Kaninmambo, Mozambique!

One girl's misadventures studying abroad in Maputo, Mozambique.

Category: Uncategorised (Page 2 of 2)

Travels in the North: Day 5 and 6

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’.

Sunset over the mud flats.

Sunset over the mud flats.

A new creation.

A new creation.

Modeled by the armish mother-in-law.

Modeled by the armish mother-in-law.

Finishing off with a fellow wearer of white.

Finishing off with a fellow wearer of white.

Travels in the North: Day 4

Today was my first day with Ibo’s famous silversmiths. I first began making silver jewellery a little under a year ago when I was living in Santiago, Chile but was shocked and disappointed at how prohibitive the cost of lessons and setting up a workshop was back in the UK. So it was inspiring to watch the artisans of Ibo working in the shady entrance of the old fort, using the most basic tools and household objects to create really beautiful pieces of filigree and chain mail jewellery.

I took a different route to the fort from my hotel, walking through the ‘new town’ which is just two streets back from the old main road. Where the ‘old town’ is all hush and crumbling stone, the new town, a conglomeration of attractive reed huts and cement dwellings, is bustling with life, both animal and human. I was guided by various different shrieking children through narrow wicker-work passages between houses, across a football field, the grass cropped low by hungry goats, and along dusty pathways through the bush which seethes with crickets and bird life until we arrived at the low white fort.

The silversmiths greeted me quietly and I hesitantly took my place on the rush mat next to Salamao, the latest in a long line of jewellers, who would be my teacher. He had explained to me the day before that his great-great-great-grandfather had come to the island from Oman, bringing his knowledge of metal work with him, knowledge which had been passed down from one generation to the next.

I watched them working quietly in the shade and little by little Salamao began to show me what to do, how to create the perfect silver hoops which make up the majority of their work and how to solder tiny silver balls to plaits of silver wire. Soldering was the greatest challenge; where I had always used a hand-held propane torch, they used an old tin full of petrol with a wick made of cotton wool. They blew the flame through copper pipes, regulating the temperature and size of the flame with their own lungs. For God’s sake, I thought to myself, as Salamao handed me the pipe for the first time, don’t breathe in! Cleaning was done in a charcoal fire, to burn off the remains of the borax, and then the pieces were boiled in lemon juice. I crouched over the fire in what was once the kitchen in the old fort, a cool, dark chamber, now full of dust and strange sausage shaped nests built by wasps, breathing in the heady perfume of hot citrus. It was wonderfully atmospheric.

I have always found that making jewellery has a special capacity for making time disappear. I would often find myself working for six or seven hours straight on something in Chile and would only realise how tired I was when I finally ‘came up for air’, fingers aching and covered in silver dust. Today, I saw how the time past by the changing shadows in the star-shaped inner court yard of the fort.

At four thirty we packed up the tools and made our way together back through the bush, in the warm afternoon sunshine, Salamao suddenly becoming talkative. I bid goodnight to them at the crossroads as they continued on to their houses further up the hill and slipped regretfully, guiltily, back into my hotel, a little patch of first world amongst the reed and mud houses and coconut trees.

That evening I went to eat in the house of Nasir. There are no restaurants (in the traditional sense of the word) on the island, apart from those in the smarter hotels. Instead, a handful of locals have set up shop in their gardens or paddocks. You must order during the day though there is only ever one thing on the menu, normally some kind of fish accompanied by matapa (creamy cassava leaves) – we had a very good crab stew the other night. Nasir came and picked us up at the hotel and we made our way through the dark village, past more shrieking children who hadn’t yet been put to bed.

On our way home, we keep tripping up because our eyes are glued to the sky which is one of the starriest I’ve seen with the milky way clearly visible above us. The air smells of salt and mud and the sweet scent of the mangrove. I think I could stay here for a long time.

Indian Almond inside the old fort.

Indian Almond inside the old fort.

Some creations.

Some creations.

The student and her rather downcast teacher.

The student and her rather downcast teacher.

Travels in the North: Day 3

I woke up at nine feeling like I’d spent the previous night being battered over the head with  blunt instrument to the news that Brexit was actually happening and wasn’t just a joke that had got out of hand. To top it all off, ten hours on the chapa was obviously a bit much for my immune system which was punishing me with a horrible tonsillitisy cold – great timing (will a chest infection with complications of Farage-syndrome qualify for airlifting to the hospital?).

After breakfast, I joined forces with an Irish couple who were staying at my hotel and headed off for a long and meandering tour of the town during which Raul, our guide, revealed in no uncertain terms his distaste for bullying policemen, the lazy Doctor who only sees patients who need airlifting to Pemba because he gets to go in the chopper, and the corrupt bureaucrats who ‘don’t even know when Ibo gained Independence, only how many beers are in the fridge’. He narrated the history of the island in a charmingly personal manner, moving from house to house, and famous inhabitant to famous inhabitant, recounting the rises and falls in their fortunes.

The town is a sprawling ruin of some grandeur, inhabited only by ghosts and the few unfortunates who happened to be left behind when the money evaporated – which, now I come to think of it, sounds rather a lot like dear old Britain in a few years time…

It is Ramadan so the hush was even more sepulchral as we wandered past buildings in various states of dilapidation, many of which had been totally invaded by undergrowth and the frothy magenta sprays of bougainvillea. We disturbed a flock of fruit bats at roost who streamed out of the hole in the roof of one old government building.

The overgrown cemetery connected to the long-forgotten catholic church – apparently, its congregation has diminished to only ten lonely souls – is testament to the extraordinary diversity of European peoples (that’s not to mention all the Omanis, Gujaratis, Chinese etc.) the island has been home to over the years. Graves inscribed in French, Portuguese, English and Dutch are barely visible through the tangle of weeds and there was even a small mango tree growing from one. The ground is obviously nice and fertile.

A little way out of town, along a dust track which runs along the beach, we came to the old, star-shaped fort where the famous silver smiths produce their beautiful jewellery. It is quite something to see them work and create such complex pieces using tools which are rudimentary to say the least.

After passing a house encrusted with cowrie shells, we came to the home of Joao Baptista, Ibo’s answer to Barack Obama (he was the first black man to be employed by the colonial government), where we found the octogenarian tourist attraction sat on his porch in a rocking chair. He beamed toothlessly at us and shook our hands firmly before shuffling back inside.

We wandered back through the sleepy town, followed by a gaggle of inquisitive children who shrieked “Muzungo” (white person) every time we turn round to grin at them. One of the bolder ones gave my hair a tug. Women in bright hijabs with their faces crusted with white misiro paste (a traditional face mask made from a special type of wood) waved shyly at us from shady verandas.

My first full day on this enchanting isle was spent as a tourist wandering around and gawking at ‘the sights’. The main impression I came away with as a warm dusk fell over the island, the sound of the azan echoing through the quiet streets, is that Ibo is an extraordinary  place of haunting beauty, where traditional Kimwani life – weaving baskets, drying fish, dancing and song, is played out in the blossoming ruins of an extinct Indian ocean trading empire. It is an island of pleasant and surprising contrasts and I couldn’t wait to experience more of it.

The main street of the old town.

The main street of the old town.

A young resident.

A young resident.

A beautiful baobab.

A beautiful baobab.


The fort.

The fort.

Salamao the silversmith at work.

Salamao the silversmith at work.

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