Ditte Haarløv Johnsen, Maputo Diary

Ditte Haarløv Johnsen, Maputo Diary, 2000-2009

Mozambique gained its independence in 1975. It was ruled by the socialist Frelimo Party. My parents decidedto  relocate to  help the government  rebuild the country. We arrived in Maputo on the 11  of  January 1982.  I was five years old.

In 2000,  I spent another summer in Maputo. This time  I helped out at the photo school and got to  use thedarkroom for free. One day walking home from the school I met Ingracia and Antonieta. They stood out fromthe crowd as they strolled down the streets of Maputo, hips swaying. They were openly gay and for Maputo this was truly outrageous.
I approached them and we spent an afternoon together. Gradually they allowed me to get a glimpse into their lives. Stigmatised and  yet inhibited by such a crazy and stubborn will to survive. And with a fearlessness I admired – there was not much left to lose. Antonieta worked the streets and Ingracia  survived  by entertaining in the bars  of the  Shanty  Towns  and  getting  people to  buy  him  beer and food.
They introduced me to their circle of gay friends: “The Sisters”. I  photographed the Sisters and got the  feeling of a  story that was so much  deeper than what a  few picturescould convey. That was the beginning of Maputo Diary.

One and a half years later, I returned. I went to look for Ingracia at the apartment where he used to live. His mother had passed away and Ingracias older sister, Carla, had  taken over the place. She had kicked out Ingracia who was now living with an auntie. Ingracia showed me the way to Antonietas new place. Antonietta was more tired than when we first met. Tired of walking the street every night.
Maputo gets cold in the winter. I would walk the streets with Antonieta – attracted to that dark and secret side of life.
Antonieta was the only man in Maputo that dared wear womens clothes in public. He had worked the streets since he ran away from home at the age of 13.
Whenever he managed to make a little money, he would spend it right away. He said: “Save money for what if tomorrow I might be dead?” And he lied a lot. It annoyed me when he also lied to people about me, bragging about the big money I had spent on buying us drinks at an imaginary bar the evening before. I told him off and he said: “Ditte; When I meet a man I tell him my nameis Isabel and that I have two children, Carla and Nito. My whole life is built on lies”.
On New Years day we travelled to Xinavane, the village where he was born. There, with the family, Antonieta was Antonio. Antonieta died the 11th of January 2004. He was 29 years old. I always felt it as a special confirmation of the bond between us that he died on my birthday.

Ingracia’s brother Zito was in jail. Zito had been using hard drugs for a long time and was now doing time at the “Central Prison”. Marcelo, a Sister, had been accused of stealing a pair of pants off a clothesline and was also at the Central Prison. Ingracia had been inside  for a while. He sold  his stove back home and used the money to pay an officer to sign his release papers.
The prison was overcrowded. There was one water tap for the 2000 inmates and no latrines. A plate of foodwas served once a day and always the same – rice with a watery sauce. Inmates survived by trading food which family brought on the visit that was allowed every two weeks. Sex was traded too.
Marcelo was found innocent and released, having spent eight months in the Central Prison. He returned to his home province and lived there for two years until he passed away. Soraia, the owner of the bar where we usedto hang out, said: “He should have played safe”.

Rui  rented a room in the outskirts of Maputo. He also belonged to the group of Sisters. As a teenager, Ruiwent to Eastern Germany, where he worked on a power plant and came out as a gay man. When East and WestGermany reunited, all Mozambicans were sent home. Coming back was tough. Jobs were hard to find and Rui moved around a lot. Wherever he moved to he would bring with him his pot of orange flowers. Last time we met he said: ”There are so many feelings in my life. I think a lot about love and the work that I don’t have -and  sickness.” And  I  asked  him  what  he meant  by  sickness.  “You  know,  any  kind  of  sickness…  And  I’m afraid because I’m alone…”

Twenty percent of the Mozambican population are HIV positive. Yet it is still a taboo to talk of the disease.Rui passed away in 2004. He was 32 years old