Monday, August 2, 2010

Derelict Delight Tour of Downtown Maputo

Today was a venue hunting day as we have realised we need our own space where clients can buy directly instead of only supplying shops. This will also work as a show space for our new Pili Pili Home collection. I actually enjoyed the 6-hour walk thru countless derelict buildings. There is something both stunning and ugly about downtown Maputo.
I found the ideal place, totally perfect for Pili Pili but I know it will be way out of our budget but it is good to dream. And I know one day that place will belong to Pili Pili, maybe not this year.
I spent the day with Stelio, our informal estate agent. We have very different style of working. He likes to talk for 10 minutes asking all about the receptionist’s and her family’s well-being before he asks the simple question of whether a building is for rent! I had to be very patient not to snap at him. On the other hand, I can get too direct that it comes across rude sometimes. Maybe together we do a better job.
I spent 3 hours on my own walking around downtown Maputo (Baixa) to find an interesting place and to make sure some meetings I attended alone, couldn’t bring myself to bring Stelio to important ones. He joined me for the next 3 hours, after I had already identified the buildings I like and wanted him to find the owners and negotiate on my behalf. In Maputo, as soon as you speak English or appear foreign, the prices shoot up. So, better to find what you like and send a ‘local’ to speak for you.
One of the places I fell in love with is on Rua Bagamoyo, the red light district and an obvious brothel hotel probably with hourly rate but just too beautiful to pass up. I love the building and that whole area of Maputo and I find it intriguing that right next to that hotel is the biggest mosque in Maputo, my kind of neighbourhood.
I walked in before Stelio joined me and spoke to the person at the reception, a one legged black man with smart glasses and a walking stick sitting on his own. I spoke to him in my pathetic Portuguese and he replied in English! He said he was from Namibia and was living in the hotel for a month. He is here to explore opportunities for a family run second-hand car import business. When I told him I am originally from Somalia, he switched to Swahili! I speak Swahili but most Somalis don’t so I didn’t get why he assumed. It turns out he lived for a long time in Nairobi trading in cars with Somalis there and he travels between Kenya, Namibia, South Africa and now Maputo. Interesting character, I thought. The kind you would find in Blood Diamond. I didn’t want to ask how he lost his leg, am sure there is a fascinating story behind it.
Oh yeah, he is Muslim and his name is Ibrahim. Don’t you just love Maputo? A Muslim one-legged Ibrahim living in a brothel doing car import business but doesn’t have enough credit to call an estate agent friend of his who could help me.
We go upstairs and Ibrahim wakes up Thomas, the son of the owners who can open doors, he tells me. Thomas is disorientated but is polite enough to tell me there is no space left for rent but I can have his phone number and call him at the end of the day…What for? He doesn’t have a space is all I need to know. But I took the number anyways, I might be able to make a deal with him to leave his room for Pili Pili Designs.
In a typical Maputo style, soon as you start speaking to someone few people gather around and all offer to help. 2 guys joined us and called someone on their phone to ask if so and so is renting that space behind the Ministry of something. No, that space is gone and besides it was far too expensive for our budget…Which we still have no clue what it is.
I figured there was nothing more to discuss at the brothel hotel and I better move on to a place with less characters and more people. So, I went to the train station, one of my favourite venues in Maputo. After chatting with 4 stuff members we find the right person to speak to. He is polite and speaks English with a heavy borrowed American accent. He tells us there is no space for rent at the train station but the company owns a lot of warehouses, if I know which one he can check if it is vacant. I inform him that I didn’t know they had other spaces and if he gave me list of the buildings I could check them out to see which one we like. To my surprise, he tells me they don’t have a record of all their buildings and which ones are vacant!!! I am amazed by this frank admission about something that serious. If they don’t care maybe we can squat in one of them and they won’t know? I also got another business idea talking to him, what about a property management deal with them and maybe the Moz government with massive collection of derelict buildings?…There is a free business idea you are more than welcome to run with. We parted with nothing more promising than a business card and a promise to try to find more information for me.
I feel a bit exhausted and hungry from all the empty talk and long walks so I ask Stelio if we can have a lunch break. He agrees and we find the cheapest place we can eat. For 65 mets (1.9USD), we get a large plate of rice, decent sized fried fish and salad! And it is really tasty. I know where to eat when I am downtown next time. The place wasn’t that dirty either. You would be surprised how being broke impacts on your hygiene standards, lol. When the bill arrives, Stelio doesn’t offer to pay for his food and I am surprised. I don’t want to make a fuss out of this since he spent hours walking with me so I pay for it and we silently resume our derelict delight tour.
Stelio tells me there is another place on 25th September and he knows the owner. It is a short walk from where we eat so I happily agreed to check it out. It is on the other side of 25th September and I realise it is a more pleasant part of downtown and cleaner. The building is clean and newly renovated. This usually means crazy prices. The guy is asking for 700USD a month for a place big enough to have 2 desks! Fuck that.
I walk out and walk into a Pakistani-owned stationary shop and the loud and gold-clad woman behind the counter says there is a large shop space next door for rent. Price? 1000USD! What is up with this place? The shop is run down and filthy with over the top bling bling tiles, a horror. After 6 hours walking, my patience runs out and I walk out. The Pakistani guy I was speaking to comes after us and says he has another place much bigger for 800USD if I want to view it tomorrow. OK, that sounds more honest. I follow him to his office to get his business card and he shows me a picture of the “Palm” in Dubai and tells me he owns a house there…Nice to know but I care more about what price he is going to charge for the other place. Let’s see what he says tomorrow.


  1. Very nicely written ♥ it!!!
    I want to read more and am curious how it ends... really well written!

  2. Ah, thanks abaayo! Glad you enjoyed reading it.