Its funny how memories almost forgotten suddenly rush in when you least expect it. The other day, I attended the second day of the fourth meeting of the Infrastructure Consortium for Africa (ICA) meeting in Tokyo. Meeting with and seeing so many African faces after more than three years brought back many fond memories of the almost-four years we spent in Mozambique. Listening to the African delegates speaking of their problems and hopes in their unmistakable African-accented English was a nostalgic trip back in time for me. It also brought back memories of Morocco, another African country and our first foreign posting. I remember, as if it was yesterday, a night in June eighteen years ago when I paced the corridors of Clinique Al Hassan in Rabat at 4 AM, all alone, as my wife struggled to give birth to our firstborn. The feeling of pride, love and concern for my wife mixed with a great loneliness and longing to be amongst friends and family as I finally became a father was and still is indescribable. I will never forget the moment I heard my son’s lusty cry announcing his arrival to the world which, at that ungodly hour of 4 in the morning consisted of our doctor, two nurses, my wife and me pacing up and down outside in the corridor. After what seemed like eternity waiting outside the labour room, the nurse finally came out to tell me I was the father of a healthy boy. I remember my wife looking tired and weak and happy all at the same time, as I went in and saw her holding our son for the first time. He’s taller than me now and quite a handsome young man, even if I say so myself. So its been quite a while and I think I really need to refresh my memory chip before I can write more about Morocco.
Allow me then to jump over the wonderful years spent in Milan after Morocco by which time we were blessed with a beautiful daughter, to more than ten years from Morocco, to 2001. In May of that year, it was time for us to move again and begin another chapter in our journey – this time, a posting in Maputo, Mozambique. After a mercifully short flight from Delhi to Dubai on Air India, we boarded the Emirates flight for Johannesburg just before midnight. After flying all night over the great continent of Africa, we landed in Johannesburg in the morning. Johannesburg was an unexpectedly modern looking and impressive city. Except for the predominantly black faces everywhere, it felt like being in any European city. The impressive airport lounge, wide tree-lined roads with the latest cars zipping pass, clean and impressive high-rise buildings all added to the feeling of having landed somewhere in Europe. It was definitely not what I had expected of a city in Africa. Mozambique still hadn’t opened its Mission in India and we had to get our entry visas from their Consulate in Johannesburg. Arvind, a good friend from the Indian Consulate, met us at the airport. After duly obtaining our visas and a hearty lunch at his residence, Arvind dropped us again at the airport to board our flight for Maputo in the evening.
It was getting dark by the time we landed in Maputo. As our LAM (Lineas Aero de Moçambique) flight landed, we could see the less then impressive buildings that made up the one terminal of Maputo airport. Just slightly bigger than Imphal airport, it was more or less what I had expected an African airport would look like. Any expectations of a modern, progressive city raised by our short stay in Johannesburg were further dashed as we passed through jhuggi-like clusters of overcrowded one-room tenements just a kilometer or so from the airport on our way to the hotel where we would be staying initially.
Maputo, however, turned out to be much better than our first impression. It was home to us for almost four years and memories of the good times we had and the lessons we learned there remain. For the first time in my life, I began to seriously read and study the Bible on a more or less daily basis. Maybe the Maputo International Christian Fellowship (MICF) where we worshipped with other English-speaking expats had something to do with it. We also had the privilege of meeting and sharing some time with the most inspirational preacher I have so far met. Rev. Brian Jennings, a South African pastor and his wife Lorraine had just come to Maputo as a temporary replacement for the Methodist church pastor, an energetic Englishman, who was going to England on an extended holiday of three months. During their three months’ stay in Maputo we were privileged to be counted as one of their friends. The small Methodist church had a special English service at 5 pm every Sunday where he used to preach. He never spoke for more than 15 minutes but they were the most inspirational preaching I have ever had the privilege of hearing. I consider him the most inspirational preacher I have ever heard because his message would stay with me for the rest of the week. There were times when, during a break from a busy day at office on a weekday, I would recall and be refreshed by some particularly inspiring word that he had preached the previous Sunday. As a person who has not missed many Sunday services, though I have never been a particularly spiritual person, I cannot recall any other preacher whose words have stayed with me throughout the week. I have been more used to preachers, even the more famous ones, whose messages don’t usually last beyond the service. Maybe the problem is me, and not the preacher, but I believe this is true with most of us not being able to recall the Sunday message by the time we reach home.
Though we kept in touch through email for some time after they left us, we lost touch after a few years when my mails started bouncing. Their email ID through which we corresponded for a time is still in my Yahoo address book. I remember them whenever I come across their ID while looking for other IDs and memories fill the mind, like the exceptionally sumptuous dinner and the excellent South African wine we had at their pastor’s quarter in Maputo and the conversations and exchanges of experiences we shared. Perhaps it was the wine talking and if it was, I thank God for it and the privilege of having been able to share wine and break bread with an exceptional man of God.