The hotel by the bridge, owned by one of the Hassam brothers, had one of the few swimming pools in Tete. It was called Paraíso Misterioso—Mystery Paradise—and I can’t get over the fact that I was in too much of a hurry to take proper notes of what the place looked like. If memory serves, the area around the pool was like an African-themed miniature golf course. (There is, however, this video by one of the hotel’s Brazilian guests, probably one of the hundreds, perhaps thousands of Brazilians who have come to build the giant coal operation in nearby Moatize.) I also regret that I didn’t explore further with Farouk the fate of his family’s various enterprises in the first decade and a half after independence, when the economy collapsed and many businesses were nationalized. Farouk left for Portugal in 1985 because of the deteriorating situation. Another brother fled into exile in Malawi in 1977 because he was caught with a contraband hundred dollar bill. Somehow the Hassams managed to land on their feet. The Mystery Paradise and the Casa Gande were proof of that.
At the hotel, Farouk told me the story of Gande, his father, who was born Ismail Hassam in a town called Bhanvad in British India’s Gujarat province. He was, according to Farouk, mename, a Muslim trading caste. (If any of you know anything about the mename, please tell us more in the comments.) In the mid-1920s, when Ismail was in his late teens, he sailed for Africa. “He was an adventurer,” Farouk said. “He heard his father’s friends talking about Africa. He left Bhanvad on a cow wagon, until he reached Bombay.”
He went to the docks and said he wanted to go to Africa. He went to Kenya. When he saw the English flag, he said, “This is what I have in India!” So he went to Tanzania. When he got there he realized, “This is the same as Kenya!” So he went to the Island of Mozambique. He saw the Portuguese flag. He said, “This flag is different. And prettier.”
If you’ve been reading some of the other stories on this site, Ismail’s early life of peregrination may sound familiar. Ismail thought the Island of Mozambique, a centuries-old former slaving port off the northeast coast of the Portuguese colony, was too small, and so he continued onto Nampula, a town not far away. From there he went to Beira, Mozambique’s second largest port, and stayed for awhile. But one day he heard the whistle of a train. He bought a ticket. Possibly because his Portuguese wasn’t good enough to discuss his options with the teller, he simply headed to the end of the line. The end of the line was Moatize, about 400 miles away in Tete district. “When he got there my father said, ‘From now on, this is my land.’” Ismail stayed in Tete for the rest of his life.
For almost a decade Ismail bounced from store to store in Tete city, where his skills as a self-taught bookkeeper were in demand. Tete city, though, was at the time not much more than a village. Ismail knew the owner of the only car in town. When he was invited to go for a ride, Ismail dressed in a suit and tie. His older brother Gani followed him to Tete, and sometime in the early 1930s they opened their own store, in a village by the Chirodzi River, the ruins of which were what initially inspired me to contact Ismail’s family. Gani was known in Chirodzi-Sanangwe as “Gande,” and that’s what people there called Ismail after his brother left to manage the brothers’ second store, in Moatize. Casa Gande became the name of the brothers’ third store, the one in Tete city that still survives. After Gani died, in a drowning accident in 1956, it was particularly pleasing to Ismail to be called by his older brother’s name.
In the early 1940s, Ismail returned to Gujarat and married Rabia Juma. They came back to Tete when their first child was six months old. Because of his growing family, Ismail left most of the duties of running the Chirodzi-Sanangwe store to others, and he spent most of his time in the city. Farouk’s memories begin in roughly the early 1960s, by which time his father was a well established businessman. He was one of the men who funded the construction of Tete’s new mosque. He was honored by the Portuguese regime as a velho colono, a pioneer colonizer.
Ismail owned a light blue Ford, and he drove to Chirodzi-Sanangwe about once a month. He would leave Tete in the late afternoon, to avoid the heat, and he would get to the village store at about 10 pm after a harrowing trip over rocky tracks. The store was a major way-station for migrant laborers from northern Tete and Malawi headed south to work on commercial farms in Rhodesia and the gold mines of South Africa—many of the Mozambican men escaping the prospect of forced labor. The narrowness of the Zambezi near the store site made that part of the river a good crossing point (and later an attractive spot for a possible dam). Farouk said his father let the men sleep in the store’s yard, and he would make sure they got fed. Ismail often slept out in the yard among them.
Farouk visited Chirodzi-Sanangwe about a half dozen times with his brothers and sisters before the war came to Tete. Farouk was with his mother in 1962 when Rabia Juma made her first and only trip to the store in Chirodzi-Sanangwe. A chair was placed for her in the yard, against the wall of the store, so she could watch the dance that people in the village staged to celebrate her arrival. Rabia Juma tossed coins to them in gratitude. She went to sleep at around 11 pm, and when she awoke again, at early dawn, she could still hear dancing and singing. If the men and women of Chirodzi-Sanangwe were dancing for her, they were also dancing for themselves.