“Viva, viva”, even with my limited grasp of Portuguese I understood these words “hurrah, hurrah” being chanted very loudly and very proudly as I left my house for my normally rather serene walk to work.
But today was Labour Day. A first for me since arriving in this sleepy Mozambique town and there had been little to prepare me for the sheer passion I was about to witness in celebration of this national holiday.
A truly extraordinary sight greeted me as I rounded the corner as well as instantly revealing the source of the upbeat chanting. Arriving from every direction came truck after truck, bus after bus, cars, bicycles, cow-drawn carts and literally hundreds of high spirited pedestrians heading in one direction. Stopping one jauntily dressed reveller, I asked where everyone was heading, “No-one knows” was his chirpy answer. Bemused at his response, I pondered that surely someone was the leader of this pack?
The festival caravan crawled along at practically the same pace as my walk, slowed by the sheer mass of people on the streets as well as the overloaded weight from its passengers. Taking note that each truck seemed to be themed by occupation- the celebration of Labour Day being the celebration of gainful employment.
I spotted the farmers truck ferrying what had to be a group of farmers plucked straight from their fields, dressed in the tattered mud specked clothes of an outdoors labourer and rather zealously swinging hoes and machetes in the air above their heads. A group of women in white doctors’ coats held aloft a mammoth homemade flag with a red cross splayed across it, the doctors float I safely assumed.
Helen meets the witch doctor
I even spied one truck with a full size African water pump strapped to its open platform! The pump lever was being ferociously pumped up and down by 3 voluptuous African ladies as they tirelessly sang from the depth of their bellies praising God for the clean water their children drink. No matter that half the water they pumped sprayed in every direction except for into the tiny pot precariously balanced under the mouth of the pump. Drenching them and running over their feet and off the back of their platform to leave a tell tale wet train in their wake!
Every sound system in town was blaring out crackling African dance music as loud as their poor quality speakers would allow and the party spirit was infectious. On nearing Heroes Square I happened to glance up and catch the eye of one of the party goers in a passing truck. Breaking into a huge grin, he bellowed ‘Mzungu’ (‘foreigner’). I smiled and waved as his fellow passengers, hearing him holler, turned in my direction. I was not to be left out of the party so it would seem. Children were thrust off the back of the truck and before I knew it I resembled the Pied Piper as the gaggle of dancing children swarmed around me, tugging my sleeves and roaring with laughter, as I self consciously attempted to mimic their naturally rhythmic walk to the beat of the music. Performing a poor impression of a John Wayne swagger the words of an Argentine friend rang in my ears; ‘British girls can’t dance,’ he had once informed me. I wondered if my dedicated follows would agree!
Babies can party too
Too shy and too overwhelmed to fully immerse myself into the beating heart of the party crowd, I hung back from the main throng as it swayed and boogied to the pulse of the base.
Eventually and reluctantly peeling away from the crowds, I continued on my way with a grin on my face- boy these guys know how to party I mused! Men, women and children danced past me in the street – and it wasn’t even 8am. Losing count of the number of times greetings and well wishes were exchanged with people as they passed in the opposite direction heading towards the party destination that no-one knew of where.
The caravan continued to inch its way along the main road, one vehicle unquestioningly following the one ahead. To who knew where! But it mattered little. People danced, people sang, children skipped alongside the decorative trucks as reveller after reveller joined the snaking procession. No-one cared there was no destination, all they cared for was right here and right now.
I smiled to myself as I slipped through the gate of my high walled compound and had to strain my ears to catch the final snatches of the music carried in the wind. It’s the Mozambican way, I thought, those celebrations will continue until they reach their final destination, wherever that may be.
Helen best describes herself as a scuba diving, gin enthusiast, humanitarian aid worker. Having travelled in Asia, Africa and the Americas she now lives in Jaffna in Sri Lanka working for a landmine charity. Helen’s ‘Life & Landmines’ stories can be found at Miss Helen’s Weblog where she “blogs for fun and to reassure her folks she’s alive and well”.