This past Tuesday, as I tucked the ends of my mosquito net under my mattress and lay down to sleep, I heard a shuffling noise close by. Laying still as my current social life, I held my breath to better hear. The sound came again – from the bedroom next door to my own. I postulated.
The other bedroom has a metal grate on the window… I think? Suddenly I couldn’t remember – does that bedroom have a grate on the window? If it doesn’t, could someone have climbed in during the evening hours, when I was playing my music and the noise could have been drowned out? But, then, I thought, even if someone had climbed in, that bedroom door is always locked from the outside – they wouldn’t be able to escape without taking the door down.
The sound again, there it was. Distinct. I heard something or someone in the other bedroom, walking around.
Long story short, I eventually talked myself into climbing out of bed. I unlocked my door and stepped out into the kitchen area. I yelled simple commands in Portuguese, like “go away” (vai em bora) and “I don’t have anything for you” (nao tenho nada para voce), because the last thing I wanted was to appear even more foolish by fudging the translation of “whoever you are, you better get the hell out of here before I call the police.” I tried making my voice deeper, for effect.
The sound continued.
I eventually got a hold of Peace Corps, who called my school director, who then walked over to my house at midnight, and, with freshly-woken eyes, stepped into my humble abode to unlock the bedroom where my criminal was hiding, only to find, upon several turns around the space, that nothing but a white, empty room was waiting behind the locked door to hop out and hurt me. Yep.
So… I tried not to be too hard on myself. It could have been something… I tried to save face – as sweet and understanding as my school director is, he’s still my boss. I blurted out, “Maybe it was a 'spirito'.” Good one, Katy. That’ll give you some extra points when he’s putting the teacher schedule together.
The next day, I shared my story with some of my neighbors, including the possibility that a ghost had paid me a visit. They latched onto this last part – it could have been a "feticeiro,” trying to steal your clothes, they said.
Feticeiros are the witches here in Mozambique who perform red magic to hurt people. Curandeiros, in contrast, are the witches who perform white magic to cure the red magic. Quite magically, feticeiros and curandeiros are often the same person.
My neighbors shared what they knew: one had heard of a family that contained two feticeiros of different bloodlines, a wife and her mother-in-law. The wife’s husband couldn’t explain where his newborn children kept disappearing to, until he came home one day to find his mother and wife eating a child-size hand for dinner.
Sometimes, my neighbor shared, women are cursed to think they are with child, only to, after 9 months of "pregnancy", give birth to a teacup, or a cat.
I asked if my neighbor had ever experienced the magic of a feticeiro herself. She hadn’t, but her daughter had.
During her daughter’s last days of pregnancy, violent bouts of diarrhea and stomach pain arrived and nearly killed her. Her mother-in-law was living with her at the time. The night her daughter-in-law got sick, she had seen the neighbor next door lurking around their house.
So the mother-in-law confronted the neighbor – “If you don’t leave this girl alone, I will reveal your magic to the entire village,” she said. The neighbor didn’t deny that she was a feticeira.
The following day, the diarrhea stopped, and the baby arrived. And that baby is still healthy today, six years later. In fact, I know her well - my little friend down the street loves mangos and wants to be a firefighter when she grows up.
Of course, these stories belong because people make space for them to belong. These stories of magic exist to explain the thorns and tangles of our lives, right?
"Maybe it was a 'spirito'...” I had said. Hadn’t I made room for one of my own?
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