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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.

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!

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Rainy season on the islands means a bit of actual rain every few days or so and the chance to watch the storms brewing and breaking over the mainland. There are times when the land in front will be completely covered in dark grey clouds and nejovo and caldeira to the left of us will still be perfectly sunny, like bright yellow beacons amongst the clouds.
mainland coast.

Sunset yesterday evening was a mix of bright oranges and reds to the left and sky lit up by lightening to the right. This amazing display got more dramatic the darker it became until we were watching the entire sky light up in electricity behind the clouds bordering the mainland coast. By the time we went to bed we were watching the stars being momentarily outdone by white sheet lightening.

Besides the weather we managed to get the water tower up and almost done. I developed a bladder infection which isn’t very nice in the middle of nowhere but managed to self medicate with lots of water, vitamin c, citra soda and watermelon brought over by lancha in the morning. Today it seems to be gone.

More and more boats are appearing on the sea as the weather improves and fishermen try to make up for lost time. Right now as i look out over the sea i can see the black sails of the mozambican dhow in front, one to the right and a couple to the left towards caldeira.

They’re just back from the islands and all I have heard is how absolutely amazing it was. I’m jealous and I have stayed there plenty of times and will stay plenty more times!

It was a guys week away before Ben’s wedding and so I graciously stayed away and took it while I had to listen to the daily updates on all their amazing adventures while there.

All I can say is it sounds like the perfect holiday in paradise. First off, they had perfect weather and slept outside on the beach under the stars every night. Next, at least one person caught one fish each day, usually more than one! I don’t care too much about fishing but when I heard they had been swimming for over an hour with dolphins I felt a strong tug of jealousy. Not to mention seeing turtles in the water and counting the shooting stars at night.

But then there are the usual tales of male bonding and testosterone like soccer matches on the beach, running aroung naked getting burnt like a piece of boerewors, drinking copious amounts of beer by lunchtime and teaching the staff obscene expressions and words in English. That I am glad I missed!

But I think it has been a good opportunity for Jack to reacquaint himself with the miracles of what he has and to remind him just how perfect it all is. Me, I am excited because I listen to all these stories knowing that by the middle of February I will be staying on the islands almost permanently while we set up the beginning phases of building.

While I think the islands are perfect as they are, there are, believe it or not, people out there who prefer to have running water, a bed, some comfort and a place to order something to eat. Actually, to be honest, so do I. So even though I enjoy the islands as is, I can’t wait for the day I can jump off the boat onto a jetty, order an ice cold cocktail at the bar while I wait for my luggage to be unloaded and taken to my villa. I can just imagine the feeling of waking up in the morning to a spectacular view, fresh food in the fridge and the sea ready to welcome me for my swim just meters away. Then being able to walk back up to my villa, have a hot shower, think about what I am going to order for lunch and wander over to the swimming pool.

Admittedly I have had quite a bit of time to perfect my vision, having spent hours on the islands running through scenarios of what we would like to build here.

Not cast in stone, or rather wood, yet, these are the basic plans for the Topuito Isles. 

Each island will have its own self contained central lodge. This will be the place where we would have the bar, the restaurant, the reading room, lounge and a huge deck overlooking the sea, perfect for sundowners and cocktails anytime.

Then there will be a separate sports centre for all the activity stuff such as diving lessons, scuba and snorkelling equipement, games and sports equipment, organised activities such as dhow trips and deep sea fishing expeditions will be arranged here. 

Next is the central swimming pool. Even though there is a beautiful sea all around a pool is for those times when you want to have a calm dip without any waves, or salt, when you want to get some exercise doing laps or just a place to chill. There will be a mini bar there of course, another good reason to hang out there.

Now, this is the special part. We don’t want the islands to become one huge tourist resort kind of place, you know, the type where there are rows of chalets cramped together along the beach and package tourists arriving by the boatload. We want it to be a place where people can enjoy it as much as we have. And that means privacy. So, on Caldeira island, there will be some beach houses which will operate like any hotel or lodge, you book a house and stay there, with use of all facilities. Plus there is also going to be some private villas, these are going to be a bit bigger but still discreet and private. This is what I am seeing when I picture myself in a few years. Nejovo Island will be exclusively private villas, making it a private island.

The lodge buildings and villas are all going to be built out or wood and natural materials so no concrete and gaudy colours. The design is simple and African cause we’re not trying to pretend we’re in Europe. But, seeing as Jack is such a perfectionist, everything in the buildings will be top range of course.

All this aside, I just can’t wait till the night I get to sleep with a roof over my head but the breeze blowing in and a view of the sea as I fall asleep… in comfort. Oh, and being able to go to the toilet, a proper flushing one, at night without a torch and stick to ward off anything that might want to jump out at me!