The Queen of Tofo


“Mama Louisa” seemed to appear from nowhere – which is not easy given that she is not a small woman.  By the time I noticed the ample breasted woman with the broad smile, there was no escaping.

It was our first morning on Tofo beach and I was hoping to capture the magic of Mozambique’s beaches on film.  You know, the kind of pictures the glossy travel magazines splash across a double page spread.  My first subject was a small cluster of well-used fishing boats on the fringe at the end of the beach and Mama was probably resting under some pines nearby when we appeared in her crosshairs and she saw an opportunity to make some pocketmoney.

In a flash she was on us.  She eyed my sister-in-law’s neat breasts approvingly, then cupped them as if examining fruit in a market.  “Nice one, not like Mama Louisa”, she announced.  Then she cackled and her face erupted into the widest grin ever.  It was an instant connection, that thing only woman can identify with.

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She turned her attention to me.  Luckily not my bosom as by now the business side of Mama had kicked in and she had spotted my blonde locks.

“Mama Louisa plait your hair”, she announced.  It was barely 9am, but Tofo was muggy and sticky and my hair was a mass of windblown curls.  It was the last thing I wanted.  Besides, the travel magazine shots were waiting for me.

“Not today Mama” I said firmly.

“Tomorrow”, she said slotting it into her mental diary and, with the perseverance of a door-to-door salesman, began peddling her other skills.

“Massage?  Mama Louisa give good massage”.  She had to be kidding in this heat.

And so it went until the day we left, because besides Mama – who is synonymous with Tofo beach – this tranquil fishing haven in southern Mozambique is full of amazing, enterprising, resilient people who can barter forever.

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