Published in the April 2013 issue of the Kerby News
A Field Trip to Lake Nyasa
The arrivals hall at the airport in Maputo, Mozambique was a less than inviting place when I arrived in October 1993 on the first of what would eventually be four visits to that country. I arrived at midnight after flying by way of a South African Airline flight from Johannesburg. Mozambique was the third country I visited on a trip that included Lesotho, Botswana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. I was there as a representative of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF) exploring possibilities for the development of cooperative programs between Canada’s teachers and national teacher organizations in southern Africa.
Canadian teachers are well liked in Africa. I found this wherever I travelled, being welcomed and cared for by new friends and colleagues. Maputo was a bit different and upon my arrival I didn’t find the usual little knot of teachers waiting to greet “Mr. Tim” from Canada. Instead, I was hustled into an ancient Peugeot by a local driver and his helper, supposedly for a ride into the darkened heart of the city.
Speaking in Portuguese, a language of which I have zero knowledge, my two escorts quietly talked back and forth, apparently trying to decide just where the hotel was to which I had asked to be taken. I was becoming a little concerned. The darkness of the night, the rattily old Peugeot, its shadowy keepers in the front seat, and the fact that I hadn’t a clue where we were fed my growing apprehension. Soon enough though, the old Peugeot wheezed to a smoky stop at the front door of the Hotel Escola Andalusia. The driver carried my bags to the front desk, welcomed me to Mozambique and, upon receiving payment of $10 US, thanked me for riding with him.
There are four journals in my library at home filled with photographs and written entries like this one from visits to Mozambique. But from the many entries, one in particular is especially meaningful to me and I have included it here, almost word for word.
Here is the setting. On my last visit to Mozambique in August 2010, I travelled with two teachers from Toronto who spoke fluent Portuguese, the official language of Mozambique. They were Carol Bacaio and Adilia Fernandes. You might guess from these names they were of Portuguese ancestry. We arrived in Maputo, Mozambique and stayed one night then flew on to Lichinga, the largest town in the northwestern province of Niassa. There we worked with representatives of ONP (Organização Nacional dos Professores) with Carol and Adilia conducting workshop sessions for local teachers around the theme of child-centred learning. We conducted two five-day workshops in Lichinga and a third in the coastal city of Pemba. This is what transpired on the last two days of our first workshop.
Thursday, July 29
Today will be the last day of classroom work for the teacher facilitators. Carol and Adilia have proposed a field trip experience for tomorrow. Another full day is put in with Carol and Adilia presenting lessons on drama and movement, mathematical calculation activities and spelling. Participants play charades to act out an integrated vocabulary and spell out words.
At 5:00 p.m., we begin the formal closing exercises. The national anthem is sung once again, short speeches are given, ONP’s Cardosa Machemba oversees the handing out of certificates, and I hand out photographs. It has been a memorable week so far and I look forward to what tomorrow may bring.
Friday, July 30
We gather at the Public Administration Institute Centre at 8:00 a.m. and await the bus hired by Carol and Adilia to take us on our field trip. Our destination is the village of Metangula on the east shore of Lake Nyasa, a distance of approximately 100 kilometres and two hours en route. My colleagues have prepared a field trip lesson integrating science and art and provide packages of art supplies for each of us. The idea for the field trip came about as Carol and Adilia listened to the stories of the teachers concerning difficulties they encountered during their travels to the Lichinga workshop. They felt that a field trip to the lake, which only one of the participants has seen, would be a welcome treat and an opportunity to model yet another student-centred teaching strategy. On Wednesday when they announced the trip, there was great appreciation, ululation and pleasure.
We leave Lichinga in a little Mitsubishi bus and pick up speed on the paved highway. As always, an African vehicle has the right of way and our progress is aided by the driver’s constant use of the horn. All scatter before us, some with less dignity than others. We rise higher as we proceed west winding through valleys, over passes in the low mountains and through vast swaths of pine forest plantations. It is beautiful country, reminiscent of the high foothills on the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rockies.
I photograph from the bus, capturing scenes of villages and countryside, as well as my fellow passengers. I spot a large baboon in the ditch by the road but we are past before I can raise my camera. Approaching the lake, the road winds down from the heights to the lakeshore. This is an enormous body of water and it stretches out of sight to the west and to the north. According to Wikipedia, the lake is the eighth largest in the world, third largest in Africa and contains more species of fish than that of any other body of fresh water on earth. It is also very deep at over 2,000 feet in places.
We enter Metangula, driving past a lot of abandoned Portuguese buildings, and come to the office of the district school administrator. He welcomes us into his office and then sends us off to visit the local school where eight teachers have been rounded up to meet us (this is their vacation time). On leaving his office, Adilia asks to use the facilities, having spotted a washroom just outside the entrance to the administrator’s office. She is escorted outside to the back of the building where she gets up close and personal with her first African squatter toilet. A bit of culture shock ensues.
The school visit is most cordial and the teachers seem pleased to meet their Mozambique and Canadian colleagues. We have a little welcoming ceremony inside and then step out for photographs and informal visits. Just beside the cinderblock school is another one with stick walls and thatched roof that serves as the primary school. Two little boys peer in over the low wall and I photograph them. They turn to see me and the smaller one instantly strikes a Ninja pose, complete with big grin. As we load up the bus to press on to the beach, we find the eight local teachers already on-board and seated. So several of us remain standing for the short drive.
The sandy beach welcomes us and the young men who came along from the Institute restaurant remove the hot serving trays from the rear of the bus and set up a serving area under an awning near the shore. The rest of us acquaint ourselves with the beautiful surf and the superb shoreline. Before long, shoes come off, pants get rolled up and dresses are tucked into waistbands as the teachers venture into the warm waters as far as they dare. There is universal enjoyment and this is going to be a memorable way to end our first workshop.
After some beach time, the food is served and folk gather around to eat and visit. I have been photographing along the shore, visiting children and fishermen, and fully enjoying this fabulous place. Eventually I get a plate of rice and chicken and go to sit along the wall of a beach hut with Carol and Adilia. Just beyond us, children from the village who have been playing on the shore start gathering, watching us eat. I nibble some rice then put my plate down on the sand where it is quickly collected by some of the children. “I can’t eat,” Adilia says, and soon more food finds its way to a growing group of children.
Adilia then takes her sketch book and some colors and goes down the beach a little way, settling in to draw. Soon a little boy comes to watch and is invited to sit down and try his hand. In very short order the one little boy is joined by several of his friends who gather to see the art creation in progress.
Adilia recognizes this as one of those wonderful “teachable moments” and abandons thoughts and plans about teaching the teachers. She distributes all the art supplies and paper to the children and leads them through viewing, thinking about and drawing what they see before them. As she works with the children, some of the teachers join her and her posse of young artists. This becomes a serious and focused session for the children and they diligently experiment with their sticks of colors, interpreting what they see. The remainder of the food, still in the serving dishes, is now brought over to the group and the children nourish their tummies as well as their intellects.
After about an hour, the art pieces are voluntarily presented to Adilia who thanks each artist in turn and rewards them all by asking them to keep and use the art supplies she gave out. We then assemble for a little ceremony marking the end of the workshop. As speeches are made, I watch one of the young boys from the art session take an empty bottle out into the surf. I go nearer the water to photograph him as he comes out with the filled bottle. Just then someone pulls something over my head, to the sound of laughter behind me. I turn around to find that I have missed most of the speeches of thanks and presentations of gifts to the Canadians. Around my neck is a colorful jersey. Around Carol’s and Adilia’s hips are wraps of locally produced batik.
We walk back to the bus to begin our journey home. One of Adilia’s emergent artists stops her and, with serious demeanor, presents her with a rock from the shore of Lake Nyasa as thanks for sharing her time and talents with him. Adilia thanks him and gives him a marker pen to print his name on the rock. “Vicente,” prints the little boy on a keepsake from Africa unlike any other.
The return to Lichinga retraces our route, but this time my view is of the opposite side of the road. Scenes of village life flash past—little stacks of firewood for sale, bicycle repair shops, and, sadly, the destruction of someone’s home, fully engulfed in flame—set in the ever-changing countryside in all of its considerable splendor.
My arrival in Maputo in 1993 coincided with the conclusion of a full year of peace since the signing of a treaty between FRELIMO, the country’s governing party, and RENAMO, the once-feared guerilla force that had attempted to destroy the country. First established and supported by the Rhodesian government some years after the independence of Mozambique in 1972, RENAMO was responsible for the destruction of hundreds of rural schools and clinics, the killing of untold numbers of Mozambique people and the sowing of thousands of land mines. With the ouster of Ian Smith’s government in Rhodesia, South Africa took up the cudgel and continued support to RENAMO, only now for its own apartheid objectives.
In my travels around Maputo and into the countryside on that first visit, grim evidence of years of bitter fighting was abundant. The road to Swaziland was lined with hundreds of burned out vehicles that had been ambushed by RENAMO forces. Fields along the highway were taped off as specialist armorers found and defused landmines. Small groups of men were encountered carrying the ubiquitous AK 47 rifle. More poignant were little bands of children that roamed Maputo, orphans all, and left to their own devises for survival.
Yet, despite its tragic history and the placement of Mozambique at the time near the bottom of the list of the world’s poorest countries, I found a tangible spirit of optimism for the future wherever I visited. The ending of the war, adoption of a free market economy and imminent democratic elections fueled a desire to move toward a new future and to forgive and forget the dreadful events of the years prior to the armistice.
Today, Mozambique is one of the best performing and most stable of Africa’s emerging countries. While poverty remains high, development of the country’s bountiful natural resources bodes well for improved standards of living. The difficult work of Mozambique’s teachers contributes to this progress. To have visited several areas of the country over a span of nearly 20 years and witnessed their efforts has been a unique privilege.
Tim Johnston served as international officer for the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) over a span of nearly 30 years. His position allowed him to travel extensively representing ATA and Canadian Teachers’ Federation development programs overseas.