I have been stalling writing this first post on our new home in Maputo–the hesitation stems from a few things. We are still not completely “settled”; instead, we are housed in a hotel apartment overlooking Maputo Bay until our permanent residence is ready for us to move into. This could take another few weeks; in the meantime, life remains suspended in transit. Though we have unpacked our suitcases, they are still in plain sight, ready to be packed up again for the final move into our house. So in a way, we haven’t entirely arrived and our first impressions are limited to our hotel, the embassy, and what little we have been able to see in the city during these first two weeks.
But my hesitation is also a result of not knowing how to say what I really want to say. How do I say that I am now more aware of my privilege than ever before in my life? How do I say that I am at a loss in navigating the pervasive poverty I encounter here on a daily basis? How do I say that poverty makes me uncomfortable, it makes me squirm — but that those reactions, in turn, make me feel guilty? How do I say that, at least right now, I feel most comfortable in cafés and supermarkets frequented by other expats? And that this admission to myself doubles my guilt?
Ensconced high up in my luxury oceanfront hotel apartment, looking down onto the Marginal and the Avenida Julius Nyerere, I feel a keen sense of alienation; I am not yet part of the world that surrounds me. I see women with colorful fabric wrapped around them, skillfully balancing plastic buckets of fruit on their heads while they walk. I see pick-up trucks with beds packed full with passengers on their way to work, standing and sitting alongside one another, careful to hold on. I see tiny wooden fishing boats dotting the bay, dwarfed by enormous cargo barges creeping along the horizon–one of which will likely be transporting our belongings to port. I see young boys running up to cars at intersections, wide-eyed and covered in dust, tiny hands extended to dark tinted windows of shiny SUVs. I see thin men in pressed khakis and polos mop the outdoor sun patio while I run on the treadmill, separated by a full-length glass window optimally designed for taking in the ocean view. I see nannies gathered under the shade of trees in a park, watching over the white babies cooing and rolling on soft blankets.
I am aware, for the first time, of what it feels like to be a racial minority–and that fact only further exposes my privilege as I venture out into this new world.
I walk along the streets, not knowing whether I should greet others, smile or keep my head down. I see trash lining the beach, a young teenage couple sitting on the sand, drying off from a dip in the water, a few straggling men strolling along the bay. A figure with tattered clothing is slouched over on a set of stairs leading down to the ocean. I walk a bit faster. Suddenly a group of young boys comes running toward us and one of them peers into the stroller, waving his hand frantically at my son and crying out, “Olá amigo!” before darting off again.
Perhaps I am overthinking this. Maybe we create this buffer for ourselves, to feel secure, to avoid discomfort. Maybe certain differences must remain as they are and cannot be quickly overcome. But maybe it is as simple as waving your hand and shouting hello to feel like you are part of this new world.