The House of Gande

(Story began here.)

Mahomed Hassam, one of Gande's many grandchildren, and his uncle Farouk Hassam, one of Gande's nine children, at the family compound, Tete city, Mozambique, 2009

I was in Tete city, the provincial capital. I had just been in a remote village for a week and a half, where I’d come across the ruins of a general store. Decades ago, before two wars intervened, the store gave the village a quicker pulse than surrounding villages. A number of older people shared with me memories of its owner, a Tete-based Indian trader called Gande. Village and ruins would forever disappear underwater if a planned dam were built, maybe a year or so hence. I had photos of the ruins. I did not want to fly back to Maputo until I found Gande’s family, showed them these photos, and found out more about Gande. I had an afternoon and an evening to make this happen.


Casa Gande, Gande’s store in Tete, was fortunately just a few blocks from my hotel. I think it’s been at the corner of Avenida 25 de Junho and Avenida Julius Nyerere for more than 70 years—though the streets had different names when Gande was alive. Casa Gande sells canned beans. Piles of rubber “xangos” (pronounced SHAN-goos), a Mozambicanization of “sandals.” Stacks of colorful cotton shawls. Actually, I might be remembering any number of stores in Tete. While I waited my turn at the counter I counted things on shelves. Other customers were buying big bags of cornmeal.

The photos were a hit. The store now belonged to Mahomed Nauchad Hassam, one of Gande’s grandsons. He didn’t quite know what to make of me or the images I showed him on my digital camera, but the uncles he sent me to certainly did, and I ended up that evening in the Hassam family compound, behind the store. If I remember right, two of Gande’s nine children lived here with their families, plus Mahomed and his family, and Gande’s widow, Rabia Juma, who was 87 years old. I started off by interviewing Rabia Juma. She sat on her bed in the room she shared with her daughter. Her son Farouk translated between Portuguese and Urdu. As we talked, members of the family collected at the edge of the room until it was full, and I passed around the camera with the photos.

I realized I had very little to say that would interest them. Other than Gande himself, no one else in the family had spent much time in Chirodzi-Sanangwe. Farouk and his brother Abdul Gafar, who were now in their late fifties, remembered visiting the village on school holidays, when they might stay for a few days at a time and go fishing and canoeing. In the early 1960s, as children, the store in Chirodzi-Sanangwe felt like a castle. Buildings in Tete rarely had two stories.

The link between the village and Gande’s family, however, had long since been severed. Gande never went back to Chirodzi-Sanangwe after the colonial war started. No one in the family had—for decades it would have been too dangerous to visit in any case. No one in the family knew Biquane Chazia, Marialena Dique, Gadeni Gaspar or the other people I met in the village and who had once worked for Gande. They fondly remembered people I had no news of, the men from the village who had once worked for long stretches at the family compound or at the Tete store as cooks, handymen, and clerks, and who they knew only by first names: Thebo, Rendição, Bacachesa, Diogo, Adriano, and one man they called “O Capitão”—the Captain. None of the workers currently employed at the Tete compound were from Chirodzi-Sanangwe.

Yet the reminder of Gande’s long-time presence in the village set off a scramble in the house for more photos. We were now gathered in a living room over a big pile of snapshots from the late 60s and early 70s. Many were of Abdul Gafar at 18 or 19, with his friends swimming in the Zambezi, or as a young recruit in the Portuguese army, a striking difference in appearance from the older Abdul Gafar, who alone among the men in the family now wore a long white kurta and a white taqiyah on his head, and kept a long beard. There were few pictures of Gande, and none of the store in Chirodzi-Sanangwe. The family’s camera had been acquired a few years after the village store was abandoned, and just before Gande’s death, of heart failure, in 1970. He was in his early 60s when he died.

Farouk showed me other mementos of Gande. There was the cabinet radio over which he would crouch every night to listen to the Urdu broadcast from Radio Pakistan. There was the swinging bench Gande set up in the main courtyard, on top of which he had rigged an electric bicycle bell. One ring meant he wanted a glass of water, two meant a cup of tea. The family sat around the bench and I took another picture.

Farouk was the family historian. He had recently returned to Tete after two decades in Portugal, and he was now staying at the hotel one of his brothers owned, just beside the bridge across the Zambezi. That’s where, for the rest of the evening, he told me how his father and mother ended up in Tete.

(Story continued here.)

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2 Responses to The House of Gande

  1. Pingback: A pretty flag | Hotel Universo

  2. Pingback: The Gande ruins | Hotel Universo

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