Vignettes of the Odd

Today I went to a supermarket owned by a South African man that had free espresso shots for his customers waiting at the checkout line. People lovingly had the most arrayed of items tucked away in their baskets as they enjoyed the luxuries of living as people with money in the capital city—leeks, fresh goat cheese, tortillas, flax seeds, and smoked salmon. A beautifully tanned, primed woman adorned in Prada and immaculately bright painted toes and matching manicure casually looked over the selections of tofu. Smoked, fresh, or low fat? There I sat, mentally tucked in my delirium as I thought to myself, “Where am I? Because I’m certainly not in Moçambique!”

A woman collects mangoes from her tree next to her house made of straw with no solid floor to sleep on other than the floor of the earth itself. “Look at all these beautiful mangoes! Yes, this is certainly going to be a good holiday season,” she says to me. Yes, indeed it will be a good holiday season for her as a woman whose luxuries of life include securing for herself a basic meal of ground corn that she picked that morning alongside the equivalent of a 2-teaspoon serving size of green leaves for vegetables if she’s lucky. Her clothes are too small, too sun-washed, too torn, too old, too battered, too everything. Yet still, look at those mangoes! Her one mango tree outside my house is her sole source of income, the only means she has to acquire any money imaginable. She is not concerned about tofu, flax seeds, and smoked salmon, nor is she concerned about how she wishes both her manicure and pedicure be done in the brightest of turquoise colors. This has to be Mozambique.

She tells me, “People are going to the house because of the rat poison.” The what? Rat poison? As I sit quietly on my straw mat in one of the only shaded parts outside of my house, I see a screaming, chanting, and energized crowd barge down the road. I put my book down in silence, still unsure what to say and what is going on. Chanting. Singing. Praising. Yelling. My Portuguese stammers as my ability to comprehend is doubted. What about rat poison? Fire? What does this have to do with fire? Another neighbor of mine was tragically killed by another one of my neighbors less than 10 houses down. Rat poison was put into his beer, and he died tragically. He was 24. In an angry daze, my neighbors and locals in the market formed a riot and burned down all the straw houses of the alleged suspect who committed the crime. All the houses: burned. The concrete house to which the family was building: crushed to the ground with sledgehammers and hoes. After the burning, a woman, the mother of the household, sits in sheer depression, stirring her night’s dinner on a fire underneath a piece of tin she lodged against an existing wall that was left intact. She had nowhere to sleep. Everything was destroyed.

“Come on, Mims, just wait for me and we’ll head to Xai-Xai together,” says my neighbor and good friend. I sit under the shaded tree, waiting for her and absolutely loving that she already calls me “Mims,” just like how my friends do in the states. We go to the side of the road and wait for a chapa, or public mode of transportation in a vehicle that most resembles an American van. The chapa comes. People rush from all ends of the road and lunge their bodies into this tightly packed sardine box car, and in these moments I think it impossible that this large of an amount of human mass should fit into this space without defying some law of physics. No. Way. Am. I. Fitting. Myself. Into. This. Chapa. What happened? Yup, of course: I put myself into the chapa. As I lie across the top row of passengers, three Mozambicans squeeeeeeeeeze themselves into the car, and suddenly, I find myself, there, lying across a row of people, with three more people squished in between my legs. I stop and think that this is what it must be like to give birth—spread out across a bed (of people, that is), with not only one, but three, count them three, people coming out from in between my legs. Hilarious. Mozambique is just hilarious.

“Eu tenho direito de ficar e dormir com dez mulheres!” he screams. He what? Oh, he says he has the right to sleep with ten women at once. While I worry about the three sprouting bodies lodged between my legs as I slowly sink into a bed of human comforter in a moving sardine can, I think to myself out loud, “oh, Moçambique, you hilarious, hilarious country.” Men agree with him. Turns out, according to the democratic vote in the chapa, he does have the right, as a Mozambican man, to sleep with and date more than ten women. Is this Mozambique? What do the other men have to say?

“Mi-Mi, you know why women need to be guided by men? Why women are submissive and why they need to be taken care of? Why the man is stronger than the woman?” “I’ll tell you,” says a 26 year old most condescendingly. “Women,” he continues, “have 43 chromosomes and men 48, so women are genetically inferior and have less developed brains.” It’s times like this where I wish to have been born with perfect abilities to express, pronounce, and articulate every thought and sound in the Portuguese language. Clearly, men have some guidance, strength, and protection to provide for their fragile women.

Wait, though. I remove the box from the corner of my room in my straw and concrete house with windows that don’t shut and doors whose cracks at the bottoms aren’t really cracks; they’re wide tunnel openings for insects and large bugs with a sign above that says, “Vacant with free lodging”. I jump back and see a most upset scorpion perked and ready for battle. Oh dear. Should I kill it? No, it’s too big. That would be too messy and logistically terrifying. Ok, plan b. Put a bowl over it. Whew, situation under control. Wait. That’s scary. It’s obviously still there. Didn’t your mother tell you never to put a band-aid on a problem that requires a surgeon? Well, mine did. Ok, work up the courage. Yes, courage worked up. Portuguese 501 Verb book goes scorpion killer tool. In one fowl swoop “whack!” It’s dead. Finally, the terror is quelled. This place is terrifying.

SMS text: “PCVs in Gaza should pack emergency bags and prepare to evacuate to Maputo due to flooding.” O que? What? I’m going where? We’re doing what? Terror ensues yet again. Tens of thousands of people go misplaced. Large, main roads connecting the country and cities get cut off. Landlocked cities become conceptual islands with no promising means of transporting food and vital items as larger, more supplied cities get cut off due to flooding. Cities and valleys providing agricultural products watch their corn turn brown and die. Farms turn into oceans. Although hoes were once the main tools to maintain the land, hoes are now replaced with boats as people search around scrounging for whatever they can. Fifteen thousand crocodiles go loose from a South African farm and swim out into the main river flooding the surrounding areas of where I live in Mozambique. Crocodiles. Scorpions. Chromosomally defected women. Cheating men. Transportation. Riots. Poison. Mangoes. Tofu. Turquoise-colored manicures and pedicures. Poverty. Sun. Shade trees. Life. Service. Teaching. Attempting to love. Peace. Hope. Thought. Is this Moçambique?

Não sei. I just don’t know. Still, within the ins-and-outs of the lives of others and the encapsulated hilarity and vignettes of the odd, I just stand with my jaw wide open thinking about the richness of this country and the distinct situations of life I’ve been fortunate enough to experience here. “Where am I?” I think. “I’m certainly in Mozambique,” I think again, yet what this place is or could be for the next year is beyond my understanding. Welcome to life in Moçambique.

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