Date: Sat, 02 Oct 1999 14:40:11
From: Claude Marthaler email@example.com
Subject: "Degree O"
Mocuba, Mozambique, km 96OOO
There is no right time for anything, but there is now. Each day, a long route brings me through millions of infernos and paradises. Today the best road of Malawi stops abruptly at the Mozambican border post. It is like if the sudden bumpy red trail with no more kilometric marks would invite my wheels to a more sensual approach of the African soil. Distanceless, timeless.
In Mozambique, even the physical law proper to fluid applied itself to humans: as I filled up my entry form in the migration office, all the employees were gone, out there, to welcome my "portable home". The bumpy trail was flooded by an army of cyclists carrying anything impossible to carry: few meters long planks or sugar canes, chickens reversed on the handelbars, entire families. At the bank, where I waited a good hour reading, I could have become a millionare by changing 8O U.S. $ only; but knowing that for one $ of hard currency I could get 4 hot Coca-Colas or 116 bananas, I changed 2O of them, though I had some serious doubts about eating 2232 bananas while crossing the old Portuguese colony.
Most of the African languages, (with the notable exception of the Bushmen one), with their limited numerations up to five, were enough to define the totality of the articles sold in improvised shops: washing soap, cigarettes, beers, "Glucose Biscuits" (made in India), bicycle tires. If all Mozambicans are cyclists (out of necessity, some riding a few hours per day), half of them seem to also be mechanics: everywhere one repairs punctures, with glue and patches or just with tiny caoutchouc rope. In any case, you are always riding among a platoon of cyclists, as in India or China, sharing a gestual conversation, loud smiles or a hand wave with a baby on the back of his mother. Passing in front of broken walls with no remaining roofs, I once noticed a blue painted inscription: "Population el mejor richezza del mundo".
After 25 years of war, Mozambique in ruins reminds me instantly of India, by its striking poverty, its tiny shops crowded by youngsters and no customers, its tropical waves. The rain gave a bit more of this heavy and faded impression of the Tropics, where everything gets de-colored, seems always immediately eroded, lost in time. The Portuguese colonization, Latin, less organized and education orientated than the British one had legated also a Kilimanjaro size of negligent bureaucracy. Yet, at the typical Malawian-made "Give me money" of the children, I got here instead smiles, pairs of thumbs up, "Tchap, O-Rite!", a surprising energy emanating from every corner of the countryside.
Invitations to sleep and eat "Sima" (mais porridge) and chicken with bigger bones than meat, though both of them were really tiny. A transistor powered by batteries was diffusing Angolan music, a country still at war. Two year old schools built by VisaMundial or USAid were the only buildings in one single piece, apart from the huts, but most of the time "Escuelas" and "Salao de Dios" were just extended huts with a black billboard inside. I almost got the same feeling I had as riding through Portugal (one of the poorest state of Western Europe) some 15 years ago: suffering makes people more helpful, naturally hospitable. Money, or more precisely the possesive attitude towards it, independently of one's own wealth or poverty, ultimately means isolation and complaints.
Mozambique, with its extremely young population (youngsters having known only war) had almost everything to recover, knowing perhaps better than anyone else the real price of peace. Degree O: billions of infernos and few paradises.
P. S.: And one miracle: sending this story via e-mail, between two typical power break-downs!
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