Although most of you have probably heard of Gorongosa National Park, you probably have not heard of the nearby town, or mountain with the same name. WE walked into the town of Gorongosa as it was starting to get dark and apparently had underestimated its size because we were still trying to get through it after the sun went down. Somewhere along the way we met Tongai, who had seen us walking the day before and upon running into us on the street, wanted to interview us for the local radio station. So we walked with him to the radio station to interview and then we ended up staying at his house for the next few days. He is married and has a son about a year old; his wife’s sister also lives with them, and a few neighborhood kids are constantly in and out. Tongai and his wife actually both work at the park (Gorongosa); his wife makes “Bollos” as a second job and Ton gai works at the radio station as a second job, trying to make ends meet. “Bollos” are what we call “Fat Cakes” and they are similar to a donut hole sized piece of fried dough or funnel cake. Every night they sit and tie the dough into knots and deep fry them – they make about 00 every night and the kids sell them in shifts throughout the day.
Gorongosa is a pretty big town with a large market, internet cafe (when it works), hospital, and on a Sunday afternoon we went to watch two of the local soccer teams compete, which was quite fun.
One of the things we tended to hear about a lot while there was about how people think Gorongosa Mountain is filled with many precious stones. Which could be true – it seems every day they are finding either gas or coal or diamonds here in Mozambique. The problem is that “they have meat but no teeth to chew it” – although Mozambique is filled with valuable resources, there is not a good infrastructure to make something of them. For instance, the coal industry is one of the largest, but it is run mainly by a company from Brazil who hires out South Africans to manage the camps and provide underlying infrastructure. Mozambique cannot provide for itself the same skills or established companies –at least yet.
We learned a lot from Tongai and his family about what day to day life is like it Mozambique, and enjoyed being with them! We were honored also to be asked to help plant an avocado tree in their yard as a remembrance of us after we left.
Our campsite wasn’t going to be that great already. And then it turned out the only wood we could find was dead pricker bushes. Ouch, anyone?
Then a local woman and her 3 year old daughter came to see if there was anything they could do for us. We said we were okay, but then she insisted we at least come and camp outside of her house. We followed her back and met her husband and they graciously allowed us to camp in their front yard. The next morning we were able to hang out with them some more. They are such a great family. Although very proud of their country and heritage, they still struggle with poverty. Right now the husband is not working because there are no jobs. He is trying to raise some chickens, but it is hard work and also takes some marketing/advertising to sell them properly as well - all of which is difficult when you have basically no start up funds. In my opinion, this family was a great example of a growing family that could really thrive given the opportunity for or right tools/ investment for success. It’s not that they are incapable, unmotivated, or in this case, even uneducated. It’s just that there are so few options. We were really blessed to meet them and be with them and hope to stay in touch.
Another great example of someone we met along the same lines was a man named July. We sat down to have a Coke in his restaurant, which was a simple structure,
just a few tables, kitchen burners, and cooler of drinks. He came over to sit and talk with us. He is 34 years old and has all of the makings to be very successful, he owns some properties, worked to get his commercial drivers license (a very hard and expensive process here) and from the conversation we were having, sounded like he had a lot of great business ideas about how to generate revenue locally, for himself, but also in a way that would also open up jobs for other people in the area.
But his problem was that he needed money to get it all going. Although he had his license, he didn’t have a truck. Although he had buildings that he envisioned making a strip-mall type structure, he had no way of getting the buildings fixed up.
It was great to meet people with ideas and ambition; local people with successful ideas and entrepreneurship skills such as these would definitely help their communities to succeed economically. But what is the next step?
Saturday night I collapsed into bed, asking, “how did that just happen?”
But to understand Saturday, you have to understand Friday. It started rather normally…we were parked somewhere we couldn’t really make a fire, so we had peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast. Started walking…it was HOT outside, I think in the low 90’s, plus the sun beating down on us, I was DRENCHED in sweat within 15 minutes of walking. And at this point, also so covered in dirt that when I tried to wipe the sweat from my forehead, I just saw dirt streaks appear on my once white shirt. We practically collapsed by lunchtime, and had the norm of peanut butter sandwiches again.
As the afternoon progressed, it started to get a little cloudy, which was nice…until it started to downpour. Luckily Marty came to get us before we got too drenched. We quit walking at 3:30, ended up having peanut butter sandwiches for dinner again, and played cards in the Land Rover to pass the time. By the way, the Land Rover also sometimes leaks at night when it rains…so…well, we did get our first thunder and lightning show which was entertaining.
Anyways, Saturday we woke up, actually still pretty dry, and started walking again after breakfast…again we couldn’t cook because everything around us was wet…peanut butter sandwiches.
Lunch…normal…so far only sprinkles of rain. Nothing too serious…our favorite, peanut butter sandwiches, 5th meal in a row.
But then, again by 3:30 dark clouds came and then the rain. This time however, we were within 5 miles a town and drove on to see what was there. We stopped at the local pub to have a drink and play a game of pool; immediately glad we were inside and dry as it continued to POUR down rain.
I was trying to beat Marty at a game of pool, and partially succeeding, when the owner of the pub came over to chat, he saw our Land Rover parked outside and was intrigued. We told him what we were doing, and without hesitation, he offered for us to stay with his family for the night. So, before we know it, we have a hand drawn map to his house, and go to be greeted by his wonderful wife and two kids with the coolest names in the world, Simply and Buddha; and two little dogs, Smudge, and Chickie, short for “Chicken Shit”.
After they showed us around and where we got to sleep, we got to take warm showers and relaxed! As I was taking a shower, Aaron walked into the attached bedroom and exclaimed, “it smells like girl in here!” which made me almost as happy to hear as the shower itself.
They also insisted on being able to wash any laundry we had with us, which was one of the biggest blessings of all, I was on my last pair of clean-ish socks. And anyone that touches our laundry…well…they should get a prize.
They were an awesome family to hang out with, we played the real casino version of Blackjack with Trevor humming the tune of “Viva Las Vegas” over our heads as he cooked up a scrumptious braai (SA version of a BBQ?). STEAK! (a treat we seldom have) and AMAZING bread…I can’t even describe it slow-cooked in a pot next to the fire.
Stayed up for a bit talking about life…a great, and TOTALLY unexpected night. We rested well in comfy beds, filled up all our water canisters and headed back on the road the next morning after saying our farewells.
Much thanks to a great family for an awesome Easter weekend blessing.
But it was definitely a moment where you look back and wonder how the heck it all happened?