In a recent email from a friend, he asked me “so what is so great about Africa?” Obviously Africa is massive, and varied, however I think there are many coherent themes that run through many different African cultures. It’s as if in my mind, simply the word “Africa” triggers a flood of mental imagery and emotion, all built up around my own experiences in Moçambique; the combination of undeveloped wilderness, the rugged, sometimes harsh terrain, the simple yet purposeful lives of the people, the black skin everywhere, the thatched roof huts, the farmers walking on the rutted red dirt road in the early morning haze, the typical village scene, the drumming and singing and jubilant festivities; all of this is part of the imagery. After thinking along these lines of trying to explain Africa by describing the landscapes and cultural scenery I have concluded that it is impossible to describe with words, but for the sake of the uninitiated I will try my very best. Here are brief moments that I have experienced that drew forth out of me that ephemeral feeling that is Africa.
4:57 am: I open the squeaky door to my reed house and step into the early morning starlight. The sand is cool beneath my bare feet. The air is heavy with the scent of fresh vegetation. The Milky Way runs like a cloudy river across the sky, while a waning crescent moon accompanied by Venus burns brightly on the subtly glowing eastern horizon. The sporadic sound of dew dripping from plant leaves is accompanied by rooster crows, announcing the coming of a new day. There is not a whisper of wind, as the earth seems to hang in the suspense of dawn. I look up at the sky and inhale deeply, filling my lungs and body with the scene. Africa.
5:34 am: My lungs rhythmically inspiring and expiring, my legs and arms pumping, I feel the cool morning air on my face and the wet dew on my legs. I am running down a narrow winding dirt track between two farmer’s fields. A million spider webs hang between the corn plants, glistening with beads of dew. A lone woman appears out of the early morning mist, bucket and hoe balanced on her head. For an instant we make eye contact as she is silhouetted against the massive red rising sun drifting in and out of the haze. In that instant of contact all boundaries of race and culture are crossed; we are two spirits trapped in a moment, and in that fleeting glance I feel it. Africa.
6:25 am: On the dirt road back into town I run across a truck broken down, two men underneath the car attempting to fix it. The car is still in the middle of the road; no effort was made to push it to the side to allow traffic to pass. I shout a greeting to the men who both happily return my salute. I don’t question the logic or rational of decisions made anymore, I just accept them. I keep running and chuckle to myself. Africa.
9:12 am: I am walking to work and pass a group of men sitting around a plastic drum of some sort of alcoholic beverage. Several of them approach me, begging for money and complaining of hunger. There is a sickening helplessness in their pleas for money or an opportunity to work. I tell them I am sorry, but I cannot help them. I will probably be approached in such a way two or three more times today. This too is Africa.
12:34 pm: I walk through town at lunch hour, families sitting out on woven reed mats in front of their houses. Invitations are shouted at me to come join them for lunch. Sometimes from complete strangers. Sometimes I enter the yard and share a small plate. Before I leave, fruits from the yard or the excess of whatever was harvested from the garden are thrust upon me to take home. There is so much generosity in daily living. I leave satiated, but not just physically. Africa.
2:05 pm: The sun high overhead, not a cloud in the sky, temperatures soaring, heat waves shimmering off the streets, not a breath of wind. There is no movement in the villa, the earth is an oven and the heat has turned it into a ghost town as people take refuge in the shade or refuge in their dreams with a quick siesta. I sit on my own reed mat, under the mango trees in my yard, sweating, almost gasping for air in the oven-like heat. Ughhh, Africa!
6:14 pm: I stand outside the market, watching the sunset scene unfold around me. All the characters for the market mayhem are here. Five trucks are lined up, their beds brimming with cargo and people, as they prepare for their last trip of the day into small villages further inland, engines revving and the smell of exhaust in the air. The women sit on the sidewalks selling sodas and water out of small coolers. Young boys ambulate throughout the scene, selling telephone credit, toothbrushes and carts filled with every possible cheap Chinese electronic gadget you can imagine. Other women with baskets of bananas and oranges on their heads meander amongst the cars, trying to tempt a hungry passenger with a fruity snack. Music blares from the bar across the street, the bass giving a palpable heartbeat to the hypnotizing, busy scene. The red sun is back again as it dips behind the faded painted wall of the market. The hot African day is over and a cooling breeze blows in from the direction of the setting sun. I stand against the wall, surrounded by the mayhem, in the scene but not participating, just soaking it all up until I get my fill and begin to wander home in the quickly approaching darkness. Africa.
7:43 pm: I pass by Maria’s home to pay an evening visit. I overhear chattering in the kitchen hut and see the flickering light of a cooking fire through the slits in the reeds. I duck my head into the entrance and am immediately blasted in the face with an odor. This smell is what the world smells like; a sweet-acrid-pungent combination of burning wood smoke, human sweat, cooking food and raw earth. I learned about this scent in Guatemalan villages. I smelled it in the Jordanian desert huts and all over Mozambique. It is the smell of humanity. As I deeply inhale the scent it becomes even more deeply etched into my memory and I feel a shiver of recognition and safety. I feel Africa.
Maria welcomes me into the warm flickering hut, a soft glow from the fire accompanied by a simmering pot lights the scene as I sit and stare into the flames, mesmerized and calmed by the simple chaotic beauty that is an open fire. A million times better than television I tell her. Maria and an older woman sit across from me in the cramped hut, cluttered with pots and clay earth ware, speaking softly in Changana. I allow my mind to wander and my eyelids to grow heavy as I snatch tidbits of the village gossip; the whole time growing drunk on the pungent perfume of humanity. I am snapped out of my trance by a steaming hot bowl of corn mush and leafy-green vegetables being shoved into my face. “Eat!” she demands, I obey. I love the rich flavors and simplicity of her fresh food, but what I love more is the unconditional generosity that is Africa.
May 13th, 2014
7:45 am – I sit in the back of the car that is carrying me out of Manjacaze, Gaza Province, Moçambique, for the last time in the foreseeable future. All my material possessions are in two bags in the back of the truck. My two years is over, I am going back to the United States and continuing the adventure that will no doubt take me to other parts of the world and hopefully enrich the Earth. I knew this day would come, and now it is finally here.
The car passes the central plaza in Manjacaze, where I have spent so much time strolling or enjoying the flowery gardens. I feel the emotions well up in me. Two years of life here is now at its inevitable conclusion. Words fail to tell the story of my time here, and the emotional rollercoaster that it has been; joy and suffering, accomplishment and disappointment, success and frustration, friendship and familial love. The tears well up in my eyes as we pass more familiar scenery that I don’t know when I will see again. I begin to cry, my throat constricting and my chest aching with emotional pain as the crying builds and becomes an uncontrollable sobbing. Through my tears I see the fading signs of the Village of Manjacaze, we pass lake Sowluhey and the rice growing on the banks. We pass the people walking with their tools, the people that have given me so much by simply existing and allowing me to observe and partake in their culture. My chest heaves as I feel the full weight of my emotions, and through the joyous pain a thought comes into my head, that I repeat to myself several times becoming a sort of mantra; “Moçambique is the best thing that has ever happened to me in my entire life”.
Moçambique, the culture and the earth itself, has been like an abusive relationship that I am finally separating myself from. At times she has seduced me with her beauty, frustrated me with her societal level failures, confused me with her irrationality and surprised me with her spontaneity. She has provoked in me profound depression and loss of self-control, as well as ecstatic elation and hilarity. She has isolated and ostracized me as a foreigner and at the same time she has opened her arms to me as a Son and a participant in the culture game. I love her. Even to say those words to myself I feel an emotional upwelling in my chest and throat and I hug my arms to my body. I love her! But I know that I must leave her, because ultimately in my current role and capacity I am unfulfilled. In my current capacity I have needs that are not met such as Intellectualism, unrestricted freedom to travel (PC rules), reliable transportation and most important of all a sense of resolute purpose. Under different circumstances Moçambique could perhaps fulfill these needs, but for now, I must leave her. Our relationship and love was solidified by the frustration and challenges that I went through, like a hazing experience, making the separation all the more difficult for having been challenged by her so much and having felt her so intimately. I am leaving her, but the perspective on life that she has inspired in me will never leave.
Moçambique wena u ta tsama mbhilo a mena inquao kama, mena a unga ku kombuca.
Future plans: Im still figuring it all out, But in the meantime ill be living in Gainesville, FL taking some courses.