October 4 was “Peace Day” here in Mozambique, a day to remember the peace accords that were signed 23 years ago to officially bring an end to the civil war. We were enjoying a different kind of peace, as we had just rolled back into Balama and could finally rest after a long week-long road trip. Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t a bad trip—but it was the kind that reminded us to think twice before wishing for a break from the daily grind.
The trip began on Sunday. Our Wycliffe colleagues, John and Susan, had a flight to catch in Nampula, and we were planning to drive their Land Rover back to Balama while we waited for our car to be imported. Now Nampula is about 500 kilometers from here. If that doesn’t mean anything to you, just figure that, time-wise, 1 kilometer of Mozambique travel is equal to about 1 mile of U.S. travel. A trip to Nampula takes all day.
No sooner had we pulled into Montepuez (less than an hour’s drive out of town) than we heard a loud thump and a “bump-bump-bump-bump-bump” sound coming from the front right wheel well. For the second time in as many trips, the part that holds the shock absorber in place had broken at the place where it is bolted down. A little more stress on that thing and it would be shot right through, leaving the car undriveable.
Zacarias, their household employee who was traveling with us, suggested driving to one of the local churches where he knew a mechanic. As it was fifteen minutes till nine o’clock, churchgoers were already pouring in, and we could hear them warming up their voices. We did find the mechanic—and he called a friend who told us he had the part—but as this friend was out of town and only returning in the afternoon, we decided to attend the service while we awaited mechanical assistance.
We weren’t really dressed for church, and we felt a bit sheepish about the fact we had been traveling on Sunday (not a good excuse for skipping church here!), but we dutifully followed the usher to our front-row seat as the congregation continued their singing. Turns out it was some kind of special service. It lasted almost four hours. Afterward, we mingled outside, dripping with sweat in the high noon sun, still awaiting news on the car. To make a long story short, John managed to fix the car, but we didn’t get on the road until more than five more hours had passed. By that time it was 6 p.m., and dusk was already giving way to dark. Oh well. This colleague never was one to observe the conventional wisdom never to drive at night in Africa.
When we finally arrived in Nampula, it was after 1 a.m. We were greeted inside our friends’ house by their pet bush baby—or rather, evidences of their pet bush baby. But we were just happy to be at our destination and to rest for a bit.
After leaving our colleagues at the airport two days later, we picked up a pastor friend (named “Sunday”) and his wife at the bus station and continued south toward a town called Mocuba. We had arranged to attend the Bible school graduation ceremony of Amisse, the pastor of the local church we attend and one of the members of the Makua-Metto translation team. For the past three years, he has been doing a theology program that involves traveling to the school for intensive courses every other month. Since our colleague John wouldn’t be there to represent our organization, we figured this would be a good way for us to invest in our relationship with Pastor Amisse. Turns out there was more opportunity for cultural learning ahead of us than we imagined.
When we arrived after a six-hour drive, saw the school, and greeted Amisse and his wife, the first thing we found out is that the graduation ceremony had been postponed by a day because of a last-minute government-sponsored event involving local pastors and church leaders. So we ended up stuck with nothing to do on Thursday. We were hopeful we could use the time to relax and catch up a bit on e-mail. As it was getting late in the afternoon, we got in the car and Amisse led us to the guest house where we were to stay, sharing a bathroom with Pastor Sunday and his wife. The accommodations—in a former colonial house—were quite nice, equipped even with a fully functional air conditioning unit in the rooms.
One of the stressful things about road-tripping here is that there are no McDonalds! In most towns it is hard to find any restaurant at all. Eating out is not really a “thing” here, and we weren’t sure what our traveling companions would want to do for dinner that night. Fortunately, they had been recommended a restaurant that served plates of local food for about $3. We would end up eating at the same place two other times over our stay.
In the morning we learned over breakfast that Pastor Sunday had already planned a way to make use of the extra time. He had called a meeting of several local pastors and church leaders in the area in order to elect a provincial leader. Churches here tend to be rather hierarchical. Pastor Sunday happens to be the national head of the Missionary Church denomination in Mozambique (the same Missionary Church found in the Midwestern U.S.), which, ironically, is rather decentralized back home.
Being the only one there with a car, I was called upon to pick up these visiting pastors in town and bring them to our guest house. Once there, we weren’t sure whether to stick around for the meeting or not. We knew it would be important to be present long enough to be introduced to them, since this is important when meeting someone for the first time. After that, it felt awkward to just leave, so we ended up staying in our seats as the group of eight elected a provincial pastor. Elizabeth served tea; we both counted ballots.
By the time it was over my services were needed again to drive several people to different places around town. The day filled up quickly, and by the end of it there wasn’t time to even open our e-mail.
Friday was graduation day. The Bible school is on the way out of town, and we arrived with bags packed and car loaded, hoping to still make it back to Nampula before nightfall. It was a beautiful day with blue sky and sunshine. An outdoor pavilion was decorated with colorful banners and white paper chains, and the nine graduates were dressed in what looked like gospel choir robes.
We marched in behind them to our seats, as they danced and sang an acapella song. The Zambezi River region in that part of central Mozambique has a wonderful choral music tradition. I wish I had brought a video camera to catch all the gorgeous African harmonies we heard throughout the ceremony—though recordings can never do it justice. One time years ago when I heard a full college choir perform Handel’s Messiah, I closed my eyes and felt I was hearing the angels in heaven. Suffice it to say that the music we heard at the graduation was every bit as angelic in its own way.
The service got a little long at the end, when the requisite words of acknowledgement were spoken by and to the government officials and important people in attendance. Afterward, we were fed a huge meal with other pastors in attendance. Eating quickly wasn’t a problem, since people tend not to talk much while they eat here; I guess they are too focused on the task at hand. As we headed to the car, we were approached by Amisse asking us to carry a sack of corn and beans to his family back home. He also asked if we could give a ride to a schoolmate of his. Since we had an open seat in the back, I agreed.
We got on the road early afternoon and soon ran into an unexpected adventure. Shortly past Mocuba, a bridge was out. There was a steep gravel bypass that we had taken on our journey south, where a large group of locals had been gathered to watch a recently overturned truck. This time when we arrived, a man motioned me to bypass the bypass and instead go down a steep embankment leading to a shallow creek, where someone had placed enough large rocks to allow a 4×4 vehicle like ours to pass through. Supposing the original bypass was closed, I followed this man’s directive, though I soon began to wonder if I had done the right thing. I was met at the creek by a mob of young guys demanding payment in order to cross. So I continued to the creek passing but stalled on the first attempt up the sandy hill on the other side. On the second attempt I barely succeeded in reaching the top, thanks to a push from the guys who ran alongside the car asking for money afterward. Had I been alone, I would probably have given them what they wanted, but Pastor Sunday was shouting to me from the back seat: “Don’t stop! These guys are trying to cheat you!” So on I went, eventually leaving them in the dust as we continued on our journey.
We didn’t have much time to celebrate the successful crossing, because about this time our extra passenger received a text message on his phone informing him that his older brother had died the night before. We were surprised at how matter-of-factly he reported this information. No tears, no visible signs of grief. It did put a bit of a damper on the rest of the trip, but mainly because we didn’t know if it was OK to make normal conversation again—which is just what the Africans in the car eventually did. It’s not that people don’t grieve here, but premature death seems to be a part of life that people are accustomed to dealing with.
The rest of the journey was uneventful in comparison. We arrived in Nampula at dusk, which was probably about the worst time we could have arrived traffic-wise. Thankfully, we were able to navigate the swarms of pedestrians, motorbikes, trucks, and bicycles on the road. Tired out and thinking we were going straight to our lodging for the night, both Elizabeth and I were surprised when we realized Pastor Sunday had arranged to stop and visit a local friend on the way. So we braved a neighborhood marked by hilly dirt roads and narrow passageways, maneuvering the Land Rover in spaces too close for comfort. But we made it. About 9 p.m. we arrived back at our missionary friends’ house and rested well, aside from a midnight encounter with their bush baby.
One more full day of driving, relatively uneventful and enjoyable, and we arrived back in Balama.