Travel in Mozambique can prove a trying affair, and certainly not for the faint-hearted. It’s compact and squashed and tight and enervating; privacy and personal space become unreachable concepts, previously held tight but now bordering on the alien.
There’s a unique type of order, perhaps inevitable in such cramped conditions. Minivans designed for 15 passengers – at a squeeze – often carry 20 or more. Bodily manipulations worthy of a contortionist are required, and lithe dexterity is a skill one soon acquires.
Everyone knows their place as the pattern soon emerges: embarkation and disembarkation alike follow a slick, divined form. Everyone instinctively knows its attendant order: any deviation and discomfort and disorder soon prevail. It’s often a physical impossibility to alight before or after those around you.
Imagine living in a petri dish and its incumbent formation of lifeforms. Then try and picture the microcosmic get-up as a rudimentary society, applicable only to that time and place. This grouping then grows and takes the form of a highly localised human settlement, an imperceptible hierarchy where the passengers exist on the same level. They acquire a singular thought pattern and inhabit the same mind; theirs is the hive collective, thinking and ebbing and flowing with the same objective. The driver, naturally, takes on a celestial role, representing the unseen, often unbidden divinities that assume control of the multitude’s destiny
Time and Space
Such are the conditions the traveller encounters. The destination is Lichinga, somewhere in the mountainous hills. All around are blotches of brown and beige; this is a sandy country desperately in need of rainfall. Floating columns of sand, bearing the appearance of mini-hurricanes, rise and fall on the currents.
The van is at a halt. It has been for the last 10 minutes, the result of procedural police checks. Passports and identity cards are passed through the window for inspection and returned, somehow in the right order. The traveller may attempt to act inconspicuous, but here, in an obscure corner of Mozambique, they are anything but. Rumours of incorrigible and corrupt police officials cast an uneasy gloom over the confines of the van. Heads remain low, their eyes watching the floor.
The policeman barks. Where is the traveller going? ‘Cobooay’, they respond. A slight sea change in the air, and the remaining passengers, of a single voice, correct the mispronunciation: ‘Cobway’. The feeling is that the wrong word can precipitate an unwanted and bodily response from the authorities. A slight intake of breath and then release; the van has started and trundles away from the checkpoint, its malodorous intent still heavy in the air. The traveller maintains no illusions: say the wrong thing in Mozambique, and you may live to regret it.