(Story begins here.)
At the Boane training camp Jake heard dark tales of the war. By the late 1980s, Renamo was throttling the south of the country as it had central Mozambique. The routes connecting Maputo to South Africa and to most of the rest of country were virtually impassable. One night a truck came to Boane and officers rounded up 25 of the tallest men, Jake among them. Where were they being taken? “Another barracks” was the curt response. One of Jake’s commanders at Boane let him in on the secret: where he was going he was going to die.
That night Jake found himself at the barracks in central Maputo. Preparations were being made for an operation in Manhiça, to the north, and the word in the barracks was that the road to Manhiça went through a charred wasteland. Jake’s fear gave way to a deep resentment. He had been cheated. To be left in the dark about this apparent suicide mission, to be spirited away in the middle of the night to Maputo without his say-so, amounted to a crime of theft, he told me. He had been “stolen” by the army. Jake was not meant to go to war. He had spent years at school in East Germany for a purpose—sent on his way at thirteen with the blessing of the First Lady herself. All of it was to be wasted because at twenty he had the misfortune of being tall.
Jake had less than 72 hours to plot his desertion. He and his friend convinced a base commander that, since they were going to be gone for awhile, they should leave their bags with family in Maputo. They were given leave to go, but were ordered to return once they had dropped off their bags. Jake did in fact have family in Maputo. Upon entering his relatives’ apartment, he barely said a word. He and his friend changed quickly out of their military uniforms, exited the door, and scrambled to find a way out of Mozambique.
In the 1980s, East Germany was the destination for thousands of Mozambican men. The School of Friendship in Stussfurt had only been part of what was seen as a strategic relationship for the two socialist bloc countries. Mozambicans, contracted to East German factories, gave the DDR a source of cheap labor. The workers, for their part, were happy to earn a living and escape the civil war, and they called themselves the Magermane, a Mozambicanization of “Germans.” Mozambique benefited in a couple of ways. The Magermane were learning skills that would be useful in a peacetime Mozambique. And the government held onto millions in worker pay which Germany transferred directly to Mozambique’s treasury.
Jake’s ticket to East Germany was a Sony radio. It was a radio he brought back to Mozambique from Stussfurt the year before. He sold it, and with the money he paid off someone at the labor ministry. Three days after leaving the army barracks, and now AWOL, Jack and his friend had the proper documents in hand. That night they were on the nine o’clock flight to Bulgaria, and by morning they were in the DDR. At the airport there were school buses waiting for the incoming contract workers from Mozambique. Jake’s friend took a bus to Dresden, Jake took a bus into East Berlin.
(Story continued here.)