“Ever step you take is forever. You can’t make it go away. None of it. You understand what I’m sayin?”
― Cormac McCarthy,
And so, I reach the dreaded half-way point of my stay in Maputo. Dreaded because as any good pessimist will tell you, my glass is now officially half empty and filled with various regrets and “Should haves…”. So I resolve to spend the next two months correcting those mistakes, in order to return to England satisfied that I made the most of my precious time here.
Whether by mistake or by design, I feel as though I am entering into a new phase of my stay here. The first two months of confusion and settling-in are coming to a close and I am anxious to take advantage of my increased confidence to do something worthwhile with my ample free time. This has coincided with my meeting the volunteers from the Gabinete de Cooperacao at the university, who are tasked with receiving new students. They are an extremely out-going and academically gifted bunch and I only wish someone had told me about them when I first arrived. We had a dinner last night and have now set up a whatsapp group of about 20 people so that ‘sempre tiveres alguém para te fazer companhia’ (you always have someone to keep you company.) They have also been responsible for introducing me to the Associacao Yinguissa Mocambique, a charitable association which carries out ‘good works’ in the local neighbourhood of Maxaquene. I will be volunteering as an English teacher in the local primary school library and as general pair of hands with them for the next two months. And so, I feel the cogs have begun to turn and hope that my last two months here will be spent productively sewing the seeds for a possible return.
Appropriately enough, to underpin the beginning of this ‘new phase’, yesterday was my first day in a new house in Coop, an old, middle-class neighbourhood which backs onto the university campus in the north of the city centre. When I wake up in the mornings, I can hear bird song which is a revelation. Gone are the flash new cars of Polana’s expats and the cacophony created by heavy traffic and several building sites which I had become accustomed to down town. In pleasant contrast to Polana, sleepy Coop has a distinctly Mozambican feel to it; thanks to its proximity to the University of Eduardo Mondlane, its leafy streets are filled with students walking to lessons and hawkers selling street food.
There is an avocado tree in our neighbours’ tiny garden. It has grown on a patch of turf the size of a bin lid and appears to have tried to compensate for these meagre origins by growing as tall and thin as it possibly can, with the result that it has the strangely elastic appearance of having been stretched. Large avocados the colour of tennis balls knock against the second and third floor windows. I wonder if each floor claims a section of this gangling tree as their own: do fierce disputes erupt from time to time over the boundary lines between Flat 2 and Flat 1’s limber territories? Perhaps Flat 2 and Flat 1 wake up one morning to find that Flat 3 has launched a surprise ambush overnight and has name-tagged every fruit in sight in an outrageous attempt to assert their sovereignty over the entire tree. These are the things that go on under the surface in suburban Mozambique.