So, Mozambique is done and I have returned. About 10 showers later it’s safe to say that Mozambique is dirty. But it’s more akin to if one took the word ‘dirty’, shoved in a mud patch, left it in the sun to bake a bit, and then cleaned up with bilge water. Yes. Third world countries are filthy. I don’t honestly know why this still surprises me.

Anyways, the trip itself was quite cool, and it’s always great to see a new country. Considering I’ve never actually been to another African country, this was quite important in that I can actually say I’ve seen more of the dark continent than SA. There were a lot of similarities to SA, a lot of differences, and a lot of things I can compare to my trip to South East Asia in 2007/2008. Here’s the summary:

The Land

Mozambique is hot as a bastard. It reminded me a lot of the humid, 36+ degree summer in Durban. It’s much like walking and breathing in a muggy soup. From the moment I disembarked from the bus in Maputo I sweated nonstop until I got back onto the Greyhound to Johannesburg. It also seemed to have a tendency to rain in torrents. Contrary to popular belief, this didn’t cool things down a whit, and instead only contributed to increasing the humidity. That being said, we did still traipse around the capital (Maputo) in the rain with nary a complaint. We were much like a bunch of drowned rats afterwards, but it was still great to see the city.

From Mozambique

The backpackers in Maputo: ‘Fatima’s’

For those not in the know, a quick history lesson; Mozambique was formerly a Portuguese colony until, post-WW2, in a fit of compassion, the colonial overlords took sympathy on their vassal state and gave it independence. Overnight. In a week virtually all the Portuguese skilled workers and civil servants had left the country, creating a power and skills vacuum in Mozambique which would make post-revolutionary France look like a timeout in a football game. The inevitable civil war erupted and two leading factions warred for supremecy, RENAMO and FRELIMO. There’s a lot more to it, including South Africa’s own dirty dealings in Mozambique, as well as intentionally bringing in thousands of migrant labourers from Mozambique instead of taking them from the local bantustans, ultimately impoverishing Mozambique of skills and disenfranchising the local black South African population who might otherwise have found a lot more work in SA’s mines.

Put simply, Mozambique crumbled post-independence. Visiting it now, many years later, it’s incredible to see a population effectively squatting on the ruins of a once-impressive country. The infrastructure is literally decaying away, and if you can find an apartment block in Maputo that has been painted in the past ten years I’d be impressed.

The outlying rural areas flood in heavy rains, and outside of the cities most dwellings are palm-rooved huts dotting the landscape. It’s quaint from a tourist’s perspective, but for Mozambique it only highlights the oppressive rot that has occurred. Still, it makes for some truly remarkable scenery.

The People

The people tend to reflect the above a little. And that being said, my holiday was all of a week so perhaps I was limited to the “let’s fleece the mlungu for all he’s worth” crowd. In that respect, the people reflect almost as obviously a mercantilist ethic as the Thai and Laotian vendors in Asia. They all have the same hungry gleam in their eyes. Buying anything requires bartering and you almost always get shafted. In Asia one haggled over a paltry dollar or so more for the hell of it than any real loss, but in Mozambique, the prices are effectively the same as – or often more – than South Africa. Thus haggling takes on a far more desperate atmosphere, where both vendor and customer have very invested interests in milking the other for as much compromise as possible.

I loathe this rampant looting and pillaging of whitey, but I recognise why it exists.

The Holiday

The holiday consisted of seeing 3 major locations: Maputo (city), Tofo (beach) and Inhambane (town). As previously mentioned, Maputo is what one gets when one ceases any and all development of a city for several decades and allows it to decay over time. It’s charming, but I would never, ever wish to live there.

Following Maputo we took a ten hour shuttle to Tofo, an idyllic little beach spot, littered with backpackers, campgrounds and timeshare houses right on the beach. Put simply it’s a great place to go, if you have a 4×4 bakkie and all the equipment necessary. I might be biased due to spending 3 nights in a 45 degree oven/tent on the sand, sometimes in the pouring rain and sometimes suffering from sunstroke due to too much swimming in the sea and general beachness. After 3 days a bed was very much in demand. Tofo is pretty much ruined – and made – by South Africans. We flock there in droves, interspersed with a remarkable amount of Peace Corps bleeding hearts who come to Africa to do… something (what precisely they do is beyond me), but they stick pretty much to themselves and the South Africans generally be what South Africans do best: drink beer, braai and generally raise hell. The affluent ones flood the coast with 4×4’s hitched with speedboats rigged for deep sea fishing, quad bikes, trailers, everything. They spend barely any money in the country, as most food and supplies are simply brought with. It’s shameful, but then again, when foodstuffs and general supplies cost a metric crapton, it’s possibly understandable (rather save that money and use it for petrol to power your hundred-thousand rand boat and Toyota Land Cruiser.

From Mozambique

The beach

From Mozambique

On the shuttle to Tofo

From Mozambique

Lunch (the food poisoning comes free!)

From Tofo we opted to spend two days in the ‘port’ of Inhambane, which actually turned out to be my favourite spot of all. It’s a quaint little town with one jutting pier accounting for its ocean commerce… or something. The town itself is jsut as decrepit as Maputo, but still has a little more charm, somehow. The night life was fascinating, the town pleasant to walk through, and the accommodation slightly more comfortable. Not much happened there per se, but it was still a great little town to be in. I shall instead speak with pictures!

From Mozambique
From Mozambique

The dockside walk

From Mozambique

The ‘hotel’ in neighbouring Maxixe (“Masheesh”)

As mentioned before, this was a short, week-long trip with not a helluva lot of excitement, but simply seeing a new country is in itself awesome in its own right. Coming back home, I was very much looking forward to the ‘petty’ trappings of 1st world living. Things like hot water, a comfy bed, painted buildings, and vendors who wouldn’t take the clothes off my back given enough leverage. Nonetheless, it’s important – I feel – to experience places like these firsthand, rather then simply be intellectually aware of them. Visiting Mozambique provides unknown, yet essential, affirmation as to the evils of perpetual exploitation and war gone very, very bad. It’s developed it’s own character in spite of this, but resembles, to me at least, merely the scab covering the rather painful wound beneath. Mozambique is screwed, and won’t be unscrewed for a very long time. That, I think, is a lesson anyone who has aspirations of power and governance should learn.

From Mozambique

The border point. The people at the top right of the photo are the end of the queue (I was sorta in the middle)

Written by admin in: Africa,Books |

A Quick Jaunt With Hemingway and Realism

I recently finished reading Hemingway’s For Whom The Bell Tolls and I have to admit that this is the first Hemingway book I’ve ever read. It was a deliberate decision on my part to educate myself in some proper literature and elevate myself out of the murky and corrupting waters of political commentary, military history and paperback fantasy (long story.) So; armed with an arsenal of classics procured by my mother from the SPCA bookshop, ranging from Hemingway to Joseph Conrad, I started reading. And good God! I haven’t been this intrigued by an author since Tintin!

I’m going to avoid reviewing the book and giving an explanation of the story in detail, but suffice to say the book revolves one Robert Jordan, an American partizan fighting with the International Brigades against the Spanish Nationalist forces in the Spanish Civil War. The book revolves around several themes, but the most mechanical of which is the destruction of a bridge (by Jordan) at the beginning of a larger offensive by the comrades. Now, enough dry explanation, because it simply doesn’t do Hemingway justice.

What affected me most profoundly was probably the extremely descriptive style of Hemingway’s writing. The charm of it, however, is that he’s not explicitly descriptive, explaining the flavour of the chamomile tea which Mrs Puddlebottom sips lazily on the creaking wooden porch which smells faintly of cinammon… or something. Instead, Hemingway gradually and inexorably drags you along a development of character and story which seems both bizarre and weirdly natural. By the end of the book you’re left wondering how on earth such a small context could make such a profound impact on one’s emotions.

I think what impacted upon myself most about Hemingway’s style of writing is that he appeals to my sense of realism. There’s never any hint of some sort of hopeless idealism or drippy happy-ending. Considering the ideology of the communist partisans during the civil war this is particularly ironic! Instead, Hemingway lets you know in no uncertain terms the very real misery of war, and the probably outcome long before it occurs. It elicits a sense of resignation at one’s fate while still being able to indulge in deliberate and considered fantasy; that there is always hope, even if the reality of your existence is indicating everything but.

The book will leave you stripped of everything nice and leave you gutted, but you’ll be thankful for it, and you’ll understand in complete terms how you got to this point and why. Hemingway in this sense elicits the very fundamentals of realism for me. The calm and considered acceptance of one’s contextual parameters and the subsequent consequences your actions (and others) will occur. Moreover, Hemingway allows the realism a very deliberate portal into fantasy; into dreaming of what will be if hope turns into fruition. The notion that war will become a distant thing for the characters, and that love can be given the proper space in which to be enjoyed. But this fantasy is never given precedence over reality, and it always remains in cognizance thereof, so that the fantasy can be enjoyed all the more for its own simple sake. Hemingway’s writing, for me, allowed me to enjoy the high emotions of the characters in their brief but intense elation while still understand the very real and terrible reality in which they exist, together with the very real and terrible future which awaits.

Hemingway wrote none of this by accident, and I am glad for it. His writing has affected me profoundly, and I only wish that one day I could write at even a fraction of his skill. I still can’t explain the effect of his writing very well. It’s a hot-cold, quick-slow kind of affair. It both frustrated me immensely yet always enabled me to see the why of it all. It reinforced my belief in considered fantasy while still accepting the daunting reality of one’s existence, and not to shrink away from it.

Written by admin in: Books |

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