Mozambique - avoiding conflict in paradise
There is so much we wouldn't know - and so much we still don't
Coming down from the highly elevated border pass between Swaziland and Mozambique is a wonderful experience. It's beautiful in so many ways. The mountainsides are green and provide splendid views towards all sides. And the scenery comes with the public bus ride across the border. It's something special leaving a landlocked country and defending down towards the Indian Ocean to Mozambique's capital Maputo.
The border itself was no hassle at all. Not to many people and lots of efficiency with immigration on both sides. The Mozambican immigration officers were even in a great mood joking with one each other and the visitors as well. That's how I like to arrive to a new country.
Mozambique is in the same drought as most other Southern African countries experience right now. But you wouldn't know it from looking out the window. The smallest amount of rain quickly changes the surface of the landscape.
Unfortunately Mozambique is now also dealing with matters of armed conflict. Keep in mind that Mozambique is a fairly large country and that the conflict is quite localized. But it does add a lot of risk to those who want to travel across the country. The conflict, which is still ongoing, is a recent event and saw its first violent beginnings around 3 months ago.
Neither the drought or the conflict are in anyway visible to the untrained eye as long as you only visit the south. And Maputo is in the south. Life goes on and parent bring their children to school and go shopping like they would on any other normal day. Because life for many is completely unaffected. And why would it be effected? I'm willing to bet that even in Syria where things are far worse, you will still find children playing football and having fun. Life goes on.
If nobody told me that there was a conflict further north I would never have known. And an armed conflict doesn't necessarily lockdown life. I guess you could think about a schoolyard fight. Unless you get to close you are out of any risk of receiving a punch to your teeth. That's not really an explanation though - but it is a way to put things a bit in context.
Pāo com badjia tastes great an only costs around $0.30.
I reached the bus terminal at the outskirts of Maputo in the afternoon before the sun started setting. As soon as I left the minibus I was approached by the usual suspects who want to help you to a taxi, sell you a simcard, exchange currency, sell food and carry your luggage. But it was slightly different than elsewhere. Not so aggressive. There was a certain niceness to it.
I bought a simcard and a sandwich which a woman was carrying on a basket on her head. I enjoyed my light meal while the simcard salesman gently removed my old simcard from the phone and replaced it with a new. He then activated the phone and wished me a pleasant evening. In most places they just hand you the simcard.
Then I called Rasmus. Rasmus is yet another Danish Dane from Denmark. He is living the expat life in Mozambique together with his wife Mette and their 3 children: Mads, Sofie and Julie. 30 minutes later their driver arrived to collect me and took me with him to a downtown restaurant, where I met them all for the first time.
I got to drop in on the American School and answer a few questions ;)
In 2011 I was working on a project in Bangladesh and made friends with Jens who is also a Danish Dane from Denmark :) After Bangladesh, Jens worked in Mozambique and he arranged for me to get in touch with Rasmus. A great fortune for me!
After pizza and beer we all headed back to Rasmus' home. I received my own room and was told that I was home: "feel free! Don't hold back. Enjoy it while you can".
This project does get quite rough at times and I do not always notice. But over long periods of time it can certainly wear me down. So living with this family was a wonderful oasis for me - life made super easy! ;)
The family name is Schmidt-Petersen and they are an amazingly open and welcoming bunch. The Schmidt-Petersens are a family on the move and have been station in several countries before they came to Mozambique. Amongst others Qatar and Jamaica. I figure they learned a thing or two from Jamaica because that sneaky Caribbean hospitality grabbed me with both arms. Before I knew of it I was walking around in the kitchen making myself a cup of tea as if I had been with them for years.
I went out with Mette and Rasmus one night and borrowed some of Rasmus' clothes :)
So over the next few days the showed me the sights and invited me into their life. I went jogging with Rasmus, I joined Mette and Mads for karate, I visited the children's school and felt at home.
I also found time to go and have a look at Maputo which I find to be a charming place with a tweak of to much traffic. But the city is bordered by the Indian Ocean which is a great feature for any city as it provides fresh air and scenic views. It's a very green city with trees and plants everywhere and plenty of parks to sit and catch your breath. People are sweet and gentle and easy to speak to...although far from everyone speaks English and my Portuguese is limited to a few phrases. But often you only need a few phrases to ensure a heartwarming experience with a complete stranger. And smiles come easy in Mozambique.
Dropped in at the 90 year old newspaper "noticias" and made some new friends.
Actually perhaps I shouldn't generalize to much about Mozambique because I've only seen a fraction. And with 2,300 km (1,430 mi) of coastline the country stretches far up north.
The history of Mozambique goes far back and the influence from differ strangers over the years have taken part in shaping the countries culture. So I would surely like to visit the north where there is more Muslim influence. Or just to see the landscape change and enjoy more of the country.
2 things prevented me from that though. For one the conflict wouldn't allow me to travel much more than 4-500 km north. But also I had a date with my girlfriend in Zimbabwe's capital Harare which I wasn't going to be late for. I haven't seen that bird since December last year!! ;)
The Red Cross plays a lot bigger role within this project than most of you know. Not with the logistics but in other ways. I hardly spend much time describing it but since I left Denmark as a goodwill ambassador of the Danish Red Cross I have written more than 100 stories promoting the work of the worldwide humanitarian organization. Unfortunately the stories are written in Danish and are not translated so that they can benefits tine outside of Denmark. But that's a decision which lies beyond me. All that I know is that it's quite time consuming for me to get in touch with the local Red Cross or Red Crescent wherever I am, meet with them, learn about their activities and construct a story which doesn't resemble the other 100 too much ;)
Sune Holt and I.
The reason why I bring this up is because lately I've been meeting a great deal of amazing people. In Mozambique I met several. One of them was Sune Holt and he is making a huge impact for thousand of people in Mozambique. For me as well. He is quite an inspiration and he took out some time to document what I'm doing for the Red Cross. Something I would like you to take a closer look at here:
If the right people would pay attention then this could effectively be the greatest promotion of the Red Cross Red Crescent world wide!! But other things seem to take priority...
I had a great time in my surrogate expat life in Maputo. Mozambique is yet another enigma? Food is good, culture is good, history is mind blowing, nature is beautiful, the potential is extraordinary!! Mozambique could easily become the next hyped up tourist destination and profit massively on it. But it looks like it will continue for a while as a well kept secret for those in "the know" ;)
And now for something silly! So I had to leave to reach Harare on time. Let's have a look at the map for a second. The most efficient way would have been to continue north to Beira, another port city in Mozambique. From there Harare is only a short distance across the border to Zimbabwe. But these days you cannot travel safely from Maputo to Beira. You might...but it's risky business. So the most efficient route is then to head back into South Africa and enter Zimbabwe from there.
I got off in Masvingo and caught a bus onward from there. But the driver continued to Beira - back in Mozambique.
Fortunately Mette knew that a friend of a friend had to go there. In fact this was a company vehicle from Maersk which needed to be moved from one location to the other. Actually the Ford Ranger had to be transported from Maputo to Beira and as silly as this may seem: it had to go through two countries to get there!
But fortunately for me that meant I could hitch a ride to Zimbabwe. And that's what I did.
Sometimes I think the hardest part of this project is a completely different matter than what most would expect. I'm not immune from liking and connecting with people I meet along this insanely long journey. And so far I haven't met a single person I didn't have to leave shortly after. The Schmidt-Petersens are certainly no exception. But at this point there are hundreds if not thousands of people all over the world which I miss. Robots have it easy...
Mozambique: I'll be back for you some day. Get a grip on yourself and keep your special charm...you're doing something right! For the rest of the world and everyone within it: I'll see you shortly ;)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - only 94 more countries to go ;)
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga