This is my first Country People interview for the year 2020 and what a people-story to kick this year off with.
Gorongosa National Park is high on my list of places I would like to visit and I love daydreaming about it.
I have also written a short insert on Gorongosa last year on a Trailcamming-posts about being a citizen scientist, a fun way in which you can be a part of Gorongosa conservation. You can read the article here. How to become a citizen scientist without owning a trailcamera.
Besides being an awe-inspiring African National Park, Gorongosa also has something else which I am passionate about. Coffee! And what is better than coffee? Coffee for a cause of course. Have a look here: Gorongosa Coffee.
Let me introduce to you, one of the personalities of Gorongosa.
Meet Matthew Jordan, the Director of Sustainable Development in Gorongosa National Park, he also leads the organisation’s “Rainforest Coffee” and “Eco-Tourism” projects.
Tell us a bit about yourself? Your life story, how did you end up where you are now?
I was raised in the deserts of southern California by two hard-working people: my dad the ironworker and my mom the horse trainer. However, I didn’t feel at home until I found my way to the savannas and woodlands of Gorongosa National Park.
As far back as I can remember, I have been intrigued with natural systems: cycles, food webs, seasons, and the slow incremental changes made by aeons of geology and evolution. My fascination turned into investigation while studying engineering in school. What I discovered was a simple lesson: that the fates of human society and of the natural world are intertwined.
The more I learned, the more I knew that I wanted meaning. I wanted somehow to serve people or the environment. After college, I travelled to Nicaragua where I worked as an engineer in a rural village helping people access clean water. It became clear that simple technical knowledge wasn’t enough to tackle the enormous problems facing us. These were enormously complex socio-environmental systems.
I continued to travel, and to serve, and in 2013, I joined the Peace Corps, who sent me to Mozambique.
I spent two and a half years in a remote village near the Tanzanian border. There are a thousand stories to tell from those days, like the time I nearly burned down the high school or came close to being eaten by a lion!
But the most interesting story for me is how I came to work at Gorongosa. I heard Greg Carr speak, and was so inspired by his vision that I applied to work with the Park when my work with the Peace Corps was over.
That is how I found myself in a small cabin in the middle of Mozambique, surrounded by elephants and crocodiles, working on one of the most amazing wildlife and human development success stories in modern history.
What is your favourite part of working and living where you are?
Enthusiasm and optimism are part of my personality, and in all kinds of difficult, boring, or alarming situations, I can see promise and hope.
These are important qualities working here, and the situations that we encounter and work through bind us together as a community.
At Gorongosa, I come alive when I am swept up in the passion of problem-solving, and I revel in the crystal clarity of purpose that focuses the mind.
At other moments, I enjoy the simple pleasure of fellowship with other human beings quick to laugh and thoroughly committed to a mission. It reminds me of the stories I’ve heard from family members who have served in the Army. I share in that deep sense of comradery.
Although there is never a typical day in the African bush, I asked Matthew to share a bit of his daily life and share a story of what it’s like to live in the Gorongosa National Park.
I remember one week that was characteristic of the range of experiences that define Gorongosa. I started the week drinking buckets of coffee and pouring over spreadsheets of budgets and administrative rigmarole. We were looking to expand our coffee project, to save a rainforest and uplift the community, so I had to see if we had the means, or what it might take for us to do it. The next day, I headed out to the rural site we wanted to work in with the head of the Coffee Project, and my mentor in all things agronomy, Quentin.
The road we were travelling on was in such a state of disrepair that we crawled along for miles, occasionally watching barefooted old ladies pass us and wave cordially. When we arrived at the new project site, there were two mildly concerning figures there to greet us. The local healer/village elder who had been communing with the spirits, (in the chemical sense of the word) and an armed man, dressed like a simple farmer but holding a rusted AK-47 instead of a shovel.
We filed in behind them, and made our way to a gathering place, passing more armed men, stalks of corn, small dogs the colour of the red soil, and troops of children playing and staring at us. We were greeted by a commander, asked to sit, and told not to be nervous about the weapons, that they were normal given the current political situation. Quentin, as usual, was unfazed. He is as courageous as he is generous. So, I put on a brave face and sat down to begin.
The meeting was lengthy, wide-ranging and diverse (we touched on the topic of breast-feeding twins, there was some discussion of the correct manner of offering a goat to a brother) – but we also got around to talking about coffee.
We chanted and sang, and worried about how the healer was going to manage to walk the short distance from his chair to the ceremonial tree. (In the end, someone had to help him.)
We concluded the ceremony with a clap, and an agreement to work together, leaving us all feeling satisfied with the whole process. We shook everyone’s hands and started the long journey back home.
That was a Tuesday.
The following day, Wednesday, I met with Park management and told them the previous days stories, and we strategized about how we were going to get the Coffee Project up and running and in the hands of the community.
We talked about how the Health team and the Education team would follow in the wake of the Coffee team, bringing desperately needed services to this very remote community. After much discussion and revision, we had a plan.
On Thursday, I was back at my laptop answering about 150 emails that began with “Sorry for my late reply, I was in the field this week”. I remember specifically, someone had sent me an email, telling a story about being on the phone for two hours with the shipping agent, but also telling me that they had managed to find a solution in the end! I celebrated their effort and kept on ploughing through emails. In the evening, we all sat at a long table at the camp’s restaurant. There had been a sighting of leopard tracks, and the whole table was alive with discussions about what an amazing job the newly trained rangers were doing, and how we should be seeing more leopards in the future.
Over the weekend, we had an important political visitor, and I was the point person to tell them about the coffee project. We spent hours talking about the project, walking through the waist-high coffee plants, and telling stories about the hope and vision we shared for Gorongosa. It’s such an honour for me to share stories about the Park, and about our work here, with such esteemed guests.
I worked through the weekend, and on Monday started my week again with even more coffee answering even more emails.
“I am filled with gratitude at being a part of this amazing story here in Gorongosa. I sometimes don’t know where my life stops and my work begins. In a world that is very concerned with balance, I don’t mind mashing it all together and charging ahead. I’m approaching a decade in Mozambique and I’m hoping that this is only my first decade here. I would be proud to serve on this great project for many more years to come.
I hope that those of you reading this story are compelled in some small way to engage with us, to reach out to our team, to reach out to me personally, and become a part of something.
Even better, come to Gorongosa! Soak up the sun and see things that will fill your imagination with wonder. Finally, drink enough of our coffee to fuel your journey. And when you get home, share your experience, and share the strength and hope you find in Gorongosa.”
You can follow Matthew and the Gorongosa Coffee Journey at the following links: