Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Last weekend I went to Maputo, the capital of Mozambique - a one hour flight from Joburg - and a different world. It reminded me of.... Rio de Janeiro, where I lived as a teenager. This shouldn't have surprised me, as Rio and Maputo have a similar colonial background, share a language, have a similar racial and cultural mix (although Maputo is clearly more African in some ways) and are both on the sea. It was weird for me, though, because I haven't been back to Brazil since I left at the age of sixteen (a number of years ago...) and the recognitions hit me on a semi-forgotten emotional level.

It's an attractive city, with tree-lined streets, crumbling Portuguese colonial architecture, and a long straight beach either side of the estuary that runs into the city's port - the beach to the north runs for more than a thousand kilometres until it hits Tanzania. The feel of the city is relaxed - it's okay for tourists to wander around, even on their own while carrying a camera, during the day in the main streets at least, and the hassle level is low; muggings are not unknown but without the disproportionate levels of violence that sometimes occur in Joburg. So, a good place for me to use my legs for once and generally decompress.

It's not so rosy in Mozambique for the residents, however - it's still a post-conflict country with a struggling economy, and the infant mortality and life expectancy rates are among the lowest in the world; GDP per capita is a mere $465, compared to $5,700 for South Africans and a whopping $43,800 for Brits. Education is also a struggle - the school buildings are enormous but not big enough - there are three shifts a day to get the kids in. A million school-age kids still don't go to school at all, and half the teachers in Mozambique have no teaching qualification. This is 16 years after the end of a civil war which lasted fifteen years - a sad reminder that it takes many years, if not generations, for a country to recover from war.

Above: wedding party in a park; mouth of the estuary; a wicker furniture shop spreads out near the beach; batiks for sale.

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