In the early 1990s, Mozambique was listed as the poorest country in the world. On our initial journey from the airport to our hotel, we drove through ‘cane city’ where the impoverished Africans lived. Cane City was built of materials such as cane, iron roofing, bits of timber and even cardboard boxes.
The Africans cooked outside on makeshift barbeques or even just a heap of sticks or charcoal. Children were running around half naked. What little clothing they wore was scruffy and in tatters. Men were sitting under trees playing Bao, a board game like backgammon and putting the world to rights.
I was absolutely shaken to the core by the sights I saw. Abject poverty in the barrios, or suburbs. Some buildings were very run down, crumbling multi-storied flats, roads with huge pot-holes into which a car could be lost. In complete contrast, there were homes in the ‘concrete city,’ occupied by government officials, embassy staff, aid workers, affluent Africans and expatriates that were resplendent with beautiful, blue and white tiles adorning the patios and outside walls.
It was December, huge red blossoms on the flame trees lining the streets, hid the shabby dwellings. Dotted between the flame trees, were numerous large cycads. One day we decided to drive around a city barrio to see what was being sold on the stalls. There was everything you can imagine for sale.
Clothing donated from overseas regularly arrived in container loads and found its way onto stalls. There were colourful hats hanging on trees, some richly embroidered in metallic threads, others with sequins. These were worn by Muslim men and boys. My favourite was the ‘Bra Shop’ with dozens of bras for sale, every colour and style you could imagine. Missing only was the fitting room, so the girls tried them over the top of their capulanas! Shopping in Smith & Caugheys will never be as memorable at that.