Thursday, January 28, 2010

Maputo Roads

Many times when you go to a developing country you expect to find bad roads. Most place you won’t be disappointed. We recently heard of a South African family who brought their parents to visit. When they hit a particularly bad stretch of road, the granddad said, “You know the map says there is a national highway that cuts through about here. Why don’t we try to get on that?” The hosts replied, “This is the national highway. This is as good as it gets!”

Within the city of Maputo, there used to be a joke during the civil war era (that lasted 17 years) that went, “How do you tell a drunk driver in Maputo?” The answer was, “He drives in a straight line.” For those of you who have not been in Maputo and experienced some of the roads, this was funny because some of the streets have potholes big enough to lose a car. You have to swerve to keep your car from being destroyed.

A second problem and more of a challenge is the growing number of cars in Maputo. One person told me that in 1987 during the height of the shortages during the war, they walked the streets for 4 hours and only saw 2 cars operating. Today is a different story with tens if not 100’s of thousands of cars streaming into Maputo daily and streets parked so full that often you can only get one car through (especially if there is one car parked badly or double parked and there often is).

In the last year we have seen a glimmer of hope. One of the most crowded streets that had a space designed for putting in a four lane road was suddenly showing signs of being worked on. We looked on in amazement as they began pulling down illegally built shacks and houses that had been build in the right of way. The work progressed slowly to the extent that even after the national elections (now you know what really initiated the project) the road was not finished. Some black top was in place, but many of the details for making the road usable and safe were missing.

When we left town after Christmas to escape the city for a few days, we wondered aloud how long it might still take to finish the job. Probably another couple of months we thought. Surprise, surprise, when we returned 5 days later, the new section of road was open! Is used to take 10-20 minutes to navigate this section of road during the day, sometimes it seemed longer. Engines idling, people driving dangerously to jump the line and constant risk in the intersection with little obedience for the light timing. Now you can get through in one or two light cycles. Amazing. Never mind they are not quite done with the details and there are still workers risking their lives trying to finish the job.

A second miracle is the side streets. On the whole, you still drive straight on these. One day, they blocked off the street near our house and started filling in the holes. I tended to avoid this street if jogging because it was so bad I needed to run on the sidewalk or risk twisting an ankle. (But the sidewalk was not much better.) When done, there was more new asphalt than old in spots, so you know it needed repair.

I was joking with someone who has lived here for twenty years and he said, Hey, this is the first time since independence (1975) that those roads have been repaired. He was not joking. Then he said he had heard they were going to patch the roads first, then put a complete new layer of pavement. I told him, I would only believe that when I see it. Well, you can see it in the photo. Now the only problem is the street is so smooth, the crazies will try to drive 45 MPH on these new roads! Some things never change.

Thursday, January 07, 2010


Our end of year break is over and now we're back to our routines. Steve has made some exciting contacts for coconut oil sales, I've contacted the first church team that arrives in March, we're writing quarterly reports, had some fun dinner dates with friends, I'm working on a management course, and we've had time with our housemates.

Here are some highlights of our break.

We started out by spending time at home and one day we went to visit the orphanage where Mirtha and Yudel spend three days a week.

Vasco is a young boy who has AIDS, and sarcoma. Before Yudel came to the orphanage he spent most of his time in bed because he could not walk. He was depressed and ashamed to be seen and when Yudel would take him to the hospital he would say, "take me in the back way." Yudel found him a Cuban oncologist who got him started on chemotherapy. About one month later his leg improved to the point where he started walking with a crutch, but now he is walking unassisted. More importantly, his relationship with Yudel has caused him to come out of his shell, to laugh and have self-confidence. He still has discouraging days, but now he has a friend that he loves dearly.

Vasco has a knack for fixing small electronics. He is self-taught and does a good job! He recently fixed a fan for Yudel that Yudel and Steve were unable to fix.

Debora is a 9-month old baby. She is so passive, that unfortunately she is sometimes left in her bed for long periods and is not getting the attention or food she requires. Mirtha is helping her as much as possible and encouraging the care-givers to treat her as they do their own children. She is a smart little girl but we are concerned about her slow development.

Christmas Day we spent with some friends from church at their home outside the city. It was nice to get out and be in the garden and yard and their pool. It was hot!
Here we are having ham and turducken (turkey, duck and chicken rolled into a loaf).

New Year's week found us at the beach. Our landlords have an apartment there so we took some time and relaxed. We spent mornings and evenings by the water and the rest of the time we were out of the sun. Thankfully we didn't get burned and we still enjoyed the ocean and had time for reading, videos and unwinding.

Xai-Xai beach has a rock barrier close to the shore. It makes pretty pictures but one needs to be careful when the tide is in and many times there is a strong undertow. Some friends got caught in it once and said they felt like they were in a washing machine - pretty scary! Steve found this pool that was deep enough to swim in front of the rocks and we felt like we were in a lake.

When our daughter was here a couple of years ago she taught me to look for "texture" when taking photos. I've started noticing it, especially in the sand and we found many different kinds close together. Here are some samples:

Happy and Blessed New Year everyone!