Yesterday the clouds rolled in, bringing with them a fine mist and what most likely will be the last cold spell of the year here in Maputo. Yes, cold is relative, but nonetheless this chilly-enough-to-wear-a-sweater weather is delicious preparation for the hot winds and sticky humidity I know are lurking right around the corner.
My friend Lindsey had spent the night after an incredibly fun birthday celebration for Zé Curral on Saturday, and we enjoyed the change in the weather with big mugs of coffee and freshly baked biscuits (American-style southern biscuits, not what we call cookies). We sat around the living room in our pajamas and gossiped, enjoying our girl time.
I offered to take Lindsey back to the house where her host family lives, as it's hard to get a taxi on a Sunday, plus she didn't really know the way home and is still in the process of learning Portuguese. I vaguely knew the way out to Malhazine, the suburb where Lindsey is staying, and figured that we'd managed to find our way somehow.
We drove towards the airport, then onto the continuation of Av. Julius Nyerere, past the rows of informal sellers of wooden planks and intricately carved headboards. The road got increasingly worse as we drove through the heart of the Xiquelene marketplace, bumping through potholes and puddles of rainwater, avoiding the mad chapa drivers, and weaving through the throngs of children, chickens and ladies with basins on their heads. Past Xiquelene, we drove to the Magoanine roundabout, then towards the national highway. There were increasingly fewer private cars on the road, save for the occasional tricked-out 4x4 zooming by, filled with partygoers just returning home from a good Saturday night. We followed the Malhazine chapas, and finally got to a point where Lindsey recognized her surroundings and was able to pinpoint the turnoff to her host family's house.
The road from that point on consisted of sand, so soft in some places I became worried that our car would get stuck. We drove slowly, past groups of men drinking beer, women selling vegetables, children chasing homemade balls down alleyways. We turned at the One Cell umbrella where a fat woman sat waiting for someone to use the public phone. Everyone stared. We were a novelty for multiple reasons: we were in a car in a point of the suburb where few vehicles pass; we were white; we were unaccompanied women; we were strangers, though seemingly not lost and heading towards a specific destination.
Finally we pulled up to the host family's house. It is nice, painted light pink on the outside with a wall and a gate. Lindsey told me that, despite the fact that the house is surrounded by simple shacks, the family seems to be reasonably well-off. They have a TV and a stereo system. They have running water and electricity. Just like in Rio's favelas, there is an amazing range of constructions and many different types of families living in the perceived-to-be-poor suburbs of Maputo.
We said goodbye, and I started on the long drive back to the city, the concrete city that makes up my daily reality. We live in Polana Cimento, the sturdy, rich, recent part of the neighborhood. On the other side is Polana Caniço, a reference to the reeds used in the construction of traditional huts in this region. Although many buildings in Polana Caniço are now made of bricks and blocks, the name remains, along with its connotations of a city divided.
The drive back was pleasant. I listened to The Police and rolled down the window to get a bit of cool, fresh air. I knew the way back, and that satisfied me. Even in the outskirts of the city, I can find my way around, such a contrast to the first 6 months of living in Maputo when I was perpetually disoriented, unable to wrap my mind around the way the cidade alta (upper city) and the cidade baixa (lower city) connected.
Despite knowing my way, I managed to get lost while driving through Xiquelene. There were so many people, so many market stalls, so much general chaos that I couldn't tell where the road was. I decided to follow the flow of "traffic" (i.e. several chapas and the odd private car) creeping through the market, figuring that they would likely be going to the city. After a few minutes of increasingly worse road conditions and the realization that I was headed deeper into the neighborhood around Xiquelene, I knew I had to turn around. Where, though? And with what strategy in mind? There was no room to maneuver, and I was quite disoriented. I continued to follow the cars and chapas in front of me, and to my relief saw an opening in the market stalls up ahead where I could turn around the car and head back to the main "road". After a while, I saw what looked to be a main path, decided to take it, and finally ended up on the continuation of Av. Vladmir Lenine, definitely not the route I'd taken previously, but a familiar street that would lead me back to the city.
I made it home without further incident, and made it upstairs before the rain started. I spent the rest of the day watching TV, using the internet, having tea with a friend, eating leftover curry. I couldn't get the differences between my Maputo experience and Lindsey's out of my head. Maputo is a place of massive contrasts - in my opinion, even more striking than those you see in Brazil.