18 January 2007

Two Weeks on in Mozambique

So I’m still standing (that’s for all the relatives who’ve been calling Chris to find out if I’m ok) and running even. My broadband connection is up and running too – I’m writing my blog as I sit in the sauna-like heat of my apartment overlooking the busy Av. Vladimir Lenine. The above is a picture of a capulana that when I saw it, I just had to buy it. Sr. Horatio at Casa Elefante (a store across from o Mercado Central stocked floor to ceiling with capulanas) helped me practice my Portuguese when buying it even though he speaks English too. Capulanas are the cotton wrap-around sarongs that local women wear. They also make good towels, baby slings, head wraps, nose wipers, and pot holders. I've seen them used in tree climbing in Samoa, so I'll be on the lookout here.

A lot has happened since I arrived, so I’ll just touch on a couple of the highlights for now.

The Expediter
Every traveler should have a personal expediter. Razak met me at Maputo International Airport after 2 horrendous days of travel. They were horrendous mainly because a 12 hour layover at Charles deGaulle Airport sucks. CDH is where travelers make pilgrimage to get some of their time in Purgatory reduced. I certainly felt like I was visiting each of Dante’s (yes I know he’s Italian) 7 circles of hell on the bus ride between my plane and the terminal. I opted for the hanging out in the airport, watching water drip from the ceiling, and freezing my butt off 12 hour layover. I found something like Cocoon, but it was only accessible to business travelers – not proles who fly cheap seats. I was too exhausted (because I can’t really sleep on planes) to take the train into Paris to actually see anything, so I slept on the floor in the kiddie playzone. I was not the only adult person taking advantage of the industrial grey indoor-outdoor carpet and screaming toddlers. A Japanese man, 2 British men, and a lanky Scandinavian also sacked out in various “corners.”

Anyway, to get back to Razak… He met me on the other side of the passport stamp person. Helped me pick up all my big luggage. (Yes!! I knew losing my luggage the week before in DFW would bring me good luggage karma.) Got me through customs without a strip search, removing every article of clothing I own from my bag, or making me take off my shoes. That meant that I didn’t have to explain why Chewbacca and Obi-Wan Kenobi action figures (Chewie couldn’t go by himself to the big dunes at the edge of the sea and I couldn’t find a Han Solo action figure) were wrapped in a t-shirt and shoved into my backpack, along with other items like Tex-Mex hot sauce, a year’s supply of Lariam, new running shoes, and a bikini. Razak got me past the ravenous pack of taxi-drivers who prey on those ignorant of real costs. Drove me to my front door, helped me get my luggage upstairs, opened the door, and handed me the key. That’s some expediting. It wasn’t even 4 o’clock in the afternoon here, so I still had some time to go to the grocer’s and get a mobile (cell phone in southern African speak).

The Mobile

I know most people think that this doesn’t rate a discussion. But I am a cellphoneaphobic. I have never owned a mobile before, and back in the States I always have to ask how it works when I use one. It took me 2 days to get the hang of it here. It doesn’t really help when you only know 3 people to call. Rebecca force-learned me how to text. I don’t think I’ll ever be that fast, but texting is the way to go here. I’m also really nervous about calling Portuguese-only speakers. I hate to admit it, but I rely heavily on body language and context to follow conversations (actually I do this in English too). On day 2 of my cell phone, I had to go back to Mcel (the local mobile company with a branch located conveintly across the street) and ask how to put more credits on the phone. You can dial a number to find out, but the instructions are in very fast Portuguese. I caught about 50% of what the operator was saying. The salesman was very nice and laughed when I told him how stupid I was in Portuguese. Estou muita estúpida, mas eu aprendou. I have no problem saying that and frequently.

O Ladrão

I woke my 2nd Sunday here at about 5 am to get in a run. A couple of dogs in the neighborhood were putting up a ruckus, but whatever. I just hope that they’d been chained. I have not yet had problems with dogs in Mozambique, most sleep once the sun really gets cooking, and I’d rather not start having problems. (I had a bad dog experience in American Samoa, okay?) I got dressed, picked up my keys and card with my address and US embassy number (a US Embassy security recommended item), and headed out my door.

As I was locking up, a man dressed in dark clothing and a black tuk jumped up on the tin roof of the shed behind my apartment building (1 ½ floors below). He lay flat on his belly and started pulling himself along. Sr. Salvador, my building’s guard that morning, was blowing a whistle and yelling at the man. A young man in a corner apartment one flight down from mine came out on his laundry balcony in his boxers – probably just out of bed. The ladies that live next door at the auto repair shop were out wrapped only in their capulanas looking up at the man and back at the police. A sound like a small firecracker or pop gun snapped out. I looked down the driveway of my apartment building (people park in a locked area in the back) and there were two local policemen pointing their automatic rifles at the man on the roof. I looked in the opposite direction to see another policeman coming down the drive of the apartment building next door with a rifle. I suddenly wanted my camera – what a cool thing to take a picture of I was thinking – but didn’t want to miss the action. As an afterthought it was probably better that I didn’t take a picture. For sure the cops would have confiscated my camera, and if they didn’t catch the man (and the man saw me take the picture) I could be targeted.

The man continued to drag himself flat along the rooftop. I wondered where he was going because the fence between the two apartment buildings is topped with razor wire and a spike iron fence. He found a hole big enough and started wiggling through. Pow! Pow! Two more shots were fired (now I understand the expression “pop a cap” when referring to shooting someone, the firing sounds like a child’s cap pistol). The ladies at the auto repair shot hit the ground, and I ducked behind the cement balcony wall. I don’t believe that the police could be that far off in their aim, but the bullet could always ricochet, right?

By the time I looked again, the man was on the ground on the other side of the wall. My view was blocked by the shed, so I’m not entirely sure how it ended. The police continued to walk around the neighborhood until 6am. The people living in the bottom floor of the apartment building next door kept looking at the ground where presumably the man had dropped. I finally saw a policeman come and pick up the raggedy black overshirt that the man had been wearing. But that’s all I know. I wonder why the man was running – what had he done? Where did he do it? Poverty probably answers the why question. He didn’t look like part of a wealthy organized crime group.

I didn’t go running Sunday morning. It just seemed like a bad idea at the time (and its too hot and busy on the street later).

Did you think I would give a blow by blow for the entire 2 weeks? Do you really care what a $300USD 2 bedroom apartment with cable/internet looks like (okay so its subsidized. Its university family housing complete with little children that like to scream with happiness as they slide down the bannisters)? Or that I have hired a person to come and wash my clothes (sans washing machine)? Or that the beach here (Costa del Sol) looks like an African version of spring break every weekend – complete with men dancing in thong bikinis, beer being poured out passenger windows into the cups of passers by, and women wearing wet, semi-transparent loungerie in lieu of swimsuits? Or maybe you might be more interested in the price of fresh mangas, bananas, and abacaxis? Garbage recycling in the city of Maputo (it is interesting I kid you not)? The family that keeps guinea hens next door at the auto repair shop (I must have inherited my dad’s guinea fowl karma)? I’m holding out. I can save the boring stuff for later. In the meantime you can take a look out the back door of my kitchen. This young man spends a lot of time just hanging out on his apartment's rooftop patio.

No comments:

Post a Comment