Thursday, April 29, 2010

Pretty Polly on the Porch

Tour of Scotty's House

mostly in pictures.

The house.

Concrete, tin roof, a little on the dark side. Quaint for sure, but not exactly my idea of homey. Everything has to be kept in Ziploc bags because of the bugs, and you never really know what other creatures you’re sharing the space with: frogs, lizards, roaches. One night there is even a rat…yea…a low point.

At night there is a sense of security that comes from enclosing oneself within a mosquito net. It’s not a lot…but it’s something.

The kitchen.

Outdoor, and fully equipped with the finest modern appliances Mozambique has to offer:



Garbage disposal:

Coconut scraper:

Despite these conveniences, dinner takes a while to prepare. I am getting on Scotty’s nerves for being overly conscious about wasting food, but it’s just that…y’know those starving kids in Africa you hear about? They live next door.

The casa de banho

Also outside; Scotty built a seat for the pit toilet and there is a separate area for showering, and by that I mean taking a bucket bath with cold water. Bamboo walls, thatch roof. During the day, it’s really not bad at all, but I am definitely too scared to go in at night.

So I’m afraid of the dark in Mozambique. So what? Don’t tell anyone, but one night I took a bucket bath in the back yard; and on more than one occasion I may or may not have peed in the garden.

The porch

Screened in, thanks to Scotty and Jacinto’s efforts. [Jacinto is Scotty’s empregado, i.e. the…er…butler.] Scotty basically lives out here and it’s not hard to see why; it’s awesome.

Getting to Ribáuè

Day 17

3:45 am wake up call; try for a good seat, but by the time we get on the train it is already almost full. Wrestling with my backpack I realize just how much more stuff I have than any of the other passengers.

What does this place remind me of? India? No, not really at all. Why was that even the image in my head? Nothing…it doesn’t remind me of anything; and that is a weird feeling.

Scotty had prepped me for discomfort, but the ride is surprisingly nice. I wish I could photograph the iselbergs just outside the city – mounds of clean rock the size of tiny mountains – but the train is going too fast. The landscape shifts from city to mato [bush]. I think I was expecting more savannah, less jungle. That might be because of the Lion King. Wow…I really have no business being here.

There is a rush of commotion when the train stops. Buying and selling. In Namina, Scotty gets us some cana de açucar. “This is the good stuff” he tells me. “We can’t get this at home.”

I think for a second that he means back in the states, but then I realize that he’s talking about Ribáuè.



Get off in Namagonia; catch a chapa for the 12km to Ribáuè. Barreling down the rutted road in the back of a truck, there is a quick moment when I actually fear for our lives, but no one else seems concerned. A young mother sitting across from me smiles as she nurses her daughter.


Ribáuè, the district capital, has a paved road. Greg, another pcv, lives “in town”; we stop by his place to rest for a few minutes and refill our bottles with bleach-treated water before the hour walk to Scotty’s house. The walk goes quickly, partly on account of the sugar cane. Scotty agrees when I tell him it is like a Mozambican popsicle. A ways down the road the houses start to disappear. Scotty corrects me when I call this mato. “This isn’t mato,” he says. Then he points out at the mountain, “that is mato.”

As far as I can see, there is nothing.


Day 16

Scotty, peace corps volunteer.

Wake up at Scotty’s friend’s apartment: running water, shower, air conditioning. Easing in to Africa. The other pcv’s we met last night slept here as well. They seem really cool and sortof remind me of Grinnellians.

Coffee at Café Atlantico, i.e. where the white people hang out, and a bit of food shopping for breakfast. Later, a walking tour of downtown, a Shop Rite feast, a stop at the peace core office, and my first capalana. Later still, afternoon beers at Garretts and some fantastic roast chicken.

View of the church from Cafe Atlantico.

Nicest apartment in Nampula?

The Market.

This weird looking fruit is called atta. I think they call it "custard apple" in India.
Scotty and David at Garrett's.

Getting to Mozambique

Day 15

Deplane in Maputo; not into a jetway, just straight onto the tarmac. I follow the crowd into the arrivals hall and I look up to see a huge yellow sign – something about Yellow Fever. I’m already worried; I don’t have a vaccination card. I’ve heard you can get a shot at the border, but I don’t know what I’m more afraid of, yellow fever or getting an injection in a place with an HIV/AIDS rate as high as Mozambique [in some places reported to be 40%]. Luckily, my passport exempts me from the necessary shots. A flashback to the Middle East reminds me of the benefits of traveling on American documents.


Wait in line for a visa; they ask for the address where I’m staying. I just write Ribaue. I tell them I’m visiting my brother, a teacher at la escola secondária. Does that place even have an address?


While the officials deliberate over my visa, a Romanian man looks at me; he’s waiting too. We are the only white people in sight.

“What are you doing here?” he asks, in a tone somewhere between confusion and accusation.

I tell him I’m on my way to visit family, which I think confuses him even more, given my complexion.

“Aren’t you afraid?” He asks.

I look around, noticing the official sign hanging above us that offers a number to call if/when you encounter corruption in the airport.

“A little” I admit.

“I’m here for work, but I did everything I could to try to get out of it. This place is hell on earth.”

I didn’t say anything.

“Well, best of luck” he says with a smirk, as the border official returns with his visa-laden passport.


It takes nearly 2 hours to straighten out the reservation for my flight to the northern city of Nampula. There is a moment when I really doubt whether I’m going to make it, but eventually my credit car helps to clear up the confusion. Once the flight has taken off, I pull out my guidebook to Mozambique.

“So far as tourists are concerned, Mozambique might almost as well be two countries…the south coast of Mozambique is already established as a tourist destination… the north, by contrast, has few facilities for tourists, and getting to those that exist takes determination and either time or money.”

Great, I have neither.

“Any honest description of northern Mozambique is bound to repel visitors seeking comfort, predictability or packaged entertainment. Equally, it is likely to whet the appetite of travelers looking for an adventurous trip through one of southern Africa’s least-explored regions…little visited even by backpackers, northern Mozambique offers the sort of challenging travel that recalls conditions in countries like Zambia, Tanzania and Uganda in the mid-1980s – but exacerbated by linguistic barriers, humidity levels that reach intolerable proportions in summer, relatively high costs, and a public transport system that in places defies rational comprehension.”


The author goes on to describe travel in the north as “downright frustrating” and “a great deal of bumpy motion with relatively few highlights.”

Sounds fantastic.

I scan the history and culture sections, where I read about Mozambique’s brutal civil war that killed 100,000 people and the disastrous flooding of 2000 that left 500,000 people homeless. Finally, I get to the “Practical Information” chapter where I learn that “there’s a high likelihood that you will become ill at some point on your trip” given that “as with most of sub-Saharan Africa, Mozambique boasts an array of tropical diseases of varying degrees of severity and inconvenience.” I read on, cringing, as I make my way through page after page of gory details.

I’ll spare you the particulars, but I decide that’s just about enough of the guidebook.

Opting for some escapism, I pick up the novel I have with me. The Poisonwood Bible details the story of a missionary family that moves to the Congo in the 1960s. I make it through the part where Ruth May dies after being bitten by a green mamba, before I give up on reading material altogether.

I look out the window, then at the Moçambicano seated next to me, who is clutching both arm rests with a death grip.

Panic. Wait a minute…what am I doing here? What the hell was I thinking? I don’t belong here. Mozambique is the kind of place that people try desperately to leave, not the kind of place they go to voluntarily. Is it too late for second thoughts?

I look back at death grip; his eyes are closed, his lips moving slowly.

Praying? Doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.


Step onto the tarmac; it’s hot…really hot. I look up and see Scotty on the balcony waving. Okay…I’m alive; he’s here; everything is going to be fine…right?

Here we go…

Aerial views of Cape Town

Day 14, Cape Town

View from Signal Hill

View from Table Mountain

A Bedouin and an Easter Bunny went to the top of Table Mountain....
Sounds like the start of a joke, right?

The Pan African Market

Day 13, Cape Town

[photos coming soon]

Is this Africa?

Chris and I were walking on the beach in Milnerton, talking about when his parents came to visit him in Cape Town 5 years ago. His mom, he told me, had been surprised by Cape Town; apparently, it didn’t match the image she’d had of Africa.

I told Chris I was kind of with her; the Cape Town we’d been hanging out in – shopping malls, gated suburbs, bourgeois coffee shops, lots and lots of white people – looked more like Southern California than any image I had in my head of Africa. Admittedly, we spent most our time in the white parts of the city, but even so, I was often surprised at how American it looked. Somehow, the familiar-looking cityscape made the unfamiliar cultural aspects seem that much more incongruous.

I know better than to rely on stereotypes; and even if I hadn’t, the idea of The African City had already been thoroughly problematized for us by Ntone [editor of Chimurenga] early on in the trip. And sure, I can admit preconceptions of Africa were not at all well-informed. What was I expecting, Darfur? The Congo? I really don’t know.

Even so...I still couldn't get over how un-African it all seemed.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Change of Plans

Day 11, Cape Town

The old plan: Thursday, leave Cape Town, drive to Joburg [3 days], stay the weekend, bus to Maputo on Monday, flight to Nampula [to meet Scotty!] on Tuesday.

Total travel time from Cape Town to Nampula: 6 days.

The new plan: Friday, fly from Cape Town to Maputo, then catch another flight to Nampula [to meet Scotty 4 days sooner!!].

Total travel time from Cape Town to Nampula: 1 day.

Perhaps there would have been some benefit to the overland epic journey – a slow transition from the modern world to the end of the earth, but…well….I’d rather have the extra time to hang out with Scotty.


A lazy morning in Kalk Bay, some housekeeping, and another trip to the Waterfront. For Easter dinner we drove to Sea Point to see one of Chris’ friends from UCT [University of Cape Town]. It was super nice to have a home-cooked meal and allowed for an interesting glimpse into the microcosm of German-expat-slash-grad-student life.

I had very entertaining conversations with an ultra-marathoner from Joburg, who explained running clubs as an antidote to the otherwise complete lack of outdoor life in her crime-ridden city, an archaeologist from Oxford, who recounted the engineering challenges of removing rock art [cave paintings] from a crucial dig before 2011, when the site will be lost beneath a dam, and a PhD student studying the effect of media on teenage perceptions of race, who, quite candidly, told me that after 6 years of research on two continents, he’s come to the conclusion that he could have arrived at the same theoretical result after 1 hour of thinking.

All in all it was an interesting evening and not a bad way to spent Easter.


Day 8 + 9

We drove out to the country, to a small village called Barrydale, to stay with Nick [Chirs’s advisor from his master’s program], his wife Nicky, and their three kids. The drive was really spectacular – first through the Winelands and then some pretty dramatic hilly/rocky terrain. It was really nice to get out of the city, see something a little different, and take a break from Cape Town.

Nick and Nicky have a lovely little guest house in their backyard. [A few photos, below.]

Fyi, their system of renting a place in the city and owning a vacation home in the country seems like an excellent plan.

Friday evening we went swimming in a nearby river, then went to a nearby winery for some tasting, and live music. All in all, a pretty excellent evening.

Some photos from the river...

Saturday morning,a walk through Barrydale gave Chris an I a tiny bit of insight into Afrikaaner village life; somehow, even outside of Cape Town, I am still amazed at how strangely familiar everything looks.

Here's a photo of Barrydale’s “waterfront” a.k.a. the deck view from the Blue Cow, which is…if you’re ever in the area…an excellent breakfast spot.

The drive back to Cape Town was mostly uneventful. We took a different route – this time driving through the Cape Flats, where most of the townships are located. I didn’t take any photos because we were on the highway driving, but these are the areas that look…well…not at all like home.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The search for TRUTH at Prestwich Street

Cape Town
Day 7

Prestwich Street is the second site we’re looking at for our pod cast tour of Cape Town's forgotten places.

I’m still trying to get a handle on this place, as it is considerably more complex [and controversial] than the zoo, but here’s the basic layout as I understand it at this moment...

Prestwich is a street located in an area of downtown Cape Town known as Green Point. Other important things in Green Point include the following:

“The Cape Quarter [also known as De Waterkant, pronounced “Va-tee-kant”].

Home to Cape Town’s gay community, this newly developed few-block-area boasts a variety of upscale cafes, shops, restaurants, and galleries. The generic architecture makes me think of an outdoor shopping mall somewhere in suburban California.

The Green Point Stadium

Still under construction, this huge and impressive stadium is being built in anticipation of the FIFA World Soccer Championships.

The Prestwich Street Memorial and the Rockwell

Although it is not actually located on Prestwich Street, this memorial was built in response to a controversy that erupted on Prestwich Street.

Basically, as I understand it, the story goes like this: the place that is now Prestwich Street used to be a burial ground for the slave population of Cape Town. Other than oral histories, there were no records kept concerning this land and as a result, the identities of those buried here remains contested.

Several years ago, when a large lot on Prestwich Street was being prepped in anticipation of the construction of the Rockwell Building, human remains were unearthed by the excavation crews.

What ensued was a consistently-messy and sometimes-violent controversy concerning whether or not the development should continue and what was to be done with the human remains.

The “Hands off Prestwich” committee was formed by a group of Capetonian activists to lobby on behalf of the people who had been buried at Prestwich Street and their descendants, many of whom are part of the disenfranchised “Colored” population of Cape Town, currently living in townships such as Mitchell’s Plain and Kaylitsha in the Cape Flats.

To skip ahead a bit, construction of The Rockwell Building continued, and the unearthed remains were moved to an ossuary at the newly built Prestwich Street Memorial.

The Rockwell Building currently offers luxury condos and long-term rental spaces to the population of Green Point, although there is some sense that the very visible controversy did have a negative impact on the project’s economic success.

Ironically, the story of unearthed human remains told by the Prestwich Street memorial does not specifically reference the Rockwell site, but rather, tells a general and very down-played tale of slave burials, disputed identities, and the ethical implications of developing contested spaces.

Even more ironically, the memorial building is now also home to a café that sports the logo “TRUTH.” There continues to be some debate as to whether the memorial-slash-coffee-house thing works [i.e. it attracts people to the site so a larger audience learns about the story of Prestwich Street] or if it is simply offensive.

Refraining from judgment for the time being, here is a photo collection of the memorial’s not-so-hidden-TRUTHs: