The Discovery of Mozambique

Posted by Marcos Carzolio -- Thu, 06/13/2013 - 11:46 am

Orlando and Marcos visiting 12 de Outubro

Emily in front of Ruins at Ilha

In the Indian Ocean

Marcos and Orlando getting a sea urchin splinter out

Ready to eat the lobster dinner

Hotel rooftop

Eric and Emily do handstands on Ilha

In 1498, the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama landed on a small, 3km-long, 500m-wide island off the southeastern coast of Africa. There, da Gama and his crew discovered a bustling, long-established Arab port that traded pearls, ivory, wood, and gold for Chinese porcelain, Persian rubies, Indian spices, and textiles. The demographics of the island consisted of a mixture of natives and the lighter-skinned Arabs; both groups were Muslim.

For fear of being considered Christian pirates (which, one might argue, they were), da Gama and his team disguised themselves as Moroccan traders. When da Gama met with the Arab Sultan of the island, Ali Mussa Mbiki, he learned that it was customary for visiting traders to offer the Sultan fine commodities. Unable to provide acceptably exotic gifts, da Gama and his crew blew their cover as Muslim traders. The locals drove away the Portuguese explorers from the small island, but not before they fired a few cannon shots at the port in retaliation. They continued on with their famous journey to establish a trade route with India.

Da Gama’s encounter with Mussa Mbiki marked the West’s discovery of the island. Four years later, the explorer returned with a group of settlers to colonize the island and claim it for Portugal. Named after the Sultan as Ilha de Moçambique, the island’s name became that of the now independent country.

Flash forward some 510 years. Wouter, Ivo, Bacelar and I just walked into what must be the only gay club in the entire Nampula province. Actually, I am the only one convinced it is a gay bar. Maybe it’s all of the men dancing with other men, some men doing the very traditional and suggestive squat-over-and-grind-on-the-beer-bottle-on-the-ground dance, others offering us to eat with them, complimenting my shoes, and asking us to buy them drinks. Not bad… A few Manicas later, I’m in a dance off with some very talented dancers. At first I pretend to not know how to dance. The Mozambicans are amused by my stiffness. But then, I turn on my moves and really show them that I don’t know how to dance. They are doubly amused.

Early the next morning, fighting a minor hangover, we pack the cars for a one-night trip to Ilha de Moçambique. Ivo, Wouter, Bacelar, Orlando, and I take one car. Eric, Kory, Maria, and Emily take the other. A week prior, in a meeting with Cowater – the MCA contractor that installs the handpumps for the rural water project – it was revealed that a pump may have been installed in one of our communities which we had not anticipated. According to the data in our baseline study, the residents of the community do not use a handpump, so we decided to pay this community a visit. The logistics could not have been more convenient. The community, Mucupassa, is located along the road from Nampula to Ilha.

Upon arriving at Mucupassa, Bacelar, Orlando, and I, armed with a GPS unit, take on the task of tracking down 12 de Outubro (the name of the handpump). Ivo and Wouter wait in the car. As we walk through this small village, the residents are at first very hesitant to approach us. Charismatic Orlando asks one of them to point us in the direction of the fontaneiro; she sends her young son to show us the way. The little boy leads us over train tracks, past a small abandoned train station, through some shrubs, and into what seems to be another small village. At its center gleams an iron handpump, with several children and a few mothers filling 20-liter jerricans around it.

Immediately it becomes clear what the goals of our project are. We are here to answer very important questions. Who uses these handpumps? Should these children be in school instead of collecting water? (It’s Saturday so at the moment this is not an issue.) Do the pumps provide the villagers with enough clean water to support them? What are the economic improvements that result from the pumps?

The once shy villagers suddenly become very friendly when I whip out my digital camera. I quickly learn that children in the villages love seeing themselves in pictures. Orlando, Bacelar, and I manage to capture some excellent shots of each other helping to fill the water containers and interacting with the villagers. Before we leave, I take a picture of the information about the handpump etched into the concrete platform on which it stands. I also mark a new GPS point for our use in spatial analysis. Handpump verified.

A one hour drive later, we arrive at the single-lane, 500m bridge to Ilha de Moçambique. Cars on either end of the bridge take turns crossing, with a few pull over spots to let traffic pass should the timing be off. From the mainland, one can already perceive the majesty of the island. Off its southern tip is the tiny abandoned island with the fort Sao Laurenço. During low tide, it is possible to walk along the coral (ouch) to the fort and climb inside. All along the island’s coast, fishermen prepare their small colorful boats and fishing nets to float into the channel for the day’s catch. Among the pastel buildings and cobbled streets echo the island’s European port town heritage. In the plaza outside the sacred art and marine history museum stands a large Vasco da Gama statue looking out into the Indian Ocean. And in the north of the island remain the imposing stone walls of Sao Sebastiao, which successfully defended against Dutch invasion in the early 17th Century.

Of course, we spend no time exploring these marvelous sites. To do so would truly require a longer visit. Instead, we attempt to swim in the Indian Ocean to a setting sun. Walking on slippery coral is tough. Ivo and I do our best to stomp our bare feet directly onto some sea urchins. Orlando and Emily help to remove the splinters while we sit at a beach-front bar. The island is perfect for star gazing, with little light pollution from the mainland. I realize then that, in addition to being a statistician, Eric is also an expert astronomer.

Dinner is served at a rooftop restaurant, with the ocean breeze and starry sky to accompany us. On the menu, and later in our bellies, are grilled lobsters and crabmeat gnocchi, washed down with cold Manicas – another one of the best seafood meals I have ever had. When we return to the hotel, I discover that we can climb a small ladder to the rooftop, from which we have a spectacular view of the island and the sky. There’s always enough time for another astronomy lesson from Eric.

In the morning, Eric, Emily, and I do our best to enjoy the little time we have at the beach, this one with sand instead of coral. Kory, our would-be driver back to Nampula, promptly calls to ruin the fun and to have us come meet him at the hotel. Upon our departure, Canons are fired toward the island.

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Your stiffness is very amusing indeed!

Because you're an awful dancer, but you do belong in dance competitions. I am excited to see the images you have captured with your camera. Sao Laurenço sounds gorgeous. Big time cliff hanger with the end of the post there. You know how to keep us reading. I hope everything is alright. I look forward to your next post.