Imagine this: You’re a Mozambican countrywoman and you have to walk quite some distance to get water from a river or find a stream to wash the family’s clothes. And then, when you get there, the water’s a funny dirty red colour and although you don’t know this, it’s poisoned with dangerous mercury.

Owing to artisanal gold mining, parts of the rivers in Manica Province are now so heavily polluted with mercury that nothing lives in them and no vegetation grows on the river banks. Some of these rivers flow into Lake Chicamba, which supplies water to the ever growing town of Chimoio. Should Chicamba also become polluted with this awful poison, it would be a disaster.

How can people do this to such a necessary source of life?

In Africa, with its frequent droughts, water is so precious. I remember how it was when O’D and I first came to Mozambique and the Nhamacoa more than 20 years ago now. A terrible drought held Southern Africa in its grip from about 1992 until 1997. Animals were dying because rivers, dams and waterholes were dry. People were starving because there was no water to grow crops.

In the forest, we had to dig a hole in the dry riverbed of the Nhamacoa River and wait for it to fill up with water. Then, several sweating youths would fill containers with this water, balance them on their heads and trudge up the hill to the house so that we could heat it over a fire and wash our dishes, our clothes and bath. Alberto, our gardener at that time, even managed to grow a lot of vegetables for us with water in this way. As for drinking water, luckily for us, the nearby village of Macate had a borehole with a hand pump and so we would drive over there from time to time to stand in line and then fill up for drinking and cooking water. How happy we all were when our own borehole was operational!

It’s not only in Mozambique, of course, that people abuse their rivers. When O’D and I lived in our beautiful Arrojela in the Algarve, Portugal, we noticed that this happened there as well.

We used to get our water from the stream that ran through our property and used a very special water filter system for drinking water.

One night when I turned the bath taps on, I was amazed to see thousands of little black things pour out into the bath! This turned out to be the residue of the olive oil factory up in the hills above us which had been dumped upstream! For a week or so, we had to buy bottled water to stop our water filter from becoming clogged up and bathed in murky water filled with thousands of little shredded black olive skins.

Of course, there’s a big difference between olive skins and mercury. While bathing with olive skins was probably good for us, mercury is a different matter altogether. It’s a killer.


They may be small – but they are powerful!

A sting from one of our scorpions in the Nhamacoa is a rather agonizing event. Fortunately, they aren’t too poisonous but the fiery dart of pain in whatever part of your body they sting makes you shout and isn’t something you get over quickly. I know this, having been stung several times and still alive to tell the tale.

One evening, on my birthday as it happened, I stood up in the bath and prepared to dry myself off. Giving my towel a vigorous shake – I always do this to dislodge a lurking scorpion or other bug – I then gave my neck a pat with it. The next thing, a fiery, painful dart in the neck and then on the chest as well! The wretched little scorpion lurking in my towel hadn’t fallen off with the vigorous shaking but instead had stung me twice! Then, it fell into the bathwater and looked as if it was determinedly swimming towards me for another attack. Panicking, I crashed around in the bath to avoid it and almost fell over. Hearing my screams, O’D rushed to the rescue. “Kill it! Kill it!” I cried, out for revenge.

In bed that night, I lay on my back while the poison spread, giving me a sensation that thousands of little feet were walking prickily around my neck and chest. I swelled up and the swelling was sore. But couple of days later, it was all over and I was back to normal.

Allan Schwarz, who used to be a professor at M.I.T and who has grown over one million indigenous trees in Mozambique has also had some alarming encounters with scorpions.

Allan has lived in a tent in his own little forest near Beira for over 20 years and on one particular occasion the sting was more serious than usual as he was stung on the throat. His throat swelled up so much that he began to have difficulty breathing and thought that he would be forced to give himself a tracheotomy! Luckily, he managed to survive without the do-it-yourself little operation.

Although the scorpions we find in our house and on the verandah are small, the scorpions that live in our forests, under fallen trees and logs, look more like monster scorpions. They are black, about 2 to 3 inches long and quite terrifying.

A glorious burst of pinkblossom at Nhamacoa

We are lucky to have one of these lovely Pink Jacaranda (Stereospermum kunthianum) trees not far from our house and at the moment it’s in glorious pink blossom. It grows to the height of about 13 metres and likes rocky outcrops and hillsides. It’s also often found on the fringes of evergreen forests.

The flowers appear from August to October and as you can see from the photograph, they are a showy delicate pink, streaked with red on the lower corolla lobes.

Apparently, the pods of this tree also had a medicinal use. They were used as a cough remedy by adding salt to the pods when chewed.

This is a beautiful tree to grow in a garden.

Snakes Alive!

As you may imagine, when you live in a house in an African forest, you get some pretty unwelcome guests from time to time.
These visitors usually make their appearance at the beginning of summer, when the warm heat of the Mozambican sun wakes them out of their winter sleep … and they get on the move!

There are the scorpions that give you a fiery dart, causing you to swell up for a couple of days and then there are the mosquitoes that bring you to your bed for a week or so with malaria.

But the most unwelcome of all these visitors are the snakes.

Now, you would think that snakes would stick to the trees and realize their unpopularity when they invade human space but … oh, no … some of them don’t.

We have had Mozambican spitting cobras in our bread oven, inside the vent of our deep freeze on the verandah and even a Mozambican spitting cobra on top of the engine of our red Toyota pickup!

O’D didn’t believe me when I told him that I had seen a Mozambican spitting cobra slide up into the pickup.  So, when he opened up the bonnet to have a look … gave a high-pitched scream … and then slammed the bonnet shut again, I must admit I felt a certain satisfaction at his reaction.

This satisfaction didn’t last long, though.  Because within a few minutes of trying to extract the cobra (without taking the precaution of wearing the safety goggles I offered him), he got a very painful squirt of venom into his left eye.  Of course, pandemonium reigned after that.  We poured three cartons of milk into his eye to wash out the poison and then, with a virulently scarlet-coloured and demonic- looking eye, he drove off to the local nurse for attention.  Fortunately, the milk was the right thing to do and his eye was undamaged.

Apart from being extremely dangerous, Mozambican spitting cobras can shoot their venom out as far as 3 metres and the venom can cause blindness if not washed off quickly.

And then, not so long ago, we found a python in the house.  We were off to bed and about to blow out the paraffin lamps that light us up at night, when Zorro (our dog) started sniffing at the sitting room door.  When I looked behind the door, I got quite a shock.  There, curled up in the corner, was a snake!  Unable to see what kind of snake it was in our dim light, O’D attacked it with a walking stick.  In the morning we discovered it was a young python.

There is one snake in our forest, though, that doesn’t frighten us at all.  This is the Cape file snake. It’s a docile species that never bites, although it may excrete a foul-smelling fluid.  It’s a predator of other snakes, even poisonous ones, as it is immune to their venom.  Here in Mozambique, it’s believed that witch doctors can make the Cape file snake steal money for them!


The Chinese are now doing business all over Africa and Mozambique is no exception. It’s all about money, of course, and more often than not, it’s about who is going to get whose money!

The other day when O’D went to see Danke Liu, who is hiring our tractor, he found Danke in the middle of a dispute with his Mozambican landlord. Danke had paid for electricity and for some reason the landlord (who worked for the electricity department) had cut off his electricity. So Danke was moving out.

The landlord hadn’t liked this and had insisted that Danke, there and then, hand over rent for the entire month he would not be staying in the house. To make sure Danke paid up, the landlord put a chain on the gate of the walled-in property and was keeping Danke, his Chinese right-hand man and Mateus, his Mozambican driver, captive in the house!

When O’D drove up the street, he saw Mateus running down the road, waving his arms at him. Climbing over the wall, Mateus had managed to make his escape.

Together, they went to the house where O’D broke the chain to the gate.

The young Chinaman was furious at the way he had been treated. Eyes glinting behind his glasses, he had some words for his absentee Mozambican landlord jailer.

“I’m not going to pay him ANYTHING now!” he said.
And heaving his baggage into his car, they all drove off to his new rented home in Chimoio.


It’s a very satisfying thing to plant a little seed and then to watch it grow into a leafy tree, towering way above your head. It’s just as satisfying when school children or a local living near us catches our enthusiasm and starts to grow trees themselves … although this doesn’t always turn out as they intend it to …

I remember the time in 2010, when Mr. Alberto, the local Frelimo Party secretary, decided to start a little nursery of his own to supply us with seedlings.

He was very excited when he brought his first chanfuta seedling to us to admire and couldn’t understand why we all burst out laughing when we saw it.

It was Antonio, our gardener, who gave him the explanation and when Mr. Alberto heard it, he burst out laughing as well.

You see, there is a terrible plant here called Feijao Maluco (Mad Bean) or Buffalo Bean. Its brown seed pods are covered in very fine hairs and if you just brush against one of these hairy pods, you begin to itch like you have never itched in your entire life! In fact, you end up scratching like mad and covered in big red welts.

And this was the seed Mr. Alberto had planted and had tended so carefully … a Feijao Maluco plant!

So, it’s just as well to know your seeds before you plant them.


We’re coming into the most dangerous time of the year for the Nhamacoa Forest now – a time called The Queimadas (the burnings).

The Queimadas usually take place at the end of winter and beginning of summer (August/September/October) when the vegetation is tinder dry and the grass is tall and yellow. It’s a cultural thing and has always been practiced by the Mozambicans to clear their fields for planting before the rains start.

Everywhere you look you see people lighting fires and because these fires often aren’t controlled, they get out of hand and cause terrible damage and even loss of life.

Unfortunately, children like to take advantage of this time of the year to start a fire just for fun or to catch rats and others will even deliberately stoop to arson.

Here in the Nhamacoa, we’ve been set on fire every year. So far we’ve been lucky and always managed to get to them before they have destroyed too much.

The worst thing about the Queimadas is that they occur at the time of year when animals produce young and sadly, many little creatures too young to run end up being burnt to death.

This happened to some weaver birds when we first came to the Nhamacoa.

It was a hot October day and some women opening a field not far from us started a fire which grew into a quite terrifying inferno. We started back-burning in an effort to protect ourselves and as I watched the flames roaring towards us, I saw it begin to engulf a tree which was laden down with weaver’s nests. Inside these nests were little weavers, too young to fly.

In terrible agitation, a mass of parent weaver birds circled frantically above the tree, unable to do anything to save their young and then, as the flames rose up it, the weavers settled in another tree and watched their nests and offspring burn. When it was all over and nothing was left except the blackened and smouldering remains of the tree, the weavers rose up in a great group and flew away. And to this day, this particular type of weaver has never again made its nest in the Nhamacoa.

The Start of Trees4Moz

It’s taken four long years for our Forest Conservation Association to come into being and I would like to start off this blog by thanking the people who have been such a help to us over these years.

First, a very big thank you to Joao de Conceicao, our friend and secretary of the Association. If it hadn’t been for Joao and the many tireless hours he spent tramping from department to department to sort out paperwork, nothing would ever have happened.

We would also like to thank Arend de Haas of African Conservation Foundation who gave us so much encouragement over these years and without whose computer skills Trees4Moz wouldn’t have been created.

And finally, to Dani Cook, my niece, thank you for giving up your time, Dani, to design a great logo and lovely artwork!