Kaninmambo, Mozambique!

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

Tag: Student life

The Half Way Point: A New Phase

“Ever step you take is forever. You can’t make it go away. None of it. You understand what I’m sayin?”
Cormac McCarthy, No Country For Old Men

And so, I reach the dreaded half-way point of my stay in Maputo. Dreaded because as any good pessimist will tell you, my glass is now officially half empty and filled with various regrets and “Should haves…”. So I resolve to spend the next two months correcting those mistakes, in order to return to England satisfied that I made the most of my precious time here.

Whether by mistake or by design, I feel as though I am entering into a new phase of my stay here. The first two months of confusion and settling-in are coming to a close and I am anxious to take advantage of my increased confidence to do something worthwhile with my ample free time. This has coincided with my meeting the volunteers from the Gabinete de Cooperacao at the university, who are tasked with receiving new students. They are an extremely out-going and academically gifted bunch and I only wish someone had told me about them when I first arrived. We had a dinner last night and have now set up a whatsapp group of about 20 people so that ‘sempre tiveres alguém para te fazer companhia’ (you always have someone to keep you company.) They have also been responsible for introducing me to the Associacao Yinguissa Mocambique, a charitable association which carries out ‘good works’ in the local neighbourhood of Maxaquene. I will be volunteering as an English teacher in the local primary school library and as general pair of hands with them for the next two months. And so, I feel the cogs have begun to turn and hope that my last two months here will be spent productively sewing the seeds for a possible return.

Appropriately enough, to underpin the beginning of this ‘new phase’, yesterday was my first day in a new house in Coop, an old, middle-class neighbourhood which backs onto the university campus in the north of the city centre. When I wake up in the mornings, I can hear bird song which is a revelation. Gone are the flash new cars of Polana’s expats and the cacophony created by heavy traffic and several building sites which I had become accustomed to down town.  In pleasant contrast to Polana, sleepy Coop has a distinctly Mozambican feel to it; thanks to its proximity to the University of Eduardo Mondlane, its leafy streets are filled with students walking to lessons and hawkers selling street food.

***

There is an avocado tree in our neighbours’ tiny garden. It has grown on a patch of turf the size of a bin lid and appears to have tried to compensate for these meagre origins by growing as tall and thin as it possibly can, with the result that it has the strangely elastic appearance of having been stretched. Large avocados the colour of tennis balls knock against the second and third floor windows. I wonder if each floor claims a section of this gangling tree as their own: do fierce disputes erupt from time to time over the boundary lines between Flat 2 and Flat 1’s limber territories? Perhaps Flat 2 and Flat 1 wake up one morning to find that Flat  3 has launched a surprise ambush overnight and has name-tagged every fruit in sight in an outrageous attempt to assert their sovereignty over the entire tree. These are the things that go on under the surface in suburban Mozambique.

A ‘Rough’ Guide To The Markets Of Maputo

I have a confession to make: I adore markets. No, scrap that. I am OBSESSED with markets, a condition which is definitely congenital, and another thing for which I must thank my long suffering parents. Where ever I go in the world, one of the very  first  places I will visit will be the market. Forget the museum or the gallery or the cafe. The market is where it’s at.

Why so obsessed? I hear you ask.

Well, there are many reasons: Firstly, you can always depend on The Market for providing you with a cheap and tasty meal (always a priority in my book). Secondly, they offer an unparalleled opportunity for the traveler or tourist to experience a culture in 4D; they are the stained-glass windows through which we peep into another culture.

Food is one of, if not the most fundamental pillar of any culture, as it is the one thing which connects people across all social classes; it is home, it is childhood, and as you, the foreigner, lift the spoon to your lips and breath in that particular aroma, you are partaking in a universal cultural experience and can, if only for a moment, catch a glimpse of what it feels like to belong. The expat constructs their own cultural childhood in a new country as they slurp from dishes of steaming soup and suck meat from charred bones in the dark and warrenous passageways of The Market.

However, markets are not just about food. They are about language too, as our ears are assaulted by a tumbling barrage of foreign sounds. And with language comes The People. You want to understand how a foreign culture operates? Go to the market and observe. Are people direct or reserved? How much eye contact do they tolerate? How loudly do they speak? Subconsciously we build a simple profile of cultural behaviours which we can then adopt ourselves.

And yes, I’m a romantic. I love markets for what they SIGNIFY. That ancient, symbolic space where a culture and a people have always intermingled with other cultures and other peoples in trade and in friendship.

But enough of that guff……

The most important thing, has to be the most practical and that is: weekly grocery shopping.

Oh yes, this is a post about going to the supermarket! Well, not quite.

Before I came to Maputo, several different uninformed types told me food in Maputo is Expensive with a capital ‘E’ and that I shouldn’t shop in the market because it is unhygienic and, wait for it…. DANGEROUS.

Apparently, just like chapas, markets are places where you’re gonna get assaulted and robbed.

Sound like a load of old tosh? That’s cos it is!

I imagine this prejudice stems from the fact that these people have always had staff. Therefore, their logic is that the market is the place where staff and other rough, common types go, certainly not a place for the Master and Mistress.

(Oh wait…Surely not another smug post! )

Food in Maputo is expensive….. if you shop in the supermarkets and only eat out in the ‘posh’ restaurants (some of which I’m sure are pretty good, if remarkably overpriced.)

Compared to southern Europe where high quality fruit and veg are available at ridiculously low prices, the produce available in supermarkets in Mozambique, most of which is actually imported from South Africa, is extremely pricey for what it is: think sad, greying cauliflowers triple wrapped in plastic, the spinsters of the vegetable tray, or carrots which are so bitter and mushy, you’d rather use cigarettes for crudités than have to chew your way through such disappointment.

My advice is simple: DO NOT GO TO THE SUPERMARKETS.

Apart from their being horribly overpriced, they are not even convenient as they are no where near as widely spread as they are in the UK meaning that in all likelihood there will NOT be one near your house. And you’re just going to be giving money to horrible, blood-sucking, exploitative corporations, most of them not even Mozambican.

By going to the Market however you are:

  • Supporting small traders, most of whom are women, and thereby contributing to the local economy. This also makes market shopping a deliciously FEMINIST ACT.
  • Buying fresh produce for much fairer prices.
  • Forming relationships with local people via friendly negotiation and commerce.
  • Learning the local language and customs and local ingredients which lady traders will happily tell you how to prepare.

And so without further ado I present, my guide to the markets of Maputo. (N.B. This is a work in progress so stay tuned for updates)

Mercado Central (The Central Market)

Where: Located on Avenida 25 de Septembro, in the Baixa, the heart of downtown Maputo, the Mercado Central’s proximity to various essential Maputo sites makes this the most touristy of all Maputo’s markets.

I visited the Mercado Central during my first week in Mapto whilst on a walking-tour of the Baixa and whilst the range of produce on offer seemed the most comprehensive of the markets I’ve visited, it is as tourist-trappy as any market in Africa can be. Prices were higher and not as negotiable, although the girls were happy to let me try some of the more exotic fruits (for a fee). There was also a bit of hassle with hawkers selling handicrafts. “Miss! Miss! Hello! Good Morning! Miss!”. OK, if you’re just visiting once but having to put up with being treated as the tourist every week whilst doing your shop would probably get a bit tedious.

What: A wide selection of fruit and vegetables including exotic delights such as massala, ata and mafiloa. Homemade chutnies and piri-piri. A more limited selection of fish and meat both fresh and dried. And also some handicrafts – wickerwork etc.

Atmosphere: Housed in a beautiful building considered the twin of the Railway Station, the Central Market is a must-see. It is probably the most tastefully presented and well-ordered of the markets. However, because of the higher numbers of tourists who visit there both the atmosphere and the prices can be a little bit less ‘friendly’.

Best Buy: Wicker work and fruit.

$$$:….significantly higher than elsewhere.

Mercado Janeta

Where: On the intersection between Avenida Vladmir Lenin with Mao Tse Sung. Round the corner from Fatima’s backpackers.

What: Fruit and veg, dried fish, clothes, hair salons, brica-brac, seamstresses, cheap restaurants.

Atmosphere: A bit more of a local’s place, it fills up at lunch time when people come in to have chicken and rice or stew and xima for low prices. Expect to pay 150 – 200 mets for an enormous portion of whatever you order.

Best Buy: A cheap and cheerful lunch, a weave or braids.

$$$: Not as expensive as Mercado Central, but still a bit pricey because of its proximity to Fatima’s hostel and its central location. Though not a tourist hub, it is recommended in most guides so enough foreigners have wandered in here to make the traders pretty wily. I remember, my first time there, the woman I was buying from calmly told me potatoes were 100 mets a kilo (they’re normally 30 – 40). She took quite a bit of convincing otherwise.

Mercado Estrela

Where: In Malhangalene. Avenida Acordos de Lusaka (I think). But ask any taxi driver – they will know.

What: Stolen luxury goods, car parts, cars, motorcycles… and the best goat meat in Maputo.

Atmosphere: Definitely not for tourists, take all the necessary precautions. It is huge and sprawling and extremely masculine, the only women being the ones who work in some of the informal restaurant in the main body of the market. Think large crowds of dodgy blokes. They shouldn’t give you too much hassle though if you are firm.

Best Buy: A mac book pro (it might even be YOUR mac book pro which was stolen last week.), anything which you’ve had nicked, and ……. GOAT MEAT.

This last one cannot be stressed enough. Going into the section of the market which is covered from the East, you need only walk 20 yards through the tunnels of shacks until you happen upon the back of a concrete establishment painted red.

This place serves the best goat stew in all of Maputo, dark with honey and richly spiced. You even see ministers from the government sneaking in dressed in their suits. They serve the whole animal including the head (though you have to order that specially). Order the stew including offal accompanied with xima and prepare for a serious mouthgasm.

$$$: 500 USD for a Mac Book Pro. 200 meticais for the best goat you have ever eaten in your life.

Mercado Museu or Barracas do Museu

Where: Occupying the block behind the geology museum and next to the chapa station, this warrenous confusion of congregated iron shacks and concrete shells is best known among the ex-pats for being a cheap booze pick-up point.

The drill is this: the guys selling the booze run over to the cars and surround them, each one fighting and shouting over each other to get the order. The first bloke to run back to the stalls and get back to the car with your order gets the money. I remember being quite taken aback by the clamour of people the first time I went with friends to pick up some beers but it’s all part of the experience. Just be civil and calm.

 

What: On the east side of the market you can find the stalls selling groceries, fresh fruit and veg and dried and tinned goods. Also some hardware. And on the West side, booze and take-away food.

Atmosphere: Very much a local’s place and, as a result, it is a really friendly place once you get to know it. You will probably draw a fair amount of stares at first and maybe even some comments. I remember the first time I went in, a girl loudly asked her friend “What’s this white girl doing here?” It felt like a rhetorical question and she looked pretty moody so I decided not to stay and answer her.

However, I shop regularly with one woman on the west side of the market, buying all my cheap veggies there, including avocados for 20 mets! And she has been teaching me some basic changana which has been a fun challenge. I now greet her and order most of my shopping in changana which everyone who works at the market thinks is hilarious. A simple ‘See you tomorrow!’ will elicit gales of uproarious laughter from the traders. Maybe it’s my accent…

N.B. I went in a few days ago and it was one of the trader’s birthdays so the women were singing a traditional song for her and doing a procession. They presented her with various gifts – a set of glass serving bowls and 200 meticais was the big event, followed by pieces of fruit and other food.

Best buy: Groceries and cheap booze.

Chapas for Dummies or Top Tips for Shelving Shitty Chapa Shenanigans and Getting on the Boss Bus!

It’s taken me two long months but I can finally say ‘Up Your’s’ with confidence to all those expats and naysayers who predicted oh-so-confidently, that, once I had arrived in Mozambique and seen for myself, I would rather rub piri-piri in my eyes than travel by chapa in Maputo.

For those of you wondering what on earth I’m talking about, a chapa (pronounced ‘shapa’) is a minibus, typically with a capacity of 12 people but usually filled with approaching double that number. They are as hot and smelly as the underground at rush hour in August, and they are driven everywhere at top speed with music blaring from the speakers, which the driver and the cobrador will sing loudly and tunelessly along to. Imagine a tiny, rocket-propelled disco where no one is allowed to smile. Or a particularly funereal rugby scrum set to Shakira’s Waka-Waka: This Time for Africa.

View post on imgur.com

Oh. Dear. Lord.

Perhaps it’s understandable therefore that expats and wealthy residents of Maputo would rather tear out and eat their own pancreas than set foot in a chapa. After all, you wouldn’t want to stain your white linen suit or your cream gucci trousers, would you? And besides, Pedro’s got a new Range Rover. And I mean, just imagine if someone actually saw you getting out of the A Voador – Costo do Sol…….. It would be social suicide!?

I have heard the following complaints about chapas:

  • They are (extremely) dangerous –  if you walk out in front of them without looking and stop to look at your iphone, yeah they probably are. A bit like me.
  • You will be assaulted and robbed – only if you’re a moron with ya pearls hanging out your open Mulberry handbag.
  • They are unreliable – I have not yet waited more than 2 minutes for a chapa, there are literally hundreds of them.
  • They are smelly – Yes, can’t really argue here. But if you get a window seat, you’re laughing.
  • They are unhygienic – Oh yeah, because Africans don’t wash….
  • They are expensive – LOL. Not. No one has ever said this because a one way ticket costs £0.08.

I sensed that it was basically snobbery which stopped people taking chapas. 

What stopped me taking chapas initially was not knowing where the hell any of them went, as The Bradt Guide, which has been a fairly reliable beginners guide to Maputo observes: “You will probably have no idea where any of them are going at first.” SO TRUE.

However, through trial and error, and by taking quite a few chapas, I grew in confidence until I reached the stage where I would describe myself as a chapa pre-pro. Pre-pro because there are still some chapa frontiers which I haven’t yet crossed,  such as travelling at night – but I get around happily enough during the day.

It then occurred to me that some other would-be chapa user might also benefit from my hindsight and so I decided to create the Chapa Guide for Dummies aka:

My Top Tips for Shelving Shitty Chapa Shenanigans and Getting on the Boss Bus.

chapa

  1. Act Fast

Whether you are trying to cross the road in front of a chapa, hailing a chapa or boarding a chapa, speed is of the essence. Chapas wait for no guy or gal, and queues don’t happen. Once you have the driver or cobrador’s attention, you’re good to go. This means abandoning all pretense at polite behaviour.

You will find speed is not of the essence one you are inside the chapa and when you are trying to extricate yourself from the tangle of people squashed inside as in all likelihood you will not be able to move.

2. Know The Best Seats

Knowing which seat to sit in is crucial if you want to succeed in the Game of Chapas. 

squished chapa

Don’t be like the girl in the yellow top or the guy in red. They are definitely losing.

In order of preference from first til last:

Any window seat on the driver’s side– being squashed in tight is made more bearable by a refreshing breeze. You also have the option of travelling with half of your body outside the vehicle. Fun!

The front seat next to the driver – in theory this is really the best seat, although the fact I’ve seen people sharing it knocks it down a bit. The reason why I put it in at second is that this seat is given as a mark of respect: I have had cobrador’s who turf people out of the front seat so I can sit in it (it’s because I is white!).

I say this seat should be reserved for people who really need it – the pregnant, elderly and infirm. Therefore, second place. By all means, take it – if you can stand the guilt and the glares boring into the back of your head.

Any seat on the back-row / Any seat next to the window seat on the driver’s side –   –  Back-row is a safe zone where, unless you’re unlucky, you shouldn’t have to play much musical chairs to let other passengers off. Plus, more breeze.

Worst REAL seat – The folding seat in the aisle. Unstable, uncomfortable and you will constantly be having to get in and out of the chapa in order to let people off. No wider than 40 cms and shared with two or more people. You are the first to be sat on.

Best pretend seat – the glove box between the two front seats. Precarious and uncomfortably close to the windscreen, you will be the first to taste the tarmac if the driver brakes too sharply.

However, you are next to to the driver and will be serenaded all the way home. Plus you will be six inches taller than everyone else which normally gives people a bit of an ego boost even if they know deep down it’s just cos they’re sat on a box.

Next best pretend seat – the plastic base behind the passenger’s and driver’s seats. It’s a slippery slope you keep sliding off. You’ve given yourself a nose bleed because your knees are so far up in your face you’re blind and the driver hit a pot hole. You keep nearly getting into an intimate facial situation with the person in front of you. And the cobrador’s looking down your top. At least your ass is on something resembling a seat and not…..

On someone’s lap. If the chapa was Titanic, this seat would be Rose, pushing the good seats off the raft of esteem just so she can lie in some cold water and bitch for a few hours.

jack-rose-raft-600x290

Pretty sure there is room for two there…

No one wants to sit on someone else. But to be fair, I’d rather sit on someone else than be sat on. What if they are incontinent? Or have terrible bacterial vaginosis? Or weigh 200lbs?

Finally, the accolade for the worst seat on the chapa goes to….

The door frame, window frame and indeed the sky, which is where many people who haven’t been able to fit properly into the chapa end up travelling. By design or by mistake, the result is an undignified and premature death.

3. Know where you’re going. 

Battalions of these chapas zip from one end of the city to the other and cover an impressively long distances. It is difficult to know where they are going and, as you’re more likely to meet Donald Trump in an East-African Mosque than find a route map, you’re kind of stuffed unless you have a pretty good idea of where YOU want to go.

This might seem like strange logic, and it probably is, but then the chapa system itself is quite strange.  

However, you should know this:

Museu (Museu de Geologia) is the main chapa terminus in the East of the city. It’s smack-bang in the posh part of town and has connections to many exciting destinations:

To go North, up through Sommerschield to Coop until Praca de OMM – take a chapa to Praca das Combatantes or Laulane.

To go West take chapas from Avenida Eduardo Mondlane. Get off at Ronil if you want to go down to the Baixa in the South. Look for Costa Do Sol, this will take you down and around to Maputo shopping and then up to Costa Do Sol.

Ask a local. And remain vigilant at the window watching for the route you’re taking.

Chapa_traffic_jam_in_Maputo_(9717216968)

Hmmm… I wonder what route this is?

4. Don’t be a Moron.

Anti-Chapa Chaps will try and tell you all about how you will be assaulted if you take a chapa. This is quite frankly, utter bollocks, and unforgivable social prejudice.

A certain individual I know here said they took a chapa once and it was a terrible experience because her bag was open on her lap and someone reached in and stole her ipad.

Yep. No word of a lie.

Obviously you are not going to be this moronic. Keep your handbag/satchel/rucksack/napsack/spotted handkerchief-on-the-end-of-stick firmly shut and you should have no problems.

5. There are no bus stops.

You must develop the African sixth-sense of the minibus stop. Or just use your eyes and common sense. Where there are people waiting and chapas stopping, it’s probs safe to assume you’ve got yourself a stop.

When you wish to exit the chapa you must shout paragem. Forcefully, and multiple times, normally a little way before your stop.

5. Know who you’re dealing with.

You don’t speak to the CONDUTOR (driver). Unless he speaks to you. He is too busy swerving at break-neck speed round other traffic, vegetable carts, cyclists, small children and livestock.

You do speak to the COBRADOR (conductor… confusing innit?): he is the man you pay. He is normally a mouthy geezer, and too comfortable in the job but it’s best to stay on his good side, so don’t give him any lip.

N.B. Never ever comment on the large pink false nail studded with diamantes the cobrador is wearing on his hand. Never ever.

6. Payment

May be offered any time, but normally just before the stop, when you say ‘Paragem’, is best so as to avoid sticky situations when the cobrador claims you haven’t paid.

However, the cobrador will occasionally ask for everyone’s fare at once. It really depends on the guy.

Each journey is 7 meticais or £0.08….. Yeah, Transport for London: EAT YOUR HEART OUT.

Change always be given. I’ve seen people pay with 200 mz notes and receive change, but I wouldn’t risk anything bigger and it’s probably wise to ask before.

7. Etiquette.

The only way the experience of travel in close proximity to a stranger’s genitals can be made any worse is by talking to them or being talked to.

This is probably why, apart from the Cobrador and Driver’s kareoke competition, chapa journeys are fairly silent affairs.

Don’t worry about saying ‘good morning’ or anything either. It will just draw attention, bring us on to number 8……..

8. You will get hassle if you are A.) A girl. B.) White

I have never had anything but pleasant exchanges with other passengers. But, brace yourselves for some unwanted attention from the cobrador. They are ego-maniacs, tiny dictators in their kingdom of the atomic tin-can.

What starts with “Eu Gosto de Ti.” (I like you) – normally  delivered with a leer, will evolve into endless pestering to get your number or indeed, to get you to come over and hang out at his place.

It is hard to just ignore such comments when said person is leering only inches from your face, but it is probably the best policy. I find saying ‘Mmmmmm’ with raised eyebrows and studying your fingernails intently also works. Exchange exasperated looks with the girl next to you. If worse comes to the worse, tell the offender you are pregnant, which will have the desired effect of reducing your sex appeal to that of a bent spoon. (A hint of annoyance is usually good but don’t go over board.)

9. Enjoy people watching and being the only non-African on the bus

In two months, I have only seen one other non-African on a chapa and she was a tiny, wizened old lady. Kudos to her.

chapa 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of Solitude and Elephant Fetuses

Winter has arrived in Maputo.

It sneaked in whilst nobody was looking and took everyone by surprise. Suddenly, it is too cold to go out in the evening without an extra layer or two (although twerking can remedy this…), people no longer sweat it out in jeans at midday, and a duvet is surprisingly welcome at night when the temperature drops.

Unfortunately, this weekend was kicked off by heavy rain and a cold breeze which didn’t shift until late on Saturday afternoon. Maputo doesn’t like the cold but it really hates rain. The streets lie empty of people but for the most persistent hawkers, who stand around morosely dressed only in shorts and flipflops with plastic bags tied to their head.

Considering the precarious living conditions of the vast majority of people in Maputo, it is easy to see why rain dampens the spirits of the usually buoyant Mozambicans. Rain means leaks in corrugated iron roofs, it means damp clothes, damp blankets, endlessly cold, wet feet as you trudge through the rain in flip flops and sandals. It means colds and the flu. It means worrying about wheezing grandparents and feverish children, and all the medical bills you can’t pay. Rain is as bad for business as it is bad for the health.

Accordingly, the city has been peculiarly quiet this weekend. Bars and restaurants stood empty and parties drew a small, albeit dedicated crowd.

The weather seemed to coincide with a lull of my own.

After the whirl-wind of the first month, what was novel is becoming normal, and I find myself craving some structure and routine and the regular company of friends. I want to feel myself settling in now that the ‘honey-moon’ phase is coming to an end.

And so, sick of being confined to the flat on my own, I went to the natural history museum on Saturday afternoon.

The building is manueline in style, resembling a large, frilly wedding cake – I’ve never understood why the other name for manueline is Portuguese-gothic (perhaps some architecture nerds out there could enlighten me?) and houses the only collection of elephant fetuses in the world.

What better way is there to spend a lonely Saturday afternoon staring at the preserved remains of elephant abortions?

Starting out as a blob the same size as walnut, the elephant gestates for 21 months – 21 MONTHS – that is nearly two years (RESPECT), before it is born at the size at which it is able to walk behind its parents and do all those adorable things which add at least 3 zeros to David Attenborough’s salary every year.

It would be more impressive if the collection was complete, but unfortunately it only contains fetuses of up to 6 months of gestation, when they are replaced by lumpy papier maché models painted with grey poster paint which rather diminishes the effect.

The exhibit is accompanied by a vitriolic text about the origins of the fetuses aka Elephant-Gate, Mozambique: the Portuguese colonial regime attempted to clear a large section of the country for agricultural projects which meant shooting hundreds, nay thousands of innocent, law-abiding elephants… The one good thing, the text said, which came out of this elephantine massacre was the preservation of the fetuses, plucked from the still warm wombs of the mother animals. And to top it all off, those bloody incompetent Portuguese didn’t even manage to carry out the agricultural projects they had planned to.  Goddamn colonialists.

The museum is also home to the best collection of SH** taxidermy I have ever seen.

Highlights include:

image (6)

This…. lioness?

image[1] (2)

This cheetah who still looks pretty concerned about David Cameron and Pig Gate… Don’t worry cheetah, you’re safe here.

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And this leopard who looks like he could really do with introducing some prunes to his diet.

Needless to say, any year-abroad blues quickly evaporated, the moral of the story being if you feel down on your year abroad, go and laugh at some dead animals.

 

“In Maputo You Enjoy The View”

Lost, not yet found: Three Weeks of a hazy nature. Notable characteristics: drenched in sunshine, possibly drunk. They meander about beatifically but are also capable of vanishing in a blink of an eye if not watched closely. If anyone out there knows of or has seen Three Weeks matching this description, I would be delighted if you could return them to me, intact.

Gosh. How quickly the time seems to fly. I hardly believe I’ve been in Maputo for nearly a month. It feels like I arrived yesterday…. or months ago, at the same time.

So I thought it was about time for some reflections. I had dinner with some Mozambican friends of my Portuguese flatmate, Carmen, last night. And they asked me what my expectations had been of the place before I arrived.

I was really honest with them. If there is one thing in particular that has surprised me about Maputo, it is how sleepy a city it is. And I’m not just talking relatively to other capitals in this part of the world. It just oozes leisure….

leisure

…almost as much as this professional Leisure Hound.

People stroll in Maputo. There is no sense of hurry or tension or fear which keeps people off the streets in other capital cities in this part of the world. It is, despite or perhaps because of its abundant nightlife, decidedly tranquil.

It sounds absurd but sometimes, occasionally, whilst strolling round my neighbourhood in the late afternoon sunshine, I sometimes feel like I might be in a Disney Movie.

bambi maputo

Me in Maputo. (Artists Impression)

Allow me to explain:

Sunshine – CHECK!

Birdsong – CHECK!

Massive flappy butterflies – CHECK!

Bougainvillea flowers drifting artfully to the ground – CHECK!

I jest, of course. I don’t know how many Disney movies were also scattered with rubbish, intense poverty, flagrant corruption, and a profound sense of injustice. Because they are also all things which characterize this city.

However, to get back to my original point…

Maputo is, despite the aforementioned problems (and more), a highly agreeable city, not to mention being surprisingly attractive with a noticeably laid-back vibe.

The Mozambicans agreed wholeheartedly with this observation.

“In Maputo, you enjoy the view. Fique a vontade. (Feel free/ Make yourself at home).”

Indeed, I’ve certainly never been to any other capital city where you can actually see THE STARS at night (this is thanks to the lack of street lighting). That was one revelation.

Another revelation was waking up at five in the morning to hear a cockerel crowing. I live downtown for God’s sake. I bloody LOVE this place. (For those of you who don’t know I have a thing about chickens… please, don’t ask.)

So to conclude this rambling, highly questionable and completely romanticized post, I should like to encourage ANYONE, and absolutely, EVERYONE who is considering visiting Maputo be it for holidays or to study abroad, to just do it. It’s a pretty cool town.

Mozambican Women: Know Your Place (Hint: It’s not in the hardware shop)

Up until last week, I had been having some difficulty hanging up a mosquito net in my room. I had resorted to using duct tape to hold it to the wall behind my bed.

(Wasn’t that just the most exciting start to a post, like, EVER?! Hold on to your hats, it’s only going to get crazier…)

But the duct tape just didn’t work. I was waking up every night at four in the morning looking like this….

pug in blanket

FML.

So whilst on a walking tour of a Baixa I took the opportunity to ask the guide where I would find a ferragem (hardware shop) in that part of town.

He gave me a quizzical look but dutifully showed me to the right shop where I proceeded to ask the broadly grinning attendant for a hammer and nails.

Hmmmmm…. Was it just me or was everyone (every MAN) in the shop smiling at me?

Oh yeah…I have ovaries and you don’t. Well spotted!

sacastic well done

As I paid for my purchase, my very polite tour guide quietly inquired as to what I actually planned to do with the hammer and nails. I explained they weren’t just for looking at, nor was I going to artfully arrange them in my room, channeling that highly sort-after, utility-chic style. No, I was actually going to HANG SOMETHING FROM THE WALL with them.

He looked aghast. I had obviously confirmed his worst fears.

“In Mozambique women don’t use hammers.” He said, shaking his head and looking immensely worried.

“Do you know how to use a hammer? They can be dangerous, you know. You can hit your fingers if you’re not careful… Why don’t you get a man to do it?”

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Is this really my life now?

I reassured him that I would be fine and explained that I had done it before and hadn’t hurt myself.

As sexism goes, it was a pretty mild encounter, and the look of utter confusion on the poor guy’s face was amusing to say the least. But it was also a reminder of how far attitudes towards women still need to change here.

I think it’s fair to say that, rightly or wrongly, most people in the West would not generally associate the word ‘feminism’ with ‘Africa’…

So it may be surprising for some to learn that when Mozambique finally achieved independence from the “over-sexed”, women-hating, Catholic Portuguese on 25th June 1975, it had what can only be described as a ‘Feminist Moment’.

feminist moment

Oh yes, Mozambique’s Marxist-Leninist leadership wasted no time in declaring gender equality in their newly independent nation. After all, FRELIMO had come to power famously assisted by platoons of female soldiers and activists such as Josina Machel.

josina

Radical activist, feminist, soldier and all round heroine.

As Samora Machel declaimed (I’m told he did a lot of that) in his speech opening the first Conference of Mozambican Women in 1973:

“The liberation of women is not an act of charity. It is not the result of a humanitarian or compassionate position. It is a fundamental necessity for the Revolution, a guarantee of its continuity, and a condition for its success.”

Adeus Portugal, Adeus Misogyny! Thou shalt not be missed….

….But remember I called it a ‘Feminist Moment‘? Unfortunately, the party ended pretty swiftly.

In fact, following the tragic death of Machel in 1986 and as Mozambique sank into yet another bloody conflict, the nation’s feminist agenda which had inspired such hope in so many Mozambican women was gradually forgotten.

That being said, my experience so far of Maputo has been overwhelmingly positive and women seem much freer here than in many other capital cities in this part of the world, walking around alone, drinking and smoking in public, driving, going out with friends, playing cards in public….

However, I have to say that over the past three weeks I have experienced more casual sexism than I have at any other time in my life (which just goes to show how privileged women are in the West), and it is a culture shock though perhaps not that shocking a one. I hasten to add that none of it, bar the hammer incident, has been directed at me, perhaps because as a foreigner the same rules just don’t apply.

Classroom Sexism:

  • When a teacher elicited a sentence from the class in Portuguese in order to explain a grammar point, the boy sitting next to me called out “A Maria fica grávida” (Maria got pregnant). Clever.
  • When discussing in class the best age for a woman to get married:  “25 is the best age for a women to get married because she is still fertile and can have plenty of babies, whilst also being young enough to look after them and keep the house clean” was one young man’s response. Well, he’s not wrong.
  • The fact that boys out number girls 8 – 1 and this is in Arts and Humanities…( I mean WTF?!)

However, I have also encountered sexist attitudes outside the classroom…

  • Being forbidden from entering the library whilst wearing jeans and a pretty modest vest top. Apparently my shoulders really offend some of the books in there.
  • Being told, by a friend of Ika’s that if women listened to their gut instinct more, there would be less rape……………………………………………………………..

Alice-facepalm

There is also the ongoing debate about the length of school girls’ skirts: to summarize, several weeks ago a group of women who were going to put on a short play outside their local school in order to raise awareness of the rampant sexism and sexual abuse of girls in schools here were arrested for inappropriate behavior in public. They were protesting the fact that school girls’ skirts have been lengthened once again in order to discourage sexual abuse. The police took issue with this and shot at and then arrested them. (I guess if you’re already dead when they arrest you, they don’t need to waste time doing the whole hand-cuff/’You have the right to remain silent’ rigmarole….)

Anyway, this story has had the whole of Maputo up in arms, most of all because of the attitude of the police, one of whom was heard saying “Why don’t you just go back to the machamba” to some of the women.

Machamba is the vegetable patch traditional tended by women, so I guess it’s the Mozambican way of saying “Get back in the kitchen, you slag.”

But then again, the fact that people are talking discussing the issues is brilliant. Perhaps Mozambique is on the verge of another ‘Feminist Moment’… I just hope it lasts a little longer this time.

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Back to the machamba with you, you SHREW!

5 First Impressions from my First Week

So I tried and failed to come up with a coherent strategy of describing my first week here – there was so much going on, so many different experiences and emotions flying around, that it seemed reductive to try and unify all of it into one descriptive post.

First impressions of a place are never particularly coherent. But hopefully, anyone who reads this blog (DOES anyone read this blog?!) will get some sense of what my first week here was like. Enjoy!

1. Maputo smells like Marzipan

This sounds cheesy. And it is. But it is also true thanks to the many frangipan trees planted all around the city. Mia Couto makes reference to this tree in his novel A Varanda do Frangipani  (Under the Frangipan: http://www.amazon.com/Under-Frangipani-Mia-Couto/dp/1846686768) which I HIGHLY recommend you  all read.

Frangipan trees look a bit like they might have come out of a 3D printer, thanks to their weird plasticky flowers.

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How are these not stuck on?!

One of the most pleasant things about being in this city is being able to sit on my balcony at dusk, feeling the warm breeze blowing off the Indian ocean and breathing in the smell of these DIVINE  flowers. And this isn’t even poetic exaggeration, this is genuinely how what my life is like now *smug smile*….

…unless of course it’s raining. Maputo smells like wet-dog in the rain.

 

Wet_dog_-_Tygrys

Hmmm… Perhaps not so pleasant after all.

2. Maputo is completely heterogeneous.

It is easy to get stuck in the white/black, Portuguese/Mozambican, Western/African mind-set. But that is a simplification. I don’t think I have ever been to a place that is as diverse as Maputo, and I’m not just talking ethnically, although there is ethnic diversity… Black Mozambicans, Mulatto Mozambicans, White Mozambicans, Mozambicans of South Asian origin, Portuguese, African, Chinese, Indian, European, Chope, Tsonga, Macua, Makonde….. etc etc etc. (You get the picture)

You also have people from all possible economic backgrounds, from the disgustingly wealthy to the utterly destitute. You have rural Mozambicans who have come to Maputo to make a living and who bring with them their traditional beliefs like witchcraft and ancestor worship, but you also have totally westernized, wealthy Mozambicans and expats from the USA and Europe driving around in huge Range Rovers. You have people who only buy food from the hugely over priced supermarkets and those who go to people selling just one thing i.e. crabs, mango, or mandioca, in the street.

It seems like a deeply polarized society and in many ways it is. But it is also a fluid and syncretistic society. People never seem comfortable to define themselves as one thing, despite the highly stratified, often segregated nature of the place.

3. Maputo is an architectural treasure trove!

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A treasure trove, godammit!

But seriously, Maputo is a very cool place architecturally speaking. Over the years a lot has been demolished, whilst even more has been left to crumble into a state of charming dilapidation with the result that the city today is a hotchpotch of buildings from different eras, and walking through it is like walking through all of the extraordinary political changes the country has undergone in the past century.

The above photo, taken from my balcony, is nothing particularly special, but it still gives a rough idea of what I’m talking about:

The oldest buildings are the tiny white houses with red roofs – they are super Portuguese in style and could have been airlifted from any street in Lisbon: this is basically Portugal saying, “This country is mine now. ALL MIIIIINE!”

mine

 

On the corner of the street on the left is a classic example of Maputo’s Art Deco architecture. Most of downtown, a Baixa, was built in this style. And most of these buildings are in desperate need of a lick of paint but for me, such decrepitude only adds character. N.B. Works by Gustav Eiffel can be found throughout Maputo, including the famous Casa de Ferro.

In the back ground you can see a modernist tower block: like Art Deco, Modernism was and is a big thing in Maputo and the city has some really interesting examples of work by Pancho Guedes and others. Check out the link for more pics: http://whatsonafrica.org/maputomodernism/

Finally, on the far left you can see a new building being thrown up. There are huge construction projects going on here at the moment thanks to a successful economic  climate. However, when you see how so much money being poured into such big projects (nearly always in the wealthiest areas of Maputo), you do wonder if it wouldn’t be better used else where…

4. Maputo is GREEN!

Hallelujah! After living in Santiago for 6 months which soul-crushingly urban, it is a relief to finally see some foliage…

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Look! Real trees!

Maputo is bursting at the seams not just with greenery but with wild-life too!

The old pavements are full of potholes and enormous lumps and bumps where the huge acacia trees’ roots are slowly pushing the paving stones out of the way. The air is filled with butterflies and moths and it is common to see gala-galas (lizards) basking in the sunshine. The streets are lined with the most beautiful trees – jacaranda, acacia and frangipan, often with trunks wide enough to fit a small car through. Trees are sacred here and have a special role in communicating with the ancestors and spirits. Perhaps this is why no matter how large a tree gets or how destructive an effect it has on the buildings around it, the council won’t chop it down…

Most exotic of all, however, are the fruit bats!

Greater short-nosed fruit bat (Cynopterus sphinx)

So creepy, so adorable.

You see them at dusk swooping around the tops of buildings and I occasionally hear them too, squeaking and snarling as they hunt for supper.

N.B. If you go down to the botanical garden you will find a tree where about 30 nest. You can work out where they are by the half eaten plums and excrement littering the floor. Nice.

5. Bob Dylan obviously never came here…

…because if he had he would have written a song about frango piripiri and terrible, heat-stroke hangovers. Forget all that tosh about dancing on a moonlit beach. It’s a serious party town which means serious hangovers.

“I like to spend some time in Mozambique
The sunny sky is aqua blue
And all the couples dancing cheek to cheek
It’s very nice to stay a week or two
And fall in love just me and you….” 

Er yeah… or not, Bob.

I marked the end of my first week in Maputo with an appalling hangover made so much worse by the unrelentingly hot weather. I had gone out the night before with all the right intentions of having only one or two cervejinhas at the Asociação de Musicos Moçambicanos *RECOMMENDED* before getting an early night. But things escalated pretty rapidly and before I knew it, the sun had been up for two hours and I was finally arriving home, limping from blisters sustained by hours of dancing marrabenta and clutching an avocado picked from one of trees under which all this debauchery had been taking place.

I know, I know… it’s a hard life.

 

 

 

 

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