African Rainbow Expedition reaches Pemba

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The branded Land Rover convoy, in support of malaria prevention slowly rolls into town. To the west of the road, surrounded by mangrove swamps and giant grey baobabs, lies Africa’s largest natural bay.

It’s waters glittering like a shining jewel in the early morning light. Somewhat worn-out by their long journey up the coast from Durban, South Africa, the African Rainbow Expedition has reached Pemba, the colourful capital of Mozambique’s far north Cabo Delgado province, where we pick up the story in Kingsley Holgate’s words…

I wouldn’t have missed this journey for anything. It’s been a fascinating odyssey. The beauty of the palm-fronted coast, the colourful and friendly village people, the adventure of pulling and pushing our expedition vehicles across deep, wide rivers, the campfires at night and the fulfilment of saving lives through our One Net – One Life campaign.

We bounce along goat tracks, the elephant grass taller than the Land Rovers, our objective is always clear. It’s to distribute mosquito nets to mothers with babies in isolated, rural villages. One can see the appreciation in their faces. Expedition member, Senor Baptista from the Mozambican Ministry of Health, hands out pamphlets and conducts entertaining anti-malarial talk-ups. Local chiefs and community leaders always attend. There’s singing, dancing and the beating of hand-carved rawhide drums, bicycle races for the young men, nets for the mums and USAID branded t-shirts and anti-malarial products for the village elders.

Pierre, a South African volunteer, carries two tons of insecticide-impregnated nets in his thirty-four year old forward control Land  Rover, which we’ve nicknamed Mzee Kobe, meaning the old tortoise in Swahili. On the side of the truck is painted a large Anopheles mosquito against a big red cross with the words One Net – One Life.

Malaria report-back forms are filled out giving details of each village, GPS co-ordinates, population size, high moderate or low malaria risk details, name of community leader and the nearest clinic or hospital. The official African Rainbow Expedition ink stamp comes down with a bang, the elders carefully endorse the scroll of Peace & Goodwill we’re carrying across Africa. Mothers shout in jubilation as they wave their PSI supplied mosquito nets in the air. Music blares from the Land Rover’s horn speaker, chickens scurry across the track as we head north.

Breakfast is leftover stew and stale Portuguese bread toasted on the coals. Coffee laced with condensed milk is drunk from dented enamel mugs. We buy bananas and paw paws at roadside markets and fill our water containers at the village pump. It’s not always easy, ironically, one of the team is down with malaria and I’ve got a septic tropical ulcer that’s gone right through to the bone. Last night a thundering downpour caught us unawares as we camped on the banks of the Rio Lurio. But our spirits are certainly not dampened as from Pemba Bay we prepare to launch the “Spirit of Adventure”, a traditional Swahili sailing dhow that will support our One Net – One Life campaign up the East coast of Africa to the border with Somalia. Sponsors and media are flying in for the launch.

There’s an exciting buzz! Today we use the branded Land Rovers to pull the mast up. It’s full moon and the Swahili crew work throughout the night stitching the lateen rigged sail. The hardwood planks are caulked with cotton waste soaked in palm nut oil.

The hull is waterproofed with shark fat oil and as is the Swahili custom, hand carved eyes known as “Macho’s”decorated with the crescent and the star, will be attached to either side of the bow to ward off danger. The South-East monsoon winds known here as the Kusi are picking up daily and soon and we’ll be on our way. Thanks for all your support for the One Net – One Life project.

Siyabonga and best wishes

Kingsley and the African Rainbow Team