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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!

Last days at Tofo

MOZAMBIQUE | Sunday, 27 May 2012 | Views [1085]

Nursery at the orphanage

Nursery at the orphanage

Two months flew by, and I'm at my last days in Tofo.  It is really true that time flies when you're having fun!  I cannot believe how much I've learned during my time here, and further reinforce my belief that I learn best by doing and being in the middle of the action.

The last week included a final dive at my favorite dive site named "The Office", and it was a great day at the office indeed!  A friendly white tip reef shark, a Jenkins ray, and loads of fish including numerous butterfly, parrot, and surgeon fishes, moray eels, and the often photographed potato bass.  At the safety stop, there were so many planktons, it's a shock no whale shark just swam by to gorge itself.  There were also plenty of small jellyfish that mildly stung my ankles, one of the few parts of my body that's exposed (since mid-May I've worn a long-sleeve wetsuit for my dives, the deeper depths can get quite cold now that winter is practically here).

My last ocean safari was one of the most enjoyable, but not because of what we saw.  The boat had no tourists and only folks from All Out Africa (even the social volunteer who works at the orphanage joined us this one time), so we were more relaxed and goofy.  The conditions were nice: relatively calm ocean with no white caps on the waves, little wind, and just-right temperature.  We had two manta ray sightings, and both times I missed it completely (half of the boat did, so again which side of the boat you sat in mattered!)  We saw a few dolphins from the surface and many tunas jumping out of the water, trying to escape from being eaten.  The best part was spotting a leatherback turtle floating near the surface; one of the volunteers in the dive that morning saw a leatherback turtle, which is critically endangered and rarely seen in Tofo nowadays, so we were all jealous.  We don't know if the turtle we saw was the same as the one from the morning dive (would be great if it wasn't), we were just so thrilled to have encountered it, even though it was only for a few seconds before it dived down.  Before we headed back to shore, I requested a group photo and I finally got to sit in the "high chair" at the back of the boat (the chair is elevated in the back so the assistant sits in it to spot animals).  And seeing it was my last ocean safari, I decided to  jump from the chair into the ocean (it's about 2 meters high); i wanted to dive gracefully but am really not that acrobatic, so my feet ended up in the water first.  It was quite a thrill nevertheless!

My last week was slow otherwise, so one day I accompanied the social volunteer, S, and spent it with her at the orphanage in Inhambane.  She has been sharing her stories from the orphanage with us daily, so my expectation was low.  Babies as young as 8 months are fed rice, even though there is formula to make milk (workers too lazy? not sure why); diapers aren't changed until they are very soiled; the mentally disabled kids are left in their cot almost 24 hours a day, even being fed their meals there, even though one of them can "roll" himself around (he cannot walk) and has shown a preference to sit at the table with the toddlers to take his meals (there are also wheelchairs to take them outside).  This orphanage also functions as a daycare; many toddlers and one baby are dropped off for the day, and the toddlers attend the same daycare as the orphans, while the baby is in the nursery with the other orphans.  There are probably about 50 kids at this orphanage, mostly boys; there are about a dozen kids between newborn to 4 years old, 3 severely mentally and physically disabled kids ranging from age 7 to 17, and the rest are between 5 to 18.  The babies and toddlers sleep in cots in the nursery along with the disabled kids, while the older kids are separated into a girl's room and boy's room, each with bunk beds and a shelf for their possessions (similar to my bedroom setup here!)

We went to the nursery upon arrival, and a toddler around 2 years old immediately walked up to me and held her arms up, wanting to be held.  S had told me all the younger kids are like that because they totally lack physical attention by the staff, who mostly just feed, bathe, and change them (and when the staff do lift the kids, they do so by grabbing them at the armpit, even kids as young as a few months old, imagine doing that in a "first world" country, will be total taboo!)  I held the girl in my right arm and we sat outside in the shade; as much as I tried to get her to smile, she just wouldn't, something I noticed with almost all the younger kids.  A bit later, another girl around 4 years old, sneaked out from daycare and approached me, reaching up to me to ask for a hug; I already had one girl in my right arm, so I knelt down and put my left arm around her, and she immediately wrapped her arms around my neck.  So there I was, crouching down on my knees, with one girl lifted in my right arm, and another girl in my left arm hugging me, and I was so glad I had the opportunity to be here even for a day, to give these two beautiful girls a moment of attention.  I also thought at the same time about the tough road ahead for them and all the other orphans here, and how lucky the other kids in my life are, such as my two nephews, who are about the same age as these two girls but leaps healthier, stronger, and have limitless love, blessings and possessions in the world.

We spent the rest of the morning sitting on a blanket on the floor (there aren't any tables), and did arts and crafts with the older kids.  S found a large stack of colored construction paper and glitter at the volunteer house, so she brought those for the kids.  I started by doing a bit of origami; I'm really bad at it and forgot how to fold a crane, so I folded the only thing I know which was a silly looking chair/bed.  S cut up some paper, folded them, then glued them onto another piece of paper to make a flower basket.  The boys were at first more interested in the scissors, cutting up cardboard boxes, but once they saw what S did, they got creative.  One boy started drawing and was quite good; he drew a house and car, although it was revealing that inside the house, he only drew one stick figure for himself, instead of several figures to include parents like other kids would.  Another boy cut up pieces of paper to construct his name, and then used glitter to glue them together; one boy cut holes in the paper, then tied thin pieces of paper together to make a string, and strung it to the cut-up paper to make a mask.  Even one girl, who never spoke and constantly used a broken spoon handle to beat against her palm, came over and started doodling.  We ended up making a big mess of cut up paper and glitter on the floor and blanket, but it was great fun.  Even the kids dropped off to daycare came over and wanted to draw, and apparently they never paid any attention to the orphans (and in fact bullied them a bit).

Lunchtime arrived and the babies and toddlers in the nursery were given rice flavored in fish broth, and S and I fed them to the kids.  There's no refusing food and being picky; either they eat or there's nothing.  One of the babies was fed a high-protein cream substance from a foil pack (like peanut butter); he has been sick and could not hold rice down, so has become quite malnourished and dehydrated, and this food should help.  He didn't really care for it though, had only about two tablespoons and then refused the rest.  Meanwhile, the girl (whom I carried around for a while) sat down and ate her rice like a champion; besides my nephew Adrian, who is a champion eater, I have never seen another child who ate as meticulous and as fast as this little girl!  She held a spoon securely, and was very careful when spooning the rice, eating each one completely and immediately scooped the next one.  There were some bits of fish with bones in the rice, and I wanted to remove the bones, and she brushed my hand away; apparently she didn't like other people touching and helping with her food, just like my nephew too!  It was quite a sight to watch her eat, although I worried that she was eating too fast, taking the next spoonful before swallowing and would choke (S told me later that many orphans eat quickly because the staff may take the food away even if they're not done, so it's a learned behavior, ugh).  

After lunch was nap time for the babies and toddlers (even the daycare kids), and they either slept in their cot or on mattresses laid down on the floor of the daycare room.  Meanwhile, the older boys changed into their uniform to attend school located somewhere within Inhambane (Mozambique offers free education up until age 12 or 14, forgot the exact age).  S changed several diapers before putting the babies to sleep, and then we left.  It was an eye-opening experience, and I wish more willing people all the world will consider adoption. 

Two days later on Saturday, the orphanage took their monthly field trip to Tofo Beach.  A very active volunteer of the orphanage (an expat living in Mozambique) got two local businesses to provide lunch and cake to the kids, and us All Out volunteers played with them on the beach.  One MMF researcher (an avid surfer) brought his surfboard and taught the kids to surf, as did a surf shop owner who brought along several boards.  The younger kids sat on the beach with us, enjoying sunshine and pineapples; as they did at the orphanage, some of the younger girls took my arm to wrap around their shoulder once we sat down.  I also took an older girl (the one who constantly beats a broken spoon handle against her palm) into the water; not only did she laugh, she actually said some words!  I have no idea what she said, but considering I never once heard her speak and barely saw her smile at the orphanage, this was amazing!  After a filling lunch and relaxing on the beach, the volunteers took them back to the orphanage at 4 PM, no doubt with lots of laughter in the chappa and hopefully great memories of the day.  

The last weekend also included a fun night out with the other volunteers Friday evening, which started with drinks at the house, dinner at a fun local restaurant, and dancing at a restaurant/bar that everyone in Tofo seems to go to every Friday evening.  Sunday evening was a delicious BBQ at home, something I haven't done since being here, and it was great!  This was the official "farewell dinner" to me and another volunteer (a gal from Dallas who was here for three weeks), and what a spread!  The volunteers went to Inhambane earlier in the day and bought chickens and sausages to BBQ, and vegetables for a salad.  They also made hummus, roasted chickpeas (a first for me, they were crunchy and delicious), garlic dip, potato salad, all washed down with a South African red wine (it may have come from a box but it wasn't bad!)  

And so went the last few days of my stay in Tofo.  I could never have imagined everything that I saw, smelled, touched, felt, and sensed here; every moment, good (lots of) or bad (some), was worthwhile, amazing, and oh so memorable.  I hope the Tofo charm will remain even if tourism grows, and there will still be plenty of majestic marine life to see.  

Tags: inhambane, leatherback turtle, manta ray, ocean safari, orphanage, tofo



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