And I have to admit – that includes my own. Maybe that is one of those things that comes from being in a big family, like the one in which I grew up. My birthday was the one day of the year that was all mine. Now that I am an adult I still like the feeling of celebration and good wishes although I find that I am a lot more excited about my kid’s birthdays than my own. I tell them it is because I was the one doing the birth-thing so it makes it my birthday too. They are sick of that comment!
Before I left the North American continent I decided that I was going to go to a beach for my birthday. The beach, one of my favorite places to be, is absent in Arizona, and plentiful in Mozambique, a country that hosts a stunning coastline along the Indian Ocean. I didn’t get to one of the pristine, white sand, blue water beaches north of here, but I did go across the port to a small bit of land, still part of Maputo City, called Catembe, where there is a very active community and constant transport by boat and ferry to and from mainland Maputo.
My birthday is on Wednesday this year – so I opted for a picnic/potluck on Saturday which was planned with the help of my friend and flat-mate, Rica. She lived on Catembe for 1 ½ years and knows the good spots, the travel time to and fro, and so on.
Our group included VSO volunteers, some of their families and friends. While too lengthy and complicated to list everyone, you will meet some of them as their names pop up throughout this blog. As the Saturday, 25 de Setembro, also happened to be a holiday in Mozambique honoring their armed forces, we knew to expect a busy day with many families going across to the island. We were unloading at Maputo port when a very drunk and rude military fellow came over to yell and swear at us, pushing me and Maggie around, until Rica yelled at his sober counterpart to control the situation. After that no problems. (Maggie, a VSO volunteer, was our ride to Maputo port. Also attending was Maggie’s 8 year old daughter, Genesis along with her 6 year old friend, Victoria, and a lovely family friend, Natasha, 17 yrs. Maggie is the only one volunteering here with a youngster so Genesis gets a lot of attention!)
The scene at the Maputo port was controlled chaos. Along with a long line of cars waiting to get onto the ferry, there were many, many people milling about. Some were people who obviously lived in Catembe and were going back with provisions. But most of the people were going across to enjoy the holiday. While many were dressed beach-casually like us, what was surprising to me were the great many people dressed in “Sunday-best;” men with ironed dress shirts and women in party dresses and high-heeled shoes – I have no idea how they walked in the sand with those on!
The most wonderful people-watching moment for me was when a young woman in a gorgeous blue satin gown and 3” heels, who was carrying a very dead, fully feathered, head still attached chicken stepped onto the very uneven wooden bridge to the boats; she had a hold of the feet so it dangled upside-down, wings extended, and beak dripping. The rest of her group had boxes of food and cerveja – beer - and a small grill. It looked to be a good feast.
When we finally reached the front of the queue (not called the “line” here) we opted to board a small boat to take us across rather than the ferry which looked overloaded with many cars and many people. Our boat turned out to be equally over-crowed as it ought to realistically hold about 10 people, but was packed with easily 20 of us. Mohammed (my learning-Portuguese partner) and Maggie both told me they didn’t know how to swim; I said they would have to flip a coin to decide between them who I would rescue first if the boat went down. The wind was quite strong, making the 15 minute trip across very choppy. Every one made it across without getting ill, though for certain, there were some pale faces and queasy stomachs.
We disembarked and began a long but pleasant walk that took us about 1 ½ miles or so down the beach, well beyond the partying crowds to a wonderfully quiet and virtually empty stretch. The tide was out when we arrived, leaving at least 200 yards of wet packed sand, making the walk quite easy for anyone without high heels.
What I particularly liked about the walk was Mohammed’s delight at the shells and sea life that were exposed with the tide so low. He said he had seen pictures of some of the shells in school but had never seen any in real life. The beach was well populated with living sea urchins covered with spines waiting for high tide, and spine-less sea urchin shells. He picked quite a few of these up as well as a variety of shells that I did my best to identify, but some were strange also to me. I had to encourage him to leave the shells that were still housing living creatures, if not for any other reason but that they would soon smell quite horrible. We found a surprising amount of sea glass of various colors, including my favorite, blue. I have trouble finding sea glass nowadays on the California beaches I visit, perhaps because in the USA we use cans and plastic far more often than glass. He and I only argued over who-saw-what-first a few times (yes Mom – I am still the consummate collector).
Our picnic was an eclectic and wonderful feast. We had pansit, a traditional fried noodle dish from the Philippines (c/o Rica), pasta salad (me), chapatti – a flat heavy sort of bread traditionally Kenyan (c/o Mohammad), and other potluck fare (samosas, hard boiled eggs, oranges, etc), There was a very nice cake with “Happy Birthday, Biss” in chocolate on the top (c/o Mohammed and Ricky - another volunteer on his way home to the Philippines). We played dodge ball using rolled up socks, and “patintero,” a game from the Philippines that is really fun, can be very competitive (what, me? competitive?) but too hard to explain - you can look it up (I found this site: http://www.seasite.niu.edu/Tagalog/Filipino_Games/patintero.htm). The game involves two teams and a lot of running. My last bit of sea-side running about included something from my “do before I am 50 yrs old” – I managed to do two very inept cartwheels, but cartwheels none the less. I still want to stand on my head… maybe in a few months when I don’t hurt anymore!
I cut the cake and opened a couple of very nice gifts, and was serenaded (guitar accompanying) with three different happy birthday songs – from Kenya, the Philippines and a local Portuguese one. People sang quite a bit during the day with Paolo, Rica’s boyfriend, or his friend, Moises, playing the guitar.
Rica and I took a long stroll past some beautiful homes, and many decaying, mostly uninhabited houses, to a landmark hotel, Catembe Gallery Hotel,that is on the beach front. Of note in the hotel is a small museum dedicated to Samora Machel (also worth looking up), a charismatic and beloved leader who was the first president of Mozambique after the civil war. He died in a plane crash – it is considered to be an assassination as the plane was believed to have been hijacked and then crashed. I am told that in Mozambique, Machel is thought of in much the same way as Nelson Mandela is in South Africa, and in fact they were friends. Interestingly, after Samora Machel died, his widow married Nelson Mandela.
Though we were there for a sunny, breezy 7 hours, we didn’t go swimming as the water is not clean - all sorts of waste and chemicals are dumped there. It is clean enough to splash in the surf and the kids took full advantage.
Our return was uneventful. I wish I could sit with you over a beer and prawns (being sold fresh and cheaply, $1.50 USD for about 2 lbs at the Catembe port) and tell you more vignettes about the day, as to write them here would run much too long. Suffice to say it was a very lovely way to celebrate my birthday with very good new friends. As Victoria, Genesis’ 6 year old friend, said in her very good English, “Man, it was such a good party!”
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|I love birthdays!|
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