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Year's End

Seasons change in Mozambique, but if you just look at it, with its year-round emerald green palm trees and tangled patches of flowers, you can’t really tell. You have to feel it.

In the last few weeks I spent in Mozambique before flying back to America for Christmas, I found myself sitting in the garden under my dripping wet laundry hung on the clothesline, ants occasionally crawling on my knees and acacia thorns occasionally pricking my bare feet, just to escape the heat. I’d sit there with my laptop, trying to work with the glinting sun on the screen, picking at cold grapes on a paper towel I’d taken out of the freezer. It was the only midday relief I could find now that summer was, and is, settling like a heavy, wool blanket over that corner of Africa.

It’s summer again in Mozambique, unbearably hot and still, with evenings laden with sweating glass bottles of beer, humming fans, sundresses and hair sticking to our foreheads. Then there’s winter, which are months of reprieve; comfortably warm days and evenings chilly enough to need a sweater, or even a jacket — these are the months of sleeping under duvets, of warm sweet potato soup; things that feel like little daily miracles in a tropical country.

There are the other seasons: the windy season, when easterly winds blow heavily from Madagascar, carrying clouds of jellyfish toward our shores and making the once-a-week flight out of town feel like a rollercoaster ride; there’s the humpback season, when the horizon is so saturated with migrating whales that, at any given moment, a quick glance out at sea will let you spot at least a half dozen whales as they breach, slap their tails, and puff clouds of mist into the air. During this season, you can hear them singing like sirens when you dive underwater; they lull beside you at sunrise as you sit on your surfboard, patiently watching them as they pass. You can take your kayak and paddle only ten minutes out from shore before you’re within just a few meters of one of these spectacular (and frightening, I admit) gentle giants.

But for me, nothing has marked the passing of time, and marked the beginning of summer, quite as much as mangos.

With their blood red skin, plump and sticky, piled high by the dozens in overflowing baskets that dot the side of the highway that runs like a spindly vein up the length of the country.

The mangos are back, which means summer is here. Which means the year is ending, and as I had my first mango of the summer a few weeks ago, standing wrapped in a towel in the kitchen, I realized that it tasted like January. It tasted like a year come full circle, a year about to end, and marking the end of my first year living on this continent.

Yes, there’s still another couple weeks until 2018 comes to a close. But for me, the taste of an East African mango was the beginning of me, I guess, accepting that soon, the year will be over. It has come full circle, back to me standing in that familiar kitchen, with the sheen of mango juice on my hands and its fibers in my teeth. You know how certain smells and certain tastes can be associated with memories so strongly that it almost knocks the wind out of you?

Without me even realizing or noticing it at the time, that’s what a mango has become for me.

The last time I had a mango was maybe the middle of February – right in the height of a sticky Mozambican summer, in a sun-flooded cabin that overlooks turquoise water, right at the very beginning of my insane (terrifying? exciting? wild? best-thing-ever?) move to Mozambique. I was dipping my toe into a life here. The year turned out to be incredible, though at the time I didn’t see it coming. Unbeknownst to me, I was about to be sent on assignments to the Seychelles, to Kenya, to South Africa, to Gabon, and all across Mozambique. I was at the beginning of so much unforeseen: music festivals in Swaziland; countless road trips through Mozambique and South Africa; my work published in over 350 publications across the world; chasing northern lights across Iceland, listening to the volcanos rumble and the glaciers creak; countless mornings of fireside coffee and sleeping on jungle floors; honing my patience with snakes and scorpions and some awful thing called camel spiders; so many border runs it made my head spin; ringing in my birthday with the staff of The New York Times as we ran into the Indian Ocean at midnight; and becoming an official, legal resident of Mozambique.

All of that, between then and now. Between the mangos of February and the mangos today.

I know Mozambique doesn’t have the changing leaves in autumn or the exciting first winter snowfall that a part of me does miss. But we have our baskets of mangoes on the kitchen counter.

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