For any of you who have traveled 13,000 miles in less than 48 hours, you know that the process can be a bit draining. Midway through my flight to Johannesburg, the captain crackled over the loudspeaker that we would be 30 minutes later arriving to our destination. I informed the flight attendant that I only had an hour between flights, and she simply stated in a smug Afrikaner accent, “oh, you won’t make it.” I was understandably not elated with this level of customer service and contribution towards solving my predicament. I was later informed by another stewardess that South African air would arrange something else to take me to my final destination once we landed.
Many of you know that I take absolute statements as a challenge. Once the plane landed, I bolted off like the plane was on fire. I ran through the terminal for almost 20 minutes, cutting lines at security checkpoints here and rushing ticketing agents there. In the process, I discovered that there were far to many shops between one side of the airport and the other. When I finally arrived out of breath like a smoker who had decided to get up and run a marathon without training, the flight agent said to me, “where do you think you’re going?”
“Hopefully to Maputo,” I replied.
“You just made it,” she wryly smiled.
Unfortunately, my bags didn’t. I was picked up at the airport, and the driver and I watched the carousel of the Maputo Airport slowly turn without my luggage. I reported the problem, happy that I had studied colors and random airport terms in Portuguese, and my bags were later flown in that night and promptly returned to me.
When I arrived at my new residence in Maputo, I found a palatial estate with 3 stories, a guard, and it even has its own ballroom. How often can one say that they have a ballroom? I met my house mates who are all very cordial and easy going individuals and then promptly passed out from all of the trip exhaustion.
My first day at work was pretty intense. A chauffeur arrived to pick me up at 7:30 AM and took me to the 8 story compound that I will work in for the coming weeks. I had 3 meetings, got a security briefing and all the while people were speaking to me in a combination of acronyms, Portuguese and science. I quickly realized that I have a lot to learn.
Continent 4 of 7
Have Ticket, Will Travel
Believe it or not, this was the only channel
that worked for the whole 14 hour flight
Living Area for my New Residence in Maputo
It must be cool if it has a mosquito net
The view from my office (you can see the Indian Ocean in the background)
Practicing what we preach!
Our esteemed driver, Manuel
With my mind on my meticais and my meticais on my mind
The first big lesson wasn't learned on the job, but right after work. A few house mates and I walked over to the store to get some food shortly after getting off of work. On the way back, I heard someone trying to get our attention from behind. I wasn't taking the bait, but one of my house mates turned around and started talking to one of the individuals. I couldn't make out who he was talking to in the darkness once I finally turned back, but as I walked back towards him, I realized he was talking to two cops. One cop remained silent while the other demanded to see our passports all the while with AK-47s slung over their shoulders. As my colleagues got out their documents, I immediately realized that I didn't have my passport.
Apparently, one of the laws for foreign visitors is that you need to have an authorized copy of your visa and passport at all times. My company failed to tell me this, so I just truthfully informed the guards that the items were back at my residence. I played dumb and pretended that I didn't understand any Portuguese. This just made him lecture my colleagues and I more slowly and clearly. Although I don't speak much Portuguese, the language of BS and "pay me off" is pretty much international. Having had the security briefing at the US embassy earlier that day, I decided to call the proper individual and summon the cavalry.
After 20 minutes, none of our allies had arrived and the police were clearly getting inpatient. The officer in charge finally said to us in English, "you need to come with us to the police station, it is time to go."
Fed up with this blatant attempt to extract money from us, I finally decided to respond.
"Let's cut the crap. You speak English, and I'm not going anywhere. She's not going anywhere and he's not going anywhere," I proclaimed as I pointed to my colleagues that were standing on either side of me.
"You can shoot me if you want, but I'm not moving," I concluded.
My room mate jumped in and warned me to watch what I was saying, as police man #2 decided to flash his handcuffs in a show of power. I ignored him and just got back on the phone to the security officer. Finally, a white truck with 8 people pulled up along side us. One of these individuals sauntered over to us in a crisp uniform with more shine on his epaulettes than General Patton. He kindly asked us for our passports again, and we obliged. He took the two other police men to the side and then started ripping them apart for harassing diplomats (one of my house mates had a diplomatic passport). I later found out that he was the sergeant of the Diplomatic Police. The security officer came over to us shortly after with an imposing Afrikaner associate and informed us that we were free to go. As the 4 guards walked us back to the compound, I apologized for the nuisance but had a feeling that that would not be the last time I would have a brush with the local police. What a night.
My house mates blowing off steam after the shake down
I finally got out to see Maputo in the daylight on Saturday. My housemate, Deb, and I traveled to the huge crafts market that is held near the water front each week. After perusing the wares for a substantial period of time, we spotted what we wanted and started to bargain appropriately. I talked one vendor down from 900 metacais to 600 metacais, or from about $30 to $20, for a cool tapestry and I was pretty proud of myself. The vendors would rarely touch us, but they would cleverly stick out their arm right as you tried to walk past in an effort to divert your attention to their wares. I bargained with about 3 vendors and each was very cordial, although perturbed, throughout the process.
When we decided we had enough stuff to carry/later explain to customs, we toured the city train station as well as the old fort. The train station was built by Gustav Eiffel, an architect most renowned for his construction of the Eiffel tower. If you look in the center, you can see the similarities between this building and the iconic French edifice. The architect also built an all iron house that was intended for use as a presidential residence. However, if you've ever been in an all metal room on a hot summer's day, you know that it's not the most practical material to live in.
We also toured a fort which was built in 1720 by the Dutch East India company and subsequently abandoned 10 years after its construction due to local hostility. This area was highly contested between the Portuguese and the English, but the Portuguese would eventually prevail over 100 years later in obtaining the land until Mozambique's independence in 1975.
O Sabado Mercado
Locals playing fusball
The white man has landed (and then most of them died of malaria)
A new white man (who hopefully won't die of malaria)
The Maputo train station
I went on an architectural walking/running tour later on in the day with a few coworkers. It was actually a Hash House Harriers event which is a club with chapters all over the world. Their motto is that they're a drinking club with a running problem. I actually trained with a few of their San Diego chapter members when I was preparing for the San Diego Rock N' Roll marathon, and they are a fun if rowdy group to be around. I just never thought my first "hash" would be in Africa.
Hash House Harriers Maputo!
Finding beauty in asymmetry, one of the houses on the architectural tour
Overall, I'm enjoying my time in Mozambique so far, and I can't wait to explore all of the other sections of Southern Africa. I'm hoping to go to Swaziland, Kruger National Park and Cape Town in South Africa to name a few future weekend destinations. I hope you enjoy the blog, and as with the South America blog, please feel free to send this site to a friend if they are planning a trip to the area. Thanks for tagging along, and ate logo!