All you need is…Water
The most essential need is an aspect that is somewhat overlooked in Europe. I don’t remember ever having spent much thought about the availability of water before I came here.
Beira does have central water supply, and as most flats in the inner parts of town, my place is connected to the water system. FIPAG (Fundo de Investicimento e Património de Abastecimento de Água) is the central supplier of water. Flats that are connected to the system receive bills on a monthly basis. The bills are distributed directly to your door, and you have to go to the main office in Chaimite to pay the bill in cash. There are always long lines, but to be honest, the waiting times I experienced so far were far less than expected (max. 30 minutes). Other ways of paying the bill are being rolled out currently: Payments via the Mobile Money Service by Vodacom, M-Pesa should work already (I will give it a try next month), and transfer via online banking is on its way.
Tap water, however, is not drinkable as in most regions of the world except for blessed Europe. So I have developed the habit of taking some litres of bottled water from the supermarket home on an almost daily basis to maintain at least a modest supply. You can also buy purifier in any supermarket – a few drops of the chloride-based liquid is enough to treat 30 litres of water. I usually have at least one canister of purified water at home to use it to do the dishes, for cooking, washing fruit and salad etc.
And then, of course, there are periods of drought, for example…right now. The rainy season is supposed to occur from December to March, but this year, rain showers were rare, and I experienced monsoon-like rain that goes on for hours, if not days, maybe once or twice. That has a strong impact on the water supply. Moments of splendid, running water in my apartment are the exception, not the rule.
This is something I really had to get used to and prepared for: Having enough empty bottles, buckets and canisters at hand to build up a supply that could last for at least some days, and reacting immediately when you hear water returning to the tubes (you get very, very sensitive and alert to that sound, believe me), be it in the middle of the night or the moment you are about to go out.
The alternative would be finding some “public” water tap, which I am not exactly keen on, given that I live on the 7th floor in a building without elevator.
Then again – I have already learned a few interesting things thanks to the water shortage:
- I was used to spending ENORMOUS amounts of water without even thinking about it. Now that I have to economize my supply and consumption, I start getting an idea about the quantities for showering, doing dishes, flushing the toilet, washing hair, doing laundry etc.
- Some things cannot handled by just me, myself and I. People do rely on and help each other dealing with the water shortage. Our janitor is always there to get water from a public water source. My university gave me permission to use their water supply if needed. Neighbours are checking regularly on eacht other, alerting one another when the water is coming. Water is obviously such an essential, collective good that we all work together to cover our needs.
Getting around: Public Transport in Beira
Beira is quite a big town. With a population that is estimated somewhere between 400.000 and 700.000, it would in any case easily qualify as second largest city in Austria. And big towns as we know them usually rely on a versatile, well planned and affordable system of public transport.
However, don’t expect an underground train system or trams in Beira. As a matter of fact, don’t expect them anywhere in Sub-Saharan Africa, as I discovered in a quick online research. And yet, getting around in Beira (and basically anywhere in Mozambique) is easy and convenient, thanks to the two main pillars of urban public transport: Chapas and Txoupelas.
First of all: I love them.
They are by far not an exclusive feature of Mozambique, but run in many parts of the world and go by almost as many names: Auto-riksha (in India), Three Wheeler or Tuk-Tuk being the most famous ones.
In Mozambique, they are called Txoupelas (sometimes also spelled “Choupela”), and basically function like taxis. If you see one driving by on the street, you just stop it, tell the driver where you want to go – landmarks are usually more common than addresses – and you will enjoy a ride there for 50 Meticais (less than one Euro) to any destination within Beira. If I wanna go further, like e.g. the airport, I tell the driver if he would go there and how much he’d charge, and always got very reasonable prices. I also collected the private phone numbers of some drivers that I can call if I need special transport, e.g. during the night when they usually don’t run. Txoupela rides are comfortable, you enjoy the fresh breeze, they are a great opportunity to record Beira life on video, and usually the best choice to find a specific place since the drivers really know their way around.
Chapas are also well-known in many parts of town, and in Mozambique they do not only cover urban areas, but are usually also a good option for short-distance overland transport. Chapas are mini-buses, like Txoupelas operated on a semi-public basis by private vehicle holders that have to comply to certain official regulations.
I admit that whenever I have the choice, I am posh enough to go for a Txoupela, even though a Chapa ride would cost only a fragment of the price. The main challenge about Chapas is that they are usually hopelessly over-crowded. The driver’s assistent, who is also in charge of informing potential passengers about the destination of the vehicle and collecting the money, manages to fit up to 30 people into a mini-bus that seems to be designed for 10-12 people and their luggage, tools and groceries that might range from furniture to alive chickens.
Every Chapa follows its standard route. Within Beira, they usually rotate between two districts, following main roads, so you should have at least a vague idea of where you want to go before you board one (unless you just do it for the fun of it or the sightseeing). Some standard routes are Baixa to Macuti via Ponta-Gea, Baixa to Macuti via Matambane, Ponta Gea to Munhava and Baixo to the airport. In towns like Beira, chapas usually have their “standard stops” (which are not indicated as such, but a little bit of observation does the trick), however as far as I have experienced it, they usually also stop if you just give them a sign anywhere on the street.
For longer distances (and within Mozambique, especially departing from Beira, basically any overland trip is “long distance”), buses do a great job. There are several companies connecting the main towns in the country (Maputo – Chimoio – Beira – Tete – Quelimane – Pemba). More information about how they usually function can be found in my description of a journey from Beira to Vilanculos and back.
Practical Guide to Life in Beira, Pt. II: Shopping