I was elated to arrive in Mozambique. Working at a children’s organization in a coastal village promised to be rewarding. Upon arriving in Jembesse and seeing the green trees, white sand, and clear blue water, I knew that this chapter in my journey would be more comfortable than the last. Mozambique was the most beautiful place I had ever seen.
Three Weeks Later
“So you’ve been to Mozambique?” a friend asked me. She would be catching a series of buses there the next morning. I grunted that I had.
“How was it?”
“Five stars. With the nightlife of Utah and the safety of urban Brazil, Nampula is a can’t-miss destination for the traveler seeking a true getaway.”
“Oh. So you didn’t like it?”
That was an understatement. I didn’t dislike everything about Mozambique of course. I met several lovely people there. The ocean was warm enough to swim in year-round and the country itself was stunning. This created a very seductive mirage in the jungle. Once you leave the coast though, the mirage disappears.
After being mislead about the job I was to work in Jembesse, I left and found work in Nampula. The hitchhiking to Nampula was actually one of the best trips I’ve been on and I’m still extremely grateful that the staff of Ruby Backpackers in Nampula let me work there on such short notice. Then the actual city came into focus. Shortly after arriving, I asked a friend what there was to do in town. “Avoid the police,” he responded. In my two weeks there, I had three people try to rob me and was stopped arbitrarily five times by police officers looking for bribes. All of this happened in on public streets in broad daylight. The fact that the robbers and police officers didn’t get a cent from me somehow makes me angrier. Take my phone if you can, but stop wasting my time and stop making me see every person as an adversary.
The police and robbers were unfortunately the most exciting thing in Nampula. The city had an official population of 300,000, the size of Iceland. Any city that size is bound to be interesting, I thought. Nampula didn’t have a movie theater. Or a danceclub. The Sunday Market, where craftsmen and artists from around the area would come to sell their work, was closed while I was there. A woman who was working at a non-governmental organization suggested that I go to two hotels in town. They both had reasonably priced Indian food and functioning wifi. One even had a pool, she told me. Nampula’s night life: avoid the police and go to hotels with wifi.
I was told by several people that Maputo, the capital city, was a prettier Nampula: dangerous, boring, and hot. It did have a cinema though. I thought about traveling there to look for more permanent work and another fresh start. Unfortunately, the road between Nampula and Maputo is largely controlled by Renamo, Mozambique’s opposition political party. Few buses travel the road as vehicles are regularly shot at or stolen by militants. The Mozambican government had a monopoly on the airlines inside the country and made travel by air prohibitively expensive. Maputo wasn’t a realistic option.
I could have looked for work further north. Pemba and Nacala are gorgeous coastal cities and the ocean makes nightlife unimportant. But it was time to go. With finite amounts of time and money, giving a first chance to a new country seemed more appropriate than giving a third chance to Mozambique. I found work in Malawi that would start the next week.
On the way out of Mozambique, of course, a man tried to pickpocket me while helping me flag down a truck. When I felt his hand on my hip I looked down and saw his index and middle fingers trying to lift my phone out of my pocket. He backed away and put his palms up, the universal signal for “Sorry about that. We cool?” Everything went red. I don’t remember how I reacted. My Israeli travel companion told me that my yelling was composed mostly of the mother of all bad words in its many forms. I should have saved my breath and beat him senseless. Regrets, regrets.
20 minutes later the police took us behind a restaurant, out of view of the highway, to check our passports and look in my bag for valuables. They found none and we quickly flagged down a passing bus. My friend and I looked for seats next to each other when a woman sitting alone made eye contact with me and then lifted her legs to cover the two empty seats next to her. Because Mozambique. We instead sat in aisle seats in two different rows and couldn’t talk to each other for the first six hours of the trip. This bus took us to the border with Malawi.
I was elated to arrive in Malawi. Working at a lakeside lodge promised to be lots of fun. Upon crossing the border and seeing the smiling Malawian cops waving to me, I knew that this chapter in my journey would be more comfortable than the last. Malawi looked like a paradise.