First experiences in Maputo

Mercado do Peixe Maputo

Bed bugs and making amends

Due to an unforeseen bed bug crisis at the hostel, I have now moved to another. Remember the wrong hostel where the taxi dropped me off when I had just arrived in Maputo? When I was rude and projected my stress at 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 apologize, I was nervous. Almost like a child. When I arrived I did my best to apologize with the few Portuguese words I’ve picked up but mostly I spoke Spanish. The staff looked at me, first confused, then they remembered who I was and laughed. Somebody grabbed my shoulder and said “Fica tranquila” (relax!) and waved it out of the world. 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 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.

theglobalentity new hostel in Maputo

Touring Maputo with Lino

The hostel is colorful and quiet, only a few other guests besides me. 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.

 

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 email: johnlinomusico@gmail.com.

Maputo opens up

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 where they talk and laugh in Portuguese, chain smoking cigarettes. The two young newcomers are welcomed like family and fit right into this group, socializing 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 they have spent a year in Mozambique working for some Brazilian NGO. When Igor and I do finally 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. 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.

 

the global entity touring Maputo
Prahna restaurant Maputo
Mercado do Peixe Maputo

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 on 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 and driving off at 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. 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 it’s 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.

A story of caution

One afternoon I find myself on one of the rooftops at the hostel together with Brenda. The sun is intensely warm and everything feels sticky. It is the first time it is just us girls, up until this point we have mostly hung out in party settings in big groups. Our conversation starts a little tentatively but pretty soon I can feel how we connect. With our words we travel through each others lives exchanging stories, questions and experiences of being a person but also a woman in this day and age. Mixed women, global, strong and often considered abnormal women. The siblingship I feel to this person is absolute. I decide to open up to her about what happened the day before Igor and her included me into their sphere. Something that’s been weighing on my mind ever since. A weak ago when I was out dancing I met a woman, she was super extroverted and we had loads to talk about. When the night was over she drove me and my friend home and we decided to meet up again soon. When the weekend arrived she asked if I wanted to come share a family day together with her kids and husband. Of course I accepted. To be invited into a family setting did not only feel safe but like a privilege. When the day arrives they come and pick me up at my hostel and we drive off to Matola, a neighboring city to Maputo. The whole day is spent cooking dish after dish over the fire. Friends and family arrive throughout the day, I struggle with Portuguese the best way I can and manage to have a few conversations with the help of my Spanish. My host, however, seems to be busy and I don’t see much of her until the evening. She invites me up to the roof so that we can have a conversation in a calmer environment.

 

The house is still under construction and there is no light on the roof except for one dim streetlight. As soon as we get there, she is all over me. Tongue down my throat, hands under my clothes type of thing. I am shook. Nowhere in our interactions had I understood that she was interested in me, or in women in general. I hear her husband laughing downstairs, just a few meters away from where we are. When my brain catches up with what is happening I take a step back. She immediately starts talking about how unhappy she is in her marriage. I just look at her, not sure what to say except for sorry. When I don’t really respond she changes her tone to a more seductive one, telling me how I am this and that. I feel fixated to the floor by her energy, a thousand thoughts running through my mind; where exactly am I? If I reject her now, will they still drive me home? Do the taxi apps I use in Maputo work in Matola? How long would it take for the hostel to notice if I go missing? When she kisses me again I don’t resist, not sure how to best navigate the situation. Luckily, the kids come rushing up to the roof and she pulls away. I take a few steps back and look at her, there is like a dark shadow right over her face making her look almost demonic. I look around, there is nothing around us that could possibly cast a shadow. I feel scared. What is this? Normally, husband and the weird situation apart, I would not say no to this gorgeous woman but something feels really off. I realize that the shadow over her face may be there just for me, to affirm the gut feeling I already have that something is wrong. I silently say a prayer, thanking my angels for showing me her true intentions and asking them to safely get me out of this situation. The shadow disappears. I suggest we go downstairs to join the others again, reluctantly she says yes. The evening continues and I try to play it light, socializing and talking to everyone. When we start packing up, she suggests what we should do next but I say that I have a date tonight and have to get home. Except for the music in the car, everyone is quiet. I sit in the back with the sleeping kids, constantly checking the map to make sure we are going in the right direction. When I get home I take a long shower trying to wrap my head around everything.

 

Talking about it now, in the warm sunlight, I feel silly. Maybe I hadn’t been in any danger at all. Maybe I was just dealing with a deeply unhappy person who did not know how to read that I was uncomfortable… When I told my mom about it the day after she immediately said she had a bad feeling from the start and that the thought of sex trafficking had come to mind. But she didn’t want to scare me. She reasoned that maybe it was just her own fear projecting. Now, I come to find out that it is not all that uncommon that tourists get conned into having sex with someone they think want the same thing as them, only to find out in the morning that the person wants money because they are sex workers or have taken explicit pictures/videos for extortion. Yohh. I don’t really know what to make of my situation. I think that if she was a man I would have an easier time reading it for what it was. I usually associate women with safety and sisterhood, to think that she may have had ill intentions towards me is hard for me to accept. It feels good to share this with someone who has been here longer, who speaks the language and knows the local context and norms. I block the lady in question on all socials, just to be sure. I don’t want her seeing what I’m up to, where. Then I proceed to ask Brenda about what it’s been like living here as a foreign, young, beautiful woman. I don’t think we give these kind of conversations enough credit. A lot of the conversations women share between one another is judgingly called gossip. I don’t believe people understand that that’s how we women build security.

 

Costa do Sol Maputo
risks of solo traveling as a woman

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