Better than the neighbours?

I used to have a competition with my flatmate about who would be the first of us to get a donated item into the very weird – sometimes creepily so – window display of our local charity shop in Greenwich. (This was before the area’s re gentrification, when Greenwich was still full of odd shops. Two doors down, for example, was the hardware store, whose window displayed a prominent collection of dildos among the other electrical tools, and which was often shut for long periods while the permanently drunk owners were otherwise engaged at Her Majesty’s pleasure.) Anyway, I never got anything into the much-coveted window display – the peculiar ladies who worked there, made their disdain at my offerings quite clear.

But I claim my prize now. Today I saw a woman on the back of a truck in Vilanculos wearing my old grey Mickey Mouse t-shirt with the stain on the shoulder from where I once tried to henna my hair! Most of the clothes donated to charity shops in the West end up in markets in the developing world. It leads to some amusing sights, with t-shirts bearing various slogans and messages being worn by unlikely people. I saw one Mozambican girl sporting a “Blonde and Beautiful” sign on her t-shirt the other day and I can safely say that I am more blonde than her.

We moved out of our overpriced resort room and found a nice, sensibly priced place that luckily had a space because its previous inhabitants, a South African couple, chose to leave, complaining to the owner that there were “too many blacks staying there”. This is a frequent complaint, according to the owner, a Belgian guy who came here in 1993, a year after the bloody civil war ended.

We’re travelling to South Africa next and, in many ways, I’m apprehensive. We seem to have been unlucky with the South Africans we’ve met while travelling south through the continent. Most have been, in a word, horrible. There was the lovely South African family who gave us a lift from the border at Zobue to Tete, although they were black. And we met a lovely white couple here in Vilanculos in the past couple of days who are progressive thinkers and nice people. But, sooner or later, our conversations with other South Africans has tended towards subtle or not so subtle racism. There will be little digs at how black people are more stupid, untrustworthy, lazy, impossible to train, slow, etc, which is embarrassing to be a part of even if there are no local people within earshot (which there usually are). These are the sort of opinions that complete strangers would not engage you with in Europe or the US, but which seems to be a perfectly acceptable, commonplace opener among white people in Africa. Bizarre.

There’s nothing wrong with taking pride in the superiority of your own heritage or nation. I’m an expert on the subject of how it’s impossible to get a decent cup of tea outside of great Great Britain, and every time I get served a flask of tepid water with a saucer bearing a pathetic teabag – even though I am sitting on the edge of a bloody tea plantation – I am more than happy to remind people of this fact.

And I’m not the only one. Every time we are about to cross a border, local people are quick to warn us of the horrors we face once we leave their civilised nation. The roads will be shocking, we must watch ourselves as the next country is swarming with thieves, the food will be nasty and inedible, etc. Even in India, perhaps the world’s filthiest nation, we were warned about the dirty state of Bangladesh – on crossing, we discovered that it was, of course, far cleaner than its neighbour.

Vilanculos has been a disappointing stop. We went diving, hoping to glimpse one of the small remaining population of dugongs (sea cows) that graze the sea grass around here. But the water was churned up and the coral are spawning so the visibility was pretty poor, unfortunately. Now, we’re waiting in the dust at the side of the road for a bus to come and take us to Maputo. And trying not to think about the appalling road accident rate in Mozambique – more than 80 deaths in 118 traffic accidents in the past 5 days.

As we wait, there’s a busy (robber?) wasp we’re watching at our feet. The massive wasp stings a green cricket to immobilise it, and carries it to its burrow. Inside, the wasp lays its eggs in the cricket’s living body, so that when the eggs hatch, the maggots can eat the cricket. It’s gruesome but compelling to watch.

3 thoughts

  1. Please inform all of your safe arrival! Lots of love xxx Cape Town is meant to be safer than Jo’ burg, according to the decent Souh africans we spent New Year’s with xxxx

  2. Hi Gaia,

    Yes, my understanding is that currently Johannesburg is not very safe. Of course, you may well think that the preparations for the upcoming Football World Cup, that I doubt England will win, is appeasing the social friction somewhat, but, in fact, as far as I’m told, it’s more like an inconsequential veneer on the current social status quo. On the other hand, not only is Cape Town safe, there is also a lot to do there. The cultural scene is vibrant, and its surroundings, including the world-famous Table Mountain, offer many a chance for escapes that may well capture your attention within the context of your project. If you head to Johannesburg, I would advise you gather all the necessary intelligence beforehand, which should not be that difficult in Mozambique. The Best of Luck, Happy New Year and I look forward to your next posts !

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