One of the first things someone said to me upon my arrival in Maputo was:
“Maputo’s nice but you absolutely HAVE to get out whenever you can.”
Perhaps not the most encouraging advice. But, it’s absolutely spot on when one considers how utterly estranged Maputo is to the rest of the country.
It would be fair to describe Mozambique as a funnel, and not just because of the shape of the country on the map. In Moz, money has always flowed South, to South Africa and to Maputo, which in many ways resembles an enclave of Mozambique’s prosperous, southern neighbour.
‘Getting out of Maputo’ is therefore absolutely obligatory if one wants to gain any insight or understanding of how the other 99.9% of the country lives.
Macaneta is perhaps the closest one can be to Maputo whilst still ‘getting out’. We drove for a mere 20 minutes out of Maputo as the sun set and passed groups of school children and women crossing the central reservation on their ways home to the small villages which lined the motorway.
Despite Macaneta’s proximity to Maputo, it still feels charmingly isolated from the capital thanks to the short river crossing you have to make in order to access the village. (A bridge is being built as I write which will no doubt completely change the character of the place.) There is a long way round but for convenience and safety’s sake we opted for the boat.
The boat was really more of a glorified metal raft onto which 5 or 6 cars and 50 people squeezed themselves. We chugged across watching the bats swooping about in the half-light. The tide had risen by the time we reached the opposite bank and we had to take off our shoes and wade to dry land which caused much hilarity amongst the passengers.
As we waited for the cars to disembark, a woman dressed in a capulana with a baby on her back in a sling asked if I would sell her my hair. (This has become pretty commonplace for me: so far 4 women on separate occasions have asked to buy my hair, and even more have been known to absentmindedly grab it and play with it… All the manhandling makes me feel a bit like a new puppy at Christmas: “It’s so soooft!!”)
She then hit me with a stonker of a question:
“Do you want to be black?”
That question was so simple and yet so powerful and of course my natural reaction was to say, “Well, why not…?”. But then I was hit by a sense of my own hypocrisy. Institutional racism, lack of opportunities, prejudice: these are all issues which cause great suffering for people of colour in British society. I guess it’s easy for someone to say they would prefer to change the colour of their skin when they haven’t experienced any of these things.
Moreover, her question laid bare a tragic reality: by saying that she hated her hair and wanted to be white she demonstrated how even here, white ideals of beauty of imported from abroad and imposed upon black women. And I was suddenly hit by a sense of just how profoundly divided and unjust our world is.
And this whole encounter was made more surreal by the setting: standing in the shallows of a river, in the dark, watching 4x4s struggle down the very steep ferry ramp.
I’m very aware of what a sensitive issue this is so I hope you forgive the clumsiness of my responses to it. It had a pretty big impact on me at the time and I guess I’m still trying to work out what I think.
ON WITH THE JOURNEY…..
There followed a very bouncy 15 minutes on a dust road interrupted by a herd of beautiful Mozambican cows chilling out on the road.
We then had a very chilled out two days in deserted idyll, the most exciting moment being the discovery of a poisonous frog on the back of a garden chair and a sighting of a yellow sac spider in our kitchen….! If you don’t know what a Y.S.S. is, it actually features on GoAfrica’s list of Africa’s most dangerous and scary spiders……….
I had been unnecessarily nervous before departure.
The thought of leaving Maputo for the first time and being in a more remote area was exciting but also slightly intimidating, but Macaneta was as peaceful a place as one could imagine, comprising a sleepy village of small, single-storied houses made of breeze blocks with corrugated iron roofs where old men sat around in chairs watched the comings and goings of chickens, goats, and pigs, and children playing toys made from bits of rubbish and women carrying beautiful rush baskets on their heads.
And, as Ika explained, “No one would break into the house because everyone knows it is Miguel’s (the caretaker’s) house which he looks after.”
The village is positioned in a system of dunes next to a marsh through which the road from the ferry runs. We drove past bundles of rushes stacked up to dry and hundreds of black crabs sitting at the side of the road. We even saw a MONKEY in the dunes on the way back from the beach!
On our way back to Maputo, waiting for the ferry, a guy came over to the car and began talking to us.
He then interrupted the conversation and said, referring to the rest of the Mozambicans waiting for the ferry, “They’re afraid to talk to you because you’re white.”
And so the race question loomed again and cast a sad shadow over the end of what was otherwise a blissful weekend.