Sunday, September 26, 2010


Why? For the sentimentality
When? December to March
How much? Cheaper than you’d think

There are very few cities I’ve been to as charming or as bewitching as Maputo. For me the cities allure comes from the fact that it’s so foreign and so chic. For instance nobody understands a word of English, instead Portuguese punctuates the air every so often as if to reinforce that you are indeed abroad and cosmopolitan. Afternoons are spent on Maputos expansive sidewalks lunching decadently for hours on end. And then comes people-watching, the people of Maputo are indeed pretty to look at, much prettier than the people of Nairobi. Much.

Sometime in Mid-February when the Summer was particularly brutal, a group of friends and I decided to skip across the border for a weekend in Maputo – one long boozy road trip. So we swapped the oppressively dry heat of South Africa for the sweaty stickiness of Maputo. And what a trip it was.

As the Parental Figure I the group I was left to make the arrangements, they simply turned up and asked “How much?” We decided to rough it out a backpackers, Maputo’s most famous, Fatima’s Place. Now, anyone who has been to the Iberian Peninsula or any of their subsequent colonies will know that they had a love of grids. Maputo is no exception. The town proper has no official CBD instead they have long, wide avenues intersected by numerous streets that run perpendicular to them resulting in a grid layout. And in a serendipitous twist in Urban Planning most services are located on these streets – within comfortable walking distance.. Rather than being chaotic, this all works out well and the Kenyan in me gaped at how properties (even single houses) had no fences and that people parked their cars on the street without consequence. Fatima’s is located on such a street, the revolutionarily named Ave Mao Tse Tung.

Due to years of civil war and a flirtation with communism, Maputo looks like what you’d think Cuba looks like. Yes, the Latin American vibe is pretty strong down there. The Portuguese abandoned their colony overnight and almost immediately it fell into chaos. In fact a writer in the Mail & Guardian compared the city to an aging Hollywood actress. A fair maiden who was once at her prime, now slowly fading into obscurity but every now and then a glimmer of her glamour is apparent. A trip to Maputo is not without nostalgia and one can only help but wonder what it looked like way back when.

In terms of costs, the place is relatively cheap, I mean we’re still in Africa. The local currency is the Metical however SA Rand, US Dollars, the Pound Sterling and the Euro are widely accepted. Word of caution however, the exchange rate used by most of these fine establishments is inflated at best and barbarous at worst. What we did was travel with a limited amount of Rand and the rest we withdrew from ATMs -which by the way are right in the street!- the beauty of the ATM system is that you get the attractive inter-bank exchange rate that the Forex people could never dream of giving you, that is if you don’t mind paying Visa’s ludicrous fees at Kshs. 250 a pop.

Anyway we made it to Maputo alive and rolled in (by bus of course) in the late evening. We quickly found cabs and were swiftly whisked of to Fatima’s. the accommodations were adequate and we quickly concluded that it was value for money. The bathrooms are clean and the showers hot, always wear shoes though. Due to Maputo’s tropical heat, no beddings are provided, they do however, provide a mosquito net and a couple of fans to blow hot air in your face. Sleeping with the windows open is suicidal (if your European) but okay if you’re Kenyan since we all walk around with the damned parasites in our blood anyway. Like most backpackers, Fatima’s has a communal kitchen with an assortment of dubious flatware and crockery, and a leaky fridge. If you don’t have the money consider the self-catered option and remember to label your goods like a 5 year old child in kindergarten.

We however walked to all our meals. Up Mao Tse Tung (and the street is very long) was a bakery/ café/ supermarket that happened to serve mediocre pizza at near throw away prices (250 Mets) + they had a Terrific Tuesday offer going on. The waitress (or is it waitron) didn’t speak a word of English so we spoke in broken Spanish. Later on settling the bill turned into a sonofabitch! The thing I like most about Maputo is its walkabilty and the fact that cabs don’t cost an arm, a leg and testicle. We went out to Maputo’s premier club, Coconuts on Ujamaa Road (Av Julius Nyerere) that sits right on the beach. Swimming in the ocean –in Maputo- might cause one to turn a violent shade of green so don’t. Much like in Latin America, the Mozambicans were celebrating Carnaval that night, one last hurrah before Lent. All the beautiful bodies in town turned up and were in costume (think Halloween). Later on stage was a fashion show, headlined by drag queens wearing sequined bikinis. It was definitely weird in a cool kinda way.

If instead you just want to chill out head to the ultra-cool Dolce Vita on the other end of Av Julius Nyerere. The lounge spills out onto the pavement and is a good place to catch overpriced, luminous aperitifs or a late supper. Across the road is Mundos, another famous eatery that server decent but similarly over priced food. But our all time favourite restaurant was Mimo’s on Av Olol Palme. It’s one of those Italian style family restaurants that serve reasonable portions of food and attractive prices and much better than the bakery we ate at earlier. Never leave Maputo without over-indulging in their terrific sea food, Mozambican prawns are world renown and cheap. KFC is also a viable option.

But by far the most enjoyable aspect for me was soaking in the architecture. As I said earlier the Portuguese adopted a rather mixed-sue approach to urban zoning. Most people in the city proper live in towering blocks of flats with entrances directly on the pavement. The address system appears to be quite logical and people get their mail delivered to their doors rather than the post office. All these things add to Maputo’s unique cosmopolitan vibe. A place where wine is served at a Kenchic type joint(we eventually fell into poverty you see) and olive oil comes with your chips. A place where families walk in the evenings to the park and supper is at 10. A city where people greet others (even strangers) with kisses on the cheek. A particular favourite building is the CFM, Maputo’s main railway station designed by Alexandre Eiffel. Also check out the Museum of Art and the Natural History Museum.

Many buildings in the city were left unfinished after the Portugese left – they burned the plans in vexation but there is definitely a promising construction boom. Already, Maputo has an impressive toll road into town. Tower blocks and cranes now dot the landscape. Though it is not nearly on the same scale as its steroid weaned, petro-dollars fuelled cousin on the Atlantic, Luanda, Maputo has tried equally hard to shake of its civil war image, and its working. Today the streets are littered with designer shops, trendy ice cream bars and a bewildering choice of restaurants, some of them even good and like an aging diva, Maputo won’t go out without a fight, like Madonna. Yes, exactly like Madonna.

We Stayed at Fatima’s Place.
Ave Mao Tse Tung 1317-1321
Accommodation at Fatima’s is a numbers game. The more the people in your party the cheaper it gets. Prices thus vary from R100 – R150 per night (subject to change). It’s imperative that you book before travelling because the place fills up fast. Accommodation ranges from single rooms to 12 person dorms. None are en suite.

All nationalities require visa to visit Mozambique. These can be applied for in advance from the High Commission in Nairobi or at the port of entry for a nominal fee.

Note: Many fine establishments exclude VAT and service charge from the prices on display. Be wary of this and always ask, it can lead to severe embarrassment, that of the Chonga Viazi variety.

Caution must always be taken when walking at night. Stick to the main Avenues, walk in groups and always consul the locals. It is especially forbidden to attempt walking to Coconuts unless you are very drunk and very broke. If in doubt hail a cab.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Friday Night TKO

After two dull and absolutely unbearable weeks comes Friday, and here's how the boys and I are going to celebrate.

And yes, that is a suitecase and yes those are two ka-quaters of our barely legal pre-changaa spirits, Kenya Cane. I was in such a hurry before I left home I completely forgot to buy a couple of mzingas so the airport trip included an early morning stop at Nakumatt. God bless their 24 hour Capitalist Philosophy, to bad they didn't have the One liter bottles.

In other news, notice the comparative size of the Castle Largers.

Enjoy your weekend.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


• Zombie – Fela Kuti
• Tears in Heaven – Eric Clapton
• Viva Nigeria – Fela Ransome Kuti
• I’ve Seen it All – Kesivan and The Lights
• Lonely Woman/ India – Kesivan and The Lights
• The Hurricane Of Silence Was The Author Of My Tears - Carlo Mombelli And The Prisoners Of Strange
• Monday Morning in Lagos – Fela Kuti
• Requiem - Carlo Mombelli And The Prisoners Of Strange
• Shake Daddy Shake – Eula Cooper
• Potter’s Field – Alice Swoboda
• Do What You Gotta Do – Nina Simone
• Almost Persuaded – Etta James
• Maria Elena – Los Indios Trabajos
• Rien Ne Va Plus – Funk Factory
• Mandela – Abdullah Ibrahim

Obviously Fela ‘Formerly Ransome’ Anikulapo Kuti needs no introduction to anyone born before 1990. His music was as controversial as his politics and his innumerable wives. His music –christened afrobeat- was like the man, gutsy, loud and definitely had a giant set of balls. Viva Nigeria is from the 69’ LA Session – perhaps a testament to his more conservative, left of centre political inklings before Nigeria melted into a series of turbulent coups and before he changed his name. Later, as grief and disillusion gripped him the songs took on an angrier more threatening tone but one idea remained pure and unadulterated - Viva Nigeria, Viva Africa!

Potter’s Field is a fairly recent obsession. It was recorded in the early 70s by Alice Swoboda. It was neither successful nor critically acclaimed, and Swoboda quickly fell into the musical underground. For one thing it was difficult to class the sound, it was part folk song, part country western and some soul thrown in for good measure. The song is morbid, depressing and a tad self-deprecating but every note echoes with truth and a sincerity that can not be feigned nor denied. Her voice rings clear and deep above the whimsical and nostalgic guitar riff that mask homelessness, despair and damnation to a paupers grave. Nothing else matters “Coz the city is going to bury me in Potter’s Field”.

I coupled this with Eric Clapton’s equally haunting and melancholic Tears in Heaven written after the death of his infant son. It tells of a father’s loss and the fact that he never got to really know his son which causes him to ask rather tragically and with immeasurable grief of a parent “Would you know my name, if I saw you in heaven?”

On a lighter note. Recently I’ve become quite the jazz aficionado. Again is Kesivan and The Lights, the experimental but cool Carlo Mombelli And The Prisoners Of Strange and the legendary Abdullah Ibrahim all of whom are from my backyard, The Cape.

On CDFs...

Launching Our Community Development Fund

It was announced in the Daily Times, the New Nigerian,

the television, the radio and other acclaimed megaphones.

Today we launch our Community Development Fund

to complete the project the Government abandoned from start

for lack of funds; the Treasury looted overnight

by those elected to generate national wealth.

Dancers are back again from their holes, gyrating

in front of the Chairman and the Chief Launcher, millionaires.

The booths are painted bright in national colours.

In those days as dancer twisted themselves out of breath

to the applause of the Governor and his vast entourage,

we laid foundation stones with party blocks that dissolved

with return of Honourable Guests to the capital –

the budget allocation went with the civic reception.

There was no attempt to build what would outlive the builders,

and this disregard for afterlife was unfortunate for us

Christians and Muslims; heaven could not be gained here.

Today, as before, there are dancers to excite the chiefs

to pledge millions of naira to build their egos.

Always before new lords that rise with the fall of old patrons,

the dancers live eternally digging the ground that swallows

the Very Impotent Personalities. And after this launching,

the proceedings, the names of donors, will be announced

in the Daily Times, the New Nigerian and other acclaimed


Tanure Ojaide

This was one of those poems I studied in school years ago, you know the one that came from one of those ubiquitous potry anthologies with an obvious title like Modern Poetry for the African Child or Wole Soyinka's Clever Use of Satire -The Simplified Commonwealth Edition.

Anyway, now that Promulgation Fever is over maybe we can settle in to the task of Nation Building and finally put an end to any parallels between Nigeria's Organised Chaos and Kenya's Fuck-it-all philosophy. Ojaide's wry observations are none the less witty and broadly applicable.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A Rasin In The Sun

A Dream Deferred

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

Langston Hughes

A leading figure in the Harlem Renaissance, Hughes' celebrated poem gave title to the 20th Century's most famous and poignant portrayal of the black American experience, Lorraine Hansberry's critically acclaimed A Rasin In The Sun.

In light of the last Friday's Promulgation, I to dedicate Hughes' words to those who fought bravely and valiantly for our right to self-determine our destiny and to the 1,500 that died at the hands of our collective rapaciousness and ignorance.

May we never forget those who came before us, may their sacrifice be forever etched in our minds, may we never cease to dream.

Papa Was On Rolling Stone

Following their two Emmy nods on Sunday -including Outstanding Drama Series-, Mad Men takes on Rolling Stone in it's October issue under the title MAD MEN: Inside The Best Show on TV. All photographs are by the talented James Minchin II.

The show's protagonist, Don Draper played by Jon Hamm is flanked (from left) by the lovely Elisabeth Moss, January Jones and Christina Hendricks

An elegant juxtaposition of fiction and reality, the casual present and the elegant but not so distant past.

In character: The perennially dapper Don Draper

And we're rolling...

Ice Queen: The beautiful yet austere Betty (Draper) Francis

The delightfully voluptuous and irresistible Joan Harris neé Holloway

Credit: © 2010 Rolling Stone

The first Season of Mad Men airs on KTN on Tuesday nights at 10.05
Copyright © Man and Boy
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