The Smiling Mask -an African Short Story ch 5
The Smiling Mask – Chapter 5
From the casual tourist who had visited the southern part of the continent of Africa a couple of weeks ago, to where Jennifer was now, seemed like a long journey although it had only taken a couple of weeks. Her purchase of the mask that was reputed to have come from Mozambique had sent her on this obsessive search. Firstly she experienced a movement in her mind and soul that defied logic and common sense. Then she dived onto the internet to search for information about this new and strange country that she had hardly even heard about, but which seemed, in a strange way to now already be a part of her. Her ally in this journey was a decorative mask carved out of wood, with a small image of a fish carved into it above the eyes.
In her research she could not find any references to masks with this type of image. What did it mean if it meant anything at all? The only reason she was so intent on finding meaning was that whenever she looked at it she was moved in a strange way. What she had learnt about Africa and the masks that the people made was that they often had a deep spiritual meaning and some claimed power. As she looked at some of the video clips that she managed to access on the internet, she saw the many tribal dances that took place in different countries where people used masks.
She also found out that Mozambique was a huge country on the Eastern coast of Africa just north/east of South Africa and east of Zimbabwe and Malawi. To the north is Kenya and in the south Swaziland. It is a poor country with great natural resources. Its beautiful coastline and tropical climate make it a great place for a holiday and it used to be the playground of the rich and famous from South Africa. The island resorts like Bazaruto were famous for their deep sea fishing trips. The capital Lourenco Marques (now Maputo) offered a European atmosphere and entertainment only about 500 km from Johannesburg.This all came to a screeching halt though, when a civil war followed the withdrawal of the Portuguese colonial powers in the mid 1970’s. Slowly it is getting back its status as a holiday destination and the many resorts along the long coastline offer not only good holiday value, but important jobs for the local population. As the government changed from a socialistic one to a somewhat capitalistic one, it enjoyed a growth rate which was among the top ten countries in the world, but this came from a very low base. The per capita annual GDP remained one of the lowest in the world at about R4000 ($600).
Farming is also beginning to develop with cattle and crop farmers from South Africa and Zimbabwe starting to eye the area. Local farmers are also being educated and sponsored by government. One of the main problems that remains is the landmines that cover large parts of the country but which are now being systematically removed by private companies and volunteer organizations.
Many people still live in tribal villages as subsistence farmers, often supplementing their income with the production of articles like walking sticks, masks and woven baskets and mats. These are either sold in the local markets in the small towns along the main coastal road to the returning tourists from South Africa or exported to South Africa and Zimbabwe.
As Jennifer flew across the Atlantic Ocean to Johannesburg she did not know where her journey would take her and even why she was doing this. The excitement of a life that seemed somehow out of control, but in another way finding some strange kind of unknown meaning, made her feel more alive than she had been in a long time, if ever. The mask carefully wrapped and packed in her hand luggage and stored above her head in the luggage holders seemed to be energizing her into this new direction, but she had no idea what direction that was. Was she, in fact, going mad? She had no idea if she was or if she was not. To herself she seemed to be sane, but then who really ever knows? (to be continued)