As I start to dispose of accumulated belongings before leaving Mozambique, I think of the colours and images that will spring to mind in future when I think of this country. Less the long empty beaches, the historic buildings, the prawns and cold beer – more the (sometimes irritating) constants that are so continuously present you tend to ignore or take them in your stride.
Public transport: The local chapa (combi) bus is designed for a dozen bums but routinely carries twice that and more, including the odd chicken under someone’s feet with its wings tied, or with its head sticking out of a hole in the side of a plastic bag. It’s suffocating and hot. Needless to say, the stuffing hangs out of the broken seats and the sliding door is held on by a bit of rope. It’s the conductor’s job to collect fares and let those at the back out by shifting those sitting in front out first…. a hassly process.
The machibombo (my favourite word!) is the big bus you can stand up in – similarly packed with extra people sitting along the aisle on sacks of coconuts, rice or maize cobs. Recently I rode a bus for over 18 hours with one driver the whole way from 02h00 to 20h00… 3 rapid loo stops in the bush, rap and pop ‘’music’ at top volume non-stop, relieved by a violent film, and food available only when vendors came to the windows at filling stations and crossroads. I’ll never complain about the discomfort of any long haul flight ever again!
When the bus makes a bush loo stop, most people get off and you get to see who’s on board: usually a lot of babies and children who make not a sound. A young girl of say 8 will be told to sit on a sack of rice and take care of a tiny baby, other kids will sit passively as the hours pass and they get hungrier. Obedience. No complaints. No toys or books – there are no toys here, only what kids make from bits of wire and tin cans.
The instant party: This is when someone parks their car, puts on the CD player at top volume and opens all the doors. A cold box with beer comes out, and people come and hang out there – usually at favourite spots like a beach or water front, or even outside your flat in the small hours!
Consideration for neighbours: Not really a concept here… someone will play tinny loud music from their mobile phone in the chapa without earphones…. No complaints, everyone has to hear it. Tolerance is what is expected. Now I have absolutely no conscience about putting my iPod music on speakers LOUD with all my windows open.
Capolanas: Colourful cloths drying on washing lines or spread out on the beach, wrapped around women or on their heads. Politicians hand out capolanas with their portraits printed on… and you see historic ones being worn, especially on ‘revolution’ days commemorating Frelimo events. Every woman carries a capolana in her bag – it’s used for wrapping up things, carrying, drying, wiping, sun shading, lying on, sitting on in the bus queue, etc. etc.
Courting: Receiving flattering attention and declarations from men the age of my children… mostly these guys are poets, musicians, artists who like to express themselves extravagantly, though some may have ulterior motives. White woman, rich, powerful, can help me, us.
Sinks: Flats with kitchens have aluminium sinks with draining boards. Every one I have seen and used slopes the wrong way, so that water flows everywhere but where it should…. I had to give up getting annoyed by that one….
Epa!! This word means oh! wow! mamma mia! or any expression of surprise, and you hear it all the time….
So with these few thoughts my Moz chapter is closing. I’ve shared some elements on this blog. Other aspects I did not (yet) manage to include were about HIV/AIDS, the church, art, architecture, the economy…. I will try to do this at my leisure at a later date, so I’m not closing this blog now….. just saying ciao to Mozambique for the moment.
I met a lot of great people here, made friends, saw places (including Swaziland and Zimbabwe, albeit briefly), (re)learned Portuguese, heard amazing music, saw extraordinary dance, and managed to get to Tofo beach (Inhambane province) at year end – as a kind of buffer against my cold January 2012 return to London.