July 30 2006
-Where were you born?
Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA
-Are you living alone or with your family?
I live with my boyfriend, Ricardo and our two kittens.
-In which country and city are you living now?
-How long have you been living in Mozambique?
I have been living in Mozambique for 14 months. The first nine months I lived in a town called Chimoio, in the central part of the country. At the beginning of this year, I moved to Maputo.
-What is your age?
I am 24 years old.
-When did you come up with the idea of living in Mozambique?
I first lived abroad when I was 16 as a high school exchange student to Paraná state in southern Brazil. I had such a wonderful experience that I decided to go back to Brazil while getting my MBA, this time as an exchange student at a business school called Ibmec in Rio de Janeiro. I lived in Rio for a year and a half, and through my studies met Ricardo.
In 2004, Ricardo and another fellow classmate came to Mozambique to start a consulting business. They invited me to work with them, and in April 2005 I left my job as director of an HIV/AIDS prevention program at an NGO in the US and moved here to do grantwriting and fundraising for the consultancy company.
-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
No. I obtained a tourist visa from the Mozambican Embassy in the US before my departure. I have gotten my visa renewed or re-issued about four times since arriving without much hassle. It is possible to have a tourist visa that is valid for 30 days issued at the Maputo airport upon arrival.
The process to get a DIRE, the residency permit that most foreigners have, is somewhat complicated. However, a DIRE is not required to do work in the country as long as you are hired as an independent consultant by an international organization.
-How do you make your living in Mozambique? Do you have any type of income generated?
I am a partner in a consultancy company that specializes in fundraising for projects throughout Southern Africa, primarily in agriculture, financial services, industry and community development. My income is generated through success fees for fundraising and flat fees for developing business plans, feasibility studies and grant applications. I did not have to look for a job in the traditional sense because we have our own company, but we do have to look for clients and projects on a regular basis.
-Do you speak the local language and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
The official language in Mozambique is Portuguese. Since I lived in Brazil for several years, I am fluent in Portuguese -- although the accent is quite different in Mozambique and some words have different meanings. Many people here speak it as a second language and still use local tribal languages, referred to as dialetos (dialects), in their daily interactions. In many areas of the country, especially near the borders with Commonwealth countries, English is understood. It is possible for a person in Maputo to get by without speaking Portuguese as the business community, government, and most service personnel are fluent in English.
That said, I believe it is important for expats to speak Portuguese (or even one of the dialects). I think it is a sign of respect that you don't expect local people to cater to you and speak your language, and even the most rudimentary attempts at the language will generate significant goodwill. In addition, speaking Portuguese certainly helps in terms of making friends, haggling over prices, and dealing with any sticky situations that may arise (i.e. bribery attempts).
-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
I miss my family all the time. I am an only child and am extremely close to my parents, who live in the US. We get to see each other once or twice a year, but the plane ride back home is horridly long (think 36 hours flying time and four connecting flights) and prohibitively expensive (around US $2400 return). Even though we can’t see each other very often, I talk to my mom on Skype (free Internet-based telephony) just about every day, and to my dad using my cell phone whenever possible.
One thing that usually helps combat homesickness is to receive care packages and letters, but unfortunately this is difficult in Mozambique. The mail system in this country, for all practical purposes, is defunct and totally unreliable. In the nearly 1.5 years I've lived here, I have yet to receive a piece of mail – no postcards, no letters, no packages – and it's not because people haven’t tried sending me things. Mail simply disappears into the bowels of the system, never to be seen or heard from again. The only way to send things to and from Mozambique is via a courier service such as DHL.
On the good side, things sent via courier services tend to arrive within five business days and are delivered right to my doorstep. On the not-so-good side, DHL and other equivalent services are unbelievably expensive – a small box can cost up to US $400 to send!
Most of the activities I turn to when I feel homesick are introspective and creative. I like to write in my blog, make jewelry, draw, knit, and try my best to replicate recipes from my favorite restaurants around the world. I also like to hang out with my boyfriend, play with our two kittens, take a walk, or go out to eat or for a drink.
People with 4x4s can take advantage of the many beautiful beaches near Maputo. Bilene, a green lagoon to the north, and Ponta d’Ouro, a dune-covered beach to the south, are two of the popular destinations for weekend getaways. Ricardo and I have yet to check out these destinations, but they are certainly on our list of things to do in the future.
-Do you have other plans for the future?
Ricardo and I plan to continue with our consultancy company here in Maputo for another 3–5 years. After that we will likely move to the US where he would like to do an MBA. Long-term, our plans are to have Rio de Janeiro as our home base.
Parallel to our consulting activities, we are working with two partners in the US to develop a venture capital fund that will invest in emerging managers, markets and companies. The focus for this fund will be agriculture, financial services, industry and healthcare in Southeast Africa, Brazil and the US.
-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
My boyfriend and I currently rent a three-bedroom flat on the top floor of a small building. We pay US$450 per month, a reasonable price that we got through some heavy negotiating with the landlord.
The housing market in all of Mozambique, especially Maputo, is horribly inflated due to the large number of international cooperation agencies working in the country. When these organizations need to find housing for their expat directors, or a nice place to have an office, they are willing to pay European or American prices to ensure a safe, hassle-free rental. Basically, if the amount the landlord asks for rent is within the agency’s budget, it's a deal. Mozambicans take advantage of these heavily-lined foreign pockets and are used to charging absurd amounts for rent, always in US dollars.
It's not at all uncommon for a two-bedroom apartment in Maputo to cost US$600 per month, and a house to cost anywhere from $700 to $2,500 depending on the neighborhood. Most landlords require a two-year contract and that 3-6 months of rent be paid up front. Nearly everything about the rental process – including price – is negotiable, although it really helps to be fluent in Portuguese.
-What is the cost of living in Mozambique?
Generally speaking, life in Mozambique is expensive. The country is very dependent on imported products, from fresh produce to furniture to domestic appliances, and as a result prices are high, selection is limited, and it can be difficult to find quality items. Food is one of the most expensive things here, both in grocery stores and in restaurants. A dinner for two people at a reasonable restaurant with an appetizer, main course, and drinks averages US$40. Taxis are also pretty expensive for developing country standards, with a typical in-city round trip fare running US$10.
Ricardo and I are able to live comfortably on about US$1,000 per month, but we lead a simple existence. We don't have a 4x4 to guzzle gas, we eat at home at least two meals a day, we don’t go out much on weekends, don't escape to South Africa or Swaziland at every chance possible (like many of the other expats here), and have only the very basic furniture and accessories in our home. Since we have a limited budget and an uncertain cash flow, we have learned that many of the material things and activities we deemed “necessary” before moving to Mozambique are really dispensable and we are quite happy leading a minimalist lifestyle.
There are, however, some comforts that we aren't willing to toss away just yet. For example, trips to Brazil and the US to visit family at least twice a year, a gym membership at Hotel Avenida ($50/month) to use the weight room and the beautiful pool, special occasion splurges at Costa do Sol for king prawns and calamari, and a bottle of South African wine to relax whenever necessary.
-What do you think about the Mozambicans?
It's hard to generalize about a population, but if I had to choose one thing to say about Mozambicans it would be that they are very respectful. From the extremely formal way they write letters and address people, to the innocent things cat-calling boys yell out after pretty ladies ("Kisses for you, my love!"), Mozambicans are gentle and proper in just about everything they do. Even their use of language is respectful; it is almost unheard of to hear somebody say a bad word, and in the most frustrating or angry moments you might hear a Mozambican utter the equivalent of "Darn it!" or "Heck."
Again to generalize, Mozambicans treat foreigners well and with the same respect they show their compatriots. In Maputo it is common to see foreigners walking around and I feel I am able to blend in as a member of a diverse urban population. In more rural parts of the country, however, foreigners are somewhat of a novelty and may attract a lot of curious attention from locals, especially children.
The only negative thing I have experienced in terms of being a foreigner – aside from the occasional hassle from customs officials – is the fact that outsiders tend to be prime targets for beggars and souvenir hawkers, and some of these people are disconcertingly persistent. It is not at all uncommon for a child asking for change to follow a foreigner for blocks and blocks, refusing to give up until they get a coin or two. The same thing is true for the men who sell batiks and carvings. They especially like to try their luck with foreigners, showcasing their merchandise as they follow you wherever you are going, "Please, Boss. It’s a good price, Boss. Buy something, anything. Please, I haven't had lunch yet, Boss." These street vendors usually won’t give up until you purchase something or tell them in a strict voice to please leave you alone.
-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Mozambique?
Mozambique has good weather, excellent seafood, amazing beaches (or so they tell me, I haven't been to any yet), and plenty of opportunities to get off the beaten path.
The flip side is that the roads are horrible, all of the buildings are in dire need of a coat of paint, there is rampant bureaucracy, waiting in line is a daily activity, and (as mentioned previously) the mail system doesn't work.
-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in that country?
* Get vaccinated against Hepatitis A and B.
* Eat as much of your favorite foods and consume as much of your favorite products as possible before coming to Mozambique – they likely won't be available here.
* Padlock your luggage anytime you travel, especially on connections via Johannesburg.
* Make friends with a good taxi driver.
* Wear insect spray at night and sleep under a bed net.
* Learn Portuguese.
* Don't travel by road after dark.
* Don't rent an apartment that is higher than the 4th floor.
* Visit northern Mozambique.
* Avoid elevators whenever possible.
* Unplug your computer and other electronics from the wall outlet immediately anytime there is a blackout.
* If you find something in the grocery store that you like, buy the entire lot – it won't be there next week when you come back to buy more.
* Don't swim in freshwater (lakes, ponds, rivers, etc.).
* Learn to love seafood and grilled chicken.
* Take a multi-vitamin every day.
-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about anything related to Mozambique?
I have a blog called Austin to Africa, Brasil to the Bay, where I regularly post photos and write about my impressions of life in Mozambique. Come check it out!
The best, most accurate portrayal of Africa I have ever read is a book by Paul Theroux called "Dark Star Safari." It chronicles his overland journey from Cairo to Cape Town. I highly recommend it to anybody wanting to know more about this continent.