I took in the scene with my eyes.  What I saw was what I had always envisioned when I pictured my life in Africa.  I saw people--busy people-- balancing baskets, talking, moving, and trading.  I saw women washing laundry with dogs at their heels.   I saw young girls scoured pots with fistfuls of sand, leaving their clean dishware to soak in the shallow water.  Little boys, covered in soap, were tottering naked in the surf.  Boats were pulling into shore, laden with fish, and the women who were not washing or scouring were running to mob the boats, plastic basins balanced on their heads.  It was noisy and raucous, but it was real.  For a few moments, nobody seemed to notice me.

As I walked along the edge of the water, people turned their heads to stare.  Suddenly, I felt guilty, like I was spying on them.  I didn't belong there, but I wanted to explore.  I hid my camera for a while, tucked underneath a fold in my sweater.  

I was walking along the edge of Chembe village, on the Cape Maclear lakeshore.  The town, once a quiet fishing village, has become a leading tourist destination in the past few years.  Though the recent influx of visitors has been good for the economy of the local people, I'm not sure it has been kind to them, as individuals.  As more and more tourists flooded onto the beaches during the heat of the day, I found that I could barely take a step without being accosted for sweets, pennies, or patronage.  The effect from that morning was ruined.  The real village, it seemed, is only truly visible in the early morning hours, or away from the crowds.  

For the next few days, we explored the beaches, the water, the islands, and the National Park.  Cape Maclear is sandwiched between two large islands (West Thumbi and Domwe) and the great expanse of Lake Malawi National Park, which encompasses most of the peninsula.  The lake itself is deep (the second-deepest in Africa) and wide (the third-largest in Africa, and the eighth-largest in the world), and home to more than 1,000 different species of cichlids.  It is said that Lake Malawi has more species of fish than any other lake in the world.  The National Park itself is home to a variety of small mammals (vervet monkeys, yellow baboons, and the ugly little rock hydrax) and the occasional predator (leopards and jackals).  We saw plenty of monkeys, eagles, and kingfishers, but nothing larger than the rare, solitary baboon.  As a group, we took a boat tour of lakeshore, a kayak trip to Thumbi Island, and a hike to Otter Point and the outskirts of Chembe Village.  

The lake is beautiful, and overwhelmingly large.  The following pictures depict several facets of the Cape Maclear experience:  Malambe Camp, the lakeshore, the sunset cruise, the scenery, the trinkets, the kayak trip, and the wildlife.  The only pictures I don't have are the pictures of village life.  While that was a huge component of my experience, I couldn't bring myself to take photographs.  You will have to visit yourself, one day, to experience the real Cape Maclear.  

Map of Mozambique and Malawi.  Inset:  Lake Malawi National Park and Cape Maclear.

In front of the reed huts at Malambe Camp, Cape Maclear

The entrance to Malambe Camp, Cape Maclear, Malawi

Our hut at Malambe Camp, Cape Maclear, Malawi

The beach at Malambe Camp, Cape Maclear, Malawi.  In the distance is West Thumbi Island.

The intial view from the beach at sunrise

A closer look along the beach at sunrise.  In this picture, you can see:  Children playing on their fathers' boat, fishermen returning with their catch, little boys playing in the water, woman bringing dirty clothes to be washed, and families bartering for fresh catch

Fresh minnows, drying in the sun

Dried minnows, ready to be shipped to Blantyre, Tete, and Chimoio

Three village boys playing Bawo in front of a shop in Chembe Village

Teaching the village boys how to use my camera.  One little boy took this shot of his friend.

Teaching the village boys how to use my camera.  The look on my face is a mix of amusement and fear for my camera.

Two girls swimming in the lake

A fishing boat in the fog at sunrise

View from the jetty, across the lakeshore

Sunset cruise to Thumbi Island

Feeding the fish eagles

Swimming in the lake

Fisherman's boat at rest, just before sunset

The boulders and water at Otter Point (Lake Malawi National Park)

Like staring down into an aquarium:  Cichlids in Lake Malawi (blue, orange, and grey)

Hoang at Otter Point (Lake Malawi National Park)

Dan at Otter Point (Lake Malawi National Park)

Trinkets from the shops

A souvenir stall along the road in Chembe Village.  Each vendor claims to make their own crafts, but I am a little suspicious.  Each vendor seems to sell the exact same carvings, from shop to shop...

Malawian Bawo, purchased in Chembe Village

Kayaking around West Thumbi Island

Kayaking around West Thumbi Island

Returning our boats to Kayak Africa, then strolling back to the lodge along the lakeshore.  Happy two-year anniversary!

Wildlife:   Vervet monkey on the rocks at Otter Point, yellow baboon in the National Park, and a fish eagle along the Cape Maclear shoreline

Lone fisherman in a dugout canoe, sunrise over Lake Malawi

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Housing In Mozambique

(A Special Note for the Peace Corps Applicant-

According to the Peace Corps Volunteer Handbook, housing in Mozambique can be described in the following manner:

In the country of Mozambique, Education and Health Volunteers live in provincial capitals, district capitals or in rural areas.  Most houses in large cities have electricity but, in rural areas, electricity may or may not be available. Volunteer houses will be located within a reasonable distance to a general market where basic goods (bread, vegetables, spaghetti, etc) will be available.  All Volunteers have access to nearby pumps or boreholes, so water for washing is readily available. Drinking water requires boiling and Peace Corps provides every Volunteer with a water filter.

Volunteers may live in new government housing made of cement, reed houses with cement walls and floors and tin roofs, or old cement houses that need repairs. The toilet, bath, and cooking facilities may be indoors or outdoors. Some Volunteers have electricity and/or running water, but many do not.

Unfortunately, this official description still leaves a lot of questions unanswered.

"What do these houses actually look like?"  You might wonder.  "How much space will I have?  Can I plant a garden?  Can I paint my walls?  Will my house be safe?"

Fear not, young Peace Corps Applicant.  I have a listing of several Peace Corps houses in south and central Mozambique, along with description of their perks, downsides, and amenities.  Hopefully, the following advertisements will be enough to make you want to move to Mozambique for the next two years of your life.  Good luck with your application process, and see you soon!)

Mozambique, Africa
Variety and Color

Mozambique, Africa conjures up visions of beautiful beaches, sweeping mountain ranges, and a lifestyle suited for the adventurous, world-traveler.  If you have always wanted to live in a tropical climate, love monkeys and fresh fruit, and are seeking to return to a simpler time, look no farther.  Home is in Mozambique.  Below you will find a listing of seven properties in Mozambique, starting with Angonia, in northern Tete Province, and continuing until Inharrime, in southern Inhambane.

Map of Mozambique

Listing of Property in Mozambique:

Angonia, Tete
Secure Housing in a Gated Community

This Peace Corps house, available in December 2012, can comfortably accommodate two same-sex volunteers.  Located within a gated community at a teacher training college, this house is large, secure, and well-maintained.  Amenities include:  Indoor bathroom, Two bedrooms, Separate Kitchen/Dining Room/Pantry, Electric Stove, Toaster Oven, and Full-Size Refrigerator.  

The Perks:  Angonia is one of the most fertile provinces in Mozambique, so vegetables are available in quantity and quality.  The area is covered in green, rolling mountains cut with streams and small family farms.  Angonia has a large, busy market every Saturday and another, smaller market available seven days a week.

The Downside:  Because this house in located in the mountains, the weather can be harsh.  Temperatures drop to nearly 0 degrees Celsius in the wintertime.  This house's high ceilings, while beautiful, make for one very drafty dining room.

Electricity:  Yes
Running Water:  No
Accessibility:  Rated 4 out of 10.  The nearest city is Tete, 4 hours away.

Peace Corps Angonia
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Zobue, Tete
Cozy, Comfortable Home in Dense, Friendly Neighborhood

This Peace Corps house, available in December 2013, is located at the heart of a loving, tight-knit community.  If you have always wanted to immerse yourself into small-town Mozambican life, this is the site for you.  A love of children is a must!  The Zobue house is located just three minutes away from the school and ten minutes away from the daily market.  In Zobue, there is never a shortage of helpful hands, sticky fingers, or smiling faces!

Amenities include:  One Bedroom/Kitchen Combo, Outdoor Pit Latrine, Three Small Storage Rooms, Dining Room/Living Room Combo, Spacious Veranda.

The Perks:  Zobue is one of the most beautiful areas in Central Mozambique.  Located amongst green fields at the foot of the Angonian Plateau, the region is home to endless miles of beautiful terrain.  Hiking opportunities abound.

The Downside:  The Zobue house offers little privacy.  The front yard is a main thoroughfare and a popular place for kids to congregate throughout the day.

Electricity:  Yes
Running Water:  No
Accessibility:  Rated 8 out of 10.  Zobue is located along a main route between Blantyre, Malawi, and Tete, Mozambique.  The nearest city is Tete, 2 hours away.

Peace Corps Zobue
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Catandica, Manica
Crisp New House in Professional Community

This Peace Corps Duplex, available in December 2013, was built by the World Bank in 2005.  The school itself is located on an adjoining properties and boasts electricity and a large, community well.  The Catandica house is large and secure, complete with locked gates and a seasoned guard dog.  The neighbors are all professors at the Armando Guebuza Secondary School.

Amenities include:  Two Bedrooms, Indoor Bathroom, Living Room, Kitchen, Large Gated Yard (Front and Back), Large Cement Veranda (Front and Back), Well-Maintained Garden, and Paved Driveway.

The Perks:  Catandica is gorgeous and green-- a fantasic launching point for exploring the nearby mountains. The secondary school is large, clean, and well-stocked with supplies.

The Downsides:  Mosquitos love Catandica.

Electricity:  Yes
Running Water:  Yes (Sometimes)
Accessibility:  Rated 8 out of 10.  Catandica is located along a main route, between Chimoio and Tete, Mozambique.  The nearest city is Chimoio, 2 hours away.

Peace Corps Catandica Duplex (Volunteers on the left)

Peace Corps Catandica:  The house, drawing water at the community well, and a view of the secondary school
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Chimoio, Manica
Luxury Accomodations

Located in the Governor's Bairro in Chimoio, Manica Province, this Peace Corps house offers all the comforts of America paired with the beauty of impeccable interior design.  Hand-selected by the current volunteer, the Peace Corps Chimoio (Education) house boasts indoor plumbing, a gas/electric stove, and a full-sized refrigerator.  The house also includes a gated veranda, walled garden, and two rented guard dogs (free of charge).

The Perks:  Less than five minutes away from the Peace Corps office, the bus terminal, and downtown Chimoio.  Fast Internet, hot showers, and Indian food are all readily available.

The Downside:  The city is not safe after 7PM.

Electricity:  Yes
Running Water:  Yes (Hot and Cold)
Accessibility:  Rated 10 out of 10.  Chimoio is the capital of Manica Province, and the fifth-largest city in Mozambique.

Peace Corps Chimoio
City Living in Mozambique
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Sussundenga, Manica
Friendship and Ecological Diversity

Located at the foot of the dramatic Chimanimani Highlands, Sussundenga can be accessed by way of a single, unpaved road that stretches from large, bustling Chimoio to small, remote Dombe in the south of the province.  This Peace Corps House is small and compact, located on nearly half-an-acre of farmable land.  The house itself is adjacent to the high school and a twenty-minute walk to the nearest consistent market.  Friendly neighbors and sweeping vistas make this site a must-have for locals and volunteers alike!

Amenities Include:  A Two-Burner Stove, Mini-Fridge, Outdoor Pit Latrine, Separate Kitchen, and Locking Shutters.

The Perks:  The Sussundenga region is ecologically diverse, home to more than 1,000 species of plants, 250 species of birds, and a growing population of mammals, including the elusive forest elephant.

The Downside:  The dust.  During the dry season, Sussundenga dust coats everything with a layer of gritty, red silt.

Electricity:  Yes
Running Water:  No, but there is a tap in the front yard
Accessibility:  Rated 7 out of 10.  While Sussundenga is only 45 minutes outside of Chimoio, the access road is unpaved and bumpy.  Sussundenga is not located along a main route.

Peace Corps Sussundenga:  The locking shutters offer added privacy and security
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Buzi, Sofala
Fruit Bats and Golden Sunsets

This Peace Corps House (one space available in December 2012) is located along the river Buzi, in the District of Buzi, Sofala.  Home to eight generations of volunteers, this site is one of the oldest and most established in all of Mozambique.  Bustling bars, buzzing mosquitos, and beautiful sunsets give this site a natural, tropical feel.  The house itself is located across from the elementary school and a sandy, twenty-minute walk from the secondary school.

Amenities include:  Half-sized Refrigerator, Indoor and Outdoor Bathroom, Two Bedrooms, Two-Burner Stove, Paved Veranda (front and back), Spacious Yard

The Perks:  The Buzi River docks are home to the common mudskipper.  The mudskipper, a small, inter-tidal fish, uses its pectoral fins to walk on land.

The Downside:  The Buzi house is located in a somewhat "marginal area" and has been the target of some recent security incidents.  Peace Corps Mozambique has taken action to protect the current volunteer and to provide reliable safety and security.

Electricity:  Yes
Running Water:  No
Accessibility:  Rated 3 out of 10.  Buzi is located only three hours from the city of Beira, but along a lengthy and pitted unpaved road.

Peace Corps Buzi:  Beautiful, compact cement house.  Recent security incidents have been handled by the Peace Corps offices in Maputo and Chimoio.
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Inharrime, Inhambane
Sunny, Sandy Wonderland

These two Peace Corps Houses (Health and Education) are available in December 2012 and August 2013. Located along the EN-1 and less than 2 hours away from beautiful Tofo beach, these site is coveted and extremely accessible.  Sandy paths, swaying palms, and a gorgeous, sky-blue lagoon make these houses a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for two lucky volunteers!

PC Education House Amenities:  Indoor bathroom, Two Bedrooms, Living Room, Kitchen, Paved Veranda (Front and Back).

PC Health House Amenities:  Outdoor bathroom, Two Bedrooms, Living Room, Kitchen, Large Yard with Fence and Garden

Perks:  Inharrime is beautiful and accessible.  The town itself boasts plenty of bars, restaurants, and places to swim.

Downsides:  Inharrime is not actually a beach town, in and of itself.  The nearest beaches are in Quissico (30 minutes south) or Inhambane City (75 minutes north).

Electricity:  Yes
Running Water:  No
Accessibility:  Rated 9 out of 10.  Inharrime is located along a main route, between Maputo and all points north along the EN-1.  The nearest city is Maxixe, 1 hour away.

Peace Corps Inharrime:  Health

Peace Corps Inharrime:  Education
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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Nine Birds, One Stone

Our water boy likes animals.  He takes good care of Bwino when we are out of town and was an doting godfather to Diana's seven newborn puppies.  He also loves birds, we discovered, and will gladly bring us half of the forest if we express any interest (whatsoever) in seeing them up close.  Last week, he delivered nine songbirds directly to our front porch.  All nine were fluttering upside-down and tied to a string.  

How did a fifteen-year-old boy manage to catch nine songbirds in less than an hour?  His method went a little something like this:

1.  Collect tree sap in a large metal bucket 
2.  Boil sap until it become thick and glue-like
3.  Coat a stick with the home-made glue
4.  Tie the stick to a branch near the top of a tall tree
5.  Wait and pluck the birds off of the stick, one by one

I took a few pictures and asked Seni what he was planning to do with the birds in the future.  

"I'm going to eat them," he said.  

Apparently, the little birds can be plucked and roasted, just like chicken.  

"I just like catching them," he admitted, swinging the stick around on our veranda. The birds flapped frantically and tangled themselves on the line. "It's other people that like to eat them."

Seni shows several songbirds...
...stuck to a stick