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Mozambican Idyll
By David Goldiner
Just a mile from the sugary sand beach at Manda Nkwichi Lodge in northern Mozambique, workers teach villagers new techniques for growing better squash, greens and sweet potatoes. Health workers use a dugout canoe to bring aspirin and bandages to a rudimentary clinic near the retreat on Lake Niassa. Down the wild coast from the spot where guests take romantic torch-lit walks, stacks of straw lie next to a mud-walled church where donations will one day help provide a roof.
 

 It's all part of Nkwichi's plan to build a new and rare kind of African tourism - one that wraps guests in unparalleled luxury but goes the extra mile to uplift the community as well. "We need the guests, they are what keeps all this going", said Douglas Kabotolo, a guide at the lodge. "We want them to be a part of what we are doing".

 

  

Nkwichi -'squeaky sands' in the local Nyanja language - would undeniably be a once-in-a-lifetime spot, even if it never helped a single villager build a better life. Seven sprawling open-air chalets are dotted among wild mango and miombo trees overlooking the inland sea that is better known to foreigners as Lake Malawi.

 


Days are spent lounging on the Robinson Crusoe-style deserted beach or paddling up and down the coast untouched by development.
 

Like characters in a romantic French movie, guests dig into curried whole fish and fresh-baked flatbreads as waves crash on rocks below. But as idyllic as it is, Nkwichi is much more than a picture postcard African tourist heaven.

The lodge, which was founded in 1996, is a key economic engine for several villages in the Lago district, a dirt-poor region with no tarred roads or electricity. Along with most of the rest of northern Mozambique, it was ravaged by the 30-year civil war between the government and RENAMO rebels.

Even now that peace has come, the region is so isolated that people mostly use money from neighboring Malawi. Fifty people work at the lodge, and they each support at least 15 family members each - meaning each guest puts food in the mouths of 750 people.

The lodge also works closely with the Manda Wilderness Community Trust, which helps manage a 247,000-acre reserve along the lakeshore. With help from foreign aid groups, the trust sinks wells and helps build schools, even though many are stuck with a single teacher for dozens of kids. A single community health worker travels up and down the coastline armed with little more than bandages and a few pills.

 
 
Perhaps most important of all to the average man is the sprawling farm that sits about a mile down the "main road" actually a well-trampled path - from the lodge. Teams of workers tend neat rows of beans, squash and lettuce greens. In classes and seminars, outreach workers show villagers key concepts like crop rotation - a difficult concept for people whose main concern is growing enough of the staple crop cassava to survive till the next harvest.

"That's all they grow - cassava, cassava, cassava", said Kabotolo "They try to teach them something different." Further down the coast, the four mud walls of a church are rising near the village of Mbecua, thanks in part to a guest who raised money from friends and neighbors after visiting.

Parishioners, whose choir literally sings to the heavens, are saving to buy enough thatch to build a roof and what they have so far is lined up next to the structure. They haven't reached the Promised Land yet. But they're awfully close.
 
 
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