6/05/2005

Introduction: The Mozambique Adventure.....

When I was in Malawi I wrote huge letters back to a girl back home in the UK about absolutely everything - I was experiencing new ways of life and cultures and getting involved in all sorts of mischief all of which made great story telling material - I also found that writing about these times gave me a chance to relive it all and small details were never forgotten as they would be if you just used memory alone.
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One of my most punishing and eventful journeys was the trip to Mozambique back in 2000 - I was packed off in a giant creaking, rusty haulage truck with a bemused driver called Lewis and sent to the port of Beira in Moz from my home at the time of Blantyre in Southern Malawi (if you look at a map of Africa, Moz is that big chunk on the bottom right next to Zim - Malawi is that mini one above Moz whose make up is basically half a lake) - initially I thought being a trucker in Mozambique was fantastic, but my initial joyful face of unbridled optimism would soon be replaced by a steely thousand yard stare of grim determination by the journeys end.
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For an immature little English troublemaking monkey it was a good wake up call, opening my eyes to the bigger picture of the world. The trips purpose was allegedly to give me an insight into how our tea got from point A to point B and observe all the relevant malarkey going on in the port and what not – I had been working in the Malawi office handling tracking you see – the process of updating folk on the whereabouts of their tea.
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I was responsible for tracing the position of tea via invoice numbers from whse to shipment and up to this point I had always treated it as fact that if tea had been loaded on a truck outside in my yard it was done with. I assumed that once it has been driven off to either the Moz port of Beira or the dry port of Jo’burg in South Africa, then it was more or less as good as in the port awaiting shipment.
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My trip to Moz taught me there was plenty in-between.
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To give you an idea of the intended time – I was to leave on a Tuesday and travel the 2000km or so there and back to arrive in Blantyre again by Thursday or Friday in time to hook up with friends and spend my last weekend in Malawi at Lake Nyasa. All sounded perfect. Califragifuckinglistic in fact.
In the end my journey can be summed up as a cooking broth of mayhem and frustration whose ingredients involved bureaucracy, documentation, a brothel of angry noisy hookers, home-brewed alcohol, mosquitoes, breakdowns in the middle of nowhere, politely refusing to sleep with someone’s cousin, no change of clothes, lack of food & water, sleeping two to the cab, money changing street robbers, dodgy wooden bridges across doom inviting ravines, minibuses with no doors or windows, 48 hours without sleep and a wrath of god Cyclone.
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The whole story was documented in letter form that I was writing to my friend at the time – then, once I’d survived the ordeal and returned in one piece I turned it into the report I was supposed to write on the whole “trucking experience” for my bosses in Holland.
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The report was unconventional to say the least and can be found by clicking the following: (The Moz adventure) - but is also directly below this in a better adaptation for the web. - Later on in life when I got the chance to go to Vietnam and set up the office there, the head of the company told me he'd read it and even though it shows my naivety and immaturity at times, it was still one of the main reasons he thought I could handle the job in Vietnam – as if I could deal with the chaos of Mozambique, I could deal with anything......
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So it kind of is in some way responsible for where I am today and shall forever remain as a printed record of one of the most important weeks of my life – I’ll never forget the details now - I'm very glad I went - if not such a happy experience at the time.

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Spo 6/05/2005 11:40:00 am Califragalistic Folk
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2/04/2000

The Original Mozambique Report - word for word.....

Date: 17/04/00 Time: Typed during the afternoon & evening. To: D.Brown/J.Vart/A.Longstaff From: S.O’Neill Report 7: The Mozambican “Experience” - On Tuesday 4th of April it was decided that it would be a good idea for me to jump in a GDC truck and follow its path down through Tete, on to the port of Beira and back again (about 1000km each way). Apparently this would give me a greater appreciation of how our loads get to their destination than when I simply track the progress of containers via status reports. I was supposed to have made this trip earlier during my stay in Blantyre and had almost jumped onto a different truck to make this fateful journey around a month beforehand - on that occasion a last minute realisation stopped a potentially disastrous situation occurring. - Not only did the visa have a “transit” stamp rather than “entry” but it was also out of date by around four or five days. This was discovered just before starting the expedition into the world of the trucker and could of resulted in either being picked up at the border for false documentation or, if this had passed customs notice (very possible), being arrested for illegally travelling to Beira on an transit visa. (i.e. a two-day allowance for passing threw the Tete corridor on the way to Harare in Zim etc.). After actually completing the assignment I feel that the latter two options mentioned would have been preferable to actually “enduring” the experience of actually going. - The Objective: - The initial idea of the trip was that I should observe and take in all the problems and different scenarios the loads we send via this route have to endure to arrive at their destination. I should see such things as the GDC depot, fuelling points, the port and it’s operation, loading and offloading and the roads that have to be travelled upon. All this was to increase my knowledge of how the tea industry operates with regard to transport. Who could of known that what was initially intended to be an education in the appreciation of the transporting side of tea would turn out to be an appreciation of the importance of life itself. - Mr. Brown (who I later found out has “suffered” a similar experience) and Mr. Darby organised the trip and it was arranged that I would travel down to Beira and back again via one of the GDC trailers. The truck and trailer was to travel without a load for speed purposes, and then load rice to be brought back to Blantyre for GDC. All this was supposed to take around four days. Four very long days…………. - The beginning of the journey: foolish optimism. - The following report is written using exact quotations from a diary of the trip written to my good friend Anna while it was in progress, from the enthusiastic approach at the beginning of proceedings, to the single-minded, straight-forward “get me out of here” intention at the end. In the interests of authenticity and to convey the genuine feelings of the time I've left all the cursing and swearing in place - obviously I censored using **** these when handing it in to the bosses. The author would like to hope that it can be used as an educational form of prevention for all those thinking of attempting a similar trip!: - Tuesday 4th April: Into the abyss - “Right then, it’s about 12.30 and I’ve just finished my 52000 kilo blend, played markets and stood up for myself in the auction and now this time I’m definitely jumping on a truck to travel down to Tete, pick up some Maize and go down to Beira, unload and pick up some rice or whatever and come back to Blantyre”. - “I’M A TRUCKER! FANTASTIC! SPLENDID!” - “Don’t worry I will behave – I know there’s floods and threatening civil war and all those problems next door in Zimbabwe but I’m far too lucky for anything serious to befall me I’m sure. All I hope is that it is a wonderful trip and that I can get back to Blantyre in good time for Friday what with it being my last weekend in Malawi and everything” - “I will attempt to write while in transit despite the bumpy terrain” - The Truck it’s self was a gargantuan relic of many hardened travels and reminded me of the ones Burt Reynolds hurdled in Smokey and the Bandit. It took some effort to climb up into the cab and once there I realised the hardened exterior also applied to the interior as well – holes where any electrical radio like equipment should be, broken dials and dash board, one long tattered seat that could probably sit three across and a sort of ramshackle sleeping area behind that perhaps one person could lie flat along and have just about enough room to sleep in moderate comfort. NOTE: in retrospect, moderate comfort was really stretching the truth. - “O.K it’s about 3.00pm and I’m on my way into Mozambique after just passing the border at Zobway. It was 110km from Balntyre but we aren’t carrying a load so we did that in about an hour or so. The driver is called Lewis Jr. and he’s a Portuguese/Mozambican - he’s been driving trucks for 10 years so I’m not to worry” - “Right now we are making our way round these winding roads threw the mountains and on our way to the Mwanzan border and then on to Tete. Excellent!” - “You pay 5 dollars at Mwanza and change some money as well, which I had no problems with after some haggling – 15000 Meticash for the dollar when the current rate is 14000. Of course he tried to short change me but I made sure I counted” - At this point the road did not allow for writing to take place while driving – various words scribbled said things such as “Amazing open mouth fantastic views!” and “Beautiful flat dusky African bush country” Please note the jovial mood expectant of a pleasant journey. - Upon arriving in Tete that night we visited the GDC depot and had a meal with Lewis JR’s cousin and friends. I was informed before the journey by Mr.Darby that I would probably stay at Lewis’s house in Tete but then Lewis explained that he was having some “problems” with the wife at the moment and that we would both be sleeping in the Cab. These problems I put down at the time to perhaps a feeling of animosity towards his long haul journeys. I later deduced that this would be due to the fact Lewis likes drinking - an awful lot - and he also seems to have a lot of girlfriends dotted around various stops a long the way. - Sleeping two to the cab wasn’t too bad as I had discovered the local brew Manica that has alcohol 6% and comes in a very large bottle which allows one to lapse into unconsciousness regardless of comfort very easily. My deduction was that although it was not a comfortable experience for two people, I could put up with it for maybe one or two nights. NOTE: Upon return I would later learn that what I drank when I thought I was drinking Manica was in fact an evil home brew of note. - Wednesday 5th April: Hold up - “We have stopped in the outskirts of Tete to fill the truck up with Diesel after spending the night in the truck. This is real Trucking life not like those guy’s simply running up and down the M25 I’m sure!” - “Hmmm…..things seem to be taking a long time….. Ah well more time to write I suppose. When driving this huge battered old machine around twisting mountain roads before opening out onto the plains where even though the road looks straight (and most of it is) you still have to ski almost as you drive dancing between the potholes and bumps, making your way towards the city. The surrounding landscape is quite breathtaking with an abundance of mountain ranges and hills in the distance with African bush stretching as far as the eye can see. The Zooa-looka-lowa (sunset) is of course fantabulous.” - “Problem with all this amazing possible exploration territory is that unfortunately it’s full of land mines left over from the civil war. The civil war between Renamo & Freelimo finished in 1992 with Freelimo taking power under Chissano. The war ravaged this country and you can still see its effects as you pass wrecked vehicles and broken down buildings. Graffiti is everywhere supporting both sides from what I can decipher. - The infrastructure is still in tatters with the remains of things such as desolate railway lines and dis-used carts littering the area around us at the moment. Of particular significance is the rusted hollowed out shell of the front of a train. It’s half buried in the ground covered in rust and nearly enveloped by a giant anthill. I don’t think even British Rail has that sort of problem - I can imagine the station master announcing that the 5.15 from London has been delayed because they are still trying to remove it from the ground and are clearing the ant hill that has covered it overnight – certainly a little more serious than leaves on the track” - “Lewis has also informed me that if and when nature calls en-route then I should not stray too far from the truck due to the problem of Land mines still littering the surrounding bush area. The machines are slowly clearing sections of land but this is Africa and things take time. Meanwhile people are still dying ten years after the war has ended. In the South the situation is no doubt even more serious due to the flooding displacing them all and repositioning in areas already cleared. Effectively this means they will have to start all over again. Improving things such as roads and rail links is a more problematic task as a result. Once told is enough when it comes to not going wandering admiring the scenery so as to avoid being scattered all over it” - “The situation is as I say slowly being rectified and I imagine this will gather force with outside interest due to the vast amount of salts, minerals and fossil fuels such as coal which could be mined and harvested from the land. For the moment however things are, for want of a better word, pretty much fucked” - Later after loading with Diesel – a process that took a long time due to “documentation” and general laziness of people involved with solving the situation - - “As we headed towards Tete I asked if the bridge we were travelling across was the famous one across the Zambezi river that people had been telling me about, Lewis shook his head and pointed to the corner ahead – Ay-Yi-Yi – that’s a bridge!” - “Imagine tower bridge with a similar structure to the Golden Gate, went African Style and surround it with a sprawling shanty town-esque city that’s full of life, fire, electricity (sporadic), mud, concrete, cars and trucks and mini buses all in varying states of states of operation, random dogs, chickens and people meandering around the place, (some with rabies, some without) folk sitting, walking, and leaning with no particular purpose or conviction, shacks next to houses, dirt roads next to fly-overs and a monumental passage way across the water leading to the centre of it all and you should have a picture in your mind” - “I have yet to go into the centre of Tete (NOTE:I had but didn’t realise, I was looking for something along the lines of shops and places to eat etc. in fact the centre of Tete is pretty much identical to the rest of Tete i.e. very hot, broken dusty and covered in rubbish and people) perhaps Lewis will show me around later. Things are getting pretty hot in the cab and I think I’ve been eaten a little more than I realised by Mosquito’s last night as result of Manica putting me to sleep without putting the net up first” - “Right now I’m awaiting Lewis’s return as he has gone to get his licence stamped by the police. I hope he comes back as I’ve heard stories about Mozambican jails from Derek Kuavalo and I can’t drive one of these things. Ah well Zimachitika. Lewis is cool. He’s probably about 45/50 years old and has been driving trucks for around 10 years, 7 for GDC, which is the Transport Company we mostly use to get our tea to either Joberg or Beira . He doesn’t say much sometimes however. Drew and Mike Darby, the boss, sorted this trip out for me – I must remind myself to thank them when I get back” NOTE: said in all seriousness at the time. - “cool, chabwino, he’s back, perhaps we are on our way – no he’s going to see his cousin from last night. I’ll stay here as I don’t speak Portuguese apart from com-e-stas? Tabo, munto obligato and por-favor. In fact I’m speaking more Chechewa than English since I came here, as, as close to the border as we are that language seems the second to Portuguese. - Hey it’s getting hot and the smell of the rubbish is starting to grip this place in a big way. Fantastically interesting experience sometimes, sitting here watching these people go about their business – or rather not going about their business. People in Africa certainly know how to stand around doing absolutely Fuck all. People are always going places but not really going anywhere at all if you know what I mean. - Take outside just now for example, Guy sitting on a rock, hitting a piece of random twisted metal with a hammer for no good reason. No reason surely, just hitting a piece of metal and making a noise, irritating noise as well. Ah ha! Lewis has returned – were off! – no were not – problems” - “Hmmm…..seems as though the depot manager at GDC has instructed Lewis to await for some “documentation” to be finalised relating to toll fees. The drivers don’t seem to care for this man too much and observing the way he deals with them I’m not surprised. He certainly wasn’t interested in my presence not even bothering to acknowledge my existence declining to shake my hand in fact. Hmmm……………ah well never be afraid to try new things, amateurs built the ark, professionals built the titanic and so he jumped on a truck to Mozambique and ended up sitting in a café in Tete while “documentation” is finalised to allow us to journey down to Beira. Time is steadily becoming of the essence” - Time was indeed of the essence and we ended up waiting around all day by the GDC depot for documents relating to toll fees, which, for some reason, took a whole day to be filled in and transferred to Lewis’s possession. Once in his hands we couldn’t move because it was too late to drive i.e. bandits at night - expensive documents in tow, therefore another night in Tete, another night in the cab. - Leading up to this point I managed to locate some food while Lewis provided copious amounts of alcohol and tried to organise a “meeting” with his cousins daughter for me which I politely declined (in Africa a big woman is apparently desirable and believe this was a BIG woman – she kinda reminded me of Jabba the Hutt and I feared that if I wasn’t crushed, I might be eaten afterwards). - During this time I did meet a number of other drivers passing threw from all over and I was able to get a better idea of the life they lead. Certain boss’s, in certain depots, (Mr.Darby not included however – Mozambican’s treat their own with more disregard, apparently as a sort of status statement) being described as “ass-holes of note!” and other problems such as out of the blue, suddenly being told you are going to spend the next six months in Joberg. A problem when you are going to earn less money than in Moz. and not be able to visit your family and due to the increased danger factor, perhaps never see them again. - Lewis explained that he is paid by the kilometre travelled so for all the time he has to sit around awaiting the idiot at the depot to get off his backside and add a signature to a piece of paper he’s not getting paid. In truth the day was not an unpleasant one, I had plenty of time to write and ate and drank properly for the first time during the journey. - Later on I was even allowed to attempt to reverse the truck into the yard by one of the drivers, something that predictably enough nearly ended in disaster. It was just that there was no need for the day to take place in the grand scheme of things, we should have been on the move to Beira . - The time spent waiting around in Tete all day was to prove very costly for me as well. How little I knew at that point. - Thursday April 6th around 5.00pm : Experience Wearing Thin - “I’m in Mozambique and I’m not happy. To be honest, I don’t really know the time, as no one seems to have a watch – predictably enough, they don’t seem to have anything else around here either. The situation as of now is that after being held up in Tete all day Wednesday by the “asshole of note”, we have travelled the 650km or so down to Beira the following day, leaving at around 5.00am. We arrived at the depot some time after 3 or 4. The prospects of loading and leaving toady are not good. To be totally honest, this whole trucking thing is really beginning to piss me off now. The idea of seeing a new country, travelling in a truck, visiting a port etc. did initially seem a good one – now it is wearing more than a little thin” - The journey from Tete to Beira was indeed a long and arduous one especially after attempting to brave the Tete Depot showers and giving up thinking I should wait until I got to Beira (big mistake). The initially impressive landscape on display starts to wear off after 300 km or so when you realise it is all the same. The ever-stretching single road, in one direction, at one level, is quite disheartening when searching for a light at the end of the tunnel to give an indication of how long you have until you will reach your destination. Along the way several instances of note included seeing how the sort of “brotherhood of trucking” worked, with several stops relating to seeing fellow truckers and helping with mechanical failures such as changing wheels, tinkering with engines, giving people lifts etc. - One particular instance involved a truck from a different company, which had completely shot off the edge of the road and overturned in the bush, load included. It had occurred on the mildest of corners so one can imagine that sleeping at the wheel may have been involved. Lewis explained that this could happen when the times of delivery are pushed to their limits and drivers have to continue moving during the night from travelling by day. I thought that it might also have something to do with the consumption of vast amounts of alcohol and attempting to drive huge pieces of machinery afterwards. - Along the way you see such things as how the many different compartments within the trailer can be used, we were always stopping to buy this and that. Lewis bought three goats and dragged them along with their feet tied after which they where slung into this small compartment for the remainder of the journey. When we arrived at the depot, they jumped out and once untied, walked around as though nothing had happened much to my amazement after seeing their conditions of travel. Coal and firewood where other commodities more readily available at better prices on the journey through the bush, picked up to be sold in town later on at better prices. - The other thing that struck me was that seemingly in the middle of nowhere, without trace of civilization for miles around, you would suddenly see a guy jump from the bush and start waving a container about. - This is a Mozambican petrol station. - The driver can siphon off fuel in exchange for cash that the man with the can will then resell at a higher price depending on the desperation of his customer no doubt. The clever driver, if he knows his exchange rates traveling between countries can make himself extra cash by selling fuel in one country and then restocking in another. I didn’t see this particular process in operation but I saw plenty of people waving cans around so I’m sure it is very popular. - Once I had arrived in Beira we went straight to the GDC depot to meet the manager Mr.DeSilva and the other workers at the base. Mr.DeSilva had gone to Zimbabwe . Fantastic………… - “ You see the problem is, unbeknown to me, there is a holiday here in Mozambique on a Friday. How this works I don’t know - no-one seems to be doing very much when there isn’t one so maybe on a holiday they actually do some work. Or maybe it’s a day when everyone stops wandering around aimlessly. Who knows, all that’s important to me is that customs officials will not be at work, and nor will they be at work at the weekend . This is a problem as it means we can’t load and leave until Monday. Problem. “Documentation” again. Big Problem. Not acceptable” - “Thoughts of a possible return to Blantyre by the evening of Friday have started to be put seriously in doubt. In fact thoughts of returning to Blantyre in general have been put in serious doubt. I’ve had no shower, I’ve had no food, sleeping two people to a cramped bed in a cab built for one is not, repeat not a recipe for a good night’s rest. My back has been put out of shape by all the bouncing around during the journey, Mosquito’s have seriously eaten me alive with my arms looking like a war zone and somehow, once again one of them has managed to bite me on the backside - again. I have run out of clothes and I have forgotten a towel and shampoo should I manage to find somewhere to take a shower…………All in All I’m very fucked off, and very fucked up! CHOCKA! FUCKSHITBASTARDCUNTBUBBLEFUCKINGBASTARDSHITFUCK!! Dagnammit!” - “ The saving grace is this – I have $60 and some Mozambican Meticash which may allow me to make a break for it and try and somehow get back to Blantyre today or tomorrow perhaps. I’m certainly not staying at the depot in the cab all weekend. Nice guy as he is, Lewis Jr. and the language barrier is starting to become a problem as well. Sweet Jesus I’ve seriously been eaten alive by Mosquito’s and bed bugs and god knows what else! Maybe there was some sort of international convention for bloodsucking insects and they needed a place to hold it and what with me standing out here more than most I became the chosen venue, Fuck'’s sake!” -
“Being a trucker is not for me – It’s crap”
- Thursday 6th of April around 7.30pm perhaps - “Going solo maybe the only option despite specific instructions to remain with GDC at all times. Hey it’s initiative right? If I’m completely honest I want to go to the Lake and see my girlfriend on my last weekend in Malawi . I know the reason I came to the warm heart of Africa was for business and educational purposes, but really **** it! I want to go to the lake and I’m going to get there somehow! Besides I’m sure this current situation was not in my job description” - Friday 7th April: Escape Plan - The previous evening the guys at GDC did what they could with little money and no option of transport to make my stay as comfortable as possible. In the evening we all went to a restaurant/bar up the road from the depot where I got some chicken and chips and was once again slightly alleviated from the current situation by Mr.Manica’s alcohol %. TommyD, D-D, Lewis and er, Choo-Choo were very good company and the first two mentioned spoke a bit of English as well. - I found out about the running of the depot there and also some information about the football – always a guarantee of being an international language barrier breaker! You can just say teams and player names and make noises of approval or disapproval afterwards. - In the late evening they were good enough to escort me on a rather suspect, crammed minibus into the town where they found me a hotel to stay in for the night. Basic and cheap would be the words but it was better than the cab and even though it didn’t have electricity, water, wash facilities and a toilet that could be safely used, it did have a bed and there weren’t any mosquitos. - The clientele did seem to be staying in rooms for relatively short periods by the sound of all the constant door slamming and moving around. Lots of screaming to. The array of women and clicking sounds of high heels suggested that perhaps this was not on the tourist operator list. Despite all the commotion once the head hit the pillow at around 12.30am , sleep very quickly followed until around 7.00am the next morning. D-D picked me up to catch a minibus to the depot. - 7.45am “The day of reckoning has arrived. As you could no doubt tell last night I wasn’t in the greatest of moods but after a nights sleep and some food and drink I’m feeling a lot better. Still need a shower and shave though. Toilet wouldn’t go amiss either. Hmmm……supposed to be travelling to the port to observe how it all works and load the truck today. TommyD from GDC informs me that he thinks he can arrange for customs to make special arrangements. Some how I doubt this quite severely but it does offer a glimmer of hope.” - Around 8.30am“O.K – here I am sitting in the truck outside the gate to the docking port. We are waiting to enter and pick up the load, Lewis Jr. has said that he’ll show me around the port while loading is taking place. TommyD’s whimsical fantasy that custom officials would be here has also failed to come to fruition. No surprise there though. There doesn’t seem to be to much activity taking place at the moment, Lewis has explained that the reason we are simply just sitting here is once again a problem with “documentation” how ever I am now past the point of really caring” - “Trouble ahead – Mavuto kuaembeeli – I’m currently sitting in the cab while rice is being loaded onto the truck finally after several hours of generally not an awful lot, “faffing” as I call it. I have observed all the container storage areas, taken in the many cranes and ships stretching the port harbour and spoken with the GDC representative who organises all the loading here at the port. I even ended up talking with a guy who hires people to work on ships, amusingly enough he enquired as to which ship I had just sailed in on and did I want more work….., suffice to say I am not looking my best” Points of interest include: - • There is a rather large Salamander lizard stuck between a gap in the harbour. This has gathered quite a lot attention as people mill around staring and poking it with sticks. Great big thing it is and quite vicious as well. This held up the loading process for some time due to the “faffing” such a spectacle caused” - • Here in the warehouse lots of birds live up above in the rafters so it is rather like sitting in an Avery. They are many different colours and are darting around the place as people load the truck. Surreal (NOTE: Later I learned this is a very bad thing as they crap all over the goods being stored in the whse). Even more surreal is my appearance as I have just caught sight of myself in the wing mirror. To say I look a little rugged is an understatement – very Indiana Jonesy – a bit trampy as well. I need to clean myself up a bit to feel human again. - • Ah yes! How could I forget – there’s a CYCLONE approaching! Yes a big mother of all monsters CYCLONE! Not a storm, not a gale but a Goddaman motherfucking CYCLONE! I’m sorry it seemed to slip my mind there! Yes, the wind is definitely picking up and the (brown) sea is looking severely choppy. The port has been closed (hence lack of activity) the fishing boats are all returning to port and no ships are leaving. This cyclone was apparently supposed to hit towards the end of the weekend but has decided to visit Beira early. How come the only things that happen before they are supposed to in Africa are the bad things? Note: this is the same cyclone that moved it’s way on to devastate Madagascar . I didn’t catch her name. Sorry. - “Lewis has instructed me to stay with the truck due to the fact that the winds mean that there is possibility that the huge liners along the harbour may crash against the concrete and everything in the surrounding area will fall into the sea. Fine. I suppose that’s one way of getting the bloody salamander out of the crack in the harbour. Nothing is surprising me now.” - “After seeing the living standards here without a cyclone, I feel that things will be considerably worse when it hits, this could be in the next few hours or so – predictably enough they don’t know. The last time one hit Beira 6 fishing boats sank here in the harbour, one directly in the shipping lane, causing all manner of chaos. I think I need to get out of here to be honest. This trip is very quickly losing its charm and I am very anxious to leave this asshole end of the world.” - “Upon observing the damage the Cyclone was likely to cause I have decided to make several enquires about the possibility of leaving. All the while I was explaining that it wasn’t that I didn’t want to stay, it was just that I had a lot of things organised back in Blantyre that I needed to take care of. Lying through my teeth of course. Buses do indeed travel to Tete daily and from there I would have to find my way to the Mwanza border and then connect to Zobway and onto Blantyre . The depot manager happily informed me “they’re really cheap!” – like that’s going to be a good thing. He also happily informed me that “yes there are buses!” to which I replied “fantastic” to which he retorted “ah, but it’s gone now”. Bastard!!!.” - “I saw the buses he is referring to on the journey to Beira – they are packed to the rafters with people and take forever - it’s not the preferred option. I’m certainly not keen on the idea of waiting around until when ever people decide to do anything on Monday, so the only other option is AIRPORT! PLANES! – I’ve got $60 which I’m not sure will be enough to get a single flight to Blantyre . Maybe the VRB office can be contacted and they could pay for the ticket at that end? You know cyclone and everything – probably need to get the Fuck out of here considering conditions – they’ll appreciate that surely? Even if they refuse I don’t mind paying from my account back in England – I know I’m not supposed to touch it but this is an emergency! I will have to wait until I get back to the depot to find out more. I mean considering conditions……” Note: the airport in question is right next door to the depot and looked like it was operational. - “If worse comes to the worse and I can’t escape, I will try to get to the places where human beings live. In some hotel, that has some sort of standard, I mean people who come here must stay some where that isn’t a brothel that has no electricity and water like the place from the other night. Places where I can do normal things, such as eat, drink, wash and use the toilet. Even a mirror for the love of God” - “Loading is taking place reasonably quickly. Maybe it is possible that the customs situation could be resolved and we could make the entire 843km journey back to Blantyre with a load to slow us down by tonight? Hmmmm…..not bloody likely. Late Saturday even if we move now I suppose. - That bastard at the depot in Tete – this is his entire fault! If he had let us go when we wanted to, we wouldn’t have arrived a day late, customs would be here and all would be fine and dandy, I could’ve even caught a different truck back to Blantyre like the one I saw on the way into Beira. Little did I know at the time, that it would have been my last option of escape. Bugger” - “Drew is my boss, and a good one at that also he’s my friend. But right now he’s an asshole!!!! Testing me thinking that this would be a good experience! In What! Learning to appreciate working toilets, hot water and hygiene in general? Food, drinks, and sleeps great importance? Fancy sending me to a port from hell (interesting smell by the way) that has a cyclone approaching and the depot manager is away in Zimbabwe so no-ones expecting me – everything’s a disorganised load of old S**t!” - “You know it’s 11.15am and there’s no sign of, well……anything really. No one knows when we’ll leave, no-ones talking about the possibility of food, or where I can get some cigarettes. Bastard's. Seas looking even more violent now and I wish these people loading the truck would sing something better than this repeated nonsense currently being randomly shouted (allegedly this is singing). My headphones have run out of batteries as well. And another thing what is it with all the F**king staring all the time! What, because my skin is a different shade to theirs does this mean I’m going to break into a song and dance number or turn into superman or something?! F**k’s sake!” - “O.K now the loading has finished, the workers have also finished cutting holes in the remaining bags and tipping rice into pockets before being chased off by a little Portuguese man who is some sort of manager (of what I don’t know) and Lewis is now in an office having a conversation - which seems to be taking a long time. No doubt this is to do with “documentation” as everything else is. It has been confirmed that we won’t be leaving until Monday after customs have finalised documents allowing us to move. Customs being customs this means late Monday afternoon. Lewis being Lewis this means we will stay the night in Tete. This means we will get back to Blantyre late Tuesday – if everything goes to plan. Then fly to Mombasa on Wednesday. Two words, and one of them is off” - “One word: Plane – please god let it be. I am not staying here until the lord knows when with no facilities, transport, hygiene, contacts and people that speak a useful version of a language that I know. I am totally reliant on my Lucky St.Christopher at the moment, what a ****hole of a situation, I can’t wait to write the report” - Note: At this point I feel it is important to remind the reader that stress levels are high at this time and that these are exact quotes from the journey as it happened. I do understand this is not conventional report writing but there is really no other way to put it. - “Let’s look at the organisation: 1. The hold up of a day in Tete. 2. The manager in Beira being in Zimbabwe . A strange place to go and visit at the moment what with current events, but then again given the choice between the two I know where I would be….. 3. No arrangements made for anything. 4. This is not a place for human beings to live. 5. English and Chechewa are not spoken this far South. 6. I was not told any of this could take place. 7. There is the mother of all cyclones about to pay a visit. 8. There is the mother of all cyclones about to pay a visit. It is like: “Thank-you for all your hard work and efforts, now please enjoy your educational visit to the bottom of the worlds toilet bowl, see you later, if you survive” – I could even end up missing the flight to Mombassa as a result of all this, I can’t believe I shook the hands of the people who sent me here!” - “It is 12.30pm now and I need to be somewhere else. Anywhere apart from sitting in this hot baking truck with flies everywhere and the smell of something indistinguishable all around me. I’m still very fucked off, very hungry and in serious need of a shower and shave. One thing I’m noticing about the workers here is that when it comes to labour they are the laziest bunch of useless Fuckers in the world. Sure when they do something they work quite hard and O.K maybe the pay is not so good but for sitting around most of the time doing Fuck all they are the kings. Sitting, leaning, standing still and wandering around can be a job description” - The next hour or so was spent driving around the depot, unhooking and hooking the trailer with the load and Lewis arguing and swearing with the depot manager as to whether he can leave the load at the port or whether he has to take it back to the depot. In the end due to problems hooking the trailer we return to the depot/pit without. The reason comments from this period do not appear is because they where mostly curses. - “Conditions: • Toilets - Sweet Jesus, I’m open to experience but I wouldn’t let animals use these toilets here. There seem to be some sort of bucket of stagnant water/ cup system that interacts with a hole in the ground that seems to be the common denominator. No paper, no flushing, no lights to see what you’re doing, no idea how it works, no interest in finding out. Rancid. I need to get back to Blantyre . - • Showers – Well there’s a hole in the wall at the depot that spurts cold water at the centre of your forehead. Very cold water. I have now braved the shower and it was an interesting experience. If only I had a camera. So I have showered, if you can call it that. The shower block itself I wouldn’t consider washing cattle in – but it was this or continue in the present state. My definition of a shower consists of the use of hot water, soap, shampoo, for a long period followed by a towel. This consisted of an open stinking concrete compound with at first a burst and then a trickle of cold water (which I made sure I did not get in my mouth) for as long as I could stand it and then I dried myself with a rag. That is not a shower – that is getting a bit wet and drying yourself with a dishtowel. Fuck’s sake” - 7.30pm Friday 7th April: Focused On Leaving - At this point the anger and stress while still evident had been controlled and there was now a robotic determination to remove myself from the area. This is the final comment before setting off on the next stage of the journey from hell. I ate and drank with the guys at GDC and caught a minibus at around 8.30pm after saying goodbye to all and thanking Lewis Jr. for all his help, for which I am truly thankful as he was also put in a difficult situation. De-De accompanied me and looked after me until the point at which I sat upon the bus. He was also truly fantastic throughout. - “Right then mission on. Got myself a hat, some batteries for the headphones, changed some money and learned some vital pieces of language like “Quero Bitilay!” which translates as “I want a ticket!” here is the plan: - No planes. At all. Ever in fact. No surprise really. Can’t ring out either phones don’t work.. Predictable. Here’s what I’m doing - Minibus to town – organise and find bus ticket to Tete which leaves at around 1 or 2am – should get to Tete at around 11 or 12 (probably1pm) – find GDC depot and enquire about possible trucks to Blantyre- if not find minibus to Zobway border – pass customs then cross to Mwanza – pass customs again and then Minibus to Blantyre. All in one day and then try and find Debbie and get to the lake. Big mission for someone like me (i.e. inexperienced and accident-prone) but there’s not much I can do about it, as it is the only option. As long as it all works to plan there shouldn’t be a problem.” - “If I should die think only this of me – I was just trying to escape – A MAN HAS GOT TO DO WHAT HE’S GOT TO DO TO SURVIVE!” - This is where I left the pen to paper report/diary/letter and set off on the journey from hell. As another matter of interest I think it important to also remember to mention that Mr.Tony Morland, Blantyre version of Del boy out of Only Fools and Horses and friend to both Drew and Mike Darby, actually visited the GDC depot in the morning. This was while I was stuck at the depot with the cyclone. He then travelled up to Tete later that day, no doubt in good time and in comfort and I missed him. Typical. - The Bus journey to Tete was assuredly enough an hour late. During this time I managed to buy a ticket for 100000 Meticash. That is not as much as it sounds by the way, it’s actually $6.60. De-De and I talked with this man who seemed to speak English quite well; he was also making the journey to Blantyre to see his cousin in Limbe. I decided to make sure I tagged along with him to get me to my destination. When the bus finally arrived I had past the point of caring for comfort and just wanted to be somewhere else – fast. I thought I would sleep on the bus after going 24 hours without any but conditions did not allow. - It was two hours or so after the beginning of the journey that the bus began to make its final splutters of mechanical failure that had been getting worse since the engine was started. The bus stopped near one of the villages on the outskirts of Tete and everyone was told to get off. It was at this point that I discovered our English-speaking friend did not speak English as well as first thought. When asked what the problem was, he replied smilingly “Yes”, when asked how long before another bus, he once again replied “Yes”. When I thought back to what he’d answered when I had said to him “so you speak good English then” he had also said “Yes” so there you go. - It was dark and cold and in the middle of no-where as far I could tell but despite a few people wandering off, the general consensus seemed to be to wait by the roadside with the majority. I couldn’t tell how long it was by the time the next bus came but they must have been expecting problems and contacted Beira from the nearby village. - Quite efficient really and also, after the recent experiences, quite surprising. - Along the way we crossed a long wooden bridge in a severe state of disrepair barely wide enough for the Bus that was traveling upon it. I had crossed this in daylight on the way to Beira with Lewis and it was quite nerve wracking then – there was a fairly steep drop either side to a dried up river bed and not a lot in the way of civilisation anywhere close by should there be any accidents – crossing at night sitting in a bus that was in even worse condition than Lewis’s truck was more than a bit on the terrifying side – everyone that was awake stared out of the windows into the blackness trying to establish how close we were to the edges while our driver also seemed to be doing the same thing yet failing to appreciate that he was in control of the wheel at the same time. - To his credit he got us across fairly quickly without event – I suspected this had more to do with luck than skill however. - Next to the bridge covering the same space over the ravine was a brand spanking new concrete tarmac creation that looked perfect, apart from the signs and stone prevention blocks telling travellers the bridge was not yet open. Due to it’s pristine vision of perfection next door to the tree trunk and rope event ride we crossed upon, I could only judge that the reason we were not allowed to use it was documentation and somebody somewhere was waiting for the right amount of money to cross his palm before he would sign a piece of paper and open the bridge for public use. - The arduous journey from there eventually arrived in Tete after several hold up’s where the driver saw fit to stop and go and visit friends and pick up more unneeded passengers who consequently had nowhere to sit and increased the already overcrowded situation and generally slowed things down. I had our useless translator asleep on my shoulder to the left and a woman & baby changing nappies on the right, which I might add I felt obliged to help out with due to being English and also due to wanting to get the stench taken care of as soon as possible. - The sun baked everyone threw the window like ants under a magnifying glass and they played the same three song tapes over and over and over again. Sleep was impossible due to conditions, wallet watching and zombified state of mind. When I eventually saw the stinking pile of dilapidated confused chaos that is the city of Tete , it was like I had seen heaven itself….. - Once in Tete at around 1 or 2pm, our useless English speaking parrot decided to make his way elsewhere choosing to go on to Blantyre the next day (NOTE: he probably knew that trying to get to Blantyre at this time was a possible exercise in futility – I didn’t know this). I meanwhile decided to head straight for the bus station and attempt to understand the surrounding madness to enable me to catch a bus to Zobway. I should have tried to find the GDC depot but it seemed a more logical option to catch the bus as the pick up point was at the end of the road. After catching a minibus to the border and have it take around 3 or 4 hours, during this period being overtaken by more than several GDC trailers, I knew I had made a slight error in judgment. - Another error in judgment was to attempt to change money in Tete after you haven’t had any sleep for nearly two days and you aren’t exactly at your sharpest. I negotiated a rate for Dollars to Kwacha and promptly got ripped off to the tune of 600k. The cocky little so and so even showed me on the calculator and I figured it out only after he had just left. I followed him down the rubbish infested, dusty excuse for a road and he darted up one of the side alleys and I initially followed. His friends had also followed and where behind me when I managed to catch the guys attention to resolve the whole scenario. - Things weren’t going anywhere and even though I had been initially lacking in common sense I had enough to realise that I was not in a good bargaining situation. Off the main road, surrounded by people I don’t know, all of whom knew how much money I had and probably thought I had a lot more – I made a hasty retreat and caught the bus. - Oh another thing about Tete – it really stinks when it gets hot and seems to have the largest contingent of people sitting around doing sod all that I’ve seen on this planet. - After the fight to actually get on the Mini Bus the enduring journey to the border took far more time than I had expected due to the constant stopping everywhere for no good reason other than “faffing”. At the Zambezi Bridge the bus was stopped and the driver was asked to show his documentation to the policeman at the roadblock. This took a long time to be resolved and judging by the state of the bus there was, no doubt, a problem. - When the driver returned heartily laughing, the people on the bus cheered him on board. It was another example of how the people in that part of the world hail those that, despite being insignificant mentally deficient useless additions to society, are treated as kings because they get away with doing things via the back door: -
  • What it meant when the driver came back laughing, was that the vehicle was not road worthy and he was probably not supposed to be driving it but he had got away with it by paying off the official.
  • What it meant when the people cheered was that they, for some reason, thought that this was a good thing.
- At the Moz/Malawi border I had the good fortune to manage to catch a lift between the crossing points with a GDC trailer with a driver named Archibald who was suitably bemused by the whole scenario but had good grace to believe me and took me across. You see I wasn’t exactly looking respectable at this point after a weeks worth of intermittent sleep and food, no proper shower or a change of clothes and an exhausting journey to hell and back. - Another worthy point to mention is that while on the delay ridden mini bus from Tete, I had no idea of the time or appreciation of the fact that if I arrived at the crossing point past 5pm I would have had to stay there the night as that is when it closes – in the end I made it by a whisker and shall never forget the name Archibald and shall probably name a pet after him one day (as kids called Archibald probably get beaten up in this day and age) - Of course due to customs and problems with documentation Archie had to stay at the border so I was back to Minibus land. I didn’t care however because at least I was in Malawi by this point (around 5.30pm ). It says a lot about where I was that I refer to returning to Malawi as returning to civilisation but that’s certainly what it felt like. I nearly kissed the earth in fact. - The final minibus journey with all it’s cello-tape windows, cramped conditions, metal bars for seats, smoke spewing exhaust and loose doors that kept falling off mid journey (seriously disconcerting upon reflection) more or less passed me by due to zombification. We were stopped by Uzi totting army folk who checked everyone’s bags and we also did a tour of Blantyre ’s suburbs until I was the only guy left on the bus realising that the city is a bit bigger than the small corner I could recognise as being the town centre. - I got back to Blantyre bus station and Doogles back packer bar a broken man at around 8pm, to find everyone had gone to the Lake already (including the girlfriend) and to top it all I consequently had no key to get into the house as Paul and Sarah whom I lived with had gone too. By this point though, nothing surprised me and I rang Drew (my boss) to tell him I had made it back and would be found propping up the bar in Doogles – when he arrived he walked straight past me due to lack of recognition. I proceeded to muster what energy I had into a vitriol of abuse about my adventures directed in his direction and then got fantastically drunk and fell asleep with absolutely no encouragement what so ever. - At least as a prologue to events I did manage to get to the Lake on the Sunday and find everyone including the girlfriend, so things didn’t end as badly as they seemed they had on Saturday. The whole thing seems amusing and unbelievable now but at the time it wasn’t very funny and it was very real! Ha! Bloody Ha! - In Conclusion: - I have a greater appreciation of quality of life, luck and the mystical powers of St.Christopher and that I do not want to be a trucker. Also if something is en-route it is definitely en-route and is certainly not as good as having arrived at its destination once it has left the yard. And for a country that at the moment people associate with being flooded there isn’t actually an awful lot of running water. In fact there isn’t an awful lot of very much apart from people doing not an awful lot. - If I had to think of one word to sum up Mozambique it would be Documentation. What all these instances requiring the latter actually consisted of, I will never know, and why it always took so long I will never understand. All I know is I’m never going to Mozambique again unless I’m in control of every aspect of my own destiny and even then I will think twice. And then think again after that and decide against it.

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Spo 2/04/2000 01:09:00 pm Califragalistic Folk
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