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After many months of being away I finally got a chance to visit the mainland camp at Larde. And after so long, there are many new, exciting changes in the camp.

The bread oven is now fully functional and we enjoyed delicious warm baked bread for breakfast. Coming soon will be the layer chickens so fresh eggs will be added to the fare available.

For the first time I slept in a bed in one of the houses and not a tent, what a pleasure! The houses have now coat some paint on the outside and soon the inside of each will be painted too, making them ‘real’ houses at last. I’m sure this will make a big difference to the guys staying there. Everything is ready for the plumbing, which will bring showers and flush toilets!! Most exciting!

But one of the best new happenings at Larde definately has to be the canteen. Almost finished, the canteen has a kitchen and storeroom, a toilet and a large open sitting area where the staff can eat and gather socially. If all goes well a Tv will be installed (depending on the pending electricity coming soon to Larde).

The new manager is coming soon all the way from Germany and he will be helping the staff set up a carpentry and joinery workshop to supply materials for the islands. Staff will also have the chance to learn new carpentry skills from him. A training room will be part of the new workshop buildings which are next on the list of what to build.

We weren’t there nearly long enough as we had to get back to Nampula to complete some important proposal work but I am guessing that next time I will be happy to stay a few days, the camp is now like a proper living area and I am looking forward to fresh bread and eggs for breakfast!

Staff houses at Larde

Staff houses at Larde

Staff canteen at Larde

Staff canteen at Larde

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When two weeks turns into three months you know things are going to be different upon return. This is true of many places but, as I discovered when I arrived here after a three month break, nowhere more so than in Nampula. The city is growing so fast that you can barely take a siesta without waking up to even more cars.

But I never expected things to have moved so fast. This is, after all, still Africa and besides I have spent many a quiet day in this city wishing something would happen. Happen it did, while I was away. In just three months half the people I know here left while triple their number of foreigners seems to have arrived. I keep checking the street signs to see if I am in the same Nampula. And talking of streets, the new traffic lights are up and running, on just about every corner. From one set to twelve overnight! Most people still seem to be treating red lights as yields. As for the traffic itself, the amount of cars has grown while parking space has stayed the same creating even more chaos. I am more than happy to walk thank you.

At the same time there is now a new bank in town, Banca Terra in the Girassol, a new club, known to everyone as Club Mozambique next to the cinema, a new cafe opposite the Galp in town with the brightest decor in town and the fabulous new restaurant just up the road from Shoprite where the old Aurora was called Batik.

And of course I am now in my new house or rather we are now living in the main house and the dependencia is now the Fresh Limitada offices.

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!