It’s all very “normal”. We come out of the plane through a sleeve and miss the feeling of the heat wave on our face. Our suitcases come out in less than five minutes and there is someone waiting for us with a huge card ” Polana Serena” on it – the name of our hotel.
As we drive away from the airport I try hard to find some familiar sights, but I don’t. I can only remember that on this large avenue coming from the airport to the city, with slums on each side, back in 74 people were killed in the most horrible ways, and the city was submerged in terror. There was no escaping from it, as the road to the airport was in chaos, trains could not pass the angry mob either and there were no ships available…I tell Afonso this while our driver moves on, but then I shake the bad memories away and I concentrate on being here today with Nuno and the boys – a long-time dream come true.
We arrive at the hotel and it is as I remembered it – the old charm intact, renewed but not transformed, lovely! Reminds me if my “old “Savoy in Madeira, gone forever (now called The Royal Savoy), and La Mamounia in Marrakesh. My favourite sort of hotel! We are warmly welcomed – I had forgotten how warm Mozambicans are. Always a smile, a kind word. I remembered how to say “thank you” in this region’s language (Ronga), and when I say “kanimambo” their smile is even broader and then I have to tell them I was born here, and I’m back after so many years…
The first thing to do is of course to go and see my house, our house, the one I spent my childhood in, built by Granny and Granddad in the fifties of last century. For years I have asked colleagues or friends coming here to go there and take a photo and last time it was covered, undergoing some works. I could only hope it had not been demolished, but my instinct told me it hadn’t.
I called a cab whose phone was given to me by my colleague who last went to see the house. Mr. Agostinho, the driver, talkative and with a broad smile, immediately came to fetch us and sooner than later we were on our way to my house. It was a few minutes away so I could take a good look at the large avenues, with the sidewalks full of litter and most houses or buildings in some state of decay; you can see things have not been kept for the last forty five years since the Portuguese left. I could see only a few new, tall buildings but most of the others are exactly as they were left – only five decades older and in dire need of restoration. As do the buses, called “machimbombo” here.
Our house, at last
We drove down the long Agostinho Neto (not the original name, as most street names have been changed) street and we were anxiously looking at the house numbers as we approached nr 957. My heart was beating fast, so fast, and then I saw it, my house, our house, beautiful, newly painted in her original beige colour. I cried “Stop the car, we are here” and almost jumped out of it as I ran to the gate. I immediately noticed it is no longer our green gate, nor are the fences green and covered with climbing plants as they used to be. In fact I noticed a distinct lack of colour around the house: the two tall araucaria trees on each side are gone and so are the rest of the trees and bushes and the round green lawn and Granny’s rose beds… But the house in itself, was perfect, stripped of the ugly iron bars I had seen on the photos my friend Beli took back in 2001. It looked exactly as it used to be, as if no time had passed her by, only deprived of its garden. With only one difference: on the façade, in huge letters, the name of its present owner, the Mozambican Football Federation.
At this point I was too emotional to speak. The boys and Nuno were behind me asking questions. I could not utter a single word and my eyes filled with tears. So many emotions overwhelmed me but most of all I thought of my grandparents, in another dimension yet so close to me on that moment. I knew that, wherever they are, they will be happy to see I have come back to see our house, the house they so lovingly built for their family, the most beautiful house in the world, as far as I was concerned. The house that we have all kept in our hearts, forever. The most special house of all. Feelings of love, loss, sadness, joy, relief, pain, revolt, fear, gratitude, invaded me – so many feelings I had experienced over the years related to the loss of this house, of my homeland, of a way of life that we would never recover, invaded me and I just stood there, speechless, and for a brief moment time stood still.
Suddenly a man appeared outside the house and came down to the front gate. I came out of my “lethargic” state as the boys urged me to go and ask him if we might come in. He politely greeted us and fighting back the tears I told him this had been my house many years ago and asked if I might show it to my sons. He said he would ask for permission and soon returned with a young man with a friendly smile, who told me we’d be welcome to come in and look around on the outside. I thanked him wholeheartedly and we stepped into what used to be my garden. No more garden though, no more trees, no more greens and pinks and yellows and reds of the rose beds and all the other flowers, no more crystal blue water from the swimming pool…in its place I was shocked to discover a pavilion with a conference room. Naturally, I thought, what would the Mozambican football federation need a pool for? Still, it hurt terribly to see our beautiful swimming pool was gone.
The first man led us around the house and memories were flooding back. I did this here, there was my bedroom on the first floor, behind this door was the kitchen, look at the balcony on the first floor, we used to stand there watching the amazing spectacle of tropical storms with the deafening thunders and the lightning that turned night into day…I curiously peeped through the windows and showed the boys our daily dining room, the kitchen, the rooms outside where we changed our clothes when we came from the pool…then we came to a spot I had completely forgotten about, the window of the pantry, that I used to jump over to get in and out. The boys could not believe me when I told them! To remember something I had completely forgotten about for decades again overwhelmed me, and I asked if I might take a photo there with the boys. The man patiently agreed with my request. We also took several photos in front of the house. I was sharing so many stories with Nuno and the boys that I could have stayed there all day but I could see the man was a bit pressed for time, so finally, and after many thanks we got out. I still stayed on the sidewalk for some time looking at the house, drinking it all in, keeping its image with me, trying to make such a dreamt of moment last forever, but like everything in life it had to end, and we moved on.