Monday, March 14, 2005


It’s my last day before I go back to the States.


And I still only have moments of clarity, where I seem to understand what has and is happening. I got dinner in a bar last night, then wandered around looking for a pub I couldn’t find, getting an original Budweiser and explaining (and drawing) what a whale is.


I’m being disgusted with tourism by eating and drinking in a hotel restaurant. I resisted, but my feet and back hurt. My inner monologue is in the third person and often Portuguese, which means I haven’t had enough conversations in English, I guess.
Back to the point. I’m really disgusted with tourism. I see thousands of people walking around, taking pictures of everything, getting souvenirs, having a decidedly European experience. I’m in a hostel where people talk about places they’ve been and will go like fishermen after a catch. And mostly with American accents. As if the world could be conquered in two weeks, two months or two years. I feel like I’m one of a very few who has some clue as to how enormous the world is, and how you don’t know a place, however small, even after two years. You can’t know a people unless you were born there and have a permanent attachment. I left because that’s what people do – because I miss everyone back “home.” And because I’m afraid of being forgotten – how do we exist if not in the minds of others? If I lived a reclusive life in the woods, born and raised by wolves, I would most likely try to advance the lives of the wolves I was among so that I wouldn’t be forgotten. The point is, that’s how we’re remembered.

Jenna and I will be on opposite ends of the earth.

I have confidence that I will find love.

I am not confident that I will find meaning in life. I know it needs to be unique -- for some reason, I’m unhappy doing something someone else is doing, mainly because they’re likely to be less religious about it.

Enough about me. What about you? What will you do, the reader of this journal, after having read and felt (hopefully) two and a half years of the life of some person who might as well be (still) thousands of miles away? Are you motivated, inspired, disillusioned, cynical, challenged, apathetic, insane because of me? Have I had some impact, tangible or not? And what are you going to do with yourself? Navigate to the next web site, ad infinitum, get back to work, go home to your family, make love and go on as if nothing happened? Why don’t you let yourself be irrevocably changed? Why don’t you go up to the store clerk, ask how he’s doing, how he feels about his job, if he’s ever experienced a different culture, and consider running away with him to a place where they can’t even pronounce your name well? Why don’t you start a homeless shelter that offers conversation and ideas instead of just soup and cots? Why don’t you cement your political ideals and run for office, promising to change everything everyone complains about – then, do it? Why don’t you reach down into that deep down somewhere and get out the very thing that scares you and just go and do it? What are you waiting for?

Soon, people in Mozambique will be expected to live about 30 years. Who says the US couldn’t suffer the same problems? Who says there are guarantees in life? That because your parents are comfortably retired in some banally warm climate you will be the same (and if you were, would you be happy?). That everybody gets theirs.
Victims – mortal – never get to voice their concerns or regrets. If they could, people would be a lot more urgently living their lives.

So what are you waiting for? Ask her. Go! Do it! Quit your job! Sell your house!
If I had any impact on your life, I hope I’ve inspired you to just do what scares you – and it scares you because it runs contrary to what’s easy and comfortable, but it offers possibilities that will make your life vastly more interesting than it ever was.

Every day, I try to do exactly that. And now I have to try and do it in the US.



HOCKEY! Saw Petr Nedved score two goals, Ziggy Palffy and Josef Beranek get one each, and a full game with NHLers! I also wandered around Prague, seeing an art museum full of landscapes, some incredible, but most pretty blah.

Been thinking a lot, but not too productively. Tomorrow, maybe I’ll try and think productively.



Let’s try and recap.

Arrive in Heathrow (London) at some ungodly hour in the morning, something like 6am. I say ungodly because I slept on the flight at woke up at 4am, only to watch another movie and wait a while, to still not see the sun come up. Hung out in Heathrow for at most an hour before we boarded the flight for Prague. I was pretty anxious the whole time, wondering what Prague was going to be like, how I was going to take care of everything I needed to take care of, etc. And nobody on the flight was speaking Czech. The only way I knew that, of course, is because everyone was speaking English. (I actually caught a Portuguese couple in London!)

And then, the magic. Coming into the city, snow was on the ground and falling all around. The first time in three years I’ve seen that. I got off the phone, picked up my bags, consolidated the two to one bag, plopped it on to my back, then went to it. Got on a bus, to a tram (streetcar) to another streetcar, then a short walk, getting SNOWED on the whole time in some pretty nasty cold. But I had prepared – three layers on top and two on the bottom of my warmest clothes.

Got into the hotel, checked in and immediately got out to get more money, a coat and a hockey ticket, not necessarily in that order. The coat turned out to be especially urgent as I could feel myself freezing little by little, though I was holding up just fine with a fleece, longsleeve and t-shirt in freezing temperatures. I think my winter body never left me.

So I got into a clothes shop (finally!) and started a routine which was to follow (and most likely will follow for the rest of my time here.

“Dóbre den.” (Good day!)

“Mluviste anglicky?” (Do you speak English?)

“Ne.” (No)

Seeing as all I know is, “Do you speak English,” “Yes,” and “No” the conversation quickly comes to a halt right there. I learned officially “How are you?” (Jak se mas?) and “Fine, and you?” (Dobré, a té?) at a bar so that I could successfully ask someone how they were and respond, assuming they asked me the same question. Doesn’t add a lot to the conversation, though.

Good beer.

After walking quite a bit and successfully getting lost (after I bought the hockey ticket), (I can get lost inside of a shoebox, and when I get out, feel safer inside the same shoebox, which is to say I sometimes enjoy getting lost because it’s a familiar place to be), I found the same restaurant twice and decided it must be fate. It was starting to get dark, and my back was hurting, so at 4pm I sat down for dinner.

4pm? Oy.

I asked what time people usually eat. Oh, 7 to 9pm. Yup. Oh, well.
I asked the waiter what he would drink and eat. I got another half-liter of delicious draft beer and approximately one half of a pig.

To the waiter’s credit, he did ask me whether I was really hungry. I now know that question to be akin to the Mozambican response to, “Is that far from here?” In either case, a “Yes” is bad news.

Well, I finished the salad and the two skewers popping out of my pig. I dumped the gravy all over it, dipped it in horseradish and mustard and onions, and loved every bit. Had an espresso afterwards, and including tip it all cost $13. I love Prague.
So now I’m trying to get my insides warm before I crash – I’m trying to hang on for at least a couple hours before I bite it. It’s 7pm.

At 2pm, I was covered in snow, thinking that 24 hours earlier I was covered in sunlight by a pool playing catch with dogs. In Africa. Weird.
Hockey tomorrow!



Yesterday, I said goodbye to Jenna and Nanosh. It wasn’t the last goodbye – I saw Marcilio in Johannesburg – but it was by far the hardest. I don’t think I even understand the emotions I went through and am still going through, and will be for some time. All I have known for the last two years is poof! gone.

I had time to think about that on the bus from Maputo to Johannesburg yesterday, but they showed movies, the scenery was spectacular, and I was in and out of sleep. It’s really amazing how intensely I can get lost in thought, and how the smallest distraction can prevent me from getting there.

So it cost 200 Rand for the bus here, then 180 Rand for the taxi to my hostel. It all translates (plus food) to about $85. Still cheaper than a flight, for sure. And now I’ve got time to think, though I’m not sure I want it. What it really means is that I’ve got time to be sad or be anxious about the next few days. I’m sure I’ll keep myself occupied in Prague, after I get tickets for the hockey game I don’t want to miss and a jacket so I don’t die from the cold.

Johannesburg, from what I’ve seen, could be a city pretty much anywhere, except that everyone’s got razor wire and security guards. It’s nice, in a “I don’t want to live here” kind of way. Had a nice conversation with my taxi driver who was born and raised (and still lives) in Soweto. I told him I was interested to see it one day, but didn’t get his contact info after he had to pull out the map and have me navigate to the hostel. “I’ve been driving this taxi since 1989.” Oh, well.

So, these are my last hours in Africa, in an Afrikaner-run hostel outside of the most dangerous city in the world. Two black labs have become my best friends, along with the cook/pool boy, but that relationship is more one-way than with the dogs.
I nearly froze my ass off last night. Had to put on my fleece and keep my socks on just to sleep. Yeah, I’m going to be real cold tomorrow.

The border post put my South African entrance visa ON TOP of my Portugal stamps. Ouch. Patience.


I’m in Johannesburg airport. Not without considerable cost, though. I was overweight (not personally, in terms of luggage) by 10kg, so they wanted to charge me $36 per kg over. Ha! I wasn’t laughing. So I went downstairs to the shippers and they wanted $160 for the entire 10kg. But I didn’t have an extra bag. So a guy sold me a small piece of shit for $20, and I packed it with 10kg of my crap. Then the guy told me I could put up to 19kg into it, no problem – same price. So I did! That lightened my two pieces of luggage. But I totally forgot that prior to doing all of this, one of my pieces weighed 19kg. I only remembered after checking in. Oh, well. $20 bought a rolling Samsonite with questionable zippers and a tougher time in Prague hauling around two bags instead of just one. Phooey.

I bought a cheese sandwich from a Changana woman. She was really happy to see a whitey speaking Changana. Fun stuff. And I passed a glass bin full of change in the terminal. Nothing strange, right? As I looked for the label marking the charity, I noticed there was NONE. OK, maybe it’s the $4 Guinness talking, but I’m quite convinced that Westerners not only have too much money, but we’re WAY too trusting. Hell, I might try that in the States to try and get back the $180 I spent just getting an extra 10 kilos of my accumulated African crap home.



Yesterday, I got into Chokwe at 8am and said goodbye to Marcilio at 10pm – in between, I took a couple hours for meals and said goodbye to David, Oscar, people at VUKOXA, Dona Flora, Jorgito, the Macias, the Cassamos, the post office lady, Alfred, Mukenga, Miguel, Evaristo, everyone at school, students I ran into along the way, and others who I happened to see. It took the whole time because I visited everyone, stopping to talk for a while and just hang out. I made a lot of promises that I will inevitably not keep, and gave myself a lot to remember.

This morning, at 4:10am, Oscar came knocking on the door with the painting he promised me of my school. I love it. Nanosh is bringing it down to Maputo as I write this. On my trip here, I was nodding on and off, very tired, when I dreamt I had looked at my watch which said 6:30am and awoke immediately to look at my watch which said 6:57am. Fatigued. Then, a couple minutes later, I heard beyond a voice behind me, “Tio João! Tio João!” It was one of the market women who I had said bye to yesterday. She had been on the same chapa with me for two hours, but we’d both been too tired to notice. She was really happy to see me and be able to see me off, along with another lady she works with.

I got into The Base (a hostel) at 9am, and ever since, I’ve been in and out running errands – I’ve been repacking since about 4pm. Nanosh and Jenna get here in an hour or two, then we go off to one last dinner and in the morning say our goodbyes. The goodbyes yesterday were hard because I realized for the first time the friendships I had made and how much people will miss me. More importantly, how much I’ll miss them. But these two goodbyes are the last and definitely the hardest. I often regret my decision to go back home, but I know that once I get there I’ll realize why I did it. It’s hard to leave something so wonderful (with exception of racism and my school, which is going downhill) for something I once knew but is now strange. I’m home in a week.



So, where was I? Oh yeah …

Well, on the morning of the 5th, I woke up at a frighteningly early 2am because I couldn’t sleep. Second floor of a hot building in a hot city, bad enough but I’ve done worse, tack on three chapas directly outside having “who can play their music the loudest” war – well, almost no sleep going on. So I just stayed up until it was time to get on the bus, left early for the bus, waited with my bag which was hauled up by some random guy who I thought was official (you’d think I’d know by now) and he asked for money. Some young Mozambicans were having fun with him and eventually gave him money to go away – I felt bad.

Bus left at 4:30am – saw baboons on the road and heard there was a crocodile. Made excellent time into Maxixe; it was about 2:30pm when we arrived. I took a motor boat across the way to Inhambane, got a needed coke, then asked the vendor where Pensão Pachiça was. Got there about 3pm, noticed Jenna wasn’t there yet, went to the market to see if she was there, no dice. Relaxed with some locals and American tourists, talking about everything, especially the romantic “meeting at a random place” story. Jenna got in a little after 5pm, while I had gone out searching again.

The next day, we went to Tofo, directly to Fatima’s backpackers and spent a wonderful three days on one of the most peaceful, serene beaches I’ve ever visited. I saw more white people than Mozambicans, but it was a necessary break nonetheless. Got lots of sun, swam in the warm Indian Ocean, and enjoyed great bar food made for beach bums.
From there, on the 9th, I headed back to Chokwe alone to find Nanosh for an hour before he left for Maputo. Blake stayed in the house that night as well, and if felt like last year. Yay. I stayed in Chokwe until the 11th, when I headed down to Maputo myself so that I could hang out with Nanosh and Jenna, and take care of other, last-minute things in the city. Got back to Chokwe with the crew on the 15th, spent the weekend there, enjoying Nanosh’s new toys and good, solid meals. Then, headed out to Hokwe on the 16th, where Jenna and I spent all last week. On Friday the 21st, we went back into Chokwe – and back into excitement. The week in Hokwe was very relaxing – if only because there’s nothing to do. I did a lot of reading. So back in Chokwe, we lived it up and went to the Palhota to enjoy excellent chicken and beers, and did a lot of home cooking. On Sunday the 23rd, Jenna and I came back to Hokwe so she could start giving lessons at school. Yesterday, I did more of the same, doing some shopping and lounging around. Tomorrow is my last day in Hokwe and early Thursday morning (27th), I go to Chokwe to say goodbye to everyone. Early Friday morning (28th), I go to Maputo to take care of final preparations for my trip home. Saturday (29th) I take a bus to Johannesburg, Sunday the 30th I take a night flight to London and on the 31st go from London to Prague. I stay in Prague through the 4th of February, when I leave for the States and get there that afternoon.

This is it.

Final thoughts?

I thought that I would be writing reams at this point, offering some conclusion to my experiences, but I still find myself focused on the next step in my travels, and not very preoccupied with the long-term future or the past two years. I guess that’s because I know it will all be put into perspective when people start asking me inane questions and I give them mutually unsatisfying answers. Or maybe it will all come together in the flight from London to JFK. But I feel like, once again, if I somehow try to put the last two years in a box, I will cheapen it and label it an “experience,” something that can be ignored and only referred to when necessary, as opposed to a directional shift in my life. At this point, I feel that coming home is a shift in the wrong direction, but a necessary one. I know I’ll find some way to pick up where I left off – here, not there. But that last point scares me, because I have so many good friends in the States who I don’t want to lose – and I don’t want to be so far away from my parents again. So I think I need to find something that balances all of these – fame and fortune are secondary, of course!

But, really, the one thing I know I have learned beyond a doubt is that people are more important than experiences. I had lots of cool experiences on my trip, but the time I’m spending with Jenna an d Nanosh now, and the time I will spend with everyone back home, is vastly more important. And though I see a duty to the world as my destiny and my desire, I won’t let it get in the way of friends and family. I never thought I’d learn a lesson so independent of the experiences I’ve had here. But I guess that could be a final thought.


Thursday, March 03, 2005


Today I got almost nowhere. Got up at 4am, caught the boat to take us across, got a chapa immediately to get to Inchope, the turnoff for the south of the country. And waited. From 10:30am to 3:15pm, I waited for something. There was one car, but it was going to a city short of where I wanted for a price I understood to be too much. Of course, I’ve been kicking myself ever since.

So now I’m in Beira, a city where they clearly don’t like white people all that much. You regularly get called “white,” “chief,” “patrão” … you name it. Insulted, basically, for being such an outsider. I paid $12.50 for a piece of shit room, $22.50 for a ride I should pay almost half that for, and almost paid $1 more for dinner than necessary. But because I’m white, I got a life that saved me $2.50. Not even, but close enough.

So I’m leaving at 4:30am, with hopes to be in Maxixe at 3 or 4pm, Inhambane an hour later. Here’s hoping.



OK. So this is funny. I took two buses today, starting at 5am and ending at 8pm to get to Caia, which is the bridgeless, hotelless, hostelless, pensão-less, rest house-less Zambezi river crossing. I’m sleeping inside my tent on a reed mat which is on wood supports inside a mud hut, a couple hundred meters from the river. It’s hot.
I hooked up with a Maputo-an called Silva to do the whole room-finding and dinner. Good conversation, he seems nice enough.

Tomorrow, I cross the Zambezi in a “small boat” that “every once in a while” tips over into crocodile-infested waters. Goodbye, Peace Corps rules.

I had an eighteen month-old girl on my lap for about three or four hours of the trip, sleeping away. It was wonderful.



The night in Cuamba was actually pretty nice, except for the fact that at 11pm, a drunk woman woke up the Malawian man who was in charge and said in drunk Portuguese, a language the Malawian has only a very basic grasp of, that the train was only doing work right now and I’d have to get onto it nice and early to get a seat, which I already knew. But he interpreted it as meaning that the train was leaving NOW so I needed to start getting ready RIGHT AWAY, which freaked me out until I got to talk to this drunk woman and I reassured him it was OK.

So then at 2:40am, I woke up for good to get on board the train that left at 5am. It was perfect planning as I got a good seat (unfortunately by a window that had no glass, so when it rained, I got rained on). I saw some of the most beautiful mountains – rocky, often triangular exposures that came from seemingly nothing, framing villages and breaking up the inevitable monotony of 12 hours on a train. The train was busy – lots of men were doing the market shopping, meaning that at every stop, they would get tomatoes, onions, peanuts, mushrooms, etc. running on and off as quickly as possible. They get excellent prices because it all comes directly from the farmer, and they often use the same people so that these people are prepared for when the train comes and only stops for a minute or two. So you’re sitting among chickens and hanging produce, not to mention all the bags and small children. People asked me, “Why take third class? It’s much better in first or second.” Well, you miss out on life – so much of it is all around you in third class, and it is just as important to seeing the country as the scenery is.
So I arrived in Nampula at 3pm, got my bag, and got off the train. Then, for about 10 minutes, pushed my way through a crowd I can only describe as mob-like, and got myself to open air. I called Evaristo, whose house I’m in now, and we met at a restaurant close to the station. He brought me to his house, I got cleaned up and fed, then we walked around the local neighborhood and some surrounding neighborhoods for a while.

From what I’ve seen, Nampula is a mixed city. It’s got a lot to see and do, but all of the architecture is colonial (the only new structures are being built on the outskirts of the city) and it doesn’t really have a tangible center. The city feels more like a collection of neighborhoods than a single entity.

So, tired, Evaristo and I stayed up until midnight, through the rain and bad TV programming, to say we saw 2005. I retired to my tent, as they don’t have another mosquito net for me, and slept soundly until the sun was too much.

Yesterday, we saw an art gallery, makeshift and without electricity, but an excellent gallery of native Makonde art. They use a wood called “pau-preto” which is light on the outermost layers (about 1 – 1 ½ inches) and black on the inside. It’s a stunning effect when both layers are maintained in the sculpture.

In the afternoon, we went with his five year-old son (he’s also get seven and eight year-old daughters who are going to be terrors when they hit 13) named Evans out to where he’s building a second house. The plan is to rent out this first house while he lives in the nicer and more open second house, with hopes to build a third from the money made off the first. It’s an ingenious plan here, as you can make enough money to build a new house for just a year’s worth of rent.

We saw, from his house, a close-up of the mountain that I’d seen earlier. It’s a small mountain, climbable in an hour or less, that houses the radio station at the very top. But they took down the antenna, so all is left is a yellow house which looks very pretty sitting on top of the world.

Evaristo and I came back through town, seeing the only military academy in Mozambique, and it was quite impressive. Dozens of buildings, regally spread about and obviously rigorously maintained, with barracks surrounding, full of newly pregnant woman.

We got to sleep quickly after dinner, after I spoke with a friend who’s living in a house out back about traveling to Maputo. I’m realizing my trip is coming to a close, but noy before I see the beaches of Inhambane in the last chapter, as it were. Of course, getting there will take two to three days, so it will be as much of an adventure. No border crossings, however, which tend to complicate matters.



Only made it to Cuamba. Rain has been on and off the past two days, making road travel – especially on dirt roads like I had all the way here – quite tricky. So I’m waiting for a train to take me to Nampula while I listen to a thunderstorm pound my tin roof in a pensão somewhere in Cuamba.

It’s beautiful here – no tar roads, some original Portuguese architecture, everyone speaks Portuguese, the mountains are all visible and fog-capped, and it’s the middle of nowhere, in a big city. It’s great. I’m even getting a hot dinner cooked for me!
Train tomorrow: 3am. Ouch.