ATM’s and bad pavements

Internet super intergalactic highway is really little more than a goat track here. I’ve only been here 74 hours. Five of which were consumed with two separate visits to the internet shop, this is my first log on. My skin and body may love the humidity and heat. Laptop certainly does not. Laptop says no, a lot.

I’ve also left my cash card in the ATM, twice, and the first time, a smiley, English-speaking cashier promptly opened the whole machine in front of me and fished it out. The palpitations (I never carry emergency cash) lasted minutes, as I realised there’s a chaotic flexibility here that will take some learning. A mish mash improvised jazz tune: sexy and exciting but alarming too.

Random Mozambique (10).jpg
Baptisms on the beach:

Photo by Solange Dos Santos (Copyright Solange, reproduced with permission)

Rewind: It’s been a bumpy landing. Lucky I’ve had a cushion strapped to my arse. I nearly didn’t get here. The plan was to leave Tanzania, take a bus North six hours to Nairobi, and fly to Mozambique. At the Kenyan border on Monday a pudgy Rottweiler masquerading as chief immigration officer didn’t believe me when I said I couldn’t lift my suitcase. (This time it wasn’t laziness, but a torn back muscle, provoked by a month of moving house, stress, a third floor flat with no lift, tax returns and two unfortunately placed boils). My grimacing caused him to beckon me to a side office, shouting across the 20 yards of the freshly constructed immigration office.

“You give me your passport. COME HERE INTO THIS OFFICE”.

Something about his booming, his swagger, spoke to real fear, and I quietly refused, saying “I’m frightened”.

“You disobey me? Right. I deny access to Kenya. You cannot come in. I deny. I will, and I can”.

This wrangle went on for over an hour, three times the driver of the shuttle bus scuttling off to plead with him, me increasingly tearful and panicked. Finally he relented, after a very public speech, in front of the entire immigration queue and his staff:
“You come to our country to escape your shitty weather. I’ve been to your country, and USA, your immigration treats us like this, they disrespect us, they humiliate us, they deny us access; when you come to our country, our beautiful sunny country, you will respect us, you will understand that we can stop you coming in, and we will.”

Snivelling, I agreed, and apologised collectively for all the bad decisions, racism and colonial humiliation that the British gov has inflicted on countless immigrants. I think he had a point, I wish I hadn’t been his punch bag. And wasn’t such a blatant misogynist. A million theories about global affect collapsed into that one moment. I wondered how much worse it would have been if I was a black Tanzanian woman. I thought about borders, and what charged places they are: sites of countless dubious transactions, sexual, financial and illegal.

At Nairobi airport on Wednesday I found the head of immigration and explained to her what happened.
“Ah, him, Colonel Gitangi, he’s leaving this Monday. He’s being sacked. We’ve had too many complaints. Did he get any money out of you? Did you get a receipt for your visa?”

Maputo water collection

Photo by Solange Dos Santos (Copyright Solange, reproduced with permission)

This morning, here in Maputo, I woke to peacocks crawing below, the drip of heavy rains and the gentle swish of the ocean a few metres away.  After a marathon 19 hour sleep on Wednesday. A wealthy important friend who is probably isn’t a good idea to name – met me at the airport. VIP treatment meant we were actually last to be seen, and we drove back to her house. By a combination of lengthy and not very interesting twists, D now lives bang next door to the presidential palace. She is a Russian-trained ballerina, a musician, a singer, has stories of singing with Miles Davis and dating Marcus Miller in New York.  She pulses with regret that  the idealism of her father -a V V VIP indeed, has been evicted by opportunists, kidnapped by consumerist and nepotistic greed.

Salazar’s fascist legacy. Photo by Solange Dos Santos (Copyright Solange, reproduced with permission)

A rich-hearted, global amazon, she is a bundle of contradictions, and co-ordinates the major arts festivals here. Everywhere we go she is recognised, greeted with warm smiles,  with her dreadlocks, her warm eyes, shoddy cheap car and expansive Buddhist heart is a threat to the order of things.  On the pot-holed, dense, complicated streets of Maputo she’s also hugely liked, evidently, and even after two days, it’s like hanging out with a female musical Jesus.

Her house- my home now for a few weeks whilst I settle in- is a beautiful modernist space of sharp lines, light, marble floors, ebony sculptures and well-made wooden cabinets. I have a bedroom overlooking the ocean, my own bathroom, and the whole top floor as a study.  There is no tv, radio and internet is patchy. I will get a lot of writing done. It’s in the equivalent of Knightsbridge, or Whitehall. But looks more like Tottenham. There’s a Soviet block next door, a crumbling homage to failed promises.

Water banter

Photo by Solange Dos Santos (Copyright Solange, reproduced with permission)

I start on Monday at the university. Apparently, I am teaching the MA journalism course I designed on foggy nights in London two years ago. There have been no responses at all in five months to the Dean of the university. Asking for basics- what language will I teach in? Are there laptops and internet connections? How many students per class? He was laughing and jokey as we arranged to meet at 9am on Monday. He’s not worried, so I won’t be either.

There’s little choice but to identify the flow, and go with it. In the mobile phone shop Sandy, takes my recently broken phone (I left Tanzania and it promptly fizzled, symbolically burped and died) and offers to fix it as a black-market job. He flips open google translate and we talk across the ether. My Spanish is a sort of salve, but I must learn Portuguese, fast. I understand but I am dumb.


Photo by Solange Dos Santos (Copyright Solange, reproduced with permission)

I know very little: it is ridiculous how little I understand. I know that there are two competing economies- one where a 250 gram bag of coffee costs ten pounds in the Spar rammed with South African imports. And a fresh pineapple, or three mangos, sixty pence on the street. There is a free newspaper plastered on the street walls every day, and a thriving media scene. Every night, sharply dressed snake hipped jazz musicians thrum their tunes in clubs across town. Gustave Eiffel built his prototype for the tower first here, a strange Wonderland-esque tin house too hot for anyone but Catholic nuns, who finally agreed to stew inside it.


Photo copyright Thembi Mutch

There are no street signs, the only landmarks the incredible, brutal, fascist architecture of Portugal’s dictatorship. This is photographer’s heaven. If you are rich. The grid streets are heaving, small stalls, everything from bras, rat poison, single eggs and one CD on sale. The typefaces are lost in some swirling 50’s timewarp.  There are few expats in evidence, none on the streets at all; I am possibly the only mzungu in town who doesn’t own a 4x 4, and who walks. Riding a bike, or motorbike, is suicidal. The driving protocol, like the politics, seems to be unfathomable, dangerous.


Photo copyright Thembi Mutch

This is a hard, messy place, second only to Ethiopia with the visible poverty… too many young skinny people sitting bored on street corners. Not malevolent or idle, but unemployed. but there is art, music, sharp suited-booted hipsters and graffiti everywhere, and people are obviously, openly very kind to each other. This is the only place in the world a person has chased me and handed me back my cash card after I left it in the machine. The only place where the cashier in a small store walked with me 200 yards in the rain to find a tuk tuk and negotiate the correct price… there are glimmers of colonial Portugal- in the bread, the unbelievable dilapidation….

Here, faith makes sense. I am frightened, often, though I can’t say why exactly. I feel my English-ness fighting for recognition: and I’m comforted by public assertion of the importance of queuing and politeness.


Real sound


Photo copyright Thembi Mutch

For now, my biggest problems are finding a map of the city. Internet is too crap for google maps. And accessing foreign currency. And repairing my phone so I have whatsapp again. I must leave the country every month (my visa is only 30 days) and must pay $80 dollars each time I return. It may end up being a blessing, but it certainly means I’ll get to go back to SA and Nairobi on a regular basis.

A rhythm will emerge, it always does when it’s above 30 degrees in the shade.

Gloat gloat.


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