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Taking the road less traveled Spending a year in five continents to embrace my "inner turtle", to live simply, and to avoid being shark bait!

Becoming a local expert

MOZAMBIQUE | Sunday, 13 May 2012 | Views [478]

Six weeks into my program at Mozambique, and now there are only two volunteers from the April group, me and L.  The May volunteers, 9 total, have been here for a week and are settling in.  It's another diverse group:  3 Americans, 2 Brits, 2 Swiss, 1 German, and 1 Dutch.  One of them is here to work in the local school as an English teacher (although she's placed as a helper at an Imhanbane orphanage instead) and the rest are to volunteer with the marine conservation project.  As a group, the May volunteers are quite different from the April volunteers I started with; most are more eager to go out in the evenings to the bar whereas the April group preferred to stay in, and while the April volunteers were more coordinated with cooking and sharing meals, the May volunteers dined out often and have spent little time cooking and eating at the house.  One startling difference:  the gals in the May group take the time to primp themselves before heading out (some even wear makeup to dive), while in the April group, we merely put on a clean shirt and we're ready to head out.  This could make for an interesting study in group dynamics and behavior. 

It's funny that after 6 weeks, I've become the local "expert" to the new folks.  I advise them on prices from coconuts to souvenirs, where you can find shade at the beach, and make restaurant recommendations (at least to the four places I've visited).  I got them to join me at beach volleyball and to pass time at the beach.  One dramatic difference is how I've gotten accustomed to passing time "African" style while they are still in "city" mode (none of them came directly from another trip or volunteer program elsewhere in Africa).  I've trained myself to slow down when eating; one of my favorite things to do now is have breakfast on the balcony while reading my book and taking in the view in between bites (ironic that even though I never ate on my balcony in my SF home).  Compared with my marathon meals, the new folks "inhale" their food in seconds and then feeling antsy, either eat more, or they hop online or tap away at their laptop or mobile phone.  Even before I came here, if I was enjoying quiet time or with friends, I was easily bothered by the typing sound of a keyboard or the buttons on a mobile device; now, I am definitely troubled and can understand even less why people want to be tied to their devices, especially in Africa while on holiday!  Think I will have a difficult time back in the first world and people's constant need to be connected.

One thing I have not gotten used to, especially when I'm just relaxing on the beach, is peddlers walking by and trying to sell their goods to me:  fruits, bracelets, sarongs, cashew nuts, or that morning's catch.  I know they're just trying to make a living, and as a tourist, I'm the perfect target, but it gets tiring when I constantly have to say "nao, obrigada" ("no, thank you" in Portuguese).  I have yet to be swayed in buying anything from a peddler; I am the type who normally knows what I want to buy ahead of time and buys only that, nothing more.  It is hard though, especially when it's a little kid with bracelets, and each bracelet costs less than US$1 (at least after some price negotiation; even the kids know to start the price high).  Some of the kids are really more interested in chatting with you, and some speak English very well considering they don't all go to school and learn by talking to tourists.  They usually have given themselves an English name (Johnny is common) and you see them hanging around the market or beach daily, wearing the same clothes and no shoes.  They are not shy and love chatting with you, and like any other kid, they are pure and innocent in their thoughts and comments.  When the last group of volunteers told them they were leaving, the kids pouted and said "why? stay!"; they also gave each of the girls a bracelet (similar to the plastic LiveStrong bracelets) with random designs like a marijuana leaf, AC Milan, and Nike (don't think they know what they are).  There is one kid, Manuel, whom I have a difficult time tracking down; he sells samosas that his mother makes, and besides the two times I had money on me when I saw him, I have not bought more  because we keep missing each other or I don't have money on me, and some of you know how much I love samosas so it's ironic!  He changes the price on me every time though; the first time it was only 5 mets each, then the next time he doubled to 10 mets each (eventually he lowered back to 5 mets each, but he sold them to me like this:  "I will sell you for 10 mets for one, then give you the other for free." )  Cute kid!  

Price negotiation with the locals is more difficult than I expected.  They always start the price high, and I immediately respond back with something that's less than half of the starting price (at which point they cringe and cry foul).  My goal price is usually about half of the starting.  That did not always work though, and I've walked away on several occasions; it's a good thing I'm not very interested in the souvenirs so it is not difficult to walk away.  Once I accompanied another volunteer N when she found two bracelets; the starting price was something ridiculous like 500 mets total, and N settled on a final price of 260.  She only had 100-met bills though, so she gave 300 and needed 40 in change; the seller didn't have any change and didn't really try to find any change either (they often claim this, I think it's a tactic to sell more).  I stepped in at this point (I have seen one too many attempts of this tactic) and gave N my 50-met bill so she would have 250 mets and then figure out how to find the remaining 10, instead of the seller owing her 40 mets.  For some reason though, my math was all wrong that day, and as N gave the seller 250 mets, I told him "now you give me back 10" thinking he owes us 10 instead of the other way around.  Funny enough, he went to find the change; by then I realized my mistake and N and I wanted to laugh, but we held our composure.  We got the change and quickly left, holding our laughter until we were out of earshot.  We realized then that as long as you're assertive, the seller will do whatever you say even though my calculation was wrong.  I never went back to that seller's stall, and I doubt he realized the mistake (it's not as though they keep track of every business transaction).

I'm looking forward to diving and going on ocean safaris with the new volunteers.  Four of them are taking their open water and two their advanced course, so only two are ready to start the research dives at the deeper sites right away.  From what I learned from the divemasters at Peri Peri, loads of planktons are starting to show up in the water this week, which means loads of food for manta rays and whale sharks, so hopefully lots of sightings in my last two weeks!

Tags: mozambique, ocean safari, plankton, tofo

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