“[White people, where are you going?]” A voice called out in Tsonga as my friends and I walked the short road between the Swazi and Mozambican borders. The source was a matronly lady sitting with her two friends on the curb, chuckling at us. I was sorta shocked to understand her. The Tsonga in South Africa are descended from Mozambican tribes, but I assumed that modern-day Mozambicans would speak some obscure different dialect. But it was just like the kind they speak in Limpopo. A relief, given that I don’t speak any Portuguese… I never expected Tsonga to be a particularly useful language to know, but there you go. For 2 weeks of vacation it totally was.
Despite a steady drizzle, the border was full of local hustlers exchanging money/hoping to relieve travelers of some cash. We warily got directions from a chatty man carrying an unhappy live chicken in a plastic bag, who pointed us to a canvas-covered truck serving as transport to the nearby taxi rank. We clamored up and were soon packed like sardines. I wedged next to the man, and he began making some small talk.
“Do you speak Portuguese?” He asked me.
“No,” I replied. Remembering the ladies, I said in Tsonga: ”[But I speak a little Tsonga.]“
“Oh ho! [You speak it? What do you call these, then?]“ He asked, pointing to his shoes.
“[Shoes],” I said.
“No! [Things-For-Going!]“ He crowed, amused that I didn’t know such a simple word. Riggght. So clearly there were some differences between the dialects.
Chatty guy led us to the bus to Maputo, where his friend was waiting to charge us twice the real ticket price. South Africa has made us a bit soft in that respect, since South African taxi drivers don’t try to cheat you. Once we realized what had happened, my companions pulled aside the driver and spent 20 minutes stubbornly arguing for our money back while I sat with the bags. It was like the equivalent of about $2 each, but we had righteous fury on our side. Eventually a crowd gathered: grandmas, crooked cops, taxi drivers, all with an opinion. “[Why are we waiting?]” “[The white people want their money.]” “[Another guy took it.]” “[It's their fault for paying.]” “[No, the driver is a thief.]” “[Ah, these people!]”
We did get it back, mostly. Lesson learned!
One crowded public taxi ride later, we were in the capital. Maputo is a charmingly run-down, vibrant city dotted with dilapidated colonial and communistic architecture. Tuktuks and minibus chapas fill the roads, the latter stuffed so full that passengers are forced to hang out the windows. The boulevards are tree-lined and crumbling. Old men sit leisurely playing checkers in the shade, while women sell neat pyramids of coconuts displayed alongside fresh lettuce, veggies, cilantro, other fruits, and fish.
I had only planned to spend a day there, but I liked it enough that I returned at the end of my trip for another few days. The second time around, two PCVs and I couchsurfed with a friend of a friend: a laid-back and welcoming Mozambican named Edmilson who lived only a block from the President’s residence. His neighborhood was upscale. His building a little less so: he stayed on the 10th floor of a high-rise with a broken elevator, and everyday we passed little old grandfathers slowly making their way down the stairs. His apartment was great, though, and you can’t complain about the view:
One evening early in the trip we decided to walk to the nearest supermarket, which plenty of people assured us was “not too far!” It turned out to be insanely far away, through all these rambling little neighborhoods full of kids playing soccer. It was a nice walk, though, and I liked seeing so much of the city. Of course when we finally reached the supermarket, we found that the workers were all on strike and the place was plastered with drawings depicting people being beheaded. I would have been more surprised had it actually been open, really.
Another afternoon I went to the Museum of Natural History. It was a gorgeous building that housed a fairly ridiculous collection of mouldering stuffed animals from the 1920s. For example:
It did have some very cool cultural artifacts, though. Especially some neat woven nets and baskets used for fishing. Mozambique being on the Indian Ocean, seafood is a big part of the local culture and cuisine. One day I ventured to the city’s small fish market for lunch. When you place your order at one of the surrounding restaurants, your waiter will hop over to buy the fish fresh from the market. I love the seaside!