I miss Maputo. Now I live in Chimoio, Manica province, a one horse town where everyone goes home to family after work, there’s no cinema, theatre, music, beach, river…. only a few all-men bars with pool tables. I have no kindred spirits beyond skype and internet. So what could a lone foreign pax do after work? take up embroidery? meditation? the church (that would go down well here!)? learn to cook local food? Yes, could, but ….
I do read more, am becoming versed in the official Frelimo line on TV, I watch films or UK TV comedy downloaded to my laptop, I study the complexities of the subjunctive mood in my Portuguese grammar book and go for endless dusty same same walks.
I’m aware of too much sitting …. I bought a skipping rope in a Chinese shop, with a view to the odd 5 minute indoor workout, but my ceilings are low so I use it as a rainy day washing line. I could be more of a workaholic and spend evenings browsing national HIV infection statistics, health plans, the Mozambican economy….
But then a planning and plotting tendency sets in: where to go?? to escape to places that don’t require 10 hours of broken seated backbreaking chapa (bus) with departures at dead of night (usually at 0300 )….
Adventure # 1 was a day trip to Manica town, a one hour hop away on a good road that continues over the border into Zimbabwe. This is a half horse place: one road and a few straggling dirt trails leading up and down the valley. Great avocados in the market (none in Chimoio). A VSO colleague who works there and I failed to find the renowned ancient cave paintings, but got some hot tea to sit over and later ate cabbage sandwiches (lunch) with a couple of hung over Peace Corps volunteers.
Adventure #2 was a long weekend to Beira on the Indian Ocean coast. Four hours of being crammed in the corner of a chapa with no springs, a neighbour’s sleeping head bouncing on my bag-on-my-lap, passing pine forests and being passed by vast fuel tankers thundering along this ‘Beira corridor’ that connects Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia to the sea.
Mozambique’s second city, population around 570,000, Beira was refreshing – space, air, wide avenues with old trees, decrepit but characterful period buildings, beach and breezes, a pink and white striped lighthouse and FISH again!
Beira is altogether a liveable place… I looked up the brother of a Moz friend in Maputo, went to a live music venue, and got my batteries fully recharged for the following week in Chimoio.
Beira has a dilapidated 1950s luxury hotel overlooking the sea that became a refugee camp during the war, and now has trees growing out of the walls. It is home to around 350 squatter families who live there as a working community, with no utilities, but with their own internal organisation. A film has been made about the place.
Adventure #3 was having my first house guest here. A colleague trekked all the way up from Inhambane (ten hours bus) and we hunted down a small lake out near Chimoio airport where you can get beer and (maybe some day) swim, when the owner gets a jetty fixed…. we found it through google maps – yes that works even here!
As I waited in line in the bank today, I stood reading John Updike’s ‘Rabbit Run’…. depressing small town USA in the early 1960s… makes me think of the Chimoio equivalent in a different age and culture, as development advances apace. New banks seem to be the growth industry here, all have permanent long queues for the ATMs and counters, together with the local queue games and protocols, such as giving someone at the front of the Q a tip to deposit cheques, thus extending the jostling wait for everyone else. I spent two hours queueing for my allowance, only to find it hadn’t come… then I felt guilty about being so annoyed about it and also about not being able to get the bank’s phone number, when I stepped out to see the blind and destitute begging in the dirt outside.
So there is no avoiding the reality of people’s real lives and the struggle they carry from one day to the next. As a sign off, and as I plan my next escapade, here’s a hopeful piece about needy people helping each other…. in Tete, the province just north of where I am. Click through the photos at the top that illustrate well this part of the country.