The Sounds of Maputo

The guard and Abby pose at the family home

by Libby James

During the time I spent in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique in East Africa, I listened to sounds different from the ones I was used to at home.

From my bedroom on the lowest level of the house, I heard noises at night—rattling cars and small buses bouncing over rough road surfaces, dogs barking, and Portuguese spoken by men guarding the neighborhood, chatting to each other as they strolled the streets. I heard the screechy bleep, bleep of car alarms and small tinkling noises that were strange to me.

Early every morning, the soft swish, swish, of a palm-frond broom sweeping clean a small sandy path just outside my window told me it must be 4 a.m. About 6:30 I’d hear the children’s mother calling them to breakfast. Her voice boinked up two flights of granite stairs like a Slinky toy in reverse. Noises boom and echo up and down and all around this concrete house with shiny, bare floors.

Casamo, the guard on duty, clanks open the gate in front of the house and the family car with three kids loaded down with backpacks, pulls out for the bumpy ride to the American School. It bumps over pot holes, slowing to plough through a sandy pit where rain has washed away the road The driver, their mom, is used to negotiating what is more a trail than a road. The big blue gate to the school creaks open, the school guards wave and smile and the kids call out to friends as they hurry to their classes.

Back home, midday quiet soon settles over the house. Olga, whose job it is to keep the place clean, does her work with only a broom and a rag.  Here there is no vacuum cleaner, dishwasher, clothes dryer or furnace to create household noises.

When the work day is over and the next door neighbor pulls up at the entrance to his driveway, he leans on his high-pitched horn until his guard arrives to open the gate. The neighbor does this every night, always blasting his horn until the guard arrives. Usually, the guard takes his own sweet time, his silent way of saying, “What’s the hurry?”

On Sunday afternoons, a nearby stadium rings with the shouts and cheers of soccer fans, rising to a crescendo, then fading when the game ends. A loudspeaker blares African music as fans make their way out of the stadium.

In early evening, a strong ocean breeze comes up and wafts through the windows on  the highest level of this six-story house where the family likes to gather for games after dinner. Blam! The breeze slams the metal door  to the upstairs room shut and the kids jump in surprise.

Soon you can hear click, click, click as doors and windows all over the house are carefully locked for the night. With a couple of tiny ticks, the inside alarm is set. I slip into bed, pull the gauzy mosquito net around me and turn out the light and wait for the noises of the African night to tune up.



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