Feng Shui

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Some time ago, a lady friend that I haven’t seen for a long time visited me. She came inside our house and after a while she looked a little puzzled. I saw her disapproving look directed towards my duck collection.

 

Before leaving, she asked me how was my relation with my husband. ‘Fine’, I answered with astonishment. I was avoiding asking why but she explained her concern to me anyway.

 

‘Do you know that you are wrong having all these ducks at home? Feng Shui says that it is ok to have two ducks. If you have more, you are asking for trouble.’

 

‘Trouble?’ I said showing genuine surprise.

 

‘Yes, trouble. That means you will have lots of boyfriends and male attention around you’. Having said that, she left with her wise manner, leaving me speechless at the entrance door.

 

I should have walked to the gate and say: ‘But the ducks are my husband’s present!’

 

What the heck! Or should I say quack?

 

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Cars

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I bet I would become very popular with guys if I started telling stories about cars. Don’t worry because I am sticking to my kind of tales. I just can’t resist telling you the curious story of a car that we own.

 

The car in question is a 4×4. It was brought new and had only 4 months of use when vanished from the street where it was parked. We reported the robbery to the local police and waited without a single hope of ever see it again.

 

One year later, Paul saw on a local newspaper an advertisement with an engine and chassis numbers asking the owner to contact the South Africa embassy in Maputo. Once there, a resident representative of South African police told that we should go to Pietmaritzburg to recognize the car and present proof of ownership.

 

The car was identified and everything seemed to be solved. The police took photos of Paul and Andy in a garage next to the car. Time went by and we never heard about it again, except for a phone call with the following explanation: the car was stolen in Maputo and sold in Durban to a famous drug dealer. During a night ride to his place, all his possessions were confiscated by the police including our car. He presented papers that looked original but the police suspected and from that suspicion resulted the advertisement that we saw.

 

After that explanation, we were told that the car was under court arrest because of the dispute between the drug dealer, claiming that the car was his, and the South African police acting on our behalf. They knew that we had presented enough evidence on the contrary.

 

From time to time, the same policeman called from Pietmaritzburg telling that the situation was the same because the dealer had lots of money and lawyers, not enough to get the car but sufficient to maintain the process in quiet waters, probably waiting for the right judge to get a favorable decision.

 

One day the calls from Pietmaritzburg stopped and we simply forgot about the car. Another 10 (yes, ten) years went by. Unexpectedly, on the 24th of December 2004, we received a call from the same policeman. He was asking Paul to come right away to South Africa to pick the car. “The judge has finally ruled in your favor! The drug dealer was killed during a police raid and there was no other reasons to rule differently.”

 

More or less a week later, Paul and Andy went for the car. They found it parked in the same garage, in the same spot. They drove it straight from the police garage to Maputo without a single failure. It speaks well of the car.

 

We found ourselves with a 12 years old car with less than one good year of use… and no bullet on it! Inside the car there was a lot of gangster stuff. No drugs. We like to think that we own a car “frozen” for 11 years. It has been in our possession for more than two years now, always behaving. It is stories like this that make us feel some affection for specific cars.

 

Corruption

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In what concerns Africa, one of the burning issues has always been corruption. It’s really upsetting that such poor countries have to deal with it. I don’t believe poverty can be explained by corruption but the sensation left in us is close enough to that consensus.

 

I’ve heard of cases of corruption before, yet I never had the “opportunity” of knowing one from so close. This is my “Tale of Corruption in 5 Points”:

 

1- Mozambique has to produce a new driver’s license similar to the one already in use in other countries of SADC. The actual comes from colonial time and is prone to forgery.

 

2- One bid was organized to select a candidate capable of producing the new license, operation financed by a major international institution.

 

3- Three different enterprises presented proposals on time: 1 overseas company that quit in the middle of the selection; 1 regional company, in partnership with another Mozambican enterprise, presenting a cost superior to USD 4 millions, for the production of 400.000 licenses during a period of 5 years; 1 Mozambican company with a proposal of USD 2.1 millions for the same effect. Besides, it was the only one presenting a model as a proof of capacity for the job.

 

4- As far as everybody involved in this matter was able to find out, the company presenting the higher cost was awarded. The “funny” part of all this is that the same company, obviously for not having the right skills to supply the documents, immediately contacted the loser and asked them to do the job.

 

This week, a specialized team from the institution arrived to investigate the matter. Once confirmed, it will be a major scandal in terms of projects which that institution funds.

 

This matter is starting to agitate the local press and a lot is going to be said about it. For me, it’s a definitive confirmation that corruption is not a word used lightly.

 

Borders, Germans, Dogs and Crowds

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Borders
If you intend to travel by car to Durban, you have two options in what concerns Mozambican borders: Namaacha or Goba. Because we know well Namaacha and mukerismo, the same phenomenon possible to find at Ressano Garcia border, we picked the second option. We have crossed at Goba before and it is always a pleasant surprise to find a clean, modern place, with friendly, efficient people. Why doesn’t Goba spirit spread to other places and services of this country?

 

After Goba we have to face African reality again when entering and exiting Swaziland, before we finally encounter South African efficiency. The only thing bad in this journey is crossing Swaziland because the road is flat (in both senses), besides it’s now in awful conditions.

 

As soon as we enter in Swazi, and to be true with his ideals, Paul stops to buy charcoal cooked maize. “Irresistible!” he proclaims. I really don’t feel like eating but having time hanging on my hands I start to pick corn by corn and in the end it was elucidative. Do you know what I found? Crossing Swaziland takes the same time than eating all those corns without particular enthusiasm.

 

Germans
It was almost 9am when we left home. Two or three turns after, I heard this comment: “Look, a German motorbike! Must be a German guy traveling all over Africa!” A couple of hours later, at the Swazi-South Africa border, we encountered a bus with German tourists seduced by the region known to be the best place in the world for rhinoceros.

 

Once inside South Africa, we stopped for a drink in a place full of German speaking clientele. “They are from Namibia,” explains Paul. While I was on the phone, he could follow bits of the conversations taking place.

 

I tell you that it is quite funny to be in a country where we expect to hear English and find so many people speaking German. I was precisely thinking this when a little Pug showed up.

 

Dogs
I am always amazed with dog’s intuition. Take for instance the little Pug in Bayala road oasis. He entered the restaurant balcony and came straight to me, waited a little, gave a walk around and came back decided that the safest place to sleep was at my feet. So sure he was that I could go for the camera in the car and arrive on time to take a picture of the little lazy thing still sleeping under the protection of my lilac wrap skirt. Having seen this dog only twice before, how could he recognize me?

 

It’s not the first time dogs surprise me. Six years ago I received a great lesson from a dog with the name and the attitude of a God. Unfortunately, he also had weak kidneys. He knew that he was about to die but we didn’t. Moments before he came to me and put his heavy head on my lap making an unusual pressure. Because I found it strange, I followed him and saw him go straight to Buba (the female) and check if she was in season. Showing a sign of tired relief, he went to a corner as if drunk. Life and death flashed in his eyes during the last walk of his life.

 

What have I learned from the last seconds of a dog’s life? That even a dying dog knows that in the last instants what counts in this world is the love that we feel. When his death was confirmed, I went to bed and cried for 24 hours. Since then I had to learn how to deal with this kind of situations, but it’s never easy!

 

Crowds
If you wonder where I have been, I can tell you I spent a couple of days on a South African beach. It is a place far from the usual summer crowds, situated almost 100km far from Durban. If you ask me what was I doing in such a place, I can tell you I was celebrating life.

 

Right now I don’t feel like writing about those days. Soon I am going to Bilene. Plans are under way for this weekend or the next.

 

Heroes

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It looks always like someone above us has the power to decide who the heroes are. My impression is that we are all potential heroes and sometimes the real heroes never are discovered at all.

 

When we live in a country like Mozambique we are confronted with amazing stories of sacrifice, abnegation and perseverance, stories of true heroism. I am speaking of what we can call “little heroes”, heroic people from the anonymous crowd.

 

Take for instance Alfredo. Ten years ago he was a boy attending a rural school. Though he was a good student, his family was in deep trouble. His mother and father were poor farmers and had ten children to take care. One day they called a family meeting and pointed out the difficulties they were facing and the solution found: the eldest daughter was going to marry and leave for her husband house; the second daughter was already married to a magaíça (name given to someone working in the South African mines) and, as it’s traditional, she had to stay with her in-laws; the third daughter had to remain at home because she was her mother’s right hand: the eldest boy was supposed to go to town looking for a job in order to pay for one of his younger brothers’ studies; the second boy (Alfredo) had to do the same, while the three youngest stayed at home.

 

After that decision, Alfredo came to the big city looking for a job. He liked very much the idea of studying but he knew that with a job and a brother to support it would be very difficult to continue. With the help of friends he found work, called his younger brother and started a new life. He was 17 years old and his brother 12.

 

Six years went by and his life has been always the same, working and supporting his brother that is now finishing high school. He couldn’t even dream of having a girlfriend but one day he received a wife as a “present”.

 

It was like that: he liked to talk with a young girl who used to stop by his workplace after school. They were good friends, nothing else. Even though he liked her, he couldn’t even dare to have those forbidden dreams to someone with such poor income and a brother to take care.

 

However, the girl’s father was already a number in the statistics of the dying with one of the illnesses devastating Africa. He was slowly dying and his concerns were the destiny of his three daughters. One was kind of married to a magaiça – case solved. The second was employed and could help her mother when he was gone. He called the third girl just before dying and asked: “Have you got a boyfriend?”

 

At first she was afraid to talk but after some pressure she disclosed Alfredo’s name. That’s why, one day, Alfredo arrived at his humble place to find the wife he couldn’t dream about already settled in. There is something curious about the money of the poor: it seems to be elastic and only this explains how Alfredo could feed and give shelter to another unfortunate soul.

 

Two years are now gone and the three survived the worst. When things seemed a little better, the unexpected happened. When Alfredo’s wife was walking at night near home, she couldn’t see the end of a cane and her eye was so badly hurt that she lost her sight. She is now 15 years old, and she was only 13 when her father “offered” her to Alfredo, right before dying. In the middle of all this misfortune, Alfredo, also a very young man, is behaving like a very responsible person, a truly little hero.

 

Mozambique has recently celebrated the National Heroes Day. There was a lot of discussion on the media about criterion. Maybe people feel the same I feel: in a country with corruption, incompetence and lack of authority, the common citizen is a true hero.

 

“Curtir”

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My weekend was mostly running-walking-running-walking. Seabell and her shinny dog Thoth are starting to be cardio fit. Seabell does 6km and Thoth is getting there. Walking in a beautiful place with a descent to the sea is pleasant and offers each day different perspectives.

 

I wish I could tell you that my weekend was all walking and running! Unfortunately, one of us had this urgent clam appetite and because of it we had to face a real adventure. It all started with an amazing crowd at Costa do Sol. It took us hours to get there, so we had ample opportunity to witness the major concentration of beer drinkers in the world. I have seen people go to the beach for various reasons, here there is only one: curtir. In order to curtir (enjoy) people of all ages have to drink a lot of beer. It is a huge crowd drinking almost in the middle of the street, without a single inhibition.

 

Finally arrived at the restaurant, we order the clams. Halfway our snack of clams and prawns, we start to worry about driving back home because it is already dark and the road is full of drunken people. Meanwhile, resigned owner Emmanuele inform us that sometimes it is even worse and can go on and on until daylight. Hearing this, Seabell suggests pouring rain as a possible solution to open a way out for us.

 

But rain is not happening and we have to opt for a secondary way to return using a dirt road that crosses a farm area around Maputo called Mahotas. The road is closed in the middle for works, and again we have to use a provisory via in the middle of a quarry and other strange places that with the settled night we cannot see. It was an unexpected form to end a very hot summer day. The rain started to fall moments after we crossed our house entrance door.

 

“Bordel”

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Sometimes I wonder if in Mozambique there are people insisting on the idea of socialism and working class supremacy. Sometimes I wonder if in Mozambique people fight the reality of different classes with different status. Sometimes I have proof of that.

 

Imagine the border always full of unemployed people coming and going from and to South Africa as a last survival resort. I am not even speaking of working classes but of a group that seems to grow at amazing rate and I call desesperados.

 

If you intend to cross Ressano Garcia border and you are not a diplomat (you can be a doctor, a millionaire, a poet or a scientist) your fate is to be forced to mingle with the crowd of desesperados for minutes or probably hours.

 

No one from the border services seems capable of solving this growing mess. Even if they don’t want to establish different treatments based on classes, at least they should distinguish business from tourism.

 

I crossed the border recently. I am one of the privileged few not having to face the torture but I witnessed the result of it on a French couple. He came out of the confusion shouting to anyone who could hear: “Quel bordel! Quel bordel!”

 

His wife was smiling, supposedly a victory smile. She had to have what I call “shopping motivation” to suffer such penance but he was revolted. When we crossed with them at the gate, we could still hear his voice coming from the inside of his car: ‘Quel bordel! Quel bordel!’

 

I don’t think he was offensive. He was just telling the truth. The border is a public service and people expect to be satisfied with it. No one can accept to be treated the way it is not used to, doesn’t expect to, and doesn’t want to. Cultural exchange has its limits, or else we end up feeling like we have been in a brothel.

 

My suggestion to the services at the border is: if you don’t want to face a “whites only” situation, you just have to organize a paid service. Those who don’t want to face such traumatic experience just have to pay for better conditions. They would be content and the services would have another source of income. As it is now the situation is a shame and, as the furious French man concluded, nothing else but a brothel.