Feature photo by Anna Kislingbury Anderson
As of September 17th, 2015 Mozambique is entirely free of landmines.
This is important for the obvious reason of safety in a country that has experienced decades of almost continual warfare, both for its independence from Portuguese rule and subsequent civil war, a Cold War proxy.
This is also important for a more subtle but equally important aspect of Mozambican livelihood, in terms of how they are able to interact with their land. Or the land, rather.
This is an important distinction. The physical landscape of Mozambique is some of the most stunning I’ve ever seen and its resources are abundant, from aquatic life to agricultural commodities. However, it is the idea of property and, related, community – how Mozambicans view their connection to the land and those visiting it – that made the greatest impression on this visitor to their beautiful country.
My traveling crew’s first stop was at Bonito Bay in the remote, coastal area of Morrungulo. Hours of red dirt roads through dense jungle foliage gave way to pristine beaches, and we spent our first day or two soaking in the scenery in a lazy (and tipsy) haze.
Our first real cross-cultural interaction took place at a small jungle barraca – a general store of sorts confined to a small roadside stand – which we lovingly Anglicized into “the bunkers.” Besides selling sundries and the infamous Tipo Tinto rum that tastes like heaven and gives you the hangover from hell, it serves as the venue for a weekly dance party for locals, and we were invited.
Rafael, a dive center operator native to the area, explained to us that we should feel at home and needn’t mind our belongings too closely as it was not their jeito (Portuguese for “way” or manner”) to steal. As someone who has traveled to developing countries from Brazil to Angola, where you always stick money in your shoe in case your wallet gets lifted, I was wary of Rafa’s advice.
After breaking the ice with a few Tipo-and-cokes, we kicked off our shoes and grooved to the deafening if staticky sounds of the booming speakers that shook the jungle shack. By the end of the night we were sharing dances, and even children, with the locals. Having requested to hold one’s baby, I would have ended up with him had I not actively sought his parent to return her child as the party died down.
This was my first glimpse into the nature of the Mozambicans. Despite our differences, we were all together in a common goal of dancing and enjoying ourselves, a temporary community. Their trust of foreigners they’d recently met, strong enough to share their property (even offspring), was impressive.
Anna Kislingbury Anderson
The following day, we embarked on a hike led by Rafa, in which he showed us all the plants locals reap from the forest, both cultivated and naturally occurring, for food. From cassava roots to cashew trees, almost every even unassuming plant serves a dietary purpose – the jungle is their grocery store.
After trekking up a hill to take in ocean views, the man whose property we had entered offered us tangerines from his tree. Outside the next jungle hut we passed, women were finishing up some buns made from cassava flour and coconut milk over an open fire, and offered us some as well.
The third property we passed through was the first of the trip where we did not feel completely and immediately welcomed, as the drunken proprietor stumbled over to our group to demand our intentions on his land. Rafa quickly explained that we were respectfully passing through, and asked if this was the impression of Mozambique he wanted to make on friendly visitors. After a minute of inebriated cogitation, the farmer broke into a smile and invited us to pass through his land and enjoy the rest of our stay.
From Morrungulo, we would continue onto the diving destination of Tofo and nearby island Ilha dos Porcos in the province of Inhambane. The island tribe of 800 residents spoke only Kitongo, but their welcome translated through the feast they made for us which, from crab, clams and prawns to perhaps one too many starches, included the best that their land and sea has to offer.
These islanders harness energy only from the sun, with solar panels gifted by Mozambique’s current president as a promised reward for their electoral support. I harnessed energy from these people and their sense of connection to the land, each other and us.
Photo by Ryan Lindsay
The idea of property – geographic, personal – is quite different in Mozambique, as the land, once ridden with landmines, is now a resource all can access. Perhaps it is this lack of physical exclusion, the ability to roam freely without fear, that lends to the Mozambicans’ welcoming nature and sense of community. As our economy continues to globalize, we should be learning what these people seem to intuitively understand – what we all must have understood at some point. Perhaps because they cultivate, fish and forage rather than buy, “transactions” are less give-and-take than shared.