Wednesday, August 12, 2009

First Impressions-Chaos, Squalor, Corruption, Optimism

Chaos: Border crossing between South Africa and Mozambique: Minimal organization and other than the uniformed personnel behind the counters, it is impossible to tell officials from the public. Large numbers of peddlers, money-changers, and con artists clog the pathways to the offices, though surprisingly, out of this chaos order prevails.

Squalor: The drive to Maputo and in Maputo itself was a look into the eyes of abject poverty and desperate squalor. Makeshift houses, trash dumps in the city, people “harvesting” the trash heaps just to survive.

Corruption: Our driver, Robert, had taken a wrong turn in Maputo, and we found ourselves stopped behind a stationary car. Three policemen were standing on the curb. Robert stopped to ask directions and was informed he had committed a traffic violation by stopping on this street. Heated words were exchanged, and we were finally permitted to leave after paying the required bribe. This is a common occurrence, I was later told.

Optimism: The beauty and artistry on display at the Saturday Craft Market and the natural beauty of the beaches and coastline were counterpoints to the trash heaps, garbage dumps, and deplorable living conditions observed on our trip into the city. The city is teeming with street vendors. It is the only way the majority of the people can make a living. This “black market” or “underground economy” contributes nothing to the city/country’s tax base, but the legitimate economy is inaccessible to the average man. An overwhelming sense of optimism abounded throughout these early steps of our journey, all that we meet sense that this young country has potential yet unrealized, a latent promise yet to be seen.


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