We arrived in Maputo, Mozambique this morning at 11 AM. We were picked up by our driver, Franco, and brought to the Radisson Blu Hotel, a swanky business hotel by the sea. Traveling for work is always such a different experience than traveling for fun, especially in a developing country such as this. The luxuries we are given provide a sharp contrast to the rawness of everyday life. Our driver explained to us that this is supposed to be the rainy season, but they are currently facing a serious drought; a major tribulaton in a land that relies heavily on crops such as maize and cassava for food. At this point most of the crops have dried up and died so if rain does decide to present itself it will only serve to rot the dead crops and may cause flooding. Changes in weather patterns leading to persistent drought in tandem with excessive flooding has threatened the livelihood and food security of hundreds of thousands of Mozambicans over the past 10 years, forcing them to sell off assets for less than their worth or keep children out of school to work for food. I thought of this as I showered in the Radisson Blu Hotel.
We had some errands to run for work before our colleagues arrived so Franco drove us to the Movitel shop on Eduardo Modlane Ave where we bought some sim cards to put in our Mozambican cell phones. The way cell phones work here is you buy a sim card from a major carrier such Movitel, Vodcom, or mCel. To “top up” your minutes you need to buy “airtime” available at any local shop which exchanges your money for a code that you enter into your unlocked phone. Service between carriers can be pricier so often people will have three different numbers and switch out sim cards depending on whom they are calling or how many minutes are have left on each card. We drove around for a bit looking for power adaptors on the blocks designated for electrical goods. Shopping is made very easy. All the clothes are on one connected series of blocks, all the lighting on another, fruits around the corner and underwear in the back allies. It’s basically just table after table of pretty much the same goods sold by different people that have much to say about why you should buy from them as opposed to the guy next to him selling the exact same things. “Good price my friend” is a universal selling strategy. The streets were fairly quiet today as it was a Saturday and shops closed early. Also, apparently everyone spent all of their money at Christmastime.
After our shopping excursion Franco dropped us off at the fish market on the Indian Ocean. It recently moved locations and is a bit more upscale than the last one thanks to Chinese investments. Franco liked the old local feel of the last place and has boycotted going there since the move. As we stepped out of the car a wave of seafood intermingled with sewage entered our turbinates and my stomach was unsure whether or not it should prepare for digestion or empty itself of the chocolate candy bar I ate earlier. Entering the market swayed things to the former option and we were welcomed with live crabs, fresh fish, prawns, clams, mussels–a paradise for pescatarians. It was a bit overwhelming but an English speaking stall owner suggested some red snapper, a stone fish, and some prawns so we went with it. He took us back to his stall and prepared it for us. It was a lively spot to be and we were surrounded by well-to-do Mozambicans enjoying a Saturday afternoon with their families.
On our way back we hopped in a “chapa” which is a minivan that drives around picking up way more people than it can hold and we crammed in creating an intimacy with our fellow passengers we only experience with very close family or friends back home. I felt happy to experience this side of Mozambique and we paid 15 metical which amounts to about 30 cents as they dropped us off across the street from the Radisson Blu Hotel.