My First Ever Workaway Experience: A Murder Mystery in Mozambique

I had a solid month of absolutely no idea where I wanted to go or do after leaving Amsterdam.

It’s a good problem to have.

September was a completely unplanned month, though I had plans to meet up with friends in South Africa in October. I should probably go somewhere else in Africa beforehand. Africa is the next destination on my quest to the seven continents, so it made sense. Realizing months prior that I would have this opportunity, I was suggested by fellow backpackers to try a Workaway experience.

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Workaway is an online community for volunteering, working, and cultural exchange. Basically, there are a list of thousands of registered hosts around the globe who may need a hand involving a list of jobs or activities (farming, hospitality, daycare, and conservation efforts just to name a few) for a few hours a day in exchange for food and accommodation, with visits lasting anywhere from a few days to a few months. Sounds like a sweet deal! I thought I would give it a whirl.

I registered on their website and created a profile, indicating I was willing to work anywhere in Africa (except South Africa) along with a list of valuable skills I possessed. I was down for anything (except babysitting and farming) and put an emphasis on my love for teaching English as a second language to kids or even adults. It also helped that I’m TEFL certified. There is an annual fee of just $30 USD to sign up.

Soon I was contacted by an American woman who lived in Mozambique by the name of Julia (not her real name for reasons I’ll get to later). She ran a lodge in Pemba with her husband Adam (also an alias), all while homeschooling expat students and parenting her two toddler children. She needed help with the homeschooling part and asked if I would be interested. I gave an immediate ‘yes’ without question. We communicated since then via Whatsapp.

Fast forward to September (2017). I booked a flight from Amsterdam to Pemba with a layover in Lisbon, Portugal as well as Maputo, Mozambique. Once I finally arrived in Pemba, I discovered my checked bag was missing! One of the worst fears for any traveler is not seeing their luggage come round the conveyor belt. I made a report at the office nearby, which by the way…was kind of shit. Good news, most of my valuables were with me on my carry on. Bad news, I still had a lot of stuff I needed in my lost bag. No use worrying now. I’ll figure it out later.

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Julia messaged me a couple days ago saying she would pick me up from the airport, but as I left updates on my whereabouts, she took a while to respond or sometimes not at all. Finally, she messaged me this:

“Ok. So you know. We’re having a bit of an emergency here. I’m going to have our taxi pick you up and bring you to our place. Just relax. Our manager Victor is there and he’ll explain. I’ll be home in the afternoon.”

I didn’t give it much thought as I had no idea what was happening. But just like she said, a taxi was outside the airport entrance waiting to take me to her lodge. Regardless of my missing bag, I was happy to finally be back in Africa! It was hot, dusty, and the air even smelled like Africa. If you’ve been to eastern Africa, then you will know what I mean. I was so unprepared for this trip, I didn’t realize that Portuguese was the official language here. Who da thunk?

The driver took me through the rather empty town of Pemba and eventually through wild bush and roads made entirely of a hot orange sand. After about ten minutes or so, we arrived at the lodge, just along the Indian Ocean. Upon first look, I didn’t realize just how expansive and beautiful her lodge really was! I didn’t bother with looking at the photos posted on her Workaway profile either. Such a surprise for me!

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Not a single soul was around at first, but soon a jolly skinny man came out to me and introduced himself as Victor. He didn’t explain much about what I would be doing. Instead, he welcomed me and informed me a little about the lodge and asked if the prawn special was okay for dinner. I said yes out of politeness, but I should have said no because I HATE prawns. I felt like I was still too fresh to be picky.

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Soon after, he showed me to my accommodation. Now I had it in my head that I was going to stay in a barebones room with a bed, which I would have been fine with. But no. Instead, Victor escorted me to my private vista suite with a view of the premises and the ocean that I would call mine for the next month! It’s called the Sun Vista. I couldn’t believe it! That bed though!

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I’ve only been here for two seconds and I’m already loving this Workaway! I asked Victor when Julia and Adam would be arriving today. He was silent for a moment. “Maybe tomorrow, you will see them,” he replied. I could tell something was up. But for the rest of the day, he invited me to just relax, get settled, and to come down to the restaurant for breakfast in the morning. He brought my prawn dinner later on. Thankfully, there were rice and veggies as well. I fed the prawns to my bathroom trash bin.

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Victor, Myself, and Sumail, another staff member at the lodge.

The next day, I ate breakfast at the lodge’s restaurant, then afterward helped one of the bartenders set up the tables and chairs that were being cleaned the day before. I was anxious to meet Julia because I was ready to do my part, especially since I could have easily been distracted by the amazing beach and all the amenities the lodge had to offer. Until then, Victor continued to persuade me to enjoy the beach and relax until Julia comes back. As great as that sounded, I didn’t want to be that lazy Workaway volunteer, so I just went around the premises, picking up small amounts of liter caught in the garden areas. Soon, the morning turned into nightfall and still, no word from Julia.

“Will Julia come tonight?” I asked Victor later on.

“Maybe tomorrow…”

“Is everything okay with them?” I asked with the utmost of curiosity. I wanted to ask him the day before.

He was silent for a moment and looked down at his phone. 

“I’m sure she will tell you once she gets here.”

From that, I got the jist that something was definitely wrong, but I had no clue as to what.

The next day, I was still without my luggage and without my Workaway host. I heard it through the grapevine, from the lodge staff, that something terrible happened involving Adam. What was it though? Later that evening, Victor informed me that Julia has arrived along with her two toddlers, but no Adam.

Eager to finally meet them, I walked up to Julia’s private home, hidden away from the rest of the lodge. There I finally met Julia, who appeared to be frantically running around with grocery bags and toddlers in tow, while on the phone at the same time. Her whining kids absolutely bugging the mess out of her. I sat there with a smile. It’s all I could really do. She seemed to have a lot going on. I sat around as she prepared dinner for all of us and soon she set the table. Her neighbor, Geraud, a french guy who owned the lodge next door, came to join us. Julia apologized for being away for so long, in which I told her not to worry. Thinking it would be some time before I found out what the emergency was, she cut right to the chase.

“So you probably heard about my husband,” she said to me with a cheeky smile.

“Uh, kinda, not really,” I replied, wondering what it could possibly be.

“Well…he’s in jail for murder.”

“Murder?!?”

My jaw just about hit the floor.

“He didn’t murder anyone,” she went on. “He’s been wrongfully accused and arrested. He was put in jail unexpectedly just before you arrived.”

From what I gathered, Adam is a simple family man. A middle-aged German guy who wouldn’t harm a fly. He and Julia built up the lodge from the ground up over some years and during that time, befriended many other expats. He was being extra helpful to fellow expats and it ended up with him getting involved with the wrong people. One of those expats he gave advice to ended up getting bludgeoned to death while in a vehicle by an unknown assailant. The Mozambican government is so mismanaged, that they simply arrested anyone and everyone who may have been involved, even without any evidence. Poor Adam was one of those people. It remains to be known just how long Adam will be held in jail, but according to Julia, Mozambique can’t hold him for more than 40 days. It’s up to Julia to prove his innocence, meeting with lawyers, and also to bring him food every day because the system there doesn’t give them any. At the same time, she now must run the entire lodge on her own, home school a group of children, and most importantly, care for her toddlers, who are both around their terrible-two phase of kinder-ship. Let me tell you, just upon meeting Oskar and Olivia for a few moments, I could already tell that they were a handful.

Adorable, but a handful.

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Julia was super open, telling me practically everything. I sat there eating the delicious dinner she crafted while soaking everything up. It was like a highly amusing session of story time, where I sat in complete awe and silence.

I assured Julia, that now that I was here, I was willing to do whatever she needed to lighten her load. Because really, I had all the time in the world. Even babysitting. She was grateful.

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I’m no babysitter, but these kids had her hands completely tied. The only way she was able to run around Pemba to take care of the situation was if she didn’t have her kids screaming in her ear constantly. I happily offered to watch them when she needed me to. Plus, I wasn’t alone. She had a nanny or two to assist. I’ve watched the kids a handful of times during my stay, which was not the most difficult thing ever. I got the kids hooked on the movie Zootopia which I had on my laptop. That shut ’em up real good!

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If they got antsy, I just played with them by running around with them on my shoulders or swinging them everywhere. Occasionally, I would read to them. They had no comprehension of what I was saying so instead I would recite names of objects or animals from the pictures and have them point to it. The simple things that amuse them.

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Homeschooling was a different story. Five kids, around grade 8 and 9, would come to the lodge every morning to Julia’s makeshift classroom. I usually helped tutor one of the students to prepare him for his GED exam in a few months. To give herself more time to take care of things, she asked if I would be willing to take over her Social Studies, and both of her elective classes (Drama and Photography) to which I gladly agreed. I preferred having classes to myself anyway. Plus, there were only five students so I had their attention the entire time. Social Studies was my favorite to teach. We went over World War II, where I had interesting projects and lessons for them throughout the coming weeks. I began to bond with them during my time there as a guest teacher, while Julia took care of her legal matters. Photography was also cool because I was able to explain to them some techniques and ways to get creative with shooting. I usually relied on Julia for Drama help because I am no actor.

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When I wasn’t babysitting or teaching, you could find me at the bar/restaurant, helping those guys out and chatting it up with the lodge guests. I have a lot of experience in hospitality as well, so I felt useful in that regard.

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It sounds like I did a lot of work during my stay there, but I didn’t feel like it was. The students were great to teach and I enjoyed talking to the staff and the guests. Plus, Julia treated me like royalty, always preparing the best meals, even upgrading me to an even bigger suite equipped with air conditioning. The food was amazing, the beach setting was ridiculous, and her undying faith in me to help her maintain the lodge, teach the students, and babysit her kids made me not want to disappoint her. She even completely paid for an island day trip for me! That was awesome!

Julia practically forced me to get out the lodge and to explore for the day, at her full expense. I graciously accepted her offer and went out for the day with a few of the lodge guests who I have gotten to know over the past few days, while she continued to figure out this murder mystery involving her husband who has been suffering in prison.

Stay tuned to see how this story unfolds!

P.S.

After days of pestering and phone calls, I finally received my lost baggage after six days. It seems as though my bags have been searched, but nothing appeared to be missing. It was filled with dirty, stinky clothing which maybe helped to repel any sticky fingers. 🙂

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Author: Adventure Born

I'm Daniel. A cereal lovin', traveling machine from Michigan on a solo journey around the world, documenting and sharing my unexpected tales from abroad. My aim is to inspire people like YOU to discover your very own adventures. The world is truly too big not to explore it!

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