Wednesday, July 23, 2014

from quelimane to marromeu

we leave quelimane, a serene city of bike taxis and old churches, through dust and villages to get to marromeu a hot sweaty dusty mess. there is a main square full of vodacom propaganda and insane loud music. the president is coming tomorrow apparently. we check in to our hotel, a bunch of bare creepy rooms, with boxes of condoms everywhere. helga and i are all, ewwwwww, while semo is all yesssss! "the man must condomize, doctorélie!" we try to explain that a place with condoms usually means a place with lots of prostitutes, you know, people you pay to have sex with.
"the man always buys his woman's drinks, pay the bills and rent and her clothes" thus, the logic that all women are essentially prostitutes. this is the first of many interesting, sexist discussions we will soon have...
we meet kunat, our fearless camp leader and boat driver, a former elite military/professional hunter who has led fancy expeditions all over the continent. he has given up on shooting animals though, says he finds scientists much more interesting company.
we go to all the stores for food and supplies. the indian has rice, the chinese has cups and utensils (which are all super cheap and only end up lasting 1 day in the camp), some plastic clothespins we quickly regret for their terrible quality, etc...there is lots of sitting around, admiring all the indian Hero brand bicycles, and back to the seedy bar near our pension for the argentina football match. we drink j&b whiskey which costs about 25 cents.

be a hero
everyone else is drinking gin out of plastic bags. helga and i realize this is the last world cup game we will see, and that since the Munich airport, which had a huge outdoor public viewing movie stadium, the screens have gotten smaller and smaller. this one is in a cage affixed to the wall, you have to peer around the bars to see the score. so this is it, the last day of mobile phone coverage, last day of something even close to civilization, because our boat leaves for the delta in the morning. sleep tight, don't let the prostitutes bite! 
help yourself!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

mozambique mangrove expedition

so in july 2014, i was sent to the zambezi delta in mozambique to ground truth some satellite imagery - basically, to see what is on the ground and compare it to what it looks like from space. remote sensing becomes close sensing! i gathered my awesome consultant Helga who despite her old lady name is my age, and she helped prepare all the maps and data. we  got some sweet GPS units, satellite phone and walkie talkie equipment, my quick dry pants and fancy sport sandals, malaria meds and flew to maputo. i gave a presentation at the University on the first day, where they kept calling me "doctora." thanks guys i'm flattered but i don't have a no no, it's ok, in mozambique you call anyone who is more educated than you a "doctor" the students said. ok, sounds good to me. though "doctora aurélie" got a little redundant so they started calling me "doctorélie." much better.
doctor hugo, a shy, quiet voiced junior professor and dorcia, one of his students would join us on our trip. we printed out tons of datasheets, maps, and prepared everything for 8 days in the mangroves, to be completely cut off, no phone, no internet, no world cup final! no electricity, no running water, no freshwater. just...mud, mosquitos, mangroves, and mud. and more mud. and mosquitos.
the next day we flew to quelimane, after a 5 hour no-reason delay on the mozambiquan airline LAM. 30 minutes after we check in, hugo gets a text message, and says, "there is maybe no plane to quelimane today." we sit and wait. the airport is all new and fancy glass and white metal, with 4 gates. there doesn't seem to be a single plane anywhere, just blue sky and runway. we are offered a free lunch in the cafeteria where all the baggage handlers eat. note to self: when the mozambiquans look at the food selection and order just white rice and nothing more, don't ask for the fish.

a couple two-hour naps later, this white no-name plane arrives. i find out later it is called "the white dove." it's some south african leaser plane with a cargo crew who speak mostly afrikaans flies for LAM because they can't get their shit together. apparently, there is a wonderful 70 year old flight attendant but we didn't see her. "maybe she died" hugo says. the plane makes about 20 stops, in the most terrible order, zig zagging the whole country, it's like a flying bus. seriously, you barely get served a drink and the seat belt sign comes on, "we are now landing in " at one point we were served frozen chicken. helga and i resort to buying wine. it's not even south african wine, it's from chile. and it's about 50 cents. they ask me if i want ice. i don't know, "is it as cold as the chicken?". they don't have any change on the flight attendant goes, well, you could just order 4 more wines and then you don't need change.
"well how many more stops are there?"
it depends, we might give up on going to Tete, it's getting too late.
cheers Helga, at least it's a boeing.

we finally make it to quelimane and meet Semo, a local student whom gregarious and entertaining do not even begin to properly describe. everything that comes out of his mouth is hilarious, i want him to star in my movie. he has this way of speaking english where he drops the final syllable. "the mosquit(oes), their bites are so itch(y)! shall we go to the disc(o) and drink whisk(ey)?"
the van was meant to come pick us up to bring us to our next stop on our trip, marromeu, broke down. a replacement is sent, and i must inspect it. some weary skinny fellow shows up in this beat up local minibus, smoking a cigarette. i look inside, the duct taped homemade seats aren't even bolted to the floor, no seatbelts, and the stereo is broken. the driver exclaims that he knows the road better than the curves of his girlfriend. the engine starts, i ask him to come back tomorrow promptly at 7 am for our trip, and no drinking tonight amigo! he waves goodbye and stalls 3 or 4 times before the next intersection. we sleep a fitfull night in a very likely to have bedbugs mattress which seems to be filled with wet cardboard.
the driver shows up the next morning at 8 (africa time, i planned it, breakfast only started at 7 anyway).
and we're off. the driver is a madman. no respect for the proper side of the road, he just swerves to avoid the massive potholes, passing people on the left, right, who cares. he has the heat on (it's winter, a chilly 26 degrees) and i have to open the window to cool down. my face and hair are immediately covered in 2cm of dust. we get stopped by the Police or Military a whole bunch of times. everything time it's the same, they come up the window, stare at me, try to peer inside to see my hips or my bag, and then ask "are you mozambiquan?"
"passport." and they flip threw it, for an hour, trying to find some stamp or whatever, and usually only want to give it back if you give them candy or a kiss. i ask how old the guy is, 18! i am old enough to be your mother, amigo, let us go.

the fourth or fifth time we get stopped i try and wise up
"are you mozambiquan?"
pause...stare...narrow the eyes...

from the back of the bus "doctorélie, you can never outsmart the mozamb authorit!"