Monday, February 8, 2010

A Friday Night Out on the Town in Maputo

Although a lot of your Peace Corps experience is “roughing it,” I will not deceive you into thinking that is what it is all about. There are plenty of perks depending on your country of service. When I got my assignment to Mozambique, I remember people telling me, “You won the Peace Corps lottery.” In a lot of ways, I have found this to be true. We have beautiful beaches lining the coast, people are generally friendly; and although there is petty crime, it is pretty safe country. I would also add to this list of perks that the cultural events you can attend out on a Friday night in Maputo are unforgettable.

My friend Alexis and I arranged to have a ladies’ night out to go hear some live music last Friday. As we were driving along the coast, I marveled out loud, “Isn’t this funny? Just two young American girls out on the big town in Mozambique!” Occasionally, these thoughts still cross my mind because I never expected to join the Peace Corps or live in Africa for most of my life. Yet I have become so comfortable in Maputo, and sometimes I still cannot believe all the things that have happened along this big adventure that seems so normal now.

So on Friday: We park on the street and decide to check out the reggae festival going on at the cultural center to honor Bob Marley’s birthday. For the inexpensive entrance fee of 2 USD, we get to enjoy a great show with four reggae bands! It is a perfect summer night and we sit beneath a half-closed pavilion while the breeze floats in mixing with the pleasant music. The band on stage is full of energy jumping, dancing as if they are one with the music, singing about peace, love, and harmony. The crowd is a wonderful mix of foreigners and locals. The foreigners, a mix of expatriates and tourists, all seem enchanted by the allure of Mozambique on this Friday night. The locals are in their element, fixed below the stage rivaling the performers with their synced, fluid dance moves. It is interesting to watch the Mozambicans enter with their fashionable outfits, the girls looking so glamorous in their flowing tops, chunky jewelry, and skinny jeans. The term for skinny jeans in Mozambique, is garrafas, meaning bottle jeans. Mozambican women pull them off like I’ve never seen, and not just the thin girls; I’ve seen some curvy African mamas manage to wear them in a flattering way! Alexis leans over to me at one point, observing that she has never seen this many dreads in one room. I laugh, agreeing, of course we are at a post-humous birthday celebration for Bob Marley so it’s just to be expected! We stay until we’re tired, leaving relaxed and content.

On our short walk back to the car, Alexis and I hear another awesome-sounding band in a neighboring bar. Alexis looks over at me, catching me with a mischievous smile and says we absolutely must go check it out. I cannot resist, and although I am exhausted, I am pleased that we enter. This band of 7 members plays traditional Mozambican music. They play timbilas, xylophones made out of local materials that are very unique to Mozambique. They have all sorts of drums and guitars. I smile when I see this beautiful African woman playing the bass guitar, completely defying gender roles in this country. Progressive, I note. The band members are all dressed in traditional African clothes, wearing lots of beads, faces painted. They put on a good show, interacting with the crowd. One of my favorite parts about live music is just that – seeing how the band and the crowd interact – and I rarely am disappointed by the performances in Africa. Tonight the sexy main dancer does her moves, smiling confidently and moving effortlessly, while a local comes up and begins to dance with her. She does not mind, only turns up the intensity. An older European expatriate steps in, and then tries to out-dance this local. It is not a genuinely competitive rivalry, but more of a friendly dance-off. The woman dancer plays along for awhile. The crowd loves it, especially when she manages to outdo both of them with ease – the obvious winner. We leave after the set, thoroughly pleased with our night out. I think about how on Monday I will be back to “roughing it” in my town holed in my house after dark, but along the way all the exotic, different cultural events I have gotten to experience along the way. How much of the world I have been able to see and what an enriching journey this has been.