Moving to Chimoio on a 1.5 hour domestic flight from Maputo involved the same amount of packing as moving from London, plus all the extras like bedding and other post-arrival purchases. I’d been told I’d be getting a “cleaned and prepared” small house recently vacated by two VSO men. But the beds were broken (literally collapsing), mattresses rotten, bedroom walls a ghastly dirty blue, toilet leaking, front door locks broken, etc. And a whining landlady saying she had no money to fix anything.
After a couple of weeks, a pestering strategy, and own effort, things have improved. I pegged capolana cloth over the vile curtains, got a new mattress and unpacked a TV someone had left behind. Now I fear I’m getting addicted to the Brazilian soaps that are on every night! I tell myself it’s all good for extending my Portuguese vocabulary. I also have a choice of two small plastic couches (below) to potato-out on! Plus I can get BBC world service loud and clear at all hours, as well as Moz stations. In Maputo I could only get Radio France International [RFI].
My work task here is to set up a programme monitoring and evaluation system for a large well established NGO called Kubatsirana (= mutual aid) that’s working to combat the devastating effects of HIV/AIDS among the most vulnerable.
It’s going OK so far. I’ve had to get used to the Christian underpinnings of all the approaches, but do realise this is the only way to reach the grass roots community: everyone belongs to a church. More on churches in a future blog post, just to say here my comfort zone is being sorely tried with prayers to thank the lord after every meeting…. Plus the work day starts with 15 minutes of prayers – like old fashioned school assembly.
When people asked me on arrival “onde e que voce reza?” (where do you pray? = which church) and I replied “eu nao rezo” (I don’t pray) they were shocked, so I had to add quickly that after living many years in S E Asia, I had a Buddhist meditation approach, but no church.
Vila Pery was the name given to this town in 1916 by the Portuguese colonials, after the then governor. It was renamed Chimoio at Mozambican independence in 1975, after a local chief. Facebook does not register Chimoio, so my fb location is up as Vila Pery. The only Vila Pery in Chimoio now is an eponymous hotel.
This small town, capital of Manica province, population 260,000 in 2010, is a criss-cross of six or so sealed roads that then fizzle out into dirt roads. It’s now growing, and the bigger shops, mostly Lebanese owned, deal in construction materials, truck and 4WD vehicle parts and imported bales of old clothes. The goods-only railway shuttles between Beira on the Indian Ocean coast, and Harare in neighbouring Zimbabwe.
There is a mix of people here – the majority African, speaking Shona (as in Zimbabwe) and half a dozen Mozambican languages. The Indians (originally from Goa) and ‘Arab Muslims’ have run trade here since the 17th century, at times in competition with the Portuguese. Today the Muslims deal in household, motor and food imports, historically they exported ivory, gold and slaves brought in from the bush by the African chiefs, in exchange for Asian cloth and European beads.
The only notable landmark in Chimoio is the so-called Cabeca do Velho (old man’s head), a formation of rocks that when seen from the side looks like the profile of a reclining old man. In the rainy season the streams that form are said to be his tears falling. Last Sunday I climbed to the top, and walked a trajectory along the old man’s profile.
Chimoio is on a plateau and has a cooler climate (sometimes like the UK, dull, wet and grey!) and good agriculture, tons of fruit and veg, some lake fish… but of course no seafood! I now have gastronomic dreams about prawns.
One sees a lot of poverty and vulnerability in the streets here that’s maybe more hidden in Maputo. Yesterday I saw a small kid (6 or 7) leading a blind man along, and a blind woman tottered behind the man, clutching his shirt. Many small children are on the streets begging with disabled people. Today I saw a young blind woman whose two kids of around 3 and 5 were shaking coins in tin cans. A lot of children have lost their parents to the AIDS scourge, and can be household heads at the age of ten! Or they live rough on the streets. More on all that in a future blog.
I feel ashamed to complain about my leaking toilet, crumbling concrete floor and dirty walls when I see how most people live here – in dark shacks with an outside latrine surrounded by a frame of old rags and plastic, and water to be hauled in buckets usually from a distance. Some people drive fancy 4WD cars but live in small houses with no running water or indoor kitchen. They cook outside on charcoal. Some have a well or tap in the yard.
I have noticed quite a few drunk people around (male and female) at the weekends. The hard stuff (40+%) comes in small plastic bottles at 30p in the market and in all shops, when the cheapest bottle of beer costs around 70p.
Nothing to do at night here, not even any street-side cafes to sit in, only a few bars full of men…. Maybe people who have their own transport manage to entertain themselves more, as we are close to some pristine wilderness areas: Gorongosa National Park (full of animals and birds), Chimanimani mountains, sites of ancient cave paintings….. access is the problem.
Last Saturday morning I saw from afar a big crowd and thought something exciting was going on – street theatre? musicians? – it turned out to be a soap powder promotion with a few free T-shirts on offer. Sigh. That’s maybe the only cultural activity to expect here… provided by the multi-nationals!
And of course, the socialist imagery is still in evidence here.