Happy Easter. Good Friday isn’t in the official list of public holidays, yet it was announced this week that it should be observed by government employees and those of a Christian nature. The cynical response is that the country wants to appear religious ahead of the papal visit later this year. My boss sympathised that the UK observes Good Friday and ordered me to take the afternoon off regardless of my atheist stance. A perfect opportunity for a weekend getaway with my friend John, who’s visiting, and another friend Zina, who’s working in Maputo.
The city was deserted during the morning, as people were either engaged in acts of piety, or had left for the beach. John hunted for food and was only able to locate one open restaurant; a Korean, for whose staff Good Friday isn’t a significant event.
We headed towards the border with South Africa at Ressano Garcia, aiming for a lodge on the fringes of Kruger National Park. Last time I passed through this border was in 2008, by coach from Maputo to Pretoria. This was actually the last time I was in South Africa, except for in transit. I did this journey during my expedition leading days when I’d be escorting groups of teenage volunteers around various countries. I remember the foot and mouth controls at the time, as this is a livestock disease that has wrought havoc periodically in Southern Africa. The system was comically inept. Hundreds of people padded around outside the immigration building and were directed to stand in a chemical foot bath for five seconds, before being sent back to their original spot. If the goal was to reduce shoe-based transmission of disease, it was woeful.
This time the border was woeful for different reasons. The taxi driver made a mess of the documentation needed to pass through the checks. As is so often the case in global travel done on the cheap, the issue was resolved after an inordinate amount of time and with bizarre explanations cited. The delay was eventually not due to incorrect documentation as we were originally informed, but was due to the taxi driver’s daughter, Solange, being engaged with other clients on the South African side of the border, and the clients had insisted on stalling to attend church. On such a pious day, they are forgiven.
Whilst waiting at the border we occupied ourselves by photographing the free condom selection. The printed sheets are helpful and the flavour selection generous. When I mentioned the freebies to the taxi driver, I’ve never seen anyone move so fast, and she excitedly ran to stock up. Chocolate was her choice.
As we settled into our lodge, I received what I think would be termed a message of Christian solidarity from Poni in South Sudan:
I heard that the person you love was beaten and killed because of you. If you want to know him just look at the cross of Calvary. You will see him; he still loves you and his name is Jesus. If it's true you love him, send this text to all your friends. I have done my part. Pls, don't disappoint Jesus!
Would Jesus support the tone and the request to avoid shame by proliferating the use of technology? If this is the sort of sentiment (first line in particular) that some religious folk put themselves through on Good Friday, I’ll hang on ever more tightly to my atheism hat.