The last several years I have been exploring the less developed parts of the world whose climates range from warm to unbearably hot. Regardless I venture out into the crowded streets, usually with my head down so I don’t fall into a hole, trip on the broken sidewalk or step in a pile of garbage. Crossing streets feels like I am part of a video game dodging cars as they try to run me down. One of my least favorite cities in Africa is Douala where one is accosted by heat, humidity, dirt roads, dangerous drivers, and militant police. Most of neighborhoods in the city qualify as slums. It is rare to see a white person on the streets of downtown Douala. I know because I am one of those rare people who walk around the city.
Maputo, compared to other African cities, has paved roads, sidewalks, and traffic lights. The street names will give you a refresher course in some of the great heroes of socialism. After the civil war in 1975, as the Portuguese were leaving, they destroyed most of the infra structure. So the new government turned to the communist world for support. And so explains how the city streets got their names. My guest house was on Patrice Lumumba street which lead to one of the main roads in the city, Vladimir Lenin . On one of my walks, searching for a hair salon, I found Salvador Allende St, Mao Tse Tung and Mohammed Siad Barre. It’s an endless history lesson and I started to think which of these guys actually deserved to have a street named after him. Definitely not Siad Barre, the military dictator of Somalia from 1969-1991 or Chairman Mao, responsible for the death of more than 50 million Chinese.
As I explored Maputo. I tried the public transportation. I squeezed onto a extremely crowded bus that would have accommodated midgets comfortably.. We were packed in like chickens being taken to the slaughterhouse and it was a challenge to get off the bus with all your possessions. I switched to cabs. As to communicating, Portuguese is like Spanish if you are reading but the spoken language is an entirely different experience. I am a quick learner when languages are involved so I started learning necessary words. One of my favorite was agora, in Spanish ahora. It was obvious when I found a gelateria selling sundaes for $9 that Mozambique is a tourist destination Decent hotels in the large towns seemed to be around $70 a night. But prices in Maputo were much higher since there was such a large community of foreign businessmen, NGOS, tourists and a extremely wealthy small Mozambicans upper class. I had decided to spend most of my 18 days in northern Mozambique, which was still in the early stages of developing tourism.
I flew up to Nampula, a dusty, hot, garbage strewn town that was controlled by several Indian families. East Indians had come to East African during the colonial period under the British and became the dominant business community. In 1972, Ida Amin gave the Asian population in Uganda 90 days to leave, confiscating their businesses and personal property. The Asians in Mozambique did not meet such a violent fate and there is still a large business community in the country
Since there has been such an onslaught of foreigners in Mozambique, taxi drivers have become as greedy as American bankers. White skin means charge them a lot of money. While I was waiting for my bags at the Nampula airport, I started a conversation with an Italian woman who worked for an Italian medical NGO and I hoped her driver would drop me in town at a decent hotel. But they were much too busy to do that, so he found me a taxi driver and told him where to take me. The first hotel was overpriced and in need of renovation. The one I finally chose had recently opened and they still hadn’t put the cover plates on the electric boxes. But the towels were new and the room was like an Ikea showroom. While I was arguing with the taxi driver over his payment, a young Canadian guy had come to speak with someone at reception. Trying to get a sense of the town, I asked and he agreed to meet me and show me around. The hotel manager was eager to take me into town so while I was waiting for Jeremy. I decided I should make the most of the late afternoon light. Most of the streets were dirt and of course dust everywhere; just another non-descript African town with shacks for shops, street vendors, old cars and new SUVs. This was the center in the north of Mozambique for many of the foreign aid organizations. Most Africans spend a lot of time on the street since their homes are extremely bare without ventilation or furniture. My friends in Fundong who live near me, have two stools, one chair and two beds.
When Jeremy finally appeared on his motorcycle, it was almost sunset, so we did a walk around town and he told me what he was doing and how life was for him here. He seemed to have many Mozambicans friends, spoke excellent Portuguese, and shared a house with a young missionary guy. Even though it was not an easy place to spend two years, he appeared to have made it a positive experience. We dined on raw pizza dough and cheese. I explained to the waiter that the bottom of the pizza must also be cooked. The next morning I noticed that I was the only foreigner at breakfast, at a hotel that cost $70-$100 a night. Curious, I approached one of the guests, asked what he was doing in Nampula and how could he afford to spend so much for a hotel, considering that salaries in Mozambique did not allow for $100 a night hotels. He explained he worked for a non-profit in Maputo which was funded by a European government. When I asked what he was working on, he explained he was doing research on corruption in Mozambique. My case rests.