27.12.2016 - 27.12.2016 17 °C
We command electricity, bend light, develop new apps faster than bees make honey, can analyse the shit out of the tiniest molecule, but never is a reminder more welcome that we do not and will not control the elements.
Tuesday morn (the day after Boxing Day) in Sao Antonio, capital city of Principe. We stroll through the colonial colours of slanted, half windowed, shabby remains that the locals call home - many welcome us by sight of the white man, 'Jam-es, Jam-es'; then follows a lengthy but endearing hand shake, kiss, hand hold, big smile and conversation in clumsy but impressive ex-pat Portuguese.
After typical African hanging around time - standing, sweating on the side of the road for nearly an hour after our agreed meeting time (positively appreciating the slow life), we clamber, shoeless but with enthusiasm into the local fisherman's boat.
Only today, having already left shore for a multiple hour round trip scanning for turtles and fish with the 'conservation' team, would a tropical storm be less than ideal. On cue, 'muito chuva' down poured from the grey dark sky above, like a dirty carpet wafting its debri in our fresh faces. Our only shelter was a diving fin held like a flimsy fan against our grimacing wet skin.
Relentless. More. Still more... 'Muito chuva!'
We powered on, bouncing the waves, ploughing into driving rain. The coastline swayed in and out of misty vision as clouds combed the jungle tops and swamped our reference points.
Taking refuge on a deserted beach, untouched by tourists and only known or used by a handful of hardy fisherman, was the right choice, however, it opened up an adventure we hadn't planned for.
More rain. 'Muito chuva!'
We tried to stiff-upper-lip it under a giant native tree; we cowered behind beached volcanic rocks and hid our lunch bag under an old fishing boat, but realism and nature both claimed the upper hand. Lightening was spearing the ocean while tremendous thunderous rumbles echoed all around. The sky was in control.
Five minutes later we found ourselves in the tiny mud and stone built home of Pettie, a 55 year old, 6 foot bean pole of a local fisherman who so generously welcomed us straight into his living quarters of 1.5m squared darkness. Pots, pans were stacked on a wooden top next to a stone pile that guarded a fire pit in a pitch black corner. Small wooden stools were found for us to squat on in the sandy mud while pigs and dogs scuffed around wanting a piece of the action. Birds, kept and grown for food, hopped around like pets, aimlessly ignorant to their fate.
And there we sat in this shack-house pitched on a beach with wooden slats and stones wedged together. Maybe for an hour, we watched the rain pelt, the mountains sink behind greyness and yet conversation flowed. How many people in the village? Who's related to who? Who's got the biggest feet? How to count from 1-20 In English. How to say the alphabet in Portuguese. Where the women and children were? How many pigs? Which dogs bite?
It's amazing what international relations can be woven in adversity; a lesson in politics I wasn't expecting!
And then, after my behind had become numb, Lucas, the boat 'commander' decided we could make a break for it. The other boat handler emerged from the sea, obviously having not needed shelter, with four octopuses on a spear. Resourceful these Africans.
So we started our goodbyes - the lingering handshake, mouth movements, smiles, thanks, more thanks and more handshakes. But these were sincerely well meant. We were undeniably grateful for the three square foot of muddy shelter Peetie had given up for us: we broke his stool with our white bottoms, barged into his kitchen unannounced, hammered him with questions, winced when his scabby dogs came near us... And then left.
Today's storm was never going to stop for us, but without it we wouldn't have met Peetie and forged memories, appreciation and respect for a kind of humanity that's sadly rare in our world today.
Thank you nature. Thank you Africa.