“You have to be very clever in Mozambique,” Cristóvão told us, as we stood with our leaky gas tank outside a shop in Vilanculos, striking some kind of deal on Saturday.
Cristóvão had greeted us with a smile the day before when we arrived in Mapinhane, our Peace Corps home for the next two years. He walked with us into the teacher’s neighborhood; We discovered that he is our ‘vizinho,’ our neighbor. We stood under a tree in his yard- 3 steps away from our front door- chatting for awhile. He is slight, and nearly always smiling. Even now, during the school break, he seems busy, always going off to arrange something or meet someone. He welcomed us genuinely with his words and his actions.
“Bem vindo, estamos juntos.” Welcome, we are together, he told us. Some of the most popular words in Mozambique. He assured is, in very good English, that he is here to help us with any problems or anything we may need.
So, on Saturday morning, when he came to check in on us, he didn’t hesitate in offering help with our gas tank and stove, which we could not get to work. After fiddling for a while, he fetched another neighbor for help and it was determined that our tank was leaking and we would need to go to Vilanculos and exchange it.
“I am going there now to buy some things,” he told us. “Maybe you can come with.”
Not knowing when or if the bus would come, not knowing where to go or who to talk to about a faulty gas tank, not knowing a fair price for anything, we were guided through our first challenge at site by Cristóvão.
The bus did come, after we waited on the side of the road for more than an hour.
Another hour and we arrived in Vilanculos and were led through the streets to a shop that seemed to sell rice, peanut butter, and oil in bulk, but showed no indication of dealing with gas tanks. We were directed to another shop across the road that had a gas tank outside but couldn’t trade us for a new one because the type we had is not sold in Vilanculos. We were told that they don’t sell new tanks either. We went back to the first shop.
The situation of the leaky gas tank was explained to me in full over the phone by our sitemate: When Vilanculos ran out of gas in June, our sitemate and the girls who were here before us, traveled further north to a different town, where they traded their empty Vilanculos tanks for the full tanks of the variety that we now had with us. We could go there and maybe trade back for a Vilanculos tank. Maybe.
You have to be very clever in Mozambique.
We are not yet very clever.
It is still a bit of mystery to me, but Cristóvão made some deal with the guy at the bulk rice shop. We paid him for a new tank-at a much lower price than normal, so it seems- and then paid the second shop owners for the gas. Here we received a new, full tank.
Still, we are stuck with this old tank until we figure out what to do with it. So, the three of us teamed up to carry both tanks around Vilanculos while we did our shopping. We visited the market for vegetables and bought some peanut butter. Our last stop was a corner cafe, where we discovered one reason that Cristóvão had been coming to Vilanculos: to buy cheese.
“They don’t have it today,” he told us as he came out of the shop, with a smile and a shrug. We suggested visiting another market to look for it. “Ahh it is late.”
With our two gas tanks, two bags of groceries, Cristóvão and his groceries, we caught the bus back to Mapinhane, feeling success that we know could not have been accomplished without the help of our vizinho.