Of Solitude and Elephant Fetuses

Winter has arrived in Maputo.

It sneaked in whilst nobody was looking and took everyone by surprise. Suddenly, it is too cold to go out in the evening without an extra layer or two (although twerking can remedy this…), people no longer sweat it out in jeans at midday, and a duvet is surprisingly welcome at night when the temperature drops.

Unfortunately, this weekend was kicked off by heavy rain and a cold breeze which didn’t shift until late on Saturday afternoon. Maputo doesn’t like the cold but it really hates rain. The streets lie empty of people but for the most persistent hawkers, who stand around morosely dressed only in shorts and flipflops with plastic bags tied to their head.

Considering the precarious living conditions of the vast majority of people in Maputo, it is easy to see why rain dampens the spirits of the usually buoyant Mozambicans. Rain means leaks in corrugated iron roofs, it means damp clothes, damp blankets, endlessly cold, wet feet as you trudge through the rain in flip flops and sandals. It means colds and the flu. It means worrying about wheezing grandparents and feverish children, and all the medical bills you can’t pay. Rain is as bad for business as it is bad for the health.

Accordingly, the city has been peculiarly quiet this weekend. Bars and restaurants stood empty and parties drew a small, albeit dedicated crowd.

The weather seemed to coincide with a lull of my own.

After the whirl-wind of the first month, what was novel is becoming normal, and I find myself craving some structure and routine and the regular company of friends. I want to feel myself settling in now that the ‘honey-moon’ phase is coming to an end.

And so, sick of being confined to the flat on my own, I went to the natural history museum on Saturday afternoon.

The building is manueline in style, resembling a large, frilly wedding cake – I’ve never understood why the other name for manueline is Portuguese-gothic (perhaps some architecture nerds out there could enlighten me?) and houses the only collection of elephant fetuses in the world.

What better way is there to spend a lonely Saturday afternoon staring at the preserved remains of elephant abortions?

Starting out as a blob the same size as walnut, the elephant gestates for 21 months – 21 MONTHS – that is nearly two years (RESPECT), before it is born at the size at which it is able to walk behind its parents and do all those adorable things which add at least 3 zeros to David Attenborough’s salary every year.

It would be more impressive if the collection was complete, but unfortunately it only contains fetuses of up to 6 months of gestation, when they are replaced by lumpy papier maché models painted with grey poster paint which rather diminishes the effect.

The exhibit is accompanied by a vitriolic text about the origins of the fetuses aka Elephant-Gate, Mozambique: the Portuguese colonial regime attempted to clear a large section of the country for agricultural projects which meant shooting hundreds, nay thousands of innocent, law-abiding elephants… The one good thing, the text said, which came out of this elephantine massacre was the preservation of the fetuses, plucked from the still warm wombs of the mother animals. And to top it all off, those bloody incompetent Portuguese didn’t even manage to carry out the agricultural projects they had planned to.  Goddamn colonialists.

The museum is also home to the best collection of SH** taxidermy I have ever seen.

Highlights include:

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This…. lioness?

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This cheetah who still looks pretty concerned about David Cameron and Pig Gate… Don’t worry cheetah, you’re safe here.
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And this leopard who looks like he could really do with introducing some prunes to his diet.
Needless to say, any year-abroad blues quickly evaporated, the moral of the story being if you feel down on your year abroad, go and laugh at some dead animals.

 

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