The Earle family spent another couple of days at the Nautilus resort, recovering from sunburn and sores gotten from the contamination of our visit to Ibo Island, and exploring Pemba town.
Our friendship with Tomas, the mining official from Maputo blossomed. He convinced us to join him at the Christmas Eve midnight mass in the Catholic church. It was held, not at midnight, but at eight o’clock in the evening – some security precaution, we were told. Although Mozambique was strung with banners proclaiming Un Ano de Paz, there were still AK47-armed bandits roaming the countryside.
The priest was an ancient Portuguese fellow with the most monotonous voice I have ever heard. The fact that most of us could not understand the language did not help. (My own Portuguese was so rusty that I had asked a servant at the Nautilus to polish our clothes, and was quite annoyed when he looked puzzled.)
The church was packed solid, but nothing happened for awhile then the old priest started his sermon, droning on and on. Nicci nudged Sheila after an hour or so and gestured at the congregation. All but the two of them were fast asleep; unashamedly with mouths agape, the murmur of snores and snorts all but drowned out the priest’s monotonous hum.
Finally we got down to the nitty gritty of the nativity. Three figures in white robes followed the star from the East down the aisle. The star, a candle held by another figure in black, kept going out and had to be relit, and so it came to pass that the star and the wise men arrived at the stable where a coal black Mary and Joseph held a bright pink dolly, Jesus.
Irreverently, Sheila and I and our four children smothered our laughter behind cupped hands. It was delightful.
On Christmas Day, we saw Nicholas off with Tomas at the airport on the flight to Maputo. Nick had to leave early to go back on duty to his job in the South African Police. He overnighted with Tomas at his flat in Maputo and was seen off at the airport on the flight to Johannesburg.
A couple of days later, we too arrived in Maputo and were kindly put up with Tomas family in their two bedroom apartment, most of us on the floor in our sleeping bags. We all trooped off to the airport in a taxi the next day, only to find that I had screwed up the flight time. The plane had left without us. Some diplomatic beseeching from Tomas organised us a flight for the following day at no extra cost. Frantic phone calls to Sheila’s brother, Tom, regarding the new arrangement, and the offer by Tomas to make use of his hospitality once again, put our minds at rest.
Despite a walk around Maputo and a delicious meal at a local cafe, the night was marred and memorable due to the water being turned off that night so that the toilet was not flushable. Sheila suffered from a bout of gastro and slept not a wink due to the cramping pain and the embarrassment of the toilet’s condition. She tried to get out of the flat, but each floor was locked and barred for security purposes.
Thank you, Tomas, wherever you are now, for your hospitality. You had little, but you shared what you had. At long last we arrived back in Johannesburg to be met by Tom, who had the good news that Tim’s matric results had come through with a pass. A good reason to celebrate.