The Grand Southern Tour

This past Saturday, the 52 remaining Moz 27ers (the Peace Corps cohort I came to Mozambique with) celebrated our official two years in country. This was a landmark we’d been highly anticipating, and at times I’ve questioned if I’d even make it this far (not a surprise to anyone!)

The month of August has been my “longest” month in Mozambique by far. As most months do, it started off in Malema, calculating and giving back grades to my 300-ish students as the second trimester came to a conclusion while the start of tempo de calor, hot season, was giving us a run for our money. As soon as my grades were turned in, I caught a ride to Nampula city and onto a flight to Maputo, which marked the first stop of the Grand Southern Tour, for lack of a better name,  vacation taken without much reason except that I had over two weeks of unused vacation days and half of a country I hadn’t visited yet, so porque não?

Soon after, I was on another free flight (shoutout to LAM, Mozambique’s national carrier, for surprisingly having a comprehensive loyalty rewards program) on a 20-seat propeller plane, towards Mozambique’s promised land, the province of Inhambane. The beaches of Inhambane are arguably the best known part of the country. They’re what pop up on Google, in travel books, and the occasional National Geographic article when searching for Mozambique. If I had to be honest, (and admit to being naïve) Inhambane is exactly what I thought Mozambique would be like when I first applied to Peace Corps. A beautifully paved EN1 lined with endless coconut trees, towns seemingly no more than 30 kilometers apart, tons of cars willingly stopping for hitchhikers, espresso machines in the gas stations… a PCV’s dream.

I spent a few days in Vilankulos, the gateway to the world famous Bazaruto archipelago, where I pretended I was an extra in Finding Nemo while snorkeling in crystal clear waters after hiking untouched sand dunes rising up in the middle of the Indian Ocean. From there I moved onto Tofo, a backpacker paradise, where I ate the best pizza(s) and Indian food in between playing card games with friends, and early-morning whale watching. Inhambane was a dream vacation, so dreamy in fact that I would forget I was in Mozambique. Waiters would address us in English that was more grammatically correct than ours, and no one would bat an eye when the market mães would sell bananas for 15 times the price of what they are in Malema (true story). It was wonderful to be able to show my knees (and even some upper thigh!) to the sun, eat sushi on the beach, but after two weeks, I started becoming ready to go home, back to the north where bananas are affordable and overeating is difficult due to a pure lack of options.

The Grand Southern Tour’s final stop was Maputo, Mozambique’s capital, a diamond in the rough framed by 70s-era communist-style architecture in juxtaposition with decrepit colonial buildings, accented by streets that smelled a touch too much like a gas station restroom. Maputo, overwhelming in comparison to Nampula, will never cease to surprise me. Our cohort of 52 found ourselves together for one last time, at our Closing of Service Conference, a 48-hour event filled with back-to-back powerpoints on elevator speeches, medical insurance, and despedida-how-tos, essentially 48 hours on how to leave your Mozambican home and attempt at being a Functioning American Adult™. As a friend rightly said, it resembled a graduation weekend.

Now, back in Malema, it’s starting to feel like a conclusion of a chapter. Of a book, really. With less than three months, I’ve been mentioning my departure more and more often. “Mais voçe vai sair de vez?” but you’ll be leaving forever? No time to think about departures though, the third trimester has started, Grupo C and I are pushing out another mural, and English Theater practices are getting squeezed into any free periods. A year ago, I used to think that the days go by slow but the weeks are short, though now it seems that time is functioning on fast-forward, and soon enough I’ll be on my last chapa ride out of Malema.

Ps. If anyone is looking to hire a Portuguese speaker with skills that include making students feel guilty for copying their neighbor’s homework… check out my Linkedin!

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