Letter from Beira, by Lewis Blakeman (blb volunteer)

IMG_3246 IMG_3270 (1)First impressions

Given the limited information available about Beira online, I went into this placement somewhat

apprehensive about what I was getting myself into. Having spoken to contacts who spent time in

Beira over previous years, I was optimistic about enjoying my time here as much as those who I

spoke to; however, naturally I couldn’t help but worry!

I remember sitting in Johannesburg airport, waiting for my connection flight to Beira airport, and

looking around at the other passengers wondering what their story was, and why they were

traveling to Beira too. During that flight I can still recall the first time I saw the city – from above as

we came in to land – and it was at that exact point when everything became a reality for me. This

was my new home, where I was to spend the next four months. I had previously promised my loved-

ones that I would do everything I could to make the most if my time here, and reminded myself of

that promise as the plane landed on the hot concrete.

As expected, the heat took me aback when I first got off the plane. There was another British man

waiting in the immigration queue who told me ‘this is nothing’, as we waited for our passports to be

stamped. I was met at the airport by a driver who bombarded me with questions about myself, and

the U.K. We ended up talking about football, as he explained to me the best ways to follow the

English leagues whilst in Mozambique.

The journey from the airport to the place where I am now living was up there with the most

memorable experiences of my life. I recall just looking out the window at a whole new world to what

I’ve known my whole life. I saw vast markets, selling any item you can think of. Minivans packed out

with about twenty people inside them. Palm trees everywhere. I’d seen them before but never this

big – and never with people climbing up them to collect coconuts!

I was pleasantly surprised with the accommodation I was provided. I didn’t know what to expect in

the days leading up to my arrival; however, when we got to the apartment I felt at home

immediately. I live in an area called Maquinino, right on the port of Beira. The first thing I saw as I

looked out of my bedroom window was an enormous ship carrying cranes and cargo setting of from

the harbour. The sun sets under the horizon out at sea at around 6pm every evening, so that night I

took a photo and sent it home for my family to see.

One of my biggest preoccupations before leaving England was over connectivity, and whether or not

I would be able to maintain regular contact with my family. As it turned out, 3G data here is about

10X cheaper than in England, so I bought myself a simcard with Vodacom that day, which allowed

me to call my loved-ones that night. Thankfully the time difference is only two hours too, so it’s

actually been quite easy for me to stay in touch with home. That evening I had my first Mozambican

meal – chicken cooked with tomato and peppers, served with rice and black beans – which I washed

down with about two litres of bottled water. The food tasted great, and I went to bed that night in

good spirits.

I live with a Mozambican man, José. He grew up in the capital Maputo, but moved to Beira a few

years ago for work. Luckily for me (as my Portuguese isn’t great) he speaks very good English, and

has really helped me to settle. I now know the best place to buy bread, the best bars to visit (along

the Beira seafront), where not to go, and most importantly, how to get about in Beira. ‘Chopela’

taxis take you from A-B very quickly, and for a decent price too. However, I make my way to work

most days in a ‘Chapa’, one of the minivans I saw the day that I arrived. They stop when you tell

them to stop, and travel around the city in a circular route. I’ve seen all sorts so far during my Chapa

journeys – including a man sat on the backseat on the way to the market with a bunch of live

chickens!

I’m working here as a volunteer, right now with two organisations but I may look to take on some

more in time. During the week I work with ADEL Sofala, a very professional institution who work

within Sofala province to help communities to grow. Lunch is provided too which is an added bonus,

and is always delicious! Right now we are working on ways to help rural Mozambican populations to

get bank accounts and to start their own businesses so that they can maintain a sustainable income.

The work is very rewarding, and the people who work there are extremely nice.

On the weekends I work with a local youth group called AJOMAC. Their passion is dance:

Mozambican, Indian, Brazilian… all sorts. On my first day there they showed me a Mozambican

dance, with lots of singing and drums. That was a spectacle I’ll never forget! I really enjoy my time

there. They all look out for one another, and have a lot of respect for each other. I teach them

English for two hours on Saturday mornings and then on Sundays we do one hour of English, after

which then they try to teach me how to dance (emphasis on ‘try’). So far we’ve only had one

weekend together; but they can now count to one-hundred in English, while I can’t even clap in

time.

I’m starting to learn my way around Beira. I use the high-rise buildings as reference points.

Everybody is so friendly here though, so I know that if I ever do find myself hopelessly lost I can

always ask for directions. People love to say ‘hello’ and to engage in small-talk. They ask where I’m

from, what I think of Mozambique, if I’ve ever been to Africa before. I’ve noticed that there is no

shyness here (compared to England). People are warm and welcoming, and like to acknowledge

everyone around them.

It’s been one week and every day has been better than the one before. I can only hope things stay

that way. There is so much to see and do here in Beira, and as I’ve been told by a number of local’s

I’ve spoken to, chances are that after my four months are up I probably won’t want to leave!

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