Wandering aimlessly through the poor, occasionally nonexistent, lighting of Vilanculo’s brick city on Christmas night, I was trying to find an ATM to be able to draw enough money to return to Maputo the next day to meet friends who would be arriving there in a few days time. Revelers were spilling out of, or hovering loudly near the burnt orange light of dirty doorways – casual bars all, supporting Christmas night in the dust of the streets beyond.
having little choice in the matter, I follow my arm as it is propelled down the dark streets
I am never going to find the cash machine, buried somewhere in a crumbling and lively street. I duck briefly into the light of a doorway and ask for assistance, for directions in my broken, halting Portuguese. My hand is taken by a man hovering near the bar, run by what appeared to be a fourteen year old bartender and his younger brother. Nervous of such personal assistance, but having little choice in the matter, I follow my arm as it is propelled down the dark streets until eventually, in the far corner of the main street, hidden in a recess I would never have found myself, I am delivered to the ATM. My guide waits patiently until I am finished and confounds my suspicious nature on being interested in nothing more than my wellbeing. He introduces himself as Carlos and wishes me a good Christmas and a safe travel in broken, but far superior to my language skills, Portuguese.
It is time to stop being a skittish tourist, I resolve, and to just – for once – stop rationalising away the good in people, finding a dubious intention and believing that to be the nature of all people. I grab his hand for a change and above his protests, drag him back to the bat we departed and place an order with our enthusiastic young barkeep. A 2M for me and whatever my companion desires (which turned out to be something resembling gin). And we sit and have a proper conversation.
He is a doctor from Tanzania, who works in Vilanculo and his name is Carlos. His forefathers are all Tanzanian, but he came here because he is a free man (his words) and can do as he pleases. Before I leave the bar that evening, he tells me “We are equal you and I. We are brothers.” And indeed, as I depart the dusty glow and make my way back through the sounds of christmas revelry and the unmistakeable flavour of african music played through car stereos, I suppose we are. In a way that only this crazy, alive place that we are living in – in our heads as much as our bodies – can make us.