I sat with some feeling of trepidation, exhilaration and excitement as the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 took off from Delhi at the ungodly hour of 3:45am for Addis Ababa on Sunday. Already late by about an hour, we had been fuming with non-functioning AC for some time onboard when we finally took off. At least we will be away from the drudgery and routine of office life for a few days I comforted myself as I finished off the last of what was probably the worst airline meal I’ve ever had.
I looked out the window as we approached Addis Ababa, wishing we had some time to get out and explore the city often referred to as the political capital of Africa because of its historical, diplomatic and political significance. But we had just over an hour to catch our connecting flight. The chilly and gentle breeze that welcomed us as we emerged from the aircraft on to the tarmac to get on the bus that would take us to the terminal where we would catch our connecting flight for Maputo was a welcome relief from hot and humid Delhi.
And so, on a cold Sunday morning I found myself in Ethiopia, often called the original home of mankind due to various fossil discoveries like the Australopithecine Lucy, and once rule by Emperor Haile Selassie, revered as the returned Messiah of the Bible and God incarnate by Rastafarians and immortalized as the Lion of Judah in Bob Marley’s ‘Iron Lion Zion’.
All thoughts of Bob Marley and the Lion of Judah quickly dissipated by the time we reached the end of the interminably long queue leading to the security check-in inside Bole International Airport where we were thoroughly checked again and made to take off almost everything including our shoes. As we took off for Maputo on another Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737, I looked down at the city engulfed in light mist with the Entoto Mountains in the north calmly and majestically watching over the city. I looked out the window till the city disappeared.
The 6 hours it took our aircraft to reach Maputo was one of the most uncomfortable flights I have been on, with cramped seats and lousy food but it brought us in one piece to our final destination. It was good to touch down in Mozambique again after more than 11 years. As I looked out the window, I saw that the small, cozy airport we flew out of in early 2005 had morphed into a big terminal with its own aerobridges and all the modern accoutrements one expects to see nowadays in any self-respecting international airport.
The cool, almost chilly, winter air of Maputo that welcomed us as we stepped off the plane was a welcome change from hot and humid Delhi and, by the time we came out after clearing immigration, all the discomforts of our flight were forgotten as we wrapped our jackets closer to keep out the chilly breeze. After some delay caused by some of our delegation members having forgotten to take the mandatory yellow fever vaccination for passengers transiting through Ethiopia which is in the yellow fever belt of Africa, we finally reached our hotel at around 4pm.
Apart from the modern airport that welcomed us, Maputo, where we spent almost 4 years from 2001 to 2005, felt almost the same as we drove towards our hotel. I hardly noticed anything new on the drive from the airport to Av. Kenneth Kaunda where the Indian High Commission is located. As we drove past the High Commission and down Rua Jose Craveirinha towards Southern Sun Hotel, located right on the beach, where we would be staying, my first sight of the beautiful Maputo Bay after more than 11 years made me realize that, yes, I was really here again. We drove past the new Radisson Blu, which had come up during my absence and soon reached our hotel which was just a stone’s throw away.
As soon as I learned that I would be going back to Maputo, my thought immediately turned to Av. Friedrich Engels, the back street behind the highrise apartment on Av. Julius Nyerere which was our home in Maputo and where I first started jogging all those years ago. I planned to retrace my steps, as it were, at the first opportunity. From previous, similar assignments, I thought there would be ample time in the mornings before the official part of our trip began later in the day. But, as it turned out, from the very day of our arrival there were so many meetings and arrangements to be made and loose ends tied up, I did not make it to my old jogging street till the morning of the day we were to return. I fumed and fretted for four days, unable to make time for my planned trip to the past. I did manage two trips to the hotel gym and half-heartedly went through the formalities on the treadmill, all the time thinking how near and yet so far was I to my dream run, just a few kilometers away.
I was up at 2am on D-day and, except for a minor hiccup, everything went off smoothly and I was able to finally crawl into bed, exhausted, before midnight. We were to leave the next day at 2pm which meant I had about 6 hours to complete my mission as well as try and tick off whatever items I could from the long shopping list thrust upon me by the powers-that-be the night of my departure from Delhi. So I set my alarm for 0530, aiming to start my run at 0600, and soon drifted off into a dreamless sleep.
The next thing I knew was my mobile alarm telling me it was time. I quickly awoke and, after dumping as much excess weight as I could from the scrumptious dinner the previous evening and freshening up, put on my jogging outfit. It was just before 0600 as I stepped out of my room, ready for my dream run. Though it was still dark outside, the hotel staff was already up and about readying for another day. I walked into the lobby, past a few guests checking out to catch their early morning flights to wherever they were headed next.
The chilly breeze that greeted me as I stepped out of the hotel reminded me that it was winter in this part of the world. I stepped onto the pavement and, finally having completed my official assignment the previous day and all tensions gone, began the run that I had been planning for the past two weeks. I put on my earphones and pressed play to my regular ‘jogging’ track on my ‘walkman’ and, turning right onto Av. Marginal, began my run. After about a hundred metres, I turned left on to Rua Jose Craveirinha, which is a gentle climb just opposite Radisson Blu, and soon reached the top where the road merged into Av. Julius Nyerere.
Despite the climb of about half a kilometer, I found myself breathing comfortably and, turning left on to Av. Julius Nyerere, continued on my usual pace to the rhythm of my regular jogging tracks on my walkman. To my left I glanced at Maputo Bay where dawn would soon break. To my right, I caught a glimpse of the High Commission where I spent an eventful three and a half years of my life. I crossed the street and, with the Presidential Office to my left, continued my run towards the historic Polana Hotel, our temporary HQ during my trip. I was surprised at the ease with which I continued my run and the thought came to my mind that perhaps it was because I was running at sea level where Oxygen would be at its maximum. Or perhaps it was all the anticipation that I had built up in my mind the week before my trip and the frustrating few days when I was unable to get time off for the run.
As I continued on my run towards Polana Hotel, some 2km away, memories of the many times I had walked on these same pavements more than 11 years ago came flooding back and, before I realized it, I found myself crossing the traffic juncture just before Polana. I crossed the street and continued past Polana and soon turned left onto Av. Friedrich Engels.
Finally, as I turned right on to Av. Friedrich Engels, I again saw the familiar street where I first dreamed of being able to run at least a kilometer without having to stop for breath. I stopped awhile and stood at the railings from where we would look out on to Maputo Bay and beyond, often telling ourselves that our loved ones were somewhere across the Indian Ocean thousands of miles away. Dawn was now breaking over the Bay lighting up the horizon and, as I looked at the deep blue sea, felt like I had never been away. I turned right and looked up at the 11th floor balcony of our old apartment where we would sometimes set up our barbeque on an evening and, with the cool breeze blowing in from the Bay, reminisce about old times, a can of chilled 2M or Laurentina in hand.
I shook off the flood of memories that threatened to overwhelm me and began my run afresh along the familiar pavement. With Maputo Bay to my left and the row of beautiful Portuguese-style bungalows and their well-manicured lawns to my right, I ran on till the end of Av. Friedrich Engels to the corner where I would turn back for home. The street was exactly like I remembered. From the row of trees that lined up one side of the street to a corner at the end of the street used as a natural dumping ground for empty plastic cups, beer and liquor bottles by late evening revelers and romancing couples, everything was the same. It seemed the trees hadn’t grown an inch since we left, and the content of the corner dumping ground showed that youngsters had continued their party even after we left.
I turned back at the corner and, instead of returning the way I had come, turned right at the beginning of Av. Friedrich Engels, on to Rua Caracol which is a steep road, about 500m, leading to Av. Marginal and the beach. As I ran down the steep road, I recalled the many times I had run up and down the very same road. I met quite a few early morning joggers running up the steep road. Most of them greeted me with ‘Bom Dia’ (Good Morning) as we passed and I recalled with nostalgia the pleasure of being in polite society where even strangers wish you as you pass by on the streets.
I soon reached Av. Marginal and crossed the road to continue my run on the pavement next to the beach. I turned left, across from the Clube Naval de Maputo and headed for my hotel up the road about a kilometer or two ahead. As I passed by a stretch close to the beach I recalled the one time we had gone down to the beach at that very same spot when the tide was low, picking clams and even some small prawns which tasted quite good. As I ran on, I reached a spot where we once came across a live puffer fish that must have been washed ashore by the high tide, wriggling in the sand. I ran on and all sorts of memories which I had forgotten came rushing in and I realized that I was really reliving my memories.
As I neared our hotel, I turned right on to the beach and continued till I reached the portion of the beach maintained by our hotel. I ran on the beach a little past our hotel till all the songs in my ‘jogging’ folder ran out. Despite the early morning winter chill, I was drenched with sweat by the time I stopped to walk across the beach to my hotel.
That’s when I realized that I had just run one of the best runs of my life. Because it was a run which brought me back to the beginning.
11 July 2016
(Written on return from an official trip to Maputo 3-8 July 2016)