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The great Maputo bagel hunt

Eugene Ahn

Posted 2:03PM on Thursday, August 16, 2007 Pacific Time

Jim showed up at the hotel yesterday very excited. During the day, he had discovered a place that does bagels and coffee. A place that he said was worth going back to.

Bagels and coffee in Maputo. I don't drink coffee, but the idea had an immediate allure.

Jim couldn't recall the name of the place. But he knew it's being run by two Americans and is located in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in town, near the Irish Embassy.

Enough information to go on. The bagel hunt was on.

So this Thursday morning, we piled into a run-down taxi parked in front of the hotel. The driver held together two wires sticking out of the steering column to start the car, and we rode the taxi's sad, rattling frame into what could only be described as the Mozambician dream: Paved roads with speedbumps. Multi-story mansion-sized homes on generous lots. Eight-foot-tall perimeter walls. Uniformed guards.

And lots of construction. It appears there's a building boom going on in Maputo. A RE/MAX realty office is slated to open up a branch in the neighborhood's small but impressive office block that also contains a beautician, a cash machine with armed guards, and our bagel pad, Cafe Sol.

We spent a leisurely morning on the sun patio enjoying a most unlikely breakfast.

It seems only right to see first-hand how, or at least where, the wealthy in this town live. And how they live. It's not much different from how the wealthy live anywhere in the world. Usually the rich and the poor don't live together. The whole point of being rich is so that you don't have to be poor.

But not far from this spot of bageled bliss is a sight that graphically illustrates the intricate link between economic classes, how the rich and the poor are not separate, but instead, more like twins separated at birth while still performing in roles that enable and sustain the character and identity of the other.

Jim led us to a spot where posh homes that would be considered mansions by most standards are lined up on one side of the road. On the other side of this same road, clusters of the most primitive shacks imaginable provide a surreal counterpoint to the city's divide between the rich and the poor.

We've spent a lot of time over the past two weeks in Maputo suburbs where the homes are held up more by necessity and love than by economic wealth or the sound construction that such wealth can buy. These meager habitations, as depicted in so many of the photographs being made by the kids, lack the most basic amenities such as electricity, running water, windows, and sometimes roofing. Truly, in these cases, the house is small.

It's amazing, then, to see mansion after mansion sporting perimeter walls topped with electrical security wire. Some homes in the slums don't even have electricity. But it seems most of the mansions have so much access to modern infrastructure that they can liberally utilize electricity in punitive land security measures.

It's amazing, further, to see shacks and the mansions sharing the same road. Odds and evens of the same street address will determine whether you're a have or a have not. Whether you can walk down the street for your hot bagel sandwich, or whether you grow corn at the base of a hill covered in your neighborhood's trash that will never get picked up and hauled away.

comments from website visitors:

welcome to the picture horrific of class warfare, exemplified by the bagel, redeemed by dumpster diving? no sitting on this fence. Where the heck is Mupato? Must waste bandwidth and find out more.
I'm 9 and I need it
San Diego
Posted Friday, August 17, 2007 11:03PM

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What I can say to my family, and my community, is that the most important thing is love, not money. Sometimes they say that they donít visit us because they have nothing to give us. We need love, not things. Even with money you can still feel alone inside.
Maputo project participant

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