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Pemba Survival Guide December 3, 2009

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This blog entry is intended to give new residents and tourists to Pemba a better conception of what kind of food, tourism, and grocery services there are in and around Pemba, Mozambique, primarily because I went on the hunt for similar information and could not seem to find it myself prior to my move here, and had to find all this out via trial and error.  Most of this information is catered to people who are here for the long haul, but there are some relevant points for tourists as well.

For those of you who normally read my blog to find out about me and my life (and if that is the case, thanks!), this might not be the most interesting entry.

At the bottom of this entry is a list of internet links I collected prior to my trip here which could serve as useful tips for anybody going to Mozambique.

Rae of exchange when writing: 30 MZM = 1 USD

Pemba Survival Guide:

So, sometimes people read blogs to get an idea of what life is like in a different locale.  I thought I’d devote an entry to Pemba and what I’ve learned about living here, in order to better inform people of what life is like here, and what to expect.  This is utilitarian – people interested in what I’m doing might not be so interested in this.

Pemba’s grown substantially over the past ten years – it has more than doubled in population since the end of the civil war, and construction has not been able to keep up.  The town is in quite the state of disrepair, and despite being touted as a tourism destination, there are few tourist attractions to take advantage of – most people use Pemba as a stepping stone on their way up through the country (such as to Ibo island or somewhwere in the Quirimbas archipelago), stay confined in the relative comfort of Pemba Beach Hotel (which, FYI, doesn’t really have a beach) and the Wimbe stretch.

Pemba looks very run down and in 2009 the town appears as though it were stuck in a 1970s time warp.  Rough around the edges, the town certainly has its charms, and considering it is located at the end of the road in Mozambique, it’s better than one might expect.

TOURIST ATTRACTIONS: There’s not much. Some handicrafts are available, including the remarkable Makonde carvings that the region is famous for, but beyond that, most touristy type activities are best organized through Kaskazini tours, which have their office at Pemba Beach Hotel and a website online http://www.kaskazini.com.  Ibo Island is close by, and Kaskazini tours can organize flights there and back, as accessing the island by land/water is substantially more difficult, though can be done by the more adventurous.  Wimbe beach is wonderful.  Owing to a lack of sewerage I have heard folks have a penchance for pooping on the beach, but I have yet to see this.  Apparently, if one visits Ilha de Mocambique, they’ll get that distinct pleasure (EDIT: 2019.  I’ve seen this a lot since.  Watch your step).

The ocean, specifically the beaches and diving, are the primary source of what I call renewable enjoyment.  For beaches, your best bet in town is Wimbe beach, though not too much fun for the target of wonder that is the expat – prepare to be intermittently solicited all day by vendors and children.  This gets worse on weekends, especially Sunday, when the beach becomes crowded and somewhat inebriated.  The better bet, if you have transport (or the 40 USD for the cab ride), is to head out of town to Mecufi (some 15 km, signposted), turn left off the paved road, drive a bit, and turn left at the sign to Il Pirata.  The road is shockingly atrocious – make sure you have a four wheel drive.  The end of the line, however, is a wonderful oasis, a long stretch of brilliant white sand, clear waters, and all-sand shallows which seemingly stretch for kilometres into the ocean.  The entire beach is called Murrebue (pron. mu-ray-buay), with Il Pirata located at the end closer to Pemba, and Il Popino? located farther down by the Mangrove outcrop.  Both points have decent restaurants with cold drinks and good food.  It’s a great place to spend a day watching the tides come in and out, and the beaches are truly magnificent, clear, and all-sand.  Kaskazini tours offers day trip packages there, for those without transport.

There is some good diving around the bay, including some impressive cliff dives.  Pieter, who runs Pieter’s place (see below in food), is my recommendation.  His dive shop is adjacent to Nautilus.  There’s also Pemba Dive.  Dive prices, I believe, are identical – 50 USD a dive.  The water is generally always warm from my experience, ranging from refreshingly cooler than the hot sun around you, to the temperature of bath water.

LANGUAGE: Those who do not speak Portuguese will have a remarkably difficult time in Pemba.  Hardly anybody speaks English, including in formal work environments and hotels.  Concierges and receptionists frequently speak English, as do a number of the sellers along Wimbe beach, and people are always glad to try out the few words they know on you.  For your sake, however, you should either speak some Portuguese before coming, bring a phrasebook, or prepare to learn quickly.

HANDICRAFTS: A new store is opening at the airport for the Union of Cabo Delgado Artisans (UACADE), to market their brand ‘UJAMAA’.  It should hopefully hold a number of products from across the region, priced by the local artisans themselves, and therefore likely a better deal than resellers, and with a better selection.  There are a couple shops at Pemba Beach Hotel.  There are a few Makonde wood carving shacks around – one on the road that connects Marginal to Av 25 (first roundabout after coming from Pemba Beach Hotel), one basically in front of Pemba Beach Hotel (impossible to miss), one on the Wimbe stretch (on-beach side, has a small hanging sign in what appears to be a house), and one across the road from the airport.  There is a basket weaving collective located across from Nautilus on the Wimbe beach stretch, but their prices are exorbitantly higher than they ought to be, due to their prime location.  Lots of local utilitarian crafts (mostly weaving) can be found in Banguia market ( see shopping below).

FOOD/HOUSEWARES SHOPS: There is actually a remarkable diversity of stuff that can be found in Pemba if one looks for the appropriate distributors, and is willing to hop from store to store to find them.  There aren’t really any conventional grocery stores (UPDATE 2019: there’s a ShopRite and all of this is likely irrelevant now) in Pemba, so one needs to be a bit more adventurous than usual to procure all they need. There is remarkably poor signage for all of these places – keep a keen eye to find them.  Grow accustomed to opening hours – most places are closed for a comically long lunch (12-2:30), and are only open until 5.  Many stay open as late as 7, however, and several of the local barracas can be found open as late as 9 pm.  On weekends these stores don’t break for lunch, but rather stop selling at around 2 PM.  Sundays are difficult for shopping, and most places are closed.

Here is my listing, all of which occur AFTER the PetroMoc gas station on the right side of the road:

Osman Supermarket: Av 25 de Setembro, right side of road when coming from airport.  By far the most ‘storelike’ store in Pemba, with high prices to match those high expectations.  Deals, generally, exclusively in imported stuff – I personally buy very little there, as they have tendencies of selling expired products at outlandishly inflated prices.  That said, they do carry a number of imported fruits that you might crave, their selection is diverse, and they have one of the best spice collections in town.  English speaking owners.

Kappa Kappa: Av Eduardo Mondlane next to Pasteleria Flor d’Avenida, is about the size of a closet, but has quite an array of products.  Good selection of imported (specifically Indian) food, and sundry goods, and a good place to buy cheddar and mozzarella cheese.  A tad pricey.  Kappa Kappa bakery (directly adjacent) IMO sells the best quality bread (pao – watch how you pronounce that, the wrong cadence is a reference to male genitalia.  Also don’t pluralize tomatoes [tomates] – also a reference to male genitalia) in town, including the occasional whole wheat bread.   English speaking owners.

Padaria Besa: is a white building across the street from the ASIA DONG compound and at the end of the Mercado do Batatas (Potato market), up the street on the right from Osman’s.  Their bread is so-so, though if they have their twist bread, buy it – it’s epic.  Probably the best place to buy yoghurt in town, pricewise, when they have it.  There is a small shop attached to the back with a variety of canned/imported/sundry goods, but it’s pricey.

Starfish: Also a cafe/restaurant.  Only open for lunch – 10 am to 4 pm or so.  Relatively new-ish, with fabulous views over the Port, good local (Moz – real) coffee, and good (pricey – approx 10 USD a meal) food.  Those with the finances and the will to procure something rare or foreign (green curry paste, wasabi, imported mayo, imported mustards, etc) can do so here.  Special imported cheeses (including blue and Parm Reggiano), and good quality luncheon meats (usu ham, salami).  You can also buy Savannah cider here, and pricey but quality SA wines.  They also are distributors of the local coffee in the province, so stock up here.  They also prepare and clean meats, which are frozen (chicken, boerwors [sausage], fish, lamb, etc), and deal in produce not found in local markets (broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, occasional herbs, spinach, bok choi, etc).  You can also request certain items to be imported if you desperately need them and are willing to pay the price, speak with Sam or Shane, the proprietors.

ASIA DONG Compound: Av 25 de Setembro, if coming from the airport, on the left side after Handling (green and white bottle distributor building), before what appears to be an old gas station no longer in service.  The big ‘ASIA DONG’ sign over the store is a giveaway you are at the right place.  Asia Dong itself is a Chinese-run distributor of Chinese imported products, considerably more expensive than what you might find back home (wherever home is), but also frequently considerably cheaper than in the Mercado do Batatas (the informal market across the street), though not always the case.  In the same compound, there are a few car part stores, but also two Indian distributors with products packed high to the rafters in inauspicious unmarked high-walled stores.  These places exist in droves, but two in the same compound makes life easy (there are several right by the port, and several more on Av 25 de Setembro).  They are the cheapest places to buy foodstuffs – pasta, rice, canned tomatoes, canned tuna, sugar, salt, washing powder, insect killer, glue, toothpaste, crackers, cookies, etc, and they are where almost all the local store owners buy the entirety of their stock.  In the same compound, closest to Peixe do Mama (frozen fish), there is a meat store with limited sundry goods, a good selection of frozen meat, and probably the best selection and prices on meat in town (also with English speaking proprietors).

Mercado Indico: hidden behind the Handling building just before the Asia Dong compound – its brightly coloured storefront gives it away.  Probably the best selection of liquor in town (Exito/Galp gas stations and the ‘Bottle Store’ across from the yellow MCel building at town centre intersection being the other 2 places to go for booze).  It is an SA distributor, and has a large a number of imported sundry goods, luncheon meats, cheeses, and frozen meats, frozen samosas, French fries, etc.

Mercado do Batatas: across the street from Asia Dong – you can’t miss it on the right side of the street on your way from the airport into town.  Prepare to bargain – prices are all inflated, especially if you look like a tourist and struggle with Portuguese, but there’s a nice capulana store buried in here, as well as a huge variety of various sundry goods and housewares, and you can frequently bargain prices down to half of asking and get the occasional deal.

Mercado central: the central horticultural produce market is off Av. Eduardo Mondlane in an open air, covered structure.  It’s on the right side of the road – turn right at MCel, and it’s on the right side of the road, tucked behind a host of shoe seller stands, though visible from the road.  Best place in town to buy produce (though those with a bit more initiative, or larger orders, can head out of town to Mieze, past Mecufi, where produce can be procured for lower prices).

Banguia Market: if you can find it, it’s the biggest informal market in town.  If you turn right on Eduardo Mondlane (at MCel) when coming from the airport, it starts on the right about 1 km down, past the central produce market.  You can find anything here, though no fancy imported dairy, meats, or luxury items, mind you – the same collection and variety of goods as everywhere else, just on a stretched out and grander scale.  an be unsafe – not advised for single travelers.

BEFORE the PetroMoc gas station, there are the two gas stations Galp and eXito – both of which have rather surprising collections of imported products at a price, especially Exito which has a small freezer with meat, and probably the best selection of cheese in town.  Galp has probably the biggest collection of imported liquor.  It’s strange, but real.  Gas stations are also open late, and on weekends.

There are more places, to be certain, but this listing essentially outlines all the places I ever go to.


Prepared food can be obtained cheap, if one is prepared to wait for it.  I have only listed the places I frequent here – there are quite a few more, but I like to think these are the best.  My favourite meal is lulas grelhadas – grilled squid, which is dependably good.  When I say good prices, I usually mean around 150 MT for decent portions.  Prices at Starfish tend to be around 200 MT, though portions are smaller.  Prices at Naval can be in excess of 300 MT, though most restaurants vary between 100 MT a meal (approx 3.50 USD) to 400 MT a meal (approx 13.50 USD), depending on what you are eating.  Drinks locally are 10 MT a bottle of Coke – at local restaurants expect to pay 15-20 MT, at the tourist trap places, expect 30 MT.  A 500 ML beer can be found as low as 25 MT a can (2M) at a local barraca.  Expect to pay 40-50 MT at a restaurant.  If you ask for ‘cerveja nacional – grande’, you can often get a large 550 mL bottle of beer for LESS than the price of a 340 mL bottle of beer (purportedly export quality – tastes the same to me).  Mixed drinks often fluctuate between 70 MT-150 MT.  Pricey, in other words.

Restaurants along the Wimbe beach stretch: Are alright.  Notable is the Dolphin – unremarkable food, not the greatest service, but has a generator, so when power’s out, a lot of people head here.

I can’t speak highly about Nautilus – mediocre overpriced food – service and war zone quality bathrooms don’t help them either.  Clube Naval at Pemba Beach Hotel is expensive, but I have good experiences with their food.

The little yellow fast food shack on the left right by Dolphin apparently serves good food, though not so fast as one might assume.  Try the ‘Super Burger’, if they have it.

Brazuca is a new place that serves Brazilian style food.  Good caipirinhas and music.  Food is alright – it is still getting up on its feet.  Orange building a bit further down Marginal, on the right side.

There are a few other local establishments, all of which serve the same types of foods (matapa, xima, stew) for the more ambitious palate.

Marginal once the road goes dirt:

Russell’s has good food at decent prices – probably one of the most extensive menus in town, with most items available.  On the way to Russell’s you can find Pieter’s Place on the right, fairly close past Wimbe disco, which has a wonderful setting with a Baobab tree, and great food at good prices.  Past Pieter’s one can find JPs on the right, which is worth the wait for the patient – menu is long but usually limited to one or two things, but portions are plentiful and really tasty.  All have good signage and are easy to spot.


Starfish (see stores) is my favourite.  It’s pricey, though not compared to North American or European standards by any stretch (usu around 8-10$ a meal).  Food is fresh, portions are small, menu changes daily, and the view is spectacular.  Food arrives quickly – something of an oasis.

Samar is hard to find in a car.  Just past the Mcel intersection, drive straight through, and very soon on your right there’s an entrance between barracas into a church parking lot.  Adjacent to this parking lot is Samar, hidden in foliage, which is a Portuguese style restaurant with good prices and large portions.  Wait times vary – from 30 mins to 1 hr 30 mins – so brace yourself.

Pasteleria Flor d’Avenida has been around for awhile.  It’s on Eduardo Mondlane – turn left at the MCel intersection/roundabout, and it is on your left, beside Kappa Kappa.  It serves good coffee, a small selection of pastries, and food as well.  Wait times are average here, prices are pretty decent.

NIGHTLIFE: There are 3 ‘clubs’ that I know of, though I’ve somewhat given up on the nightlife in Pemba.  One is Wimbe Disco, which has always been comically empty every time I’ve been there, but is on Avenida Marginal at the end of the Wimbe stretch before the pavement ends, on the left.

Nelson’s Game, in town – turn left at the Alfa Seguranca building and drive till the end – cabbies would have a better, it’s only one turn off Av 25, bu tricky to get the right turnoff, is the only place in town you can play pool.

There’s a new club in the Baixa port area, and I’ve been once.  It’s stark and imposing, but air conditioned, which is a rarity and helpful for sweaty dancers.  Just ask for the ‘nove disco’ in the baixa, and you’ll be bound to find it.

Russell’s is a favourite congregation spot among expatriates.  Most staff have a basic understanding of English, and Russell is a local legend (Kiwi) who is very friendly and has set up quite a pleasant, airy thatched construction with free WiFi.  It’s wayyyy down the dirt road past Wimbe Disco, and on the right side of the road.  There’s finally a sign that says ‘Russell’s Place’, though a bigger one says ‘Pemba Magic Lodge’.  Keep left on the way there – there’s a fork at one point.  Locals know it as ‘o campismo’, as an FYI for cab drivers.

SAFETY: I’ve had no issues, and I’ve walked in some pretty shady areas at what one might assume are the wrong times of day/night.  Generally, it is advisable to keep only as much money on yourself as needed at a given time, not flaunt large sums of cash, and to avoid certain areas.  I have heard stories from all times of day of people being robbed in a variety of locations, usually at knife point.  Single women are often targeted – if traveling best do so in numbers, especially in the evening/night.  Areas that appear best avoided are Avenida Marginal (Wimbe beach), past Brazuca restaurant and near Wimbe disco, and down to Russell’s Place, simply because it isn’t lit up and shady ilk are known to scope the area.

HEALTH: There’s a clinic and a hospital, and a pharmacy on Eduardo Mondlane (turn left at Mcel, on the right side of the road- Farmacia Nova), but generally, it’s advisable to not get sick or injured in Pemba (obviously you can’t plan such things, but it’s very true, and I have heard enumerable stories of people taking the expensive flight down to Maputo so they can get to Nelspruit for proper healthcare).  Mosquitos and malaria are rife in the region – you should definitely sleep under a net and take prophylaxis.  These can be procured fairly readily here for around 10 USD for a double/queen net.

SEASONS: Dry season is essentially identified as March-late October, though it is nearly December 2009 and rains have not really started in earnest yet.  Winter temperatures can (exceptionally) get to below 20, but I have never been cold or uncomfortable provided I have a light pair of pants and a thin, cotton long sleeved shirt.  Summers are brutally hot, with temperatures frequently in excess of 40 degrees, very humid, and not very windy despite the proximity of the sea.  Of course there are exceptions, though IMO, air conditioning or fans are a must if staying somewhere, especially in the summer months (October-April).

ROADS: Are in a mind boggling state of disrepair.  The road out of town west to Montepuez and up north to Macomia has been recently repaved, and with some brief exceptions, is easily traversable and well paved.  The roads in town, however, with perhaps the four main arteries (Av 25 de Setembro, Eduardo Mondlane, Avenida Marginal, and Rua do Aeropuerto) and area around the Governor’s house as exceptions, are terrible, and one quickly develops an intimate knowledge of where not to drive.  The field (Quissanga, Meluco, Metuge, etc – road to Ibo) has no good roads, though can be traversed (slowly) in the dry season with some difficulty.


Power outages are frequent in Pemba, especially if you live along the Wimbe stretch.  Power usually goes out at least once a week, if not a dozen times, with stretches of several hours without power occurring fortnightly.  Power surges are frequent, and surge protectors are advised (MAKE sure your surge protector is 220 volt as well!).  Plugs are European-style 2 hole round plugs, voltage is 220.  Water is allegedly treated and lots of people drink it, though it’s highly advised to filter it first as it is sandy, sandy, sandy, and has a tendency of giving people kidney stones.  I personally boil and filter it or ideally, drink bottled.  Anywhere outside of Pemba, treatment or boiling is a must.  Clothes are almost exclusively handwashed – you don’t find washing machines here readily.  Housekeeper/guard prices vary.  The minimum monthly wage is 1800 MZM (60 USD), though in reality this is almost never paid, and workers are paid for the days in which they work.  A neighbour pays 1200 MZM a month for his housekeeper, who comes every day for several hours to sweep, clean, do laundry, and cook.  Security guards are in the same bracket.  Taxi rates vary – usually you can get a cab from the Wimbe stretch into town for 100 MZM, though there is no formalized service and it is best to take down every driver’s number and create a mini database, in the event you need a taxi and your regular driver is out of commission.  Phone service providers are MCel and Vodacom.  Vodacom is better in the city, but completely useless outside town.  MCel is infuriating with its poor signals and frequent service interruptions, but is the advisable choice in the region if one is travelling about.  Credit can be purchased from the highly visible yellow-jacketed vendors all over the place.  Do not pay more for the credit value listed in town (frequently you will do this if you need credit in the field).  Power credit is purchased in town at the Credilec office on Eduardo Mondlane (turn left at MCel intersection, on the right side of the road after some intersections) and is inexpensive compared to Western norms, though expect to pay considerably more for power if operating an air conditioner.

Hopefully this short guide helps somebody get a better idea of what life in Pemba is like so they can prepare themselves and have a better conception of what services are available on the ground!  Please feel free to send me a note on this blog if you have any more specific questions and I would be happen to answer them for you.  Cheers, from Pemba,

Bart Dickinson


BEST website I’ve found on Moz, simply because there is an integrated forum governed by a guy named Mike who lived in Moz for a long time (some 13 years), traveled everywhere, and returns every couple years to do it over.  He answers any questions pretty promptly.  I wanted to know if cirrus ATM cards would work in Pemba, and he confirmed as much – so by all means, be specific if you desire.


Kaskazini Tourism

I’ve emailed the folks at Kaskazini a couple times – they run a pretty sweet website, useful because it’s all about Pemba and the surrounding region and they’re the biggest local tour agency, the purveyors of which you may well interact with in the next 8 months.  Check their contact info and email them with any Pemba-specific questions – I asked about the cost of food right now (2.50 US a kilo of tomatoes was the only answer I got, but that’s enough to guesstimate a basket of goods).   Good as a contemporary reference on the ground.

www.kaskazini.com – if that’s not right, just google the word

A Online Guide to Moz (I think).  Recommended in one of the blogs below:


Listing for Program Director for the Enterprise Development Initiative – likely whoever was hired for these Terms of Reference will somebody’s coordinator:


This is a packing list from a safari website.  We’re not going on a safari, but it might give you some good ideas.


The official Peace Corps Packing list suggestions for people travelling to Mozambique:


A useful website outlining various medical preparatory steps you can take, as well as a detailed outline of tropical diseases:


Online blog by an American gal who lived in Nampula, which is pretty much as remote as Pemba in Northen Moz, and comparable in size:


Another online account of living in Moz, yet another American lady:

Appears to be a website for Moz based news in Ingles – haven’t really explored it at all, but possibly useful for keeping abreast of affairs in the country:


Living and Travelling in Mozambique – the Gov’t of Canada Official Website:



I miss cooking December 3, 2009

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I feel like life might be a lot easier if I had a proper oven and a gas stove. I was browsing over recipes the other day and realized that I cannot make 90% of what I crave at the moment, and it’s not for Pemba’s lack of access to any product in particular, but rather my own lack of capacity to cook them. I then realized that browsing recipes was making me sad, and switched to attempting to read Atlas Shrugged – a poor reading choice in any context that was the equivalent of pouring gasoline on a sadness fire.  Ayn Rand is a terrible person – I should have brought better books.

I love to cook, but working with a faulty electric burner with a proclivity of electrifying those daring enough to cook off it functions one to train one into acclimatizing their palate to adopt a conspicuously more rudimentary and uncooked diet. It’s dishearteningly Pavlovian.

One of the burners doesn’t work now – it had two to begin with. Of course, when the power ceases to function, neither of them work. This is why quite literally EVERY other person I know has gas burners – every last one. Where they found the electric burner here I have no idea – they are quite difficult to locate. Gas burners – utility, convenience, lower expenditure, dependable in this land of rolling blackouts; all that would make too much sense. I also know from a little market investigation that the electric burner costs more than a gas burner would have, so forgive my expletive initialism, but WTF?  …but then I have grown accustomed to the confounding bewilderment which drives the rationale for such decisions here in Pemba. 

So many things simply make no sense here, like the lack of an established fish market in a seaside city of 150,000 people with a strong local fishing tradition.  It might be time for a vacation. I think consuming too much UHT milk coerces one into complacency. I miss consuming dairy that requires refrigeration. Ah cheese – I miss you so… one day, we will be reunited and it will be a glorious, and messy affair.

Tata for now.

Sorry folks, it’s been far too long. December 2, 2009

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Well I haven’t written anything much in the past few months with regards to my stay here in Pemba, and to be quite honest, it hasn’t been for lack of time, but rather a busy life.

As per formalities and the straightforward rundown, I’m alright.  I spent the past weekend washing clothes, because that still is something one must do by hand here.  Next time you get angry at a washing machine, take the time to appreciate that it’s as simple as jamming a bunch of stuff into a hole, pulling it out, stuffing it into another hole, and paying 3.50…  hmm, that sounded a lot dirtier than I was aiming for.  One might assume I’d use the backspace function, this being a blog and all, but I’ll let you enjoy a laugh at my expense, much like I am doing at the moment.  Say what you will – 3.50 is a small price to pay, compared to the labour and time intensive process that is hand washing everything.  It’s probably the best exercise I get here, and a good chance to soak up sun, so there you go.

The weather is heating up in Pemba.  You know when you park your car in an un-shaded area for an extended period of time during the height of summer, and you feel like you could cook an egg on your dashboard? It’s like that, minus the capacity to use air conditioning to cool it down, with a dash of stifling humidity.  I sleep with a stand fan looming precariously over me, directly adjacent to my body, constantly blowing the hot air off me.  The fan is the best sleeping companion I have ever had, despite the fact that in the absence of its protective cage it would likely have consumed several of my digits by now.  It helps keep my bed from developing into a sty for which I am eternally grateful.  I can sleep through any amount of noise, light, or disturbance without issue – but sweatiness… not a fan.  Having done shirtless laundry the other day for an hour or so I am a delicate pink colour at the moment, having trouble donning backpacks and taking showers.  Que sera!

People get jealous when you tell them you live on the beach.  It’s a nice concept, though I was never much of a tanner, and finding the time to make my way down to it when the tides are at an appropriate level for swimming becomes a difficult task when you wake up every morning to the sound of your ride honking out your window, arrive home just before the sun sets (at which point it is a crap shoot as to whether sea levels are at appropriate heights for swimming), and spend weekends doing laundry and cooking food.  A good amount of sea muck likes to pool up around our beachfront as well, rendering spontaneous swimming undesirable much of the time.  I have probably been in the water perhaps twenty times in the five months or so I have been here.  Kind of sad really, but I still try to get in as much as I can, I don’t expect to have many opportunities to be a beachfront resident moving ahead, so gotta carpe that diem!

The rains are beginning to come now.  Tropical storm Bongani blew over with little incidence on the weekend.  Power surges were enumerable, but cuts were surprisingly short given the persistence and relative potency of the rains.  Winds were nonexistent, and the rains did little but create a mudbowl out of Pemba, exploiting all of the municipality’s drainage oversights, and creating small temporary lakes, usually in places where there is substantial traffic flow.  There is a particularly bad spot by the Pemba Beach Hotel where the road simply disappears and traffic must slow down to absorb the shock of a misshapen and twisted causeway.  Apparently it has been that way for years, and given the season and general governmental apathy when it comes to making logical infrastructural investments, it will most definitely be that way when we leave.  When it comes to fixing this inimitable obstacle that affects people’s day to day lives, they just shrug and turn cheek.  As it remains, it becomes a natural bottleneck for traffic, creating the fleeting illusion that Pemba is a bustling place where things are happening.  On the plus, I woke up at 3AM in the morning to hear the Scorpions’ ‘Rock you Like a Hurricane’ blasting out of a bar somewhere in a distant barrio.  Had a good laugh.

I can’t imagine what this water saturation does to the field.  Rural roads are simply dusty auburn trails connecting one village to the next like knots in a rope.  There is usually only one way to get to each village, and inevitably that concourse involves a pavement-less sojourn into the bush, and add water and you’re driving through pea soup.  I wouldn’t care to know the budgetary requirements our foundation has allocated to the procurement of spare tires, given the fallen rubber soldiers I have seen in the dry season already.  From November to February farmers cannot grow vegetable crops anymore because the grounds are too wet and they lack the agency and resources to grade soil properly for year-long production.  Commercial crop cycles finish after the rains have abated, at which time ambitious lorry drivers attempt to haul out whatever production they can manage to accumulate, navigating the naturally re-landscaped roads with both determination and trepidation.  This allows wholesalers to really hammer local producers for their crops, which incentivizes people to produce only what they need, usually not enough.  Food insecurity is cyclical and seasonal as a result.

Sesame is the predominant commercial crop here, though local variety quality is low and processing/dehulling plants are non-existent.  We are working on facilitating market linkages in the sesame value chain so local farmers can generate more income from that sesame production.  It sounds a lot easier than it is when written out on paper.  Difficult as it may be, if one looks to target and impact the largest audience of beneficiaries in Cabo Delgado province, improving crop yields and reducing sesame plant disease are a good place to focus efforts and aid money.

The rains have also heralded the introduction of a fascinating array of bug species.  Notable new additions are flying ants and termites, which die and leave fields of delicate wings in their wake.  After the rain comes I have the honour of walking out to a delicate, crunchy mosaic on my front ‘porch’.  To be fair there were loads of bugs to begin with.  Living with open windows means that a sizeable portion of these bugs attempt to move into your house.  I’m not really a fan of tenants that don’t pay rent, and I live with squeamish types, so our premises have become the arthropodic equivalent of a killing field.  I believe we’re on can #5 or 6 of bug killer, which seems like a lot though the vast majority of it has been judiciously dispersed by my roommate, deathly appreciate of the venerable cucaracha who oversaturates the occasional visitor which dares to wander into our abode.  The ants here are biters and get their democratically allocated dosage as well.  The ants, having grown somewhat upset with the persistent use of chemical weapons, have organized into guerrilla squadrons that attack me, usually at night, and I am obliged to applaud their persistency and apparent cooperation, as well as their capacity to bypass the security offered by my bug net.  I have caught them coming at me in the night in pincer formation – usually groups of four or five.   Their bites are reminiscent of black fly bites, though decidedly more painful.  They haven’t organized any assaults recently…. I can only surmise that they have either given up or are planning something far more grandiose.

Between the ants, the cockroaches, the chigger nest I unsuspectingly tramped through looking for a lost tennis ball, I have little time to worry about mosquitoes – the most dangerous of them all.  I stopped taking malaria meds quite some time ago, months even, though I must confess I rather curiously don’t seem to notice, or even see the creatures anymore.  Perhaps they’ve been having round table sessions with the other bugs and tentatively determined that Canadian cuisine might not be worth it.  That would explain the ants.

One develops a romanticized notion of what development might be like, saving families and helping people directly, etc.  But it’s a lot of paperwork, office-based, isolated from the beneficiaries one might hope to interact with.  I have been to the field a handful of times, and will be going back for sure, and those times are a boon – a bright light.  Arranging logistics to get to the field can be challenging, but once you are out there, things get substantially easier as it’s so personally rewarding. 

While there remain linguistic challenges, once I have had a cup of coffee, I surprise myself  with my enhanced capacity to converse in Portuguese.  In the field, however, the majority of people cannot speak Portuguese either, only local languages like Macua, Makonde, and Muani.  Without the appropriate linguistic capacity, your capacity to interact with these people is limited and reliant on the abilities of coworkers as translators.  Fun – you can imagine how much fun it is to translate things from one language you understand to another you are learning, and turn it into English.  It is like that old schoolyard game of telephone, wherein the message inevitably becomes corrupted despite limited linkages.

The poverty here is pervasive, and people aren’t looking to self destruct – they want to eat.  It’s hard to be an intern with limited means and daily, constantly be solicited for money, food, clothes.  It tugs at emotions.  This is a part of the world that still operates primarily on barter and people make and exchange very little money – they are some of the poorest people in the world, in terms of market economy integration, but they are rich in potential and self-sustainability, and while acute malnutrition and under-nutrition are a huge problems, it’s not beset by famine.  The people are remarkably resilient and welcoming for folks handed such a rough legacy of imperial neglect.  Life is very hard, but I’m going to miss it here – it’s raw and real, and a privilege to have an opportunity to try and help improve conditions.

Hope everything is well with everybody, and boa saude, or good health to you, as they say in Portuguese.

Ciao for now,


Computer Update December 2, 2009

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An update for you all on what originally was a craptacular position to be in vis a vis computer luck.

First of all, my first computer, which I originally brought with me, is not totalled, per se.  It requires a new keyboard, but functions amicably with a USB keyboard in the meantime, and everything else appears functional.  Joy – no lost files, no major lost investment.  That 4 dollar box of wine will only end up costing me about 15 dollars once I replace the keyboard. It took disassembling the entire computer piece by piece to determine this.

In the interim, I was using a computer given to me by the foundation here.  After having it for literally 3 weeks, the screen got broken in Bilibiza by the cleaner who can’t be faulted for not knowing earphones can’t be sandwiched between a laptop monitor and keyboard and then crunched closed.  I managed to finangle (with no small amount of effort and investigation on my part) the use of an external monitor, with which the laptop functioned amicably, albeit in a sedentary state.

In the meantime, about a month later, Sarah’s parents brought me an old laptop from home, for which I am extremely grateful, especially given how cumbersome it is.  The computer, which, when I left, wasn’t working, was fixed and placed in my hands due to proper connections, amazing friends, and the generosity and goodwill of my cohabitant’s kin.  It is the computer I am using right now, and works like a charm – many thanks for all the participants in that value chain fr a successful project implementation.  I assure you, this beneficiary is grateful and has been given the capacity to work again.

Back to the foundation-provided cracked LCD laptop – I assumed I would need to replace it somehow, in this place where nothing that fancy comes cheap (despite the fact that the ‘new’ laptop was technologically very low end).  Then the office got robbed, and it got stolen from the office (except for the AC and all the things needed to make it work).

For awhile, I had 3 semi-broken laptops, now I have 2 ( the screen bezel on the PC I use now snapped two days ago, and the screen balances precariously above the laptop).  I was assured it will be fixable, but in the meantime, I think I just might survive through to the end of this thing.  Many thanks to all those who gave support and well wishes in this tumultuous time of technological trauma!


Curse this Computer Conundrum December 2, 2009

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For your information, I wrote this entry literally months ago and neglected to post it due to a lack of motivation, and because I entered a depressed funk after having lost the usage of my second laptop.  For your reading pleasure, here it finally is…

Well it is now official – I have iced two laptops in two weeks.  The first one I could handle – I was completely at fault.  The next one had its screen broken by a housekeeper in the field, when he moved my laptop aside to prepare a bed for me and placed my headphones in between the monitor and LCD, and squoze.  He was earnestly and profusely apologetic to me, can’t fault the guy, though I confess I was pretty perplexed at the time.  Ah well – a vida continuar.

Other than my incredible luck with technology, my experience in the field was fantastic.  It started out comically confusingly – they were completely prepared to send me out into the field on my own with a driver to Tadhangane to catch a ferry to Ibo island to do, well, I’m not sure really.  I could barely speak Portuguese at that point, so I was very glad when I accosted Zara, an assistant with Monitoring and Evaluation prior to my departure, as I had heard in passing that she was going to Ibo as well and figured it’d make sense to carpool.

Turns out I was right.

Initially I had been slated to go to Ibo, then return the next day.  Rather than leap logistical hurdles we determined it’d be better for me to accompany Zara for the whole week, as it serves to have at least one bilingual person accompanying the Anglophone across the countryside.  All I know is I came very close (ie car motor running) to heading out to the field all on my own.  It was exciting and a touch scary all at the same time.  

So Zara, Nancy and I bundle into the pickup truck and head out on the dusty road to Ibo.   We stop at a few lojas in town to buy some food that it turns out I would never eat during the trip.  Initial feelings were hopeful – the road out of Pemba is asphalt and delightfully void of the pock marks one comes to intimately know in town.  An all too immediate turn off at Pemba Metuge and that all changes into a bumpy red dirt road with the occasional concrete divot, presumably to slow down speedy motoristas as they careen along the route.  It is exactly the kind of road that inspired the pharmafolk to develop Gravol.  These divots are serious business – a sedan would scrape bottom in a heartbeat, and you begin to appreciate why the Foundation has a fleet exclusively comprised of Toyota Hiluxes… Hiluxi?  It is comfortable enough given the truck’s ample suspension and the awesome array of sweet dance music provided by Bacar, the driver.

A two hour tour down the road ends up with us pulling into Tandanhangue, a tiny harbor in Quissanga province.  After a short wait for the other car to catch up with us, we pile our belongings onto a small motorized barca and begin navigating the Mangrove maze that leads to Ibo.  It is very much surreal – weaving through mangrove swamps, meandering slowly on a tiny barge with some twenty other people and two motorcycles (which it turns out we brought back with us two days later on our return – ah redundancy).  One emerges from the mangroves with a stunning vista of Ibo island, a slowly decaying remnant of Portuguese influence in Mozambique.  From a distance, however, one sees tiny whitewashed colonial buildings quaintly dotting the waterfront, neatly organized like a row of dominos.  Upon arrival, one realizes, like dominos, the buildings are slowly being consumed by the island around them, with many of the buildings abandoned and in advanced stages of decay, trees growing through houses and roots and vines slowly reclaiming the relics of colonial times.  It remains strikingly beautiful – one can only imagine what it might have been like in times past, bustling, a port of call to trading ships moving up the African coast, garrisons of soldiers maintaining a semblance of order from the impressive star-shaped Fortaleza de Sao Joao.  It probably had electricity and running water and phone lines as well.  These things are luxuries to Ibo – the power has been out for the past four years, phone lines are gone, and cellphones can only be used at one tip of the island with remarkably poor reception.

One anecdotal story from our arrival, which I regret not filming, despite having a camera in my hand, was a rather comical slow motion boat collision that our tiny barca was in no small part responsible for.  Upon leaving the mangrove swamp we have a horizon of Ibo in front of us, perhaps three kilometers away.  A tiny boat heading in the opposite direction, some 2 km away, is the only other vessel to be seen on open waters.  We head towards the island very slowly, and the other boat gradually grows as it nears us.  All around is open ocean – there really is no land based equivalent when you have an entire ocean to maneuver about in.  For two tiny boats to collide when there is endless space to navigate about seems highly improbable, but as our boat lazily plodded forward, it became ever more apparent that this was actually going to happen.  So we get to the point where we are about 50 meters away from this boat, and it’s headed right towards us in a perverse game of nautical chicken.  Our boat driver can’t see where he’s going because so many people are on the boat, obstructing line of sight and the ability to move about.  The other boat’s got a clear view of everything, however, and the entire ocean to move about in, so there’s no real logical explanation for what then followed.  As it dawns on everybody that impact would be unavoidable, given a boat’s lack of capacity to turn quickly, we all brace ourselves and watch with incredulity as the other boat tries to eke out of the way at literally the last second.  We’re not going very fast, but we T-bone the other boat rather jarringly, getting a good glimpse of the terrified faces of its tourist-type passengers.  No significant damage – I can only imagine what it might have been like to fish the ten or so people out of the water and fit them like puzzle pieces onto our overloaded barge.  All I know is I had one of two available life jackets (still unsure why they decided to protect me in favour of those who cannot swim).

Because the boats are so infrequent, boat captains and bus drivers alike tend to collect far more passengers than they rightly ought to, until the boat/bus is teetering dangerously back and forth.  After all, it doesn’t make sense to leave until it can be confirmed that if a serious collision were to happen, everybody on board would die.  Ah efficiency…

Ibo was a nice change of pace though – it’s one of those places the tourist books instruct you to visit, as it’s very much unique, and home to the oldest and largest European-era fort in Sub Saharan Africa (allegedly).  Untouched by the commercial bustle observed on the mainland, life on Ibo is lax and lackadaisical.  Motorized transport doesn’t exist, nor does paving, nor dos electricity, nor does phone reception.  Its streets are hauntingly barren and empty – old stone and marble Portuguese colonial buildings with trees growing out of them, a bare hint of their original 1960s whitewash still visible.  My organization works on Ibo in a variety of capacities, probably because it’s too painful to see such a beautiful place get neglected as it has been.  In reality, once tourism takes off a bit more in Northern Mozambique, this island will become a trap, and development will evolve naturally.  The island is known for its population of silver artisans, who melt down colonial Portuguese silver coins to make lattice-like jewellery to sell to the tourist market.  It’s a fascinating process to observe, as they do all their work with traditional implements, no electricity, but somehow execute their work with confounding precision, creating delicate and beautiful works of art.

We had some meetings on the island, almost nothing in which I understood what was going on.  It was a good experience to improve my Portuguese vocabulary and familiarize myself with hearing the language.  I was primarily interested with simply going to the island – we office worker data types rarely get the opportunity to do so, and it is expensive and logistically impossible to get there without transport arranged for you, so it was a real privilege.

Ibo was very cool – if Pemba feel like being stuck in a time warp, Ibo is frozen in one.  The forts and old architecture were a pleasant change of scenery from the bamboo/thatch/mud combination properties observed back on the mainland. 

Coming back from Ibo (this time without incident), we turned our attentions to Bilibiza, which is more of the traditional village you might expect we’d work in – traditional houses, no power, no phones – nada.  As an expat, you realized quickly that you are one of two foreigners in the entire village, which must have some ten thousand people living in it, half of which are children excited to get their photo taken.  Bilibiza was fun until the computer issue occurred, though I purchased a couple of warm beers, and we had a rather epic seafood feast that we had procured on our way out from Tadanhangue, the combination of which couldn’t help but allay my technological apprehension and trepidation.

Next day we stopped in Macomia, which is connected to Pemba via paved road but is otherwise unremarkable.  By this meeting I was picking up a lot more than I had anticipated I might.  We returned to Pemba the same night.  It was very cool getting the opportunity to see all the districts in which our organization works.  I can’t wait to pick up more of what is going on around me once I get a better grasp of the language.  Until next time, take care folks.

The Most Expensive Box of Wine Ever August 11, 2009

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FYI to those of you who go to sleep with half full glasses of wine precariously perched on bedside tables over your unsuspecting laptops, beware.  When you ask for shit to hit the fan so earnestly, the fates usually reward you accordingly.  So a 4 dollar box of wine turns into a 404 dollar box – two bottles of Dom (actually, I hate champagne, so when I put it that way I actually feel better about the whole thing).  Aaanyways – suffice to say the weekend wasn’t the greatest, despite some activity and amusement it ended on a sour note. Literally sour – this wine was not great to begin with.

So I am now going through the throes of procuring myself a new laptop… somehow.  This isn’t exactly the most ideal place for that kind of thing to happen, and since I’m contractually obligated to have a working computer while here, it’s pretty lame.  I’ll find a way to do it though – just keep singing ‘Three Little Birds’ over and over in my head until it all goes away.  Luckily I have a wonderful support network – with no small askance of the generosity of others, I should, fingers crossed, be in possession of a working laptop of my own in a month.  Until then I have procured a loaner generously provided to me by my hosting organization.  Without a laptop, I am pretty much a mobile paperweight, so it’s nice they had something on hand as a contingency.  I will pray to whatever forces exist that everything works out.  Generally I’m fortunate in that department.  Safe to say that liquids are banned from my bedroom henceforth.

Everybody makes stupid expensive mistakes.  I could list a few examples here, but I could get in trouble with some of/all of the people who may or may not be reading this.  You know who you are and what you’ve done   🙂

Other than that horrible misfortune and me hating myself for it, life is okay.  Tonight is all you can eat buffet night at Russell’s Place, so there is light on the horizon.  I just have to make sure I don’t faint from hunger before going, as I am starving myself for a full 24 hours prior to the consumption.  The organization I am working with also started a pilot project testing out the viability of a vegetable basket delivery service, so hopefully next Monday I will be burdened with loads of fresh veggies at prices my paleness can’t ever hope to haggle at the local market.  Perfect.

I also have guys regularly walking by with giant dead fresh tuna fishies.  Awesome.  I’m so glad I didn’t buy one prior to consulting my Mozambican neighbours, who informed me that the gentlemen had been asking for a 350% inflation on standard pricing.  It’s funny how nice people can be when the promise of potentially ripping somebody off could pay out.  I can’t work in marketing, because I can’t sell things I don’t believe in, and as I mentioned in an earlier article, I don’t like haggling with folks here.  A whole tuna, like an 80 cm long sucker, would easily cost way more than 750 mets (35 dollars) in Canada, but I don’t want to set a precedent that will have me paying through the teeth for such things.  In reality, I am supposed to haggle this down to 200 mets – under 10 dollars.  Awesome – all I need is a guinea pig to take the initiative.  Cheap, incredible sushi is on the horizon.  I just need to find space for 40 pounds of bloody fish in my freezer heh.  Fun.

Take care everybody!  All hopes my lack of fortune translates into some of you winning the lottery, or if that fails, solving this week’s crossword.


House pictures August 7, 2009

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Some pictures of our humble abode for your personal enjoyment.

Ultra chic Living

Ultra chic Living

So I figured people might be interested in our digs, or Mozambican Mansion, while we’re here, so this post is entirely devoted to pictures and learning how to use WordPress’s image posting application.

This is our living room.  Like so many constructions in Pemba, the floors could use a coat of paint, but despite any disparaging comments I might make, it’s actually very roomy and breezy.

Deluxe Kitchen

Deluxe Kitchen

The kitchen is spartan but functions well enough when the power works.

Classic Professional Chef's Range

Classic Professional Chef’s Range

Marble Bar, Awkward Dining Table

Marble Bar, Awkward Dining Table

Marble bar and heavy-as-heck wooden furniture characterize our dining area.  Whoever designed the place had some interesting concepts on spatial design.  Very feng shui.  The dining table is in the shape of a pregnant musical note.

My Bedroom

My Bedroom

Finally, my bedroom, where all the magic (ie sleep) happens.  Comfortable enough.  Glad I brought the sleeping bag, extra sheet, and pillow case with me.  Always come prepared!

Well, there’s your virtual tour.  Any buyers?

Sick day August 6, 2009

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I’ve had several since I’ve been here, so I figured it was time to cash in my chips and actually enjoy one, rather than suffer sick at work.  And Hallelujah I did.  Spent the day doing laundry for the most part.  I am convinced now,  the day after, that my illness was in part stemming from the fact that I was re-wearing the same clothes over and over again, and was beginning to smell… awkward.   I woke up yesterday, smelled my pillow, and decided then and there that I was sick and that it was the day to make it official.  The pillow smelled like Banana Boat suntan lotion, which I don’t ever recall applying prior to getting into bed – seems redundant.   My rationale went as follows: ‘if my body is manufacturing that odour, then I need to do laundry.  Shoot, it’s Wednesday.’  Then I reframed my mindset to: ‘Shoot, it’s Wednesday!’, the exclamation mark signifying my revelation that Wednesday is in fact the greatest day of the week to take off.

In truth, Pemba has presented me with an abdominal rollercoaster ride of epic proportions.  As I have been very careful with boiling water, refusing ice, washing dishes, and keeping personal hygiene at a socially acceptable level, it has become apparent that every opportunity for something to make me sick has found it’s way past my defense mechanisms.  Carpe diem for the diseases – they are persistent.  I wish I had their motivation.  Others who don’t wash their dishes so vigorously, don’t wash their vegetables, and drink the tapwater, seem impervious to such things.  Either that, or they don’t divulge such information until they are intimately connected to their toilets.  I was never one for such closemouthed social contracts, perhaps pleasant social conventions to you. Suck it up.  Life is raw.  Mind you, here it’s supposed to be eaten cleaned, peeled and cooked.

So laundry day it was – I quickly realized I lacked the clothesline space for my linens, towels, carpets, and clothing, so I began weaving a spiderweb-like nexus of ropes across our small backyard, using our mature frangipani as a ballast.  I managed to wash everything I owned that was dirty – pretty much everything I own except t-shirts and shorts, which are ruefully deemed ‘unacceptable’ for office attire despite sweltering conditions and my general aversion to clothing.  I don’t get it – my calves are one of my best attributes.

Laundry took pretty much the entire day.  The washing bit was minimal – it was the guarding of clothes that took the time.  In Canada, I never had to guard my washing machines, because all the clothes I have are old and crappy (though deceptively comfortable), and easily replaced.  All the ‘clothes’ stores I’ve found here seem to  be selling Sally Anne rejects – I saw an old Florida Panthers shirt the other day, team building exercise ’99, etc.  I already own enough hand-me-down type things.  By that rationale, all the clothing I have here, though not nice by any stretch of the imagination, is worth something to the idle passerby.  For instance, somebody offered to trade me a Makua-English dictionary for a pair of shorts.  It seems like a sweet deal until one realizes I suffer from a dearth of clothing.  My clothes have become irreplaceable all over again.  It’s like a flashback to Zimbabwe, except minus the agency and stores to buy new clothes, the walls, electric fence, and security guards.  Actually, it’s nothing like Zimbabwe.

The complex adjacent to ours has a guard all day, but he purposefully ignores our building because it’s not part of his 20 m square ‘jurisdiction’.  You need to hire his best friend to fill that role.  He also has a selection of friends who are looking for cleaning jobs.  I have a hunch he’d call up his friends to let them know there’s free clothing next door.  I don’t think he likes me much, because I keep mixing up my first and third person referrals when speaking in the future tense, and keep telling him that he will eventually learn Portuguese.  I should be saying ‘vou apprender’, but I seem to prefer ‘vai apprender’.  It’s actually quite funny how often I do that.  Nao estou aprendendo tao rapidamente que eu quero, entao eu sinto como um asshole completo.  One of those words is not Portuguese, and I had to look up two words to write that.  Though one of those words was a preposition, I am learning very quickly.  At least enough to eat so I can feed the sickness.

All in all, long live sick days, and long lives for you all.

Kitesurfing and Savannah Dry August 3, 2009

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So we had a kitesurfer congregation here in Pemba over the weekend.  When something happens here the general consensus seems to be to take advantage of the opportunity to the point of overkill.  So we spent Friday evening + all day Saturday and Sunday on a continuous beach bender, and I have the headache and sunburn to prove it. The burn is in those weird places you forget put sun lotion on, like my quadriceps, or those places which you are too sheepish to ask somebody else to apply for you, like my mid back.  Carcinogenic threat aside, I am sure it will eventually coalesce into a sweet olive tan.  Until then I’ll look excessively nationalistic – red and white.  Who needs a flag on the bag when you can proudly sport the national colours, epidermal style?

Spent the weekend people watching on the beach.  With two beautiful ladies in tow, it was inevitable that we would make fast friends out of the visiting kitesurfers, who, despite being of the lascivious and boisterous ilk that generally populate the sportsman stereotype, provided us with some entertaining company during their short stint here.  Such things are refreshing in small doses.

Went out to Russell’s Saturday – it was a total zoo, with some 100 people there, all reasonably plastered.  The kiters were there and were celebrating as the Boks beat the All Blacks in the afternoon’s rugby game. We gathered together and headed to Wimbe Disco for one of the most bizarre nightlife experiences I have ever witnessed.  One might expect that Saturday night in Pemba, at the one disco nonetheless, there would be a giant party every week as people unwind and shed some of the frustrations which inevitably build up in this town.  We arrive at half midnight, to the hypothetical promise of a great Saturday night out, and there are white plastic tables on the dance floor.  A buffet setup lines one wall.  Lazy latin music blears from crackling speakers, the DJ looks like his dog just died – dejected and eyes to the floor.  People are seated for the most part, looking full of food and disinterested.  There are three or four fifty-something couples dancing box step.  A few minutes of this and people are cleared off the dance floor, fluorescent lighting is switched on, and a short guy starts singing in impersonated voices.  We get Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Neil Diamond, Elvis – and he’s objectively terrible to the extent you might think it a comedy routine.  By his fifth or sixth song, it’s clear that nobody is going to be dancing – locals or imported folk.  I’m waving my lighter about in the air while simultaneously filming the whole experience because I fear nobody would believe me if I told them.  There’s footage, rest assured.

Though Pemba has been incredibly gusty  (and therefore dusty) over the past few weeks, there wasn’t much wind for the competition.  For the most part, we watched many grown men on boards with kites floundering about in the shallow water.  Now that’s entertainment.  Some of them got up on the water for a short slalom race, so it wasn’t all for naught.  They were pretty irked by the conditions, but for those of us not riding the waves it was a gorgeous weekend on the beach.

Spending time with the office folks outside the actual office adds a level of humanity to our interactions.  Crucial.  My coworkers work for inordinate and seemingly unfeasible stretches of time during weekdays, so it’s nice to know they give themselves the opportunity to unwind when the weekend rolls around.

I think I might have spent another 40 USD (which seems a lot more when you convert it to 1000 meticais).  I am burning through ‘mets’ like wildfire, and am starting to think I’ll have to dig into external sources at some point.  I guess it depends how spoiled a lifestyle I want to live.  The fact that Pemba is expensive doesn’t seem to make much sense when the average income is 75 USD a year here.  Then again, in an informal economy, you convert whatever skill or product you manage to grow/make, and barter it out.  Cash is not the kind of thing people ever have in droves, and when trading their goods for cash, have to ensure they receive enough capital to compensate for the cost of things in the stores.  Put in perspective, expensive makes sense for the region, just as it makes cents out of dollars.

I went to Pemba’s version of Costco (well, one of the wholesalers – there are many – they are all owned by loud and rather cantankerous Goans) and procured a large amount of cheese that doesn’t require refrigeration (yum) and 25 cans of tuna for a cool 750 mets (at 30 mt apiece, slightly over a dollar US a can – not too shabby).

Any denomination of mets 200+ (200, 500, 1000), are all nice new crisp bills.  The twenties, however, look like they’ve been in a long distance runner’s sock (or worse) during a marathon.  I’m afraid to touch them – not only because they are absolutely foul, but because they are so delicate from so much use that I imagine them disintegrating into a fine mist if I handle them – like an ancient papyrus scroll.

Because our beloved Canadian banks charge 5 CDN each time you make an interac transaction, I pull 9000 mets, or the equivalent of some 400 Canadian dollars, out of the bank at a time, which likely makes me a prime target for n’er do wells.  Not that I’ve felt overly threatened – I probably have a 20-30 kg advantage on folks, but it ain’t muscle.  I am occasionally inclined to flights of paranoid however – mostly due to word-of-mouth horror story recitations from the expats in the area. That said, I’ve always been inordinately lucky, probably due to an uncanny innate capacity to insulate myself from conflict and compromising situations.  No worries here – I’ll just keep playing my cards conservatively.  Until later, ate logo and keep it real wherever you might be.


I’m allergic to Pemba! July 30, 2009

Posted by bartacus1 in Uncategorized.

Ajuda-me, eu penso que estou doente porque o ar em Pemba esta cheio da poeira! Shit it’s dusty here.  The uncommon wind I spoke in an earlier post is stirring up a dust storm something fierce, and it is killing me softly, particle by particle.  Thank God I brought Claritin, and curse him/her/it/flying spaghetti monster since I only have 6 pills.  Gotta stretch out my stash.

It’s funny how one packs proliferate amounts of certain items and neglects certain essentials.  For instance, I packed 16 pairs of socks, and yet I rarely wear closed shoes.  I have to make a point of wearing my dress shoes in order to use up my sock collection.  I brought an irrationally copious amount of underwear (14 pairs), Tylenol (enough to take 4 a day while I’m here), and more than 365 one-a-day vitamins for an 8 month trip.  While it is perhaps one of North America’s cardinal sins as a society, you begin to realize that it’s somewhat reassuring having things in excess.  What I would give for a supersize option on the food here – the seafood is epically delicious, yet never quite enough for my admittedly privileged Western expectations.

On the food side, I starved for a good portion of my first three weeks here.  As my roomie and I don’t have access to a vehicle, we are relegated to shopping at the only proximal store to our abode.  It sells bottles of coke, bread, and a variety of sundries like Milo powder and powdered milk, powdered chicken stock – pretty much anything in powdered form.  Yet, no cheese, no booze, no meat – powdered or otherwise.  Anybody who knows my dietary habits knows this just doesn’t jive.

Lucky for us, the other two interns were given access to a vehicle, a rather vocal beast of a machine with a penchance of the occasional engine failure.  It starts with a screwdriver and has yet to be named, though screams out (quite literally) for one.  Reminds me of our jeep in Barbados, affectionately named ‘Jaundice’, which eventually died due to the automotive equivalent of renal failure. Ah shoot… that’s kidneys.  Cirrhosis.  There we go.  Anyways they brought us about town to a number of markets, and I have since stocked my fridge up good.  Which is good – gotta take my malaria meds on a full stomach.

Today is Lariam day.  I am debating as to whether this is the end of my term with Lariam – my last post on dreams resulted in me getting contacted by an anti-Lariam advocacy group online.  According to the correspondence, the drug can bring down US Navy Seals.  According to the website, the drug can have long term effects on people’s psychiatric health after a mere handful of the pills.  I have had at least 6 pills by this point, with no discernible change in my attitude or outlook on life.  In other words, I’m still as dour and unpleasant as I am generally 🙂

Then again, people tend to blame pharmaceuticals for a host of psychiatric problems they ‘develop’ as a result of their overseas experiences, likely because they drank the water unfiltered or were traumatized by the state of society around them.  As the son of a doctor I have always been wary of my health and very conscious about any physiological abnormalities I am experiencing.   Other than my overactive allergies, I’m actually feeling quite at peace in my mind.  Maybe the drug has the opposite effect on me – usually I’m inordinately self-conscious and far less mentally organized than I am feeling at the moment.  Though that could simply be the fact that I’m working on things that challenge my capacities, intuition and intellect, rather than my ability to sell big and tall men big and tall suits and pants.

Following that last comment – I took time to share the link of this blog with everybody I know today, so if you got my email and are reading this, big ups.