Faces and Facets of Mafalala

Miudos, Maputo, 2014Perhaps what Harlem is to New York City or, say, Rocinha is to Rio de Janeiro, Mafalala is to Maputo. The neighborhood predates the colonial era, but was defined by its colonial era evolution. In separating the natives (read: Africans) from the Europeans (read: Portuguese), the town of Lourenco Marques – common day Maputo – had a variety of Jim Crow or apartheid-like racial boundaries. One being that the Africans were not allowed in the center city – near the train station and seaport – without proof of employment in those areas. It goes without saying that Africans most certainly were not allowed to live in that area, but they needed to be close enough to work in these hubs. Bordering neighborhoods like Mafalala were just a stone’s throw from the Portuguese part of town, but a world apart.

While these barriers kept Africans out of the city center, it didn’t do much to keep Whites out of the ‘hood. So, Mafalala (like Chamanculo and other surrounding areas) became home to many mulattos – people of mixed race who often had access to educational and financial resources from their White parentage. Many were conceived in Mafalala between White fathers and African mothers (often ‘working girls’) after nights in the underground marrabenta bars. Mafalala bears its very name from the Portuguese mispronunciation of an indigenous word for a kind of folk dance, properly pronounced Um-faah-la-la.

Where conflict and cultures converge something new will always emerge. Such is the case in Mafalala. Word has it that as the city’s demand for English and French speaking workers increased, the Portuguese decided to expand their workforce by importing Africans from neighboring Comoros and Zanzibar. With them, these people brought a strong connection to Islam, which is still visible today, and the Arabic (and its Kiswahili derivative) language. It is said that over 60 percent of the neighborhood’s residents identify as Muslim and Mafalala is home to countless mosques and masjids. Imagine the trickery needed to hide a mosque from the eyes of the intolerant and bigoted colonial masters. Simply surviving was a defiant act of resistance.

In addition to the foreign residents, Mafalala is home to many internal migrants. Macua speakers from the north and Ronga speakers from the south find themselves next door neighbors in this enclave – and apparently it’s been that way for generations. Whether it be the draw of jobs in the city center, refuge from anti-colonial fighting in the interior, safety from starvation and poverty during the civil war, Mafalala has been home to many passersby with a diversity of reasons for coming. Even, poet Noemi de Sousa and ex-Presidents Samora Machel and Joaquim Chissano rested their heads there for a time.

Today, this part of town is part of legend and lure.  It is still home to many working poor and tough guys. Like in Rocinha and (what remains of) Harlem, many of it’s residents are still fighting to overcome historic external barriers, as well as just beginning to break some of the negative, self-induced behaviors that have held them back. Like any modern community, Mafalala is made up of lots of sub-communities and ethnic groups, the boundaries of which have always been in flux. Whether they arrived in the 15th century or just yesterday, the people of Mafalala help color a part of the city that deserves more kudos for its cultural contributions and recognition for it’s sheer existence after eras of extreme change.

Without further ado, the many faces and facets of Mafalala:


To learn more about the Mafalala Walking Tour and the Association of young people who run it, check out http://www.iverca.org


Learning (new) Love Languages

Ana Hudson is a twenty something from East Orange, NJ. Over six months ago, she joined her boyfriend in Montreal and added a new element to their otherwise long-distance relationship.  She’s found herself exploring friendships, relationships, the French language, Canadian and Haitian cultures (the beau’s family is from Haiti). What a journey!

It has been a year and a month that I’ve dated my boyfriend. He lives outside of Montreal, Quebec, Canada in a small town named Mascouche. This is a completely French Canadian town. Let me tell you, French Canadians refuse to speak any English if at all possible. It’s mind boggling because I think to myself, ‘how can we communicate properly when you don’t meet me in the middle?’ I always start with ‘bonjour, hi’ to ensure they understand I speak English. But that does not always work well.

I have had a few very short and bland conversations in English. Maybe they’re just as embarrassed in their English as I am with my French? Either way, I wish they would take the same approach as I do when it comes to these awkward moments. “Just Do It!” as Nike would say.

French isn’t the only language I’m learning to navigate. I have also found myself losing my swag in English! French is now my second language. So, I have moments of translation in my head that seem to be simultaneous with my speech. But, it’s not an easy task. Recently, I was explaining what a certain car looks like to my mom. All I kept saying was, “une voiture est…voiture, voiture mommy, oh mon dieu je ne sais pas avec moi!!” My poor mom on the other line took pity on me. “I understand Ana, the voiture.” Voiture just means car.

Beyond the language of speech there is the language of love. Being in a relationship outside of the US of A is difficult. The cost of traveling back and forth gets expensive. The time spent apart is daunting, not to mention trying to incorporate socializing with family so that time together is substantive.  It feels like everyone needs to meet your partner to confirm that you’re not dating a ghost! What about when it’s time for the relationship to grow beyond the two of you? What about the pitter patter of little feet? Oh my lawd!! A relationship of only one year can shift gears as if it’s been 5. The strain of traveling and considering the absence makes the relationship move even faster. But, if it’s definitely something worth it, you have to believe that it will work out for the best. C’est la vie!

And what happens to life back home? All the faces and places that you left behind? I always feel tense once I’m back in the tri-state. I miss the conveniences of downtown Newark, route 280, family, friends and the Parkway. Did I mention how much I miss the English language?

Long distance, transnational relationships are all about balancing love and loneliness.  There is part of you that feels free – on your own, taking a leap of faith. Doing what some others from home wouldn’t attempt to do. There is the other part that is learning a new language and culture all at the same time. In the midst of it all there’s a frustrating acceptance to achieve, to feel you belong not just in your relationship, but also within the larger culture that is most familiar to your partner.

Relationships are a balancing act and I have no magic formula.  Between English, French, love and pommes frites, I am enjoying the journey. But, there are moments when I look around and realize that I am far away from where I’m started. Most of the time, I think that’s not such a bad thing.