Learning Technologies in Mozambique: Fact, fiction, fairy tale?

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One of the most challenging things for me is to explain to people what I was actually doing in Mozambique. Officially, I was an advisor for e-learning at a local university. So far, so good. However, what impact does such a project have on the sustainable development of a country? Do people in Mozambique have computers to go and study online? Isn’t it an elitist approach to create online courses for the lucky few who have the means and the infrastructure to participate? Wouldn’t it be more beneficial to address the general literacy in the country (which is currently estimated at 58.8 % among the total population, 45.4 % among women according to the World Fact Book) before discussing web literacy?

Each remark justifies a very interesting discussion for itself. Yet, I am not attempting the large (and super-interesting!) field of ICT for Development (ICT4D) scientifically. Instead, I will reflect on a couple of personal observations and experiences that represent important aspects of a very complex and multilayered reality.

What’s up, Africa? WhatsApp is up!

Probably the most important observation to understand the ICT structure of Mozambique (and presumably most other African countries) is the omnipresence of mobile phones in comparison to desktop and laptop computers. A while ago, I wrote about mobile providers, state of the infrastructure, and costs in another blog posting. Voice credits and data packages, are available widely, for reasonable prices – and in a “scalable” manner. While a European telecom consumer probably wonders why someone would buy phone credits for 50 Cents every other day instead of spending 7 Euros for an entire month, it makes perfect sense for a fruit trader with varying daily income who usually doesn’t have 7 Euros at disposal at once.

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Buying and activating a SIM card on the streets of Beira

With a Chinese mobile phone in 2017, one can do more things than with a high-end Personal Computer 20 years ago. Let’s talk about WhatsApp. I never thought of WhatsApp as an education technology – until I met some kids in a remote village in the province of Manica, close to the Zimbabwean border. My Portuguese was very basic , but I managed to teach them the English phrases they asked me for – and send them the transcriptions on WhatsApp so they could revise and practise. It was them who asked me for that as well.
I also came across WhatsApp in formal education – at universities which had never implemented email distribution lists, but are now using WhatsApp groups where students can ask their professors questions about assignments and other stuff.

So…why WhatsApp, and not Facebook, or Skype, or good ol’ Hotmail? I could not explain it any better than Toby Shapshak, technology writer and TED speaker from South Africa:

“WhatsApp’s hidden beauty is how little data it uses – something the tech industry based in bandwidth-rich Silicon Valley often fails to understand about the bandwidth constraints in emerging markets, even if Africa’s internet is the fastest growing in the world. And, very importantly, Africa is a mobile-only continent. Because mobile data is so expensive, there is a natural adversity to using data-intensive services like YouTube. WhatsApp, with its tight compression, means videos won’t break the bank for cellphone users.” (Quoted from the Forbes article Why WhatsApp is South Africa’s favourite app, September 2015)

Multiplying education: a “new middle class”

Another observation is not directly related to Mozambique, but significant for ICTs and online learning in emerging markets. Since 2012, I have completed several courses on Udacity, and recently even enrolled in a Nanodegree. Udacity has been founded by a Google engineer. It is “pure Silicon Valley”. And at the same time, it isn’t. In 2012, the second largest group of students (7 %) were from India. Coursera, another major MOOC platform, reported 6 % of its users being from Brazil in the same year. (Find more details here.) That’s only numbers, of course. But as a student, I can also feel a certain shift in course materials, examples given in courses, and most importantly, forum discussions among the learning community. Movie database examples feature recent Bollywood productions as templates. Assignments for mobile apps programmed by students take Mandarin keyboards into consideration. And participants proactively organise face-to-face get-togethers – in Mumbai, Nanjing, and São Paulo.

It is true: A Nanodegree at Udacity requires money, time, fast internet, and a relatively good laptop. Same goes for online curricula in South Africa, Mozambique, and other countries. Such offers do not reach – and are not addressed to – underprivileged, rural communities at all. But they enable something else: high quality, up-to-date education and information for a population stratum that is often referred to the as “new middle class”. And whilst certainly not every well-educated, modestly wealthy, urban Mozambican will dedicate their life to the multiplying effect of distributing skills and knowledge to less privileged compatriots…I am deeply convinced that it is this group of teachers, doctors, enigneers, and entrepreneurs, who has the ability to tackle sustainable development way better than any “Western” NGO or missionary has ever done.

One example: Distance learning programs for teachers in remote areas of Central Mozambique. We are talking about teachers that have already been practising for years, and probably already made hell of a difference in their respective villages. However, they never had an opportunity to get formal education, let alone brush up their knowledge and skills on a regular basis. With learning materials on paper, being distributed by universities every other month, they finally get that opportunity for a (semi-)academic education. And learning technologies – be it tutorials with professors via WhatsApp, video lectures, or simply the possibility to look up facts on Wikipedia – can facilitate such education programs and help improve the quality enormously. Quality that trickels through to rural schools and communities. This is exactly what my university – the Universidade Católica de Moçambique – is doing and what my project was contributing to. It definitely is a long way to go. But it is a way that must not be ignored or neglected.

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Distance Learning in Mozambique – state of the art

And then there is Brazil…

As an advisor at an African university, I had to do with several international cooperations – most of them with…guess whom…Brazil.

Why Brazil? First of all, it’s the language, of course. But why not Portugal? Of course relations with Portugal play a huge role in Mozambican economy, education, and also every day life (yes – in July 2016, everyone in Beira was cheering for the new European champions)…but to some extent, Brazilian reality might “understand” Mozambican reality better, at least when it comes to IT-related topics. Brazilian institutions and advisors naturally know what it means to deal with real distances, with really remote areas, with weak infrastructure, with multicultural and multilingual audiences. I remember several projects where Mozambican universities turned to Brazilian universities for advise when it came to the implementation of ICT systems – and I realised that many Brazilian systems had another major advantage compared to what European universities could have offered: The whole process of adopting and implementing learning technologies has started several years later in Brasil than it did in Europe. Hence Brazilian institutions could base their strategies on more advanced technologies, and possibly also on clearer requirements catalogues than European organisations which started experimenting with newly born open source versions in the early 2000s, years before new paradigms like Web 2.0 came to life. And we are still confronted with the results today, such as heavy “historical” bulk and overly complicated, historically grown island solutions.

So, to some extent, many Brazilian solutions I came across appeared much “cleaner”, more lightweight, than what I am used to from Europe – regardless if they were commercial or open-source-based. Why would an African university copy bulky European solutions when they can “leapfrog” to the state of the art that fulfills their current requirements?

Well then…what’s the conclusion?

I believe the most important aspect about ICTs in emerging and developing areas is that, like everywhere in the world, they are a part of reality. The context and circumstances of their diffusion and adoption might be different (and very specific for each country, each region, each social stratum), but their existance is a fact. And like everywhere in the world, ICTs have can – and are used to – enable learning and education.

I don’t have a ready-made answer to the solution if and how ICTs will change education in Mozambique in the long term. I don’t have that for Europe either. But I believe that it would be a mistake to try zoom out the existence of digital technologies in the field of education – or any other field, that is, because at the end of the day, they cannot and must not be ignored.

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Province of Manica – where everyone communicates via WhatsApp

 

 

 

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Mozambique…far away, always close

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Beira, Mozambique

A while ago, my Mozambican adventure came to an end. I’ve relocated to Bavaria, enjoyed – and later, cursed – Central European winter, and currently am busy building up a new life in a new town. Including the preparation time in Austria and Portugal, the whole ride has lasted for more than half a year. And yes, it took me at least 2-3 months to re-adjust after my return, and to start processing.

During that ride, blogging really helped me a lot to put together bits and pieces of what I saw, experienced, and learned. And I felt very happy and proud to notice that friends, acquaintances, and total strangers all over the world show interest in my posts, my thoughts, my pictures.

So I have left Mozambique, but Mozambique has not left me. Actually, the more time passes, the more ideas and thoughts come up that I would like to write about. So I will do my best to keep this blog alive and dedicate it to all kinds of topics that are related to Moçambique maravilhosa.

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…that’s why I will keep on blogging

 

 

Practical Guide to Life in Beira – Pt. 3: Staying connected – electricity, phone and internet

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Staying connected in Beira

Prepaid electricity – it’s a thing

Most houses in Beira town are connected to the national electricity network, EDM (Energias de Mocambique), and each household has their own counter. Not so special from what I was used to in Europe. However, what makes it interesting is the fact that you buy your electricityin the shape of prepaid vouchers. Credelec, credits for electricity, are available at EDM selling points, as most petrol stations. Look out for the symbol:

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EDM post

When buying credelec, you have to provide the EDM registration number of your household which you will find on the counter, and then your voucher is printed uniquely for your number. At home, you simply type the code into the counter, and your energy account is recharged. I must say find this system more straight-forward and down-to-earth, and actually…truly educational: The prepaid system makes you aware of consumption. In Austria, I did not have ANY notion of how much a KWH of energy cost, let alone the slightest idea of how certain practices affect the overall consumption, hence the costs. Here, I automatically check how many KWH are left on my account every morning to make sure I top up on time – and I see deviations that can usually be explained easily with my own habits and behaviour: Did I use Air Condition? Did I forget to put off all the lights the day before? Did I (or guests of mine) stay at home the whole day? It is not a big deal – and yet, similar to what I learned about water consumption, I consider this precious…well, not exactly knowledge, but awareness.

Mobile Phones and Internet

Leapfrogging is a term used in innovation management to refer to the phenomenon that societies sometimes skip one level of technical innovation and directly adopt a more advanced version. A popular example is phone usage in developing and emerging countries: While infrastructure and markets for landlines never really got established on a broad range, mobile phones have had a revolutionary aspect on all aspects of life over the last decade.

And indeed it is true: Mobile phones keep Mozambique up and running. Companies like Huawei are manufactoring smartphones specifically designed for emerging and developing countries: Robust, functional, un-fancy hence cheap, but still smart.

WhatsApp in Austria was a nice, entertaining way to stay in touch with friends, send memes to my siblings and create conversation groups. In Mozambique, it has become an essential tool to organise my work and every day life. I use it to coordinate with my housekeeper, to receive and send information about meetings and other events at work  – my employer, the Catholic University, does not have an intranet, no central web client with distribution list or anything comparable, but several WhatsApp groups -, and to send models of dresses to taylors.

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Provider mcel supports Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook for Free initiative

There is another feature widely spread and part-of everyday life: Mobile Money. MPesa, developed in Kenya in 2007, has actually become one of the most frequently quoted and highly praised innovations “made in Africa”.

And there are not only potentially practical use cases. It IS an incredibly useful thing. Some examples from the past few months: Colleague is on a business trip in Maputo, misses his flight back and has to stay for another night, but ran out of money. I send him 1000 Meticais via mPesa. Water bill arrives, but I lack and time and mood to queue at the FIPAG agency. I pay the bill with mPesa. I am out of town for the first week of the month when my housekeeper is supposed to get her salary. I pay her via mPesa.

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mpesa – Innovation made in Kenya

So, practically, how does one achieve the benefits of mobile phone and internet upon arrival in Mozambique? Go for prepaid. You can buy SIM cards basically anywhere – even the retailers on the streets sell cards and can activate them with a device they carry around with them. Ask for a Pacote initial (“starter pack”), it costs somewhere between 10 and 30 Meticais. SIM cards are usually adjustable to “normal”, micro and nano size. However, since [quote ICT-Mozambique article], each SIM card has to be registered – you need to fill in a form and provide an ID, but it is simple so you do not even have to go to a shop. The retailers on the streets have their activiation devices with them and simply scan your ID so that the card can be activated on the spot. As far as I know, a Mozambican address is not required in order to register a SIM card.

Regarding providers, the Mozambican market is divided between three companies: MCel, Vodacom and movitel. I am a faithful customer of Vodacom. However, in more remote areas, movitel has better coverage. MCel, however, participates in the Free Online Services initiative [quote] – you can use “basic” services like Wikipedia, Facebook etc. without using mobile data. So which provider is the best? Many people, including me, apply a very practical solution to this question by simply buying one SIM card from each provider and using the one that is most appropriate for a given context. [Among others, this common practice is a reason for the extremly high phone penetration rate in many African countries that often reach levels way higher than 100 %.]

Topping up is even easier than getting a SIM card. Just look out for guys in yellow mcel vests, they sell credits and for all providers.

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Guys selling créditos

Domestic calls are cheap – within the same work sometimes even free. Default mobile data is more expensive, but all providers have offers for “mobile packages”: Using your credits, you buy a package of mobile data that can be consumed within 30 days. I noticed that the MB you get for a certain amount of money strongly changes over time. In September 2015, 500 Meticais would buy you 2.500 Megabyte. At the time of writing, roughly a year later, I usually get more than 6.000 MB for the same amount.

Either way, it’s the easiest, most comfortable and very affordable way to get online. Actually, I do not have even have a wireless (or wired) internet connection at home, I simply use my phone as hotspot that perfectly serves all my electronic devices.

So…that’s how to stay connected in Mozambique.

If you are interested in other aspects of everyday life in Beira, check out my these posts:

Practical Guide to Life in Beira. Pt. 2: Shopping

Practical Guide to Life in Beira. Pt. 1: Water and Public Transportation

My life “Out there” on the TEDxVienna Blog

TEDxVienna is an awesome organisation – or more of an organism. A bunch of cool, smart, interesting, creative people from all over the world who gathered in Vienna in order to share ideas. The main conference – an event full of inspiring talks and encounters – takes place on October 22nd at the georgous Volkstheater. And this years’ topic is “OUT THERE”.

In the forefront of the event, I had the honour to write a guest article for their fantastic blog, telling a bit about my life “out there”. It is some sort of brief conclusion of 13 months in Mozambique, a compressed version of 13 months of impressions, adventures, learnings, mood swings, and all in all, the most unforgettable time of my life.

You can find my article here: A day in the life out there – in Mozambique

And by the way: Don’t forget to also check further infos about the conference in Vienna on Saturday. Even though it is sold out, there are still options to be part of it, for example at one of the satellite events, or on various social media channels.

Three friends, two weeks, one journey. Swaziland – Mozambique 2016

Just a few facts to resume a trip worth tens of thousands of pictures and a million memories: Two weeks on the road from Johannesburg via Swaziland, Maputo, Tofo and Vilankulos up to Beira.

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Competitive itinerary for less than 2 weeks. First etape was taken by plane, though (Beira – Johannesburg)

  • We met at Johannesburg Tambo Airport on a Friday morning. One came via Paris from Amsterdam. One came via Dubai from Vienna. One came directly from Beira. Two of them had never met before. Then we got on a Minibus that took us to Swaziland. The journey had begun.
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MTN Bushfire Swaziland. That’s what one would call a perfectly chilled festival

  • We travelled with pickups, private cars, ferry boats, Txoupelas (Tuk Tuks), Chapas, overland buses, sail boats, 4×4, and by foot.
  • Rhinos, elephants and lions – they were so extremly peaceful and incredibly close at Hlane National Park, Swaziland. 

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    Hlane Royal National Park – so many wonders of nature on just 22.000 hectares

  • We harvested fresh spinach for dinner, watched a breathtaking sunset and sung Austrian songs with orphans at Shewula Mountain Camp, Swaziland.

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    On top of Swaziland: Shewula Mountain Camp

  • In Maputo, we (re-)discovered all the pleasures that Mozambique has to offer: Txoupela, Manica, Capulana and many more. We invented games with three Mozambican friends over fantastic seafood dinner and got an exclusive late-night sightseeing tour through one of the most intersting African capital cities.

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    Samora Machel and some more impressions from the capital of Mozambique, Maputo

  • Further up North, Tofo and Vilankulos spoilt us with some of the most cliché Mozambique images one can imagine: snow white sand, the sea shimmering in 50 shades of Turquoise, black sailing boats with black sails, palm trees that we even try to climb, and fresh seafood everywhere.
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Mix of Tofo and Vilankulos, Mozambique. If paradise is half as nice..

  • We had taylored Capulana-dresses in Beira and watched the opening game of the EURO 2016 at Biques Restaurante.

Over the next few weeks, I will post more stories, pictures, anecdotes and reviews about our journey through Swaziland and Southern Mozambique. But for now: Thank you so much to the awesome travelling sisters, and to everyone we met along the way for an unforgettable trip!

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“Traveling. It leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.”

11 things I am glad I brought to Mozambique

It is exciting to live abroad, to get to know a new environment, to adjust to local food, customs, and traditions. And yet, at times, it also can be just terrifying and exhausting. It’s part of the game, and instead of trying to avoid these negative streaks (because that won’t work), I find it more effective to develop strategies to deal with them. One of my strategies is to have my own little comfort goodies with me. I could definitely find replacements here or simply live without them – but that makes them so particularly valuable.

#1: My allround entertainment center aka Tablet

My Sony Xperia Z…every Sunday morning, I get the new weekly profil, every Thursday Die Zeit e-Paper, and once a month the New African. I have a Kindle-App on it and a UB E-Reader, I can spend weekend afternoons on my balcony playing video games. It is great to play Deezer music, to watch movies and series downloaded or directly in the ORF Mediathek, and when something important happens – like Austrian elections or soon the Football EC – I can even try streaming online.

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Personalized multimedia & entertainment center

#2: My media libraries – music, books, movies

Oh gosh – thinking of the boxes full of books, CDs and DVDs that I had to somehow transport back to Austria after five years in the Netherlands. What I nightmare.

These days, the collection of reading material, music, films and series is infintely larger that in used to be back in the days…and yet it weighs less than a pound.

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From left to right: 10.000 songs, 1.500 books, 500 movies & series

By the way: In January, Netflix was launched in Mozambique recently, as it was in most other African countries. However, for now I don’t have the broadband connection I’d need to netflix and chill.

#3: Robust, high quality sandals

I walk a lot; it’s always hot; and I am not allowed to wear flip-flots at work. Best compromise: one pair of really good, comfortable yet robust sandals, a stock of cheap ballerinas and one pair of hiking shoes (although I haven’t used mine so far). Needless to mention my variety of flip-flops for home, beach, weekends, balcony etc.

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These sandals were made for walking – and that’s what they do

But my favourites are definitely these sandals, model “28er” (named after the Steyr 28 tractor) from GEA.

#4: Medication for the common cold

I managed to catch my first Malaria two months after I got to Mozambique. However, my most frequent and most annoying health issues have nothing to do with tropical parasites. It’s the common cold that affects me every other month, and given the omnipresence (and inalienability!) of air conditioning in combination with high outside temperatures and unexpected rain showers, that should not even come as a suprise. And even though the pharmacies here are not badly stocked, I think everyone has their own favourite treatments for “Schnupfen, Husten, Heiserkeit” – so make sure you bring them with you!

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Not to fight nasty tropcial parasites. Simply to cure nose, throat, ears.

#5: Immersion Blender

Mozambique is flowing over with wonderful food, vegetables and herbs all year long. And even though I usually find them best to be consumed just as they are, they also keep an enormous potential to be blended into juices, smoothies and soups. It’s not impossible but yet challenging to buy a good blender here – and a compact, high quality immersion blender does not occupy to much luggage space.

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Maracuja-Orange-Avocado Juice, DIY style

#6: Garlic press

It sounds like a very little detail – but since I do cook a lot more “from the scratch” here than I ever did before, for the first time in my life I always have a solid stock of basic products at home – milk, eggs, flour, potatoes, cream, onions, and of course garlic. And we it’s an open secret that processing garlic is so much easier and faster with a press than with a knife. Just like blenders, I am pretty sure that garlic press are not impossible to find here as well. However, until now, I have not come across one so for – and am very happy for my European Ikea one, made in China.

#7: Scented Ikea candles

What I learned pretty fast after my arrival is that one should always have candles at home (and at hand), because power cuts are frequent and unexpected. So when I went back home for a holiday, I brought some of these wonderful scented candles from Ikea with me as a replacement for the normal, long, white candles that are available here. Because the Ikea stuff is wonderful and multifunctional – long lasting, stable flame, reusable glass container, easy to spot and light in the dark when placed at strategic locations in the flat, and as a bonus, they come with a nice scent and do not smell like toilet spray.

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Multifunctional stuff: Scented candles from IKEA

#8: Headlamp

Talking about power cuts…a good quality headlamp is one of the most convenient things at hand, especially when you consider the fact that it gets dark between 5:45pm and 6:pm here all year long.

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Headlamp at its spot – to make sure I find it in the darkness

#9: Razor blades, brushes for electric tooth brush

Just saying. There are some things you’re just so used to that you do not even think much about them. But youo don’t find them everywhere.

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#10: Guilty pleasures

It’s really not difficult to get all kinds of groceries here – fresh fruit, the best seafood, cashews, Piri Piri, herbs, Indian spices…and yet, sometimes it is one of biggest pleasures to make something taste like home.

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Sometimes you just want things to taste like home.

Also – no Haribo here. And sadly, no Haribo left in my personal stock at my flat either to go on the photo.

#11: Styrian Pumpkin Seed Oil

One could argue it is incorporated in #10 – something to make stuff taste like home. But pumpkin seed oil is not a guilty pleasure; it’s a necessity to survive anywhere outside Styria.

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Styrian Pumkin Seed Oil provided by my most trusted supplier

Practical Guide to Life in Beira. Pt. 2: Shopping

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Main market in Beira…the corner where they sell chickens

I arrived in Mozambique with three large suitcases full of stuff that I bought in Austria “just in case” I would not be able to find all the basic things I am used to in Beira. Turned out that shopping in a big Mozambican town such as Beira is not only easy and satisfying, it is also fun and omnipresent.

So today, in my mini series “Practical life in Beira”, I will provide some information and tips about what to buy where and how.

On the streets – the First Market and the Second Market

I find it hard to think of goods that I have not yet seen being sold directly on the streets. Clothes, shoes, dairy products, SIM cards, brooms, pillows, furniture, alive chickens and goats – in fact, the streets of Beira are one big market that can be split into two main pillars: We have the aggregated First Market, as in the official market places where farmers from the surrounding areas sell their produce, and outdoor outlets of official shops and – very popular – telecom operators – where you can pick and purchase what you like literally through a car window or from a txoupela. And then there is the Second Marketcountless micro-retailers, individual people that  invest all their “surplus” in various things, purchase them from wholesalers, manufacturers or other individuals, and re-sell them again to people who prefer to get everything in the twinkling of an eye instead of spending time in searching themselves.

From an outside perspective, it is usually hard to distinguish between representants of the first and the second market – I am not even sure if those are “real terms”, I just stumbled upon them somewhere and found them very appropriate. The whole town just appears as a lively, busy place full of business. And even though someone who is familiar with Meditarrenean, Arab or Asian markets would expect it: Stuff is not overpriced here, neither on the first nor on the second market, and bargaining is not common hence not necessary. You just point at what you like, get the price and then decide on a yes/no-basis.

 

Lojas – small stores, more or less specialized

Beira has a couple of shopping streets, or rather shopping districts – mainly in Baixa and Chaimite, the central districts close to the harbour. In these streets, you find stores – lojas (Portuguese: shop, store) side by side…usually small, often relatively (but not strictly) specialised – for instance in textiles, plastic goods, electrical equipment…you name it. If you are not exactly sure what you are looking for and where to find it, the Lojas Chineses  are always a handy tip, since you can find anything there. They are usually ran by Chinese families, hence the name…however, I have already heard locals use the term for mixed assortment stores that have been in African hands for generations).

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A typical Chinese allround-shop in Beira

 

Bread, Fruit, Fish

Even though shopping is basically always a pleasant experience in Beira and I am sure everyone will find their own way around pretty soon – avoid what I used to do in the beginning: buying vegetables, fruit and bread at the supermarket. Not only is it irrational to buy “imported” mangos from South Africa in a supermarket that is literally located under mango trees in full fruit – you will never get the colors, the smells, the feeling and the taste of buying fresh.

 

For bread, find a local padaria. Their assortment is usually very limited – white bread in two, maybe three shapes, and at times some sweet stuff. But the bread – oh, the bread. If you are lucky enough to see people queuing outside the shop, it usually means that a fresh load is about to get out of the oven. Crusty, golden, and so hot that it feels damp in the plastic bag.

Fruit and vegetables – go to the first paragraph. Everywhere. First Market, Second Market, no matter where, just buy as much as you can, because you might never find that Maracuja guy again, or the lady with those melon-sized avocados that have the perfect consistency for days (yes – I am taking about avocados!). Then again, the longer I live here, the more my favourite sales-people find me instead of me looking for them. Today, the Maracuja guy spotted me and explicitely walked over to tell me that he doesn’t have any today, but tomorrow for sure and if he should keep the usual two kilos for me.

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Fruit from the market – December selection

Fish and seafood – While I never ate much meat, and consume close to none here, I love everything that comes from the sea. Living at the coast of the Indian Ocean is one aspect that I would integrate in my personal concept of “heaven”. Here, you can buy seafood directly from the fisher boats at the coast, which makes freshness or quality concerns redundant.

Supermarkets

And yet, I would be lying if I didn’t admit how happy I am that we also have several big supermarkets here. We have an outlet of the South African Shoprite, and some Mozambican chains, e.g. Melhor Supermercado and Real. Shoprite is a milestone, a reference point in the city’s geography, my trusted dealer for cosmetics, and hideaway at times when I can’t help myself but missing strolling through endless shelves of countless products with a trolley, air condition and background music. Okay – not always the background music. Today, they were shuffling Best of Modern Talking…

 

My Practical Guide to Life in Beira. Part I: Water & Public Transport

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.

Txoupelas

 

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Life inside a Txoupela

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

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Life inside a Chapa

 
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.

Overland buses

 
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.

Coming soon:  
Practical Guide to Life in Beira, Pt. II: Shopping

My practical guide to Life in Beira

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In the next few weeks, I will write about some aspects of every day life in Mozambique. It might serve as a guide for people who come to live in Beira. At the same time, I hope it is also a way for my friends and followers in other parts of the world to get a lively idea of how things are organised and functioning down here. Everything is based on my own experiences that I made so far. If there is anything to be added, I’ll be happy to read about it in the comments!

The following topics will be covered:

Published May 11, 2016
Published October 20, 2016
Part IV: Other things to do, see, eat, drink and admire in Beira

April 7: Mozambican women in the spotlight

Collage women of Mozambique

A collage of some female faces of Mozambique – all pictures taken by me

While many countries in the world celebrate international women’s day on March 8, Mozambique does it differently and honours its women every year on April 7, a Dia da Mulher Moçambicana (literal translation “Day of the Mozambican Woman”).

It is a public holiday (and before anyone asks the obvious question: Yes, also men get the day off), and remembers one of the most influential women in Mozambican history: Josina Machel.

Josina Machel – the feminist key figure we have barely heard of in Europe

Born in 1945 in Vilanculos, Inhambane province, she grew up while the opposition to the colonial administration by Portugal slowly grew among the native population of Mozambique. As a teenager, she tried to join the – then illegal – liberation movement, which was based in neighbouring Tanzania, Frente de Liberação de Moçambique (FRELIMO), was sent to jail and deported between Southern African countries several times, until she finally managed to get into the movement when the independence war had already broken out in 1964. She continously took over more and more responsibilities until she became head of FRELIMO’s Department of Social Affairs, dedicating her capacities to causes such as Women’s Rights, child care, education centers, and specifically, education initiatives for girls. Even though she died very young, aged 25, she strongly impacted the social programs and strategies of Mozambique during the war and after independence, and is considered a key figure of the global feminist movement.
Josina – who was, by the way, also the wife of Samora Machel, who would become the first president of the Republic after independance – died on April 7 1971, and her day of death was declared Mozambican Women’s Day two years later, in 1973.

April 7 – A national holiday to pay tribute to women

Nowadays, the day is celebrated throughout the country with events, manifestations, concerts and festivities especially designed and carried out for women.
Unfortunately, this year Beira was hit by a devestating storm the night before and also during April 7 itself, and I was not able to participate in any special events. However, the upcoming day of honour had been in the air for days beforehand already. Special Capulanas and T-Shirts printed and sold in the streets, organisations and businesses expressing their best wishes to all the women of the country, social media full of tributes to famous women and everyday heroines – and even I woke up on April 7, finding several text messages from male Mozambican friends, wishing me a happy day.
There is no doubt that life is not easy for Mozambican women. CIA and other sources provide devastating statistics, prove that women are still strongly disfavoured in many aspects – literacy rates, life expectancy, AIDS prevalence, risk of poverty, schooling…the list could be continued. Patriarchal traditions that are still manifest in many people’s minds and every-day-life are a fact as well. However, on the other hand side, I see and feel that Women’s Rights, Gender Equality and related subjects are present in public discourses, media and campaigns, and that awareness is growing. Before Easter, I had the chance to participate in a workshop for university teachers. They were trained to teach a subject that every student has to take in their first year and where sensitive topics like healthy relationships, contraception, and HIV/AIDS, are discussed and processed in highly innovative, honest and appropriate ways.
And for me, the fact alone that a country pays tribute to its female population with a national holiday full of excessive celebrations carries an impressive symbolic meaning that goes beyond what I know from many European cultures.

Feliz Dia da Mulher Moçambicana a todas minhas amigas!

In that spirit, I also dedicated yesterday, April 7 2016, to all the great women of Mozambique – the ones that have shaped today’s society on a high level, like Josina Machel, but also the countless friends, colleagues, neighbours, or random strangers that I had the honour to meet here. The photo collage on top consists of images that I have taken during the past few months, capturing only few of the many strong, beautiful, positive, energetic women I have come across in Mozambique.
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