Thursday, September 25, 2014

Criminal, guilty of sketching, said the police.

Maputo, great city, great people.
Just one major glitch -apart from the traffic jams and go-slows- one can be arrested for sketching crime (banged up abroad with 50gr of watercolours, for immoral behaviour).
I was in Maputo for a job last week and, jumping on the opportunity that my last meeting for the day had been cancelled, I decided to draw one of the landmark of the Mozambican capital.
A modern-style church made like an origami. Very interesting thing.
I checked the place around, made sure that I was not getting in the way of passers-by, nor facing any governmental buildings and started my lines, ink and watercolours.
I was just doing my thing, in the afternoon, just chilled.

There stopped a black and white single cab full of cinzentos, the beloved police in charge of order and security.
Four conflict-resolution experts jumped off, and the car went. Tightly holding their AKs in an unobtrusive and comfortable way, nozzles facing me, they came to give me the comfort a lonely man need and surrounded me.
I was so happy to meet art-loving policemen, and- who knows- possible fellow sketchers!
Damn I was so wrong.
"Papers!", "Where is your authorization? ", "what you do is illegal!", "What are you doing here?", "You have to come to the esquadra for a fine", "It is going to be very expensive", "you are going to prison", "Don't you know you cannot take picture and make movies here?",  "It is illegal!", "Do you plan to put a bomb!",
bla bla bla. The bomb thing was way over the top. Never heard anybody saying I sketch so I bomb. Unless they mean photo bomb or spray cans. But the police officer was not open to semantics. 

They just wanted to chat and ask questions, talking shit, making you feel shit and unease, and playing the bully. They sure know how to do it.
So, I kept on sketching, told them that it was my hobby and the conversation went around these lines:
- No-one needs a despacho to do their hobby 
-you don't need an authorization for drinking beer in a bar, not even from your wife
and that my drawings were surely not good enough to cause any harm, etc.  Just the usual chit-chat, testing limits and trying your luck.
It took a good half an hour to have them off me and get the "authorization" to finish the sketch. We exchanged numbers, promised to go and visit each-others and hugged.
It is easy to lose your temper in such situation. Then they win. Keep calm and treat police with the most unnatural respect, whether a US immigration officer, a French gendarme or a Mozambican cinzento, they all play the same game, the same way, with different tools.
They need to feel that you are afraid, that they are right. After all, it's their job to respond to extra-ordinary behaviours as a sure threat, because people acting different are, indeed, trouble makers. So if you look different, contest rules, disagree, stop when people walk, draw in the street, or whatever... if you are outside the ideal mould, you will meet men in uniforms more than once. And you’ll have amazing philosophical discussion in ethology and social behaviours. Generally police officers around here are always ready to talk and understand your perspective. It does not happen that way everywhere.

To be fair, I have to admit that I knew there are warnings in taking pictures in Mozambique. One cannot take a picture or movie of a strategic public buildings (police stations, army barracks, airports, ministries, etc.). But the extend of "strategic building" is up to interpretation. And so, it seems, the interpretation of a picture/ movie.  A friend of mine had a similar nonsense taking a picture of a monument celebrating the freedom fighters (

That's the story of how I escaped years in prison and absolute impoverishment to finish the sketch of Polana’s church. Good that I escaped prison, it's never nice to have a criminal record whilst hunting for work. 
Had I known, I would have chosen a subject a bit more flamboyant and controversial than a church… something really revolutionary, illegal or socially involved. 
Anyway, apart from that police incident (and another one involving a friend of mine a couple of days later), it was really cool to go to Maputo and stay with good friends there, see their kids growing, drink a respectable amount of 2M, meet theirs mates, really nice.
And work went fine as well. I did an evaluation of a project that measured and worked on the discrimination and stigma people living with HIV/AIDS are faced with ( Really interesting, and I had the incredible opportunity to meet activists that are giving all their energy for their cause. Always inspiring.

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