Sunday, February 26, 2006

Tras la Tempestad, la Calma

I am back in Maputo and genuinely happier, calmer, and more grounded than I've been in a long time. The Nia training was fabulous and not only did I dance a lot, I gained many lessons that can be applied in life as well as in physical movement. More to come about that over the course of the week...

Ricardo and I are still in our client's flat, but have found a wonderful 3 bedroom apartment that we hope to close a contract on sometime next week. I am looking forward to putting down some roots, painting our walls cool beach-inspired colors, buying furniture, and even potentially getting a cat!

Right now, though, I am having a string of busy, busy days and am not able to write about my personal life as much as I'd like. Rico and I have to finish a proposal by tuesday night that will hopefully get us money for our outgrower scheme in the tea project. It's all somewhat last-minute, which I don't love, but I am calm about the whole thing and not letting the pressure of work stress me out. Seriously. It's a great feeling to know you have a lot of work to do, but not let it overrun your life. I am very happy about that.

Hope you are all well...


Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Earthquake in Mozambique

Participating in the Nia Intensive in Cape Town this past week has been a very special experience for me, and I have not wanted to access e-mail or the internet. It just felt right to distance myself a bit and do some serious reflecting on my life without trying to analyze everything through writing.

However, I wanted to blog today just to let everyone know that Ricardo, BL, Patricia, Gemelli, and all of our other friends and loved ones in Mozambique are safe after this morning's earthquake.

Ricardo called me on the cell phone around 12:30am, just after the quake had ended. He was in our client's flat in Maputo where we are currently staying, and said that the desk and shelves shook and shook for about a minute. He had no idea what was happening until BL called from Chimoio and said there had been an earthquake, and that everything had shaken in our old house as well.

I couldn't sleep after that phone call. Early this morning I woke up and checked the internet for news, and couldn't believe my eyes. The earthquake was a magnitude 7.5 and was centered at Espungabera, which is the little town where we are carrying out our tea project! Apparently there were at least 5 aftershocks, and the quake was felt throughout the country and into parts of South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Tanzania. The news report said people went running out of their homes into the streets all throughout Mozambique, and there are still no reports on casualties or injuries.

Thankfully, we are all safe and there is no need for you all to worry.

Love to you all.


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Maputo and More

Ali arrived in Maputo, unpacked, then boarded a plane for Cape Town to begin NIA training. She will have sporadic access to the Internet which is why she asked me to write and tell you all where she is. She sends her love and looks forward to reading your comments.

Katherine (Ali's Mom)

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Movin' On Out!

Today is the big day. Ricardo and I are finally moving to Maputo!!!!! What started out as a month-long business trip has become the catalyst for us to get the hell out of dodge. We are going to start looking for an apartment first thing Monday morning. Hopefully we will find something in a good neighborhood and within our price range without too much of a delay.

This is a very different move from anything I've ever experienced. I think instead of "moving", it's more accurate to say we are changing our "home base". We will still come back here to Chimoio with some frequency for our responsibilities with Agrolink and our tea company, MozTea. I'm guessing that for every 6 weeks we spend in Maputo, we will spend 1 in Chimoio. I think it is the ideal balance, and will allow me to keep my sanity and enjoy my living environment, but not cut all ties with the work we have going here.

Yesterday I packed two suitcases with the essentials - work stuff, clothes, incense, 2 kinds of tea, Splenda, creams and perfumes, and *only* 7 pairs of shoes. Part of me was reluctant to pack everything up because I still don't believe that this move will really happen...everything in Africa goes wrong when you plan it out, you can't trust that anything will run smoothly. I have hopes that we will find an apartment and have an easy move to Maputo, but I'll have to see it all work out to believe it...

For as much complaining as I've done in the last week, I realized this weekend that I am actually going to miss several things about Chimoio. I will miss some parts of the chaos of sharing a home with 3, 4, or 5 people depending on the month. I will miss cooking for everyone, and sitting around all together to watch a DVD and shoot the shit. I will miss Zeca and our dogs, and the lovely climate here (Manica is the most mountainous province in Mozambique). I'm actually sort of sad that we are not going to spend as much time here anymore. And then I fall back into reality. I'm relieved and happy and excited to be moving on...

Our plane leaves at 2pm, then we will stay at a client's flat in Maputo until we find our own place. I won't have daily internet access, but hopefully will manage to check e-mail and blog 3 or 4 times a week...

So this is it...WISH US LUCK!!!

Friday, February 10, 2006

Sneeze it all Out

Today is a new day, and I feel much better. Not so much better that I've abandoned my plan to hightail it to Maputo to find an apartment with Rico, but I am calmer. Less moody and irritable.

Last night, right after my little breakdown, I got hit with one of the worst allergy attacks since coming to Mozambique. Usually the allergies come on in the morning, but this time they hit at nearly 11pm. I took a Benadryl hoping it would knock me out right away, but I was sneezing so much that even the drowsy medicine took nearly 3 hours to do its thing. At one point I sneezed literally 37 times in a row...All this in the crater mattress with Rico trying to sleep beside me.

We still don't have a new mattress, and likely won't buy one here in Chimoio because we're going to spend at least the next month on the road. Somehow, though I feel rested this morning, like I sneezed out all of the rage I was feeling last night.

I have a theory that my allergies are actually brought on by stress. I found a website once that referred to "emotional allergies." It's all very strange... I'd never had a single bout of allergy before moving to Austin, TX in 2003. Coincidentally, the move was in the middle of what was hands-down one of the worst situations I've ever dealt with in my entire life. I cried every day for 3 months straight, then every other day for the next 3. In the midst of all this emotion, my allergy attacks started. Since Austin is the "Allergy Capital of the World" I chalked it up to oak pollen, seemingly the worst culprit in central Texas, and went on dealing with my life. After the first year, my emotional situation resolved (a.k.a. the relationship ended) and, mysteriously, that next spring I didn't have a single allergy attack.

Then, when I moved to Chimoio 9 months ago the allergies started again. I am fine for 5 days, then all of a sudden I get an attack. At first I thought I was allergic to some pollen here, or the dust in our house, but if that were the case one would expect me to sneeze and wheeze every single day, which is not the case. Furthermore, I get allergy attacks no matter where I am lately: Maputo, Rio de Janeiro, California... It's the same random, once weekly bout independent of the environment I'm in.

So, in the coming month I'll be able to test out my theory and see if my allergies improve as my stress level diminishes. Check out my schedule for the next few weeks:

Week 1 - Maputo with Rico, working on a banana proposal. We leave Chimoio day after tomorrow, thank God.

Week 2 - I'm going to Cape Town for a week-long Nia training so I can become a certified teacher. Nia is a dance form that connects mind and body and promotes both physical and emotional balance. Just what I need right now. I'm hoping to be able to give classes in Maputo where there is a meditation/yoga/tai chi center.

Week 3 - Maputo again. Ricardo and I will be fundraising for the timber project we just finished, and I will start writing a new proposal for a mango project.

Week 4 - Johannesburg with Rico to meet with a group of MBA students from the University of Texas that are doing a marketing plan for the Fairtrade certified products that our tea company, MozTea, will produce.

Week 5 - Rio de Janeiro! Rico and I are going back to Brasil for about 10 days to be in his best friend's wedding. My mom is flying in from the US to hang out with us, and to meet all of Rico's family. I can't wait!!

Week 6 - Maputo. According to my ideal scenario, we would already have an apartment and would stay in the capital for good...

Seeing it all on paper makes me realize that my situation is going to improve drastically starting Sunday. I can make it till the weekend without falling apart, right? Right??? Yeah.

Thank you all for your kind words and positive vibrations.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Thursday Night Rant

I think something in the universe must have aligned yesterday and today that has made all of my frustrations and resentments for Chimoio come to surface. I just had a major breakdown with Rico and cried till snot ran down my face. The whole crisis ended up with me blubbering, "I can't stand it here anymore!" and crying on the bed for an hour.

I am seeing red. I hate this place and I am sick of the people I live with. Chimoio is depressing. The people here are depressing and boring and petty. In 9 months I have honestly not met a single local person I'd want to consider being friends with. The person here I have the best relationship with is our night guard Zeca, who barely speaks Portuguese and answers everything with an animated but blindly subservient, "Sim patrão, sim patrão, obrigado, obrigado." Yes, Boss. Thank you. You ask Zeca to unload a truck-full of bricks and he says thank you. Zeca is charismatic and charming, but I hate the relationship we all have with him. The sad part is that try as we might to change things, it's of no use. Zeca will always do whatever we tell him to and thank us in the process. We will always be the latest incarnation of the colonial assholes that ran this place for 500 years before they were chased out in 1975.

My housemates are driving me insane. I want them to shut up and go away. I can't stand to look at them or hear them speak. I'm at this level right now. It's all quite immature.

Rico, as always, is unbelievably patient. I'm aware of what a bitch I must be to be around right now, and it makes me feel even worse. I feel like I have no control over this rage and frustration I feel. I try and think about being non-judgemental, breathing, letting go of things that don't matter, trying to determine if the problem is my environment or if it's me.

Some days I have no doubt it's the environment. Nobody can stand Chimoio. We all deal with this hellhole in our own special ways. One of my housemates drinks and takes pills to zone out of life. Another is a workaholic and won't shut her mouth. She talks and talks and talks and carries both sides of the conversation out loud by herself. Another housemate gets angry and does things like slam doors, or he overeats to smother his anger. I think Rico deals by being unnecessarily patient, borderline ignoring the situation until he explodes. I become compulsively organized with my things. My closet is full of perfectly folded clothes, organized by color and style. My creams are all organized by tube size. My books are in alphabetical order. My computer files and directories make perfect organized sense. These are the things I can control in my life at the moment. The problem is that I get stressed and try and make my housemates be neat and clean as well. Obviously being bossy and compuslive only makes the discomfort I feel that much worse.

Other days...well, other days I have no doubt the problem is me. Today is one of them.

I want to go to Maputo this Sunday and never come back to Chimoio.


Thanks for your comments. In response...

I think that my work will be a million times more effective in Maputo, the capital where everything happens in this country, as opposed to Chimoio, a small, backwater town where not much happens beyond agricultural projects and NGO handouts.

I did not come here to work directly with communities and smallholder farmers. I did not come here to teach or train staff. While I am good at providing knowledge to people in a way that is meaningful to them, it is not the best use of my talents. Writing proposals and business plans, however, is.

Chimoio is simply not an efficient home base to carry out the kind of work Ricardo and I do together. He takes care of the commercial relationships and negotiations with clients; I then write business plans and proposals and together we present everything to potential funding organizations.

We can work from Chimoio, but it's not the right environment for me. I don't feel like I'm abandoning the work I set out to accomplish, or that I've found my limitations with regard to what I can do professionaly. Rather, I am abandoning what is, for me, an unhealthy and unbearable environment: community living with people that don't respect the natural give-and-take of living together, a small town full of small-minded people, and a set of factors in general that bring out my very worst (while obviously providing growth opportunities as well).

It's been well worth it. I've learned a lot. But I'm just not happy living in Chimoio in a household where I feel powerless. I don't think the problem is Africa. I venture to say I'd be just as unhappy living in a small town in Iowa in a shared house with people that don't hold the same values as I do regarding how a community should function. It is suffocating, and I am tired.

I like living alone, or with a partner or friend with common values.
I like urban environments.
I like communities full of culture, diversity, and smart, open-minded people.
I like having a life of my own - friends, activities, restaurants, bars.
I like being in an environment that doesn't aggressively bring out my worst.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

And Then There Were Four...

What at it’s peak was a communal crash pad for 4 brasilian guys, a girl from Portugal, a pregnant Mozambican, and moi, is now being slowly reduced to what looks like, from the outside at least, a normal household. Over the past few months, the baby was born and she and her mother moved to an apartment down the street, and one of the brasilian guys completed his volunteer assignment and went home. We found out today that our housemate Gemelli got an IT job in Tete, the province just to the north of us here in Manica, and will be moving there on Sunday to start a 1-year contract. So that leaves four of us…

Ricardo and I have been talking for some time now about the possibility of moving to Maputo and working from there. For business reasons alone, it makes sense. Agrolink’s main business is doing fundraising for projects, for which we have to establish good relationships with the donor community, banks, investment funds, and other people that influence how money is distributed in Mozambique. All of these people and entities are in Maputo, the capital. Right now we are constantly on the road between Chimoio and Maputo to meet with clients and find potential funding sources for our projects, and it is tiring and expensive.

Beyond the business reasons, living in Chimoio – for me at least – is simply not sustainable for much longer. Living in a small, underdeveloped town with no people other than my housemates that I can relate to makes me feel horribly desperate. Desperate for friends, for intelligent conversation outside work, for museums, live music, shops, and the kind of environment where I look around and recognize my values and interests in the people and places that surround me.

Here I walk out of the house and am stared at by people on the street in a way that makes me sick with Western guilt. I feel foreign here in the most ample sense of the word. I have not connected with Chimoio, nor with any Chimoioans since I arrived here nearly 9 months ago. I’ve found it horribly complicated to establish relationships with people here in Mozambique, even though everyone is friendly and open on the surface. The problems here are so deeply rooted in history, so complex and painful to confront, that they end up influencing all interactions in a way that makes me very, very uncomfortable.

Instead, I have retreated into this isolated world of work and communal living where a whole new set of problems come up. Learning to live with other people has proved to be excruciatingly difficult for me, drawing all the worst aspects of my personality to the surface. I feel completely powerless in this environment, and my way of coping isn’t always the most pleasant to say the least. But for all my compulsively organized and bossy moments, I can definitely say I’ve learned a hell of a lot about myself and what it takes to live and work in peace with other people. Chimoio has been an overwhelming experience, mostly positive in the end, but I am soooooooooo ready to leave it behind.

So with the exit of several housemates and business picking up, Ricardo and I are starting to form a concrete plan for moving to Maputo. It no longer makes sense, both financially and emotionally, for us to stay in Chimoio much longer. We are going to Maputo on Friday to present the final timber proposal to potential investors, and are going to take advantage of our time in the capital to start apartment-hunting. Ideally, we would move to Maputo in April but the timeline is still a bit uncertain…

Ah, on a somewhat unrelated note, we finished the timber proposal this morning at 2:30am. The Executive Summary kicks ass.

Monday, February 06, 2006


We're in the final stretch of the timber proposal. Deadline is in approximately 1 hour to send the narrative and financial models to our client. The only thing left between me and a nice, cold glass of juice is the stupid Executive Summary. I hate Executive Summaries. I have especially little motivation to write this one, as I have serious "issues" with the timber client and I am really, really tired after a not so fabulous day.

To start, I moved from the mattress crater back down to the floor with Rico last night without much success in sleeping. Then my dad, bless his heart, made his first international call in - oh, I don't know - 45 years and managed to wake me up at 3:15am. Dad, it was wonderful to talk to you, but please remember the next time you call that there is a 9-hour time difference between New Mexico and Mozambique!!!

So I work up in a horrible mood with a backache...And then I had to run for the toilet. We ate pizza yesterday from one of the two restaurants in Chimoio, and it didn't go so well for the old digestive system. Everyone in the house got the runs. I got hit particularly bad, and have spent the rest of the day drinking juice and orange Fanta and having everything go right on through my bowels in a matter of minutes.

Also, I realized today that I haven't been out of the house in 7 WHOLE DAYS.

I am stir-crazy and tired and ill in the gut...not a good combination. Now, on to that Executive Summary!

Ah, by the way - I don't drink gin and tonic copiously every day. I re-read my post and felt pangs of guilt as I imagined my relatives reading this and thinking that Africa has turned me into an alkie.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Oh, the Horror!

A short list of things that I didn’t used to eat/use/consume before moving to Africa and now do so copiously, on a weekly if not daily basis.

Gin and Tonic – Back when my high school boyfriend had the habit of hiding bottles of gin in his laundry hamper and taking swigs straight from the bottle, I couldn’t even smell the juniper-infused liquor without wanting to vomit. Now, in the land of poorly stocked restaurants and Malaria, gin and tonic is my new favourite, a drink for all occasions.

Canned Vienna Sausages – Sometimes cocktail, sometimes full-sized wieners. Sometimes cooked, sometimes taken right out of the can and placed inside a roll with ketchup, brine and all.

Canned Tuna with Mayonnaise – I hate mayonnaise. I hate canned tuna. I eat them mixed together with onions to make a gourmet filling for sandwiches at least weekly.

Vegetables that Appear to be Slightly Rotten – Before I’d throw away the whole tomato or onion or whatever that was sporting mold or a mushy bruise on the outside. Now I cut away the nasty parts and – voilá – a perfectly good vegetable is salvaged. I’d say that my criteria in general for when something is spoiled or expired or is unfit for human consumption has changed dramatically.

Sodas – In a land where there is chronic malnutrition and poverty, there isn’t much of a market for diet sodas. I am now a regular guzzler of Coke, Fanta, and Lemon Twist (the local version of Sprite, much like Squirt which I miss dearly from my childhood in the US).

Bar Soap as Shampoo – Okay, I have only done this 4 or 5 times since moving to Chimoio, usually when we travel and our hosts fail to provide us with guest toiletries. But for someone with fine hair that tangles like there’s no tomorrow, this is quite the low point.

Insect Repellent with DEET – My mom tells a story about how she and her husband went fishing in the Amazon and the DEET repellent they used ate the paint off the fishing rods. Part of my nightly ritual is to slather my legs, arms, and torso in oily repellent. Scary…

Do-It-Yourself Wax Strips – Suffice to say the last time I went to a salon in Mozambique to get waxed, the woman managed to pull off a layer of my skin.

Dial-Up Internet – Oh, how I took my high speed connection for granted. I used to think paying for a wireless connection was absurd. Now I gladly pay $150 per month to use a shitty dial-up connection that 85% of the time won’t open pages that have photos or images.

Pirated B-Grade Films on DVD – These are everywhere. Guys walk around on the streets with big stacks of DVDs that come with 5 feature films per disc. We’re talking quality films by actors like Steven Segal, Wesley Snipes, and The Rock. My initial guess was that the DVDs were manufactured in China but after an enlightening conversation with a street vendor, we discovered that they are, in fact, made in Colombia. Like the vegetables, my criteria for what classifies as a good movie has plummeted big time.

Lizard, Lizard in the Yard

So the superstitions continue...

On the heels of the goat story, my housemates and I were enjoying a bit of late afternoon sun in our dirt lot of a backyard when one of our Rhodesian Ridebacks, Capitu, suddenly started snarling at what looked like a fat twig on the ground. As we approached to check out what on earth was wrong with the dog, she suddenly yiped and pulled her paw back, limping slightly as she retreated away from what we now recognized as a very strange lizard.

This thing was sinister - perfect gray-green camoflauge, back arched, mouth fully open to reveal an almost hot orange lining, hissing and assuming what looked to me like a full-on attack position. The lizard was maybe 5 inches long at the most, but all of us kept a respectful distance. Like snakes and spiders, the lizard struck at some primeval part of our brain that instinctively makes us feel fear and retreat.

I suppose that same primitive part of the brain was behind BL's reaction to pick up a huge rock and hurl it at the lizard. As soon as I realized he was intent on smashing the little beast, I freaked out. I pleaded with him to find a better solution, that the lizard was harmless, there was no need to kill it... For as much as the lizard freaked me out, I certainly didn't want to witness it being smashed by a rock. We finally came to a consensus: Rico got a piece of paper, rolled it up a bit, and managed to scoop up the lizard and relocate it on the neighbor's side of the fence.

Later, curious about the lizard, I spent about an hour searching on the internet until I found a match. Apparently, it was a Flap-Necked Chameleon, an animal regarded by many Africans as having supernatural powers and you'd be hard pressed to find a rural Mozambican willing to relocate the chameleon, much less think about smashing it with a rock.

I choose to interpret it as a good omen that the chameleon appeared in the first place, and an ever better sign that we spared its life...

In other news, our cable TV was cut off yesterday. Why? Oh, come on. You know why...


Unlike electricity and water and a phone line, having TV isn't something I particularly care about, so I'm not going to step in and pay the damn bill. Rico and I usually play the responsible roles of mom and dad in our little community and pay the bills on time, insist on a mimimal level of order in the house, and keep everything and everyone in line. Not this time! I'm curious to see for how long my housemates' laziness is stronger than the desire to watch the models on Fashion TV or the latest episode of PowerPuff Girls (BL and Gemelli have especially strange tastes when it comes to entertainment).

Personally, this is the one late bill that doesn't bother me in the least. I like my life in Chimoio much better when there is no TV to distract me. I spend less time sitting on the fake leather couches watching trash, procrastinate less, go to sleep earlier, and dedicate my time to much more productive activities like art projects and reading.

That said, I'm off to have some cereal and knit a few rows in the latest scarf I'm making. Tchau!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Goat with the Coin Necklace

Rico and I were supposed to go to Beira yesterday to get the mattress and office furniture but, as so often happens in Africa, things did not go as planned. The Land Cruiser we were going to borrow for the trip was in even worse shape than the last time we drove it, and Rico didn't want to take the chance. Apparently the suspension or the shocks or something along those lines was totally broken (I don't understand much about how cars work, although I can check my oil level, put water in the radiator, and add windshield wiper fluid).

So we stayed in Chimoio for yet another monotonous day of VH1, internet, sweaty fake leather couches, and work on a proposal that has me pretty burned out. Last night I slept alone in the mattress crater, while Ricardo took over my side of the floor bed with the added cushioning from the yoga mat. We both slept reasonably well, but I was so looking forward to a new mattress. We likely won't make it to Beira until next week, though, because we have to finalize the timber proposal and turn in the narrative and financial model to the client by Monday.

Yesterday was actually declared a holiday in Chimoio because the President of Mozambique, Armando Guebuza, payed a visit to our fair town. Unfortunately, we didn't get to observe the holiday...

Anyhow, our brasilian friend Leo who teaches occasionally at the Chimoio Agricultural Institute just down the road told us a hilarious story related to President Guebuza's visit. Apparently, the students and teachers at the Agricultural Institute have been plagued with a pretty serious run of bad luck. The rain was late, crops dried and then became water-logged when it finally did rain buckets two weeks ago, families have been stricken with Malaria, business has been slow, and grades were apparently pretty poor all around. So everyone decided that Chimoio is under some sort of curse that was causing all the recent bad luck.

To remedy the situation, the Agricultural Institute called in a healer who told them what had to be done. First, he called for a goat. The healer then instructed each person suffering from the curse to get a coin and transfer all their misfortune inside the metal. Then, all the bad luck coins were strung together into a necklace of sorts and placed around the goat's neck in such a fashion that it would never fall off. The healer then directed that the goat be set free inside the Institute. He then gave a final word of advice: if anyone tried to take the necklace of coins from the goat, all of the back luck and curses affecting Chimoio would be transferred to this person.

Rural Mozambicans tend to be a pretty supersticious lot, so not only is everyone at the Agricultural Institute afraid to take the goat's coin necklace, they are all afraid to even *touch* the goat. I suppose this wouldn't be a problem, but the goat has taken a liking to the campus and has stubbornly stuck around for the past 2 weeks. Worse than a cursed goat hanging around, President Guebuza's tour of Chimoio yesterday was supposed to include the Agricultural Institute.

Leo told us that everyone was getting pretty desperate: they were too afraid to touch to goat or even shoo it away, but even more afraid of the shame that they would pass should the President see an old billy running around the classrooms and helping himself to the plants in the experimental farm on the campus. What a predicament! I can't wait to find out what happened the next time Leo comes over for a visit.

Okay, time to shower and get to work... Hope you all have a great day.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Maputo by a South African

Found this online today and thought it was a great article on Maputo.

Revisiting MozambiqueMonday, 08 September @ 20:14:02 Topic: Wits News

"I’ve done it again. Once more I have singularly failed to get past Maputo. Every time I take the trip to Mozambique I promise myself that this time, this time I will press on and reach the fabled beaches of the North: Maxixe, Xai-xai, Inhambane… And then somehow I never do. Maputo, ardent steaming crumbled city by the sea, it seems that I can never leave you behind.

Maputo is six hundred kilometres to the north of Durban, and you could say that it is Durban’s torrid cousin. You can pick out the family resemblances: the broad suburban boulevards, the roadside march of flame trees, the all-pervading mugginess. But Durban is an Anglo-Saxon creation. And if Durban is English Africa, then Maputo is Africa translated into Portuguese. And if you sit at a street-side café just before siesta time, sipping a bitter coffee and idly listening to dealmaking going down at the table alongside, it’s clear which translation is the more beautiful.

Sitting at Chicken Piri-piri with my cousin Guinivere: we slouch on stainless-steel tubular chairs and chat, keeping an eye on the passing scene. Service has improved immeasurably since the last time I was here, four years ago. The waiters seem to be the same aging crew, dressed in the same colonial black-and-white, but a two-hour meal-time has been slimmed down to a snappy forty minutes.

The road island in front of us is crammed with curio vendors, selling everything from the indispensable batiks to lovingly hand-carved pieces of ivory, fresh from under-policed game reserves.

As ever, the citizens of Maputo are impeccably turned out. The passing businessmen are dressed in the Latin manner, with broad-collared shirts in shades of bright pastel, open at the neck. The more casual ones pass by with their shirts untucked. A gaggle of schoolgirls flounce past in non-regulation footgear, hair artfully kinked, ties worn in a Y down the front of their snow-white shirts. A self-assured young buck decked out in camo gear and a revolutionary bandanna struts up and down along the road island, yelling out comments and wisecracks.

One of the most delightful legacies of Portuguese rule are the mulatta women. As an acquaintance once said to me while we sipped beer and watched the passing parade: "I pity the white girls in Maputo. They don’t really stand a chance." They pale in comparison.
Black, white and latte, the women sail past in bright-hued African robes, or sashay along in skirts and high heels. The country is as poor as a church-mouse, but the most hard-up city-dweller dresses like it’s a vocation.

High heels especially are a vocation in a city like this: these chic senhoritas are gold medallists of urban perambulation. Their feet deftly side-step the potholes and the yawning cracks in the pavement, artfully skirting the treacherous patches of rubble. Decades ago the Portuguese planted handsome trees down the length of these boulevards, but over the years of the civil war their great vital roots rose up, pulverising cement, pushing aside concrete slabs. The debris lies there still: no-one has attended to it yet.

Reconstruction is slow. Throughout the war, Frelimo ring-fenced the capital and held it. Much of the rest of the country went to hell, a cruel inferno of landmines and limb-chopping massacre. Maputo was spared; Maputo was left to follow a gentler curve of decay.

On the first afternoon, before lunch, we go for a stroll down the Avenida Friedrich Engels. The name is austere; the avenue is not. It borders the sea, and the houses that line it are the haunts of the influential and the well-to-do. Walls are high and freshly painted, armed guards dot the driveways, the cars are big and glossy. Past the first-world embassies drive the wives on their way to pick up the kids from karate lessons at the international school. This is where the rich and renowned retreat after a day overseeing the nation’s affairs.

But no-one has seen to the park. It lies across the way, wedged between Friedrich Engels and the sea, a narrow bumpy plain of yellowing grass, unevenly thrusting its blades at the neglected trees.

You could grow dizzy, standing on that road, turning your head from left to right. On the one hand, sure-footed power immures itself in moneyed mansions. On the other, yellow untended ground surges past venerable trees, gathers strength at the brink, and plunges precipitously down to the sea.

We cross the road and plough in, picking past grounded flurries of newspaper and plastic. The park is almost unpeopled: a couple sit on a circular bench that barely contains the trunk of a tree. A stroller makes his way down a path; two middle-aged men converse in the shade. At one end of the park a stairway leads down to nowhere. The grass rustles about our shins as we walk; if it were any longer we’d be on the look-out for snakes. Nobody has seen to the park.

Perhaps in time all of the parks will be attended to. The parks and people and the streets and the buildings and the roots of the trees: so I believe. Socialism may be dead, but the spirit lives on here. In the best of worlds the government will turn the tools of Big Capital toward pressing social ends. And that is a part of this city’s charm: the sense that in time it will all be paved over, made over into something bright and new. So I walk the streets in a state of premonitory nostalgia, knowing that one day all of these scenes will be gone.

The city is a wreck but blazing life surges and streams over its dilapidated surfaces. The short skirts and the high heels assuredly pick their way over the decrepit pavements. Near the presidential palace, stunning green-and-blue peacocks hop nimbly over tectonic cracks in the sidewalk. Gilded teenagers josh back and forth as they swagger down shabby broken streets on their way home from the finest schools in the land.

There are more paradoxes than these. Unemployment is high, but people walk with a sense of purpose. The state is corrupt, but things get done. Twenty years of civil war, and the people are the friendliest in the region. The army base in the north-west of town is the most dependable dealer of drugs. Crime is low, even though a decade ago Kalashnikovs were as cheap as lives. (The government solved the AK-47 problem by outlawing the private ownership of weapons. Radical notion.) In fact, your biggest danger in Maputo these days is the police.

On the morning of the second day I had my run-in with third-world cops. Travel tip: never cross the road in Maputo without your passport. In my particular case the problem was compounded because I’d lost my room key moments before. It’s one thing to escape immediate arrest and blag your way back to your front gate, but it’s quite another to stand there and feign really bad Portuguese for fully half an hour while you fend off irritable constabular grabs at your arm and the staff run about looking for the spare key, discovering it doesn’t work, and then taking a hammer and chisel to the door in order to get at the passport in the back pocket of your jeans.

After all of that my English cousin was pretty shaken, and I wasn’t feeling too hot myself. Breakfast was in order.

After a very late night, it’s pleasant to start the day at a pavement café. Prices are a little lower than in South Africa, and the coffee is strong and good. You pick from a range of pastries and toasted bread. At the moment the métical is trading at 3,000 to the rand, and most places drop the last three zeros when they present you with the bill, leaving pleasingly denominated amounts: coffee, 15,-.

It’s just after ten, and the joint is surprisingly busy; suited businessmen cluster at adjacent tables. Breakfast on their way to a late start to the day, perhaps, or would it be a mid-morning snack? Street vendors swoop and swarm; they are unblinkingly ignored by the indifferent patrons. Maputo has a refreshingly forthright approach to the street-vendor problem. Some places have guard-rails between the tables and the street; the bigger ones hire baton-wielding guards. It’s a fairly amicable stand-off: if diners see something they want they just raise a finger.

Newspaper vendors pace back and forth, parading their wares. The headlines scream a story that a South African general plotted with President Chissano to kill Samora Machel, but the serious papers aren’t touching it.

I speak Portanhol, which is espaňol masquerading as Portuguese: Spanish channeled through the nasal passages, you might say. I lean over and ask the businessmen what they make of the tale. "I don’t believe it." They are unanimous. "No, no, not him. He wouldn’t do that."
Pause. "One of the other high-ups, maybe..."

It’s not surprising that the bogeyman in this tale is South African. We are despised, after all, by our Mozambican neighbours. It’s the truth: we are not loved. And it’s not hard to see why. For if Mozambique is our Mexico, then we are their U.S. of A. Black or white, we come across the border in our big air-conditioned cars, throwing our rands and dollars about, buying up the land, closing extortionate deals, speaking loudly in English and expecting to be understood.

We built a spanking new road to Maputo not long ago, so we could truck goods down to the harbour. That highway looks like we annexed a fifteen-metre-wide strip of Mozambican land, tarred it, and lined it with yellow SOS phones all the way down to the sea. But it is seen as a channel of deliverance too, and it has attracted a sort of official cargo cult. "Mantenha a EN4 limpia", say signs along the route: "Keep the N4 clean." And, sure enough, you see women labouring away at the roadside, gathering the litter and sweeping up with handheld brooms.

After years of giving in to easy digs at expat Americans, it’s unpleasant to find yourself on the receiving end of such mingled awe and disdain. Now I know how decent Americans must feel when they travel. Even in the short time I was there the incidents stacked up.

At a trendy bar I spoke to a young Mozambican, and the first thing he said was, "Oh no! South Africa! And I’ve just been saying such terrible things about your country!"

And at the Caixa nightclub, I danced with a girl and bought her a drink. Leaning back with her elbows on the bar, she asked me where I was from. "Africa do Sul," I said. She took it quite well. It’s not like she flinched. But she sort of paused, and then nodded with a curious air of resolve. As if saying to herself, "Well, I’m dancing with a South African. Okay. Okay."

And then when I was hassling with the cops something very interesting happened. The watchman pleaded with them in Portuguese, "Please, he’s just a visitor here. He’s on holiday. He can’t know all the laws of the land."

The temperature rose immediately. One of the skinny young cops spoke heatedly, his voice sharpening and hardening. It was a little fast for me to follow, but it went something like this: "Listen, do you know what they do in South Africa? There they find you with no passport and they don’t wait. They don’t argue. They throw you in a van and they lock you up and then they ship you back home."

Perhaps one can be too hasty in bad-mouthing third-world cops…

On the second afternoon we go to visit the art museum. I generally make a stop there whenever I’m in Maputo, but still it takes us an age to find it, fighting through rush-hour traffic and one-way streets, over potholes and rubble and dust, past Muslim-capped war cripples propelling antique three-wheeler chairs through rivers of cars. Some of the streets are labelled London-style, with blue plaques on the sides of the houses. Others have the names on poles. The streets in Maputo are a monument to everlasting Socialism: Go down Avenida Mao Tse-Tung, and take a left into Karl Marx. If you reach Vladimir Lénine you’ve gone too far…

Our map is abysmal. After we cross a major intersection that has a four-way signpost in the middle with no lettering on it at all, we decide to park and go by foot. Even then, we nearly walk right past the nondescript building with the discreet white lettering on its glass doors: Museo Nacional das Artes.

For once, a country’s National Art Museum lives up to its name: this one has no foreign art in it at all. I don’t suppose Mozambique can afford it. A polished-wood banister leads you upstairs. At the top of the steps, at your back, a great canvas by Malangatana erases the wall. It is easy to play up the Latinity of Mozambique, but Malangatana’s style is something else: a patchy colonial education has let him take up European tools for African ends. The painting is a cacophonous concord of colours: tortured reds, ochres, jungle greens. Malangantana is a sort of indigenous Hieronymous Bosch, and the painting is crammed with haunted figures, faces betraying bewilderment, madness, sorrow, fear. They are jammed up against evil bird-men, disembodied mouths, ownerless eyes, all curving chimerically into each other in a crowded promiscuity of pain. Here on the top of the stairs Maputo’s genial surface drops away, and you look down a pit twenty years deep, a pit of war and shame.

The exhibition hall itself is tiny, a single salon-sized room, and we are the only visitors. We wander among canvases and sculptures. The Makonde of northern Mozambique were surrealists who took no lessons from Dali or Tanguy. Consider this work in dark wood by Celestino Tomás: a monstrous man-beast - Goofy with fangs – lasciviously eats his own foot, all the while reposing unselfconsciously on the head and limbs of a grumpy megacephalic, the latter resignedly performing a sort of obscene yoga in order to keep him hoisted in the air.

We stay for less than an hour. I always make a point of coming back here, but the museum never changes much: it’s a minute enclave of whitewashed order amid the tender chaos of rebirth that storms on outside. The first time I came here, the bathroom was without running water. But at the basins the staff had thoughtfully laid out: a jug, a cloth, a piece of soap, and a towel.

On my last night in Maputo, somewhere past midnight, I find myself deep in beer-sodden conversation with a blond-haired Californian communist. The language is broken Portuguese. The place is a rutted rubbled side-street outside a nightclub. The crowd seems to prefer outside to inside – there’s more room on the dancefloor than out here in the road. The atmosphere is archly Latino –signage in Spanish: muy caliente, very hot; the DJ pushing out a steady stream of Macarena followed by TBD followed by Ritchie Valens followed by Ricky Martin. Nothing I don’t recognise: it’s like any Western nightclub, except that it’s better-lit, and any tune without a sway to its beat is stopped at the door.

Jason is an anthropologist in Africa. He’s telling me that socialism will prevail. It’s all too ridiculous. An American Communist: the last of his tribe. Somewhat to my surprise, I find myself fighting the other corner.

I tell him that Socialism is dead. By now we’ve switched to caipirinhas. And English, thank God. I share with him my vision of a post-socialist Mozambique, harnessing Big Capital in the service of old ideals. Jason snorts. "Frelimo has sold out," he informs me. He leans in. "Listen," he confides, "capitalism has failed." I confess I am a little startled. Haven’t heard that one in a while. Seeing my scepticism, he takes a step back. "Look around you," he cries, sweeping his arm theatrically to take in the fragmented street, the neon shop windows with nothing on display. "See what foreign investment has wrought," gesturing grandly at the cracked and crumbling facades. He spreads both arms wide, his face aglow with mock beneficence. "Savour the fruits of liberalisation, my brother!"

I should remind him of the civil war. And twenty years of Mozambican socialism. I should tell him that what this place reminds me of most is Eastern Germany in 1992. I should, I really should, but I’m laughing too hard for the words to get out.

Losing an argument is a great way to make a new friend. A shot of tequila, and he invites me over to meet his buddies. Three feisty mulatto youths, decked out in shades of khaki (red star at the breast) and peaked guerrilla caps. The makings of a revolutionary cell, I muse. The leader, the loyalist and the intellectual. The leader has long braided hair; the thinker is thin and intense with black horn-rims. I’m loving it. True to form, the intellectual weighs in with his latest grand idea, voice brimming with quiet intensity. They’ve come up with a brilliant big-name beer ad, he says. This is no mere rhetoric: they’ve conceptualised it and shot it, and now they want to market it. Do I know anyone in advertising?

I don’t need to write an article on Maputo. Maputo writes itself. - Michael Prytz"

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