The Machambas of Chokwe
Machamba means farm in Portuguese. I can’t remember how I came to explore them first, on foot or by bicycle, but it changed my entire Peace Corps experience in Mozambique. Chokwe escaped the danger of land mines because it is a center of agriculture in fertile southern Mozambique. This meant the land was safe to explore.
During Mozambique’s war for independence from Portugal and subsequent 15 year civil war approximately 171,000 land mines were planted throughout the country leaving Mozambique one of the most heavily mined countries in the world. The war ended in 1992 and Halo Trust entered the country in 1993 to began the dangerous, tedious, and courageous work to clear the country of land mines. On 9/15/15, Mozambique was declared officially landline free years ahead of schedule.
I remember crossing the bridge over the canal for the first time. Before me the lush green fields spread out as far as the eye could see. The dusty trails visible by their contrasting caramel brown color weave through the fields with no end in sight. I spent hours exploring the land. It was my sanctuary particularly on the days when nothing seemed to make much sense linguistically, professionally, and personally.
After time I grew to know the fields and where the trails led to, but still I was convinced I would find new paths to follow which kept me coming back. My presence there was confusing for a long time to those who worked in the fields until eventually I became a familiar face. A smile and good morning in the local language Shangana usually made people brighten, some would even stop to talk usually to find out where I was going.
The machambas are now the view from the front of my new home in Chokwe. I have asked Orlando inquire about buying the unsettled piece of land across from our house to ensure that I will always have a view of the machambas. Our house is a short walk from the bridge that takes me over the canal and into the maze of dirt paths through the agricultural fields. It was a perfect choice for our home in Chokwe where Orlando’s family still lives.
My first solo walk in the fields since arriving in Mozambique made me feel that safe familiar feeling I felt many years ago. I breathed deeply the fragrant aromas a blend of fruit trees, passing animals, mostly cows and goats, vegetation, a smattering of floral scents, and fresh air. I smiled as I set our along the canal remembering my almost daily walks or bike rides on this same trail.
On an overcast day the clouds hang low in the sky adding a smoky mystique to the land below, but the contrast of the women’s brightly colored capulanas worn on their heads, around their waists or to hold a baby snug to their backs is like a splash of watercolors on a grey canvas. On a clear day the sun hangs high overhead like a ball of fire suspended in a sea of turquoise. The heat is oppressive and there is no shade cover when you are in the machambas making the already backbreaking work seem heroic.
I wonder what the Mozambicans think of me leisurely walking or biking through the fields. I try not to think about that too much as I enjoy the fresh air, wide open space, and peacefulness around me. It’s where I do my best thinking. I often slip into a meditative state waking to find I have gone further or longer than planned. I like the quiet and I use the opportunity to listen to my breath, my thoughts, and the universe’s messages for me. My time in the machambas brings clarity to deep pondering questions.
It is the Machambas that endeared me, mind, body, and soul to this dusty often harsh crossroads town in southern Mozambique. The sunsets and sunrises over them are amongst the most brilliant scenes I’ve ever witnessed. Each day brings new beauty from the sky. The machambas served as a trusty friend, reliable counselor, and a calming respite whenever I needed them. I feel as though I have returned home every time I reunite with my beloved machambas.