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I killed a beetle for breakfast

Independance mural wall painting

It sounds pretty dreadful but in Mozambique, if you take breakfast, you “mata-bicho” – or literally “kill the insect”. The phrase comes from the sadly all too often uncomfortable feeling of gnawing hunger that many have here in the morning. It’s like a beetle in your gut, that needs to be killed to soothe it. This is just one of the peculiarities we have learnt as we have taken language classes in Maputo. Others include the fact that instead of saying the local word for “toothpaste” it is just generally known as “Colgate”, such is the dominance of the brand in these parts.

Life in the balance

Life in the balance

The breakfast issue is a daily reminder though that life is in the balance and many live on the edge. In our previous post we relayed that we had observed economic growth and development in the city but that most, mentioning the residents of a local dump as an example, don’t benefit and scratch a living.

Huelene disasterLittle did we know that this dump would within the next few weeks hit the world headlines as torrential rains caused the huge piles of waste to collapse, killing at least seventeen who lived under its shadow and making many more homeless. It made world news for two days.

And then the world moved on. The residents haven’t really though. Some have been put into a holding camp. We asked someone whose church ministers to the residents when they will be rehoused and were told “who knows?”. The tragedy continues, as does the dump.

Plástico

Huelene disaster No2.jpg“Quer plástico?” You don’t really need language lessons to pick these words up. You are asked every time you shop if you want one. And as you can see the dump has plenty of it! Therein lies a conundrum. This city needs a place to put its vast quantity of waste, a huge proportion of which is plastic. People can make a living by scavenging the dump, especially for plastic. But we don’t want them on the dump because that is unsafe, unhealthy and can kill. And plastic is a big problem especially in the city here and all along the coastline of Mozambique.

Any answers?

Talking to people here, including the church leader who wants to help those living in the area around the dump, finding answers is tricky. But it is not all doom and gloom. Recycling (in a safe way) and re-using materials is one option that some are already putting into practice. The potential for providing teachable skills to empower people and move out is also possible. Maybe some justice could be sewn for those living on the dump soon, but that’s for a future time and a different blog. For now its back to the language learning…

Maputo – a history lesson in street names

Marx, Nyerere, Mondlane – you say these names constantly in Maputo. Why? Because each journey you make involves negotiating a “Rua” named after a historical figure.

The following really is a drive you can do here in about 20  minutes.

Ave Fredrick Engels
Avda Fredrick Engels

Begin at Avenida Kenneth Kaunda, turn right onto Kim Il Sung and then another right to Mao Se Tung before a left onto Salvador Allende. Proceed until Eduardo Mondlane where you make a right before a left onto Vladimir Lènine (yep!), passing the British High Commission just after Ho Chi Min, before a left onto Patrice Lumumba, and go round Julius Nyerere,  finally connecting onto Avda Friedrich Engels. And you didn’t even use one of the Avenues that help you to remember specific dates, like the 24th July (Independence), 25th September (Revolution) and 10th November (Maputo Day).

The journey is a history lesson. The road names tell you most of all you need to know of the last fifty years of this country. Mozambique boasts nearly 1500 miles of phenomenally beautiful coastline, but for the majority of the late 20th Century this was a not a place many people wanted to visit. From 1964, in step with other African Nations,  the demand for freedom commenced and the fight began. Then, after 1975, the birth pangs, infancy and adolescence of a newly independent nation were fraught with conflict as ideologies clashed for some twenty years. Many died, many suffered and many were displaced. Most have a story of those times, and we have heard some already.

Downtown Maputo

That was then. The now is quite astonishing, especially in Maputo. The development and investment is palpable. Construction is everywhere; hotels, bridges, condominiums, shopping malls, banks and a new beach front are just a few of the outward and obvious signs of economic growth. Funding and finance are coming from various parts of the world, including the usual sources, but at least it is coming.

Maputo from sand

The discovery of energy products (coal and gas) have given a new hope of the prospect of a brighter future. That doesn’t mean to say that all is a bed of roses – far from it. You only need to read the newspaper, visit an outside bairro, talk to a few people or, for a “full in the face” reality check, see one of the two massive rubbish dumps where thousands are said to live. Not everyone is yet (or even close to) benefitting and Maputo is a very different place to the rest of this vast country.

But there does seem to be a desire to move on down a new road, one that might see the next generation flourish given the right opportunity.

I had a conversation with a young man this weekend. As a boy he literally lived on those aforementioned streets ten years ago, impoverished and with apparently no future. With the love, help and care of others he is now the manager of a small but growing business. But I was impressed by his ambition to not stop there. He starts university next month and wants to become a lawyer. Why? Because he wants to see  a better future for his country and wants to be part of the change. To see justice done and others helped. His is an ambition that is born out of his own history.

We pray that he will see that dream turned into a reality for the sake of his future and we hope that the historians who write about this wonderful country in the coming years might have a street to write about, a street which is named after him.