The World Around Us

First Impressions

Country: Mozambique by Lisette


“I’m in Africa!” I mumble aloud a couple of times each day. I nudge Marlowe regularly to make sure he too remembers we’re in Mozambique. The tiny sweet apples taste delicious, the small bananas are the cheapest fruit and every time we look curiously into a cart we find tomatoes.

But let’s start at the beginning. After a very, very long trip we finally landed in Maputo last week via London (UK) and Johannesburg (South Africa). Luckily we stopped long enough in London to meet up with lovely Bahia whom we met volunteering in India. Flying from Joburg’s modern airport we arrive at the miniature airport of Maputo. Slightly nervous and prepared with many papers to prove we are volunteers working with charities, I walk over to the Customs Officer. She looks briefly at me, scans my passport, stamps it and returns it to me. “What… Wait, that’s it?” I think. Being overly prepared is apparently not always necessary.

We just met Ingrid, a fellow Cuso-volunteer, on the plane and we wonder if and when our luggage will arrive. We were warned luggage gets lost quite often, but we are lucky, all of our baggage arrives. And as soon as we walk through the gate a VSO volunteer is there to greet us with a big smile and pick us up. What a breeze.

Very soon it becomes clear that the VSO office and our apartment is truly in ‘cement city’, the rich part of Maputo that was built by the Portuguese. It is a relatively small area that is deemed safe enough for international volunteers to live. I would hope so as we have 3 locks to open our apartment and a guard at the entrance!

Cement city is a mixture of dull communist building blocks (though not as large as those built in Berlin) with attractive Portuguese looking houses and close to the sea. Downstairs we have a couple of stores, and across the street is a pharmacy and few expensive, expat-serving, restaurants. In between and in front of these luxurious places are people with their carts trying to sell fruit and vegetables. Quickly we realize life in this city is not going to be cheap on a volunteer allowance.

Right now, we’re just looking around trying to grasp what is where, how to get there and who is who. Feeling the breeze cooling us down, it is a bit disappointing we cannot see the harbour or any beaches that easily. We will have to go a bit further north and some volunteers do this in the weekend. Perhaps next weekend we will discover Costa del Sol!

With help of VSO staff we venture out to some markets because our apartment is bare except for beds, couches and a table with chairs. A list keeps reminding me what we need. For now we depend on Casquinha to help us find the right places for reasonable charges and share with us what the prices of some vegetables are. Time to learn Portuguese fast so we can be independent!

After almost a week here we are learning fast which areas and streets we ought to avoid, how to deal with slightly pushy vendors and Internet is – as expected – slower than at home but widely available. Cell phones are highly valuable and there are many people, mostly men, in the streets selling prepaid cards for either mCel or Vodacom. I bought the cheapest phone possible with sim card for less than $20.

We find ourselves comparing our first impressions with experiences taken away from India. Surprised we look around and realize we have seen only 4 bikes in the past five days, barely any motorbikes and no street dogs. The potholes in the street and the high concentration of expats moving and living together are similar though.

So here we are, in Africa! And I keep pinching myself to realize an old dream came true.