Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Two cities

The capital of Mozambique
It's been too long since I had liberal access to an internet connection - where to start? I left off in Maputo, my re-entry point to civilization. Here I stayed with an expat Brit, Jerry, who now makes a living teaching English to wealthy Mozambicans - and has a local girlfriend who was dispatched to come rescue me from a greedy txapela-driver upon arrival. She came in with a torrent of angry Portuguese and brought me home safely, to a spacious colonial apartment in the center of the city. With wooden floors and even running water, although the water only runs by virtue of a privately installed water pump.
Palm trees in the city

The first day Jerry and I explored the streets and markets of Maputo, dusty glory of days gone by, but much more lively than Beira in the North. The sidewalks are full of street vendors, with cell phone airtime and freshly roasted cashews. At the market we haggled in broken Portuguese for the most beautiful seafood I've ever seen.
Anyone know what these fish are called?

Over lunch and some Pretas (the local dark beer) we met policeman Inok, who wants some English lessons from Jerry, proceeded to introduce us to all his local friends, teach me some Shangana (the local language) and ask me out for lunch the next day.
Jerry and Inok having lunch at the Mercado do Povo

Later we were joined by Ines the backpacker coming down from Tofo. The beautiful seafood was prepared, and I finally had Mozambican shrimps! Supposedly they were served for free alongside your drink in every pub along the coast about 30 years ago, now they are a luxury good.
With Ines in tow, we headed out to enjoy another attraction of Mozambique, the live-band Karaoke at Gil Vicente's cinema. A spectacle not to be missed, with the full house band of GV accompanying more or less capable singers for their choice of song.

 In the following days I wandered around by myself, taking some photos of the architecture and (covertly, because otherwise they want money from you) of the roadside vendors of vegetables, fabrics and second-hand clothing. By the way, I saw where all your donated sweatshirts and sneakers end up, and someone is making a profit with it!

Orange and cashew vendors everywhere.
I'm really sad I never got to see a cashew tree though.
Where your jeans go to die

Nucleo de Arte: open studio and gallery
Along my wanderings I encountered, in an open studio-space called Nucleo d'Arte, the Mozambican poet Eduardo Costley-White. He bought me several beers and decided I had to be taken to the shop of a Zimbabwean immigrant at the - currently closed - city fair "feira". Extolling the virtues of Manica - another local beer - and of lesbian love encounters with African women, and under promises to send me a poem on a postcard, ECW then dropped me off just in time for me to catch a night bus to Johannesburg.

Interlude: border crossing
South African home affairs had me so worried. I thought I might get arrested if I didn't get my study permit cancelled before re-entry, I thought I might have to bribe and plead. Well, in the end it turned out it was quite easy, and while South African officials are far less friendly than any other African nation they happily stamped my passport in the end and let me through.

According to one of my fellow bus passengers, my stoic smile and complete calm in the face of being taken to the back office and having to wait for half an hour was impressive... here's to being prepared for the worst.

Johannesburg, or not
Arriving at the main station in Joburg in the wee hours of the morning I was properly worried about my safety, probably for the first time on my whole trip. All the fast food joints were still closed; I found from one of the cleaning ladies that an adjoint garage had about twenty little stalls in it which were already serving instant coffee and rolls to what you might call the lower class of Jo-burgers on their way to work. I settled at one of the plastic tables and made friends with the owner of the stall. He was a black guy, running the place with his wife, and was worried for my safety too. To the point of offering me a place to stay in case my plans somehow didn't work out! I stayed for several hours - and free instant coffees - until my couch surfer instructed me on how to get to his place.
GauTrain, just like at home, only cleaner

That place turned out to be far far out of the city, almost equidistant from Pretoria as from Jozi. I got the privilege of riding the brand-new GauTrain linking the two cities, so clean and safe that I wasn't allowed to eat an apple on it. Then my next host, just recently moved out of a converted nightclub, took me to his new abode: a farm in the middle of nowhere, Magaliesburg.

Is this view worth the commute?

The interesting thing here was that him and his buddy, both named Johan(n), are trying to go "off the grid", i.e. be independent from municipal electricity and completely reliant on solar. They had rigged up a whole system to run computers and speakers off the battery charged during the day, or off a generator in case of emergency. The water is also heated by the sun, at least in theory - the whole time I stayed there I didn't manage to have a proper hot bath/shower.

The two Johans constructing my bed

Pool table on the farm!
Instead I helped Johan 2 move all his stuff into the second farm house, relaxed at the living room pool table, ran around the high veld countryside. And for 4 days didn't really encounter any unsafety, or any big city things at all, until I caught the Shosholoza-Meyl train straight through the heart of South Africa to the Great Karoo.

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