Yesterday I went on a bit of an adventure with the carpenter working on the library to buy the next round of materials for the final construction phase. He is a fairly quiet man, not one to start up a conversation and often somewhat under the influence. To me, he has always been, “O Carpinteiro (The Carpinter).” As we set out on the 30 minute walk to the local construction store, I was somewhat dreading the inevitable silence that often accompanies our walks. But boy was I in for a treat.
About five minutes into the walk of silence, I asked him what year he was born in. He answered, “1951.” 1951?!!! I thought this guy was maximum 45 years old, but 63! I finally found someone that lived in Molocue during the Colonial period and started firing away with all the questions I’ve had for the past year on life in Molocue before the 1975 Independence and during the Civil War (1977-92).
First question, how many Portuguese lived in Molocue? He responded that there were only about 40 Portuguese living in the Vila to his memory. A few worked as Doctors at the Portuguese constructed hospital. Some, including the Administrador, worked in the local government. Others worked for the cotton and cashew industry. The bank employed mainly Portuguese and a few Portuguese ran shops in the center of town. There was even a post office in Molocue.
The Portuguese produced electricity and had running water courtesy of a dam they built on the Rio Molocue. The Carpenter said few locals had access to either the energy or running water. The last thing he mentioned was that there was a Portuguese military base, but that area was avoided by locals because, “Eles capturavam nossas meninas”. Translantion: They captured our girls.
That was about all he had to say about Colonial times. It was interesting that he really didn’t speak to how he and other locals were treated and he by no means spoke poorly or negatively of the period. All in all, he really didn’t have much to say about that era. So, like any eager interested foreigner, I started asking him about his life.
He was born in Alto Molocue in 1951. He attended a local primary school and studied through the 2nd Grade. He had his first of seven children with his first wife in 1971. In 1977, as the Guerra Civil started, he began working for the local government in a building next to the giant administration building seen in some of my photos.
Next, we moved onto the Civil War period. I asked him what he remembers most from those days. He mentioned one event, the day that RENAMO took over the town of Alto Molocue. He doesn’t remember the exact year, but according to him, RENAMO only took over the town once. He remembered being told he had to come into work that day even though RENAMO had taken control of the governing buildings. The most vivid memory of that day was when RENAMO blew up half of the Portuguese Bank in the vila (the other half still stands to this day). He didn’t once mention actual fighting or deaths, but I’d assume there was a significant amount.
He continued working at with the local government until around the year 2000 (not sure why he stopped). He then became a carpenter which is his current profession. With his first wife, he had seven children, of which only one was male. The male is the only child from his first wife that can read and write. He currently has three children with his second wife. A fourth who was a student at the secondary school, but she died last year (cause unknown to me).
As we got onto the topic of gender equality, I asked him why only one of his children with his first wife could read. He said that it was the duty of a female to start having kids as soon as she was married. I asked when a suitable age for marriage is in his mind. “At 15, she is ready for marriage, and if she is not married by 18, then something isn’t right”, he replied. He also mentioned that it is okay for men to not get married until 25. This is in line with what I’ve heard in general in Molocue.
According to him, the major difference between now and thirty years ago is that kids go to school longer, so generally women are waiting longer to have children. I asked him if he thought this was better or worse. His response, “Why spend 12 years in school to graduate and there are still no jobs. What is the advantage?” I really couldn’t argue with him there.
At this point in the conversation we had reached the construction materials store and started purchasing materials. I always forget how interesting it can be to simply talk with someone who has experienced so much of Mozambique and is rich with historical information. The Carpenter might be a little bit ‘old school’ with his approach to life and general beliefs, BUT, he was able to raise ten kids through colonial rule and one of the worst civil wars of the 20th century. That, I respect.