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The Black Foreigner

Maputo is a city that one could divide amongst two classifications: Mozambicans and foreigners. By foreigners, I mean anyone white or with an element of white. It is also important to state that there are white and mixed Mozambicans, therefore my classification is more of mental than a physical attribute. It serves to depict the flow of relationship between two entities: one with all the foreign investment (or aid) and the other, the local recipient with a constant will to serve as a consumer to whatever as long as it is foreign.

The above situation could adequately pass for a perfect representation of the Maputo of today. It is a city infested with a formidable influx of people from different countries and origin. It is on such velocity that the city thrives. It encompasses all genre of the life there. The black young male is constantly on the lookout for a white girl friend. They boast and fling their wings in such achievement as having found a white girlfriend. It is even to the extent that it forms the basis for which they differentiate themselves from their counterparts. I could remember my friend telling me one day “look at that guy going down there, he was my friend but since he met that girl, when he sees me, he does not talk to me”. On the other hand, the white young female, arrives in Maputo with the stereotype of finding a mystical black handsome guy, while endowed with physical perfection, is not spiritually lacking.

It has also affected the mentality of the average Mozambican. On several occasions, I have witnessed prejudice against a Mozambican by a fellow Mozambican in favour of a white foreigner. At the restaurant, the waiter sometimes overlooks the Mozambican to attend to the foreigner. This attitude is unconscious, it is the natural order of the day, it is like a plague. But also, there are some Mozambicans whose sensibilities towards the foreigners are towards the other bend. It takes on the same momentum as the above mentioned situation but only in an opposite direction: they are sceptical of anything foreign, they are on guard when they deal with such issues, they say no before they say yes. To me it is all one and the same: an acute dependence on a foreign entity and to make voluntary annunciation of the superiority of the other at the detriment of one’s own dignity.

As for me, a black foreigner, I am usually caught in between the two categories; in fact, I stand in neither position so my fate in Maputo takes on an arbitrary form – sometimes as simple as it is complex: a Nigerian, just like most Mozambican is black, and just like most foreigners, don’t speak Portuguese, Shangana or Ronga. Sometimes I suffer the fate of every other Mozambican when a white man is more favoured, while on some occasions, I enjoy the benefits attributed to foreigners. There is no telling on what will befall me and at what moment- it depends on each situation, but most times, my lack of Portuguese is the only indication that I am a foreigner, but if I should not speak, then I am a Mozambican and very invisible to those colour blind waiters and waitresses.

In other cases, it is the flip side of the situation: I get to pay twice or trice the actual price of what I buy as soon as I am recognised as non-Mozambican. It is immediately assumed that I am dripping of money: the Mozambicans have a very funny attitude of adopting the US dollars as the unofficial currency. One is tempted to ask why some guy is giving you the price of an article in dollars instead of Meticais, the answer is obvious: the amount seems small in dollars while in Meticais, it sounds like absolute theft.

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I am an Igbo-Nigerian visual artist and writer who lives and works between Lagos and Berlin, moving from one to the other on a frequent basis. Check bio here: http://emekaokereke.com/biography

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