Tales of a 21st Century Gypsy

January 8, 2004. Maputo, Mozambique.

Mozambique seems like itís actually part of Africa, unlike South Africa. We could see the change as soon as we drove across the border. All of a sudden the landscape looked natural, not manicured; the structures were scruffy, not clean; the towns, such as they were, were full of dust and trash and flying plastic bags. Itís not as pretty, but it feels more like a real place being itself, ess like itís been costumed in fancy clothes and make-up to present a good appearance.

Of course none of this applies to the Holiday Inn where we are staying, which is luxurious and calming, right on the beach with waves breaking out the window and a huge pool over which coconut palms wave their fronds in the sea breezes. The air conditioning is cool and quiet, the electricity works, and we even have free internet access in our rooms. Which, of course, face out onto the beach and the bay, and if I were willing to be devoured by malarial mosquitoes, I could sleep to the lull of the breaking waves. I spent some time

in the large weirdly-shaped hotel pool, which is on a terrace that opens onto the beach and is surrounded by palms. Here I am in this dirt poor country, and I get to loll in the lap of luxury under the palm trees and the moon. Whatís wrong with this picture? My experiences of Africa are so weird.

Work is fun so far, and as always a lot less efficient than it should be. Lots of sitting around, trying to set up meetings, waiting while other people endlessly get calls on their cell phones. Thatís a change; back when I worked in Africa in the past there were no cell phones. Now everyone has one; the consultant from Zimbabwe laughed at me because he didnít understand why Americans never knew how to use them.

I have to learn to drive on the left. Itís a bit scary, but renting a car is by far the easiest and cheapest way for me to get to meetings at the Kruger Park headquarters in Skukuza. I started practicing this evening - drove the AID project car from the Ministry to our hotel 5 kms away. Itís a good thing nothing unexpected happened, I probably would have put on my windshield wipers instead of my turn signal, hit the clutch instead of the brake, and then swerved into oncoming traffic. I told Todd, who was patiently sitting in the passenger seat, that he should regard this as practice for teaching his kids to drive. I guess Iíll learn, but itís rather daunting right now.

The photos on the right might give you an idea - but they don't really make my point about Mozambique being the "real" Africa, do they? The first is a view of downtown Maputo, taken from the window of a hotel on top on the ridge overlooking the sea (not my hotel). It is misleading - you don't see the grime and sand, and even more you don't feel the searing heat. But this is certainly an upscale part of the city, not where the ordinary folks live. Unfortunately, taking photos of the "ordinary folks" or their homes isn't easy.

The second is the view out the window of our hotel at low tide. I love the ribbons of sandbars, emerging one after the next as the tide pulls out. At high tide the sea is filled with boys bounding in the water and tumbling on the beach. Hardly any girls, though. I'd love to be out there in the water, but we've been assured that they discharge partially treated sewage into Maputo Bay, so we can't go in. I did trail my toes in the water one night. It was hot! Not just a bit warm, but at nine o'clock at night it was as warm as a bath. I wonder if those boys even found their swims refreshing.

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