A crowded city
I don’t really want to write this blog post.
I was going to write a different post. One about how much I enjoyed the city of Nampula, a necessary stopover on the way to and from Mozambique Island. The Lonely Planet rejects Nampula as a “crowded city with a hard edge” and I had planned to write about how the guidebook is wrong.
I like Nampula. The hotel where I was staying was welcoming, with adorable kittens and strawberry tarts and good espresso (good coffee has been so rare on this trip that I immediately fall in love with anywhere that has an espresso machine). The architecture is interesting. There is an excellent restaurant behind the museum. The people are friendly.
The people are overwhelmingly friendly, in fact. I couldn’t find the hotel when I first arrived. It had only recently opened, so it wasn’t in any of the guidebooks and nobody had heard of it. I stopped many times to ask for directions. Finally, a manager at an upscale hotel called around and managed to locate it. When I told her I was going to walk rather than take a taxi, she insisted on driving me herself. “Don’t be silly”, she said. “You don’t want to walk all around town with that big backpack”.
A crowded city with a kind edge, I thought.
And then. It happened the next afternoon. I was walking on a crowded street, looking to buy some snacks for a long bus ride the next day. I didn’t hear him behind me. I didn’t know he was there until I felt his hands around my neck. I fought back. He pushed me around and tried to kiss me. I kicked him and yelled and he ran away.
The attack bothered me, of course. It was terrifying. But it was over almost before it began and I was never in any real danger. The streets were crowded and there were people there to help. What bothered me more was the reaction of the European owner of the hotel where I was staying. When I told him I had been assaulted, he looked at me with concern. I explained what had happened and he laughed dismissively. “Oh,” he said. “I know him. He’s mad. Mentally ill. He does that to all the female tourists. He’s harmless”. Harmless. I seethed. “Have you ever felt someone’s hands tightening around your neck? It doesn’t feel harmless.”
It could have happened anywhere. It could have happened in Edmonton or Vancouver or Dar. But it happened in Nampula. And, now, when I think of Nampula, I think of the kittens and the strawberry tarts and the good espresso, but also of the angry man with the strong hands.
I didn’t want to write this blog post. It could have happened anywhere, but my instinct was to pretend that it had never happened. The incident doesn’t change the way I feel about Africa or Mozambique. And I don’t want to perpetuate the myth that Africa is a violent and lawless place. I feel safe here. The people are, for the most part, kind and generous and willing to go out of their way to help a stranger.
But, too often, I think, women remain silent about acts of violence. Sometimes they have no choice but to remain silent. But I have a choice and I don’t want to be the kind of woman who is silent about anything that is upsetting. Especially when there are still people in the world that think violence against women is harmless.
So, I’m writing about the good and the bad. In the crowded city of Nampula.