The doorman of any five-star hotel is invariably a busy man. “It’s been a busy morning,” an apologetic Luis Nhaca told me when we met at Maputo’s Hotel Serena Polana in February 2015. “The queen of Spain was here. Can you come back at nine?”
Built in 1922, the Serena Polana resembles a cross between the Grand Budapest Hotel and a European casino, plopped down in Mozambique’s capital. Its 153 rooms have housed a number of illustrious guests, including the current Aga Khan, former American presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, as well as Queen Elizabeth II. Nhaca has met most of them—or at least held open the door for them.
When I returned at 10 am, Nhaca was all smiles, inviting me to stand with him at a shady spot near the hotel’s revolving door. His uniform of a red jacket and a black bowler hat was covered in nearly five hundred badges. The badges are souvenirs he has collected from guests over the years—they represent non-profits, oil companies, Portuguese football clubs, enough flags to open a small gift shop at the United Nations.
The story of the man wearing the badges, however, was more fascinating than how he acquired them. Nhaca speaks four languages, including his native Tsonga, and used the three European ones—Portuguese, Spanish and English—to regale me with stories from his life.
He was born in 1960, and grew up in a small home close to the Polana golf club. At the time, colonial building restrictions divided the city. The native Mozambicans lived in informal structures in one part, while another was restricted to European residents. The Serena Polana was part of the European quarter, not far from his childhood home.