Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Batizados

Yesterday at 6am, Rico and I were awoken by an insistent hand pounding against our front door. From the lack of subtlety, we knew the knocker was one of our building guards. Senhor Augusto and Senhor Micas have the habit of banging on our door with an urgency fit for announcing that, “Quick, the building is about to collapse, you must get out now!” when really all they want is to hand-deliver our water bill or tell us that that the cable guy stopped by while we were out.

This time, however, the level of pounding actually corresponded somewhat to the news Sr. Micas had come to announce.

“Patrão, trabalhamos mal ontem.” Boss, we didn’t do our job well last night.

“What happened?” Ricardo suddenly became alert.

“Someone stole the side mirrors off your car.”

Rico followed the guard downstairs to inspect the damage. One of the most common crimes here in Maputo is to have the mirrors, brake lights, indicator lights or spare tire stolen off your car. These petty thefts happen all the time: while you have a quick coffee in the Baixa, while parked at the supermarket on a Sunday afternoon, or – as was the case with our car – while overnighting unprotected on the city street due to the general lack of enclosed garages or parking lots in apartment buildings.

We’d left the car directly in front of the entrance to our building, not 100 meters from where the night guards sit. There are between 2 and 4 guards keeping watch over the cars and apartments on any given night. The general building guards, Sr. Augusto and Sr. Micas, are plainclothes, unarmed and wholly lack any professional training. Then there is the private security force hired by our first-floor neighbor, an extremely wealthy Indian man. There are three uniformed guards that work for his family in shifts. Depending on the day, they will be armed with a machine gun, though it seems to be on a totally arbitrary schedule.*

Unfortunately, all of this security doesn’t do much good in terms of deterring criminals, as most nights all of the guards bundle up inside the covered entrance to the building and fall sound asleep, as is the case with 99% of security guards in Maputo. It was during their peaceful slumber that the petty thieves managed to remove our mirrors and get away unnoticed. One evening last year, a gang of carjackers was able to subdue all of the guards, take the uniformed one’s machine gun and throw it in the dumpster across the street, and speed away with our neighbor’s Toyota sedan.

So, with the loss of our side mirrors, it seems we have been baptized as car owners in Maputo. It seems the only way to prevent them being consistently stolen is to have your car’s license plate number sandblasted on the mirrors, thus making them difficult to re-sell on the black market.

Yesterday afternoon we had Zeca, our favorite (but now sadly underutilized) taxi driver, search for replacement mirrors for the CRV. Apparently, it was impossible to find legitimate mirrors in any of the auto shops in the city, so Zeca was forced to buy the mirrors at Estrela, the, ahem, “second-hand” bazaar for car parts. It was unfortunate to have to resort to this option, but we needed a quick solution because I think I would be completely incapable of driving on the left without my trusty mirrors.

So we are back in business, with plans for next week to sandblast our mirrors and buy metal clips and grates to prevent the theft of our indicators and tail lights. Owning a car here certainly is a different story than back in the US…

*One day last year I had to take Pria and Parceiro to the vet. As I waited for the taxi, the uniformed guard - a tall, no-nonsense, beret-wearing man – cooed and made baby talk with the cats, scratching their heads through the spaces in the cat carrier with one hand, while clutching his machine gun in the other.

6 comments:

bart said...

better "second hand" mirrors than none at all... driving around in a different country is a challenge in itself i suspect but at least mirrors take away a little of the guess work...

a real cramp about your car though...

keep well...

Guilherme said...

"It was during their peaceful slumber..."

HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA!

I'm sorry about your mirrors, Ali, but when I read that sentence I cackled like a hyaena! It reminded me of why I'm addicted to your blog...

Ali la Loca said...

~Bart - Very true, I would *definitely* be a hazard to the fine citizens of Maputo if I tried to take the car out with no mirrors! We are trying to remain unattached to the car and accept that this situation may repeat itself many, many times in the future...

~Guilherme - Well, tonight at least the guards are wide awake and actually standing on the corner where they can keep an eye on our car. Unfortunately it seems one of our neighbors has recently acquired a car, so that means one less good space to park...

Obrigada pela visita!

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Anonymous said...

If you hurry, you'll find your mirrors at mercado Estrela Vermelha, the thieves' market.
I got mine back (twice!!!) for a reasonabele price.

Ali la Loca said...

~Anonymous - Yes, we know about Estrela...that's the "second-hand" bit I was referring to in the post. I doubt we got back our own original mirrors, though...