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About a week ago a few of us decided to try out the new Pensao Parque restaurant. Being Nampula, anything new is exciting and greatly anticipated even if just as an antidote to our utter boredom with the same sameness of the place.

Also in true Nampula style, the restaurant is new but old, the owners having moved  their Chinese restaurant from the premises at Hotel Tropical to the Pensao Parque on Ave Samuel Kankomba. They have done the place up really niceley except for removing the trees. Alas their isn’t much park left in the pensao!

Sadly the new decor seems about as far as the improvements have gone. The menu is the same EXCEPT they have taken off the vegetarian items which, as a vege, was the only part I really liked about the restaurant. The food my companions managed to order didn’t seem to thrill them too much so guess I’m not missing out, it’s just hard work drinking beers with no food in the stomach.

But who needs food when there is karaoke? By chance we discovered the karaoke room or bar just inside the pensao. Looking more authentically asian than the sweet and sour chicken, and having the coldest beers in the place, this is a great place to hang or hide out.

The verdict? I would go back not for the food but for the singing or rather the entertainment of others singing themselves foolish. (I don’t and can’t sing) The food is unavailable to me and what I saw of it, perhaps not the best but our waiter was so incompetent he didn’t know it and grinned his way through the entire evening to a damn good tip. Friendliness goes a long way here.

Rumour has it there is chinese massage and acupuncture avaiable at PP. I will wait for someone else to try them out before I risk it!

After all the disaster and excitement of the last weekend I had decided to come back here to Nampula for a bit to recuperate and get my mind a bit settled. And it has been a good decision. It is very easy to be here sitting in the shade of the garden drinking beer to think everything is all as it has always been. I have also got flu from running around most of the cylone weekend in wet or at least damp clothes. It’s better, more reassuring to be sick in the city where I know there are pharmacies and doctors at hand. But now that Jack has gone back to do some damage repair and carry on with the construction of the houses, I find I miss being there. I have forgotten the depair and panic I felt being on Nejovo after the cyclone and can only remember the good things like the green creeper plants outside my tent everyday, the way I could just go for a swim if I got too hot, planning interesting meals from a box full of tins and sachets and enjoying the sounds of work been done around me. Now I am here feeling like perhaps I should have gone back, that I was being silly. But there is still some small voice at the back of my head telling me how it was and advising that it is better to have these good memories of the island now until I am ready to go back and collect some more. I think if I was there I would feel too sad and I don’t want that to be an emotion associated with my little paradise. Jack says some green is coming through and the rains are helping the island to heal. Work is going well and soon everything will be looking normal again. I think in a week or so I will be ready and am sure there will be some nice surprises waiting there for me, as always!

Nejovo after cycloneflattened house

We first heard about cyclone Jokwe when Jack was finishing up work on the roof structure for the warehouse on Nejovo. He jokingly said it should hold unless there was very bad weather like a cyclone. The guys, Abuto Preta and Hamnido, replied that the radio had said there was a cyclone on its way from Madagascar. We thought it would be like all cyclones coming from there, mild by the time it reaches us so we weren’t quite prepared for the destruction Jokwe caused.

We would have been on the islands during the cyclone except for fate stepping in in the form of a fly in visitor who wanted to see the islands on Friday 7 March. This meant that he arrived at Nejovo at about 1:30pm, in time to have a look around before the rain started, and a bit of lunch before we left for the mainland. The reason I went with was because I didn’t want Jack coming back in the boat after dark and so we were going to spend the night in Larde and return on Saturday. To do this we had to take Abuto with us, leaving Hamnido alone.

Friday night the storms started and by Saturday morning we realised we wouldn’t be able to get back. Then the reports started coming in that the cyclone was picking up strength and it all became a bit frightening. At the Larde camp we have 3 brick buildings with zinc roofing which threatened to come off at every gust of wind. We sat the whole day with nothing to do but wait. By 6pm we had eaten and huddled into our tent inside one of the buildings, doing crossword puzzles to distract us from the terrible noise of the roof and the worries both of us were feeling but too terrified to express. Beside being scared about the roof tearing off and the camp being torn apart I was most scared for Hamnido alone on the island, feeling abandoned by us. I didn’t sleep much at all. At about 9pm we checked on the guys in the other buildings, they were all sleeping, as much as they could. The cyclone was expected to arrive over us at about 12am. At 10pm all went calm, the wind died down completely and a little bit of rain was pattering on the roof tops. It was an eerie quiet, knowing worse was to come. The eye of the storm.

Almost exactly on time, cyclone Jokwe hit us, with wind speeds of 200km/h. Our tent was being blown every which way inside the building! And all we could do was lie there terrified, keeping the torch on as a comforting night light, back to the instincts of childhood. At about 3am the cyclone had passed. But the worst was yet to come.

Early sunday morning we surveyed the damage. Our kitchen has collapsed completely and huge cashew trees were down everywhere. We drove to Naialoco, a 5km drive which took us almost an hour with trees down everywhere on the road. The village was quiet with people walking around in a state of shock amongst their flattened houses. The school was gone completely and by the time we drove back through the children were busy gathering up the scattered papers that remained around the shell.

On return to our camp our staff were waiting with tales of devestation. Most of their houses were gone and they had spent the night out in the rain. After breakfast we went with them to Larde to have a look. From the moment we stepped off the lancha we could see what looked like a war zone. Huge old coconut and cashew nut trees were lying everywhere, many of them having fallen on top of houses. We went to each staff members house, seeing their dreams of building a better life shattered. Amongst this destruction they still managed to offer us oranges and coconuts and other fallen fruit. Rooves and walls have to be rebuilt, Mikuleni’s house was flat, like the legs had fallen right out from under the pressur of the roof, looking like a bunch of straw on the ground. The chefe de poste was sitting in the road in front of the administration building, exhausted from a night of trying to shuffle frightened people into places of safety. At one most people had sheltered in the new school buildings until the roof went flying off. Zinc sheets were lifted and carried over to destroy people’s houses on another side of the village. I can’t describe the heartbreaking feeling of seeing what a mess had been made of such a beautiful village. And I can’t even begin to comprehend such people who can have evrything taken from them in one storm and still be able to joke and smile and offer hospitality!

It was a long tiring day. And through it all I was trying to reassure myself that the guys on Nejovo and Caldeira would be fine because the storm was inland. Monday morning we went to Nejovo to see. Arriving at the island was like arriving on Mars. The beach had been pushed up and the trees that were standing we stark, bare of leaves and looking singed by fire. Nobody came out to greet us. I thought my heart would stop, really. We ran up to the camp, or where it used to be, gone. The whole island had gone from green to white, sand had been blasted everywhere. No sign of Hamnido. It was only when we saw footprints in the sand and that some of our stuff had been packed and covered with mecuti that the terror of his being missing went away. He must have left with the fishermen who were on the island with him. The rest of the day we spent trying to get a tent up for shelter, putting a makeshift kitchen up in one of the new houses, making food, picking up the pieces. And all I wanted to do was leave. To see my beautiful island so transformed was devestating. I spent most of the days crying between short breathes.

Tuesday we left and heard the news that Hamnido had made it back. He came to visit us later, telling how he had managed to survive by staying in the septic tank, but looking so completely freaked out. Later in the day we left to come to Nampula, a need for feeling some security and a place to recover. Wednesday a lancha went to Caldeira to get Hassane and Riksini, who were fine but had run out of food. This weekend Jack will go back and start rebuilding and trying to get the environment on the islands to recover. We will also be helping the village of Larde to rebuild their school and of course, help with rebuilding houses. Again I have been reminded of how little our possessions mean in comparison to human life and I am most thankful everyone survived. It has also been an opportunity for me to see all the people we work with as the wonderful, kind and strong people they are.

They say the last time such a cyclone hit their area was 1978. Let’s hope it takes at least that long before it happens again.

lanchas

i keep talking about the lanchas arriving so now it’s time to speak about those guys who get them here. previously fishermen from Larde, these 8 guys are now officially Fresh Limitada employees and yesterday they arrived wearing their new work shirts. looks great!

Often they come here and leave on the same day, stopping only for food and maybe a bit of work but there have been a couple of occasions where they stay overnight and then help out with house building. It’s such a pleasure to hear them chat and laugh while they work. The expressions and voice tonations used in their home language, Koti, are amazing to listen to with the high pitch for quoting someone to the dismissive sounds of disapproval. What is especially nice is to hear them laughing and enjoying themselves.

At night they all sit in the camp in complete darkness listening to the radio and waiting for food to cook. It always seems a bit quiet when they go and i find i look forward to their arrivals now not just for the stuff but also the good mood they bring with them to the island.

Yesterday started out unbearably hot which, as predicted, led to rain. But the south winds also came up making it very difficult for the lanchas to get here. Two were on their way, one here to nejovo and another to caldeira to do a shift change. As the winds changed the caldeira lancha got moved to the left and so changed course for nejovo. The amazing thing is they couldn’t use their sails and had to row almost the whole way on choppy waters and windy rainy weather. I can’t imagine the power these guys have in them to be able to do that. I struggled to paddle myself around the island on the kayak just the other day. I do know that i don’t want to have the experience of being on a lancha in stormy seas as they sway so thoroughly back and forth and it takes so long, i would be out my mind with anxiety and too much adrenaline!

The result of the bad weather was also that loads of fishermen stayed over here. Instead of being out on their boats fishing they kept themselves occupied by watching us. They have this very special way of wandering over in a group and walking very slowly past sometimes even just openly standing right next to us watching. This is like tv to them though with my urban rules of personal body distance i find a bit distressing especially when they are casually sauntering around with big knives.

It’ also amazing to see how, when a dhow sails in to the islands, what looks to me as the same black sail, our guys can immediately say whether these fishermen are from angoche, moma or larde. It seems incredible that some of them will travel 4 to 5 hours to get here, do some fishing then head back. What a life!