Signs of the Times
By Clare Richardson | November 17, 2014 | Mozambique
Take a walk to the American Cultural Center in Maputo and you’ll find yourself on the corner of avenues Mao Tse Tung and Kim Il Sung. Many of the major streets are named for communist heroes, as Mozambique had a brief fling with Communism after independence from the Portuguese in 1975.
Fittingly, the street signs commemorating North Korea’s founding father and the leader of the Chinese Communist Revolution do not appear directly outside the American center, however I snapped a photo of the building on the other side of the intersection.
As is often the case for American institutions built with the purpose of fomenting neighborly relations in a foreign nation, the center is the most fortified building on the block. America welcomes all with its tall metal gate and signs warning passersby not to take photographs.
After passing through the most rigorous security clearance I’d experienced in all of Mozambique – a front office with three security guards, a metal detector, a fourth guard who relieved me of my bag – I ventured inside. The small, very safe library has free wifi as well as English books in subjects like law, language, and theater. The bulletin board advertises opportunities for Mozambicans to study in the United States.
I tend to mock oversized statues and portraits of national leaders – it’s usually a dead giveaway for identifying a country as an authoritarian state – but on my way out I was confronted with a life-size cardboard cutout of President Obama, so now I don’t know what to believe.