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The expat's guide to Maputo, Mozambique The expat's guide to Maputo, Mozambique
by Joseph Gatt
2019-06-30 10:03:41
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Almost everything you wanted to know about Maputo but did not dare to ask.

Before we begin

When you arrive in Maputo you will need some survival Portuguese. Bom dia is good morning, como esta is how are you, muito bem obrigado is I'm fine, thank you, and... nao tenho dinero is “'I don't have money.” Here's how it works out.

mozamb01_400Street kids come asking you for money? Nao tenho dinero. People come knocking at your door begging for money? Nao tenho dinero. People knock at your car windows and ask for money? Nao tenho dinero. A lady tries to sell you fish in the streets? Nao tenho dinero.

If street kids carry your bags, tip them them change, never give them notes. Guy washes your car window? Yell “nao tenho dinero”. If he persists, give him change.

Maputo is a very small city and street kids will recognize you very quickly. If you're the guy who tips, people are going to start queuing for your tips. A friend of mine would go out and distribute candy and Coca Cola to street kids, but that wasn't a very good idea because then what happened is people found out where he lived and he'd get constant knocks on his door. Choose a different country if you want to be Santa Claus.

If you want to help out, there are several ways you can. There's a ton of NGOs active in Mozambique, and you want to donate money to NGOs and let NGOs take care of business.

Final, but important note, especially if you're a guy. There are lots of women knocking on people's door pretending to sell fish or to look for work. If they find out you're single, they'll lick their finger and say “mil meticais” (a thousand meticais, approximately 20 dollars). Don't be a fool. If you let her in, she'll remember where you live, and her and her gang are going to try to figure out what to do with you, either come back with a burglary, or kidnap you, or worse. Also, keep in mind that around 11% of the population in Mozambique has AIDS. Don't play Russian roulette.

Safety tips

I really love Mozambique and wish I could have started with the restaurant scene and the good side of Maputo, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to start with safety.

If you're asleep and you hear a noise, or loud noises in your house, stay in bed. Don't move, don't get up to switch on the lights. If you own a gun, be ready to shoot, but only if they step into your room. Get in position, keep the lights out, don't make noise.

A lot of burglars have guns, and if someone comes looking for them they'll shoot. Most burglars don't venture into bedrooms and will take what they can from the living room and perhaps the kitchen. They tend to look for whisky and other liquor that sells at a high price, they also tend to look for ivory and other precious stones or metals, and of course they look for jewelry. They'll take anything that looks like liquor and precious metals, including olive oil and cheap metal work. That's all they'll take usually. Some of them make a mess out of the house, others are more organized. As you don't know how many of them there are, don't go out and try to shoot them. Wait until they're long gone before calling the police, and maybe you want to wait until your helpers come home and get your helpers to call the police. If that happens, go to work the same day, tell your colleagues about what happened, they'll cheer you up.

Carjacking. If someone points a gun at you, breaks your car window or forces you out of the car, stay calm and let him (or them) have the car. Don't resist. The Maputo police are experts at retrieving stolen cars, and you'll get your car back in less than a month usually. So wait a couple of months before you buy a new car.

Kidnappings. Pick the name of a North African country. Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt. And say you're from there if you're white. If you're black, pick the name of a poor African country. Or say you're from Cuba. A lot of times, they're trying to kidnap Europeans and North Americans, and tend to release North Africans and Africans or Cubans very quickly. Don't beg for your life or anything, a lot of times they won't even touch you. A friend of mine told them he was Russian, and that worked as well.

Hold ups. They want your wallet. Keep a wallet with a few stickers, a couple of family pictures, and 20 bucks in it or something. Don't carry your passport with you, and your ID will be taken care of in no time. Again don't resist, give them that shabby wallet of yours, they'll run away. Don't yell “help” or “socorro” because that could get you in trouble.

Rape. If you're a woman, you always want to hang out with several guys, Mozambican guys if possible. Don't venture out in the streets alone. Most women carpool with a couple of guys, but a-know more than a few tough fearless women who would walk around the streets of Maputo and nothing ever happened to them. But I wouldn't recommend that.

The good stuff

Some expats do business in Mozambique because the market is completely untapped. Want to sell TVs? Untapped market. Phones? Untapped market. Food? Untapped market. Restaurants? Untapped market. Want to open an hotel? Untapped market. A resort? Untapped market.

Some businesses thrive and others fail. Most will stay in Maputo for a couple of years, make some good money in some cases, and then move to some other part of Africa or the world.

The reason people move out of Maputo after a few years is not because they're bored or not making money, it mainly has to do with health and safety. Lots of former expats in Mozambique have caught all kinds of viruses that went undetected until they checked in at a hospital back home. So most expats will go to Johannesburg every six months or so to get their health in check. Maputo has a few clinics and hospitals, but with what's called “wartime medicine” that his hospitals are a warzone where patients get treated completely randomly.

You have all the NGO workers and all the UN workers and embassy workers. Many expats will throw parties at their place if they can, and there will be a party almost every day if you're well connnected. On the weekends, you'll find everyone at the Tunduru Tennis Club, or at Kaya Kwanga, a local swimming pool resort, or at the Polana Hotel. The expat scene in Maputo is small and pretty much everyone knows everyone else.

There are no real coffee shops or pubs in Maputo, so most expats will go to Kaya Kwanga or the Polana hotel for a drink or a cup of coffee. Beer is cheap and plentiful, wine is really hard to find, liquor is a luxury. Most people opt for beer. Cigarettes are mostly smuggled from South Africa and you won't find Marlboro, and you'll get mostly South African brands, although Camels and Rothmans are available.

Expect visitors home almost every day, they'll usually show up uninvited. If you invite Mozambicans, they might bring their children over with them, and in some cases, their wife as well.

Flour, sugar and butter are really hard to find and you could have trouble baking. Fish and rice are the staples so you'll get plenty of rice and fish. Seafood is diverse as well, and you'll find shrimp and crab almost everywhere. Meat is hard to find and many have complained about food poisoning after eating meat or chicken. Quite a few of my friends went vegetarian or vegan in Maputo, mainly for health reasons. Comfort food and snacks are really hard to find, and cheese is like gold. Most fruits and vegetables are available, including tropical fruits. Mangoes are plentiful and cheap, so are papayas, bananas are sold at a ridiculous price. Always wash your fruit and veg with bleach, and limit your fruit and veg intake.

Almost everyone rents a pick-up truck and goes shopping in Swaziland every couple of months. That's where you'll find western-style clothing brands, shoes, western-style food like cereal, snacks and comfort food. Most also stack up on flour, sugar and butter, and some will buy electronics. Travelling to Johannesburg by car is a stretch, the roads are a disaster, and you could get hit by a springbok or something. So most people will take the flight to Jo'burg, meaning you can only carry so much luggage.

Now for some people like me Maputo was just awesome. For other people, there's something called the “Maputo midnight run” where some NGO workers, businessmen, and in some cases diplomats mysteriously disappear without a warning, then a couple of weeks later they'll call to apologize and say they ran away to their home country. We can only speculate about what happened to them.

Final quirky note: in most countries, crazy people have orgies and no one really knows or cares about them. But in Mozambique some crazy people have orgies and pretty much everyone knows about them and where they're taking place. And some expats will kind of push you to join in, or even take you there and let you watch. I'd personally stay out of there.

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