My Maputo guided tour is delayed until Monday, so yesterday I explored the city by foot again. It was overcast and without bright scorching sun, an ideal day for walking. I learned that not much happens in Maputo on Saturday morning, especially when it’s a public holiday – February 3rd is National Heroes Day.
“Heroes Day commemorates the lives of fallen soldiers who fought for the country’s independence, specifically Eduardo Chivambo Mondlane the assassinated leader of the Mozambican independence movement political party, “
Saturday street traffic was light, and people were moving slowly. It’s my first Saturday in Maputo, and I’m still learning how things work. Just as I’d grown accustomed to hearing good morning in Afrikaans – goeiemore, Zulu – sawubona, or Xhosa – mholo, now it’s bon dia, a Portuguese expression everyone recognizes!
Pancho Guedes and Tropical Modern Architecture
I walked around Maputo’s crafts fair Feira de Artesanato, Flôres e Gastronomia (FEIMA), and then headed to an area known for its tropical modern architecture. Pancho Guedes was among Portuguese artists, architects, and intellectuals stifled by dictator António de Oliveira Salazar during the 1920s. He left Lisbon and emigrated to Maputo where the atmosphere was more creative and liberal.
Most Mozambicans are friendly and helpful, but teenage vendors can be obnoxious. Customs are rooted in local culture and passed down by generations. Song and dance play an important part in local activities and ceremonies.
Tropical modern architecture was popular in Mozambique and Angola during the 1950s and 60s. In those days, there was no air conditioning, so houses were built to “adapt” to hot tropical conditions by using ledges, galleries, and pierced concrete screens”. Elements of the style that “cool” include shaded stairways, covered walkways, and perforated walls.
I claim for architects the rights and liberties that painters and poets have held for so long. Pancho Guedes
I went inside the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gabriel. Zimbabwean artist Helen Lieros painted the colorful frescoes free of charge.
Police at the Presidential Complex
The walking tours in Phillip Schaueer’s book Maputo Architectural and Tourist Guide are well narrated, and I walked the route with it in hand. After an hour or so, I turned the corner and entered an area of government buildings along Avenida Julius Nyerere. At that point, the scene abruptly changed.
A man dressed in plain clothes approached me and ordered, “Hand over your phone and come with me.” Startled, I said “NO, I don’t know you!” Then, things got tense. Suddenly a machine-gunned guard from the President’s Complex came across the street and started asking if I had taken any pictures. Again, I said no, and explained that I was a tourist photographing buildings along a nearby walking route and showed him a map of the route in Schauer’s book.
Still unconvinced and full of military machismo, the man asked to see my camera which I handed over while continuing to explain that I was a tourist on a walking tour. He said “someone” along the route had reported me taking photos of the President’s Complex! That was creepy, as the streets were mostly vacant, and I had only seen a few guards in residential areas, none near the government complex.
The machine-gun-toting guard spoke and understood English. I told him his gun was scaring me! He looked through the photos on my camera, finally seemed convinced of no foul, and said I could go. Flabbergasted, I walked away! As I continued, another official looking man eyed me as he passed walking in the opposite direction. I kept my head down and ignored him.
I remember reading it wasn’t wise to photograph government buildings and didn’t. Nowhere did it say if you walked by the President’s Complex – even on the other side of the street – you might be approached by a guard carrying a machine gun! YIKES…. I also read that you must always carry your passport. If the police ask to see it and you don’t have it, you could be headed to jail. It’s puzzling that the guard who approached me never asked for identification or the address of where I was staying.
I usually don’t carry my passport on outings and didn’t have it with me. When walking around in a foreign country, I prefer leaving my passport locked in the hotel safe but carry a copy of the photo page. If you lose your passport, you’re in big trouble.
Suppose I could have been handcuffed and carted off to jail. Hopefully, they would have released me eventually, because there are no photos of the Presidential Complex on my camera! It was a scary experience. Maybe they thought I was a member of the Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO) – will never know…. On the other hand, maybe the guard simply wanted me to pay him money – didn’t think of that at the time.
With just cause (?), the Mozambican government seems to keep a very close eye on everything happening in Maputo!