I’ve finally done it. After nearly a year of ignoring kissy noises and “baby” hollered after me on the street, I can now confidently tell someone off in Portuguese. And be understood. The wrath of Jen can no longer be contained.
The flip was switched a few weeks ago, on a Wednesday, a few hours before I was scheduled to fly to Maputo. But I still didn’t have my passport. I headed to Immigration, determined to sit there and/or raise a stink (no matter how culturally-inappropriate) until I had my passport in hand. It was not a good moment to even look at me the wrong way as I walked along Goto market, across a busy main street, and down a wide, sandy median before the turn-off to the Immigration office.
It was on the median that someone yelled, “Olá, baby! Ba-by, o-lá!” Surprising even myself, I spun around and marched back to a seated man and his buddy fixing something metal. I pointed a finger in his face and said, in English because it’s what automatically exited my mouth, “That is VERY rude!” Wide-eyed he looked around requesting help, “Inglés? Inglés?” I switched to Portuguese and explained sternly that he doesn’t have respect when he calls someone “baby”. He apologized while his buddy watched on, trying not to laugh.
Two days ago a young man called me baby as he walked past. I turned around and said, “ExCUSE me?” He looked surprised. I told him it was disrespectful to call a woman “baby”. He said, “Then what should I say?” Seriously?! He really asked that? “Senhora,” I said. “Olá, senhora.”
As if being called “baby” isn’t enough, today I was followed as I ran some errands in town. In one shop I happened to notice a young man because he had quite pale skin and was nicely dressed. I noticed him again in another shop but didn’t think anything of it as there were many people busy running errands before shops closed at noon. As I was about to enter a third shop, I felt someone’s arm around my waist. It was the same man. I pushed away and yelled, again in English because it was so automatic, “Don’t touch me!” He looked really irritated and responded in English, “I was just trying to get by. DAMN!” He was not. Then he followed me into a fourth shop. At that point I had had enough of Beira and escaped to my favorite air-conditioned café for a little treat and respite from the streets and men. Thankfully I ran into a female friend there who wanted to visit for awhile.
Also, thankfully on the days when I’m most fed up with Mozambican men, I’m reminded that they’re not all scum. After the café I returned to a little photocopy shop where I had left a stack of copying earlier, my whole reason for coming into town in the first place. The gentleman who helped me was delightful – cheerful, friendly, polite, competent, well-organized, and he also gave me a discount. I should have thanked him for balancing my perspective on Beira. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to say that in Portuguese.