Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Kill or be bitten

Wow! Mozambique. I did not see this opportunity coming at all.

Over the last three years, I have been giving my volunteer hours to Transforming Lives, Fighting Poverty, a Bermuda registered charity that works primarily in Beira, Mozambique. The organization is affiliated with the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Mrs. Joan Simmons is the Chair and heart of the organization. She has a real passion for the work being undertaken in the various communities the charity is serving.

Like I said, if you had asked me at the beginning of August when I was planning my next trip to the African continent, I would have probably said in quite a vague fashion, next year, maybe.

Joan emailed and asked me to help with the interview of a possible country project manager she was thinking about hiring. We talked and felt it would be advantageous to go the Beira to interview and meet Neli. We could also visit the projects that are currently under way.

I kept thinking to myself, can I really do this? Just jump up and travel to Mozambique? Oh yeah, where exactly is Mozambique? I knew it neighbored Zimbabwe, other than that I couldn’t give any more details. After a quick Google search I gleaned a little more about this impoverished nation and its neighbors.

To make a long story short, Joan and I agreed to head on out to Mozambique and check up on things! How do you get to Beira, Mozambique? you might ask. Bermuda – London – Johannesburg – Beira. Something like 21 hours of flying, this does not include the down time at airports. It took two days to get there.

Once we arrived, I was in total awe, as I usually am whenever I land in a new country with a completely different culture.

Our first order of business, secure our luggage and the deal with Immigration. It seems as though we by-passed a number of folks waiting in the hall to be processed. We were escorted to the immigration room where we were given our visas. Pretty painless. Next on the agenda, meet the program manager. She was right there inside the Immigration terminal waiting for us.

Yes, inside the Immigration terminal. Can you imagine? I was floored but nevertheless happy to see and meet her. I’m sure she made our arrival in Beira that much easier given the many, many people she knows.

There were lots of things that happened while in Mozambique. I can talk about meeting Bishop White of the 18th District. I can mention the various conference events we attended. The people we met and got to know.

I want to jump straight into the adventure of being stranded out in the countryside. We had a rental jeep. We should have known there was a possibility of being stranded when it refused to start on the first night we were there. I wasn’t sure where we were that first night but I remember looking around thinking, this isn’t a good place to be stranded.

Luckily, the rental car mechanic came quickly and we were soon on our way. We figured the car was fixed because we didn’t have any other major problems getting it started until we went out to the land where the farm was being developed.

We arrived. Met the staff, looked around the property. Had a couple of meetings. I was busy documenting everything with my camera, so I was happy.

Just as dusk arrived, we decided it was time to head back to the hotel. With the sun setting, the temperature dropped. I happily jumped into the car and burrowed into my corner beside the door, bracing myself for the bumpy ride out to the main road.

Everyone was in and ready. Neli, who was driving, turned the key. The car engine started but didn’t catch. Try again. Same thing. She gave it a few more minutes and tried again. I remember thinking, this can’t be good!

We sat still for a few more minutes and Neli tried again. This time nothing. We figured it was the battery. Some men (and children) materialized from nowhere, I could have sworn there weren’t any houses nearby. Nevertheless, they were there to push. YAY! We would soon be on our way. Given that the car was a gear shift, I knew it could be done. I told Neli to put the car into first gear and then let out the clutch as we started moving. She didn’t know how to do it. I said, I would do it. So we switched places.

I was now in the driving seat and eagerly looking forward to getting us out of dodge. Push. Push. Push. We weren’t on a road just a dirt track. Despite the pushing, it didn’t start. When that didn’t work the helpers went on their merry way. The kids stayed, I guess for the entertainment value of our predicament.

I climbed back into my warm space in the back of the car and did what any red-blooded woman in my situation would do. I reached into my bag and pulled out my Kindle and started reading. Who needs to be rescued when you have a great book to curl up with?

After a few minutes it dawned on me that we might be stranded for a while. I checked the other passengers to see what provisions we had. A grand total of one protein bar, a small bottle of water – half full (or half empty depending on your point of view) and some chewing gum. Not enough to feed us all. How do I share a small protein bar with others? What about the water? Do we use the bottle top to pour out the water rations?

As the gravity of our situation settled in, I tried not to freak out about the wild animals that could be nearby! What about snakes? Realization dawned on me, we were in a kill or be bitten environment. Just as that thought entered my mind, it seemed as though the attack began.

I went into flight or fight mode. I became hyper aware of my surroundings and I zeroed in on our attacker. No one else seemed to sense what I did. No one else seemed concerned, based on the level of conversation taking place. I knew I didn’t have much time and even more I didn’t want to upset the car dwellers unnecessarily. I sprang into action and the stalkee became the stalker. The monster had found us by scent and I was determined to make sure it didn’t smell my fear.

While the others were talking happily, I went into action mode. I tracked the attacker with my eyes and didn’t let it out of my sight. Then just as I thought it would strike, I sprang into action. I tackled it and brought it down!

My fellow passengers stopped their chatter and stared at me. I could hear their thoughts – what the heck?

Taking a calming breath, I told them we had been sharing the car with a mosquito and I had just save their lives. After a beat, they went back to their various conversations. I know they were secretly happy I had saved them – the fact that they didn’t mention it suggests to me they were totally overwhelmed by my bravery!

Anyway, I went back to obsessing about our food and water situation while looking the epitome of calm as I read my book. I tried to remember exactly where the main road was and how long it would take to walk there. I wondered if they would send a helicopter to search for us when we didn’t check in at the hotel that night and the police were called in.

By my calculation seven hours later we heard the sound of a car. (Apparently by everyone else’s watch it was only 45 minutes). Unbeknowst to me, Neli had called in the infantry in the form of the rental car company. They sent a mechanic to fix our vehicle. Essentially, we were saved! YAY! Just as I was putting a plan of action in place to have us air lifted out of the country side.

Anyway, once the car started I took the wheel, and drove to the main road and back to the city of Beira. Come to find out we were no more than about five miles from our hotel. If felt like we were in the middle of nowhere, especially considering there were no street lights and I was able to glimpse fires at various compounds we passed along the way.

In case you are wondering, I still have the protein bar.

Note to self, carry protein bars when venturing off the beaten track in Mozambique.

The entire trip was fabulous and we were able to accomplish so much in the short week we were there.

So, where will I be next month?

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