I awoke in a song with a head full of treehouses. Wait. Stop. Reverse that.
Welcome to Pemba, Mozambique, a gorgeous would-be honeymoon spot (except you can’t get there) on the Indian Ocean, where the ocean sparkles like blue diamonds and fishing villages occupy million-dollar beachfront property. If you have to live a million miles from your family then you could certainly pick worse locations.
As we drive down the beach front to the main “Base” of IRIS Ministries International, this Mozambican Margaritaville courses through my veins bubbling up in little school girl giggles. All this laughter erupts into full-blown splendor as we reach the main gate of IRIS, a 5 acre beachfront lot dedicated to serving the poorest of the poor in one of the poorest countries right next to a ★★★★★ resort hotel.
We have traveled for nearly a week overland from Zimbabwe through Malawi to reach this famous ministry. After word of mouth testimonies and Christianity Today articles about children with prophetic gifts and pastors raising the dead, not to mention thousands of new Christian disciples, we had to visit IRIS.
Heidi and Roland Baker founded IRIS in the early 1990s, when after doctorate degrees from English Universities, they literally, “sold everything and gave it the poor.” With nothing and no local or international support they moved to Mozambique because it was then the poorest country in Africa after a century war and Portuguese colonialism. They lived homeless among the local street kids, dependent on the kids experience to survive, returning street kids’ favors with Jesus’ love for them. The children kept the Bakers alive and they returned the favor by praying for them, healing them, delivering them from demons, and teaching them the lessons about Jesus, which they were teaching the Bakers. Heidi never preaches without naming the poor as her best and favorite teachers, and her ministry started by fully practicing what she preaches.
After some months, the newly formed government learned of the Bakers’ presence and “ministry” among street kids, and by a miracle, the Bakers were given an derelict (previously government) orphanage to operate/rescue. So they packed up their new savior street kids and moved into the orphanage alongside the existing children. They moved in and took over an orphanage full of neglected kids “full of demons,” but as the Bakers and their new army of servant street kids prayed over each other and the place, God worked miracles healing deep wounds and sowing the seeds of new life. In some of the most unbelievable testimonies I’ve ever heard, Heidi and Roland taught the kids how to hear from the Holy Spirit, prophesy, preach, and heal, before releasing them to do just that. Can you imagine 6 year olds praying for the healing of adults or speaking prophetic sentences to adults about their pasts?! All of a sudden, this predominantly Muslim area was flooded with stories of miracles “in the name of Jesus.”
Unfortunately, the Marxist government retaliated to her overtly Christian leadership and its awesome results, and so they reclaimed the orphanage issuing an ultimatum, “Stop talking about Jesus right now, and you can stay.”
Heidi cries every time she remembers this mass of children’s response, “These little saints just started singing and dancing, ‘God is great, we worship Him. Welcome Holy Spirit.’
The Marxists are screaming at them, ‘If you will just shut up you can eat and you can stay here!’ And the kids started singing, ‘Set them free from their sin! WE WORSHIP GOD! WE WORSHIP GOD!’ Little children, big children, every kind of child who had been thrown out…And then in unison these children, 320 children, started walking in defiance, walking in love, walking in victory down a dirt road, 27 KILOMETERS, down a dirt road…singing all the way! Barefoot little children worshiping God, praying for those who persecuted them, praying for their salvation, praying that their life to be given to them because of Jesus.”
The older kids carried the younger kids and they defied the nation’s armed soldiers because of Jesus. They lived as exiles and refugees for months because of Jesus, finally moving north to Pemba, where a generous local business man and hundreds of international donors collaborated to donate and purchase a gorgeous piece of land along the Indian Ocean because of Jesus.
From an orphanage that would accept any child, educate them, and baptize them with water and the Holy Spirit through persecution, IRIS Ministries has grown from one ministry to another as it addresses problems as they arise. IRIS Ministries, as we found it, is an enormous “Kingdom” operation that now operates (among other things):
1. A small orphanage, which focuses on reuniting children with their families. Often they reunite or reconnect the children with their extended families, so that the children retain their inherited land, which will provide them a living in the future.
2. An elementary and high school for 3000 students, offering a better education for less money than the government.
3. A small but well equipped medical clinic staffed with 6 M.D.s and as many nurses. They are a hospital, except they have no long-term beds for patients. Lines form every morning before sunrise to see the doctors here, because of the quality of care and the sliding pay scale.
4. A daily feeding program for 500 undernourished children. To maintain the feeding program and fight malnutrition, the “Base” serves rice and beans exclusively. No kidding, rice and beans every lunch and dinner.
5. A church planting ministry, which has planted thousands of churches through out towns, villages, the “bush bush”, bars, and brothels. Heidi has a vision from the Lord to start a church every 5Km through out Mozambique.
6. A Pastor training school, which trains 200 pastors from each of the above mentioned villages. When a new congregation is founded, they elect a leader to attend Bible College and become their pastor. The pastors train for 2 months at a time during the dry season, so that they can still sow fields and support their families throughout the year.
7. An International Harvest School, which annually trains 300-350 people from 42 different countries to live as missionaries in their various contexts. They learn with and from local Mozambican pastors with epic testimonies. At this school they are trained to use their Holy Spirit given gifts to heal, deliver, prophesy, preach, teach, love, serve, host, and pray in order to manifest the Kingdom of God wherever they are. So far these Harvest School graduates have started hundreds of organizations to radically love folks around the world, including over 40 IRIS “bases” in Africa, Asia, South America, and the United States.
8. A weekly Comparative Scripture Study with local Muslim leaders and believers. Christians and Muslims meet on Saturdays to study the Quran and the Bible together, questioning one another, and sometimes challenging one another.
9. A weekly outreach to women the sex trade.
10. Weekly visits to the local government hospital, where they go ward by ward praying for healing for all welcoming patients. Every week they see Jesus heal individuals, and the testimony spreads. They also distribute extra fruits and vegetables to as many patients as possible.
11. Weekly visits to both the jail and the prison to love and serve inmates. Many of IRIS ministries most committed and gifted preachers are former convicts that met Jesus through this prison outreach ministry. These former convicts have won thousand of disciples to Christ.
12. Weekly “bush outreach” ventures to preach and plant new congregation “5K further” to “one more village.” These are assisted and/or led by the nearest congregation, which will oversee and edify the young believers until a pastor can be called and trained. Every week, they show the Jesus film in Muslim villages and pray for Jesus to heal the sick, and as Jesus confirms his message with demonstrations of power i.e. healings and deliverance of demons, Muslims recognize Jesus as the Messiah and choose to follow Him.
13. English as a second language classes. Though the colonial language of Mozambique is Portuguese, English is a highly marketable skill as the tourism and natural gas industries grow rapidly along the Mozambican coast. Learning English is a surefire way to gainful employment
14. Profession skills classes for women. Each week women meet for Bible study and prayers before they move to learning marketable skills such as tailoring and jewelry making. When this ministry began, none of the women believed Jesus to be any more than a prophet, and now through relationships, conversations, and Jesus-moments, almost all of them know Jesus as Savior and know a skill with which they can support their families.
15. A vast international ministry through speaking engagements, interactive media, published sermons, and scores of published books by both Internationals and Mozambicans.
16. 30 International missionaries, who have given up jobs and raised their own salaries to live with, learn from, and love the poorest of the poor. These people come from such diverse places as India, Germany, Sweden, Australia, South Africa, Holland, the UK, and the US.
I cannot wait to tell you more about out time at IRIS Ministries in the next blog post, so stay tuned to be thoroughly blown away.
The next morning we woke up at 4AM again to walk to the bus station. Unfortunately there are 2 bus stations, which house different companies, but they are a good 4 miles away from one another. One has to choose his poison, and so we asked around about a bus and read a guidebook, and ultimately went with the guidebook. So we hit the pavement at 4:15 to buy tickets for the 5AM bus and walk through the pitch black to a bus station on the edge of town. When arrive, we find the station, but no one is there – no one except 3 people sleeping on the ground in the bus parking lot. There are buses, but no attendants. There is a guard house but not guards, and there is a ticket counter with no salesperson. We stand thinking that maybe they’ll open late, but nothing changes. We try to wake the people sleeping by talking loudly and throwing our voices in their direction, but again nothing changes. It’s now after 5 and there is not life at the bus station, and I’m getting worried.
Finally a man walks by from fetching water, and he greets us and asks if we’re looking for a bus. I say yes, but in Moz I don’t trust anyone yet. Then he gives us the bad news. This company is closed. There are no buses from this station. I point to the people and the buses and ask if he’s sure. He’s sure.
Welp. Bad choice.
I thank the man and then consult my handdrawn map again. It’s still dark and we have a 4 mile walk through this dingy, urban town to the other bus station, where all the buses may have departed. Better get to it. So we walk. And we walk. We often find ourselves walking down the middle of the street because at least there it is light and we will see anyone coming towards us. This is another one of those moments, where a mugging is better than possible.
As we walk, we talk, and I thank my wife for her patience and her adventurous spirit. I, in all my clumsy words, try to let her know how thankful I am for her. How I couldn’t do this job without her. How I’m so blessed that Jesus gave me a wife that shares my passions but has different gifts to bring to the table. She really is awesome.
There’s nothing to see in this town, but we do walk by a Catholic university, a police station, and even a gas station. There are no cars anywhere.
Following our map, we take a right onto the main road through town, and almost instantly one of our worst fears materializes. There on the sidewalk in front of us under the dark of overhanging trees in dark uniforms tucked into dark boots stand 5 men in Cuban styled army uniforms with (you guest it) Soviet Kalashnikovs over their shoulders and batons in their hands. There is no time to think, but I realize that crossing the road, would be like turning around at a DUI checkpoint. This is not going to go well.
I keep Claire on my right and the men on my left and my eyes straight up as we attempt to walk unnoticed by them. Maybe the fact that we’re carrying huge backpacks like Cinderella and Gus Gus running away from home makes us conspicuous, but the armed men immediately stop us. The spokesperson for the group barks at us like a hungover TSA security guard corralling an old woman using the crew lane.
Where are you going?
The bus station.
He’s speaking Portuguese, but so far my Spanish has drawn chastisement. I’m really suspicious of these armed, military men in the middle of the night, and their legitimate right/need to see my passport. The only thing I’m sure of is that I’ll be asked for a bribe, and so I hand them certified copies of our passports.
What is this?
They are certified copies of our passports.
Where are your passports?
These are certified copies. They are the same.
Where are your passports? These are copies of my passport made and certified by the Zambian Police.
They are not certified by Mozambique. You will have to pay. Where are your passports?
You don’t trust the Zambian Police?
You’re not in Zambia. We are Mozambique Police. Where are your passports? You have to come with us and pay.
No. I have my passport, but these are legal copies. Look, they are right here.
I say this as I pull out my passport but not my wife’s. I hold it next to my face, while showing him the front page and my Mozambican Visa. I keep the passport out of arms reach, never moving it towards his outstretched hand. Right now my passport is the most valuable thing I own, and I don't trust people in the dark. I know that if he holds it and the gun, I have no grounds for negotiation: meaning the bribe will be high because I can’t travel through 9 more countries without a passport.
He looks at it skeptically in the dim light and then asks,
Why didn’t you show it to start?
Because the copies are legally the same.
Why don’t you give me the passport?
Because I prefer to keep it in my hand. You can see it from here.
Mozambique police are good. Why don’t you give me the passport?
Because I don’t know if I can trust you. Can we go now?
You have to pay. Just give us a refresco (a drink).
Yes, a refresco. We have been here and we’re thirsty, so give us a refresco, and you can go.
But I’m legally here, why do I have to give you anything?
Just give us a refresco, and you can go.
I think we’ve done enough here. We’re going.
I say, smile, nod, and slowly turn to walk away sideways. He looks disappointed, but he and the men just stand their guns on their shoulders, hands on their batons. Now that I’m not talking, I forget to breath.
They stay put. We’re 30 feet away. 40 feet. 50 feet.
Praise the Lord. We made it through that with our passports and all our money and we learned that refresco is the local slang for bribe. Now we just have to find a way to the bus station.
We find it, but find that all the “big buses” have departed for the day. All that is left is minibuses. Terrific. We now get to share a Toyota mini-van with 26 of our closest friends, their children, and their livestock. “Regulators! Mount Up!”
For the next 5 or 6 hours we fly over gravel roads at breakneck speed. It feels like Luke and Bo Duke traded in the Charger for a school bus route. All of a sudden, the minibus pulls over. We’re not here, but we are here, wherever here is. This is obviously not our destination, nor the place our driver promised to take us, but everyone is disembarking, and luggage is being thrown from the roof. Well, we better get our bags so they don’t grow legs and then we have to find a way to Pemba, looks like we’ll be hitchhiking from here.
I find the conductor for the minibus, who has ridden the whole way in a paying customer’s lap – you can’t make this stuff up. The conductor explains that we have to switch to the flatbed pickup truck parked in front of us. I protest, because I’ve already paid the whole fare, and now I’m going to have to pay again. I’m done with this whole pay me and I’ll pay him, then you find out that the first didn’t pay the second, and the second isn’t letting you go till he gets paid by somebody. We argue back and forth, til I see the money change hands, and then I ask for the front seats.
We ride the next 6 hours in the cab of a pick up truck jamming out to “Funky Music.” Our driver realizes I’m speaking Spanish and switches to Spanish as well. I ask how he knows Spanish, and he reminds me that Cubans trained the Mozambican army, often flying officers to Cuba for more extensive training. He learned Spanish and Disco music in Havana. Fascinating who you meet on the road to nowhere.
We make it to our final destination a day a head of schedule with plenty of daylight to find a beach and a cold drink, so we hop a taxi to a local beach restaurant. As the driver turns onto the beach strip, the 4 days of brutal travel by bike, taxi, truck, train, and minibus disappear into the exfoliation of salty air and intoxicating sound of waves. We made it to the ocean, my happy place.
Now we have to find a place to stay and a wireless connection. For that we’ll need a phone, and so I attempt to buy the necessary hardware off a local youth. While he works on my phone, another young, white man with a noticeable Rhodesian accent interrupts, “Where are you guys going? Are you headed to Jerry’s?”
“Yeah, we’re looking for a cheap place to stay and heard Jerry’s was good. Any other places better?”
“No, Jerry’s is the best. Do you want a ride? I’m going that way.”
A few minutes later, we’re in a car with a stranger driving down the beach. Our new friend, Tom, was born in Rhodesia, but has been in South Africa since Zimbabwe was formed. He is making a killing supplying equipment, food, furniture, and logistical support to the companies setting up off-shore drilling. He is brilliantly Rhodesian: a businessman making money anywhere it can be made, no matter the rough conditions, and brashly anti-government and local police. He is a cordial guy, but he’s also the kind of person to read his own rights to police officers.
Tom tells us all about the current situation in Mozambique, where natural gas has been discovered and bought by the Chinese. Money is flooding into the country, but the government is so corrupt, only the Chinese are willing to “pay to play” (or so he understands the situation).
We pull into Jerry’s Backpacker’s Lodge like waking from a dream. There is a pool, a bar, a restaurant, hot bucket baths, and even a treehouse dormitory. I’m in heaven. I don’t care what this place costs we’re not moving again until tomorrow. So 30 dollars later we have 2 beds in a treehouse hostel straight out of a Peter Pan dream. It has a banana leaf roof and gum pole beams, but no walls to stifle the saltwater breezes. 30 minutes later, we’re in bathing suits eating lobster, shrimp, oysters, and French fries.
We pass the afternoon and evening walking down the beach and soaking in the swimming pool. We notify the family that we’re alive, and then we pass out at 9PM. Life is good, and tomorrow we report to one of the most exciting ministries on the planet: Iris Ministries.
Once again, this is another installment in a long serial that traces our transportation (woes) as we moved from Harare, ZImbabwe to Pemba, Mozambique. It was one of the more difficult and adventurous legs of our travel and as such sets the stage for much of what follows. We have a great reason for undergoing all these difficulties, namely to see IRIS Ministries, which we cannot wait to tell you about in a future blog. Please be patient when I become too verbose. If you would like to read the previous installment, check out "This is a Good Idea right?"
The alarm went off much too soon, but we rolled off our single bed and dressed, in the same clothes. We grabbed our bags and a white bread roll from our stash of food as we stepped out into the crisp desert air. It’s 3:40AM, pitch black. We’re in Cuamba, Mozambique. We slept in a closet last night for 3 hours. Now its time for a 12-14 hour train ride from Cuamba to Nampula. From nowhere to nowhere. Rock and roll.
We walk towards the front gate of our compound, only to find it locked shut. I shake the chain like Cool Hand Luke to make sure it is actually locked – “I’m shaking it, Boss.” With the jingle jangle of the rusty chain against the metal sheets of the gate, I hear a loud groan from my right, and look to see a uniformed guard slowly climb to his waist, and with sleepy hands reach for his nightstick and boots. He is sleeping on a single blanket on the cement floor of what was a bar a few hours ago, but he was sleeping as hard as anyone ever did in feather bed, which is evidenced by the funny looks he makes when he sees two gringos trying to breakout of a hotel.
For a few moments, he just stares at us, his brain is turning over, but the spark plugs just won’t fire. Finally, he asks in Portuguese, “You want to go? Now?”
“Yes señor, we need to go to the train,” and now he’s really confused, because what I spoke was not Portuguese, but some other intelligible language.
“Would you walk with us to the train station?” I ask.
“Do you have any cigarettes?”
“Cigarettes? No, I quit before I started, but if you walk us to the station, I’ll get you some cigarettes.”
He doesn’t respond, but he puts down the nightstick and drags his boots towards his bare feet. He laces them slowly as his fingers fumble with the fog of slumber. Then he grabs the nightstick again and leans on it like a cane as he pushes himself to his feet, and then walks towards us with the twinkling of llaves (keys).
I’ll take that as a “yes,” and I exhale like a stressed out smoker taking his first puff after a week of cold turkey – long and slow. I’m so relieved to have a guide and a guard on the way through these streets in the middle of the night.
We walk back to the train station, where there are already 25 or 30 people sitting on the steps in front of the small depot. It’s built in what I assume is the closest thing you can get to Portuguese mission style using handmade bricks finished in stucco and old decorative tiles, which are now a mosaic, stained orange to match the dust all around. We stand around and wait for the ticket window to open. We can see the train employees waking up and preparing for work, in fact to fight the desert heat, all the windows in the building are open, except the ticket window. So we just stand there in the big four-lane dirt road basking in streetlight, watching these employees brush their teeth, dress, and eat breakfast. While they are combing their hairs, another hand full of men arrive by bicycles and carts to the far side of the street, where they produce small tables and a surprise variety of bubble gum, hard candies, and cigarettes. They are like real live vending machines from the 80s. Since, I still owe our personal guard a couple cigarettes, I walk over and buy a half pack for some pocket change. Now that is a fair trade. (Note: This blog post neither endorses or encourages smoking, just safe travel.)
Another 20 minutes and all the people magically, silently, without a cue that I saw, line up at the ticket window. We do the same, and wind up about 20th in the line of people, which is a little nerve racking, since we’ve been warned that the train often sells out. But before I can finish the thought, a woman grabs my wife by the arm saying, “No, it’s ok. Front. Front.” She speaks broken English, which I kind of knew, because earlier she kept looking at my wife’s anxious face and saying, “Wait,” though at the time I took it as a Portuguese word. Now, a woman we don’t know has given us the very first place in line, and no one in the line seemed to grumble at all. Wow. Praise Jesus.
When the window opens, I use my Spanish to ask for two of the best tickets available, which cost me about 30 bucks. Tickets in hand we descend the stairs and look around for the appropriate entrance through which we’ll board. In these situations, I don’t much like asking for directions or help, so I just watch everyone and then imitate the majority – sheep style. This time we join a really long line that’s forming at a nearby gate, until I realize that the lines are actually segregated by sex. Ooops, I was in the women’s line.
When we board the train, we’re met with a pleasant surprise. We did in fact get the best tickets. We are in a brand new 1st class cabin, WITH A/C!! The seats feel like that wavy fiberglass slide on a playground, but at least they’re big, and we’re not crowded. After 17 hours yesterday on bikes, buses, hitchhiking, and pickup trucks, this is like a Cadillac.
We ride for 14 hours through hundreds of villages, stopping every 45 minutes or so in the larger villages. At each stop hundreds of children and women run towards the train carrying fresh bananas, oranges, cashews, even white rolls and shish kebabs of goat. In Africa, the food and beverage service is not provided by flight attendants moving up and down the aisles, but through the windows by local children.
When the train finally arrives in Nampula, I’m surprised to see a large town. There is even pavement for the first time in Mozambique – a tremendous surprise. We’ve been on the road in Mozambique for 2 very long 14 hour travel days, and we’ve only seen 7 other cars and dirt roads.
Once again, Claire and I know the name of several “budget” hotels and even their approximate locations. I actually have a map of this town, which I’ve hand drawn into my journal. What could possibly go wrong?
We walk to our first choice for a hotel, a place that the guide book describes as the best budget hotel in Nampula, and as we approach it I see a 6 floor tall building in really good shape with A/C units hanging from all the windows. If this is budget, then Moz just moved up on my rating scale. When we inquire about rooms, we learn that this is a budget joint, if you make half a million a year. At 250 USDollars, it is well above our price range. We’re looking more for 30 bucks a night. So we head back out on to the street using my hand drawn map and attempt to find another place. We do, but again over budget and fully booked, but we ask if the manager knows any cheaper places nearby, and he gives us the hand waving and fast speech that indicates directions, and I try to keep up. The next place we try, La Estrella, so named because it earned a single star for excellence 20 years ago, is getting close to our price range at like 75 bucks a night, but I’m not content – so we head back out into the night air looking for another place, that several hotel owners have mentioned as the cheapest place to stay, but we can’t find it. It’s like we’re walking right past it again and again, because every time the people tell us to go back where we came. Finally I break down and offer a few “mets” (the slang for meticals, the Moz currency) to whoever will walk me to the hotel.
A young man walks us literally 50 feet and points into a restaurant. I look and ask, “A restaurant? No a hotel.”
Well, who knew? Sure enough in the back of this place there is a hotel, and we while it is still 60 bucks a night, we’re exhausted and hungry, and we have to catch another 5AM bus tomorrow to our final destination, and this place has its own restaurant so we don’t even have to leave. Good enough for me.
An hour later, we’ve eaten a giant place of Indian spiced rice and some samosas, taken hot showers, and discovered our own air conditioning. Not too shabby.
Once again this is the third installment of a very long serial about travelling from Malawi to Cuamba, Mozambique. This installment begins where "Busing Our Way Through The Apocalypse" left off, and that began where "There's Something Women Like about a Pick-Up Man" left off. All three blogs together cover a single day of travel on a multiple day journey, that will continue to be recounted on this blog.
We walk towards lights and I use my rusty, Mexican Spanish to ask a guy about a hotel, and he stares at me blankly. I ask again and look at a few other men standing nearby playing pool, all of them look at me blankly.
This is going well.
Undeterred we walk in the other direction and start looking for someone else to ask or for anything that looks like a town or a hotel or a church or anything. I puff out my chest and try to fill up my 6’2” frame so that I’ll look tough to any opportunistic muggers.
I see a big gateway and wonder if it is a motel, or if its security guard will at least know of one. Again blank stares followed by some directions I can almost understand. We keep walking, and the lights get brighter. Just a bit. But it is encouraging. We keep walking towards the light and see bigger buildings and even a gas station. Now to find the hotel.
Claire spots a hotel looking place, so we veer off the road. It is in fact a hotel, with a decent looking restaurant.
“Do you need a room?” in Portuguese.
“Yes, please.” In Spanish.
“We’re full. All the rooms are occupied.” Portuguese.
“Please, sir, do you know of any other hotels? How about these?” Spanish. I show him a list of hotels from our book.
There is a young man standing nearby, who either works for the hotel or works for the man who runs the hotel, and he helps us iron out the linguistic variations and mispronunciations. They discuss our list for a minute, and then the younger man attempts to give us directions in Portuguese with hand motions and all, ending with something that roughly translated to, “If you can’t find it, come back here and I’ll show you where it is.”
I’m feeling pretty hopeful. So we start off down the road. We walk about three blocks, and while there are streetlights, it is very dark, late, and there are a lot of people on the road. I’m not scared yet, but I can tell my wife is. So I puff out my chest again and ask at every single door that looks like a hotel. After another 30 minutes we find one, and it has a vacancy, so I ask to see the room, which has 2 single beds in it, no running water, no fan, and no linens. It’s everything a jail cell should be.
I ask the price, and he quotes it at almost 100 US Dollars. I baulk. He holds firm.
I look over at my wife. It’s been a 17 hour day, with every mode of transport imaginable. We’ve been swindled again and again. We’ve spoken 4 languages and argued with scores of people, improvised hundreds of times, made a million decisions, and lost our tempers more than a few times. It all shows on her face, where exhaustion braids itself with the fear of walking around more in this strange town looking for another hotel by the guess and check method. She’s beautiful but she’s wilting and my heart breaks, so I tell the guy we’ll take the room but I’ll pay him in the morning.
He leaves and we collapse to our seats next to each other on one of the beds and drain the rest of our water reserves. We both feel like toddlers exhausted beyond words, where only tears will do. So we sit.
5 minutes later, it hits us that this place is a 100 dollar prison cell, and that we don’t have 100 dollars to spend on any hotel. I ask her if she has it in her to find a different place. She sighs enormously as she searches through her constitution for sterner stuff, and stands on power and energy from an unknown source.
“Yeah. I can do it. I just needed a minute.”
“Ok. We’ll walk out and I’ll explain to the guy that it’s not worth the money and that we’re leaving. Then we’ll walk down this next street and if we don’t see something we’ll go back to the first place and I’ll pay that guy to take us to a different hotel.”
“Ok. You lead the way.”
We walk out of the hotel and I look in the office, but no one’s around. So we walk towards the gate where I find the receptionist and the night guard. The receptionist asks where we’re going and I try to explain in Spanish that the room cost too much money and that we are going to look for a different place, that we didn’t even use the bathroom or anything.
Then these two little 5 foot men buck up and block the gate as if to bar our exit. He barks at me like I’ve stolen something, and I am too exhausted to do much other than panic. So I frantically tell him again that we didn’t do anything to the room, and that we are leaving. He keeps barking and I’m panicking at the look of the night watchman with his improvised baton.
I turn to explain to Claire what’s happening, and she agrees with me that we don’t owe them a dime, but starts to panic as well.
We both just say, “What are they going to do?” I square my shoulders and walk between the two of them like Stephen Curry splitting a double team, turning to insure Claire made it through the same opening, and we walk out onto the gravel streets with the owner still yelling at us.
He barks like a yard dog, but never leaves his gate.
Back on the street, I see a well-dressed man, and approach him for directions. He is very helpful but every single building he points to does not look like a hotel. In fact his directions don’t really lead us anywhere but security walls and bars. At this point in our journey, we’d like to be inside the former and avoid the latter.
So I make good on my promise and we walk back to our original hotel to ask for assistance. At this point, I will gladly tip someone to escort me to a hotel.
We find the same young man as before in front of the original hotel, and he looks surprised and saddened to see us still walking around 1.5 hours later. It’s getting late and we’re exhausted, so I just ask for help. I tell him that the other place was 100 US Dollars and he curses them under his breath, before excusing himself from work and leading us into the night air.
We walk for 10 minutes to what looks like an old colonial house with a loud bar downstairs. He ascends into the bar and yells for the barkeep. I listen carefully as he asks the barkeep for a room for the two of us.
“We’re full. All the rooms are occupied.”
“Really? They don’t need a fancy room, just a room.”
He turns to me, and repeats the bad news, before descending the stairs. We walk for 15 more minutes and as we walk we thank him again and again. We assure him that we can stay anywhere, that we don’t need a nice room or two beds or a fan or anything, but that we can’t pay the 100 US Dollars. We walk to another bar in a courtyard that seems like a mechanic’s garage. Then we walk through the bar out the back door into an inner courtyard, where he yells for an attendant. A small woman messy from cooking and washing slowly waddles forth.
He asks her for a room.
“Estan occupiados.” They’re full.
“All of them?”
“Si. Cada.” Yes. Everyone.
He looks at me and sees that I already understand the situation, and then drives deeper into this musty complex. We walk through hallways built for smurfs and doors built for dwarves before we exit out a different street. He turns left and asks at a different door.
Then he backs away from the door and lowers his eyes. That’s 4 hotels with no vacancies, and he’s been helping us for an hour and a half. I think he’s going to tell us to give up. Instead, he opens his right hand and starts counting fingers – naming each finger after a hotel we’ve already visited and searching his memory for any more remaining hotels in town.
He starts walking. As we walk, we talk.
“Where are you going?” he asks.
“From here, we’ll take the train to Nampula.”
“So you’re taking the train tomorrow?”
“The train leaves tomorrow.”
“Really? Are you sure? The book said Friday.”
“No the train leaves tomorrow. Do you have tickets?”
“No, no tickets yet.”
“You have to get there by 4AM tomorrow to buy tickets. It might be full.”
“4 in the morning?”
“We would have missed our train. Thank you. Thank you. 4AM isn’t very far away, if we can’t find a room, maybe we can sleep at the station.”
“No. You can’t do that. It’s not safe. You’ll get robbed. Demon-people live near there.”
“People with spirits that make them do bad things.”
“Oh ok. Yeah that would be bad. Where is it?”
“I’ll show you.”
We keep walking for 20 more minutes. He says there is only one more place that he knows of in town, where we can check. It’s far away, and it isn’t nice, but maybe it can have room. As we walk, we pass an ATM and a Bakery, and my hunger and cash shortage come to mind. I mention that I’m going to walk back to these places after we find a room, and a place to drop our bags. We keep walking.
10 more minutes of walking. It’s after 11, and our day started before 5. We come to a large metal gate, and push our way inside. There is a blacklight-lit courtyard surrounded by what appear to be rooms. Our friend yells, and a young woman about 30 appears. She looks as tired as I am, and all her body language yells, “What do you want?”
He asks if there are any rooms available, and she says no. My heart sinks. This was our last hope and now all we have is survival contingencies.
“Not even one?” he asks.
“No.” She says.
He starts to turn to me and with my body language and broken words I say, “Well. I guess that’s that. What can we do?”
Then he turns back to her and starts pleading, “Please. They don’t need a nice room. Can’t you make up something? Can’t you put them somewhere? Can’t you put an extra bed somewhere? They have to catch the train in the morning, they won’t be here but a few hours. Please.”
I cannot believe this man has taken 2 and a half hours to walk strangers around the town in the dark, looking for a hotel room. I cannot believe that he didn’t give up long ago. And now I cannot believe he is begging on our behalf.
“Ok,” she says. “I’ll make a room.”
“700 Mets.” (roughly 30 US Dollars.)
“I only have 660 right now, but I’ll bring you 40 more very soon,” I interject desperately.
A few minutes later she returns and ushers us to a small door that opens into a room with two cots in it. The room is smaller than a walk in closet, and the beds fill all of it. I’m so relieved; I throw my bag down on one bed and walk back out to thank our friend profusely. I want to dismiss him. It’s almost midnight and he’s been working with us for hours now.
He says, “I’m not going yet. I’ll walk you back to the ATM, so you don’t get robbed.”
ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!
So here we go again. The three of us walk back into the midnight air, and down the dirt road to an ATM. As we go he points out the train station again and reminds us to be there before 4AM to buy tickets.
Finally we arrive at the ATM, where there are armed guards still on duty. We grab some quick cash to cover our train tickets and food and hopefully a hotel tomorrow night. Then we return and thank our kind friend with all the words we can remember for his kindness. We offer a small thank you gift, and then I remember to ask his name.
“By the way, my name is Andrew. This is my wife, Claire.”
“My name is Saleem.”
“Then. As-salam alaykum.”
He grins with surprise and excitement.
“Wa-alaykumu s-salam,” he replies.
“Thank you again, Saleem. We would have been lost without you. You have been a blessing to us from God. We pray God blesses you.”
He turns and walks towards his original hotel. We walk back towards our closet room. We stop at a bakery to buy bread, water, and snacks for tomorrow’s long journey. As we step back on to the street and walk back to our hotel, a sense of absolute wonder fills our hearts. Surely, we were entertaining an angel and we didn’t even know it.
We talk about our angel and the way Jesus has provided for us today as we sit down on our small cot and eat a meager dinner of beef jerky, white bread, and a half an apple each. It’s after 1AM, and we’ll be awake in 2 hours for a 12 hour train ride, on what we hear is one of the worst trains left in Africa, but we’re blessed.
This post is a continuation of an epic tale about 2 adventurous followers of Jesus, trekking through Southern Africa by the most uncharted route possible to talk to other disciples of Jesus about who he was and what it means for us to follow him today. It is a direct continuation of the previous post, "There's Something Women Like About A Pick-Up Man." This post will cover our story from the border of Malawi/Mozambique to our arrival at the first Mozambican town, Cuamba. To learn more about us and why in the world we embarked on this journey, check out our first post, "The Proverbial Adverbial Questions."
Dismounting from our medal steads and exhausted chauffeurs, we walk around a chain that would not secure a second hand delivery bicycle in New York City that marks the border of Mozambique. Two steps onto the loose desert sand of the country, we see a large cement building with glass windows and a 25 foot flag pole waiving the old “Green-black-Yellow-Red-and Crossing hoe and bayonet-affixed-AK47.” We take the fluttering flag and excellent construction for the Office of Immigration and head in that direction.
We were wrong.
Not two more steps on the sandy soil finish before a rough voice cries out in Portuguese. I’m not sure what he said, but judging by the tone, it sure sounded a lot like, “STOP RIGHT NOW, OR WE’LL SHOOT!” We about face, and see a man in military fatigues with an AK-47 hanging from his shoulder standing just outside a thatched shelter. We stand frozen looking at him for what seem like hours, until he beckons us to the thatch, where we find 4 other fully-fatigued soldiers with AK-47s in various states of disrepair. Each gun seems to have either never been cleaned before or only cleaned with saltwater and steel wool. Entering and exiting the thatch is like playing limbo with palm branches and military rucksacks and the soldiers laugh behind flat faces as we negotiate the entrance with our 6ft frames and 40lb bags.
Only one of the men speaks – in Portuguese. We stare blankly. He speaks again. We try a different blank stare and hold up our passports. About 5 minutes later we write our names and passport numbers on a legal pad.
Leaving the shack we look for our bicycles, which now rest in the shade of the big cement building. So we walk towards the AK-47 brandishing flagged building where we write our name in another book, showing off our pre-approved Mozambican visas. The men look disappointed by our visas, but accept them and dismiss us. While standing in the office, I realize that I can read the literature, signs, and warnings, thought they are written in Portuguese, and then my travel-exhausted mind remembers that Portuguese is a lot like mispronounced Spanish. So I decide from here on, I’ll just speak Spanish to everyone and hope they think it is mispronounced Portuguese.
With the Spanish, the dust, and the ever-present weapons, exiting the immigration office feels like stepping out of the Alamo to remount our metal steeds. If so, then our chauffeurs are cattle rustlers, holding our mounts hostage in the middle of the desert and exhorting further payments for the privilege of riding rather than walking to the next town.
So 30 US Dollars later, and we have been thoroughly bamboozled, but at least we’re not walking – though we could have, a fact we realize as the boys overestimated distance shortens quickly until they drop us on a busy corner full of makeshift taxis and a couple dozen young men that remind me of the barrios in Mexico.
It’s not 3 o’clock in the afternoon, we’ve been on the road for 10 hours, we’ve already taken a chicken bus, two pick-up trucks, and 2 bicycles, we’ve been swindled 4 times, and we’re not even halfway through today’s trip.
I look for the leader of the men loitering around, and ask about a ride to Cuamba – the nearest town. He sends a younger kid to ask around and finds that a bus will come in about an hour.
Sweet, just enough time for a picnic lunch – so we pretend we’re Bert and Mary Poppins. Plans change, the horses may have come off the tracks, but we’ll make a day of it – life’s a song and this one just has a few extra minor chords.
Two peanut butter sandwiches later, a minibus pulls up. The angel leader of the young men, catches my eye and like a Mozambican Fonzie, he coolly motions towards the bus to indicate our ride. We walk over confirm the bus’s intended destination before throwing our big bag on top and securing it in place with a discreet, retractable bicycle lock.
Then I try to imitate our friend’s coolness by having a Coke delivered to Fonz. We could have never found this bus without his help, but Jesus is continually sending us helpers at the point of our desperation. Thank you Jesus.
Climbing into the minibus I slide in next to my wife and hug our bag of electronics to my chest, while trying to calculate how long it will take to fill this bus. After fifteen minutes, we’ve made a lot of progress filling the bus, and the engine turns over and we start driving down the dirt road with the door open and the conductor hanging out like a paratrooper.
3 blocks away we stop. SURPRISE!
We pick up another five passengers including another foreigner. SURPRISE!
The engine whines again and we make an illegal U-turn, at least it would be illegal anywhere with traffic laws. The sliding door is still wide open with the tail-gunner hanging out of the door yelling “Cuamba? Cuamba! Cuamba?” Again and again.
We stop again. SURPRISE! Actually we’re back where we started. SURPRISE!
We sit for 10 minutes, find one more passenger, before turning again to leave.
We stop again. SURPRISE! We’re back at our other stop.
We sit for 10 minutes, find one more passenger with a kid, before the engine and tires turn again.
We stop again. SURPRISE! We’re back were we began.
I’m starting to feel like a tennis ball.
All we need is one more passenger. Bueller? Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?
Time for the open highway, wind in my hair, fresh air in my lungs, smells of wilderness in my nostrils, let’s roll.
The highway is straight but sandy, and I feel like a matchbox car racing through a sand box at the direction of a toddler unaware of physics or the centrifugal force on passengers. We scream through the sand like a rally car racer with windows closed because asphyxia sounds better than death by exfoliation.
The scenery is bleak. There are hundreds of acres of blackened stumps. Everywhere. Hacked off at the waist, and then charred blacker than midnight in a coalmine. On and on and on. Hack. Hack. Hack. Hack. Burn. Burn. Burn. Burn.
This is the apocalypse. A world blackened by slash and burn desperation. The world smolders and my heart burns with anger, sadness, judgment, hatred, and despair. What have they done?
I’ve never been there, but this is Hell – no life, no breath, no color, only rubble, destruction, death, and dust – where we’ve finally succeeded at disintegrating God’s garden.
Whether it’s with machetes or machines, torches or towers, land-exhaustion or land-fills this is the end goal of all our labors. I can’t hate these Mozambican peasants ringing every drop of nutrient from the sandy soil without hating the American public for ringing every drop of oil from the sandy sea floor.
We are what we hate, just with a different dresscode.
For hours, we fly across the sand, through smoke so thick it threatens to choke not only us but the van’s combustion engine, and I think these thoughts during the comas and periods of my Moby Dick audiobook. I’m not worried about a collision, since there is nothing out here to hit – no cars, no trees, no visible inhabitants – but I have driven dangerously enough to know that you don’t wreck in sand, you roll.
Jesus, I trust you.
6 hours later and we’ve seen one other vehicle and have yet to see a single shred of asphalt. So with the sun set turning all this dust into pastel chalk, we arrive at our destination, Cuamba, or at least we think we’ve arrived at our destination.
We dismount and retrieve our bag from the roof rack, which has been dyed camel hair brown by the dust. We have no map but we do have the name of 3 hotels in town – we think. We don’t speak the local language, but we poorly speak its rejected cousin, Spanish. It’s dark and we’re wearing backpacks that scream, “We’re not from around here, we’re carrying all our possessions on us, and we can’t run very fast.”
Yeah, this is a good idea right? What could possibly go wrong?Find out how are day ends on the next installment of this serial. A small hint, we're a long way from sleep.