It rained on Sunday, and I had a suitably quiet day under the palm thatched roof of Miti Miwiri’s patio, wrestling with the intricacies of my travel plans and working on some lessons for the Associacao Yinguissa Mocambique. I also bought a sim card which I took to the silversmiths round the corner to file into a size which would fit my phone.
It was all go on the island.
That evening I walked up to the beach just beyond the dhow harbour to enjoy the sunset. The tide was on its way out and the witterings of wading birds accompanied the sun’s descent over the mud which was stained orange and pink. I knew that smell of the sun-warmed mud so well. It was a pleasingly familiar sight.
The following day it was back to the silversmiths, this time to make a pair of silver earrings.
My teacher is rather curmudgeonly. He speaks little, though when he does the others fall silent. He examines minutely every step I take in the construction of the earrings, grudgingly declaring it “Bom (Good)” only after a thorough inspection. He does look pleased when we finally finish for the day, and I present him with the finished article.
“Not bad.” He grins.
The chatty silversmith with the clubfoot, shows me how to work the bellows fabricated out of bits of old wood and plastic sacking in the old kitchen when we are cleaning the pieces. He also has a good look at the earrings and declares them ‘good’.
“Take them back to England.” He laughs. He seems to find the idea of England highly amusing.
I head home, this time accompanied by my new local friend, Cadria, who was at the fort the first day I was there. We had chatted earlier in the day, each of us as curious as the other to know more about this exotic contemporary. She is twenty-four and already married with two children, the eldest of whom is seven. She was married at sixteen as is the custom here, and while she’s not looking after her children, she looks after the maritime museum which is housed in the fort. She takes me on a quick tour, whilst we wait for Sulemao to arrive.
Cadria had come in earlier in the day with an older woman who had berated the silversmiths in kimwani at the top of her voice for a good ten minutes during which time there was much gesticulating and nostril flaring. Apparently they were arguing about the door to the fort but I don’t know in what capacity; Cadria did not go into any further detail.
“Why are you wearing white, amiga?” Cadria asked, perfectly reasonably. “You’re going to have to wash your clothes tonight. You’re filthy.” She laughed.
“And these are no good,” she said, gesturing to my admittedly dirty jeans. “You should wear a capulana then you’ll look much nicer.”
“You will have to teach me how to tie it.” I half-lied, hoping my show of idiocy would win her over.
“Let’s go to the market. We’ll get you a capulana and a head scarf. Then you will look nice.”
So off we went though the bush, her gold nose-stud winking in the afternoon light. A child appeared on the path in front of her.
“Muzungo!” he squealed. She picked him up.
“This is my youngest,” she said. “He hits his Dad.”And she snorted with laughter.
We stopped outside a wickerwork fence taller than we were.A delicious charcoal smell was emanating from the house on the other side. I could hear the whirring of a sewing machine.
“My home,” she explained. I wondered if I had caught a hint of shyness suddenly, as if she were embarrassed to let me in.
“I thought we were going to the market.” I said.
“You can’t go like that. We have to find you something to wear first.”
She showed me into their compound. Her husband was sitting at an ancient treadle sewing machine – one of those black, antique Singers. He and the friend who was with him looked extremely surprised to see me there, and they avoided my eyes awkwardly. I heard the friend say something about the ‘muzungo’. Fair enough. It wasn’t everyday a pale-face appeared in their garden.
Cadria reappeared holding a batiky capulana which smelt of garlic and smoke. She gave it to me and then shook her head, giggling as I began to wrap it around myself – hmmm evidently I needed more help than I had thought.
Once she had helped me tie it securely, she seemed to relax. “Much better,” she declared.
I realised that my outfit of jeans and a long-sleeved shirt, which I had thought was fairly modest, was not just revealing (the jeans were skinny), it was also dangerously close to mens’ clothes. In a culture wear women only wear capulanas, I was essentially cross dressing. I felt honoured and not a little smug that Cadria had taken it upon herself to help me integrate…. then again perhaps it was all a great joke: she laughed all the way to the market.
She greeted many friends along the way, calling out into their compounds as we passed by. We bought a capulana and a second scarf which she tied in a hijab for me.
“Perfect! Now you are pretty.”
She said pretty but I guess she meant socially acceptable because when I looked at myself in the mirror, my big, white moon-face looked even more pale and shapeless next to the black fabric of the headscarf. I looked like an Armish mother-in-law.
We bid each other goodnight and I self-consciously made my way back to Miti Miwiri, grinning at all of the locals who did a double-take as I strolled by. At least, the children were all too shocked to say ‘Muzungo’.