It’s about half past ten in the morning when we enter the core and market area of downtown Maputo, Baixa (pronounced Baa-shaa). We are here to catch a minibus to Swaziland.
We join four passengers who are already in the minibus. But that still makes about a third of most kombis’ capacity. And that is if there are no extra benches squeezed in and the driver is not going to be creative and make people sit on the space behind the front seat, facing the rest of the passengers.
Someone approaches us as if sent by the driver of our minibus (who we have not seen and do not know) to confirm that we have meticais only for payment. We don’t. The guy then comes to our rescue and does a quick exchange because, as he says, the taxi is about to leave. We comply, thinking he is legit. Later we learn that during that exchange we were robbed of a whole R40.
Somebody also comes to collect our passports. Seeing my shocked face, he quickly says: “It’s the procedure.” And quick from the behind seats some woman shouts: “Yes, it’s the procedure Sisi [sister] don’t be afraid.” That irritates me, when exactly did I call for her assurance?
While lots happen during the many hours we spend in the minibus, but nothing beats experiencing the hawkers.
Back home the hawkers’ main wares are refreshments, fruits and vegetables, toiletries, and cheap jewellery. That is number one.
Number two, back home if I look straight ahead and ignore the hawker, they get the message and leave me alone. Wololo, come to downtown Maputo! The hawkers do not budge until you say something. They just keep repeating their pitch, looking at you straight in the eye, until you verbalise your non-interest. But if only it ended there! No, there may be follow-up questions just to confirm or justify your reasons for not buying.
Hawkers here also sell just about anything and everything. We see trolleys of groceries, door and window frames, and even a green lone small car door which is also up for grabs.
Somebody carries a tumbler and ice-cold water. You pay, they pour, and you drink, and then give the tumbler to the next thirsty throat.
“Here’s the gearbox, it’s new,” somebody says to my daughter through the window. Probably out of boredom, to entertain self, or in attempts to tire out the hawker, my daughter asks: “It’s for which car?” And the quick response is: “Any car.”
The never-to-be-forgotten is an overfriendly hawker who just comes and calls me ‘Skoni’ (slang for sister-in-law). She has only two bulbs of garlic and is selling the cloves.
“Just take two cloves Skoni and surprise your man, it’s great in stew”.
“I don’t have a man.” That is me trying to get rid of her.
Without hesitation, then comes her most unexpected response: “Skoni, that’s easy, I’ll get you a man, and will you then buy two cloves of garlic?”
And she keeps a straight face as if she has just made a lot of sense. I burst out laughing. Other passengers laugh too. Meanwhile she quickly moves on to probably the next promising customers.
The other hawker comes and spreads out some floral dressmaking material to prove that it is really five metres. Nobody has challenged her to that, actually nobody has said anything. She just performs, we watch, and after the show we one by one say why we are not buying.
And no jokes, it is at quarter past five in the afternoon that we start preparing to leave. First, it’s the payments. Then somebody writes down our names again, checks our passports again, and I lose count of how many times we are counted (he keeps being interrupted and starts afresh).
Just after six, with the sunset approaching, we begin zigzagging through a maze of roads; we are exiting Maputo.