The Work Begins, In Chimoio, Africa

Botanic Garden.

Chimoio, 2018.

Hello People! My name is Fernanda. You may have seen me around town or read my story in a previous issue of The Lakewood Observer. In that story, I arrived in Mozambique, Africa, to start a wonderful experience that for sure made me appreciate and see the world from a better perspective learned from amazing and strong people. 

After spending a few days in Maputo, I embarked on a journey in normal time, I mean, roads in good condition etc. It would last approximately 5-6 hours, it took us 18 hours, no kidding hahaha!... to Chimoio, the place I would live for 6 months working with the communities.

The trip was very happy and new but very uncomfortable. We stopped in uninhabited places, like where there was nothing at all, to go to the bathroom where there was no bathroom. Women have no problem with that because they use capulanas, whichis a large fabric that they tie to their body as a skirt, the capulana has a thousand uses, carry babies, cover the hair, carry things either fruit or bread, load support on the head, etc.

I, who had no experience and no capulana, had to wait until I saw a place with a bathroom, which was about 5 hours later.

In some places of the trip there were small vending stands of fruits, bread, boiled eggs, soft drinks, and well water in recycled bottles.

Most of the people who sold were children and women, they ran to the buses to sell even if the bus was already moving, what talent!

Upon arrival in Chimoio, we were greeted by Veronica, administrator of a teacher training school (technical school) that was located in the middle of the very authentic community.

Within the project there was also a primary school, and a health research center, all very modest and full of African culture, which is beautiful.

They accommodated us in a house with a roof made with dried grass, very typical. I felt I was fulfilling a great dream, living it 100% real.

Next day we started work! I was very excited to work in the community so the first project was to start recycling and reusing.

We put different names on containers so they could reuse the plastic bottles for water, start making compost and paper to use for the students as a pedagogic material.

This first experience helped me a lot to lose the fear of speaking Portuguese, even if at the beginning it was weird or bad pronunciation, they always helped me to explain myself.

This project was made very fast. I had money from fundraising and personal funds so I just got the materials, explained to the people and started to work. Also we had volunteers would will take the compost, plastic, paper and glass to different locations to reuse like paper for schools, glass for art, compost for gardening and food collectives and plastic for any creative person who could use it.

Designing the compost system was a physically satisfying experience as well as an intellectual challenge. It appealed to my background and training. There is something in me that is always wanting to offer what you might call an engineer’s perspective. We dug a trench next to the school’s vegetable garden and lined it with grass. Then we involved all the life of the soil, the bugs and the worms. We gave them our compost and enlisted their help. That’s when I was inspired to design an herb garden to compliment the school’s vegetable garden along with their new composting system.  

Among the many inspiring people who taught me on this part of my journey and helped me to think from an engineering perspective but in a more natural way were “The Sisters.” One of these sisters, Larissa, was an herbalist and a deeply spiritual woman. She started a medical center in Chimoio which is free of cost and which has some very inspiring and elaborate systems for providing very thorough care over a long time using only natural means. She taught me many things. I learned the names and properties of many different plants and studied to memorize and understand their properties and complex interactions. But there was something else. She had the patience to teach me some ways of thinking like learning to do things in a more natural way, avoiding chemicals and things like that. I hadn’t thought about those things back then. Even more than that, she taught me to really love herbs and see their sensual side. To smell and touch and experience them in all ways. There is no substitute for nature. 

Even with all this help and support, my gardening project involved some frustration and some failure at first. It was three months of rethinking and false starts before we got any harvest of medicinal plants, but then we had it! It was so amazing to touch and handle them, ten different kinds, dried and sold in small bags at the central market for more funds to sustain and improve our process, get new materials and make it better next time. The students made books with beautiful creative artwork which listed all of the benefits of each plant.  

These two projects expanded my beliefs about what can be done with a life. Motivated and inspired by some documentaries about world culture which I had watched when I was very young, I had left a familiar world in Chile, studied another culture around the world and learned many different ways of living. At the same time, I found that a lot of what we all care about is shared. It doesn’t need translating. By the time the seasons changed again I was working up the motivation and the schemes to do many more things on earth with my one precious life. 

This is part three of a series of articles. When we meet again on these pages, the days will be getting longer! Please read more about my world traveling adventures in future issues of the Lakewood Observer.



African Organization:

Fernanda Quiroga

Traveler, from Chile.

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Volume 17, Issue 24, Posted 2:26 PM, 12.15.2021