Sexual harassment and laughs in a Mozambican municipal office

Marc and his Mozambican queen.

Marc and his Mozambican queen.

After our unfortunate run-in with a Mozambican police officer at the beginning of the trip, we had a much more hilarious encounter with another government employee towards the end of the week.

I had been tagging along with Marc and Sean as they dealt with some logistical issues regarding a small eco-lodge they are building along the Mozambican coast.

On Monday they were expecting to receive their building license, the last in a series of permits needed to start construction on a workshop at the property, the main building and the first handful of bungalows. We were told to report to the municipal building office at 11 a.m. to pick up the license. It wouldn’t be quite that easy.

The license was taking longer than expected and needed the signature of some local leader who wasn’t around. That left Marc and I waiting at the counter for quite a while as things got sorted out. We didn’t speak much Portuguese and the women at the desk didn’t speak much English. Despite that, we were trying to eek out some small talk.

As is common at many government buildings in sub-Saharan Africa, there was a box of free condoms on the counter meant to stymie the spread of HIV in the region. One particularly animated woman noticed us eyeing them. She quickly ran over to grab the box and start passing then out.

She politely handed two to me – an awkward cultural experience – but really came alive when she handed the box to Marc.

I didn’t quite believe what I was seeing as she picked one up and started pointing to herself, then to Marc, then to the condom. Blushing, Marc laughed and shook his head to say “no.” She wasn’t deterred.

She came running around the counter and again tried to give Marc the condom as the other clerks howled with laughter. The affection continued for a few more minutes as she grabbed his sunglasses and started rubbing his belly.

I gleefully snapped photos of the happy couple and showed them off around the office.

(Note to clerks at the Multnomah County offices: maybe you should employ this approach to liven things up a bit?

I was laughing hysterically but was also slightly scared that she just might be serious. By this time we had attracted quite a crowd of Mozambican bureaucrats, including one woman who spoke English and started translating for us.

Marc, being the resourceful guy that he is, decided he might be able to gain some leverage from this uncomfortable situation. As the woman pulled him towards the bathroom (again, not sure where she was on the serious/joke spectrum), Marc calmly asked “does this mean we’ll get the license sooner?”

Not even Marc’s allure could help us on that front. Eventually he returned the condoms to the box and work returned to the normal as we continued to wait.

Eventually, after much wrangling and an argument with Sean’s local fixer, we did manage to get the building license.

Say what you will about Africa, at least it’s rarely dull.

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One thought on “Sexual harassment and laughs in a Mozambican municipal office

  1. Pingback: The beautiful side of Mozambique | John Tierney

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