Sunday, June 29, 2014

Fresh Tofo Coconut

My girlfriend flew down to visit me in South Africa on the condition that we’d get to spend some time traveling together outside of Cape Town. Which is my excuse for going on vacation less than three weeks into work.

Tofo, Mozambique, was probably a quiet beach and fishing village twenty years ago. Actually it still is, except that it’s been dwarfed by a small army of guest houses, restaurants, and scuba shops, not to mention the numerous signs pointing to each scattered everywhere around the sandy roads. It’s not crowded by any means, but I can’t exactly call it a secret either.

It was my first time in the tropics for over a year, and there were two things I wanted that I hadn’t gotten in my first 24 hours: fresh mango, and fresh coconut. We’d spent the day and the previous evening exploring the shops etc near the beach and wandering and swimming at the beach itself. Highlights included meeting week-old kitten, body surfing waves, and miraculously running into a friend of mine from grad school on a dirt road outside of town.

After swimming in the Indian ocean, my girlfriend and I headed back to our towel and belongings to relax for a bit. She turned to me and said that at this point, she was afraid that if there were fresh coconuts to be had around here, someone would probably have been selling them there on the beach. All we’d seen were bracelets, paintings supposedly made by the seller, and one oddly insistent teenager who really wanted to sell us bags of bread rolls.

So, when we first spotted the guys coming over to us with the baskets of cheap bracelets, our first thought was ‘here we go again.’

My girlfriend suggested deterring them by making out. Unfortunately, while fun, that only served to delay them. Once we’d stopped and she was resting her head on my shoulder looking at the waves, one of the guys walked around from behind us, squatted down directly in front, set his basket of wares next to him, grinned, and offered a hand for a high five.

After we each gave him one, he asked us where we were from. After telling him, I asked him where he was from. Instead of giving us the quick answer and trying to hawk bracelets, he told us he was from Tofo, that his brother managed a nearby backpackers hostel and let him stay from free and launched into a description of his normal day. I asked him how many languages he spoke. He said English, Portuguese, Tsonga, and Afrikaans. Tsonga being the local language, I asked him how to say hello and thank you. He told us.

After a bit of this, he selected a bracelet and held it over my wrist. I told him I wasn’t interested, so he held it to my other wrist.

“Sorry, still not interested.”
“It’s very cheap.”
“No, thank you.”
“You know how much?”
“No, but it doesn’t matter.”
“Why don’t you want one?”

This went on for about five minutes until out of nowhere the kid said. “fresh coconut?” That got my attention. I asked how much, and instead of telling me, he told us to wait and ran off. He came back with a coconut stripped of its outer green layer. I asked how much and he said cheap, pulling out a knife to chop it open. I tried to stop him saying if it was too much, I wouldn’t buy it. He asked how much I’d pay for it. I considered and said 30 meticals (about US$1). He made a noise like I’d hit him in the stomach. My girlfriend suggested 35 meticals, earning a look from him saying “you’re not helping.” Then he cut it open and set it on the ground in front of us.

The bargaining then swung from 35 meticals to 150 meticals, to him asking for our sunscreen, my shirt, my flipflops, and one of the towels we’d borrowed. We settled on 70 meticals, though he wasn’t happy about it. When he found out we only had 25 meticals in coins and a 500 metical bill (a bit less than US$17) he then raised the price again, and tried to tempt us by offering bracelets, the sunglasses of a friend who came over, and even the keys to his house. They only had 350 between them in change, but the friend said he could make change at his shop. He asked me to give him the money, saying he’d come back with it. I instead offered to go with him. He insisted on me giving him the money. I insisted more. More laughing and noises like being hit in the stomach.

So I put on a shirt, made sure my girlfriend was okay to be left there with the original salesman and a second friend who’d showed up with his own basket of bracelets. She said yes. So I put on a shirt and followed the guy back to the shops.

On the way he tried to sell me beer, rum, soda, and I don’t remember what else. People saw me coming and tried to sell me bread, cashews, soft drinks, alcohol, and fruit. None of them was about to break ranks and give me change without having me buy something.

I finally bought a bunch of bananas from a lady who claimed she could sell them for 20 meticals and get me change. Then she only had 400 meticals in change, saying I should take a papaya, too. Then she turned out to have 450 meticals in change and wanted me to buy oranges. She did not offer one of the coconuts I spotted that was identical to the one the guys were trying to sell me. Eventually she gave me another 12 meticals, and I decided paying a little over US$1 for a bunch of bananas was okay.

Meanwhile my girlfriend was fielding questions from the original seller.

“So, he is your brother?” he asked.
“Your friend?”
“Sure, he’s my friend.”
“...but you kiss.”
”You sleep together?
“So he is your boyfriend, not your friend,”
“You are going to marry him?”
“You are going to give him children?”
“We’ll see.”
“You can have one or two.” And with that pronouncement, he followed me and his friend off the beach.

After I left the fruit stand, the guys caught up with me and asked me to give them the money. I said we’d go back to my girlfriend and the coconut first. They kept asking, I kept walking. The friend called the original seller stupid in Portuguese and they all started laughing as we walked back. The seller asked for my shirt. I said no. He asked for a banana, and I gave him one.

When we got back, they asked again for 150 meticals. I said he’d offered 70 and I’d already given him a banana. He tried to take the money from my hand. I pulled it back, counted out 70, handed it to them, and handed the rest to my girlfriend, who immediately put it in her swimsuit top. They asked for more, I said, thank you, no, and started drinking from my coconut. I think that was the point at which they decided not to stick around to cut it in half for me, as originally offered, and they left.

Even if I had to scoop the meat out of the small opening with two fingers, it was great coconut. Satisfactory experience all around.

I wonder what getting that mango is going to be like.

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