Well well, how funny to read back on expectations, when all has been revealed! Home-stay was quite an eye-opener. Not bad, I had a good time, just quite challenging. Also rather ironic…
So Katherina had been telling me horror stories of her experience with a crazy mother, cockroach infestations etc…
We pulled up by the church of a town names Macia on Friday morning, 2 hours late. A group of head-scarved sat shaded from the blistering heat under a big tree, patiently waiting. We got off and filed over to a U shape of benches, facing the group. Amidst furtive scanning of potential hosts/guests, our VSO manager Augusto placed a handful of folded papers in the centre. We had to choose a family, lottery-style. I got up, selected my paper and read out ‘Milagrosa’. There was an almighty shriek. A lady who I’d had a feeling about (honestly!) sprang at me, exclaiming thanks to the lord and that she’d ‘chosen me on the bus’. She whirled me around in a vice-like grip. I was a tad surprised, but pleased as it broke the awkwardness and I certainly felt welcome!
After the initial exuberance, hand firmly grasped, I was marched off towards the supplies that VSO had brought for the families. Mila was militant about getting her share. Watching her in action, I began to suspect that the reason she’d been so happy to get me was because young white girl = rich soft-touch. I hoped she wasn’t going to fleece me for cash (you get a bit fed up with it).
We set off towards her house, flour, oil etc in hand. She gabbled gleefully in Portuguese that I would be a nice friend for her daughter, Nuzipa, which I considered a more hopeful motivation. Her jolliness set me at ease. We arrived and I was relieved to see that her house was the breeze-block type rather than reeds, which I thought might be dustier and more insecty. Incidentally, I noticed my middle finger had gone completely numb from carrying the stuff. It stayed like that for 2 days and even now sensation is a bit dull!
The house had 3 rooms (2 bedrooms and an everything-else room) and was very clean and neat inside despite the grey concrete walls giving an initial air of dinginess. Outside, a big sandy very neatly swept garden area surrounded the house. There were several trees, a few crops, a stove and some chickens. There was also a quiet lady sitting on a mat with a child, who I gleaned were Mila’s sister and nephew. We put down my stuff in one of the bedrooms which she said was mine - I was thrilled to have my own room, with an actual bed!
First thing, she insisted that I ‘tomar banho’ i.e. take a bath. I was perfectly glad, it was boiling. Whilst I wondered about the logistics, she barked (one thing soon learnt: shouting does not mean anger – they shouted most things at each other) some orders in Shangan (the local Bantu language) and the sister fetched a plastic tub of water and set it on the stove to warm. This done, Mama brought over my towel and a VSO-donated bar of soap. She ushered me to the end of the garden and inside a material cabin which was the bathroom. Inside were a couple of bricks to stand on behind where the tub was placed - you lather up and douse yourself with the water. It was really refreshing, although there was the odd waft of urine, which made me wonder/worry about the toilet situation. She also shooed away a good few cockroaches before setting the tub down. Yikes!
Refreshed, I was served a nice lunch of rice, fish with yummy sauce and tomato and onion salad. I was thinking ‘phew’ it’s all fine. Mama said she was a teacher, but she had to go and do an art exam (?) – it was the last one of a string, like GCSEs it seemed. So we walked towards the school and called for Bill - very comical volunteer from the UK who’s been in Guinnea Bissau for a couple of years before here and is hardy to African life. He came along with the son of his family and we wandered round the town and played bowls with mangos etc until Mila finished her exam. Then we walked home and Bill came over to see what my place was like. I’d said it was nice and clean and I had my own room etc. Bill smirked knowingly and casually enquired who else would be sleeping in there. Mama replied that she would be, and I’d be sharing the bed with either her or Nuzipa when she returned the following night. Ahh, silly me. Then Bill asked about the past volunteers she’d had stay. She talked about Katherina who’d come a couple of years ago. Ohmygod, alarm bells!! It emerged that Mama had moved since then, however, which could account for the upgrade in accommodation. Anyway, I felt slightly uneasy.
By this time I needed the loo. It was dark but, on advice, I’d brought a torch. Mama escorted me to a smaller TP near the ‘bathroom’. As I approached the smell got stronger and I began bracing myself. I already knew it would be a pit latrine. She opened the flap and tugged me nearer, pointing at the 2 bricks either side of the hole. To my utter horror I saw a swarm of cockroaches, scuttling in and out of the hole, over the bricks, up the poles. By this time I was trying not to gag from the smell. After swishing at them a bit, she ushered me inside and left. I stood semi-paralysed frantically waving the torch around. It was a really small space and I kept catching glimpses of cockroaches scuttling near my arms and face!! Then I looked down into the pit (why?) and saw a teaming, writhing mass of maggots. I was feeling giddy with disgust by then so I shot out and went to bed needing the toilet. It was utterly roasting. Mama insisted I have the bed and she had the floor (phew). I had a horrendous night’s sleep. I just lay awake sweating as it was soo hot; I felt slightly delirious. I kept starting at scuffles and in the half-light saw an army of ants going up the wall and at least one more cockroach. At one point, just when I was finally nodding off, mama got up and peed in a bucket. I was quite shocked by this.
It was a long night. I got a couple of hours sleep in the morning but got up tired and needing the loo. Fortunately it emerged that morning that they weed in the corner of the bathroom and the little House of Horrors was only for ‘bigs’. It’s funny what you become thankful for. Aanyway, that day we went to the beach – Bilene – which was lovely. Most of the volunteers and a respective household member came. Mila and her son, who’d emerged about 10pm the night before, along with another little girl who’s her brother’s daughter and who runs around working all the time like a little Cinderella. By now, I was getting a bit fed up with Mila. So loud, and such a grating voice! Especially as my patience was a little thin after no sleep. I just swam out and lay in the water for a while. When I got back on the beach she promptly demanded that I go for a walk with her and another lady to the market. I really couldn’t be arsed to go and purposefully left my wallet. I shouldn’t have been so cynical though as it seemed she just wanted me to see everything so I would feel like I’d done a lot (and she’d been a good hostess, I guess).
When back we were all hungry so ordered food for us and our family members. Frango (chicken) of course – it’s everywhere and there’s often little else. It literally took 2 hours to arrive, talk about ‘Waiting for Frango’. Anyway, gulped it down and then it was time to get our bus, so that was that!
I was really thinking ‘I don’t want to stay another night’ – long, sweaty, delirious night in-store plus the foreboding latrine and a slight stomach ache – but it turned out to be a funny evening. Went home and met Nuzipa, the daughter. She’s a character too, similarly booming voice but easy to get along with. The sister had prepared more food and we had – yep, frango again, but this time with xima, the white sticky stuff made from cassava flour. Its a strange texture, doesn’t seem like it should be edible, but it tastes fine. Anyway, afterwards we went to a barraca – a little drinking shack – with bill and the son. We drank 2M beer (the nice national brand) and danced with the locals to Enrique Inglesias, Kylie and some Mozambican music.
Despite thinking the beer would send me to sleep I had another night of sweaty insomnia, but I was calmer and more resigned about it. I’d actually got quite used to the bugs by then too. Plus I still had the bed to myself as Nuzipa had opted to sleep on a mat in the other room! (huh!)
Got up and went with the family to church for 2 hours. It was a lively congregation, Anglican but quite a penticostal vibe with singing, dancing, clapping and choo-choo trains (!) There was lots of serious preying as well. The other volunteers were there too, apart from some who’d gone to the catholic church. There’s a mosque in the town too – multi-faith communities in Mozambique seem to jog along nicely. James, one VSO guy who was staying with the pastor with his family and who can speak Portuguese got up to read a passage. Then Yusuf, a Ugandan volunteer who’s very religious himself got up and read in English. Then Father pointed at me and beckoned me up! I did the cartoon look behind, you-can’t-be-talking-to-me thing. But it was me, so I had to get up and read a passage (in English, thanks goodness). Something about the riverbed, I don’t know, anyway that was a bit bizarre. I did it in my most solemn voice though I haven’t been to a church in years.
Went back and had a nice afternoon chatting to the neighbours – really nice couple of teenage kids, one girl who was a good laugh and a nice lad who was learning English. We did some lessons in a book together. That evening was nice too. There was a big storm. Mama went to sleep early and I stayed up with Nuzipa and Dana, little Cindarella who livened up no end. They taught me a load of those clapping games that girls play in school (I actually managed to dig out 2 to teach them). I was glad I’d stayed that length of time by then. The little son slept in our room that night but I still had the bed to myself. Even the cleaning from 5am (forgot to mention that minor interruption – in out, crash bang, crying baby) didn’t bother me too much and I slept better. I like to think it was acceptance, integration etc but more likely because I knew it was hometime!
Before I left on Monday morning we had a lengthy photoshoot. Everyone absolutely loves the digital camera here – shoot and then you can see it instantly! Mama wanted loads on her own in various elaborate poses. She and Nuzipa would arrange themselves, still-life fashion – clutching a pineapple or pretending to read with miscellaneous items scattered around. I had to promise over and over to send them the photos. Then we went back to the church and had a de-briefing. Most people had had a good time, although some had been expected to buy everything at the market etc, and I hadn’t.
I was glad to get back to our flat in Maputo and have a hot shower and change my clothes. Katherina couldn’t believe it was the same family! We had quiche, wine and chocolate for dinner. Yum. I slept very well in my own bug-free room. Anyway, altogether an enlightening experience! And good training for the VETAID field trips yet to come...