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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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

Water, Air, Wind and Fire – Five days in Vilanculos.

Vilanculos – a town in South-Eastern Mozambique, located in a district that goes by the same name, at the coast of the Indian Ocean. This is where you find  the white beaches, the palm trees, colourful fisherboats, and a sea that incorporates (at least) fifty shades of turquoise, corresponding to thosse iconic images of Mozambique on tourism sites and homepages of exclusive lodges. But you don’t have to wander around, searching for hidden magical spots. They are simply there, everywhere, because this is what the region looks like.

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Vilanculos town, December 2015

This is where my 2015 ended and my 2016 kicked off. Together with my Significant Other, we got out of Beira for a few days and headed down South by bus. Some travel tips and recommendations, collected during the trip, can be found in an extra post.

Without hesitation, I dare say that we picked the finest accomodation place one can even dream of – Marimba Secret Gardens, a Budget Lodge about 20 km North of Vilanculos town, created and ran by a young Swiss family, that attracts the most diverse types of travellers in a way that the combination of people that gather there is always unique, and always interesting.

Even though our main purpose was to chill out, relax and just enjoy life, we ended up doing and discovering plenty of things.

10 Things you can do while staying at Marimba Secret Gardens:

  • Go to Bazaruto Archipelago for a day. It’s an untouched paradise, as beautiful as can be and yet neither overran by masses of tourists, nor crowded with infrastructure, shops or bars. It’s just a combination of sand, sea, desert-like dune landscapes and, unfortunately for some of us, jellyfish.
  • Embark on a tiny boat into the open ocean – because that’s what you have to do in order to get to Bazaruto. It is shaky, it is wet, it is windy and, honestly, painful and scary at times – and yet, it was there in the “washing machine” when I felt like looking at myself from an outside perspective, thinking “What an awesome finish of an incredible, shaky, windy year.”
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Bazaruto Archipelago – December 31st, 2015

  • Get up at 4:30am for a sunrise at the beach, knowing that you can crawl under the blankets and the mosquito net in your bungalow afterwards to process the beauty you just experienced.
  • Sit at the bonfire after dark – because yes, even African summers can have some chilly-ish nights – look above and realise that the sky and the stars are different in Southern hemisphere. You are looking at them from a new location and perspective.
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From Dawn till Dusk at Marimba

  • Enjoy the home-made “Dinner of the Day” – be it crab, calamari, tuna fish fingers, or shrimps, depending on the daily catch of local fishermen, but always fresh from the sea.
  • Learn about the local communities Macunhe and Chipongo by socializing with the staff at the lodge, all of them part of the Marimba team since the very beginning when construction started from scratch.
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It’s a hard knock life…

  • Spend afternoons lying on a straw mat underneath your bungalow.
  • Go for a walk on the ocean’s territory during low tide.
  • Admire giant blue starfish on a snorkelling trip around the islands of Bazaruto.
  • Welcome the New Year in a random group of people from Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, France, Israel and Sweden – talking about the Eurovision Song Contest.
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Beach at Marimba Secret Gardens, Low Tide, December 2015

Congratulations, Isabelle and Marcel and the whole team, on the great project of Marimba, on your fantastic way of hosting people – and thank you so much for everything! 

P.S.: Since it took me some time to figure out a good way of getting to Vilanculos and back from Beira, I have shared our experiences and recommendations in a separate blog post, “Beira – Vilanculos by bus”.

 

From Beira to Vilanculos by bus

Planning our trip to Vilanculos for New Year’s Eve, I realized that there was not much up-to-date information around about getting there by public transport – so here is a detailed description of our bus trip from Beira to Vilanculos and back (travel dates December 2015/January 2016).

Vilanculos is a coastal town in the province of Inhambane and is located approximately halfway between Beira and Maputo. It is not directly located on the N1 – the main national road that connects the capital with the Zambezi valley in the North – , and buses going to Maputo will usually drop passengers for Vilanculos at Pambarra, where you can catch a Chapa to Vilanculos.

Many companies are serving the route Beira – Maputo. Usually, the easiest way to get information about departure times and ticket purchase would be to go to their local office in Beira in person. However, it was Christmas period, so I needed to find a way to arrange everything online – and LTM (Linhas Terrestres de Moçambique, the national bus company) offers such an option. However, you can only purchase tickets for the entire journey (Beira – Maputo) and tell the bus driver to drop you off in Pambarra. A single ticket cost about 30 Euros – there are certainly cheaper options, but given the comfort and the efficient organisation provided by LTM, I would say it is more than worth the price for a 500 km bus trip.

The bus departs at 3:55AM from the Petromoz petrol station on the Major Serpa Rua in Beira, but you have to be there one hour in advance. As safe as Beira is during the day, it’s out of question walking around in the middle of night, no matter how close you live. Make sure to arrange a taxi or Choupela to pick you up in front of your house. (The Choupela drivers usually know exactly where the LTM-buses depart and will drop you off without further explanation.)

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Departure point LTM bus to Maputo: Petromoz petrol station Rua Major Serpa

Boarding started on time. I hadn’t been able to print the tickets, but the PDF on my mobile phone was absolutely fine. Upon check-in, I simply told the guy that was in charge of checking the tickets, that we would like to get off in Pambarra, he told us it was no problem and simply put a note about our drop-off destination on the passenger list.

The ride was very pleasant. Working air condition and toilets on board, and there was even a small breakfast package provided, including 500 ml of water.

The bus takes the standard route to the South – via Dondo to Inchope on the EN6, and then down on the N1. At the boarder between the provinces Sofala and Inhambane, there was a passport control where they also insisted on seeing my residence and work permit (DIRE), so make sure you have all your travel documents with you.

We arrived Pambarra, around 11:00AM – after 7 hours, less than expected. Finding the Chapa to Vilanculos isn’t a big deal – getting off the bus you should already see one or two of them waiting about 50 metres away. The ride is about 20 km, takes 45 minutes and costs us 40 Meticais per person. Be prepared for a real, authentic Chapa ride and don’t expect too much comfort or privacy in a mini-van packed with 25 people, but hey, that’s part of the game called travelling in Africa!

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Inside the Chapa from Pambarra to Vilanculos

The Chapa stops in the center of Vilanculos, opposite the Barcley’s bank which seems to be a popular milestone / meeting point in town. From there, you can easily get around town by foot or Choupela (50 Meticais per ride).

To get back from Vilanculos to Beira, I booked again online on the LTM-site (and once again for the entire route Maputo – Beira) and called their Maputo office up front to let the agent know that we would be boarding in Pambarra. She told us to be there by 11:00, which seemed early, knowing that the bus would leave from Maputo at 3:55AM and the entire trip is said to take 17 hours. However, we did as she said, arrived in Pambarra and decided to simply have a breakfast beer at one of the bancas to keep an eye on the road. Pambarra is very easy-going, we actually enjoyed sitting there, just watching people and their daily routines.

Around 11:30, I received a phone call from the bus, telling us that they would be there in 15 minutes and we should get ready to be picked up – which was probably the most positive surprise of the day. No stressful observation of the road in order not to miss the bus, no worrying if the agent in Maputo had passed on the information correctly – thumbs up, LTM!

We got back to Beira around 19:15 – again almost 2 hours ahead of schedule, which means that the travel times are calculated generously and always leave a comfortable buffer.

All in all: Travelling with LTM – great experience, excellent and reliable organisation, would definitely do it again and can only recommend it. As mentionned above, there are cheaper options for sure, which might be slightly more adventurous at the same time – I may test them out in the future, or simply prefer the lazy, comfortable luxury of LTM.

P.S.: If you’re interested in our stay in Vilanculos, check out my post Water, Air, Wind and Fire.

 

“Yo falo portañais – et vous?” – What I learned about language learning when I learned a language at the age of 34

One very practical impact of living in Mozambique is the presence of the Portuguese language. Mozambique used to be one of the African colonies of Portugal (besides Angola, Guinea-Bissau and the island states of Capo Verde and São Tomé and Príncipe). Portuguese is still the (only) official language of Mozambique. However, only half of the population does actually speak it, and only a quarter of that half considers it as their first language. Given the dimensions of the country – its North-South extension is roughly 2.700 km, which is more than the distance from Stockholm to Rome– it does not surprise that the native languages of the country are of an enormous diversity. There is no dominating indigenous language that is understood in wide parts of the country and hence could become a Lingua Franca (as it is the case with Swahili in several Eastern African countries. In fact, Portuguese does fulfill the role of Lingua Franca, the link language that connects the regions and enables communication, and of course language of the national media. In Beira, as in other larger cities, Portuguese is the main language used by locals also among each other.

That means, of course, that I also have to speak Portuguese. And I do admit, that is a daily challenge and gives me the most controversial experiences – from deepest frustration (“I will never be able to get along in that language!”) to highly motivating success stories (“Wow – I just gave an unprepared, spontaneous presentation…in Portuguese!”). For me, it is the first time that I have to “function” in a language that I do not master properly. When I lived in France and the Netherlands, it was different. I knew French profoundly before I got there, and Dutch – well, a German speaker is never an absolute beginner in Dutch.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tower_of_Babel

“The Tower of Babel”, painting by Pieter Breughel the Elder

I am definitely a competetive person, which means I do not like doing things I am not already good at…this goes for sports, games, crafts, and definitely for languages. On the other hand side, this challenges me to try to get better every day.

Just as so many other things that I experience here, my process of getting used to the new language is highly interesting to observe.

Here are some of the things that I have discovered about language learning in the last few months:

1. The worst thing of not speaking a language properly is feeling ignorant and incompetent.

And that is a terrible, terrible experience. It is quite normal that passive language skills – understanding – exceed active skills. Hence, in reality I end up in countless situations where I am able follow the course of a conversation, but all I can do to participate is nod or shake my head and express attention and understanding by making big eyes and a friendly face. As soon as a question is directed towards me, I need “special assistance” – someone to repeat the question over and over again, someone who would quickly switch to English for me, someone to help me out with words I am searching for. And that makes me feel so – handicapped, so stupid, so ignorant.

However, it is definitely something to bear in mind in the future when dealing with people who are not fluent in the language they have to function in – maybe they are feeling exactly the same.

2. Paradoxically, the more abstract and specific conversations are, the better I master them in Portuguese.

Conversations that are related to my job, my professional background, my field of expertise are usually the motivating ones, the ones that trigger an adrenaline outburst, when I start babbling about E-Learning Policies, Sustainable Development Goals or Content Management Systems. The conversations that leave me frustrated are usually unexpected everyday encounters – someone addresses me on the street, a question from the cleaning team, administration stuff at the immigration office. The latter ones, however, are the classic “textbook” situations that go as basic language skills, whereas the former are much more specific and usually not even covered in language courses.

I have given some thought to that phenomenon – and after all, it might not be so paradoxal: Whenever I use “language or specific purposes”, I am usually familiar with the purpose, the context, the typical communication patterns. Talking about concepts, aspects, ideas, theories, requires a certain level of abstraction that I had to acquire gradually during my professional development – and it is relatively independant from a specific language, hence quite easily to be transferred from one language to another. On the other hand side, the everyday encounters are unanticipated. I have no frame of reference about the subject, the content, the purpose of the question someone addresses to me on the street or in a restaurant, neither about the attitude or expectation of the other person…and that makes it way harder to decode and react to.

Source: http://www.archdaily.com.br/br/01-73879/cinema-e-arquitetura-encontros-e-desencontros-lost-in-translation/73879_73882

Scene from “Lost in Translation”

I always thought the urban legends about scientists who give a highly complex speech at a conference in a foreign language and then, during lunch break, don’t manage to order coffee at the bar, are highly exaggerated. I don’t really think so any more.

3. “Conquering” a language on Duolingo does not automatically qualifiy you to “function” in that language

However, neither do several years in high school or even a university degree in the respective language. Duolingo, in any case, is a great starting point, and an even better means to keep me motivated – and now, that I am learning new words, expressions, structures mainly “in the field”, it is a wonderful platform to every now and then monitor how much I have actually progressed. Unless another revolutionary platform appears on the horizon soon, I assume Duolingo will remain my favourite and most recommendable language learning app for quite some more time. Even more since they are currently working on Swahili.

Source: www.duolingo.com

August 10, 2015 – The Day I conquered the Portugues skill tree

4. Latin languages are sexy.

The more Latin a language looks and feels, the sexier it is. And Portuguese, which has conserved a lot of conjugation, does look and feel very Latin, at least to me. And Latin is pretty awesome.

Source: http://thebigbookoflatin.github.io/

Keep calm and love Latin

 

5. My requirements for grammar do not follow a linear pattern

To give you an example: In reality, I do not have the time to first learn to conjugate all irregular verbs correctly in present tense before putting myself in a situation where I need to refer to a past event. Similarily, I cannot wait to get started with adverbs only after knowing everything about adjectives by heart, and at times, a badly formed conjunctive, that nevertheless obviously is a conjunctive and hence fits the politeness requirements in a given situation, is more appropriate than a well formed indicative.

“I would likes a Pizza Margarita” is definitely more appropriate than “I want a Pizza Margarita” when placing an order in a restaurant. Wouldn’t you agree?

6. Talking to people I know is often easier thantalking to strangers

It probably has a lot to do with habits. If I know someone’s way of speaking, their specific accent, their mimics and gestures, their individual tone and melody, it is much easier to focus on the actual content of what they are saying. Also, it probably is related to trust. So, to my Portuguese speaking friends and acquaintances out there…if I dare to speak Portugues with you, it probably means that I trust you.

7. Learning a language is definitely an excellent excuse to re-read all Harry Potter novels.

No further explanation needed. It just is.
Source. http://mentalfloss.com/article/58137/magical-origins-harry-potter-words

8. “Yo falo Portanais, et vous…”

The anti-phrase I used in the title was a special creation, born during lunch break in the international language school in Lisbon where I studied Portuguese for three weeks last summer. At some point, me and some colleagues got hopelessly lost in translation and mixed up all fragments of all Latin languages we knew, ending up with an Esperanto-ish dialect that sounded strangely like the Minion language without the extensive use of Bananaaaaa.

Source: http://www.minionsipsum.com/

The magnificent Minions-themed Lore Ipsum Generator, to be found under http://www.minionsipsum.com/

9. Moçambicanismos are a thing

And finally, of course, Mozambican Portuguese is neither European Portuguese, nor Brazilian Portuguese. Like every variety of a language, it does dispose of some very specific elements, mainly on vocabulary level. Find here is a list of some of my favourite Moçambicanismos:

matabicho: breakfast; also comes in the shape of a verb, matabichar (eating breakfast). Nobody uses pequeno-almoco (Portugal) or café de manha (Brasil) here.

machamba: farm, agricultural space. Borrowed from Kiswaheli shamba(ma) and widely used.

tchungamoio: informal market, mainly used in central Mozambique. It derives from the Cindau language where it literally means “open heart“, and figuratively refers to being courageous.

tuga: Informal, pejorative expression to refer to the Portuguese (as a noun and an adjective), people from “Tugalândia” (Portugal)

txapo-txapo: means “fast, quickly”, derives from the (Pidgin-)English expression “chop chop” that itself was imported from China and probably also forms the origin of chopsticks.

xingumbungumbu: Unsurprisingly, this is an onomatopoeia that originates from the sound of hitting a plastic can and hence refers to exactly that kind of container.

muito-muito: Portuguese muito means much; many; a lot. The doubled expression in Mozambique means mainly and is influenced by the common construction principle of Bantu Languages to intensify the meaning of a word by repeating it.

gangsters paradise: Playful reference to cars with the letters GP on their licence plates that appear in large quantities in Maputo and the Southern coastal region, mainly during South African holidays. GP (in reality) stands for Gauteng Province, the South African province where Johannesburg is located.

 

 

 

Let’s talk about food, baby

Food is one of the first, most obvious elements you get in touch with in a new country. Traditional recipies, eating habits, even the way markets and supermarkets are outlined and designed – these components of culture are relatively effortless to observe and grasp, hard to overlook and often particularly easy to remember…(“Beijing…oh yeah, that’s where we had that enormous tray of wonderfully greasy prawns in that unimposing backyard inn”).

So what about food in Mozambique? Let me introduce you to some of the eating habits that I have developed in the past few weeks.
Grocery shopping, Mozambique style

Grocery shopping, Mozambique style

FRUITS FROM HEAVEN

The backbone of my diet definitely consists of fruit. With summer just around the corner, new sorts appear on the markets in abundance on a weekly basis. Apples, oranges, bananas, papaya, pineapple, various types of melons, and the objects of my current addictions: mangos (in all shapes and shades) and lychees (yes, they are of Asian origin, but also cultivated in Mozambique, namely in the province of Manica). Addiction is the right term, given that I regularly stray around shortly before dusk, desperately on the lookout for someone to sell me some lychees, and the sudden relief when I finally find an old lady by the side of the road or two young guys in a Chupela to purchase two quarter-kilo-bags of fresh, round, rosy delicacies from – for 50 Meticais.
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PRAWN, CASHEW, PIRI PIRI

There are some foods that are specifically Mozambican. Introducing all of them would be quite a task, and unfortunately, I didn’t have the chance to try them all – but an entertaining overview by another Mozambique-Blogger can be found here.
It appears obvious that seafood plays an important role on the stoves and BBQs of Mozambique, considering the country’s 2000 km coastline. The amount and quality of prawn and shrimp that is available everywhere, fresh from the Indian Ocean, easily compensates for the lack of other types of meat. And prawns are so universal – they taste great in curries, or simply fried with garlic and lime juice, with my home-made mango chutney (recipe see below) and couscous, or as Shrimp Mozambique, a recipe particularly popular in Portugal, that has potential to be prommoted to this year’s Christmas dinner.
Prawn, mango chutney, couscous

Prawn, mango chutney, couscous

One of the main export goods of Mozambique are Cashews (Funfact: Biologically speaking, they are seed, not nuts). I am sure there are a lot of brilliant recipes of what to make of Cashews. So far, I didn’t feel the need for any of them – because cashews as they are, as you can buy them everywhere on the streets here, are fantastic as they are. And apart from their looks they have barely anything in common with the small, tasteless, overpriced and over-salted cashews I know from European supermarkets. Cashews, baby!
Another product you might know without knowing its connection with Mozambique is Piri Piri – a red hot chili pepper, also known as African bird’s eye chili, that comes in the shape of powder or sauce. Piri Piri is not exclusively Mozambican, but also produced and enjoyed in many other African countries, and Piri-Piri Chicken is claimed to be one of Mozambique’s national dishes. On a sidenote: It gained world-wide fame thanks to the South African, Mozambique-themed restaurant chain Nando’s (that does not have any outlets in Mozambique, by the way).
Piri Piri chicken - unfortunately not made by me

Piri Piri chicken – unfortunately not made by me

WANT SOMETHING? MAKE IT YOURSELF!

Vienna has spoilt me. Having lived in 4th, 5th and 6th district for years, I am used to having at least one Thai snack bar, two Vietnamese Pho restaurants, three juice- and smoothie bars, four Indian diners, five coffee-take-aways and countless pizzerias in a radius of 300 metres from my place.
I don’t have that here. But what I have rediscovered is the fact that food and drinks are made from basic ingredients – which means, they are not so difficult to replicate. If I want pizza, I buy flour, yeast and some garnishes at Melhor supermarket and make my own at home, following recipe for pizza dough and pizza sauce (the dough is nothing special, but the tomato sauce in the recipe is simply fantastic).
Believe it or not - you can have pizza without having it delivered to your flat

Believe it or not – you can have pizza without having it delivered to your flat

If I miss Fruchtikus, the fruit snack to be found in every Austrian supermarket, I analyse what a Fruchtikus actually is: Fruit in a glass, easy to transport and to eat in the office as a delicious energy snack. Cutting some of my lovely mangos and stuffing them into an empty baby food container really is not a big deal – and tastes times more natural and healthier than the original Fruchtikus. And Vanilla Custard (that is, naturally, available at the South African supermarket Shoprite) tastes great with fresh mangos, too. Remember? I mentioned that fruit are the backbone of my nutrition plan.
Drinking tap-water is a no-go. At some point, I got a bit tired of carrying three litres of water back home from the supermarket every day, so I had another idea of how to stock up on refreshing, clean and healthy drinks: Using boiled tap-water to brew tea, letting it cool down and filling it in empty plastic bottles guarantees a calorie-free variety of refreshments, and tea can be seasoned – with lemon, with ginger, with cinnamon, vanillia, orange juice…you name it, there are countless combinations, even based on a rather restricted selection of available teas (in my case, mainly Rooibos, Lime Tree and some fruity blends).
One of my favourites: A pineapple-mint-flavoured tea with ginger and cinnamon.
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My stock of ice tea and fruit snacks for the office. Looks: D-, taste: A++

WHAT I REALLY MISS

And yet, there is something that no do-it-yourself-strategy, and not even the most savoury mango-prawn-cashew-piri-piri-curry in the world could compensate for. I am suffering from the possibly most common disease among Austrian expats worldwide: A severe Lattella-withdrawal. The refreshing whey drink sometimes even stars in my dreams at night, and I spend so much time thinking about it that I already created two new sorts in my mind: a winter special “Plum flavour” and an Abricot-Elderberry-Blend.
Lattella - as Austrian as can be

Lattella – as Austrian as can be

MY VERY OWN MANGO CHUTNEY

What would a food blog post be without at least one recipe? When I ended up unexpectedly with 33 mangos a few weeks ago, I searched for the perfect recipe to process them into chutney, and ended up creating my own variation, strongly inspired by this recipe by Alton Brown. What I really like about it is the extreme contrast – while the very ripe mangos and the pineapple juice are almost sinfully sweet, it allows me to be really, really generous with the Piri Piri and the curry powder.
Ingredients (for a reasonable amout to be deep-freezed and kept for less fruity times:
12 – 15 small, sweet, yellow mangos (peeled and chopped)
1 onion
2-3 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon Piri Piri powder
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 red bell pepper, chopped
3-4 tablespoons fresh ginger, finely chopped
250 ml pineapple juice
120 ml white vinegar
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup cashews (roasted or plain, unsalted)
1.5 tablespoons curry powder
Instructions:
Heat the oil in a pan, add the Piri Piri powder and shortly after the onions and sweat until soft. Add the ginger and bell pepper (both finely chopped) and finally the mangos and the cashews and cook for 2-3 minutes.
In a separate bowl, combine the pineapple juice, vinegar, sugar, and curry powder and add the mix to the pan. Bring the mixture briefly to cook and then let it simmer for about 30 minutes.
The chutney is delicious with almost anything – I tried it with prawns, chicken, on plain rice, couscous and pasta so far – it all worked well.
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