“History reveals the meaning of what would otherwise remain a sequence of intolerable events”

(Hannah Arendt)

My story is 33 years old.

I am Mozambican, born in Maputo and raised in the “Barrio” district of the airport

There was everything in the Barrio: the nursery school, the school, the church and my home.

The first fifteen years of my world began and ended there.

“Protection” is the key word in the story of those years, the warm blanket wrapped around them.

It was the protection of my mother and, especially, that of my father.

Their gestures of affection and the way in which they looked after us were for me a solid anchor to reality and love, a fertile field in which to grow.

There were four children in our house: my two older brothers, me and my twin sister.

Dad took care of us: he took us to school, came to pick us up, checked our homework (we never repeated a year!) and above all, he tried to prepare us for the future.

There were strict and non-negotiable rules at home.

At five in the afternoon, no matter what day or what holiday it was, we all had to be at home.

I still remember how I used to watch my friends playing jaro-prins, filled with envy and the desire to join in. I would have like to have challenged them and to have shown them that I too could have jumped over all the tyres on my first attempt.

I had to settle for watching the world from the window!

There were four children in the house and we had fun together and, like all children, we were a bit mischievous and we all played tricks on the others.

In those years in the Barrio, the electricity often got cut off without any warning.

If this happened when we were having dinner, it was not only the light that disappeared, but also a juicy piece of meat or two.

One of us took advantage of the dark and popped it into his mouth with a sleight of hand. No-one ever found out who the culprit was … and mum and dad did not seem to want to know.

And then the time came when everything changed…

Dad lost his job and mum started working away from home. She went to sell at the market.

Dad invented a new job: he started making bracelets, necklaces and earrings.

We all helped him. I grew up surrounded by bracelets and I still like wearing them now.

At home, the roles that each one us was supposed to take on, according to our dad’s vision of things, gradually became clear.

My eldest brother was the unluckiest one in this “game”.

He was a calm, thoughtful boy who came to a decision after thinking for a long time and sometimes never came to one at all.

He was the one who bore the brunt of my dad’s continual scoldings because he never accepted this attitude. He did not consider it appropriate for his first-born child.

But what else could my brother do? You either have what it takes to make a decision or you don’t… and he didn’t.

I began to fill the gaps left by him.

I planned, acted and gave my opinion on what was the best thing to do or not to do.

I wanted to win my dad’s respect.

However, I had the distinct impression that this exuberance on my part made him uncomfortable and that, at the end of the day, I wasn’t what he wanted me to be.

Someone said that our life is a pendulum which swings between the need to stay put and the need to explore.

By this time I was fifteen years old. The rod of my pendulum had been stuck on the side of staying put for too long and so, all of a sudden, it swung to the other side.

My family’s economic means had been weakened. Dad began to travel in order to be able to sell his products.

I had to carry on living without his control and my life changed.

I lived like everyone else in the Barrio and like all the boys my age.

I began playing football. I played it for five years and walked miles to get to the pitch.

I learned shangana and talked to my friends in it.

I enrolled in Technical school, the most difficult one, but I did not study: I was kept  down twice and then expelled.

I began selling shoes on the street to earn some money.

I lived the city, my beautiful city created from the sea, by night. At night, the city pulsates, rising and falling to the sound of music.

But it is when the city is tired and falls asleep that I like to wander its streets. The houses, the streets tell me about gestures, desires, hardship and memories.

The city becomes a treasure trove of stories of the present, past and future. It becomes a novel.

I breathed a sense of freedom in the sleeping streets. I felt like I was at the centre of the universe.

You view reality through your own eyes and I wanted to view it with rebellious eyes.

That “you must” that came from outside me stopped me from seeing what was right or wrong.

To me the criteria of “you do” or “you don’t do” were not the criteria of morality or immorality, but simply the criteria of complying or not complying.

I told myself that I would be better off being in conflict with the world rather than with myself.

In the Barrio where I lived on the very fine dividing line between legality and illegality, I had to set myself a rule to stop myself crossing it.

“I will never do anything that could harm someone”, I told myself and continued to pursue my dreams.

My family always kept an eye out for me, but the biggest surprise was my elder brother.

The one who was so shy, who walked through life as if he were on marshy ground and always moved so carefully, became my protector and my biggest supporter.

He shared my dreams, he urged me not to abandon them.

Of course, it was not easy for everyone to accept Mambucho with his braids and earring, but they always believed in me. They knew that I did not steal, I did not do anything bad and that was enough for them.

Today I have become something they would never have imagined; now I “have become that thing that my family really likes, even if with me you never can tell what will happen tomorrow.”

But let’s continue my story.

I enrolled in the School for Social Training.

When I started that school I was a moluene with braids.

Unimaginable at that time and in that place.

The teachers immediately said, “Let’s not worry about that. He’ll cut them off in a week’s time.”

A week later, “Let’s not worry about that”, they said. “He’s bound to cut them off in a month’s time.”

“Sooner or later he’ll cut them off”, they said after a month.

My hair was a part of me too and I never cut it for the whole time I was at school.

Through the school I attended social projects for young people, women, and the most marginalised groups.

It was an important experience that allowed me to learn about and understand that cosmos full of life, hardship, contradictions, but also of hope, that was and is my city … and as a young person, I could not remain indifferent.

Meanwhile I had reached the age of twenty-four and discovered that I was going to become a father.

My head was spinning!! I was happy to cradle the idea that I was going to have a son, but was weighed down by a strong sense of inadequacy.

“But how is it possible that you of all people who teach social education, you who tell the kids not to get their girlfriends pregnant, you have done exactly what most of them do”, I reproached myself.

It was an amazing moment when, in the midst of this whirlwind of emotions and thoughts, I came to the conclusion that I could not be “as perfect” as my dad wanted me to be.

“Imperfection is part of being human.” I said to myself back then and now I say, “Long live imperfection because it is thanks to it that now I can love my beautiful little girl.”

Those were also the years in which the Luarte Theatre began.

Nelson and I had founded the Luarte Academy where you could play music, dance and do a little bit of acting.

Then, almost by chance, we started acting theatre pieces that were considered destabilising in that particular period of time, scripts that tackled the difficulties of living.

At that time, the theatre in Mozambique was political; the influence of FRELIMO was very strong and pervasive, even in the cultural arena.

It would have been a good idea to take this into account!

But we were not interested in politics.

We were not against FRELIMO; we were simply exploring other paths. We were interested in the relationship with others; this is where we took our challenges.

“Who are these guys? Where do they come from? Where do they find the courage to say these things?” That is what they said about us.

We had no fear because we were guided by a strong sense of curiosity and protected by the innocence of our youth.

We went ahead despite these voices, we got a taste for it and through passion we have created the extended family of the Luarte Theatre. We have made a name for ourselves and gained recognition.

This is more or less my jumbled story…I will still be adding to it tomorrow with the same desire to break the mould once and for all, with the desire to challenge the trivial, but always with one foot planted firmly on the ground.

I never want to lose the ability of approaching others with an attitude of love and respect which, as I have already said, is the legacy left to me by my family… This is the challenge that drives me more than anything.

It has been nice to telling you about me because when you talk about yourself…first there is a story…then there is another story…and, in the end, it all becomes “My Story”.

I am starting to wonder: am I here in Alcatraz to take part in a theatre project or for therapy?


Felix “Mambucho”