MOZAMBIQUE has the distinction of being a country that continually hosts an international convention of malaria- bearing mosquitoes.
We went there for the buzz that surrounds a nation rebuilding itself. During our seven- day sojourn, we delivered, in tropical heat, a chocolate cake bought three days previously to a tribal elder on the north coast who had hundreds of wives and millions of children. We became bogged in mud up to our eyeballs, surged optimistically across a crocodileinfested estuary in a boat that finally sank, and laughed like drains.
It was a reunion with Monique, a South African friend for 40 years, her husband Michel, a former Serbian nobleman, her brother Dave, once a great white hunter, and his Zulu factotum Robbie, who wields the spanner, changes tyres, boils the water and removes any unnecessary concealed tree stumps. And my husband who, in Africa, plays the part of kibitzer with an air of great aplomb. In his honour, at Dave’s shack, he had a tree named after him: the tonsil tree.
We are all a bit past it. Between us we have a missing lung, poor circulation, allergies to bees, deep- vein thrombosis: in the absence of wild animals, the only loud noise was the crunching of antacids.
The tonsil tree is a fast grower. Last time he was there, Dave was furious it had been pruned. He said that if it was touched again he’d cut off the culprit’s hand. The tree was not touched and it grew almost 2m . . . through the side of the boat, which is why it sank.
On our intrepid venture we had a couple of four- wheel- drives and the umbilical cord of a two- way radio, which crackled with conversation. ‘‘ Where are you?’’ ‘‘ Don’t know. Where are you ?’’ ‘‘ Don’t know, but I’m somewhere ahead of you.’’ ‘‘ OK, so I must be behind you, then.’’ ‘‘ Why have you stopped?’’ ‘‘ Dave’s gone behind a bush: something he ate.’’ ‘‘ Why didn’t he take toilet paper? Haven’t we gone beyond using leaves?’’ ‘‘ He has made it clear that it would make his day if I got stuck in the mud, so I hope he wipes himself with a stinging bloody nettle.’’
There’s the bush telegraph: the tribal elder who, three years earlier, had asked Monique to bring him a cake was waiting for us. He’s a blind thatcher who weaves roofs with his toes. She said she had tried to bring him a wind- up torch but they were sold out. Michel asked what use a torch would be to a blind man. Looks were exchanged.
There is no game because it’s all been eaten by the natives of the war- ravaged land, now living in relative peace. But it is coming back gradually. So are the birds. While much of the continent is a basket case, the country holds great hope. Tourism is beginning to thrive, deep- sea diving and great white shark encounters are nonpareil. Modern resorts are being built. In Africa, at least, Mozambique is the new black.
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