That was our self-proclaimed mantra this past weekend. “Pouco a pouco vai longe,” literally translates as “little by little goes far,” or to us Americans, figuratively, “slow and steady wins the race.”
We climbed Mt. Namuli last weekend, Mozambique’s second highest mountain, at about 2490 meters tall, which happens to be right in our district. But, seeing as it is only an insignificant 15 meters shorter than the highest peak, and the other peak, though technically sitting inside Mozambique, can only be climbed by starting across the Zimbabwe border and Peace Corps has forbidden us PCVs from going into Zimbabwe during our service, I am going to go out on a limb and say I climbed the most accessible, tallest peak in the country. And it was hard. Damn difficult. So pouco a pouco we went.
It takes a day of walking to reach the base of the mountain, way out in the bush, past a diminishing number of brick/mud houses with straw roofs, children yelling at the white people, and family machambas (fields of crops like tomatoes and greens) as you get farther and farther from the city. But the views are absolutely stunning, reaffirming that I will bet anyone that I live in Mozambique’s most beautiful district. 8 hours into literally the middle of nowhere is where the queen of the mountain lives. Apparently, being the queen of the mountain is an inherited position. Once you arrive, you have to greet the queen, and bring her an offering, and then she will cook you dinner, let you stay on an esteira (reed mat) at her “compound,” and perform a ceremony to ask the spirits to allow you safe passage up the mountain. So an offering we brought. It included 2 kilograms of corn flour, a half liter of oil, a big ‘ole bag of gross dried fish, and a bottle of whiskey. Oh. And also 500 meticais a person. Apparently, though we brought exactly what our guide told us to bring, she was a slightly unhappy. Royalty… She then uses the goods in the ceremony and for your meals. So for two days I ate xima (Mozambican corn mush) and stayed away from the dried fish.
We spent the afternoon making faces and playing with the hoards of kids around, and inevitably, ogling the majestic mountain in front of us, that stared us in the face, as if to say, “Yes, I am freakin’ tall, and you signed up to climb me…idiots.” The queen, who is also the chefe de localidade (mayor-ish person of this particular area of Mozambican bush), is relatively nice and friendly, and has about 10 houses in her little compound. They are all brick/mud with straw roofs. And there are tons of women of all ages, and children ambling around. But in the two days I was there, I saw no men. Our philosophy is that the young men are sent to the city to stay in the dorms to go to the nearest secondary school (an 8 hour stroll away), and the older men either don’t come back except to make more and more babies, or were working the fields all day. But we really didn’t quite get it and weren’t really sure what the gender politics were.
The next day, the queen performed a rather uneventful and unimpressive ceremony with some corn meal and whiskey to grant us permission to go up the mountain (I think my expectations were way too high), after which, she introduced us to the man that was to guide us up the mountain. And then off we went. And I almost did not make it. Obviously, there are no trails or switchbacks. You are literally climbing a rock face, at many times using your hands to pull yourself up using jutting rocks or a short reedy plant as leverage. And then on the way down, we often crab walked and slid on our butts it was so steep. The perils of the process definitely crossed my mind more than once. But as slow-going as it was, we made it. Oh, and the queen’s guide basically ran up the mountain in flip-flops. Thanks for the shot of confidence, man.
And the third day, we walked the eight hours home, this time past an increasingly denser population as we returned to the city. Though densely populated is probably misleading. At one point, about 5 hours from the city, we talked to a few kids who had screamed and ran to us from their machamba. We asked if they went to school, and they promptly told us that there isn’t one there for them to go to. There was a primary school near where the queen lives, but that is over 3 hours away, a bit of a daily commute for a 7 year old, who also has machamba, water-fetching, and of course, your general playing duties everyday. And there was also a primary school about 2 hours from the city, again about 3 hours away. We had, just by chance, come upon some kids who truly exemplified the main problem and massive conundrum of the Mozambican bush. These particular kids live 3 hours from the nearest primary school (which are free and ostensibly accessible for all children), smack in the middle of the two nearest ones, and so they can’t conceivably go. I kept on walking after that with an added twinge in my heart.
But, I was able to cross something off my Mozambique bucket list. As I will be the sole Gurué district volunteer next year, I had to represent and conquer the mountain. And seeing as the mountain is visible on clear days when I walk to my new school in the morning, it was just going to stare me in the face everyday, asking to be climbed. So climb we did.
And the walking begins...
Mt. Namuli in all it's majesty
Our feast (eggs, fish, and xima)
Finally at the top! With our guides Avelino and Celestinho
And Happy Lusaka Accords Day everyone! Yes, this week in Mozambique, we are celebrating the day when the Portuguese colonists and FRELIMO, the main Mozambican political party, signed an agreement that the governing of Mozambican would be turned over to Mozambicans after a transition period. Oh, and the inexorable war for independence that ensued soon after.