14Nov2011: Maputo, Mozambique

Maputo thus far uninspiring. Novel for the interesting sense of threat, probably felt with a slightly exaggerated sensitivity, but from the NO GO!!! areas labeled in red on my map, not entirely without basis. I experience a discomfort in just going about that I recognize to be underpinned by a learned sense of racism from back home, that if I find myself in an area in which everyone besides me is black, then it’s probably an unsafe place to be. Well, I realize, it’s Africa, and everyone is black. You can’t just extrapolate all the time from prior circumstance back home.

So I go out in the early evening once the day has cooled, and walk the less dodgy streets uptown. The wind is up; it blows the stinging grit against my face and I slit my eyes against it and lean into the heavy gusts. I find myself, as I walk the cracked and crumbling cement, with its smells of urine, its squalls of trash and dust lifting in the wind, thinking of Theroux’s observation that all cities (and African cities especially) are snake-pits filled with the worst of their society, the poverty and trash and crime, and I find myself wondering what I will find tomorrow, when I venture out to someplace smaller, someplace more a part of Mozambique and of Africa, than this island of civilization and its various discontents.

Thusly, it’s another evening in another bar, the grit scouring the world outside the windows in a violent fist of variant atmospheric pressure. A friend tells me today that she envies my travelling style, and I find myself flattered, though for all my anecdotes I often wonder how much travelling I’ve really done.

Today for example: I venture out after coffee into the heat of midmorning, down to the tourist sights of the baixa – a gesticulating statue in a proletarian cap and Marxist bronze before some faux-classical abomination in soot-stained stone; in the public market there are wan vegetables and the smell of fish and cheap sandwiches stuffed with meat of a provenance so dim that even I won’t chance to eat it.

I wander on to near the old fort: tangles of razor wire, brown grass, the hot reek of dried urine; then reverse course and head into a clean café, exchange English-language confusion for Portuguese, and order by charades, horrified when I find the bill totals the equivalent of eleven dollars. I return to the hostel and shower away my sweat and hazy-headedness and drink instant coffee and try to rewrite a story to what seems to me a satisfactory and saleable conclusion, which by the end of a few hours’ work it does, though doubtless by tomorrow it again will not, when it will nettle me with its unsaleability and failure to suffice.

The rest of the day: read and read and read and shower, and then put on my going-out-in-public clothes and have a beer or two and write and seek out dinner, which if I eat interestingly (read: expensively) qualifies me as experiencing the local culture.

For a tally, then: Exposure to the city, about three hours. Exposure to the city not involving alcohol, considerably slimmer. My head gets hazy with Laurentina Dark and there is football on the telly of an upscale pub-café and a girl there tells me that there are petrol shortages in Malawi and even the minibuses there won’t drive, so I do what I always do, which sometimes looks like courage but isn’t, truly isn’t: I put my face into the wind and chance to see what tomorrow looks like, the trees in the city dark of Maputo tossing in the night outside, which smells of salt and dirt and diesel fumes.


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