Mozambique – Free Rides, Lost Planes, and Guerrillas in the Forest


Monday, November 11, 2012

Well, not much has changed in Vila Gorongosa during the last year.  We were told that so many things had changed that we would hardly recognize it.  Maybe it is difficult to see those changes from the outside…

Our journey from the airport to Vila Gorongosa yesterday could not have gone any smoother.   We ran into a friend from my time here during the fall of 2010 that just happened to be on our flight.  Jessica is an American lawyer who is currently studying environmental conservation in Cape Town.  She was all smiles and when asked how she was enjoying South Africa she responded, “I guess I’m living my dream!”  Gorongosa National Park (GNP) had offered to bring her in for a few days to work on some contracts.  The timing of her visit just happened to be perfect for us.  I had already been dreading the nightmare of securing a taxi with our 3 large bags + 2 smaller bags to the “bus stop,” where we would have had to negotiate a reasonable fare, secure our bags on top of the mini-van, and wait around for our “sardine can” to fill up.  The record number of people that Chris and I have experienced crammed into a “14-person” mini-van is 31.  In contrast to that miserable travel experience, after paying for our Visas ($76 each) and gathering our bags, we were given a very swift 2 hour-drive, the top speeds topping out at 100 MPH on a generously potholed tar road.  With dust in our hair and bugs in our teeth, we were dropped off at the front entrance of the GNP, where Janet (Complexo Janet) ferried us the rest of the way (30 minutes).

Upon arrival to Complexo Janet, Aida showed us to our room (my old room) where we were told that indoor plumbing, complete with Chinese-made electric showerhead, had just been installed two days before!  We were thrilled with the prospects of a hot shower before dinner.  Unfortunately, it was only while standing “sans clothing” under the showerhead that it became disappointingly clear that no water was coming out.  Not sure what the problem was.  Anyway, I reverted to a bucket bath, the tried and true (and cold) means of scrubbing the dirt off.  Dinner was chicken, salad, and the double starches; “sheema” and French-fries.  Chris added a couple of 2M (“Dois M”) beers to accompany dinner.  An interesting fact is that Chris only orders beer in this part of the world, and only when it is kept just a few degrees above freezing.

This morning, we were up at about 6:45AM, the sun shining through the window curtains.  I had a cup of Earl Grey tea, tea bags that I had acquired at the United Red Carpet Club in Johannesburg.  We lamented the fact that neither one of us had thought to pack the instant Starbucks “Via,” which should be at the top of anyone’s packing list who loves coffee.  Luckily, I was fully aware that Pousada Azul (another hotel) at the other end of town serves espresso.

The walk to town from Janet’s is about 25-30 minutes.  On the way in, we visited the park’s “Telecentro,” where my friend, Moreira, was on duty and asked about the Internet.  He informed us that the Internet hadn’t been working since the week before last.  Well, that certainly shot down any hopes of posting in the immediate future unless we made it to Chitengo (the park) later this week with Mr. Muagura. I also ran into a former colleague from the mountain and he told me that Director Muagura still had his home in Vila, even though he was now working most of his days out at Chitengo, about 90 minutes away.  When we arrived to his Vila office, we learned that he was in Beira for the day, however, and might be back tomorrow.  I left my phone number behind, hoping for a call in the near future.

Speaking of phones, the most amazing thing happened.  About 2 years and 4 months ago, when I first arrived as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer in Vila Gorongosa, I bought a cheap little Nokia phone.  Well, last year when we visited, I managed to use the same phone with the original Sim card, only having to buy pre-paid credit, which is available on nearly every street corner.  Local lore has it that if you go for awhile without using your Sim card that it will be “deactivated” somehow and force you to buy a new one.  The challenge is not the cost of the new Sim card, typically about $2-$4, but it is the fact that your phone number has changed.  So, this time, I wasn’t sure if my phone number would work due to the 12+ months of inactivity.  Well, this morning, I took my fully charged phone to one of the MCEL guys on the corner and added 100 meticals of pre-paid phone credit.  The phone sprung back to life!  All of my contact numbers were still in place, so I could call or text people easily, assuming they had the same phone number.  I got this strange feeling that it was almost like had never left…

The lowest point of the day was when we made the decision to drop by the last home of my friend, Tomas to visit his young widow.  We wanted to pay respects and give a small offering to the family.  These are the kinds of actions that I have learned throughout my experiences in Africa, the little things count.  Tomas was a member of our forestry team (and premier driver) who had passed away from complications of the AIDS virus.  Apparently, he was in total denial that was sick and chose not to take the drugs to fight the disease.  My good friend, Pela, commented,  “He should have been alive today… but he refused to get treated.”   She went on to say that she has a friend who took the medication, known as Anti-Retro Virals, for four years and eventually came up “clean” with no trace of the Virus.  She told us that she no longer has to take the medication.  I’m not sure this is what is recommended, but she no longer takes them.  I’d like to ask my friend, Dr. Megan Dunbar about this situation.  Is it possible that you can stop taking the drugs and “be cured?”  Research in this area is still evolving, especially as related to various drugs for treatment.  Nevertheless, I spoke to a young girl at Tomas’s last residence and his widow had left months before.  Pela told me that she had been “booted” out of the house in the African traditional style, the children remaining the sole beneficiaries of the man’s estate.

Additional notes of the day:

Visiting the meat market in the center of town.  Words cannot describe the experience of seeing freshly butchered goats, with their “parts” spread out over a wooden table, including severed head, available for your dining pleasure.

Watching a couple of children gather ripe “caju” (cashew) fruits and nuts from a tree on the side of the road.

Walking up the hill to the “panaderia” to buy fresh bread rolls.  Bread is baked fresh daily and most people don’t purchase sliced bread.  It is all white bread.  No wheat, rye, or sourdough.

Popping in to the Loja De Indiano (Indian shop) for a cold drink.

Pela dropping by after work to join us for dinner.  Pela is a wealth of information for us, as she is Zimbabwean and speaks multiple languages, including English.  We are hoping she will (again) join us for the trip to Zimbabwe later in the week.  On multiple occasions we have paid the school fees for her children, ages 10 and 12.  I’ll always remember shopping with the kids the last time and the little boy being in awe of the brand new yellow pencils that we purchased for him.  This time, I hit the Dollar Store before we left and bought for each of them: 2 lined paper composition books, a puzzle, and a box of 16 yellow pencils.  When we go to their grandmother’s home for a visit, we will also bring a (big) live chicken and some other cooking items for the grandmother.  Chris loves doing this.  There is something sort of satisfying about spoiling someone, however briefly, who is doing the right thing for their family.  A lot of people don’t get to meat that often here.  Chris commented that it is like bringing a whole pile of Omaha Steaks to a person in the United States.

Tuesday, November 12, 2012

Just in case I didn’t think that Muagura was amazing enough, yesterday I was told that several days in the past week he was searching for a “downed” plane within the park perimeter.  In his newest role of Director of Conservation for Gorongosa National Park, no longer Director of Forestry, he can be called upon for virtually any task that the park needs.  The reports that I heard were that a small private aircraft with 3 people on it, from Malawi, had gone missing in the park.  A week later, they still hadn’t found it.  In a desperate attempt to locate it, members of the search team had visited a traditional healer where they had partaken in a ceremony (the healer drank some hallucinogenic tea) in hopes of locating it.  Reports were that the healer was not only able to “vision” where the plane is (in the Urema River) but he was also able to tell the team what the occupants’ last words were!  It will be interesting to see how this turns out.

This morning Chris and I were able to catch a lift with Pela and her vehicle going to Nhancucu, the base of Mount Gorongosa.  The purpose was to check in with 3 women there who are working with the Eco Health Project.  When I was here two years ago, Pela was working as a health extension worker, walking from house to house gathering information about each member of the family.  Most questions pertained to childbirth, number of children surviving/passed away, health of the family, distance to the health clinic, nutrition, cooking, etc.  Pela was promoted from about a year ago to be the coordinator a closely related project.  Essentially, due to the fact that the midwives cannot be paid for their work with Eco Health, they have implemented an offshoot income generation project in the area of art.  The ladies are hand sewing shopping bags, wine bags, and string backpacks.  They are also rolling paper beads necklaces and making seed jewelry.  These products are then sold in the Gorongosa National Park gift shop.

Bumping down the road in the 4WD was about as enjoyable as I remember (not).  You’re lucky if you survive it without getting a concussion, as the road is very rocky and steep.  The worst aspect of the trip, however, was seeing the condition of the mountain.  The deforestation and agricultural cultivation was much more extensive than I could have imagined.  There were extensive rows of corn, beans, and cassava sprouting along the hillsides up to – and within the park zone.  Clearly, the moisture levels are better this year than they have been in the past, so the yields are likely to be much better.  It certainly is a conflicted feeling when you are hopeful that people have productive harvests, but you see how much destruction has taken place.

We visited the tree nursery or “viveiro” above the waterfall, which produces 50,000-60,000 trees per year.  I connected with Sylvestre who monitors activities in the area and also presented him with a live chicken and some cooking items.  There was a herd of cattle roaming the background.  I feel that from what we witnessed today that the war on deforestation here will likely be lost within 5 years.  It will then turn into an agricultural project.  Coming to this realization, it makes me wonder if I really felt that it could end any other way.  People are so set in their ways of doing things (in Mozambique or America)… and it is extremely difficult to change them.

On the way back down the mountain we purchased some sweet little pineapple.  See, even I am a problem!

After arriving back to Janet’s, Chris and I passed out from the heat for a few hours.  It certainly is a lot hotter than I had anticipated with temperatures in the upper 90’s with high humidity.  Though we have air conditioning in the room, the electricity cut off at least three times within 3 hours.  At some point, I took off all my clothes and plopped myself down on the tile floor in order to gain some relief!  When we finally got up after the hot nap, I said to Chris, “If it was any hotter…” and he added, “We would have burst into flames.”

This evening, Muagura joined us for dinner.  Hot and tired from Chitengo, he made the extra effort to come and see us.  We ate chicken and talked about the happenings in the park.  He spoke about the missing plane from Malawi and the fact that he is getting 2 dozen phone calls a day from South Africa giving him direction of where to look for it.  Also, there are now 800 guerillas from an opposition political party holed up in the park.  It is intensifying enough to where he has been given the directive not to interact with them, too dangerous.  Unfortunately, the rebels look at anyone working with the park as supporters of the government.  It is disturbing to think of this number of rebels having to be fed and maintained out in the bush.  This conversation led to a discussion of Muagura’s primary duty, to reduce poaching of animals in the park, mostly a large variety of antelope, but any animal or human can get snared in a poacher’s trap.  Muagura’s explained to us that he actually has to coordinate the ambushing of poachers, sometimes several operations in one day.  This is very dangerous work… not to mention that there are no laws against poaching, not even in the national park!  Protocol is that they lock perpetrators up in a small park jail, bring them to trial and then they are released.  Just like the case of logging, if there is not national policy supporting the efforts of the park, how will they be successful?

On a happy note, Muagura told me that he will travel to Portugal and Italy to be recognized for his work in forestry.  In Italy, they will honor him for having orchestrated the planting of over 50 million trees!  What a hero!  I am reminded of a very funny day two years ago when Marty (my fellow Peace Corps Response Volunteer) and I asked Muagura about Dr. Wangari Muta Maathai, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for planting trees in Kenya in 2004.  Now, I have never seen a trace of jealousy in Muagura until that particular moment, when he responded, “That prize should have been mine!” We roared in laughter.

Additional notes of the day:

The two little boys who sold us 15 cent straight from the field pineapples wore (reddish) soil-colored “tatters” for clothing.  I gave one of them a protein bar and he took off like a rocket.

We’ve heard that the new company that took over Chitengo, Vis-a-Beira, has done a considerable amount of building and will be renting new bungalows for $350 a night!

Thursday, November 14, 2012

In the morning, we were able to catch a ride on the back of Mr. Muagura’s park truck to Chitengo.  We wanted to see the building that has been occurring by Vis-a-Beira (company) and to use the Internet.  There was some correspondence we needed before arriving to Zimbabwe.

One of the most pressing topic of the day was the issue of locating the small plane crash.  The brother of the one of the victims, who has been serving as part of the search party, was optimistic that they may have finally found it.  They had enountered an area with smashed bush, that couldn’t have been done by an elephant, and it was near part of a lake.  After a $5,000 reward had been announced, the community stated that they had seen the plane, they saw its lights, saw it turn and then witnessed it disappear into the lake.  The search team, along with Mr. Muagura, and the police, were waiting for a helicopter to show up in order to get a closer look.

The afternoon at Chitengo was hot and dusty.  They are building new cottages and renovating some old facilities.  There was no dampening of dirt, so lots of dust.  Though Chitengo surely wasn’t much to see on Thursday, we are optimistic that in a year it should look completely different.

Unfortunately, the end of Thursday at Chitengo was disappointing for the search team.  The helicopter arrived an hour late and then suggested to the search team that it would be best for him to fly around the site himself.  An hour later, he returned – and Muagura figured out that he hadn’t even gone to the right location.  He then proclaimed that he was nearly out of fuel and left back to Beira.  It doesn’t even need to be said that he left a very disappointed search team behind.  I just could not imagine the level of frustration being felt by the family of the victims.  We were told that the helicopter was to return the next day.




Returning to Mozambique

1 Comment

I thought it might be fun to revive the Mozambique blog during this most recent trip back to Vila Gorongosa.  My husband and I are planning to check in with Mr. Muagura (the director of the reforestation project at GNP) and the reforestation project.  Also, we are here to see about the feasibility of beginning an agricultural development project, possibly growing strawberries.  The duration of this trip is only about 17 days.  6 days will be spent in Mozambique and about 7 will be spent in Zimbabwe.  It takes about 2 days on either side to travel to and fro Fresno, CA.  Things I am looking forward to include calling upon Janet at Complexo Janet and seeing former colleagues again…I also want to see how much gold panning is going on and what China has been up to in respect to extracting resources from this region.

A Rainy Ending in Vila

Leave a comment




Complexo Janet
All of the praying and dancing for rain seems to have paid off as it has been raining incredibly hard for the past few days.  People are busily planting their crops of beans and corn.  Unfortunately, there has been so much rain that several of the rivers are overcapacity (spilling over).  This makes it difficult for some folks to reach their homes.  One of our forestry workers, who has one of the mud/brick houses had to rebuild a supporting wall after it fell down on him in the middle of the night! Now, that is a rotten way to wake up.  I woke up with water dripping on my head one morning, but at least my house wasn’t falling on my head!

I have packed my backpack and given away everything that I am going to leave behind.

Today, I am having a “Going Away” party for all of my friends (about 20 people). We will have (can you guess?) grilled CHICKEN, pork, rice, French fries, and a special Mozambican dish called “Matapa,” made with greens (not many things that I love more than greens) and peanut/coconut sauce.

I have taken a lot of photos of the different insects and animals that have come out after the rains.  It is impressive to see the array of critters that crawl out of the ground once the heavy rains start.  Clouds of flying termites appear when the clouds darken the skies  – or when night falls.  There are Cicadas, which make a piercing sound.  At dinner last night, I saw one of the most beautiful frogs I have ever seen.  It was about the size of the palm of my hand and it was slick and green (I’ll post the photo).  It was so cute and when I went to pick it up, it took its little “hands” up and covered its eyes, like it was shy!

Some things that I am looking forward to when I return to Fresno:

My family

My friends

Foods that I cannot get here (ex: Mexican)

A good shower – no bucket bath!

Not having to wash my underpants by hand!

Not having the electricity disappear for hours every day/night.

A clothes dryer for when it rains for days in a row…

Some things that I will miss about Mozambique:

Working on the mountain and with Mr. Muagura and his team – and my (Peace Corps) friend, Marty.

A simple life … producing less trash and appreciating the things that I have.

I’ll miss Janet (and her staff) at Complexo Janet.  I’ll also miss her cooking.

Riding my bicycle most every day!

Speaking Portuguese.

The ability to travel to Zimbabwe within a few hours.

Tomorrow, I leave for Maputo (the capital) where I will go through a process called “C.O.S.” (completion of service) for the Peace Corps.  Soon, I will be home.

Prayers and Dancing



We are entering the rainy season at Gorongosa.  In fact, my neighbors have been praying and dancing for rain over the past few weeks.  I truly believe that if it is at all possible to affect the forces of Nature, rain will begin to fall sometime very soon.

Technically, it should have already begun at the end of October, but here we are on the last day of November and still no real rains have fallen …   In preparation for planting mostly corn and beans, the local people have chopped down acres and acres of forests and burned the land.  Rain will provide that critical missing ingredient in the production of a bountiful March harvest. Though I greatly lament the loss of trees, I still don’t know yet what it is that I could say that would begin to change this destructive behavior.  It is a lot more complex than educating people to do “the right thing.”  My belief is that it starts with education and it ends with economics.  If we don’t focus on that connection, forests will continue to die across the world.

This evening, there is thunder and lightening in the distance, but I have to say that I am personally ambivalent of whether I would like it to actually fall or not.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I absolutely love a good rainstorm.  In fact, in Missouri, where I grew up, we used to have really awesome rainstorms with bright lightening and heavy rain.  Downpours!  I sleep the best when there is the pitter-patter of raindrops on the rooftop. It is especially enjoyable in Moz, where we have tin roofs (metal), so the pitter-patter sounds emulate a musical instrument.

Here is the problem that I have with rain in Vila Gorongosa: when it rains, it tends to get really windy.  This wind, combined with the newly fallen water, softens up the earth (ground).  Because many of the electrical poles (which carry the electrical lines) are not buried deeply – or they may be rotting at the base from termite damage, this can cause them to fall right over.  It is like a tree being chopped down by the Tin Man!  In fact, last week during a brief rainstorm, 3 poles fell down causing a blackout for almost 24 hours.  Now, generally, I can deal without electricity at night, no problem – just light a candle, but at this time of year, it is HOT!  Nothing quite parallels the disappointment of lying comfortably in bed, under a breezy fan, when the room goes suddenly silent.  Fan dead.  It takes only a few minutes before the sweat beads begin to form and the mosquitoes begin buzzing in your ears.  The worst part is that you don’t know if the electricity will be off for 30 seconds or 30 hours.  Ah, life in Gorongosa.  “My country,” as Muagura would say, shaking his head.

The timeline for me to be in Mozambique is finally coming to a close.  It is hard to believe that nearly 5 and ½ months have passed since I arrived.  It has not been easy.  The most challenging element has been being away from my children, the lights of my life.  The life of my life.  Sure, the professional opportunity has met my expectations – and I am fairly confident that having had the experience will open a door or two that would have otherwise been closed to me.  But.  Yep, the big BUT.  I would never have been able to do this without the continuing support from my kids and husband.  From my five year old son (Wesley) running by the phone yelling, “I miss you mommy” to my daughter (Tandiwe) carefully explaining all of the details of her day at school, the activities of the weekend, updates on the dog, etc – to my husband (Chris) visiting me twice (every 6 weeks) bringing me hundreds of pounds of clothes and goodies (mostly sports-related) to give away, calling me every single day, and giving me reports on the our friends and family.  I would dare say that not very many people would have been able to gain true family support like this to fulfill a dream assignment (believe it or not) like this.   I will tell you that if just one of those kids would have cried on the phone  – or if Chris would have told me that he just couldn’t juggle it all, I would have left.  But, they didn’t.

Next week (Dec. 10), I have organized my own going away party at Complexo Janet (my home).  The menu consists of the traditional dish, “Matapa,” pumpkin or cassavea (manioc) leaves cooked in peanut oil and coconut milk and grilled chicken (Janet’s specialty).  A slowly cooked pork dish called “leitao” will be served as well, which tastes a great deal like Mexican “carnitas.”

The day after the “despedida” (going away party), I will travel (with Muagura) to Chimoio to stay the night at a hotel called the “White Castle” (complete with air-con).  My flight to Maputo is scheduled for 9am the next day (Dec. 12).  Unfortunately or fortunately (I haven’t decided yet), I am scheduled to spend 5 days in the capital in order to “out process” with the Peace Corps.  Janet has told me that her daughter will take me out to karaoke and to get my hair done while I am there.  Well, I suppose if I get too bad of a hairstyle, I’ll just shave it off when I get back to the U.S.

Friday afternoon, Dec. 17, I will begin my long journey, of about 2 days, homeward.  The flight from Jo’Berg (South Africa) to Atlanta alone is 17 hours!  Chris and the kids are going to pick me up from the airport in Fresno at around noon (assuming no delays) on Saturday, Dec. 18.  Only at that point will we have finished what we started. Well, almost.  I still owe my advisor a giant paper on the experience.  Ugh.  Clearly shifting back into routine will not take long …

In Mozambique:

1 Comment

Toddlers care for babies.

There is a special way to sit on a bicycle if you are on a date.

When there is rain after a long dry spell, many just don’t show up to work the next day.

It is perfectly acceptable to ride a motorcycle with a baby grasping tightly to the handlebars.

The poorest of children wear “shredded” clothing.

Movie huts: New Releases!

Some believe that if children don’t work, they don’t eat.

Many forgo preventive measures (i.e., seat belts, helmets, safe sex) because they believe God will take them no matter what.

There are virtually no manufactured toys.

It is common to see the transportation of giant bags of charcoal, long sticks of bamboo, several crates of beer/soda, or goat by bicycle.

Most clothing sold in the market has been donated by Americans.

“Slash and burn” of forests happens mostly because people have no other economic options.

Women and small children hoe their farmland together.

Prostitution is common even where the infection rate is as high as 30%.

What the Ladies Say:


In October, I helped to convene a women’s focus group on Mount Gorongosa.  The women who participated are almost exclusively reliant on income generated from unsustainable farming practices.

Some comments from the ladies:

  • We are happy you are here so that we can share what is on our minds and hearts.
  • Transportation is a major problem for us.  We have to go a long way to sell produce.  Sometimes when we are in our home, our husbands tell us that we need to sell something.  Women are responsible for the the children.
  • To sell produce (beans, onions, tomatoes, potatoes, or corn), we have to leave at 3:00am for the long walk to the nearest town, Vila Gorongosa.  Usually, since we haven’t eaten, we are very hungry when reach our destination at around noon.
  • Men have between 1-3 wives.
  • Drought makes life very difficult.
  • When it is raining, there is very little transportation.
  • It would be great to have a marketplace to sell our produce next to the nearby school.
  • We need access to a “bomba da agua” (a well) for water.
  • We don’t have a place to buy clothing nearby.
  • We would like to have a “moagem” nearby so that we can mill our corn.
  • We do not have a means of storing food.
  • We are lacking seeds right now.  Currently, we are plowing (slash, burn, and then turning the soil), but we have no seeds to plant…
  • There have been no changes on the mountain since Mozambique gained independence from the Portuguese – and the civil war ended in mid-1990’s.
  • These women say that they farm “down,” not “up” on the mountain (unlikely for the ones from Nhandinde).  They likely associate “up” with where there is currently forest cover.
  • There are no groups here that offer us farming assistance, like in other areas of Mozambique.  There are no active agricultural organizations working with us.
  • We need help with clothes and food since we stay far from the main road.
  • It is hard to feed the children when you are poor.
  • There is a shortage of family planning and/or people to teach us.  Family planning assistance would be good going home to home.   (This could be further discussed, as at least one woman said it was better to do outside of the home).
  • There is no nearby health center.
  • Our husbands treat us unfair in terms of money, clothes, school, financial, and family planning.
  • People are leaving their homes and going to settle in the main road to change their type of life.

At the end of the discussion of general needs, we showed the group of women a sample of a tree seedling (soil in plastic bag with a germinated seed).  We asked the ladies if they would be willing to begin producing these bagged seedlings, if we provided them materials and payment for their work (1 metical per seedling).

  • The women looked at the bags, asked about the materials (seeds, dirt, plastic bags, etc) and then agreed that they would be willing to take on a project like this.

The plan is to arrange a second meeting in November to be held at one of the tree nurseries on the mountain.  There, we can inquire if the women would like to participate in a pilot project, which would consist on the development of 2 “community” tree nurseries.  They will be involved in determining the location of these nurseries and will receive the guidance they need in respect to building and maintaining them.  We will need to get an official roster of membership to begin this project and agree on a payment procedure.


Projected First Year (2011) Budget (15 women):            $3,698.00*

Projected First Year (2011) Production of Seedlings: 117,500

*Amount does not include the cost of purchasing seedling bags ($750.00).  This cost, however, should not be added to the expense of the project, as the GMRP has already been approved for this purchase.


First quarter budget (15 women) 38 Meticals/1 US Dollar:  $276.00

Months 1-3 (3 months)

3-4 meetings food budget:  $50

GMRP Vehicle Support (gasoline, etc): $52

Supplies and Labor: 5,000 seedling bags, 4 watering pots ($42), bamboo for building nurseries, and skilled labor from the GMRP forestry team.

Month 3 Payment to Participants:  (2 Community Gardens = 5,000 seedlings) = $132


Second quarter budget (15 women):  38 Meticals/1 US Dollar: $1246.00

Months 4-6 (3 months)

3-4 meetings food budget:  $50

GMRP Vehicle Support (gasoline, etc): $52

Supplies and Labor: 32,500 seedling bags, 15 watering pots ($158), bamboo for building nurseries, and skilled labor from the GMRP forestry team.

Month 6 Payments to Participants: (15 Personal Gardens = 37,500 seedlings) = $986


Third quarter budget (15 women):  38 Meticals/1 US Dollar: $1088.00

Months 7-9 (3 months)

3-4 meetings food budget:  $50

GMRP Vehicle Support (gasoline, etc): $52

Supplies and Labor:  As needed

Month 9 Payments to Participants: (15 Personal Gardens = 37,500 seedlings) = $986


Fourth quarter budget (15 women):  38 Meticals/1 US Dollar: $1088.00

Months 10-12 (3 months)

3-4 meetings food budget:  $50

GMRP Vehicle Support (gasoline, etc): $52

Supplies and Labor:  As needed

Month 12 Payments to Participants: (15 Personal Gardens = 37,500 seedlings) = $986


  • Expansion of this project can be done at the beginning of each quarter, but would involve added expense.
  • Tree seedlings can be used to stock a commercial nursery where sales benefit PNG or participants of the Tree Seedling Project.
  • Trees species grown below 700 meters (Park zone) can include a variety of fruit trees.



Leave a comment

On October 14, fellow Peace Corps Response Volunteer, Marty, and I organized an overnight trip to climb the highest peak within Mount Gorongosa, called “Gogogo.”  In addition to the two of us, our party consisted of Muagura, the E.D. of the Gorongosa Restoration Project, Bill Wright (Washington, DC), Robert Layng, the USAID Tourism and Biodiversity Manager (Maputo), and another gentleman from USAID working in accounting, Alberto (Maputo).  We also hired several porters who lived in the area to carry our camping equipment.

An early morning start would have been ideal for the 4-5 hour steep mountain climb.  Due to scheduling complications (meetings in Beira), we began the hike at about 1:00pm in 90-degree heat, exposing us to full sunshine for the first 1-2 hours.  The mountainside terrain consisted of many freshly burned areas, which is the way that people prepare for the cultivation of mostly beans and corn.  Banana trees and potato patches are common sites as well.  Upon reaching the rainforest, cool temperatures prevailed.  We collectively chose to camp halfway up the mountain to position ourselves for a continuation of the climb early the next day.

The fresh air of the forest was truly energizing as we prepared to eat a traditional meal.  We were lucky to have along with us, Senhor Sylvestre, Muagura’s “crew boss” from Nhancucu, who is a marvelous cook.  He took several cans of tuna fish and cooked them up with onions, tomatoes, and spices.  It was then served with a mound of “shima,” a traditional dish of thick (white) cornmeal porridge. One of the gentlemen (porters) brought around a pitcher of warm water so that we could wash our hands.  The excess water caught in a plastic bowl (like a portable sink).  A towel was used to wipe off the moisture.  The procedure of eating shima is with your hands.  You dip your right hand into the rounded white mound and scoop out a small portion of the shima squishing it into your palm.  You then shift it to your fingertips where you use it to scoop up the “sauce” or  “stew.”  Finally, you eat it!  Many foreigners will eat shima with a fork, but I am completely comfortable eating it with my hands.

Our group spent time together next to a small fire talking about development work (mostly).  Interestingly, since several of us were married with young children (5 out of 6), we also talked some about that as well.  Muagura pointed out the fireflies, which fluttered about in the forest.  I hadn’t noticed them before … it reminded me of my home in Missouri.

I slept comfortably in my own tent under the forest canopy.  It was actually so comfortable that I squirmed out from under my sleeping bag during the night.  This time of year (Oct), it would be easy to get away with sleeping under only a sheet on top of a sleeping mat.  This must explain why Sylvestre and the porters slept directly on the ground covered by a piece of African cloth.  No tent, no sleeping bag, no pad.  Amazing.

The next morning, I awoke at just after 5:00am and packed up my camping equipment. We had a quick coffee and some bread and then began the near 3-hour climb to the peak of Gogogo.  To complete this hike, one must have a good endurance level (strains the muscles) and decent level of physical fitness (cardio).

The trail up to the top of peak is fairly well traveled, but the hiring of at least one local guide is critical.  The reality is that there are many choices between paths within the dense forest and their abundance becomes even more evident without a guide.  Of equal importance is the fact that all teams who make the accent need to obtain permission from the presiding traditional leader, King Canda.

Earlier in the week, we trekked out to King Canda’s village with an (standard) offering of: 2 pieces of cloth (one black, one white), a jug of Portuguese wine, a carton of cigarettes, and a bottle of whisky.  The ceremony to gain access to the mountain is really quite enjoyable.  King Canda is about 75 years of age, a retired educator, fluent in Portuguese, and truly a diplomat.  In this area of Mozambique, you cannot get anything done in the communities (work or otherwise) without the approval of local leadership.  On this day, we left with a hand-written letter from King Canda stating, “These 7 people are authorized to visit Mount Gorongosa.”  It was ink-stamped to further verify its authenticity.

Upon reaching the top of the mountain trail, we left the rainforest canopy behind and the sky opened up to a cloudless day.  Clumps of waist-high dry yellow grass covered the landscape, sporadically sprinkled with a several dry-climate species of dry and “papery” wildflowers.  It could have been home to Tyrannosaurus Rex!

The final 30 minutes of the 1870-meter climb required us to scramble across rocky terrain to the (actual) point of Gogogo.  There, we enjoyed the highly anticipated reward of a 360-degree view of the district of Gorongosa.  Though the scary evidence of deforestation could be seen clearly on the lower slopes, also viewed were the continuous tracts of heavy forest cover; native plant species holding firm to their rightful place in the world.  It was truly inspiring, as many equally beautiful peaks surrounded the place where we stood.  A quiet beauty in the middle of southern Africa …

Zimbabwe Birthday

1 Comment

At the end of September, I made my monthly trip to Zimbabwe in order to have my passport stamped for re-entry into Mozambique.  The day coincided with my birthday (September 24) and I spent it by enjoying a Braii (BBQ) with some very good Zimbabwean friends.  The trip was a nice relief/break from my work in Mozambique.

Upon my return from Zimbabwe, Muagura and I accompanied a small team of representatives from the University Eduardo Mondolane in Maputo, which until 1993 was the only university in Mozambique.  They were focusing their work on growth rates of trees that had been planted over the past 4 years and on a general survey of the people.

The same week, I worked with Domingas, one of only 2 women employed by the reforestation project.  Our goal was to begin the development of a strategy to form a women’s group on the mountain.  The Chefe do Posto helped us to set an appointment with an already established group in the lower areas of Canda’s territory called Mao Amiga (“friendly hand”).  He advised us to set meetings at either 10:00am or 2:00pm in order to work around the schedules of women who work with crops.

At 10:00am on Wednesday, Domingas and I met with a group of 7 women from Mao Amiga.  There were a couple of very vocal leaders who spoke Portuguese with relative clarity, but it quickly became clear that Sena was the primary language of communication.  Luckily for me, Domingas is from the region so she could easily translate our message.  We were there to meet members of the group in order to learn more about their mission and activities.  We also wanted to see if they would generally support the formation of a women’s group on the mountain.

Mao Amiga is an agricultural group, which benefits from a well-established relationship with a (politically-based) micro-lending project.  We learned that the group has two sub-groups, one that focuses on the marketing of produce (vegetables/fruit) and the other on sewing.  The ladies were not aware of any similar groups on the mountain.  We shared with them our idea to host monthly meetings on the mountain which would each include an educational program focused on health/nutrition, farming, environment, beekeeping, or alternative income generation.

Upon completion of the meeting, Domingas and I walked the 7 ladies outside.  There, we spotted a larger group (9) of women arriving late.  There appearance indicated that they were coming directly from farming, with some even carrying hoes.  When they were seated (some on the floor), Domingas explained to them the highlights of the meeting that they had just missed.  As she spoke, I noted that this group was what I would expect the demographic of the women to be on the mountain.  Most wore no shoes, were dusty from the fields, and spoke zero Portuguese.  One woman spit onto the conference room floor and then rubbed it into the concrete with her big toe.  After about 20 minutes, the ladies left the office with no outward objection to our proposal to organize women in the mountain community.

The first full week of October included a focused effort on developing the Gorongosa Restoration Project Plan for Mount Gorongosa Mountain Range (i.e., the Mountain Plan).  This plan was to be presented at the quarterly management meeting held at Chitengo (game lodge) at the end of the first week of October.

The process of putting together the Mountain Plan took hours of discussion mostly between Muagura, Marty and me over several days.  We also included input from the forestry technician and coordinator.  The plan included a full strategy for protecting the closed forest and restoring deforested and degraded land over the next few years.  We included details on the size of the mountain range (the size of the city of Chicago), the mission and objectives of the project, the rate of deforestation based on satellite imagery, factors of deforestation, baseline information required, and the shortage of resources.  We recognized that GNP management might not be thrilled to with the suggestion of quadrupling of the reforestation workforce, however, we felt it our obligation to provide our best estimation of what would be required to save Gorongosa Mountain.  Ultimately, it would be the availability of funding combined with political support that would determine how and at what level the plan would actually be implemented.

On Saturday, October 9th, Muagura presented the Mountain Plan in Portuguese, and displayed the slides in English.  This dual-language technique is the standard format of GNP management meetings, as those in attendance vary in respect to language fluency. The basis of our Mountain Plan is to inject more effort/funding during over the course of the next 3-5 years.  Since Gorongosa Moutain Range has only recently gained Park status, this “surge” in funding would allow for widespread education initiatives, including the recruitment of several positions which we do not have at all, including agricultural technicians, forestry technicians, and environmental educators.  We also suggested the purchase of more vehicles to get our workers around the difficult mountain terrain.  Currently, we have 1 Land Cruiser and 1 motorbike!  Over the course of 3-5 years, the budget would gradually be reduced to a more manageable budget for GNP.  In essence, Muagura, Marty, and I hope that by implementing the Mountain Plan immediately, the rate of deforestation can be reduced quickly.  It is generally agreed that an aggressive plan of action focused on change in agricultural practices, alternative income-generation, park zoning, demarcation, reforestation and closed forest protection is needed to save the mountain range and its ecosystems.

The Mountain Plan created quite a stir.  There were some suggestions of how funding for the effort could be increased and why.  Not surprisingly, however, it was concluded that unless we have another identified funding source, we will be required to limit our actual 2011 Mountain Plan to a budget of $375,000.

Life of a Child

1 Comment




Monday morning, we hiked a small segment of Dup’s leased property, which in its entirety totals 7,800 hectares! He has been living on the land for 6 years, running a (corn) milling station, small store, and trying to jumpstart their Aloe Vera farm. In the meanwhile, they have built a school for the children and they run an “unofficial” health clinic out of their home. Dup told us that he has driven the road to Vila G. many times delivering a sick or injured person to the nearest hospital. Once, he even delivered a dying man to his rural home so he could be with his mother and father when the time came. He did it adding, “I kept thinking, I only hope that my own children would feel that same way.

Dup and his wife have been working on ramping up the production of Aloe Vera. Aloe Vera has been used for its medicinal properties for thousands of years. Today, most people use it in products ranging from fruit juice, hair products, to hand lotions. The original use of Aloe is still employed in their little health clinic. Burns, mostly as a result of falling into cooking fires, are treated by placing Aloe Vera directly onto the burns. It was nice to share a piece of Dup’s dream, which would encompass employment for the local people through the production of an earth-friendly (and human-friendly) product. Most jobs would be created by contracting with local people to produce the plant on their own designated piece of land (people do not own property in Moz). A few jobs would also be available in the (small) factory, which would aid in the extraction of (the important) live enzymes from the Aloe leaves.


Older Entries