I walk everywhere around Lichinga city center. Which is really quite small. The city was a cartesian dream, only finished at the end of the 1960s. The colonizer constructed to stay. The house where I work is super solid, the layout continues to be relevant today. The kitchen and bathroom are still adequate after some minor improvements. It seems like it could last hundreds of years.
(Sometimes I try to imagine all that was lived in this house.)
The most “majestic” element of Lichinga is the office of the Governor, and the roundabout in front.
The Governor’s building is a marvellous construction – I don’t even know how to do it justice. It looks like it belongs in a Hitchcock film. Cars, including the brand new white Mercedes of the Governor, park below the white angular structure on top. The roundabout is fenced off at the moment with gigantic shiny pieces of roofing zinc.
They say they are going to put a statue of Samora Machel in the middle. The only one outside of Maputo. The province was special to him for a number of reasons. Many who have that nostalgia for a more ideological time speculate that Niassa would have been another province if Machel had survived.
On the opposite side of the rotunda from the Governor’s building is the biggest mosque in town. It is painted a turquoise blue, with all due respect, a color that I associated with bathrooms. With their loudspeakers, mosques mark the passage of time in the city more than churches. A person starts to incorporate the call to prayer at 4am into sleep – today it entered my dream.
The streets and sidewalks are protected by the shadow of old acacias, pine trees and jacarandas. Their solid trunks erupt from the pavement. A red dirt penetrates everything, turning irrationally popular white shoes the color of rust.
Where the asphalt ends, starts the larger part of the city. I saw an estimate that 100,000 people live in Lichinga. I doubt that the cartesian-dream city accounts for more than 10,000. The lack of animals is a sign of this for me – the city center has few dogs and roosters.
The outlying neighborhoods have grown at an incredible rate over the past 10 years. (It would be good to see this in satellite photos.) These neighborhoods receive all kinds of people coming from the remotest villages. There are numbers of widows living with HIV who were rejected by their families and inlaws and come to the city to survive.
All of the stories of the city come from these neighborhoods. Also the paranoia of crime – many stories of thieves, robbers who attack their victims with machetes.
This dynamic of center-of-commerce and residential-periphery is nothing strange to me. But what I find odd is that there are no publicor collective transports in the city. There is not a single chapa (or minibus) to transport people from their houses to the center. The preferred modes of transport are: feet, bicycles (with lifts for women and friends), motorbikes, trucks and cars. At night, people are scared to walk home, and often they are forced to pay very expensive taxis to get home. I was told that a daring businessman try to start a “chapa” service but that people didn’t take to it.