You Can’t Relive the Past (Pt.1)

…and sometimes, that’s ok.

Today marks three weeks in Mozambique. How many posts have I written in that time? Zero. Nada. Zip.

Believe me, it’s not for lack of material. I’ve got more to post about from the past 21 days than time will ever allow for.

I could certainly blame it on internet access. Though Moz has made significant strides in this area in the intervening years since my departure, in many ways most of the country is still lurking in the Stone Age regarding telecommunications.

I could also blame it on long travel days, traveler’s fatigue, heat, lack of a good, cool place to compose my thoughts…but that doesn’t really tell the whole story either.

Honestly, I don’t have a good excuse. I think part of it is that after spending over two years living here, and then trying to retrace many of my steps, do many of the same activities in much of the same way that I did them before — sitting in front of a laptop for long periods of time doesn’t feel quite right.

–Oh, and the weather has been fantastic. Incredibly dry, which is a bit strange for this late in October, and wonderfully comfortable, nearly everyday — whether cloudy or sunny. After Belize, having perfect weather day after day — sitting in the sun (and enjoying it!), rarely breaking a sweat (except when in transit), walking around without umbrella or rain jacket in tow — feels absolutely luxurious.

We’ve got one week left in Mozambique, and so far, it’s been a pretty good visit. Some things haven’t turned out the way we planned (or the way I had envisioned), but they never do, and for the most part I’ve learned to accept that…

…especially once I came to the realization that — despite my previous experience as a Peace Corps volunteer profoundly impacting nearly every facet of my life during and after my service — I wouldn’t trade the present for the past.

I’m blown over by how amazingly easy it has been at times over the past eight years to romanticize my 27 months living here. Certainly, at no time did I long more for the tourquoise waters and warm breezes of the Indian Ocean than during my four-year experiment in sedentarianism in Seattle. Somehow spending 40+ hours a week at a desk in a windowless cubical can do that to a person. The further I drifted from my time in Mozambique, the easier it became to turn even the most painful experience into something approaching a rosy memory. I longed for the simplicity of bucket bathing and paraffin lantern-lit evenings; to be something of a celebrity in an exotic land rather than a nobody in a faceless, consumer-driven culture.

But then something happened along the way… I found the best travel buddy ever, married her, kissed my 9-to-5 desk job goodbye and embarked on a journey spanning five years and five continents. My experience traveling, working and living in developing countries expanded exponentially.

Mozambique, once the gold standard against which all subsequent experiences were compared, was joined by other far-flung destinations. Suddenly, the present journey became a quest to discover which superlatives Mozambique would still retain in the wake of all the intervening destinations and experiences. Would the culture still be as quirky and unique as I remember? Would rural villages seem as basic and idyllic? Would the Indian Ocean be as blue as the ocean which occupies my dreams? Or would these memories be overshadowed by the places, people and experiences from Belize, India, Laos, Uganda, and so on?

I waited for it all to hit me. I waited for it to soak in.

After crossing the border, Lori asked, “Does it feel weird to be back?” It was a hard question to answer. In many ways, I felt like I hadn’t left — that the past eight years had been a dream and that it was November 21st, 2006 — the day after I left. In other ways, it didn’t feel like Mozambique. It felt that we had arrived some place which felt both vaguely familiar but also very foreign — like running into your very best friend from primary school who you hadn’t seen since you were nine years old.

Day after day, I wandered through a fuzzy dreamland, pointing out things to Lori that had changed, and things that hadn’t — Maputo, Maxixe, Inhambane — seeing memories which laid dormant for the past decade spring into perfect focus. Remembering how to get to incredibly obscure places I had only visited once or twice, but forgetting how to get to a restaurant I had been a dozen times.

Was I happy to be back? Most definitely.

I only had fond memories of Maputo, Maxixe and Inhambane, and it was an incredible treat to be able to share them with my wife. It was fun, great fun, more fun than I had had in a long time. All the good stuff remained. Much of the bad stuff was better. But the one big question lingered: how did I feel to be going back — back to my site? back to Morrumbene?

Everyone, including myself, had assumed this would be a source of great joy — like the part in the bad reality show where the guy returns after so many years and encounters all of his old friends and neighbors who he thought had forgotten about him and is overcome with emotion and weeps uncontrollably, and so on and so forth. I hadn’t any idea how I would feel returning, but if anything, was curious to find out.

The way our schedule ended up, we’d have a bit of a dry run in this respect. We’d be briefly transiting through my old town on our way out to the remote point of Linga Linga where we were visiting an old friend. We’d have the better part of a day on the return journey back from Linga Linga to make our way around Morrumbene in more depth.

We boarded the old familiar chapa in Maxixe and made our way north, a journey I must have done 50 times over two years. I had memorized every rise and bend of the 30km stretch between the two cities, and very little seemed to have changed. It felt strangely mundane to me — though Lori of course was overcome with excitement.

I still didn’t know how I felt. I expected to feel some emotion at this point. Any emotion would do — excitement, anticipation, dread, anxiety — but it never came. I waited and waited for it to hit me. I was here, after all, after so many years — after so many dreary afternoons in Seattle dreaming of this place — I was back.

But the feelings weren’t coming. We stopped at the junction with Cambine where the two closest members of my Peace Corps family had once lived, where I used to buy plates-full of huge tiger prawns and the sweetest and juiciest mangos and avacados I’ve ever tastest, for pennies. I expected it to feel more visceral — there were the women, perhaps even some of the same women. There were the prawns. No emotion, no nothing.

Minutes later, we rolled into town, and finally, it happened–

I found myself overcome with one singular emotion–

A very unexpected and powerful emotion–

A feeling I certainly didn’t expect–

Here it was. Morrumbene. We had seen it. And now…

…I wanted to leave.

(To be continued…)

1 thought on “You Can’t Relive the Past (Pt.1)”

  1. Beautiful descriptions, as always enjoyed every word !
    What an experience. LUV, GM


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