Bed Bugs and Beyond: A Stumbling New Beginning in Mozambique

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The Global Entity
e25s1 Bed Bugs and Beyond: A Stumbling New Beginning in Mozambique
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From Crisis to Comfort: a New Hostel in Maputo

Due to an unforeseen bed bug crisis at the hostel, I have now moved to another. The only other hostel/backpackers that exists in Maputo, to my knowledge. Do you remember the wrong hostel where the taxi dropped me off when I had just arrived in Maputo? When I was rude and projected all my stress on the staff? Yup! That’s the one! Apparently Fatima’s Backpackers is the only other hostel in all of Maputo so I had to go back, tail between my legs and ask for help.

Even though a part of me was relieved to be able to do so, go back and apologise, I was nervous. Almost like a child. When I arrived I did my best to apologise with the few Portuguese words I’ve picked up but mostly I spoke Spanish. The staff looked at me, first confused, then I could see how they placed who I was and started to laugh. Somebody grabbed my shoulder and said “Fica tranquila!” (Relax!) and waved it out of the world.

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The hostel cat, Batique, at my new home in Maputo: Fatimas Backpackers!

Next came my other mission, getting them to give me a bed despite the risk of bed bugs I may or may not carry with me. Senhor Agostinho, the manager, looked at me and my many suitcases and bags a long time before he sternly said okay. But I would have to stay alone in a room for a few nights and he demanded to disinfect the room for at least three days… With what exactly I have no clue, I was just relieved. Here was a guy with a plan! And a poison! In this specific context, I could not ask for more.

I don’t blame the first hostel for getting the bed bugs, it is a part of hostel life and I know for a fact the cleaning ladies there work tirelessly to keep it spotless and fresh. However, when this happened the owner was away and the present staff had no clue how to handle it. I did not want my things mixed up with the things of the bed bug room so I left before they had the chance to put them together.

Local Insights: A Day with Lino in Maputo

The hostel is colorful and quiet, only a few other guests besides me are staying there currently. I mostly hang out with the hostel cat, Batique, who now follows me around even to the toilet. I’m not complaining though, he is super cute!

My strength has returned and one day I can feel it, I am ready to meet Maputo! Not having done any research about the city, I am clueless of where to start. Lino, the receptionist/bartender at the hostel, offers to take me on a tour of the city the next day. I feel relieved! I can’t imagine a better way to discover a new place than alongside a local.

We start bright and early but Maputo is already running hot! We walk from Avenida Mao Tse Tung to Casa de Ferro, a three-story house built entirely out of iron. I can’t even imagine how hot it becomes inside during summer! It must be like being in an oven… most certainly a foreign idea from somebody without enough local knowledge of the climate here.

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Next we make a stop at the Tunduru Botanical Gardens, Mozambique’s biggest botanical garden. It is beautiful albeit a little rundown. We walk around talking about life in Mozambique and the tourism industry post pandemic. Suddenly we are surrounded by something that are either moths or butterflies… I’m not entirely sure what they are but I feel like I’m in the middle of a Disney production, they are everywhere! And so is a sound that I can’t really place, it’s not birds but something similar.

As we continue our walk in the garden the sound grows louder and louder until it’s almost hard to talk. I look up and there they are: hundreds and hundreds of bats! Most of them are hanging from the trees but some are flying around. The constant movement of the bats hanging in the trees makes the trees look like something from a fantasy movie. I am both fascinated and horrified! Never have I been able to see so many of them. In broad daylight too. To finish the tour, Lino takes me to Mercado do Povo, meaning the peoples market. I love markets like this! It is filled with vendors, people and smoke from the grills. In the middle, under a huge tree, are all the food vendors. We eat some of the best frango assado, roasted chicken, that I have ever tasted.

After the tour I feel confident enough to find my way back to the hostel on my own. I say goodbye to my guide Lino, who has to commute back home and return again before his next night shift starts at the hostel. I don’t understand how he finds the energy but it seems to be the way most working Mozambicans live, with several jobs under their belt. I can warmly recommend taking a city tour with Lino! Easiest way to contact him is through his instagram or send us an email and we will help connect you.

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Awkward backpacker relations

When I get back to the hostel I am exhausted. I decide to do what I’ve been doing ever since I arrived at this hostel: lie down on one of the rooftops and tan while listening to a book on BookBeat. Every day between four and five in the afternoon I’ve been doing the same thing, the sun is still warm but won’t burn you silly. I know tanning is bad for the health, but right now it feels very good to my soul. This day in particular, I decided to let my boobs see some light too. There is not a soul besides me at the hostel and the staff rarely comes up here so I feel safe to do it without breaking any cultural norms. Not that I know what the norms on toplessness is here in Mozambique, but I assume it is less liberal than in Sweden where I grew up. 

An hour goes by and I am deeply lost in the narrative of the book I’m listening to. Suddenly I feel there is movement, I open my eyes and see a young man pass me by. We lock eyes just as he comes up the stairs, both equally startled by the other’s presence. Or perhaps I’m the one who is startled by his presence, he is more likely startled by my nakedness that I quickly try to cover up. We mumble something to each other and he goes to the other side of the rooftop with his back towards me. Ugh, how awkward! He seemed so uncomfortable, poor guy. I spent the next two days trying to avoid eye contact with him and his travel companion. They are both my age and seem to feel right at home at this hostel.

Every evening the older generation at the hostel gather around a table, in the outside bar area, where they talk and laugh in Portuguese, chain smoking cigarettes. The two young newcomers are welcomed like family and fit right into this group, socialising and laughing. It looks nice. I decide then and there to get over my embarrassment and make an effort to introduce myself. I catch the girl first, it feels easier… Her name is Brenda and she tells me that she and her friend Igor, the one I startled, have spent a year in Mozambique working for some Brazilian NGO.

When Igor and I finally do talk we both laugh at the naked incident. He tells me that he had tried to avoid me after so that I wouldn’t feel uncomfortable thinking he was creeping on me. Imagine that! A man understanding the many security dilemmas women go through and adapting to give space and freedom. Who would have known! This is where everything changes for me. My isolation and recovery time is over.

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Maputo through the Brazilians eyes

What happens next can most accurately be described as Brenda and Igor taking me by the hand and opening up all of Maputo right in front of me. They introduce me to everyone and anyone that they’ve made friends with during their year here. It feels wonderful! Maputo is beautiful by day but absolutely vibrant by night. Everyone is gorgeous, kind and inclusive.

The first time we go out together, they take me to Prahna, a restaurant with walls completely in orange and yellow, next to Rua d’Arte. First there is just a few of us but eventually we are around twenty-five people. The Portuguese is flowing all around me and I sit back and enjoy the vibe. I have enough of a hard time understanding Portuguese when I’m sober. With one cup of wine in my body, in combination with the loud environment, it is absolutely impossible. It doesn’t matter though, I’m just happy to be here.

I notice how everyone who comes in to join the group says hi to everyone and make sure to introduce themselves to the newcomer, me. That never happens in Sweden when the group setting is so big. It takes me a while to realize that not everyone here knows each other very well, their way of interacting makes me think they are all best of friends. I try to remember their names as they introduce themselves but when the sixth person comes up with another, to me, never-heard-before, Portuguese name, I give up. I apologize when I realize I’ve asked the same person for their name three times, he just laughs and says “In time, you know us all!”, letting me know that I am welcome here, in this group.

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The next few days I get to see what Maputo is really about. It is a whole lot bigger than the four walls of the hostels I’ve been hiding in! One day, Igor invites us to Mercado do Peixe, a huge fish and shellfish market with loads of restaurants. We take the xiapa there; equivalent to Durban’s taxi system, Maputo’s public transport is dependent on the hundreds and hundreds of worn down minibuses driving around like crazy.

It is my first time taking one here and I am very glad I’m not alone. Before I know it, the bus is so full I can’t even see out of the window. The cobrador, the guy who charges the bus fare and sees to who needs to come on and off, keeps pushing people onto the bus even though I think it will burst at any second. It must look ridiculous from the outside, loads of butts hanging out the window. When Igor lets me know it’s our time to get off, almost the entire bus needs to get off in order to let us out. I stumble onto the street and before I have collected myself, everyone is inside the bus again driving off in a hurried speed.

My group of people look at my shocked expression, laugh and say “Mozambique!” while shrugging their shoulders. Before we even enter the market, Igor is bartering the price with a lady who wants us to eat at a specific vendor that she gets commission from. As soon as we enter the market every vendor turns their attention towards us, yelling out their prices and offers. We are the only guests there, the energy is intense and once again I am so grateful to be here with people who know how it’s done and how the system works.

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When we sit down at a table everything calms down, but the procedure starts up again every time a new guest enters the market. There are so many vendors. I keep thinking if the market is always this empty or if it is a consequence of the pandemic. The prices at Mercado do Peixe are tourist prices and the international and national tourism has not picked up yet to the extent it was before the pandemic. There is an air of desperation every time a new possible client walks into the market.

The food arrives after a good whole hour but it was well worth the wait. It’s a feast! Plate after plate comes out overflowing with fish, shrimps, rice, fries and the best thing of all: salad! After three months in South Africa, where you don’t really have the custom of eating salad, arriving here in Mozambique where salad comes with every meal feels like a luxury. The rest of the afternoon we spend at the beach.

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