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Books Sold and Exchanged on the Pavements of Maputo

Books Sold and Exchanged on the Pavements of Maputo

Bookshops are a scarce resource in the Mozambican capital, but there are pavements covered with used books, in the open air, on different corners of the city, to meet the needs of those looking for works of the most varied genres.

At these informal stalls, as well as buying, it is possible to exchange a used book for another, adding a value equivalent to less than one euro.

The prices start at 30 meticais (43 cents) and, according to the book that is priced there, can go up to 50 meticais (71 cents), which Gizela Muege, 31, considers “reasonable”.

New books cost “an arm and a leg” in the bookshops of the Mozambican capital, while on street corners there are “good books at good prices”.

The books are displayed in the middle of the street, on the ground, leaning against the walls of homes and institutions or in adapted stalls on avenues such as 24 de Julho, Eduardo Mondlane, Agostinho Neto, Salvador Allende and Vladimir Lenin.

In one of the 24 de Julho stalls, Mia Couto, José Eduardo Agualusa, Fernando Dolabela, José Saramago and other authors share the floor with cabbages from small gardens.

There’s everything for every type of reader, from scientific books, to children’s books, novels, cookery books, chronicles and other self-help books.

In 2005, Gizela didn’t have money to buy new books when she was a student and discovered that, for just 10 meticais (14 euro cents) she could exchange what she had already read for another.

Twelve years later, she met “the same salesmen” who helped her to “travel the world” without having to leave Mozambique.

Today she arrived at the corner of Avenida 24 de Julho and Tomás Nduda, next to the Commercial Institute, after passing a bookshop.

He was looking for a children’s book but “it was expensive, costing 500 meticais (seven euros)”.

On the pavement, he bought two for 200 meticais (three euros).

“They’re second-hand books, yes, but preserved and they meet our needs”, Gisela explains, considering that “passing from one hand to another gives an impression of proximity between readers”.

The prices of books sold on the Maputo ground start at 100 meticais (1.4 euros) and can reach 2,000 meticais (29 euros).

At another point, on Avenida Eduardo Mondlane, one of the capital’s main avenues, there are no exchanges, because Cândido Alfredo, a 25-year-old salesman, fears that “some books exchanged have been stolen”.

“I and all my brothers and sisters grew up and studied thanks to this business,” which they inherited from their father, he says.

Carlitos José, another book seller, in business for 15 years, is on Avenida Salvador Allende, a few metres from Cândido’s stall.

“You have to know good books to be able to sell them,” he says.

He speaks in the shadow of the wall of the little school where he sells the books, while selecting some law books at the request of a customer, while having to stand back so that people can pass by.

Carlitos has already passed by four other street corners in Maputo and says that he also “has to assess the location to know which books to sell”.

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“Here, for example, medical books come more easily because I’m near the Faculty of Medicine and also the Central Hospital,” he exemplifies.

Those who don’t want to trade can simply hand over their old books to traders on the pavements, provided they are well maintained.

“We receive the books, evaluate them, make arrangements and then wrap them in plastic to preserve them,” says Stélio Sebastião, 50, who has been selling books along Avenida 24 de Julho since 2004.

The plastics also help cover the books during the rainy season and overnight, each time stowing them away in a safe place before setting up the stall again the next morning.

Ismael Nhaoda, 61, crosses Vladimir Lenin Avenue and looks at all the books displayed on a corner.

“I don’t think it’s fair towards bookshops, because they pay taxes,” Ismael tells Lusa, but admits he has a book in his hand to take away: “Spiritual husband and wife – gods or demons?” by Aaron Ubisse.

A little further on, Santos Carlos, 32, also inherited his father’s work.

Today he still hasn’t sold anything and when he does he distracts himself by reading, but he has never gone beyond “five pages of a book”.

“I just like to enjoy the book, see what it talks about and then leave it there”, he says, pointing to his stall leaning against the wall of a residence and supported by sticks, among cabbages and stalls.




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