A Precarious Situation

One Sunday, walking along a dirt street on the outskirts of a Quilemane, Mozambique, I encountered a raucous gathering of men, women and children.  The women were taking turns rhythmically jumping over a rope as others clapped, sang and chanted.  With scant to no tourism in the city in general, I imagined that it had been weeks, months, maybe even years since a foreigner had strolled through the flood prone neighborhood where I was wandering.  If my travels had been a quest to break away from tourist circuits and all the local contortions that accompany them, I was there.  

As pleased as I was to encounter such an event, the participants seemed equally excited by my presence.  Urging me to take photographs, they spun and hopped with extra vigor - young girls and elderly women alike.  Marveling at the fortitude of the older participants, I finally noticed people periodically bringing worn plastic bottles and jugs to a nearby house with a wizened woman at the door who, in exchange for a few coins, filled the containers with moonshine ladled from a bucket.

With the lengthening of the shadows and mellowing of the tropical sun, I began to think of my walk home and the possibility of navigating some of the grittier streets downtown in the dark.  Ready to be on my way, I discreetly approached one of the resting dancers: pointed towards the bucket of alcohol, the dancers in general and then to myself.  A smile emerged on her face as she understood what I was trying to communicate and nodded.  

Hoping to be discreet in my contribution to the festivities, I was dismayed when the woman let out a whoop upon gaining control of the bill I had carefully folded to be as small as possible.  My heart sank as she unfolded the bill in full view of all present and, on perceiving its value, drew the attention of the entire group with another shout and danced around the circle holding the currency in both hands above her head.  Slightly concerned for my own safety, I hastily shook all of the outstretched hands and hurried on my way.

The next day I returned to the same area, but, this being a weekday, I found only quiet streets with small groups of children preparing for school, the elderly sweeping and cleaning, and women cooking.  A few people seemed to remember me and greeted me with waves and smiles but stayed in their homes.  As I prepared to continue on my way, I came across one young person who, shrouded in a piece of cloth, looked strikingly regal.  I was thrilled to be given permission to take the picture shown here.