Thursday, May 27, 2010

Reflections from Mozambique

Am sitting at Lichinga Airport waiting for the plane to arrive. As this is Linhea Area Mozambique, LAM, noone has been able to say when I should check in but all agree on one thing: do not use the time written on the ticket. So I was number 2 to check in, almost 3 hours in advance. Just to be sure. That leaves time to do some "reflective thinking".

Mozambique to me is (at least) 2 countries: Maputo and "the rest". And the farther away from Maputo you get the more difference. Look at a map and you will see that Maputo is right at the southern end of the country. It is a place full of hustle and bustle, a "real city" with wide avenues and a bristling business life night and day. Cafés. restaurants, shops etc are everywhere and there is always something going on. People are friendly, it is not difficult to strike a conversation as a stranger in a cafe or bar. I shared beers with mine-removers, football-fans and a number of others last week. On leaving Maputo I found myself standing next to a man ordering double whiskey (very popular drink in Moz, even for lunch sometimes) with Red Bull. Note this is at 7 in the morning... He told me he had not slept for 48 hours and was now on his way to Nampula. His rather upset wife was phoning all the time, small wonder if he had been partying for 48 hours. I ask what he was going to do in Nampula - "I am a financial controller for a World Bank funded organisation"... aha. He then calls another guy who turns out to be Sales Manager for MCel, one of the larger mobile phone companies. He then suddenly remembers he is in Business Class and can drink for free in the business lounge, leaves his nearly untouched drink and disappears. Characters like him seem to be everywhere in Maputo.

I arrive in Lichinga after a most painful flight, this due to a collapsing stomach - probably brought on by a meal of shrimps the day before. My "pick-up" Andreas takes me to the guesthouse where I am to stay, I go straight to bed. Later I recover enough to join him and his wife for an evening meal (a veeeery careful meal) in what is basically the one reliable restaurant in Lichinga.

On waking up the next day it is good I do not have much of an appetite for breakfast. Because it turns out to be fresh bread, coffee and margarin. Finish. There is cornflakes but no milk, it was suggested to me to mix my own using milkpowder. No thanks. There is no cheese, polony, jam etc etc.

In the evening I go for a lonely dinner at 2+1, same resto as the evening before. There is at least one more resto operating but there you never know when you will get your food and if it will be cooked or half raw or burnt. Then to bed to read. At around 8.30 power goes for half of the town and it gets pitch dark. Early bed for sure. Next morning there is understandably no hot water but otherwise breakfast has picked up a bit. There is juice, peanutbutter, jam and even some fruit to go with the bread. Milk too, but no cornflakes this time. To cut the rest short, cheese never showed up but next day cornflakes did and coffee was available. That is OK by Lichinga standards.

It is sort of the opposite of Maputo. Professionalism and hospitality are very very hard to find. If you do not know someone when you enter a restaurant, café or bar you will likely eat and drink alone. Last evening I was picked up by a friend who works for a Swedish forestry company and we had a pleasant evening updating each other on events since last time we met, over a year ago. In the dark as their generator had a problem and there is no "city power" where they live. I guess working with forestry makes you a "long-term person" as he is busy planning exactly how he wants to build his house, not far from where he is staying now. He will have a magnificient view and plans to build a log-house with a sauna etc etc. Well why not if you plan to stay in the area for years on? Will very likely be a house like no other in Lichinga as he also knows how to build - and that kind of knowledge is rare if it even exists in Lichinga.

If you think I am negative you should hear those from Maputo who come here to do whatever short term work. They refuse blank to believe anyone wants to stay here and can not wait for the return to Maputo. I sort of understand them, the attitude towards almost everything is so different. There are many stories as to why this is so, one is that this was the Siberia of Mozambique during the communist days, people were sent here for "re-education". Another talks of the forgotten part of Mozambique and I can sort of agree: if the main road to the province capital is mainly a dirt road and not even tarred then you ask if central government is serious about "development everywhere".

Whatever it is, the place is slowly improving. Compared to when I first started coming here it is way better in terms of infrastructure etc. What would be most welcome would be some sort of "change of mind" in the people. I also strongely believe some sort of Technical College or University for such trades as builders, plumbers, electricians etc would be a great improvement.

Only the future will tell. For now I join the crowd who takes every opportunity to go to Maputo ;-)

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