Top Gear Challenge

Lisa and I were not particularly looking forward to today – on the itinerary it had ‘Travel up to the Northern Districts (Moçimboa da Praia) 7-8 hours by car on rough roads’.

As the Hollies sang, ‘the road is long’

Seven to eight hours on rough roads! I have to admit that I quite liked the bumpy roads – it was fun and made the journey more interesting. But over seven hours of it didn’t have quite the same appeal. Lisa on the other hand HATED the bumpy roads and was absolutely dreading it. Something told me that the town of Moçimboa da Praia would be welcoming a couple of battered, bruised and potentially grumpy English girls tonight!

As Area Co-ordinators we spend a lot of time travelling across our areas (me in the SW, Lisa in the SE) and we have become very familiar with our cars. With their diesel engines perfect for the high mileage and their large boots suitable for stuffing full of TLM literature and resources, and in my case a large, spotty dog! They are ideal for The Leprosy Mission business on the roads of England. They would however have been useless on the roads between Pemba and Moçimboa da Praia. Here the TLM staff all have 4×4 trucks which can get over the bumps and out of the ditches with relative ease. These trucks don’t seem to mind when the tarmac runs out and the road cracks and breaks before them.

As I was being slammed against the door for what seemed like the millionth time and as I considered how likely it was to break bones just sitting in the back of a truck, I realised two things. (Lisa was trying the ‘I’m asleep so I can’t be conscious of the bumps’ method of coping with the journey!) Firstly I realised the importance of infrastructure. As I said I spend a lot of time travelling on roads, which in the main are smooth and easy to drive on. We have public transport and we can get across the country with relative ease. In Mozambique the roads are bumpy and largely unmetalled. To get anywhere takes a lot of time and if you don’t have a car – which of course most people don’t have, then it is either a very long walk or you need to find someone with a bicycle. This is not only difficult for those who live in rural areas, but also for those, like TLM who need to get to them. It poses all sorts of challenges and makes life incredibly difficult and costly.

Tiago, our amazing driver, and the perfectly suited TLM truck

The second thing I realised is that you need the right car for the right road. Programmes like Top Gear spend a lot of time telling us which cars are cool and which we shouldn’t touch with a barge pole. But in Mozambique what colour your car is, what additional features it comes with, what model or registration it is matters not. The only things that matter are whether it goes and if the suspension still works! Personally, as I once again slam into the door, banging my head in the process, I am glad that I am not in a brand new sports car which looks amazing on the forecourt, but that I am in an old but reliable truck which is perfectly suited to the road before me. I hope that I also manage to choose the right vehicle perfectly suited to my life journey, rather than the shiny new one recommended by people on TV who don’t know the roads I will have to travel.

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Back to basics….

The electrical metropolis that is Pemba.......at least when they switch the power on!

After yesterday’s relaxation, today was due to be one of catching up on paperwork, typing up notes and organising photos and film clips. All things which need to be done, but perhaps the less glamorous side of a field trip!

However, as I climbed out of bed and out from under the mosquito net, I realised that all was not well with the world. Firstly the fan was not working, which was making the room unbearably hot and sticky, and secondly my mobile phone and other electrical equipment had failed to charge their batteries. The laptop was dead after turning it on and opening a document. The video camera had a flashing battery light, and my mobile phone was heading that way too. It looked like very little work would get done at this rate.

It turned out that the electricity didn’t return to the house until after 6pm, long after it had turned dark outside. It made me chuckle, as we tried to join in with the house group worship, that Pemba had the widest coverage and most reliable electricity supply we’ve come across so far. Many of the villages we’ve visited have no electricity at all, and by comparison Pemba is dependant upon it. Yet here in town we were having to go back to basics.

A village in the bush, with not a pylon to be seen!

Some of the projects we’ve seen so far are reliant upon volunteers who need to keep in touch. They’ve been given mobile phones for this vital contact. But with no electricity they have to find another power source to recharge the phone’s battery. So the volunteers are given small solar panels to harness and use the sun’s mighty power. Every day the rises and shines – even on a cloudy day it is very bright here in Mozambique. Yet there are very few solar panels used here, except when absolutely necessary out in the bush.

It got me thinking about my power source, about what I plug into to recharge my batteries. Do I get my strength from the dependable Son who is always there, never fails and can bring hope and energy, even on dark or dull days? Or do I plug myself into the more worldly things – TV, films, radio, hobbies, other people, facebook, shopping, food etc. which are not necessarily bad, but are not always reliable and can let me down.

More often than I would care to admit, I think it is the latter, the worldly things which I go to first to restore my energy and power. Maybe I should use this time away from electricity to go back to basics in my spiritual life too.

A day in paradise…

Woo hoo! Today is a rest day, a day of relaxation and catching up on sleep. I have found it quite a shock that here in Mozambique they work on the sun clock rather than the time clock. So because the sun is up at 5am, so are the people, and the day starts a whole lot earlier than I am used to! So a day of not very much was going to be good.

A morning swim in a tropical paradise.....don't mind if I do!

It started with a trip to the local market so that Lisa and I could support the local economy buying alsorts of traditional and local products – well it seemed rude not to! Then we headed to the beach. Pemba is an up and coming tourist trap with Wimby Beach being the hot spot for all tourists wanting a beach encounter. It is well catered by a couple of restaurants complete with beach chairs and palm sun shades. The sand is golden and fine and the water turquoise and clear. After a delicious seafood kebab and an ice-cold drink, I could resist the water no longer and went for a refreshing swim.

After I had come back to dry land and was happily reclining under an umbrella with Lisa, I looked out at the tropical scene before me. And then I thought of all the sights and sounds of the previous few days – starving people, children dressed in rags, people with severe deformities as a result of their leprosy, such poverty and suffering. And here I was in paradise. How could this be the same place? How could there be such luxury so close to such poverty?

It would be easy and perhaps a natural response for me to feel guilty. To feel bad that I’m enjoying such luxuries when people I met hours ago are struggling to survive. To want to stop eating all I have because others have nothing. To resent the fact that I luckily grew up in a wealthy Western country with so many advantages in life, because others were not so lucky. To deny where I come from and give it all up – my relative wealth, possessions, education, privilege etc in order to feel better about myself and more equal to those I’ve met living in poverty.

But to do those things is to reject the gift that I have from God – the gift of being born with a head start. It is to deny all that he has given me and all that I have subsequently achieved and experienced. So perhaps it is about acknowledging the problems there are around the world and seeing the inequality, but not being trapped in a state of inactivity by guilt. But instead it is good to take time to celebrate and enjoy all that we have been given, before using these things to help those without. Just as Pemba is using its tropical beauty to bring investment and a rise in the standard of life to the community, then so we should see own our beauty and how we can positively impact the world because of it.