Eu nao sei de nada, I know nothing, Je ne sais rien by Andrew Cartwright
Everybody who knows me will verify that the above is my opening or closing observation in many conversations.
It is a true statement that when we get to 18, we think we know everything but as the years go by it becomes apparent to us how little we actually know. The reader at this early stage should note that what follows are personal observations and thoughts of a traveller not representing anybody's views but my own.
All the 'Ps'
I commenced with Portuguese in the heading above as this first article concerns my experience in Mozambique which is a Lusophone country.
Interestingly enough in most countries in Africa that I visit the everyday language is a local one. Even when sitting in a group enjoying a beer where everyone speaks English they will chat in local language. Here in Maputo however, even socially they speak Portuguese. This does not help me at all because my knowledge of Portuguese is improving ,but by no means good.
I have digressed already and must apologise. Those not familiar with Mozambique may like to know that geographically it is a country bordered to the East by more than 3000 kilometres of Indian Ocean coastline, much of which is totally unspoilt and beautiful.
It is a truly breathtaking air flight when routing hugs this majestic coastline. Normally I prefer aisle seats but for this journey I make exceptions and go with a view from the window . Inland Mozambique has borders with Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and South Africa. Its struggle for Independence and latterly political stability is reflected in major street names in Maputo which acknowledge the support given by Foreign powers through the conflicts. Avenida Julius Nyerere, Avenida Kenneth Kaunda, Avenida Robert Mugabe, Avenida Vladimir Lenine, Avenida Mao Tze Tung to name but a few.
Today Mozambique is a stable democracy with Frelimo as the ruling party (re elected in every general election since the Civil War). Recent huge natural gas finds in the Indian Ocean offshore Mozambique should ensure economic growth for the next generation and beyond.
This is the background into which I transport my readers.
Every country's character is defined by its people and the environment in which they live. Mozambicans are delightful, friendly and genuinely humble. I believe that having a vast expanse of ocean to the East makes one humble in the sight of that formidable power. (I grew up on the East coast of England and can bear testament to the awesome ferocity of the ocean).
In every country I visit I prefer to mix with local rather than ex patriot communities. I feel totally comfortable in the presence of local people even if language is a barrier. I find that without exception people are interested in a foreigner that takes a genuine interest in them. The vast majority of people in Mozambique (as in most of Africa) have experienced hardship, through recent conflict or poverty during their lifetimes and therefore remain grateful for their mere existence. How refreshing it is to watch children with genuine joy finding a tyre to push at speed down a hill or making up games with empty bottles and cans. Not for them 'I Pads' with the latest apps and tantrums if the latest fashion accessory is not available. Hold that thought as it brings me seamlessly to the next 'P' (Quite by accident I assure you!)
I confess to having mixed feelings on this subject. I accept its necessity,but mourn what gets lost on the way. I have two examples from Maputo that highlight my disquiet. Both I have tried to capture in pictures that are attached to this article.
The first photograph shows the foreground the quaint old car and passenger ferry that currently transports commuters and street vendors from mainland Maputo to the Ka Tembe peninsula. As I write I can smell the diesel fumes mixing with the salty ocean spray as the sluggish engines groan reluctantly into life. In the background is the future, the bridge that will join these two different worlds, at the same time fast and efficient, but impersonal and cold by- passing the life below.
The second picture depicts the esplanade with palm trees bordering the ocean. Clean, safe and very European. Two years ago it was very different. The pavement was rough and ready, the sea wall cracked and crumbling, but every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday people would arrive with ice boxes stacked with beer and soft drinks for sale. Then the backs of SUVs would open to reveal sound systems with throbbing bass and local 'sounds' . The party would begin only stopping as the sun rises regally over that same ocean or the beer runs out. This ritual terminated overnight when the concrete jungle arrived (beautiful in its way but somehow soulless) Where are they now these revellers? How will their meagre living be replaced? Where are the smiling, squealing children with their old bicycle tyres racing down the hill in the sophisticated 'west' now? They are still here in Mozambique but for how long?
I defy any writer on Maputo not to devote at least a paragraph to fish. Quite simply the fish and seafood here is as fresh and good as you will get anywhere in the world. You can buy it on the waterfront by the island ferries, you can buy it in the fish market and eat it in any of the gorgeous restaurants along the coast.
Speaking of fish markets, I have an anecdote that fits into the previous paragraph. Sunday lunch at the fish market is a must. You go to the market, pick out fish, prawns, anything that swims in the ocean. You choose your chef who whisks your selection away to prepare with salad, fries and xima (maize flour) as you whet your appetite with local ale. The 'old 'fish market, slightly disorganized with rickety tables and chairs and dubious toilet facilities has been replaced by a modern facility overlooking the ocean with all modern equipment that looks exactly what it is, an efficient business. Much as I like the new I mourn the old. The soul is somehow lost as progress advances.
Public servants/ Police.
Public servants, including the police are very poorly paid in many places in Africa and in many instances ' tipping ' is expected and in some instances demanded. Many object to this practice and here I humbly offer a solution/ justification. I look on it as a tax, V.A T. if you like missing out Government and going direct to the end user. This is efficient, painless and benefits both parties. At the end of the day we all have to survive. In Maputo, the police are extremely vigilant so please remember to carry passports at all times.
As a post script to this paragraph on my latest walk, I encountered two such vigilant policeman who politely asked for my papers which I supplied. Not content with this however, they searched my computer bag and pockets even unravelling a used tissue to inspect the contents thereof (more vigilant than the usual cursory inspection). When one of the officers frisked me, which included lingering on my genital region, I began to feel slightly violated and vowed that any 'tax' was not payable in this instance. I inquired as to their mission and they replied they suspected drugs and wished me to take a blood test at the station. I agreed to this and the officer summoned transport on the telephone. When no vehicle was available he sent me on my way! Life in Africa is never dull.
This is not something that this narrator has to concern himself with as walking requires no parking spot. Nevertheless, parking is a nightmare here as I suspect it did not feature in the city planning blueprint. Cars are plentiful (No mass transit system exists another planning omission!). As a result of this nightmare scenario, cars park and double park anywhere. The most popular place is pavements (side walks) much to the annoyance of this pedestrian who must resort to walking on the highway itself.
As with every situation, though there are winners and losers. In this case the winners are the resourceful car washers who fill as many buckets as possible to place strategically on the aforementioned walkways thus reserving spaces for would be parkers who can be enticed to have their vehicle washed as they shop or work. An added benefit guarantees the security of the transport.
While on the topic of cars, permit me to digress for a moment. In Maputo, car ownership is high as there is a ready market for cheap imports from Japan. Income in households is not great, however so it is very noticeable that traffic is far heavier in the early days of the month slacking off to a trickle as the month draws to a close. The reason for this is simple. People get paid at the end of the month, replenish the fuel tank but are forced to abandon their transport as the fuel gauge drops until the next pay day.
The problem of poverty is a worldwide phenomenon that certainly cannot be solved here. Suffice it to say the problem is overwhelming here and will be a recurring topic to highlight as I continue my travels in this wonderful continent. It needs to be addressed as the vast chasm between rich and poor, haves and have nots gets wider and wider. I want to use this paragraph as a springboard to another humbling observation. Newspapers are forever highlighting stories of suicides amongst all sections of society but particularly those in privileged positions with seemingly so much to live for. In contrast, I pass by beggars on the streets of Maputo, some without limbs and with horrible sores, these people with seemingly nothing to live for are clinging to life with each laboured breath.
On a happier note being a former Portuguese colony Mozambique clings to some of the more decadent lifestyle choices. The pastelaria, French equivalent is patisserie, are beautiful coffee shops serving pastries, breads and cakes that you only have to look at to gain weight. They are a popular meeting spot and their abundance is testimony to their popularity. It is a suitable place to bring this narrative to an end and to return us to the very beginning I will close with words from the 1972 Johnny Nash classic ' there are more questions than answers. And the more I find out ,the less I know'. I look forward to knowing less tomorrow!
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