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Paris-Berlin-Frankfurt-Johannesburg-Maputo

This time I decided to put all this one onto writing, only heaven knows why. My destination was Maputo in Mozambique somewhere in the South of Africa. but before then I will be making a series of stops: Tuesday, 6.35 am I left Paris for Berlin where I will be spending two days with my one and only Jelka. Thursday 6.45pm I headed towards Johannesburg with a brief stop in Frankfurt. 8.50 am, I arrived in ‘Jo’burg where I will be hanging out with friends,colleagues for another 23 hours before I leave for Maputo – by bus.

In Frankfurt, I got into the misfortune of missing my flight which was as a result of the endless security check.

At this point it will be useful to mention that I am some black, dread-locks-guy, with a Nigerian passport, and a hand-luggage full of wires and photographic equipment. I guess from the x-ray screens, my luggage was looking like some sort of mini-atomic bomb. So all the way from Paris, I was meant to pass through the scanner for at least three times. What bothered me most was my photographic films which could damage if subjected to too much x-ray radiations. But then fortunately for me, it was possible to travel with the next available flight leaving in the two hours, and unfortunately for me, I will have to pass my luggage through the machine for another set of three times!

The aircraft was Lufthansa, one of those monster-like ones…huge with an upper level for the first class travellers. I remember I fell asleep while imagining how in the world it was possible that these things could fly with so much tonnes of weight, then I switched into reminiscing about the human mind and its gigantic abilities for atrocities, but yet inventive enough to build a means to each ends of the world…quite an irony, but also a paradox, considering the insectile size of the human being when compared to the quantity of his inventions….

It was a rather smooth journey, I slept off half of the 12 hours involved and the other 6 hours, I fiddled with “Palestine, Peace not Apartheid” a book by Jimmy Carter on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: things in that book, they sound too cruel to be true. So I had to keep reminding myself over and over that I am not reading a fiction. Human lives are counted in packs of numbers, when actually, one life is worth a countless number. They die for land, but they are dead before they figure out if death should be the fight, for if death is the solution the problem would have been solved with the death of the father of the dead, so what is the point? They say it is for their Children, but who will tell their story to the motherless? Will he tell it rightly? Right enough to justify the loss of lives and lineages?

I arrived in Jo’burg on time as per the flight schedule, I was picked up by my friend Bhavisha Panchia who would be playing the one-day host. It was a Friday morning the city of Jo’burg was just waking up to the day…the streets were littered with the previous day’s remnants. Surprisingly, ours was virtually the only car on the street with just a handful sweeping past at intervals. This is the city making all the waves in the media as a result of the recent conflict. Before I bought my ticket for this trip, I made up my mind to make the Jo’burg – Maputo trip by road, hardly did I know that I will be riding right at the middle of a conflict which I could easily be mistakenly converted into a victim.

Xenophobia

I don’t know exactly what day it began , but a few citizens of Jo’burg, mostly in the suburbs lunched an attack on all their “foreign neighbours” (Again, from a layman standpoint, I asked the question: since when did your neighbour become foreign?). The victims were from different parts of Africa, but the Zimbabweans and the Mozambicans where taking the hardest blow of it all. I cannot state exactly how many have been killed or injured, but it is said that at the day of my arrival, that 24 000 Mozambicans where rapidly heading to the Border. The magnitude of the incident is such that non South-Africans must leave the country as fast as death could knock on their doors. Well, I was already in Jo’burg with the only option of travelling by road when I realised that by the next day, I will be one of those 24 000 Mozambicans heading for the border.

During the day I saw to a pre-arranged meeting with the Market Photo Workshop and then met with Andrew Tshabangu at the restaurant called Sophiatown. Andrew is one of the most important practising photographers from Soweto and very easy-going as a friend and colleague. He talked about a salient point concerning the conflict: The media have paraded several footages of the oppressed but none of the oppressors. No one knows the actual reason why these people are up to such evil. All we know about the situation is quite one-sided. Even the indigenes of the city are quite vague as to the cause of the incident. My curiosity was on a very basic level, otherwise I guess I would have done some more interviewing, instead I left things at that.

Jo’burg – Maputo

31st of May – It is called the Greyhound Bus. It was bound to leave at 8.15 am, so I will have to quit my friend’s home at 6.45am, if we have to make it on time. We ended up leaving at about 7am – a little behind schedule, but luckily,the traffic was quite on our side, and that was the moment my friend’s drunk-driver style of driving was more useful than ever. I didn’t know what to expect, the truth is that I was not really prepared for adventures, especially when caught up at a Portuguese/ Shangana- speaking border. I was just some travelling guy who was curious about the South African landscape. The picture of me struggling with my heavy luggage and

photo equipment while I try to run away from whatever didn’t settle well in my stomach. I wasn’t even prepared to make photos, so the question of photographing whatever was equally unthinkable. I just wanted to sit there and feed the eyes of my mind.

At the bus terminal there were lots of people. It really looked like Johannesburg is empting its bowels. Big colourful Ghana-must-go bags scattered haphazardly all around the terminal with its fleeing owners queuing up for tickets. Well, I had my ticket already and it seemed I arrived exactly on the dot. The bus had a small trolley with four wheels attached behind it to carter for the excess luggage, so through out the 9-hours journey, the bus will be pulling the trolley along with it. When I succeeded in handing over my luggage, it was time to mount the bus, and for the first time, my muscles un-flexed.

One wouldn’t understand how many pictures I had in my head about the state of affairs in the bus that will be carrying some outrightly disappointed and frustrated people who in a wimp were asked to evacuate their place of permanence. I was really expecting some heavily angry and bittered passengers, cursing their stars and those of their oppressors every minute of the journey. But to my greatest surprise, it was going to be the smoothest journey I have ever had on a bus ride. I said goodbye to my friend and I began to unwind as the bus kicked off its engine.

Dance Classroom

The bus was travelling at what seemed like 70km per hour, enough to rock you to sleep, but I was too excited to fall asleep immediately. I watched the gradual metamorphosis of the landscape from sky scrappers to rocks and then mountains. 45 minutes into the journey, the television was turned on, by this time, I was reading. I was interrupted by the first movie of the day: Dance classroom, with Antonio Bandaras playing the famous Mr. Pierre Dulaine, a Franco-American ball room dance instructor whose fate lead him to meet and teach a group of black/ Latino students from a dilapidated lifestyle and school system. At first glance the film resembles yet another cliché of the relationship between the upper class of the society and the low class, or between the whites and the blacks. But this film was somewhere different in the sense that it is quite relevant to our present predicaments. In the film, the youngsters tried to hold on to their rights as victims, while Mr. Dulaine was trying to say to them “you can be a victim and a victor at the same time, and yes, you can because you’ve got what it takes – you’ve got the missing picture”. I wandered off into my path of reflection: We are victims no doubt, no one can dispute that unless the disputer is completely ignorant or otherwise indifferent to the happenings around him, but then sitting on our rights as victims will not change a thing. It could get us foreign aid, it could earn us the sympathies of rich celebrities who come to evaluate their capacity for humanity with us, it could even excuse our irrational reactions and radicalism such as the xenophobia, but we are nevertheless victims.

There is so much we can we can do, but it seems we have been maimed by a mentality that dates back so many years. In fact, we are born into it as a form of inheritance. But now, we have to look back at the only thing we’ve got and realise that if we will ever get anything done, we will have to rely on the positivity of our sad possessions. We will have to rely on who we are and not on who we could have been…

Finally, the film ended and there were other films which weren’t at all as interesting. However, I noticed that all the three movies shown were from hollywood and none from Africa. I was wondering if this was just by a random choice, for it is certainly not because there are no mind-blowing movies made in Africa by Africans, at least not movies of all things! So where we will show African movies if not at least in the buses, carrying passengers whose realities make up the story line of such movies? Where we will show African movies when it does not have a place in those big cinemas meant for the “mainstream movies” with millions of audience?

I drifted into sleep clutching the book, when I woke, the book was on the floor. I looked out of the window, the landscape has completed its evolution, Johannesburg is now far behind us. The sight was quite amazing and peaceful: a wide espace of mountains adorned with cactus-like trees. The forms vary but still maintained that orderliness and beauty of a carefully thought out masterpiece of a gifted painter. It has the usual rocky colours of somewhat brownish-red. At some point the scene changed to include a few structures like houses, gigantic electrical energy facilities (the disturbing presence of industrialisation in a rather perfect nature), barns, windmills, ranch, etc. Other times the landscape takes the form of a massive abode for trees stripped of its leaves. I don’t know if I was to attribute this to the winter, or perhaps they are special kind of trees.

After what seems like 3 hours of journey the attendant announced that we were stopping for just 5 minutes, enough to stretch the legs. In no time, we were again on our way. We arrived in Nespruit, the most developed town between Maputo and Jo’burg. Some passengers were meant to drop off while some were to hop in. After Nespruit it was all the way to the border between South Africa and Mozambique.


Mozambican Border

At the border, I was really expecting a long queue of travellers. I was told there were 24 000 of us! Some south African friends told me how tedious it could be to get through customs. But again, to my surprise, it was less than a the normal crowd one would expect at any border on a good day. My first experience on crossing borders by road was in Benin in a bid to cross over to Lagos through Cotonou – in just three words: It was hell! But today it was quite different. We all came down on the instruction of the attendant. First of all, we were to go through the customs for our passports to be checked and stamped, then followed by the process of screening the luggages. One could easily tell that this “bag-searching business” was just a mere formality. The custom officers were more interested in something else: money! So, the sooner we give them some money, the better for our journey. Besides, what is actually there to search for in the bags of people who are returning to their country in an impromptu situation that left them little or no time for proper preparation?

We spent less than an hour at the border and we were already in Mozambique, and in an hour’s time, we were in Maputo.

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I am an Igbo-Nigerian visual artist and writer who lives and works between Africa and Europe, moving from one to the other on a frequent basis. Check bio here: https://borderbeing.com/about/

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