We were let off of the bus at a junction in what felt like the middle of nowhere in Mozambique. Basically, the only way to get to Mozambique Island by way of public transport is to find a chappa (shared vehicle, possibly a van with seats, possibly a truck without seats), climb in and hang on(to someone). That’s exactly what we did. After a little less than a mile down the road, we were pointed towards a white pick-up truck off to the side of the road with at least twenty men, women, children, and babies in the back. We weren’t even phased.
“Is this our ride?” I asked Andrew. He nodded, and we smiled at our fellow passengers and climbed on board. At one point, an older woman had both arms wrapped around me with her head nuzzled under my arm. Another woman was sitting behind me and would sometimes push my bum to whichever way she chose. A little girl sat between my legs. I held onto Andrew with one hand and another man’s back with the other. At one point the truck came to an abrupt stop and I went flying. Everyone laughed and the man collecting money from passengers yelled at the driver to take it easy.
“Transportation is… very big problem…” One man sighed. I smiled back to him, assuring him I was ok… in my head thinking… I was ok as long as we didn’t crash.
In a tiny town, we had to climb off of one truck-bed and onto another. Andrew quickly ordered me to sit down, and sure enough, as time passed, our new empty truck-bed filled over capacity only this time, I was somewhat comfortable sitting on my backpack, grateful I didn’t have to worry about whether or not I was stepping on any little toes and fingers underneath me.
We stopped for twenty minutes for reasons unknown to us. A man bought his child a Styrofoam tube (much like what you would float on in someone’s backyard pool) and they started eating it for a snack. Breasts were repeatedly let free to feed babies that were balanced on their mothers’ laps. One woman who didn’t quite seem altogether there climbed on the truck and then climbed off. I didn’t realize she was talking to herself until other passengers started laughing at her. When they saw my inquisitive face, they pointed to their heads (much like we would do at home, as kids, making fun of other kids being crazy) informing me that she wasn’t exactly sane. I smiled. They smiled. One older woman got on the truck at one point and accepted my hand when I held it out to help her into the truck bed. She didn’t let go of my hand for nearly the entire ride. Holding her hand was my favorite part of the journey.
As we crossed the long bridge over to the island, we passed a car full of Asian tourists.
“Ne ha!” the man who was collecting money from passengers yelled out to the passing car. I sighed. I was tired. I was ready to not be on a moving vehicle. I was a little frustrated with his lack of… I don’t know, respect towards a different ethnicity after the great deal of patience both Andrew and I tried to maintain throughout our second 12 hour+ bus/chappa adventure. Especially since he was the one cramming so many people into the back of the truck! My mouth was quicker than my brain (as it often is).
“It’s not ‘ne ha’ it’s ‘nee-how’ and you don’t even know if they are Chinese. What if they are Korean? Then it would be ‘ann-yeong-ha-say-yo’ or what if they are Japanese…” I shouted diplomatically over the wind whipping around us on the bridge.
All of the remaining (four) men in the back of the pick-up truck burst out laughing and started making fun of their friend. Andrew rolled his eyes.
“What? You know it’s not ‘ne-ha.” I said to him. He shook his head wearily. (He was tired, too.)
We checked into our room shortly thereafter and asked for directions to a good place to eat. I promptly forgot all of the directions. I was just happy to wander through what felt like a deserted town, feeling inspired and comfortable enough to take my camera out to take some pictures of the picturesque former capital.
I also felt comfortable enough to have my Polaroid ready to whip out whenever some children asked for their picture taken. This was the first time that I was able to give the replacement Andrew got for me a spin and it was so much fun! Quite the crowd pleaser as well!
This mother rushed over to me with her child and requested a picture. The baby wasn’t having it. at. all. We took one, it wasn’t good. She started laughing and pushed her baby in front of the camera. The poor thing started crying even louder. While we waited for it to print out, she started feeding her and I snapped this one really quickly. I wanted to take more mother/child shots… I was so impressed with these women. Nearly all women of childbearing age had a baby tied to her back and they went everywhere and did everything. The fabrics of their dresses and wraps were always so beautiful as well.
And, this is what happens when I’m free to take my camera out after nearly two months of not feeling comfortable doing so... lots and lots of pictures.
“Ohmigod, I’m just so happy right now. I never really realized how HAPPY I am when I get to take pictures… I mean, I knew I liked it and enjoyed doing so… But this just feels so good!” I went on… and on…. and, Andrew listened. Or at least, he pretended to… sometimes I can’t always tell.
It was like walking through a ghost town. A beautiful Portugese ghost town with an unbelievable view. I couldn’t help but wonder what it would have been like when the town was thriving. Abandoned buildings featured grand columns, paved walkways lined the beach, and walls had built in benches. It also made me wonder what it would have been like had there not been a war and the Portugese had not fled the island.
Even though the island was largely abandoned, it was hard not to notice the opulence, even when in ruins compared to the obvious poverty on display through those inhabiting the island today. Sure, there were nice hotels and a handful of restaurants that catered to tourists… But there was no way the locals could have afforded to eat at them. They seemed almost surprised when we would stop to buy snacks from local vendors on the street. Andrew, a big fan of pastries in any form, stopped sometimes twice a day to get a handful of fried bread bits. I wondered how many tourists stopped to pick out ten pieces of fried bread/dough and carry them off (no to-go bags here) for a late night snack like we did. Even when the kids would try to scam us (the equivalent of charging two cents instead of one per piece of bread) we’d smile and give them the eye until their mother would holler at them and they would smile back and charge us the correct price.
On our way back home (our home for the night, that is) we walked past this child who was really, very upset about something. What it was, we had no idea. But his little friend (possibly sister?) was perplexed as to what to do about it. No one else seemed phased by the commotion. I’m guessing it happens quite often with one child or another. I slowed down to watch how things were going to play out. If a mother would come and pick him up, if he would eventually stop crying, or at least stop laying in the middle of the walkway… Neither happened. Instead, the little girl just plopped down directly in front of him, watching him cry.
Sometimes, I take pictures for the colors or the symmetry or something I want to remember. Sometimes, I get caught taking a picture that might make a local think I’m strange. This was one of them. A little girl looked up wondering what I was photographing, and then I showed her and she smiled and trotted off. It’s just an example of the beautiful decay that surrounded us on the island. Beautiful colors and crumbling buildings and being able to not only take a picture, but show it to a child passing by without worrying if she or he was going to grab my camera and run. Have I mentioned that I’m in heaven on this island yet? Because I am.