September 2010 Mozambique
The drive down into Mozambique through Ressano Garcia does a good a job as any at summarizing the feel of the impoverished southern African country. It is obvious that no words can ever begin to explore the characteristics of a people or the aesthetic of a country. As everyone’s individual experiences govern their emotions and perceptions of any specific place, only our own words can explain, and do justice to the things we see.
For me, a young traveler, fresh to the open roads and wide spaces of Africa, this drive seems to exemplify the inequalities, the ironies, and the feeling of everyday life in Mozambique. On a sweltering September day, our trusty set of 4 wheels, a 96 VW Golf, puffed wearily up the sloping hill from Eastern South Africa into Mozambique. The border post came unexpectedly. With little signposting the large tarmac car-park appeared from behind lush green hills. The growl of truck engines and a haze blue exhaust smoke greeted us. Following the few signs that hadn’t been salvaged for scrap metal, we parked our car and entered the customs office. The walk to the office meant a trek through the throng of desperate locals, jostling to offer their rates on cash exchanges, to sell their wares and to plead for a few spare coins. The desperation on the faces and the unceasing insistence of the hustlers made the 30 meter walk seem like a lifetime, and for once the inside of a border-post office seemed inviting. Inside the building the broken air-conditioner still hummed enthusiastically, contrasting fittingly with the completely un-enthusiastic border official, a middle aged black woman with an air of boredom and coldness.
Handing over the unexpectedly large sum of money for the visas, we were made to stand against a moth-eaten pale blue sheet, and look into the unfeeling eye of an old camera. Next our fingers were rolled in thick black ink, and pressed onto a piece of paper covered in unintelligible Portuguese handwriting. We received our visas gratefully, and were happy to leave the small plasterboard porter-cabin. Walking back through the throng of people, the noise of voices in Portuguese and English rang out, yelling prices, rates and offers. Although disdain for humanity is made grudgingly, it seemed far too easy to forget these poor folk's woes and much easier to focus selfishly on ones own tasks. Back into the car and across the border.
The road rolls down in a smooth long curve from Ressano Garcia, heading along the main highway to Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. The countryside is barren. The vegetation blasted day after day by the African sun hides meekly, and gnarled old trees occasionally salute the sky, looking pitiful and withered. As the road continues houses begin to appear. To call them houses is flattering; many are single huts, made from corrugated iron and other salvaged materials. Bullet holes pock mark these shacks, testimony to the savage civil war which from 1977-1994 tore this once beautiful country apart. The scars of this war are sadly and ironically most apparent on the already devastated housing, showing the price poor people paid to have nothing change. Many a local can be seen swinging wearily on crutches, paying the hefty price for colonialism and it's ensuing ramifications. The sacrifice of war was unrewarded; battles were fought in vain. Although Mozambique gained independence from Portugal, the result was a bloody Civil War, and the only consequence of the bloody civil war was the betrayal of a government; A government whose ideals were supposedly focused on the redistribution of wealth, the prosperity of the nation, and the uplifting of those people with nothing.
The barren drive down into Mozambique gives one time to consider the situation the people here live through day by day. The feel of the US funded highway is uncomfortably smooth, and one can’t help but think the tarmac is made from the crushed bones of the impoverished people. The highway, one of the newest and least damaged pieces of infrastructure in Mozambique must be maintained at all costs, after all the road is a very useful and convenient way to funnel the wealth from a country, gradually bleeding out the resources and siphoning the riches into neighboring territories. In the hazy distance Maputo is swathed in blue exhaust fumes, the noise of the city, where life and death occur constantly, drones like a hive of angry bees.
The road pulls you closer to the mass of humanity where people struggle, and where fortunes are made and lost overnight. The Indian ocean lapping into Maputo harbour, slapping against the cool rock walls echoes the fate of Africa. Waves and nations rise and fall, and as time goes on the Portuguese walls slowly erode away beckoning new opportunities, new governments and new tides. The sun sets beautifully behind this aged and worn city, the embers of the sun and the subtle changing colours give one a glimmering feeling of hope, that maybe the lingering scars of war may heal over, and that the people of this beautiful country will one day enjoy the fruits of their labour.