Petty Officer 1st Class Steve Owsley wrote:
Petty Officer 1st Class Steve Owsley is writing from Maputo, Mozambique, where he is participating in U.S. Africa Command’s Humanitarian Mine Action program
When I found out I was going to be making a trip to Maputo, Mozambique I was very excited. I’ve traveled a lot in my time in the Navy, but I’ve been exclusively a West Coast Sailor, which meant I’ve visited countries throughout Asia and the Middle East, but not Europe and definitely not to Africa.
Africa is one of the continents that I never thought that I would get a chance to visit. To be honest I didn’t know much about Africa before I found out that I was going. I expected the country to be very hot and dry. Imagine my surprise when I got off my connecting flight in Johannesburg and found a cold wind and drizzle. I was caught off guard in my jeans and a tee shirt.
I also expected the people I met to be indifferent or even a little hostile to visiting Americans, but I was amazed at their sense of humor and good nature. Almost everyone that I meet in Maputo seems to love to smile and joke with you. I don’t think Africans say something simple and cursory like hello, instead I’m always hearing, “My friend.”
I went through all the training to avoid Malaria, taking the pills and wearing the insect repellant but I haven’t seen or felt a single mosquito while I’ve been here.
I’ve seen beautiful beaches and amazing sunsets that silhouette Palm trees. I never thought that I’d see palm trees in Africa.
I had never thought of Africa as a vacation destination for anything aside of safaris or visiting family members that might still be living there. Maputo has changed my perceptions of what Africa is. To me it’s no longer a large barren near dessert area. This trip has opened my eyes to the beauty and diversity this country has to offer and I can’t wait to see more.
Everywhere that I’ve been so far I come across people selling things. It’s amazing to me how much the people here work. Along the sidewalks people are selling sunglasses, jewelry, clothes, wooden masks, statues of African wildlife and everything else that you can think of.
I asked the hotel front desk the best place to visit to buy souvenirs and they sent me to the craft mall. It’s in a fenced in park with various vendor stalls on a concrete path that winds through the park under an overhead covering.
As you walk past the individual stalls the vendors watch for anything that you take an interest in. Always eager, they step forward with a cheerful, “My friend,” as they point out whatever they think you might be interested in.
One vendor wanted to prove that one of the statues that I was looking at was real ebony wood and not just a cheaper painted cheaper wood, by scratching it with a bottle opener.
Many of the stalls sell variations of the same items. A lot of times the only differences on who you buy from is the hard work of the vendor and the price they are willing to bargain down to. The sales people at each stall were impressive to me. I don’t speak their language, but in manageable English they found a way to get their point across. They laugh, joke and keep showing you more of the things they are selling.
The vendors are some of the most determined salesmen that I have ever seen. I bought two masks for a friend and a few small statues that I was carrying in a large bag. A salesman approached me and began his pitch. I stopped him and said, “Sorry, I don’t have any space left in my luggage for anything else.”
Without missing a beat, he said, “Small, buy something small!”
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