Let me start this one off by saying that when I get back to America I will never complain about anything transportation-related again, because not even Atlanta rush hour on MARTA can compare to the torture of the chapa.
A chapa is, in most cases, the only way to get anywhere in Mozambique. The closed-back variety is a large van on its last leg built in the 70s for a capacity of about 10 people, including the driver.(Picture the vans A/C repairmen drive, or maybe the kind you’d call your kids inside when you see it driving past your house.) the chapa driver is only out to make the most bang for his buck and since each person is more money (yes, you have to pay for this torture) he’s gonna pack as many people as physically possible. So, these ever-resourceful businessmen often add an extra “row” in the trunk space—essentially an old car backseat stuffed back there and maybe secured with some sort of rope if you’re lucky. And of course the fold-down seats facing the front row where you can enjoy someone’s knees in your crotch for a few hours. If you’re really lucky(or pretty) you might get one of the 3 coveted spaces in the passenger seat up front with the driver where you can be the first to see your imminent death hurtling towards you, probably with the added bonus of the gear shift being jammed into your thigh every few seconds. Either way, you better believe there will be 20 or more p3eople crammed into this vehicle, most of whom are not wearing deodorant so commandeering a window seat is priority number 1.
The other type of chapa is the open back, which is what we mainly have here in Panda. This is a small pick-up truck—more than likely an Izuzu from the 80s. The real treat is getting to ride in the passenger seat, which you can sometimes pull off by being female, white, and showing a little knee if you’re desperate. if you can’t get this coveted spot, you’ve got to pile into the back with the others. The one good thing about the open-backs is the breeze that’s non-existent in the oven-like vans. You’d think that in 2/3 of the space of the van they’d fit 2/3 of the amount of people…but you’d be very wrong. I’ve seen 30 people in the back (and on the roof, and hanging off the side) of one of these. Your options are essentially to sit on the edge of the bed or stand in the middle. At first sitting seems like a good idea since you can hold on to something, but after a few hours of sitting on a metal rail with the weight of grown men and women seemingly trying to push you into the road, the threat of falling out becomes too much for me, as well as the fact that my butt falls asleep within about 30 minutes.
But let’s not forget that people bring stuff, and here in Africa that stuff is a lot more of a logistical nightmare. I would say they travel with everything but the kitchen sink, but here the kitchen sink is a large plastic bucket and they definitely travel with those, too. So, with every inch of space filled where does all this stuff go? To that I just have to laugh and tell you that a chapa is never, ever truly full. There’s always room for the 50 kilo sack of rice and the plastic bag full of chickens. Where? On your lap, under the seat, in your leg space, on the roof or hanging out the window. I think my favorite sight in Mozambique is a goat standing on the roof of a chapa going about 70 down the highway. Recently, I was walled into a 2x2 space in the back of an open-back by about 50 boxes of toothpaste. At first I was annoyed and felt trapped until I realized that because of the boxes it was impossible for any other person to encroach on my space. With no people leaning on me or trying to push me out, I just hooked my arm through the rope that was securing the boxes and took a nice standing nap. It’s important to enjoy the little victories when dealing with chapas. Really these happen every time you are in one that makes it where you’re going without breaking down or blowing a tire, or if one of these things happens in the shade rather than the sun.