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Photo Essay: Re-imagining the beach in Maputo

You may have stumbled upon the stereotype of Africans not being able to swim. That is, of course, a brisk generalisation. Though almost unfortunately true.

Let us, for a moment, deconstruct the ‘beach’. Generally, one thinks of it as a centre for recreation purposes. Tourists come with their exaggerated luggage and water gimmicks that leave us sceptical. They play with the waves, take a dive and resurface with glory and might from a well-spent day at the latest sea spot.

The us/them binary is distinct.

While they play with the waves, we fish.

While they draw in the sand, we cook.

Celma Costa - Re-imagining the beach in Maputo (1)

The way in which we position ourselves in this beach-like space is entirely different, and thus entirely emblematic to the dynamics of the Maputo-born citizen.

To understand what we do when we go to the beach, we must dedicate some time to reflect on its own purpose. The integration of the sea into the city, or, perhaps, of the city into the sea, speaks volumes into our constant run-ins with nature in the urban space.

Shall we, then, go to the beach?

There is no shame in our laissez-faire state of affairs. We wake early, and fall asleep in the same breath, between the zig-zag of work and the radiating puffs from the sun.

It is now winter, but still the breeze is warm enough to bring us closer to it.

The Marginal, Maputo city’s coastline, was built to demarcate the end of what is urban, and the beginning of nature’s immensity.

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Through conflicting renovations, drunk driving incidents and disturbingly casual suicides, the Marginal has a newer, redder face, thanks to the Chinese-owned building across the street. (That, if you ask me, pays little regard for the aesthetics of the city’s coast line.)

A renovated coast line disappointed its visionaries, for nothing but the pavement has changed. The users of the space remain as occasional drifters, fishermen and Mamanas (endearing term for “Old Lady”). Across the street there used to be a fish market, and a tall building. Both demolished, metaphorically and literally. Today, only the dust of old, failed architecture; and the lust of new shopping malls.

The new and improved Japanese-sponsored Fish Market introduced some interesting dynamics to Maputo’s Marginal. What used to be connoted with bad smell, peasantry and chaos, now gave space to fine seafood-dining restaurants and embassies to emerge.

The seaside view is now a luxury, and it will cost your eyes to experience the sight.

Not, of course, if your very profession revolves around the sea.

It is equally tranquilising to simply enter at union with nature, without exploiting it for recreation. One’s sense of pleasure is not overwritten by an undeniable calmness that comes from simply standing by the sea.

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Our interaction with the beach does not necessarily imply swimming in it; in fact, it’s far from it.

To swim at the beach would be a cause for genuine confusion on our part.

In the midst of the urban noise that secures Maputo’s archetype of a metropolis, exists a sea of quietude that allows us to escape.

The beach, the sea, as we use them interchangeably, is exactly that: a gateway. It’s not a place where one should enter, but a space where one must go through.

Each late afternoon offers an opportunity for the busy citizen to take a break from traffic lights and delight oneself in nature.

Among the camaraderie of sea-watching and imperturbation of bird migration, we come to understand what the beach is really for.

“Nature is pleased with simplicity. And nature is no dummy.”

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Celma Costa is a lover of all things bright and yellow, with an unorthodox taste for neuroscience and politics. Keep up with her at her blog, The Nomad Settler.

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