Trying to write this without resorting to almost ingrained clichés will be difficult. This is not about leaving “Africa” and arriving in “Europe” in winter. It is about my subjective experience as one person living for two intense months in Maputo, at the beginning of a period of self-imposed homelessness.
I wanted to capture the sensory experience – the emptiness of the city on a Sunday – the stifling heat, entering the terminal of the airport, its openness and not-too-cold airconditioning, and realizing that I had “left” Mozambique. The air I would breathe from then on would be airport air. The last rays of sun I would feel would be through massive glass windows. Leaving is always anticlimactic. Unknowingly you often leave before even having stepped on a plane, or crammed the trunk of the car.
Leaving happens in stages.
From the full moon – and unexpected eclipse I experienced the night before – pink, massive and cooly burning itself into my memory.
From the back log of blog entries, from the moment when I thought to myself – I’ll write it down “afterwards”. (And I will be back-blogging in the next weeks.)
My time in Maputo was in some ways as I expected. The beautiful jacarandás and acacias. Coffees at Acácia Café. My world was some what circumscribed by my disinterest in Redbull or Rasta-variety night lives, by the circumference and hours of the day or night I would walk on my own, by the visas I had – the length of the stay. By intermittent contact with the “real” unpaved Maputo and with Mozambican friends and their families. People’s ability to cope with increasingly difficult circumstances – unimproved transport, bread controlled in price but getting ever-lighter, lack of cooking gas. This did not surprise.
Other things surprised me.
The speed with which I was able to laugh with colleagues and new friends. But not only. I was able to talk to them about serious personal/social issues like relationships, the role of women. (For example, getting my colleagues to translate the words to Mabessa’s “Para Quê?” a song banned from the radio for its crude rendition of the modern transactional relationship.)
The speed with which we convened offline Twitter meetups.
The paradox of lack of capital and “entrepreneurial spirit” but then seeing internet cafés thriving, learning about the massive “iceberg” beneath the surface of young people’s use of mobile chat.
The speed with which international and national news travels in spite of a purposefully lazy state media and a private media mostly in the hands of government cronies.
The Mozambican love for the beach and the car-based practice of hanging out in front of FACIM or at Costa do Sol.
The number of new tall buildings going up in the Baixa, the absurdly empty Radisson.
The Baixa, with its incredible labyrinth of old buildings, life, nationalities, commerce… (A place I need to return and spend days with a guide.)
Seeing Escodidinho (from the outside!) and realizing that Brazilian love “motel” culture will spread like wildfire in Maputo.
My Saturday mornings: seeing so many muscle-men, a Rihanna sidecut (a girl who must be a “gangster”). The relatively few guys in skinny jeans and fashion high-tops. Guys asking for women’s phone numbers from the txopela (tuk-tuk). Xipamanine Market – where I felt the true “irrationality” of trying to give 300 somethings for free in a place where thousands want it. Businesses, churches, bars, markets, sport… The feeling that life – real city life, is out there and not in the paved city.
Maputo is the biggest small city I have ever lived in. The 100,000 who live in the paved city live in an unreal place; 30,000 of those live in an even more unreal place with satellite TV and internet. The 900,000 who live in the unpaved city live in an unreal place. These unrealities intermingle, but not in the entirely beastly mill of human lives of a megacity. The Maputo scale of intermingling makes the city so hard to characterize. I am not going to try. Yet.
As I looked across the runway out of the massive window, all I saw was green, cloud and blue sky. But now I knew a little of what lay on the other side of that green – the 900,000.
All I know for certain is I arrived while the jacarandas were in full bloom. Many days I walked under in a tunnel of red, with blooms overhead and petals carpeting the sidewalk. I ate lychees straight from the tree.
I leave as the red has fallen away, as the heavy mango trees prepare to delight children. Car traffic has already decreased, as the directores are on holiday.
I will return to the land of do-it-yourself where everything and nothing can be yours at a price, where body space is sacred, and apologies or smiles are a dime a dozen. Where women are relearning to sew, and people relearning to grow food, ride a bike and fix things when they break. Where, when people are oppressed and abused, they have some recourse. Where we are hanging on with all of our might – and where we are now just as concerned about what it means to be in that ninety-something percent.