Coming to write this article made me realise that there's not many places I've had a truly immersive experience with the locals. Other than lovely hotel staff on holidays centred around resorts, my interaction with local people has been shamefully lacking.
But there's one exception. Choosing the same place as I did for my craziest travel experience, Mozambique was a true immersion into a culture and people I had previously known little about.
Jay's Pro Dive Centre had without fail the kindest people I have ever known. Jay's love of diving and the ocean radiated through his whole being, coupled with his belief that no money could ever buy the feeling of joy that came from getting people in the water to dive.
Away from the dive centre, there were plenty of others who made the trip what it was. From being given shells by children on the beach to having my hair plaited, all of the many treasured memories in Mozambique involve people.
Surrounded by children as we sat weaving palm leaves at the home of Pascal who works as Community Outreach Manager for Love The Oceans, we were offered freshly cut coconuts and Estrella's delicious matapa (a gorgeous Mozambican stew of peanuts, coconut milk and cassava leaves) as silhouettes of palm trees were dark against the glowing orange sunset sky. From endless laughter as children joined our game of catch with a cuddly toy fish, to being helped by Pascal to understand some of the basic rules of Portuguese, the experience was rich with people.
The whole place made me feel so safe, loved, and at home and that would never have been possible without the kindness of the people. I wrote at the time "they are the kindest and most hospitable people I know" and that remains true to this day.
After, stepping off the plane and being met at the airport arrivals with three large Fijian men playing the ukulele and singing in harmony, I knew I was going to have the time of my life. Being thrown out of my comfort zone and spending a month in a remote rural Fijian village living with a local family, I was obviously nervous; yet within seconds of my arrival, I was immediately welcomed ‘home’ with open arms.
Having offered me their only bed and access to anything I wanted, I was blown away with their utter kindness towards me, a stranger in their home. As the month progressed, I fell in love with the people and their culture, they showed me how to live happily with so little, and this inspired me greatly. My ‘Mom’ in the village was heavily pregnant with her fourth child, yet that didn’t stop her from teaching me how to cook and dance like a true Fijian woman.
Most notably, one day I took a walk around the village alone and came across an elderly Fijian lady hanging her washing on the line, she called me over and invited me in for tea. We talked for hours about her family and everyday Fijian life, whilst she almost every minute checked if I needed anything.
The final day in the village was truly heart-breaking. As I waved and hugged everyone goodbye, I left feeling like I had gained a whole new family. To this day I am still in contact with them, and my ‘Mom’ said that if she had a girl, she would name her after me. Unfortunately for me, she had a boy, but still her kindest and loving nature stays in my mind.