Sunday 30 December 2018

Maputo - the people in the street

Maputo was the final stop on my recent tour of Mozambique. Regular readers will know that my favourite activity when traveling is to wander the streets observing every day life whilst meeting and photographing local people. Maputo is a great city in which to do all of those things. This post introduces some of the many people I met there.

Mafalala is one of the city's best known areas. Close to the centre it was built to accommodate African workers who were denied the right to live in the central area during the colonial period despite working there every day. The neighbourhood was to become an important centre of resistance to colonial rule. Despite being one of Maputo's poorest neighbourhoods it has  a strong reputation for art, music and dance. This can be seen in the many murals that add colour to the streets. It is also the birthplace of football legend Eusebio and of Samora Machel, Mozambique's first president after independence.

The people are friendly, welcoming to visitors and happy to talk about their lives if interest is shown. I visited twice during my few days in the city. On the first occasion I met Amina in the street opposite a small mosque. She was sitting under an umbrella, taking shelter from the extreme heat and waiting for customers to purchase fruit from her stall. I was surprised to hear that she is 85 years old. She seemed much younger and this must have shown in my expression as she produced her ID card and asked me to look at the date of birth. She was indeed 85. She said that it was difficult to make money here but that her son works in London and is able to help her from time to time.

Amina, a youthful 85, Mafalala
Shop worker and impressive biscuit collection, Mafalala
Mafalala has several shops including a long established general store. I went in to buy some water and noticed that as well as local products there were some very familiar items on sale including Ovaltine and Milo. People who know me will not be surprised to know that I also noticed a very fine selection of biscuits including Oreos, Romany Creams and a brand called Boudoir. I've not tried Boudoir before but they looked interesting. I asked one of the staff if I could take his picture. A little shy he wanted me to obtain the agreement of the owner first. Agreement secured he happily posed in front of those biscuits.

Many children play in the streets of Mafalala. Some of them asked me to photograph them. This happens a lot when traveling in some parts of the world. In India and the Philippines I was pursued by children wanting just one more picture sir. The poses the children assume are pretty much the same everywhere doubtless influenced by music videos and youtube. One small group waiting outside a shop were enjoying loud music coming from a nearby house. The resulting picture is perhaps my favourite of my time in Mozambique.

Friends, Mafalala
Waiting for the shop to open, Mafalala
Alberto, street tailor
Away from Mafalala, I noticed a line of three tailors working under the veranda of a now closed cafe. Tailors fascinate me. Despite the worldwide mass production of clothing, it is still possible to see them working in the street in many places. Theirs is a portable skill with relatively few requirements for establishing a business. I was able to speak to them through a guide who told me that they had moved to Maputo from Nampula in the north in search of a better life. As I was about to leave, a woman called to me and invited me to photograph her. She was also from Nampula and was cooking a regional meat and rice dish to sell to hungry workers.

Preparing traditional Nampula dishes
Maputo has numerous markets, all of them good places to see every day life. The pictures below are from different mercados across the city. The young woman holding her baby was selling vegetables at a large market on the outskirts of Maputo. The very stylish young man in the long coat has a stall in the huge Xipamanine market. At Xipamanine, after seeing my camera, several people came forward to ask me to take their picture whilst others wanted a selfie with me. I am often surprised at how many people are interested in being photographed. Despite the widespread ownership of mobile phones, there is still something special about standing in front of a real camera.

Will you take us to Brazil?
The markets also provided moments of comedy. Some of the female vendors enjoyed teasing me. One group asked if I could take them to Brazil in return for a photograph whilst three very confident women said I could photograph them if I first agreed to marry one of them! When I suggested I take a picture and then come back when I'd decided who to marry they were not impressed saying they'd been caught out like that before. Others were less forward including a woman sewing bags for storing vegetables. She indicated that it was fine to take her picture but preferred to look down rather than at the camera. Some gentle teasing from her friends eventually persuaded her to look up but I really like the series I took with eyes downcast and a smile playing on her face. Another woman, Amalia, involved in the same type of work, looked directly at the camera allowing me to capture her kind expression.

Vegetable vendor and child
Vegetable vendor, Xipamanine
Pretending to be shy, Xipamanine
Amalia, Xipamanine
Chamanculo is a short drive from Mafalala. The two have much in common with many difficult social issues including poor housing and sanitation. The warmth of the people is similar too and many of them called out hola or boa tarde as I passed by. I noticed Felix, Nelson and Milton sitting on the external counter of a closed shop. They wanted to know where I was from and if I like football - the two questions I was most asked in Mozambique. They told me they like English football but were keen supporters of Barcelona and Juventus. As with several other people I met, they asked for a picture with me and my guide before we parted. The little boy in the red t-shirt stood and watched my exchange with the three young men. As I was about to move on, he approached me and asked very politely please sir, one picture?. Who could say no?

Felix, Nelson and Milton, Chamanculo
Please sir, one picture, Chamanculo
Maputo is a seaside city and has some beautiful beaches overlooking the Indian Ocean. Early in the morning on certain days of the week, followers of the Zion churches gather on the beach to pray and to perform rituals which encompass both Christianity and traditional beliefs. On the morning I visited a young priest was also present, he is pictured below.

Church of Zion priest
Prayers by the sea
I spent just three days in Mozambique's capital city. I could happily have stayed longer. I hope to return one day to revisit Mafalala, Chamanculo and Xipamanine and to meet more people of magnificent Maputo. In the meantime, some more pictures...

Nelson, shoeshine, Downtown
Five minutes rest, Xipamanine
Idalia in pink

You can see more pictures of Mozambique here.

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Monday 17 December 2018

Ibo - Ghosts Of The Past And Hope For The Future

Ibo is a small island of about 4,000 inhabitants. The largest of the Quirimba group it is accessible by air and sea. Visitors come to scuba dive, to see the many different species of wildlife and also to use the place as a base from which to visit other islands. I came for different reasons, to meet the  people and to see the streets abandoned by the Portuguese in the 1970's, many of which have fallen into a serious state of disrepair.

Ibo airport
I arrived as the only passenger in a four seater light aircraft that took just 25 minutes from Pemba. The short flight offers spectacular views of other islands and the Indian Ocean's many shades of green and blue. Arrival on Ibo was also quite something as children playing football beside the runway interrupted their game to waive hello and a small group of women crossed the landing area carrying baskets on their heads.

The people of Ibo are friendly, interested in visitors and gave an enthusiastic response to my attempts to wish them good morning or good afternoon in Portuguese. The children are especially curious about foreigners. On several occasions during my few days on the island, I was followed by groups of school age (and younger) children who called out hola repeatedly. A few of them would try out a little more English, asking me where I was from, where is my wife and what football team do I like. They were singularly unimpressed when I told them I am not keen on football.

Flor de Ibo
Avenida Maria Pia
Abandoned building in the administrative area
Kiosk selling provisions
The island is small and I was soon walking amongst the abandoned villas and shops that I had read about and seen pictures of. Some of them are in particularly bad shape, with collapsed roofs and nature is beginning to reclaim them but others have fared better.

Ibo was once a thriving commercial centre with Portuguese, Indian and Chinese owned businesses as well as local merchants. Mozambique became independent from Portugal in 1975 and the new government gave Portuguese residents a choice. They could either adopt Mozambican nationality or leave within 24 hours taking just 20 kilos of possessions with them. The vast majority chose the latter and over 300,000 people left the country in just two weeks. One of the islanders told me that he remembered seeing the Portuguese depart. They packed their things, closed the door behind them and left. We miss them. Many Indians and Chinese also left, leaving behind locked homes and businesses, most of which remain empty today.

On Avenida Maria Pia, there is a particularly poignant reminder of the old days. Flor de Ibo was once a thriving grocery story. It is now slowly decaying, its green paint peeling away and vegetation growing on the roof. The owner was one Mahmoodu Haji Jacob who sold spices, fresh fruit, vegetables and other food items. Something drew me back to this spot several times during my stay. The shop retains a little of its former grandeur due to its size and the stylish pediment over the entrance, but there is something unbearably sad about it too. A terrible sense of loss. Sitting opposite the old store in the late afternoon I could almost smell those spices and see the ghosts of the former residents going in and out of the shop.

As well as a significant number of Indian residents there was also a small Chinese community on Ibo. Over many years, Chinese merchants visited from Macau, another former Portuguese colony now reclaimed by China. They came here in search of sea cucumbers and one of them, Hong Jan Irmao established a very successful export business from the island before he too left in the great exodus of the 1970's.

Following the dancers
But of course, there is still life here and during my stay I was to see Avenida Maria Pia street come briefly and gloriously back to life.  My stay coincided with a cultural programme arranged in honour of a visit from the Italian Ambassador. This included music, dance and craft exhibitions at the beautifully restored Fortaleza de Sao Jean-Baptista during the day. In the evening an open air concert was staged near the main street and several stalls opened up to sell food and drink. I spent a little time there and enjoyed the music but the highlight of the day for me was an impromptu performance by some of the drummers and dancers over from Nampula. They walked from the fort to one of the jetties where they performed a dance surrounded by at least 100 children who had followed them all the way from the fort, traversing the Avenida on the way.

Folk dancers from Nampula
Joao Baptista, Ibo's oldest inhabitant
I was able to meet several interesting people during my time on the island. Joao Baptista is said to be the oldest resident. A youthful 91, his birthday is celebrated on 23rd June every year as part of the Ibo Island Festival. His father was an official in the colonial administration and due to this Joao was the only African child allowed to attend Ibo's Portuguese school. I asked him how his friends reacted to this and how he was received by the teachers and other pupils. He told me that his friends were happy for him to go to school and that he was made welcome by the other children. As an adult Joao initially worked for the Portuguese but later became involved in the independence movement which resulted in him being imprisoned for a time in the island's fort - the name of which, ironically, he shares. Today he likes to sit on his favourite Goan chair on the veranda of his house and to talk to passers-by, telling them about the old days and answering their questions about his beloved island.

Bashiri Yusufa, silversmith
Sheena gets to work on another customer
Joanna, Moishes and Jacob
There are a number of craftsmen working on the island including silversmiths and wood carvers. Bashiri Yusufa told me he is 46 years old although he appeared to be older. He has a small workshop where he makes silver rings, necklaces and other items of jewellery, sharing the space with two young men who work in copper, producing similar items. I bought a few pieces from him and he was happy to pose for a photograph. He called out bom dia to me when I walked past his workshop again the next day.

If I am traveling for more than a few days I like to visit a local barber shop, to get tidied up and to see how this noble profession operates in other countries. Ibo has two barbers and after finding the more central one closed on a couple of occasions, a young couple helped me to find Sheena's in the village. Sheena is a serious chap and took a moment to understand my joke when I pointed to one of the somewhat bouffant styles advertised on the wall of his salon. Friends know I am what you might term challenged in the follicle department and the chances of me leaving his shop with anything other than a zero cut were negligible. He eventually saw the funny side of my request and I came away a satisfied customer.

One of my other must-dos when traveling is to try the local coffee. Ibo coffee is of the robusta variety and has a very strong taste which is perfect for me and I bought some to bring home. It can be sampled at the few cafes dotted around the island.  In addition to the cultivated coffee there are a few abandoned plantations. The islander who spoke to me about the departure of the Portuguese showed me one such place and it was here that we met a young woman carrying a baby who stood in the doorway of her home observing us. She smiled, laughing when I asked for a picture and was quickly joined by a second, older child when he realised that there were visitors. She told me her name is Joanna and the children are Moishes and Jacob. It was only later that my guide told me that the plantation and the house had once belonged to his family.

Much work is being done to revitalise life on the island. I stayed at Ibo Island Lodge, a beautifully restored heritage building facing the sea where a superb range of activities are on offer. The Lodge also runs several projects aimed at improving opportunities for local people including a Montessori English School, a silversmith's programme and a number of other community enterprise schemes. Several international organisations are supporting work to protect biodiversity whilst a small number of the crumbling buildings have been restored, one of them as an hotel. There are often complex legal issues relating to abandoned buildings that make it difficult to rescue them. This is a world wide problem but is especially acute here where much of the built heritage is at risk and where there are many conflicting priorities for investment. Who knows what the future will bring.

A few more memories of Ibo...

Woman wearing Mussiro - a natural cosmetic that protect the skin from the sun
Is he taking our picture?

I stayed at Ibo Island Lodge, a beautifully restored heritage building facing the sea. 

You can see more pictures from Mozambique here.