When Mozambique won its independence from Portugal in 1975, President Samora Machel proudly proclaimed the country black Africa's first Marxist state.
Since then, there has been a lot of ideological rhetoric, but often the results do not match the rhetoric. Neither do the people, who nevertheless seem to maintain a sense of humor on the subject.
Ordering at a seaside restaurant, a Mozambican turned up his nose at the only seafood on the menu--carapao, a small, bony fish without much to recommend it in the way of flavor.
Saying Mozambicans have had little but carapao to eat from the sea since independence, he provided the local description of the fish. "Carapao," he said, "is a whale that has gone through all the phases of socialist construction."
The shortage of fish is a frequent topic of conversation in this country with a 1,200-mile coastline where Soviet, Japanese and Spanish fishing boats get most of the catch. Mozambique shares in the haul, but it has no way of monitoring the amount taken.
The giant, succulent prawns the country is known for have virtually disappeared from restaurants and markets in Maputo. They can only be obtained with special effort.
"Prawns are foreign exchange," explains an official. Unfortunately for Mozambique, many of the prawns never reap foreign currency because 25 percent or more reportedly disappear in the black market.
In Marxist Mozambique, the capitalist spirit dies hard--even among people who are not capitalists.
A group of journalists on a trip into the bush decided to steal some corn to relieve the rigors of the evening meal in Beira, where variety in food is rare.
The driver stopped by a cornfield, but our four-man military escort immediately told us not to take corn from that field. They explained that the field belonged to a private farmer. It was better, they said, to steal the corn from a state farm where it did not make any difference.
Even though they are firm allies and have the same Portuguese colonial background, Mozambicans are quick to point out their differences from their Angolan brothers. Acknowledging their own shortcomings, they delight in telling how the Angolans are even less efficient.
One official told in lavish detail the story about "the day the president's plane was crushed."
In August Machel flew to Angola in his special presidential jet, a gift of the Soviet Union.
For once everything went smoothly, the Mozambican said, noting that transport was waiting at the airport, hotel rooms had been set aside and the dinner was fine.
Then, during dinner, a distraught Angolan official came in and whispered into the ear of his Mozambican counterpart, "The president's plane has been crushed."
Two drunken Angolan airport workers, it seems, had gone on a high-speed joy ride in a gigantic Soviet truck across the airport tarmac, which is usually empty at night. They hit the president's plane full-speed, shearing off a wing and killing themselves.
South Africa is public enemy No. 1 for Mozambique in all its policy pronouncements, but many of the economic links from Portuguese colonial days remain. Some Mozambicans are still so used to dealing with South Africa that they sometimes forget their politics.
Because of lack of equipment, records of Mozambican music are processed in South Africa. A government-financed record to rally the masses, called "Let Them Come," was sent to be processed but was never returned.
The lyrics spoke of Mozambicans fighting South Africans with picks and axes if they invaded.
Sometimes the slip-ups can be even more embarrassing. A Land Rover, manufactured by British Leyland Co. and imported from South Africa, was used to transport the press to a Machel rally.
Nobody had bothered to remove a sticker from the back window of the vehicle. It said, in English and Afrikaans, "Leyland--Committed to South Africa."