Saturday 22 February 2014


Its been a while since I wrote and I do admit to a lack of enthusiasm. Mostly as a result of the opressive heat which has been almost constant since December. But also, because Maputo spends all of January and most of February recovering from the excesses of December. I kid you not!
December is a wild month in Maputo. Which is a little odd since Christmas, although a holiday, is not supposed to be of very much importance in this supposedly socialist-based state. But any excuse for a party. In Maputo, the partying commences from the week before Christmas until the money runs out - which is some time in early January. During that time, the beaches are packed with people (many of whom, according to my empregada, drown), who somehow continue to populate the sand despite an what appears to be an unbroken carpet of litter. Again, I kid you not.
We drove out to Macaneta in early January and came back through Costa do Sol on the bottom end of the Marginal. The litter stretched as far as the eye could see: beer cans, drink bottles, food packets. And the crowds capering in between.
To the government's credit, there does seem to have been a lot more in the way of cleaning up since December. Its all very low-tech. People with rakes and bags (used to carry the litter and scoop it up) follow an open truck and sweep the beaches. Miraculously, the odd dustbin has also appeared.
Any-way, the net result of December's wholesale revelry is that everyone grinds through January with barely two meticals to rub together.
And the shelves remained bare in the shops until the start of February. For the whole of January, it was practically impossible to buy fresh fruit or vegetables in the shops. Again: I KID YOU NOT! When it got to the start of February  and I asked the friend catering my daughter's birthday party to make fruit kebabs, she scoured Maputo for oranges - and found one. Yes. One. You want to stand on street corner and yell ` It's an ORANGE! And we live in Africa!!'
Suffice to say that January was fairly frustrating.
January also saw my empregada registering her daughters and herself for school. Out of the blue, her youngest child's school decided that her child was one to be transferred to a school further out. My empregada's pleas that her child was too young to make the long journey fell on deaf ears; but she was advised that something might be possible if she paid 600 mets. Not a significant amount in Western terms (about £12), but quite a large amount in a country where the average wage is around 5000 mets a month. Amazingly, after payment, the school (or the administrator) then found that the child did not have to be moved after all.
A similar situation happened when my empregada signed up for night school. She has been plugging away at her education and this will be the last year before she attains her senior certificate. She was prepared to pay the several hundred meticals to sign up for the year, but was devastated to discover that she would be required to pay 4000. It goes without saying that we helped her, but the injustice of the situation is apparant.
And over all the frustration hangs the heavy air of summer.
It is hot and humid. The air is so heavy, you almost need to swallow as you breathe.
I do not enjoy February in Mozambique.

Sunday 1 December 2013

Living in a gold-fish bowl

There are some odd sides to being an expat. One of the trickiest aspects to navigate is what another expat termed `being thrown in a gold fish bowl with a bunch of people you'd never normally associate with.' And Boy! Was she right!
Don't get me wrong, I have met some wonderful people and made some friends who shall be friends forever, but I have also had to hang out with people I really, really don't like. And it's a tricky path to tread.
We are all sort-of thrown together by virtue of being foreign to the country and also because we don't speak Portuguese. The English speaking school communities are quite small and so, of necessity, tend to come into contact a lot. But worst of all on the scale of tricky social paths is living in a gated expat community.
We have 12 houses in our little complex. At the moment, two of the houses are empty and we wait in trepidation to see what comes along.In the mean time, we are forced to be nice to the other expats. The ones whose children ring the doorbell incessantly, the ones who park their car in our driveway, the ones who hog the pool all weekend.
We have been here for two years-ish. Our first neighbours, the closest ones, were neighbours from hell. During the day, he'd be off working and she'd be inside and quiet, but come 6 o'clock the loud conversations would start with the `sal jy a stukkie vleis eet?' (will you eat a piece of meat?) I kid you not, this would happen five out of seven nights. How they managed to not die of heart attacks after eating all that meat is beyond me! Any-way, the real test of neighbourliness was reserved for weekends when the boere musiek (a version of South African country and western) would be switched on at roughly 9p.m. and would belt out until at least 11. They got trashed with boring regularity and screamed loud Afrikaans hilarity virtually outside our window. They asked to borrow stuff and then returned said stuff weeks later after being harassed. The most annoying was when they borrowed the dog crate we imported our dog in. The crate was made for the dog and was fairly expensive. DB, in his neighbourly ignorance, allowed the neighbours from hell to borrow the crate `overnight'. Almost a month later, after persistent nagging, DB went and fetched the crate himself. AND, because we live in a teeny-weeny little community, we still smiled politely and made small-talk.
So what, you might ask, has prompted this outpouring of irritation over expat neighbours? Well, last night, after sitting round the pool with most of the people from the complex and making polite conversation, we had an almighty storm and a tree in our garden was split asunder. (I must add, at this point, that I have laboured in this garden, turning it from something extremely ugly into something that is sort-of inviting.) The tree mashed the garden, but miraculously missed a newly planted lavender bush (which is a whole other story about dogged labour...), although it managed to squish a poor toad hiding in the grass and shredded a yesterday-today-and-tomorrow. But the lavender was ok! DB spent the better part of the morning cutting up the tree so that we could move it. Then he went to sleep at which point our neighbours, different to the ones from hell, but literally from the same geographic origins, chucked over branches of the tree which had landed on their side of the wall. No attempt to break down the branches, no attempt to miss the flowerbeds, no attempt to tell us their intent. Just hoiked them over the wall, crushing my lavender bush.
This gold-fish bowl is feeling awfully small....

Thursday 28 November 2013

All a bit mundane

Today Maputo smells distinctly of sewerage. No particularly pleasant and I can't pinpoint the source - seems generalised. Maputo has no main-line sewerage works that I know of. Every house or building has a series of septic tanks and the fondly named `poo-trucks' come and clean them out when they get full. It was the same in Oman. In fact I remember Muscat smelling much like today, on some hot evenings.
The local elections have come and gone and all seems well. There was pre-election trouble, I suppose predictably, up in Beira and some fifty people were hurt in clashes, but that's about it. The MDM was very vocal and issued copious warning about election fraud, to the point of telling their potential voters to bring their own pens (presumably to avoid rigged pens). Of course, Renamo, to all intents and purposes, boycotted the well, um , not quite sure what the results reflect. Any-way, so Frelimo is mostly still secure, although not  reportedly in as large a majority as before. And, predictably, the MDM are grumbling that all was not free and fair. So yup - nothing much to report. The elections have come and gone and not lived up to the fear and trouble we thought they might bring.
The kidnappings also seem to have come to a sudden halt following the execution style killing of a crime boss up in Matola. Much speculation about that one...
Worrying news from up North is that young men are apparantly being forcibley recruited into the armed forces. Not the actions of a government secure in its standing. So more to watch.
On the bright side, the recent tensions might mean that we have fewer South Africans coming in for December. (And this is going to sound awful to my South African friends...)December has traditionally been a high crime month in Maputo as criminals follow in the tourists. Armed robberies in public places, scarcely heard of the rest of the year, crop up like a rash in December. There is much speculation that the criminals are from over the border.... Which is not to say that the criminals won't take a chance on rich locals blowing money over the festive season. ..
So yes, all seems quite normal in Mozambique.

Sunday 10 November 2013


And so here we are. Still. The sky has not fallen, Chicken Licken (how's that for a literary reference?) but expats do seem to be bleeding out of Maputo. Good friends have gone - we hope temporarily. And we are all completely stressed out.
But the word on the ground is that things are looking up. I hear that some families will be back in the next two weeks and that the government is making some sort of move to reassure it's citizens. Ho hum.
Things are not normal. We are all advised to be careful and not make unnecessary journeys. Travelling North is advised against. However, the rapper 50 Cent was in town last night and DB attended the concert, crawling in at 5:30 with the rather lame excuse that `I couldn't get my car out so I went to a bar until I could...' Ho-hummmm.
Talking of a lack of normality: the Chinese are attacking the beach with gusto. There is a full-fledged assault going on, with Chinese road builders dumping ton after ton of rock, not only in the creation of breakwaters, but in an effort to build the Marginal up against the sea. And there is a curious building up of the beach in the dumping of lots and lots of grey material, which looks suspiciously like cement. I have no idea how this is all going to work, but the `beach' opposite our complex is now sizeably wider. Any engineering types out there like to hazard a guess about what is going on?
It really has been road-builder vs Mother Nature (and Mozambican Nature)for a bit. When the serious assault on the beach began, a large area was fenced off with a 8 foot high steel fence. All sorts of safety precaution signs were attached to said fence. I'm sure the idea was too keep the locals out of the work area. It was therefore particularly funny to watch the local beach-goers simply walk off the road, down the beach and along the inside of the fence (apparantly good protection against the nutters driving on the Marginal and one in the eye for the Chinese work gang...)
So shade cloth was attached to said fence (presumabley to stop the locals seeing what was going on and to instill a sense of caution). The very same night, Mother Nature sent a strong wind to blow the fence down....
The fence is now up again, minus shade cloth ,and certain barriers have been erected on the beach itself, but by the amount of litter on the new surface, I'm pretty sure the beach is as Mozambican owned as ever.
Aaah. Mozambique. Not much in the way of rules...

Wednesday 30 October 2013

Rough Day

I wanted to write something upbeat about this mad country, but the mad and the bad are all muddled up. Its been a rough day.
The level of kidnappings and direct threats made to certain prominant families have now led to whole families leaving, with very little notice. Families I know. Not just expats. Patriotic Mozambicans who believe (believed?) in the future of their country. Some of the larger companies are pulling their staff out. People I know are going or planning on going by early December. The murder of the boy in Sofala has taken us into new and scary waters.
My empregada's sister lives up North in Inhambane. Apparantly the trouble up there is getting more frequent as we head towards general elections on November 20th. People are forced to travel in protected convoy between towns. A bus was attacked last week, with a dozen fatalities.
In a terribly written article, the South African `Lowvelder' claims that Mozambique is on the brink of civil war. The Club of Mozambique reports that analysts think that a return to war is `highly unlikely'
I don't know if I should be packaging up the things from my grandmother's house, and sending them home now so that I have them safe if we have to make a run for it.
I don't know if I should be sorting the dog's blood tests and sending him home, because imagining leaving him behind is unbearable.
I don't know if I am exaggerating the possible danger because today so many people left.
There's no way of knowing what will happen next.
Tomorrow people across the country will march, hopefully peacefully, to protest against the lack of action to stop the kidnappings.
We can only sit tight and see. All of us. Us expats wonder if we should go. Many locals wonder what we will do. If we go ,what happens to so many jobs?
It feels like we are all waiting to see what happens next.

Tuesday 29 October 2013

and it gets nastier....

Kidnapping is high on the conversational rungs of everyone I have talked to this week. As a community, we are rattled. There were a total of five abductions in Maputo last week - three women, a businessman and a teenager. Not good.
One of the women taken last week managed to escape. What should be good news is in fact alarming since it is rumoured that she identified a policeman as one of her captors.
Then today the devastating news that a child kidnapped up North was killed. I can't find official notification, but the news on the ground is strong, although the motivation, through the accounts I have heard, is confused. Some say he was killed because his father couldn't pay up. Others say he was killed because they had actually grabbed the wrong child. Yet others say he was killed because he could identify his kidnappers.
Any-way you look at it, the situation has taken a grim turn for the worse. That the child is of a different demographic means nothing. He was killed. He was a child and was taken as a cash cow and disposed of. Awful for his family. Awful for this country.
And we all wonder where this goes next.
We all wonder if we should go.

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Scary stuff

So, normal hilarity and incredulity aside - Maputo can be a scary place. Today, right now, its a scary place.
My school, the place where I work and that my youngest child attends, has just sent out an e-mail to make known that a parent has been kidnapped from a local school - a school which has its campus in the same street as ours. She was abducted as she walked back to her car after dropping off her daughter. We don't know who she is, but if past kidnappings are to go by, she belongs to a wealthy business family.
Kidnappings are becoming all too commonplace in Mozambique. They have been rife in Beira, in the North, for some time. Last year there were several high profile kidnappings in Maputo, most of them centred on the wealthy Asian families. Most of them businessmen. But victims included a grandmother snatched from outside a mosque and a 19 year-old girl.
And in the last few weeks, the kidnappings are back, with a vengeance that defies our cosy idea that they are aimed at a certain demographic. Two weeks ago, a nine year old Mozambiquan boy was snatched after his driver-driven car was rammed on the way to school. He was returned by the end of the week, but it is unclear if a ransom was paid.
In the week following, two other children were taken close to their schools. One apparantly taken off his school bus.
Its scary stuff.
My empregada assures me that the `dangerous' know exactly who they are taking. That they know the families and watch their movements. But that doesn't make me any less worried. At what point does a poor population start thinking that kidnappings are the way to go. When you have very little, the prospect of scoring £10000 can sound like a fortune. At what point do they decide that all expats would cough up more money than a poor Mozambican could dream of? At what point does it become indiscriminate, as it has done in other countries. When do we get really afraid?
And I know that bad things happen anywhere, and I know that my school is doing everything possible to keep us safe. But what would I do if my child is taken? All rationality says it won't happen, but there's a nagging `what if?'
Scary stuff and no idea of how to deal with it.