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Rewind: December

Ahhh, December. How did we spend the holiday season in 2011? We…

  • Attended our first Zulu wedding, complete with the “white wedding” at a scenic mountain lodge in the morning, followed that afternoon/evening/night by the traditional tribal bit at the groom’s home in Umlazi township. Total fun, and a cool glimpse into a different culture.
  • Spent Christmas in the Drakensberg with Steph and Terry’s wild and wonderful family. While by no means cold, it’s at least a bit cool-ish in the mountains, so easier for a Virginian to pretend that it’s proper Christmas weather! Great times, and always a treat to be so warmly embraced by our adoptive family when we’re so far away from our own.
  • Did quite a bit of hanging out in and around the pool and yard. Lame? Maybe. Awesome? Definitely.
  • Nursed Roxy through another of her idiotic food binges: this time, it was approximately 2 pounds of Christmas cookies I had baked to give to friends (and not just any old cookie — those super rich, super dense “magic cookie bars” smothered in sweetened condensed milk). It was an AWFUL day for everyone involved (thanks Steph, thanks Jaime!)
  • Hosted some friends from Cape Town for a quick visit (Simon of Alphabetical and &Union fame, and his girl Gabby)
  • Had a low-key NYE at home with a few friends and a lot of homemade pizza

And possibly my favorite part of December this year… We decided that instead of sending gifts to our niece and nephews, we would pack up 6 boxes of food, toys, school supplies, and toiletries to send to the kids we got to know when we were in Mozambique. I drew up a short questionnaire for our niecephews about their favorite stuff like sports and school subjects and toys, had them fill in the answers, and then printed each out along with a photo. The six boxes were stuffed with canned goods, soap, toothpaste, stickers, balls, games, pencils, notebooks, and all kinds of other goodies, and also a photo and info about the kid the box was “from”.

Steph and Terry delivered the boxes during their post-holiday trip to Mozambique, and reported that the boxes were an absolute smash! Christmas in Moz (in poverty-stricken Inharrime, anyway) is a day for spending time with family and celebrating with a special meal (they may splurge on a chicken), but gifts don’t really come into play. So for 6 kids to receive 6 boxes of stuff? Pretty exciting.

I got Steph to help the kids fill out the same questionnaire that the American kids had done, and then shared the results. It was humbling, to say the least. Favorite toy for 4 of the 6 Moz kids was “a ball”. Mae’s most prized possession is “my shoes”. Favorite meal for most of them: “chicken”. Anyway, it was a fun project, and really helped to put us in the holiday spirit. If S&T are willing to lug 6 huge boxes through 4 border crossings again, we’ll have a re-do for 2012!

December, out!

Champ and Zasembo tie the knot!

At the township party with my new BFF Benathi – who later styled my hair for me, and when I asked how it looked, she said “Pretty good – but it’ll never look as good as mine”. Truth!

Johnny shares his holiday sweaters during Christmas in the Berg with the Gersbanks

Christmas afternoon cocktails at the Moffitts

Chillin’ by the pool on Boxing Day

Roxy’s belly after ingesting 2 pounds of cookies

Doing what we do best with Simon and Gabs

Mae, Olimpio and Ezio dig into their Christmas boxes while Steph translates a letter from one of the American kids

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Mozzie Boyz

Look who’s here visiting: Wilson and Bush, from Mozambique!

Cookin' up a delicious spread with Terry

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Part III of John’s epic 6-part wrapup of our Mozambique trip. To be continued tomorrow!

Mozambique is one of the poorest countries in the world, but in my humble opinion, only in an economic sense. We absolutely fell in love with the people, food, terrain, fauna, and all around beauty. It is hard not to project my American values onto Inharrime and call it a place of destitute poverty without any creature comforts and whose people have little chance to better their lives. But this is their home, and they love it. The people we met were joyful, happy, and engaged in living vibrant lives.

The only real local economy is subsistence farming and trading at the local market. Some families have a member living outside of the area sending money home to help the family, but jobs are extremely scarce even in cities, so people do what they need to do to get by. There was a terrible civil war in the 90’s where the entire infrastructure of government changed. They are on the way back, slowly but surely – businesses are growing and the civil infrastructure is improving.

There are no white people in Inharrime except the new Peace Corps volunteer, and the central part of town is crowded, bustling, and full of energy. Being the only white peeps and foreigners, we may have felt intimidated moving through the central part of town, but after Steph and Terry assured us we were safe (and welcome!), we dove right in. There is much less crime in Moz than in SA and we all felt quite safe navigating the tight back alleys to see the sights, shop for food, grab lunch, and try some local ‘cider’. People everywhere greeted us with a smile and were happy to share what they had with all. We ate lunch one day at Steph’s favorite local place – a tiny hut in the middle of the market. Lunch was a bowl of beans, rice, and veggies with the hottest peri-peri I’ve ever had, and an ice-cold, bottled Coke. 11 of us ate and drank for around 340 Meticaish, or R75, or $12.

Steph’s group of kid friends in town were the highlight of the trip. Wilson is a former student, 21 years old, who lives at home with his family. Lizzy and I had met him before when he came (by bus) to Durban to visit Steph and Terry. One of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet, he spent pretty much every night with us. He was a great translator (they speak Portuguese in Moz), mechanic, chef, teacher, and friend. He taught me how to make the best curry I’ve ever had – chicken and fresh coconut with peanuts.

Busha is 17 and in his final year of high school – an amazingly mature guy who wants to be a pilot and is also a great chef. The rest of the kids: Olimpio, Custodia, Esio, Humberto, Cushina, Mae, and a few others whose names I cant remember range in age from 4 to 15 and made several trips in the back of the truck to the farm to play soccer, swim, eat, and hang out. They were amazing kids, so polite, thankful, fun, inquisitive, and happy. Gildu and Horacio are the caretakers on the farm – again, super nice people who took amazingly good care of us.

We basically spent our week hanging out with the kids on the farm, spending time in the village, lounging, playing games, eating great food, drinking great beer, and being with great people. How can you go wrong, right?!…

$1 of delicious

Loving life on the farm

The king of the world

The slideshow is the same as yesterday’s – just added it here in case you missed it.

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Part II of John’s epic 6-part wrapup of our Mozambique trip. To be continued tomorrow!

Getting out of Maputo was hectic – took us about 2 hours to go the first 20km due to the makeshift markets lining each side of the highway and the sea of people. Once out of town there were about a hundred speed traps on the 5 hour drive. The rule of thumb is – don’t speed in Moz! The cops there don’t make much money, and love to accept a nice fat ‘donation’. We took our time and only got pulled over 3 times (among the 3 cars) with zero tickets.

My favorite was my own car being pulled over – the cop waved me to the side of the road, I complied, rolled my window down, and asked the standard ‘is there a problem officer’? He proceeded to ask where we were headed and was dumbfounded by my answer of Inharrime (you’ll see why later). I waited for him to say what I did wrong and how much it would cost when he asked – ‘do you have any cool drinks?’ I said we had water and a warm Diet Coke, which made him quite sad. He asked – ‘no Coke?’, I said nope, he asked ‘no Fanta?’, I said no, he said ‘let me see the Coke Light’, felt the can with the back of his hand, frowned, and waved me on saying ‘you can go.’ Classic!

We pressed on to Inharrime, which is on the main highway that runs all the way through Mozambique. While it’s on the main road, it’s not a tourist destination and most people just pass through. The farm is about 23km outside of town, with 110 hectares of cashew trees, a harvesting facility, 3 amazing guest cabins, 2 furnished campsites, a staff house, generator building, and an amazing assortment of beaches, piers, braais, and beauty. When Terry was in town getting some supplies for the farm about 5 years ago and saw a hottie white chick walking through town away from the main road, he drove by to ask if she was lost. That was Steph on her first day in town looking for her new house. Now they’re married and living in Durban and two of our best pals.

The best part of the trip was going around with ‘locals’ who knew where to go, what to see, how to speak Portuguese, and made us feel so comfortable in their home away from home. There’s something very freeing about not planning a thing and just putting your holiday in someone else’s very capable hands.

Not exactly the Ritz, but who cares?!

Saturday evening in Inharrime

The slideshow is the same as yesterday’s – just added it here in case you missed it.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Click play to begin, the speech bubble for captions, and the arrows to navigate — or just click here to launch a full-size view of the album.

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Part I of John’s epic 6-part wrapup of our Mozambique trip. To be continued tomorrow!

Wow, what a trip. This could be the best holiday we’ve ever had.  8 days, 25 + hours of beautiful driving, 3 countries, and a place and cast that all adds up to one epic trip.

The cast of characters:

Gael “Foxy” Campbell: visiting us from Scotland for a couple of weeks and was able to plan her trip so it coincided with this one. She is an amazing traveler, a totally chill and laid-back gal, and a great friend. You will remember her from her last trip to visit us in CT the same time as Devin and Mandy, and just after Tyler. She is our first repeat visitor and one of only a handful to come to Durban. In short, Foxy rocks.

Steph and Terry: our good friends from Durban, who (in addition to a sweet cottage in the Drakensberg) happen to have a cashew farm just outside the village of Inharrime in southern Mozambique, about 15 kilometres from the coast on a beautiful river. Terry started the farm about 10 years ago – and though they live full-time in Durban, they make a point to get up to the farm a few times a year. California girl Steph worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in Inharrime for 3 years and is still close with many of the kids in town, as she taught them English among other things.

Jess: Steph’s childhood friend from California, wrapping up a 3-month (!!!) visit with the Moz trip

Chris: Steph’s brainy and hilarious cousin, a student at Columbia University

Tash: The quintessential Durban girl! Also, fun fact, the ‘other’ model for Melika bags.

The farm is about a 12 hour drive from Durban, through 4 border posts (SA out, Swaziland in, Swaziland out, Mozambique in), and about a thousand speed traps. We left Durbs on Friday at around 5am, headed North through Swaziland, and into Mozambique to our Day 1 destination of Maputo – the capital city, where we stayed in the beautiful Hotel Cordosa on a hill overlooking downtown.

Maputo is an amazing city – super old, beautiful Portuguese architecture with tree-lined streets, lots of markets, art, amazing restaurants, and just a few VW sized potholes. We settled into rock shandy cocktails by the pool, had Thai food for dinner, lots of 2M beer (pronounced “dosh-em”), hit the breakfast buffet in the morning, then the Saturday morning market, and then the road to the farm.

Johhny G basks in the glory of Maputo

The peeps: Lizzy, Chris, John, Gael, Jess, Gildu, Terry, Steph, Busha, Wilson

…and the rest of the pics. Make sure you have a comfy chair and a fresh beverage, because there are (gulp) more than 600 of them. They’re pretty amazing – check them out if you have time!

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Click play to begin, the speech bubble for captions, and the arrows to navigate — or just click here to launch a full-size view of the album.

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