When you have acquired a taste for dust,
The scent of our first rain,
you're hooked on Africa for life
And you will not be right again
Until you can watch the setting moon
And hear the jackals bark
And know they are around you,
Waiting in the dark.

When you long to see the elephants,
Or to hear the coucal's song
When the moonrise sets your blood on fire
You have been away too long.
It's time to cut the traces loose
And let your heart go free
Beyond that far horizon
Where your spirit yearns to be.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Schools Out for Summer

children on a crab collecting mission

We popped in to see the school while we were in Mozambique a week or so ago.  Although it was already school holidays and the children were at home or visiting relatives, we did manage to speak to the Head Teacher Senor Machal, whose village adjoins the school property.

Lucas (left) and Snr Machal, Head Teacher

I must say without the vibrant energy of the children, the acre of sand looked pretty dejected.  'Our' school room looked great but the others seemed to be in various states of disrepair. One classroom had a roof, but the palm leaf walls had fallen away - probably in a storm; another room had caniso walls like ours, but the roof was gone.  I expect all will be put together again for the new year once the rainy season is over. The summer rains bring wind storms that can be very destructive.

Lucas assures me he still intends to finish the concrete floor on 'our' schoolroom and the remaining roof sheets, but he has to wait for his annual leave.  The materials meanwhile are stored at his house. It is not safe to leave them in the deserted school yard.

Senor Machal at the grass hut where the school benches are stored for the holiday season
his wife chose not to be photographed

Senor Machal has taken the very smart benches we had made, and is storing them in a separate grass hut in his village.  We were taken there and shown that they were safely stored in a dry place.  This time I was able to give Lucas enough cash to make some more benches, with generous donations from Geli  and Kelly and Bill Smith from Hampshire, UK who were with us on the trip.

future scholars at Matsopane

Sadly some vandals had come in and destroyed one of the blackboards.  When the school has so little, it is incredible to think someone from the same village would do such a thing, but I suppose it only takes one person.  Hence the need to securely store the benches and books.

village women harvesting the coastal floodplains

Huge thanks to the efforts of Geli ,  Janet , and Amanda we have a growing nest egg of funds collected during the festive season, which will go towards having desks made. Please visit Amanda's blog to see her Christmas post about the school.  It really is wonderful to know that in these difficult economic times, and during the frenetic christmas season, there are people who can extend the spirit of giving to include this little school at the end of a long sandy track.  I know it makes a huge difference to the children and teachers, to know that there are people out there that think of them.

dhow fishermen bringing home the catch

Some people have asked if the children know about Christmas. Well certainly, there are various mission churches in the area, and I know Lucas' family go to the Catholic Church - but I very much doubt they know anything about Christmas lights, Santa, decorated trees, turkey feasts and the complaints of excess that follow a day of surfeit on the consumer side.

Heartfelt thanks on behalf of the Matsopane school to all who have supported them thus far and Merry Christmas wishes to one and all.

dhow fishing and tourism is a major source of income for the men of the village

Sunday, June 26, 2011

letters to and from

Sergio, his Car, and his Chicken
drawn by Orlando Jordao, Matsopane School

Head Teacher, Senor Machal receives the sheaf of letters and photos from Amanda 
Lucas (left) acts as interpreter for me
We are back from a quick run to Mozambique.  This time, I had two rather special packages to deliver to Matsopane School.  The first was an envelope containing a sheaf of letters written to the children of Matsopane school by a group of primary school children in Missouri, USA.  Inspired, motivated and collected by the lovely Amanda  you can read more about the school project she put together here .

the American letters; photo cribbed from Amanda's blog post
(hope thats ok Amanda??)

Included with the letters were some postcards of her hometown, maps of USA and the World to put the distance in context; pictures of Amanda, and her friends who assisted with translating the children's questions into Portuguese. Altogether a wonderful, magical, long arm of friendship reaching out across the miles.

handing out pencils and gifts from Geli 

The second package, was a pile of stationary from Geli including  paper, exercise books, pencils, pens, crayons, sharpeners, erasers, more pencils and more crayons - oh and i added in some balloons, and a packet of magic wands. Everything required for sending replies to the letters.

inside the schoolroom built by bloggers

On my previous visit, we had handed over funds to make benches for the new schoolroom. Here they are being put to full use.  The cement floor has yet to be thrown, and Lucas decided to build out of local materials rather than bricks and mortar as it is much cooler and more suitable to the tropical climate.  It is the smartest schoolroom on the acre of sand and thats for sure!  

the very smart and sturdy benches funded by us all
made out of teak wood which should last forever
The cement floor is still in the pipeline apparently.

All the children crowded around us as we handed over the letters and stationary packages.  Some played a game of grandmothers footsteps behind my back, running and giggling whenever I turned round. It was hard not to play but to stay focussed on the conversation with their Head Teacher.

Senor Machal  was very happy with the letters and stationary package 

children receiving pencils and stationary from dear Geli 
with which to draw the Letters of Reply

I think the writing is done by the teachers, thus the children seem to have answered the questions with pictures rather than words - but every picture tells a story! You can clearly see the tin roofs, and the reed walls which are the most usual, and practical, form of building for this environment - even if they dont last forever.

fish by Fabio Vilanculos

Monday, March 21, 2011

we did it!

new schoolroom - class in progress

We did it! here are the pictures of the new school room at Matsopane, built by Lucas and his team. A few zinc sheets remain to finish off the roof, and the concrete floor has yet to be laid, but the school now has at least one decent sized, weatherproof, rainproof, cool shady school room - thanks to all your efforts!  Some village politics - which I have written to you separately about, slowed down the process admittedly. But Lucas has all the materials to finish as soon as he gets the official go ahead.  In the meantime, we have given him funding to have 20 wooden benches built so that the children will no longer need to sit on the sand - or concrete when the floor is finished.

Lucas at the new schoolroom

We popped in to see the school room, and to drop off another box from Gorgeous Geli, full of footballs, books and various learning aids.  We also left them a big selection of acrylic paints, brushes, paper and magazines - together with sample pictures of paintings - including some by our dear Tessa -with which to inspire their creative imaginations.  There was also a collection of postcards sent in by some of you giving snippets of views of the world out there.  Everyone loves these postcards, and can pour over the images for ages discussing every detail.

Lucas, Head Teacher and another Teacher receiving the gifts of books, paints and FOOTBALLS

The children were in class.  Some came running out when we drove in, but were quickly called back in by the teachers and the little school in an acre of sand, was the picture of studious concentration - a far cry from the usual jubilant and energetic children that usually greet our arrival.  But this is what we want, and we saw no reason to disrupt the lessons this time.  All of our funding has gone into the building process lately so there were not enough books and pens for a handout ceremony this time anyhow.

We shook hands with the Head Teacher, and another Teacher who was not in class at that time.  I took a few sureptitious photos of Lucas standing by the new building. Here and there bright brown eyes peeped round corners at us, some smiling shyly - others watching, waiting for us to greet them and call them out into the bright sun.

We had battled to find the turn off to the school this time. The summer greenery had grown over the double sand track, making it look more like a footpath. "No-one has been here - you are the only ones" explained Lucas.  It is a year since we were last there. In the interim the only visitors to the school have arrived on foot.  The children follow their own paths through the villages and beside the cassava fields.

In the school yard, the new building stands out big and strong, next to the other ramshackle rooms.  It is made out of canisa - bundles of reeds bound together to form the walls.  This creates shade and protection whilst also allowing the air to circulate, keeping the interior cool and shady.  The tin roof covers the interior but will, in the fullness of time, extend by a couple of sheets on either side. It is shiny and new, bouncing the suns bright rays back into the sky.

Big congratulations to all who helped make this possible. Against all odds of distance and time, logistics and accessibility, and poor comms,  we have made a new schoolroom to replace the one destroyed by the cyclone in 2007. I think thats something to be proud of, and I am proud to know you all.  The real thanks are relayed on behalf of the children who now know that someone out there thinks of them and can make wishes come true.  There may still be frustrations but we have already made a huge difference to the learning opportunities of the children of Matsopane village. Thank you!

ps I just had a text message from Lucas that his friend will start making the benches next week.


Sunday, January 9, 2011

happy new year

This year has hit the ground running already with some wonderful positive input from our 'group of friends' on ways to help the school.  Having successfully rebuilt the school room last year (out of bricks and mortar with a tin roof which is hopefully cyclone proof this time)  we are now trying to save enough cash to make some wooden benches and desks.  The new school room has a cement floor, and while the children used to sit in the sand, they cannot sit on the cement for long periods - so benches are needed asap.

With some input already received from dear Geli and her friend in Germany, which I will match, we are already well on the way to wood for benches.

As soon as I can get up there, I will be able to post new pictures of the building and the school.  At the moment it is rainy season, so we will probably wait a bit but I am anxious to get there - its been too long!

In the meantime here are some more pictures from mozambique - sights seen along the  main coastal road to San Sabastiao.

rain soaked streets and a fast food joint

buying piri-piri from a roadside vendor

yellow mtel (cellphone) colours appearing everywhere
cellphones are huge in mozambique and have made such a difference for rural dwellers

one stop shop 
more roadside vendors

a truck full of bags of charcoal heading for markets in town
charcoal production is a village industry that consumes acres of indigenous forest

rainfall turns roadworks on the main coastal highway
into slippery mush

first view of the sea

we drove in rain for two days. the sunny skies of aqua blue made famous by Bob Dylan greeted us at the end of our journey

until next time then

ciao ciao


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

December greetings

collecting coconuts in the village

As this little school is so very far away, I dont get to go there as often as I would like.  Inbetween visits we collect books and school equipment into boxes which we can then deliver on our next trip.  Most of these wonderful boxes are collected by our dear friend Angela Schmidt  who lives in Germany but has taken these children into her heart.

This year  we handed over the funds to rebuild the school room. The roof was blown away in the cyclone of 2007 and the school was managing with makeshift shelters of poles and banana leaves.  I have yet to see the finished building but Lucas, who is managing the project and who ahs two children at the school, assures me that the building is finished and the roof is on.  Congratulations everyone and big heartfelt thanks on behalf of the children, parents and teachers at the school.

Hopefully we will go there in the new year and i can report back with words and photos.  In the meantime thought i would add a few photos from our last trip.

One of Geli's boxes ready to leave Germany

opening boxes at Matsopane School before watchful eyes

thanks Geli xx

brothers and uncles fishing on a reef
in the midday heat


So many more pictures but downloading time is finite so those are for another post.  Any suggestions always appreciated!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Mozambique Dreams

We arrive at night under a star spangled sky – too tired to think of anything but sleep after eighteen hours on the road. Morning arrives early with the soft watery sound of tidal floods trickling into the mangroves. The sea is flat as glass and the sun, just up, promises a languid day.

Despite the fog of too little sleep I have to leap out of bed and into the day. Trotting eagerly down the sand steps and along the board walk – sun bleached wood hard under my feet. Bright water coasts in covering fiddler crab holes and swirling between mangrove stems clothed in barnacles and whelks. I step onto the soft white sand already dazzling in the morning sun, to greet the ocean with sleepy feet. Silky warm water washes over my toes and ankles and I drink in the scene.

Distant sailing dhows coast silently past to fishing grounds. Sunlight bounces off the ripples left by fish activity just below the surface. Hermit crabs beetle past on a meandering path to somewhere. Their tracks intertwine and converge along the shallows and I have sand in my toes again.

The Bazaruto archipelago is a jewel in the crown of Mozambique’s 3000km tropical coastline. Seen from Google earth it is a swirl of indigo and turquoise seas hemmed in by a chain of islands and an outer reef that keeps the big seas and giant sea creatures at bay.

Here poverty and wealth are rubbing shoulders like so many places in Africa. After fifteen years of war in this country the islands have become a world famous tourist destination. Ski boats race past traditional dhows on their way to trawl the fishing grounds of the reef; conservationists fight to preserve marine life, while dhow crews net the shallows endlessly day and night. Tourism has created on ongoing market for seafood – and growing families need to be fed.

Perhaps it is the contrasts in Africa that draw our attention so insistently. So many opportunities to make a real difference – so much huge potential lying in wait. Held back, in the main, by bureaucracy, human greed, and corruption – global influences that escape the common man.

We spend Sunday finding our feet, unpacking our toys – fishing gear is set out and tackled up; brightly coloured fins and goggles appear; pale bodies seek the sun; camp supplies sorted and fridges stocked.

Monday I go with Lucas, the camp manager, to Morape School. Morape is the nearest village and the one the camp staff hail from. For several years now, we have been dropping boxes of school stationary and educational material at this school – all collected by my amazing friend Angela ( in Germany – paid for with monies earned from teaching English to neighbours children. The boxes are packed with exercise books, pencils, paints, toys, footballs, Portuguese text books, second hand reading glasses, first aid kits, chalk, and small bonus personal items. Into each box I add a photograph of Angela so that the teachers know who the gifts are coming from. Lucas translates for me and we ask the teacher for indicators of anything special they need for next time.

The original school house – a large thatched roof building – was blown down in the cyclone of 2007 – although the concrete base is intact and the flag pole has been re-erected at one end. It needs to be rebuilt. The school yard is an acre of sand fenced in with hand hewn poles. Within this yard are several loosely constructed shade dwellings with rows of bench seats made of poles. There are no desks as such and I wonder what the pupils lean on when doing their work. At the end of each room is a modern looking blackboard; in one room there is an impressive teacher’s desk.

Children gather round in open curiosity as the boxes are unpacked onto the concrete foundation of the old school. The teachers struggle to maintain discipline and keep children in line while books and pencils are handed out. There is much excitement – some children enjoy the camera, others look perplexed and wary; all are entirely engaging in their own way with guileless and spontaneous smiles.

Finally waving goodbye we leave the teachers to get on with their classes and wend our way on sand tracks to the beach to buy seafood from the dhows. A sleepy scene greets us. Fishing nets strung on a pole next to a monkey, tied by the waist to a tree stump in the shade of coconut palms. On seeing our interest in the monkey, a child taunts it gently to provoke interaction. The monkey bounces on his chain but never stretches the limit of its range.

Here the tidal reach is shallow. A dhow is on its way in so we walk down to meet it. Further along three figures are pulling in a net, but the catch is small and hardly replaces the energy expended on heaving in the net. We buy some calamari – strange sea creatures out of their element; fleshy soft beings with enormous blue eyes.

Perfect coastal days flee by – exploring mangroves on fishing canoes – those lovely broad ones that are so stable. With clear calm waters fish explode out of the water around us like silver bullets chased by our shadows. Snorkelling on reefs and sea grass beds where the many coloured starfish lie like cartoons dropped from above; bizarre and beguiling creatures amaze and intrigue. I have to pop my head up from time to time to be sure I am still on the same planet. Fabulous crabs that look like mobile pebbles graced with soft pink seaweed; urchins and slugs, clown fish, anenomes, and a carpet of bling from broken sand oyster shells.

In the reserve the first game introductions have started. Three zebra were released a month ago, and at the bomas, nyalla and wildebeest acclimatise to their new surroundings. Next week, more nyalla, wildebeest, waterbuck, eland and giraffe will arrive. They have been a long time coming as the Sanctuary (Vilanculos Coastal Wildlife Sanctuary – have prioritised community upliftment projects.

The moon waxes and wanes, the rhythm of the tides controls our days, and all too soon a week rushes by with the last outgoing tide. We drive through the night, taking turns at the wheel. There are people walking along the road all through the night – drunkards and partygoers make way for early risers and the workforce with never a break in-between. It is a constant stream. By morning we are back in the drought stricken interior. Hopes of rainfall in our absence are dashed. The skinny warthogs come trotting in when they hear our vehicles approach – and the monkeys return around sunset to watch for gaps in doors and windows. The coastal dream becomes a memory package to be stored and revisited at whim.

Reposted by Val ~ October 22, 2008