Maputo, Mozambique, South Africa.
I was tired of the daily grind, tired of the pampered life we lived in the foothills of Alberta. I wanted to see life, to feel the teeming blood of humanity. I packed a backpack and took off on a tour of Southern Africa.
In Africa there’s a rhythm to life; it’s a slow pace with an active beat.
It was barely eight in the morning and already a sweltering 32 degrees Celsius. The Mercado Municipal (marketplace) teemed with life as vendors, travellers, children and hawkers jostled each other.
Ladies carried massive baskets of Portuguese bread balanced on their heads as they moved without effort through the crowds. Men hawked armfuls of little girls’ dresses, and little children sold bananas for one metacais (Mozambican currency), and plastic grocery bags for three metacais.
A line of battered mini buses idled alongside the cracked-pothole-ridden sidewalk. I boarded the one for Manzini, Swaziland.
Three hours later the bus was jammed up with men, women and children, an old farmer and his two goats.
I wondered why the driver chained and padlocked the sliding door but I pushed the wondering out of my mind as I thought about my return to Swaziland, a place that could be considered staid compared to the overwhelming culture of Maputo.
I had closed my eyes to stave off waves of claustrophobia when a cool breeze, from a broken window two seats up, stroked my right cheek
After a few deep breaths of fresh air had dissipated the fear I opened my eyes to witness the most stunning scenery I had ever seen. The Indian Ocean retreated in hues of undulating blues.
The higher the bus climbed the more captivating the ocean appeared to me. I saw far beyond the shores to the gentle white spotted whale sharks I had swam with on a tour, I remembered the boat ride as it rode the waves, I thought I saw the sharp fins of killer sharks, my memory released the scent of the bloody water.
Africa is beautiful to see and fraught with dangers. Irresistible.
The scenery changed as palm trees blocked the ocean view. Grass huts on little farms materialized with scrub-spattered sandy yards, naked children played under the cool shade of trees, and Gogos (Grannies) fanned smoky fires. Pristine linens flapped in the wind strung up on twine between stunted trees. Far and near the earth was baked brown under the unrelenting sun.
The grass huts gave way to whitewashed rondavels, with blackened chimneys poking out of grass roofs.
The bus stopped to refuel at the midpoint of a mountain; the last ascent before the blessed descent to Swaziland.
Fifteen minutes later, as our bus groaned upwards we heard and felt resounding thunder. Fires spurted out of the mountainsides like strewn fireballs, and a torrential flood of water assaulted the countryside. The world went dark.
We were smack-dab in the middle of an honest-to-goodness flash flood, trapped in a worstcase scenario.
The fear inside the bus was putrid as babies cried, women prayed and men moaned. A few persons tapped out frenzied text messages; their last goodbyes? And the animals, the animals were as quiet as the grave.
I rocked my body as I whispered farewells to my loved ones back home, I prayed for a quick release into the afterlife. My heartbeats had slowed to the beat of acceptance. I was ready to go to that great beyond.
The driver braked, our senses returned, the senses that were lost in the collision of trepidations. What depths of danger lay before us? What rising wake will meet us at the edge of the cliff? Or worst of all, what awaited us beneath?
In the choke of the dark I heard a rushing river, I felt the bus move as it inched backwards. Were we losing traction against the onslaught?
A sound, faint and swift, grew louder. In my altered state it sounded like logs slamming around on its way to decimate the bus.
And suddenly he appeared with a beatific smile, he chomped on biltong (dried meat). He was a young goatherd driving his charges home…just another Tuesday in the life of a Swazi boy.
The young boy ran ahead of us, he moved from side to side as he herded the goats on. Our bus followed the young boy slowly. Him in his wet, tattered shorts, bare feet slapping the sodden ground, was our beacon in the storm.
We arrived in the town, we disembarked without a sound. I looked for the boy but he was gone, like an angel.
That evening I slept in a grass hut; I ate pap (the local porridge) and goat stew. I felt warmth, love, and kindness.
Faced with my mortality I was profounded by how simple life is, how beautiful breath is, how easy death could be, how the rhythm of living, wherever I may be, will always be an infinite blessing.
I have tried to make that goat stew a hundred times but it has never tasted as wonderful as that night. Maybe it was the moment, the time, the place?
What I did learn to do quite well?
Extend kindness everyday, and tell people they are loved, everyday.
Until next time keep up with my local community, and food travels, on twitter @glutenfreesam and for even more stories check out www.theprovince.com