Quelimane

Trip Start Jun 28, 2007
1
4
15
Trip End Aug 07, 2007


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Where I stayed
Hotel Rosy

Flag of Mozambique  ,
Thursday, June 28, 2007

28 June

I arrived at Quelimane only a half an hour late and was greeted by the most welcome sight possible when arriving in a new country:  A man standing there holding a sign with my name on it:  "Mr. Randy"!  I was picked up at the airport by Rogerio, a Portuguese-Mozambican man who handles administrative matters for the project that employs my friend Helmut.  Rogerio was in town to do shopping for the project and I was to be under his charge for the next 24 hours or so.

First off Rogerio brought me to the Hotel Rosy, which I picked out of my Lonely Planet guide book based on its description as having "good value rooms".  We obviously have a different definition of good value because the first thought that popped into my mind upon inspecting the place was "flea bag hotel".  And at $25 a night for a flea bag hotel in Africa, this was anything but a good value.  In Thailand I would get a hotel twice as nice for half the price.  But, as Helmut has often told me, hotels in Africa tend not to be good value - simply because there is not enough tourism to encourage competition - not to mention that the foreign NGOs (aid organizations) drive up the prices of hotels because they don't care about the prices because their people are not paying out of their own pockets.

After seeing the room, I asked Rogerio if there was any hope of negotiating the price down a bit.  "Not a chance", was his reply, for "the owner is an Indian - and Indians love money", he explained.  Hm - where have I heard THAT before?  (For the record, some of my dearest friends in the world are Indian - and they are wonderful people.  However, the keen commercial sense of some - perhaps even most - Indians makes them unpopular in many countries where they often can be seen as exploitative.)  Related to this, Rogerio told me that most businesses in Mozambique are owned by Indians, who make up the wealthier segment of the population.  Like in Thailand, the Indians here are racist and don't intermarry with the local population.

And speaking of similarities to Thailand, the economic and political parallels are amazing.  Rogerio told me that the government likes to keep the masses uneducated so that they are easier to manipulate and exploit.  Sound familiar?  I told Rogerio that in Thailand, democracy consists of buying votes from the poor, uneducated, ill-informed masses.  He laughed and said that in Mozambique, they don't even bother buying the votes.  They just steal them.

After a brief rest at Flea Bag Hotel, Rogerio picked me up and brought me to the Restaurante Estacao - an Italian restaurant with delicious food and a very nice ambiance.  During dinner, Rogerio told me his life story, starting with the recent downhill turn that things took when his car was broken into and a large sum of the company's money was stolen - which he will have to repay.  Most of his life has been spent in Mozambique except for an 18 year period of exile spent in Portugal after the Portuguese were thrown out of Mozambique at the time of their independence.  Mozambican blood runs through his veins and he feels at home here rather than in Europe.

After dinner he drove me around the three or four streets of Quelimane showing me the town by night, reminiscing about the good times he spent there in the Portuguese Army in his youth.

29 June

I woke up the first time at 4:30 when the nearby mosque started blaring prayer noise.  Why do they insist on making noise so early in the morning?  Then at 6 a.m. an air raid siren went off - to let people know it was time to go to work.  Most people don't have any means of telling the time so they have to be notified by very noisy public reminders.

Rogerio picked me up and brought me to breakfast at an Indian-owned restaurant, where we met a (big, black, and very nice) Zimbabwean colleague of his, a structural engineer by the name of Mr. Amone.  In the few hours that we spent together, Mr. Amone was able to tell me so many things about the local situation.  For example, many of the bicycles that we saw passing were actually taxis!  I've seen lots of types of taxis in my life, but this is the first time to see a bicycle taxi - where the passengers sit on a padded back seat.  Indeed, the way to know if a bicycle is a taxi is to look at its back seat:  If it's comfortable-looking, it's probably a taxi.  You might think that these bicycle taxi drivers can afford to buy these bicycles and become self-employed entrepreneurs.  In fact, though, Indians import the bicycles - and rent them out - for the equivalent of $2 a day.  To earn that much, a biker has to carry approximately 10 passengers.  Anything beyond that is his to keep.  And after one year he owns the bike.  So in this way, these Indians are able to sell a $25 Chinese bike for $730.  No wonder these Indians are so popular everywhere!

Mr. Amone also told me that in Zimbabwe, when the government was white, the Indians were white.  And when the government reverted to the blacks, as if by magic, the Indians became black as well!  It's the same in Thailand:  Indians look down on Thais, but when there is a dispute between a Thai Indian and a foreigner, the Indian suddenly becomes Thai.

Mozambique easily has the worst roads - with the biggest potholes I've ever seen.  This is due to poor construction, as well as the theft of road-building funds by the politicians.  On the other hand, Mozambique has some of the best-housed politicians in the world.

While waiting in the commercial district for Rogerio to finish his shopping, I was met by a passing parade of beggars and vendors of every type of item imaginable, including shoes, bananas, eggs, eggplants, green beans, pants, CDs, etc.  If you wait long enough, eventually every item will pass by you.  Surprisingly, the beggars even went into the shops to beg.  In most places beggars aren't allowed in shops.  But I guess they figure that it's better to beg where the money is.

We went to lunch at the same nice Italian restaurant from the night before.  In front of the restaurant were several young men hanging around to watch our car.  These guys expect to be paid - and are paid - for preventing the car from being broken into - probably by themselves.  To me that sounds a lot like extortion.  But hey, a guy's gotta make a living, right?

By 4 in the afternoon we finally managed to get all of our shopping done in Quelimane and departed for Mopeia.  It got dark soon and driving became scary.  There were almost no other cars on the road, but no matter how far we seemed to be away from anywhere, there were usually people walking along the road.  These people, along with the ubiquitous bumps and potholes, made driving a hazard.

I arrived at Helmut's house at about 19:00 to find dinner and a nice cold beer waiting for me.  Helmut's house is the nicest one in the town and my room is extremely cozy and comfortable, not to mention quiet.  I had my first opportunity to check my e-mails and stock prices.  It's amazing that here in the middle of nowhere I can still have contact to the rest of the world.
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