Almost two weeks ago now, I and another trainee named Lisa went up to Nampula province, ostensibly to visit two volunteer teachers to get an idea of their jobs and site. Kim and Katie teach at a secondary school in Namapa, a town about 5 hours north of Nampula City, on the border of Cabo Delgado province. We flew into Nampula with several other trainees who were visiting volunteers in the north, our plane greeted by striking, jagged rock formations looming above the otherwise flat landscape. Since we would not be able to reach Namapa before dark and Peace Corps has a policy against traveling at night, they booked us a hotel room in Nampula City. Kim came down to meet us and there were a number of other volunteers visiting the city for the night, so we had a great time out meeting volunteers and absorbing Mozambican nightlife outside of Namaacha.
After perusing Nampula’s extensive craft market the next morning, Lisa, Kim and I caught a chapa to Namapa. A chapa is the main means of transportation in Mozambique: they are large vans designed to carry twelve to fifteen people (though the motoristas try to pack in as many as will fit), that traverse set routes at supposedly regular times. We picked up Katie in Namapa, and then continued north into Cabo Delgado, where we spent the night at the home of another volunteer. Miguel teaches math in Chiure, and as he doesn’t have electricity, it felt a bit like we were camping. We made a big fire in his backyard and successfully roasted a chicken over it, and Lisa and I slept in a portable mosquito net out under the stars. It may sound peaceful, but another teacher with a generator was broadcasting the movie Anaconda, so there was a fair amount of noise.
Kim and Katie had to work early the next morning proctoring exams, so we hopped an early chapa back to Namapa. We were fortunate enough to see their home (which they share with a Mozambican teacher), to get a look around the school, and to meet a few teachers. Then Lisa and I set out on yet another chapa, this time headed for the coast, where a group of volunteers and trainees had rented bungalows on the beach. The first leg of our journey was relatively uneventful, but the next chapa stopped again and again to load and unload more people and giant sacks of coal and cassava root. We were unsure if we would be able to get a ride to the beach at all this late in the day, much less arrive before nighttime. Fortunately, we had told the drivers our destination and they seemed to feel bad for the ride having taken so long, so at the next junction they flagged down a police officer who agreed to drive us the rest of the way. He tried to charge us an exorbitant amount; we argued with him; he insisted on taking us to his teenage son who spoke English, but by the time we talked with the kid, the officer seemed to be tired of arguing so he settled for a lower price.
From our lodgings on the beach, the only other people in sight were a few fisherman and some middle-aged Portuguese tourists. We spent a relaxing night and an idyllic morning swimming and getting sunburned. The plan was for all of us to head back to the home of another volunteer, but one trainee got really sick, so our party split up. Lisa and I, four trainees, and a volunteer set off back to her site in Lumbo, on the mainland from the historic Mozambique Island (Ilha de Mocambique). The group had arrived at our beach site by boat from Lumbo the day before, but today the tide was different, so at first we couldn’t figure out where to meet the boat. We wandered around in the marshes for awhile, before realizing that the tide was too low for the boat to come in. Instead we were forced to walk a few kilometers and then wade in water up to our waists (carrying our backpacks, cameras, etc.) to reach it. My shoes were getting caught in the reeds and sand, so I took them off, and immediately stepped on three sea urchins. I’m still pulling their spines out of my feet, some almost half a centimeter long.
We did finally make it back to Lumbo, where there is fortunately a restaurant that serves heaping plates of shrimp and coconut rice. Though we passed out early, we awoke at dawn to catch a chapa back to Nampula City. We were, understandably, exhausted, so much of the next day was spent awaiting our flight in the Peace Corps office headquarters for the northern provinces (the main office is in Maputo), watching Disney movies. Another girl got sick and had to spend the night alone in Nampula while the rest of us flew back to Maputo, where Peace Corps had booked us rooms. My companion Lisa was struck down by the same sickness that night, but we made it back to Namaacha by late the next morning, more or less in one piece.
Now I really felt like I needed a vacation, but I had a great trip overall. We saw a number of different areas, terrains, and sites, and talked to many volunteers with varying lifestyles and perspectives, which was really the point of site visit anyway. Next week, I’ll fill out a questionnaire about the kind of site I want. Although I have some ideas and preferences, I don’t feel like it will be the end of the world if I don’t get them and that I could be happy anywhere. For me, the trip mainly reiterated that there are pros and cons to any living and job situation, and that my individual experience, wherever I am, will be what I make of it.