A ride in an African bus on African roads pounds the body – you are jolted and pummelled pretty mercilessly – your backside most of all of course. They call it the African massage. As Stephen Fry once quipped; it leaves no stern un-toned.
But we were a merry bunch as we set off at 7am to see how houses are built in Mozambique – the jolts largely forgotten in our excitement to see the community in which we were due to build – a tiny place as it turns out. You might describe it as being in the middle of nowhere but it isn’t. It has a name and you might wonder why someone would name a place that consists of three old storage sheds in the middle of some maize fields – for that is what greets the inexperienced eye. The answer is of course, we human beings give names to the places where we have our home – and two of the three storage sheds are just that – homes. The other is just a storage shed. Though looking at it, it seems only marginally worse than those which are inhabited and I’ve no doubt it would be pressed into service if the need arose.
So this is why we are here; to build a decent traditional home for people currently living in sheds. They are a grandma who is caring for four children under 9 who, though not all of the same parents, have been abandoned; and a young single mum who carries her 10 month old baby everywhere – even while she lugs breeze blocks about – a task incidentally which she does with such alacrity and stamina that none of us can keep up with her- and Grandma’s no slouch either – she’ll pop a 12 gallon jerry can full of water on her head and bring it from the river to the site as if it were no more trouble than a small basket of washing.
So the day passes and as we work side by side with a likely-looking bunch of local guys and residents, we learn how to construct Mozambique style. But for the more acute observer there are other, more wonderful lessons to be learned from our hosts. Lessons in love, courage, courtesy, generosity of spirit, resourcefulness, creativity, humour and humility. It is said that someone who loses a sense is compensated by heightened sensitivity of the remaining faculties. These people who lack almost all material possessions seem to be compensated by an abundance of what I want to call ‘human-ness’. They have so little which is material and yet they seem to effortlessly exhibit these, most precious human qualities and values in abundance.
And as we travel back to our lodgings at the end of this first day, my mind is distracted from the scenery and the mechanical massage of my long-suffering glutes and the thought arises that although these people live in conditions which would kill most of us; more than anyone I’ve ever spent a day with; these people know how to live.