Nema September 2017 Update: Tom’s story Part 2

This is part 2 of my Nema visit to Mozambique.  See part 1 – From ‘Penallta to Pemba’  here.

We packed our bags into the back of the Hillux and protected the luggage with the canvas cover.  After reluctantly shrugging off the friendly locals trying to sell us mobile phone credit, we were on our way to Guludo.

We travelled on the main road, heading north through Quirimbas National Park.  We had a 260km journey ahead of us, so there was plenty of time to catch up with Gustavo about all things Nema.

The route through the National Park was incredible. Basically, a road has been cut through the middle of the African bush.  When I used to think of Africa, I never imagined everything to be so green.  I also thought I’d see some of the animals that are synonymous with Africa, like the usual pictures you would see in children’s books when you were young, but no, Gustavo told us that poachers had stripped the area over recent years.  You couldn’t help but reflect on what Africa might have once looked like and the realisation of the selfish human behaviour that is probably now decorating the homes of the rich.

In Mozambique, the rainy season is usually between September and March but this year it was delayed.  The rains only started in January and finished late (the week before we arrived).  Gustavo was telling me about how some of the women in the villages would be accused of being witches and were responsible for the delay.  Even though they had lived in their village all their lives, they’d be chased out with the fear of being killed.  It’s scary to think how these sort of beliefs still exist in under-developed countries today.

Apparently, the rain had been really heavy in the week before our arrival (a sign of the rainy season coming to an end).  This always causes a lot of problems with the roads in Mozambique.  Heavy flooding often washes away the bridges and causes road blocks.

About half way to Macomia, driving through one of the towns, we were flagged down by a police barricade.  We’d previously been told about corruption throughout the police in Mozambique and that they would accept bribes to allow vehicles to pass through.  After a few minutes of speaking to the officer, Gustavo told us he was simply checking and nothing dodgy was going on.  Although I have to admit it’s quite a nerve-racking experience.

The officer saw the Nema sticker on the side of the car and asked what it meant.  Gustavo said it is a word that translates to ‘Happiness after the hardship’.  The officer then asked if it was like when a man is married to a woman for years and then finally gets divorced so that the hardship is over… at least he had a sense of humour and let us pass without any issues.

When we arrived in Macomia there was another police road block.  This time it was to warn us of the poor state of the roads ahead.   We pulled the car up in the town and found somewhere to eat and decide what we’d do – it was looking very likely that we wouldn’t be making it to the lodge that night.

The streets of Macomia were busy with roadside market stalls and all sorts of colourful characters wearing what can only be described as an ‘anything goes’ fashion style.  I saw one man in flip flops, navy tracksuit bottoms and a smart white blazer walking around like he was the boss.  Maybe he was?  But I certainly didn’t understand what was going on (unfortunately I didn’t get a photo of him).

We found somewhere to eat and let’s just say you probably wouldn’t see it on TripAdvisor anytime soon.  We were shocked to see a TV but Sky was not an option.  You don’t see many TVs in Mozambique and if you do they are usually showing dodgy, old fashioned films or maybe some football.  Food was very basic and it was a good job we didn’t see the kitchen until we stopped there on our way home several days later when we needed the toilet.  Em said they wouldn’t have even scraped a one on the food hygiene rating – I suppose an outdoor kitchen in a dusty car park wouldn’t have been the cleanest.  We went for chicken, potatoes and rice, the safest option we were told.

Over dinner it was decided that we would be staying in Macomia.  We found a place to stay for the night.  It was a hotel built with concrete (which is pretty exclusive compared to the surrounding mud huts).  It had a basic room with a bed, air con, TV and a shower (none of them worked though).  I could only compare it to a 1960s hostel that you see in American films with the ‘vacancies’ light flickering temperamentally.  Although we’d never stayed in anywhere like this before, we really couldn’t complain, the street kids outside would have to save up years to be able to afford a night there and the main thing was that we would be safe.  We were exhausted from travelling so got our heads down for the night ready for the 6am start.

The next morning, as the sun rose we headed towards Guludo.  With only 45km left I thought it wouldn’t be such a long journey.  I was wrong.  The roads really were as bad as we’d been warned and it took us over 3 hours to make the trip.  Now I can see why it is essential for Nema to own a 4×4 vehicle!

After about a day and a half of travelling, we finally made it to Guludo and were greeted with a very warm welcome from the staff at the lodge.  We were the first guests of the season and they were very happy to see us.  We were welcomed  with some lovely fruit juices and cold flannels and then given a tour around by Idris, the Junior Manager of the Lodge.

We were shown to our banda and everything about our stay was explained to us.  The lodge is built eco-friendly and everything is made from local materials by the skilled people in the villages.  We had a table and chairs on the veranda outside and also a hammock.  The view of the beach just yards away was incredible.  Inside was again, very basic – even the coat hangers were handmade.  A huge mosquito net swamped the bed and there was a polite notice not to leave any plastic waste – these sort of things we really take for granted in the UK.  There was no running water, just bottles outside warmed up by the sun.  There was no electric so no lights, no TV and no wifi.  There wasn’t even any service on our phones.  I could see Em’s arm stretching with her iPhone in the air as we were being shown around, how would she survive without her Daily Mail showbiz column?

I particularly liked the outside shower and toilet (which they say is a ‘loo with a view’ since you can look out to the sea through the window).  It was a bit of an experience, especially as you can’t flush the toilet and it’s not everyday that you share your toilet time with ants, spiders and lizards.

So after arriving at Guludo later than expected, it was all systems go as we had work to do. Our time was precious as we were dictated by the sun light hours and the sun sets at around 5pm in April (you can’t do much when it’s dark and artificial light attracts mosquitoes!), quite the contrast to our 24/7 lifestyle in the UK.  Gustavo had a busy schedule planned for me and we reconvened after half an hour or so of arriving and I was ready to get to work.  I was told that some of the Nema scholarship students were waiting to meet me at the Guludo community health post.  I didn’t think much of this at the time but I was soon to find out that it would be the most overwhelming experience of the visit…

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