Thursday, June 30, 2011

People in Places

One of the joys of traveling is meeting new people from around the world and sharing a brief moment of the many that make up a human life. During our three week backpacking trip around East Africa and Mozambique, we met many people who influenced our travel experience in many ways and will be remembered for their unique contribution to our overall journey. Let me share some of the faces and personalities we met on our trip.
We left early in the morning for Mwanza in northern Tanzania. By the time we arrived, we were hungry for lunch. We dropped our backpacks in the room at the hotel and walked down the street to find a place to eat. Next door, we saw a local spot, called the Royal Pub, that had a great ambiance and we decided to give it a try. At the entrance was a sunny terrace with tables and chairs set up next to a fruit stand and the kitchen. We walked through a covered area with a bar and pool table, before emerging in a tree covered courtyard with tables and chairs in the back. We sat down. We could not read the menu, so we asked our waiter, who spoke amazing English, to translate for us. His name was Hamaad. He began translating, cow tongue in sauce, chicken with tomatoes. Sean was in the mood for eggs, and specifically an omelet with vegetables and avocado. He asked Hammad if they had eggs. Hamaad gave Sean a confused look, then answered, “No.” We ordered another meal and Hamaad left. A few minutes later, he returned with our drinks and Sean tried again. “Are you sure you can’t make me an omelet?” he asked. “Omelet?!?” Hamaad exclaimed, “Why didn’t you tell me you wanted an omelet. Of course we can make an omelet. What do you want on it? Vegetables and avocado? No problem.” We puzzled over this contradiction- no eggs, but omelet, no problem? Fifteen minutes later, Hamaad returned with a tray piled with dishes of food- omelets, bread, fruit salad. We sat in the shade and heat of the sun and ate our huge meal. We were both hungry, but it would have tasted just as amazing if we were not. The best part was that the whole meal cost us only three dollars. We thanked Hamaad and gave a thumbs up to the chefs in the kitchen on our way out. They answered, “No problem,” with big smiles on their faces. We realized that we were in the land of the famous saying, “Hakuna Matata,” and you can sing the rest…“It means no worries, for the rest of your days. It‘s our problem-free, phil-o-sophy.” Hammad and the chefs at the Royal Pub in Mwanza made us one of the best meals on our entire journey.
One day in Mwanza, we wondered along the boardwalk and down to the waterfront on Lake Victoria carrying a watermelon we bought from a street vendor. We sat down on the concrete wall overlooking the water, cut slices of watermelon and ate them while the juice dripped down our faces, our toes dangled over the water, and the sun sunk towards the earth and turned the sky a purple grey over the water. When we were full, we began handing pieces out to passing locals. A group of children sat down next to us on the wall and we gave them piece after piece of watermelon. We began talking with one street kid who we’d met earlier when he approached us to ask if we would exchange two Euros for him. He had a rough personality, a tough attitude, mixed with an unexplainable sophistication. He laughed with his whole heart, leaning backwards and throwing his hands up in the air while letting out a high-pitched giggle. He giggled while he told us his name was Moses and we laughed harder as he entertained us with sarcastic remarks and humorous stories of his life. Moses, wherever you are out there, keep kicking and living life with a sense of humor. You reminded us to do so.
In Mwanza, we spent two days looking for an office. While wondering the city on one of our many attempt to find the office, we passed a woman sitting on the site of the road. She was sitting on a low wooden bench, crouched over a coal stove with a clunky black teapot suspended on a tripod over the heat. She had a sort of contentment about her that was incredibly luring and comforting. Tired of our unsuccessful wondering, we took a seat on the wooden bench opposite her. Without a word, she poured a steaming liquid from the pot into small, ounce-size, beautifully decorated cups. We held the warm drinks in our hands, then took a sip. The cups contained a sweet and strong ginger tea. The ginger and heat burned our throats as it passed , and the sweet caused our tongues to crave more. Suddenly, the aimless search was forgotten. She smiled knowingly. We enjoyed sitting on the wooden beach next to her warm stove as the city faded into twilight and the local Mwanza evening took place around us. I don’t know her name, but this tea lady’s tea, which is the best tea I have ever had, distracted us from our aimless search and frustrations and allowed us to enjoy the Mwanza evening.
We looked for the office to buy tickets for a bus that would take us on the northern circuit road through Serengeti National Park and Nyorongoro Crater for two days in Mwanza before giving up. Finally, we found out that the office we were looking for was in another town about two hours north of Mwanza, if it existed at all. We traveled on a bus to Remati, a small town near the park entrance. In fact, it was not an office at all, but a man named Vincent at the Stop Over Lodge who found our solution. We rolled into the Stop Over Lodge in a taxi and spoke with Vincent, who made two reservations on a bus leaving tomorrow morning at 6:30 and traveling on the northern circuit through the parks. After setting up our campsite in their yard, no more than 20 meters from the park, we decided to take a walk in the late afternoon. We walked along the road to the park entrance. As I browsed the gift shop, I began talking with the vendor and discussing our plans. He told us that many people, foreigners and locals alike, waited at the park entrance early in the morning to catch a ride with drivers returning with empty cars after depositing clients on this side of the park after their safari tour. Drivers cut deals to fill up their car and make a few extra dollars. We returned to the Stop Over Lodge as the sun sank behind the mountains in the distance over the Serengeti Plain and shared this new information with Vincent. Vincent canceled our reservation for the bus and introduced us to a driver who was also staying at the lodge that night. He had just dropped his former clients in Kenya and was returning to Arusha the next day. His car was empty and he was willing to take us. We began negotiating with him- price, route, time, stopping for animals. The driver told us he would be leaving at 6:30 and if we wanted to come, we could meet him at his car in the morning. As we left the restaurant after an amazing fish dinner (our first of many), we were still debating whether we were going to take the ride or try to find another at the park entrance. We went to bed with our minds still undecided, but leaning towards the former, taking the ride with the driver from dinner. We awoke the next morning at the crack of dawn and everything seemed clear. We would take the ride- it was easy, the driver was here and it was all set up, and the cost was relatively inexpensive for our own private safari across the parks. We packed our camp, climbed into his car, and drove to the park entrance as the sun rose over the plains. Deciding to take the ride from the driver was one of the best decisions we made our entire trip. Our frustration with looking for an office that did not exist faded as we realized the opportunity we gained from the efforts of our search. Our search led us to Vincent at the Stop Over Lodge and the driver who took us on an inexpensive, private safari across the Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater. After a day spent spotting animals from the backseat of the safari car, we were covered in a thin layer of red dust. It was okay. It was an amazing day. We called it “dustiny.”
A little bit more about our driver (I’m sorry, but I have forgotten his name). He was a quiet sort. We met him at dinner as he slumped over his plate. He looked up at us periodically and grunted in confirmation. Okay, we said. The next morning, we piled into his car. We were joined by his upbeat friend and fellow driver. We got comfortable in the backseat of his car and set up our Ipod speakers. Bob Marley and other like artists blasted as we ambled by car through the park, spotting and stopping for animals. Our driver remained silent, but his front seat passenger and fellow driver acted as our unofficial guide, pointing out animals and offering information. We didn’t think much about the driver’s attitude because we assumed it was his nature, slumping over his dinner plate and then over the steering wheel. He did his job, cruising to locations in the park where animals tend to congregate and stopping when we spotted an animal and wanted to watch. At the end of the day, we found out that he was sick, but he pushed through for us and the chance to make a few extra dollars. We felt bad, but realized this situation was the way of life in these parts of the world, where jobs and money are difficult to come by, but necessary for survival.
Our first day in Zanzibar, we were relieved to finally be by the ocean. I was especially excited because it was my first time to see and feel the ocean in 17 months. I am an island girl and the ocean has always been a part of my life. My biggest adjustment in Rwanda, a landlocked country, is being away from the ocean and, in the eastern part of the country, any large bodies of water. Immediately after we dropped our stuff in our hotel room, we walked through the narrow, winding, confusing, cobblestone streets of Stonetown to the beach and jumped in the ocean,. The first touch of salt water against my skin felt rejuvenating. We played and soaked in the ocean, then sat on some rocks on the beach, watching the sunset over the harbor with traditional dhows outlined against the darkening sky and waves crashing on the shore. A local man came and sat next to us and we began conversing. He spoke English well and a goofy smile spread across his face whenever he was not talking. When anything in the conversation excited him, he gave us an exaggerated thumbs-up. After sunset, we parted ways, but sure that we would run into each other again in the small town. Sure enough, later that evening as we sat enjoying drinks at a local rustic restaurant, we saw him across the street. He spotted us too, and gave us his characteristic smile and thumbs-up. Then, he jumped on his motorbike with his buddy, drove and turned, nearly clipping another motorbike moving behind him in the opposite direction. As he sped away, all we could see was the back of his head, his white gown flapping in the wind, and his arm outstretched, his hand giving a sure thumbs-up. We laughed. Later on, as we recalled the man in Stonetown, we realized we both naturally nicknamed him Thumbs-Up Dude.
We left the restaurant that evening and strolled down the boardwalk to our hotel to take showers and dress for a fancy dinner in town. Our plans changed when we came across a night market of stalls piled high with seafood and grills for cooking . The courtyard was packed with activity as fishermen grilled quickly and potential customers wandered around stalls. People sat on benches around the perimeter of the market or by the ocean on the wall of the boardwalk. Lights illuminated the night scene. As we gazed on, a man in a white apron and chef’s hat approached us, introducing himself as Fisherman Johnson. He explained that the seafood was for sale and that they grilled it fresh and served it with salad and sauce for customers. He pointed at different piles on the table- barracuda, tuna, shark, lobster, crab legs, coconut bread, etc.- any seafood lover’s dream (and I am a seafood LOVERRRRR). We decided to have an appetizer. We picked out a few items, then sat on a nearby bench to wait for our snack. Fisherman Johnson returned, serving our plate of food with the graceful and practiced hand of a waiter in a fancy, French restaurant. We devoured the seafood and our mouths and stomachs craved more. We returned to our hotel, showered and dressed, and decided our fancy dinner would be at the seafood night market mirage instead. We returned to the courtyard of seafood stalls on the boardwalk. Fisherman Johnson was still giving his act, shouting and selling his goods to passing customers. We decided to try another stall and sat on the wall next to the ocean to wait. We tried everything our hearts (mouths and stomachs) desired. When we stood up and began walking to a nearby bar for a live music show, we were full and satisfied. Seafood fresh and grilled before your eyes while sitting on a wall next to the ocean in Zanzibar is probably one of the most amazing meals you can have. It definitely beats a fancy restaurant in any town. Thanks Fisherman Johnson for luring us in. And, may I add, catching us strong on your hook.
Chollo is the man. Chollo is the co-owner of Abdullah’s Annex in Stonetown, Zanzibar. His partner is his brother, but we never met him. Chollo took care of us. Abdullah’s Annex is a small guesthouse in the middle of town, down the narrow and winding streets next to Jaw’s Corner, a small square where old men sit all day and play dominoes. Chollo made sure we had a huge room, breakfast every morning, and even organized transport for us to Paje on the southeast end of the island. He was also a wealth of information about everything Zanzibar, giving us advice about places we should visit and things we should see, and a pleasure to talk to. We spent many hours conversing with him. He told us about his life and we exchanged thoughts. He is incredibly intelligent. He worked as a translator for a Canadian organization for public and community health. He said he could get a job in Dar and make a lot of money, but he chose to stay in Zanzibar and run the family guesthouse. He enjoyed the lifestyle here more. Dar was a big, busy, dirty city. Here, life was nice and calm. He sat on his front stoop and conversed with people all day while running the business. He knew everyone who passed because this was his neighborhood. He grew up around the corner. He spoke of many of the changes taking place in Zanzibar since it became a hot tourist destination. He even enlightened me about the politics of Tanzania and Zanzibar. When I got lost in the confusing alleys trying to get to and from the ATM, he knew and laughed with me. When we left, we promised to send more tourists to Abdullah’s Annex. It was a great, little, backpacker’s guesthouse and Chollo was incredibly welcoming and helpful. Chollo is the man. He reminded me that intelligence is not always what we learn in school, but what we learn in life and how we use what we learn to make ourselves happy.
Outside of the city limits of Quelemane is Zalala Beach. Northern Mozambique is the last great frontier of Africa. Few tourists travel there, and as a result, infrastructure is less common, if it exists at all, making travel more frustrating, but that much more rewarding. After an uncomfortable, 10 hour bus ride early in the morning from Nampula, we wanted to get out of the city and back to the beach. We negotiated with a taxi driver to take us down the potholed road to Zalala Beach. He drove us through a small town and dropped us on the edge of a patch of trees. We emerged from the trees onto a deserted beach stretching for miles, as far as the eye could see. The sun was already sinking, but we enjoyed the last hour of daylight basking in the evening heat and swimming in the ocean. Sean managed to buy a fishing line and hooks off a local fisherman. When evening fell, we left the beach and stopped at one of the few (only) restaurants in the sleepy town next to the beach. We ordered a fish dinner and drank a beer as we waited. And waited. And waited for it to come. After an hour, it was well into night. We were hungry, but worried about getting a ride back to the city. We began negotiating with passing taxis for a ride back to Quelemane, but no one worked that circuit. When our meal finally arrived, we forgot about the ride. The fish was amazing, flaky and cooked in a buttery lemon sauce. We ate and could not stop until we were stuffed full. Then, we reminded ourselves of our problem- finding a ride back to Quelemane. We asked the waiter to ask the chef of the restaurant who owned a pickup if she would take us back to Quelemane. She said she couldn’t, but emerged from the house, took our money with a wave of her hand, and led us to the dirt road that had brought us here. She spoke only Portuguese, introducing herself as Esperanca, but Sean was able to understand and communicate in Spanish. She asked two men sitting on tree stumps next to a table selling juice if there was a bus going to Quelemane. There was not. The local policeman arrived and introduced himself. He was not dressed in a uniform, but in civilian clothes. The four of them began discussing our problem. They decided that we could pay for a private bus to take us back. Then, a taxi drove up the road. It was heading back to Quelemane. We negotiated a price with the driver and climbed in. He drove us back to Quelemane, singing romance songs and talking about his life in school and playing basketball the whole way. Esperanca, who cooks amazing fish, which would be enough to please me, also saved us when we were in a real pickle. What a kind woman to take pity on and help two tourists lost and stuck in her little town. Esperanca made the impossible happen- we made it back to Quelemane that night and got on our bus to our next destination as planned..
We made it to Vila Gorongosa on the border of Gorongosa National Park in central Mozambique. Few tourists visit this town, as it became immediately obvious. We wanted to spend the next day hiking up to a waterfall that was briefly mentioned in one paragraph of the guidebook. We didn’t realize at the time what a challenge that would turn out to be. After our lunch, we sat at the restaurant trying to figure out our next move to make it to the waterfall. Sean left to talk with some locals in town and organize a ride. He returned after speaking with many locals who had no idea what we were talking about. A few taxi drivers offered rides, but didn’t know where we were going. We only had the directions from the guidebook- about 10 kilometers north of town is a turnoff onto a dirt road that goes up to the base camp from where one can hike to the waterfall. During our bus ride into town, we searched for a dirt road that matched that description and thought we saw it and had an idea. As I sat at the restaurant waiting for Sean to return, a young man approached me and introduced himself as Angel. He said he had spoken to my friend and, although he could not take us, he assured us that the waterfall was beautiful. He used to work there. Later, as we hiked to the waterfall, we received a call from Angel making sure that we had made it. We found out then that he was actually the village chief. We were a bit surprised because he was so young, but it was true that his presence demanded respect. Angel, the chief.
Finally, a group of young men with a taxi offered to take on the challenge of getting the tourists to the place no one in town had heard of. We set off on our quest. At the turnoff, we asked some locals if it was indeed the right one. It was and they gave us directions to the base camp- up the road, turn left. We started up the dirt road, which quickly turned into an overgrown path. We held on as we bounced over rocks and leaned over huge ruts. Branches and grass scrapped the car and slapped at us through the windows as we passed. We came down a hill and saw a stream at the bottom. Thinking that our attempt had failed, Sean and I prepared for the driver to refuse to go any further. Instead and to our surprise, he gunned the car through the stream and up the hill on the opposite side, fishtailing ever so slightly as the car moved up the muddy bank. We all laughed, relieved that we had made it through. We told the driver that he was a good driver. The name stuck. From that day on, he became known as “The Good Driver.”
We came upon a small village in the mountains, a couple of mud hut stores selling soda, cookies, and some other random items. We passed through and came to a clearing with a mud hut and a thatched roof gazebo. The driver stopped and told us this was Murabodzi Base Camp. We got out as a man emerged slowly from the mud hut. He walked towards the car, the group of us gathered around it, and the crowd of village kids slowly forming, and introduced himself as Carlos. Sean introduced us and our plan to stay at the base camp and hike up to the waterfall, and stood talking to Carlos and the young men. Then, they all climbed into the taxi and drove to the home of the chief to introduce us and discuss our plan. The chief gave us permission to stay at the base camp in the village. Then, Carlos helped us to establish ourselves and offered to show us the way to the waterfall the next morning. He joined in as we played with the kids and gave us a tour of the small village. That evening, he collected firewood for us and helped us start a campfire. He spoke with us about his job as a community health worker in a small village in Mozambique. I told him about my job as a Peace Corps Volunteer working with community health workers in Rwanda. We compared systems. The community health system in Mozambique is less established. It faces many challenges, one of which is the lack of training. I was touched by this experience and knowledge. I felt ashamed. When I applied to be a Peace Corps Volunteer, I thought this was more like the life I would have and the job I would be doing. I imagined I would live in a mud hut in a small, remote village, and work with someone like Carlos to improve the health of the inhabitants of that village. I felt spoiled by the reality of my service in Rwanda, where I was living in a relatively nice house and working within a system that was already successful. I felt ashamed that I had complained- things could be worse. I felt ashamed that no one was helping this village, somehow it had been forgotten or really, never discovered by the outside, and I felt like I had to do something about that. In my imagination, I thought about returning to this village, working with Carlos, and helping to improve the health of this community. The next morning, Carlos led us through the countryside on the three hour hike up to the waterfall. Then, he sat and waited on a rock while we bathed in the waterfall and napped next to the river. When evening fell and we had not returned to the base camp, we met Carlos looking for us on the path. The next morning, the taxi driver returned to take us back to town. We drove away, our last imagine of Carlos leading a sick, old woman into his mud hut and clinic. I thought about returning to Carlos’ village many times since then, although now that I am back in Rwanda, I see the unlikelihood of it. In any case, Carlos took care of us like he does the people of his village, and reminded me that I had no reason to complain.
We met an old man on the hike up to the waterfall. His name was Silvestre. He was the official guide, the keeper of the waterfall. We met him on our way up to the waterfall and he immediately took over as our guide, sidelining Carlos. I suppose he felt it was his duty and that Carlos had overpowered him by taking us to the waterfall himself. In any case, despite the underlying community drama and competition that may have taken place between these two members, the experience was enjoyable. Together, as a group, we hiked the three hours to the waterfall. Silvestre was a social, excitable, limber old man, an interesting combination for someone who spends the majority of his days alone and confined to a base camp in the foothills of a mountain. The moment we met him, he began talking in rapid Portugese, and he didn’t stop, despite the fact that I did not speak Portuguese and Carlos did not seem interested. He would stop in the trail, put his hand out like a good guide, and begin speaking paragraphs to me in a language I did not understand. After numerous attempts trying to explain that I did not understand, I gave up and let the waves of sound wash over me, pretending that I understood and trying to deduce the meaning of the words, which I managed somewhat successful I think (but, I’ll never quite know, will I? And if I have a completely skewed idea of the mountains, the folklore surrounding them, and the flora and fauna habiting them, you will know why). All in all, Silvestre was a sweet and caring old man. You could tell he was surprised to see a woman crawling her way up to a waterfall, and he made a point of taking care of me, almost to a fault that I was annoyed. Hey, he was the old man, and I was definitely more capable than he to be hiking to and playing in a waterfall. At every river crossing, he turned, gave me a big eyed look that reminded me to be careful, and held my hand as I crossed, albeit a bit unsteady because my hand was being held awkwardly in a way that disrupted my balance, decreasing his faith in me for the next river crossing. Silvestre redeemed himself by cooking us a meal after our hike, traditional ubugali (cassava bread) and sardines in tomato sauce, which we shared at the base camp. Carlos was not shy and took the last lump of bread (to our invitation and delight- I am not the greatest fan of ubugali) and scooped every last drop of salty sauce. Sean and I laughed because Carlos’ aloof personality quickly became alert as soon as food emerged, and as we tried to show our best manners as guests at the table, refusing the last bite, culture was different here and finishing food was the greatest compliment to the host. Carlos took it, and when he was finished, receded into his typical state.
After our meal, we could tell Carlos was eager to get back to work and home, so we let Silvestre take him down the mountain on his motorbike while we hiked back. As they cruised down the path, we began our journey. What a journey it turned out to be. Villagers in the mountain were not used to seeing foreigners, and definitely not foreigners on their own without a guide, wandering their trails. At every turn in the path, we stumbled upon a new and exciting scene and interacted with more curious villagers. We rounded one bend and stumbled upon a man, lying on the side of the road. We immediately assumed the worst and rushed to his side. It appeared that he had fallen and possibly hit his head- he had a bleeding wound above his eye. We rolled him over and began trying to wake him up. He would not come to. Finally, he awoke, drowsy, and we offered him water and food, which he shoved aside. He mumbled something that we could not understand and we asked him questions, unsure of what to do if he were seriously injured (take him to Carlos?). Then, Silvestre appeared on his motorbike on the path. He stopped and we asked him what was wrong and what we should do. Silvestre gave us a sad look and said the man was drunk. Our moment of fear quickly became one of laugher, as the drunk man rose and began chasing the village kids around, stumbling, tripping, falling again, to their squeals and delight. We figured this must be a normal occurrence that had become a game for the kids. Our efforts had awoken the village zombie to play, and we watched the game unroll, the kid always holding the advantage and eventually winning, as the drunk man sat back down on the side of the road, edge of the sugarcane field, and fell asleep. We left Silvestre to deal with the situation and continued on our journey back home, passing groups of women selling baskets of corn, village stores with their small inventory of merchandise, and groups of men, women, and children hanging out. Children followed us dancing and handed us gifts of sugarcane. We hastened our pace as the sun began to set and we realized how far we had left to go, until we met Carlos in the road. He had ventured out to look for us, thinking that we were lost and not anticipating the distractions we would meet along the way. Carlos, our dedicated caretaker, Carlos.
The boys with the taxi returned the following day to take us back to the village, as planned, only an hour late, giving us enough time to begin to worry about how we would make it out of this mountain village so we could continue our travels if they did not return. As we began to search for other options, they rolled up, as eager and festive as the first trip. We had another epic ride, bouncing over rocks and being slapped by grasses through the windows in the backseat, not to mention gunning it over the river that rushed across the road. When we reached civilization, we found a bus to take us to our next destination, Tofo Beach.
The driver of the bus to Maxixe in southern Mozambique was a character. He did not look like he fit into the world of mud huts and unpaved roads that defined our experience in Mozambique. Rather, he looked like a hipster from a beach town somewhere far away. He wore a classic Hawaiian flowered shirt, shorts, flip flop sandals, and a beret hat tilted strategically on his head. He maneuvered the bus with ease and delight. Bus rides in Mozambique were scarier than those in Rwanda, or even Tanzania. The roads in Mozambique were filled with potholes, their edges uneven, and the wheels inevitably hit them despite the driver’s best efforts to swerve or ride in the middle of the road. Further, the buses were older and their shocks worn, causing us to bounce high in our seats with each bump. The constant swerving between potholes and cars moving in the opposite direction made us woozy as we rode, but made the driver break out in fits of giggles. We hoped that the driver’s style was as good as his skill behind the wheel, and we put our faith in him. Alas, the bus dropped us in Maxixe and we crossed the bay in a traditional dhow sailboat and took a matatu to Tofo, safe and nearly as sound as we were when we boarded the bus.
We had an amazing lunch at a café in Inhambane, where we met a group of people sitting at another table. Some lived in Tofo and some were just visiting, like us, but they were a wealth of information about the place. That evening, we searched for a place to eat dinner and stumbled upon a restaurant bar up in the sand dunes. When we walked up to the bar to order, we noticed that the Dutch couple from the table at lunch was already sitting there, waiting for their dinner. We joined them, and as the men bonded over their interest in surfing, us ladies began to discuss yoga. They had a baby, which was not with them at the moment obviously, but at home. They told us their reason for getting out of the house, going for dinner and a couple of drinks. They were on vacation in Tofo to do some research for a potential business proposal. They were planning to stay 10 days, but found out while checking the status of their flight that afternoon that instead of booking their ticket for that month, they had accidentally booked it for the following month. Their vacation unexpectedly lengthened to one month and 10 days when they called the airlines and found out that there were no earlier flights they could change their tickets to- a harsh reality when jobs are waiting at home and a baby is on board. We spent the evening hanging out with them, trying to take their mind off their pending predicament. We spent the next couple of days running into them all over town and all over the beach, until they figured out they could buy new tickets from South Africa and make it home as planned, minus a few extra Euros. No harm done, but good times had by all.
Tofo proved to be the paradise we expected, based on our previous research and what we had heard from other tourists down the country. The morning after we arrived in the dusk of evening, we woke up and walked out onto the idyllic, white sand beach for the first time, the sand squeaking under our feet with each step we took. Coffee in the morning was a must and we found a local café called The Bread Shack, which became our hangout- great coffee, amazing food, cheap, close to the beach and where we were staying, what more could we ask for. As we sat there our first morning, the owner and the woman managing the café introduced themselves to us. The owner wore a leather cowboy hat and had a laugh that bellowed from the bottom of his heart. He was a proud owner and gave us a tour of the place, showing us the improvements and renovations he was planning to complete soon. It was encouraging to see a local involved in the development of a new, hot tourist destination. In my travels, I have enjoyed tourist destinations in developing countries, but it always saddened me to see the number of foreign developers and investors who move in, take over the place, develop it, and block the locals out from the process and the benefits. Here was a motivated man who had taken it upon himself and his own resources to be a part of the development taking place in his backyard. I wanted to know his secret, what he’d done right, how he learned. But, alas, he just gave me another belly laugh and continued his work.
Joanna, the manager of the shack, the baker of the bread, the server of the good food and coffee we enjoyed, immediately took a liking to us, or should I say Sean, the first morning we arrived. I left for the market to buy a few items to eat with our dwindling funds (There are no ATMs in Tofo and we were preparing to travel back to Inhambane to use the ATM there that morning) and returned to find a table laden with coffee with cream, stacks of bread, jam and real butter. Sean was wearing Johanna’s apron, blowing his flute, calling and beckoning to passersby to come and enjoy the bread and coffee as much as we were. I laughed as I walked up and sat down to our feast. Joanna came to our table and we laughed together. Every morning after that, as we passed on our way to the beach or the other end of town, we would hear Johanna call out from her throne at The Bread Shack, a long-winded, “Ssseeeaaannn, Ssseeeaaannn.” I think Johanna had a crush on Sean and fantasies that he would become her King of the Bread Shack, with her apron and his flute. Alas, despite our desire and best efforts to stay in this paradise, the magic of Tofo Beach did not last or change the reality that our trip was coming to an end and we had to return to our homes.
I can’t believe how much I have written about the people we met on our journey, and the truth is, there are many more I did not write about. We met so many people who were stepping stones in our path and filled spaces in our hearts. Although we always continued our journey, leaving those people in places behind, they will always be preserved in our memory for the affect they had on us and our journey. We learned that, despite fear of the unknown that dwells in all of us, people everywhere, anywhere, are just people and they should not be feared because they are different. People, everywhere and anywhere, are dealing with struggles and trying to live the best that they can. We should not fear them. We can make friends anywhere and we should make friends everywhere.

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