Monday, 23 November 2009

Into the bush we travel

Sunday 22nd November

As we check out of the hotel and head towards the airport our minds are now focused on travelling up country to Tete, the rural interior of Mozambique. A town distinguished in the guide book by a bland description of a 10 year old suspension bridge over the Zambeze River. Doug also said that it is also screamingly hot for two thirds of the year and that his skin almost melted off him on stepping out of the plane on his last visit. Aha!

One of the highlights at the airport before boarding the plane was spotting a passenger information notice listing all the forbidden items to take on board the aircraft – these included the usual suspects; Kalashnikov rifles, dynamite, and more curiously ice skates! Preparing for the rural remoteness and inferno heat of the town Sally and I could not help but laugh at the irony of this image! I doubt ice skating has much of a future in Tete!

After 1.5 hrs of flying time we touch down but without prior warning we realise we are in the coastal town of Beira - not where we want to be. We are told to wait in the terminal until a fresh load of passengers are ready to board for the last leg to Tete.

The heat on arrival was indeed breathtaking. Arriving two hours later than advertised we were embarrassed to discover Timóteo, the branch manager of the BOM branch in Tete had been patiently waiting for us for over 2 hours. Eek. With characteristic Mozambiquan ‘pâciencia’ he shrugs off the discomfort of a long wait and warmly welcomes us.

Being close to three borders we soon see the signs of being a city at a crossroads. Where we are used to seeing signposts to villages or towns in the UK here we simply saw one road heading to the left entitled ‘Zimbabwe’, one on the right saying ‘Malawi’ and another in the opposite direction indicating ‘Zambia’! HGVs clog the roads.

At a local cafe we discover there has been a major powercut as the menu is reduced from 20 hot meal options to a 10 cold snack selection! Chatting with Timóteo we learn that Tete is a rapidly expanding city, thanks in large part to major Brazilian and multinational investment in local coal and mineral mines.

He also tells us that Procredit and Socremo (BOM competitors) are already based in the city but none of them provide group based lending, mobile banks reaching remote rural areas nor small sized loans. He says that we are filling a market space that no one else is. After only 2 months of operation he is confident about future growth for the BOM bank branch in the town.

Timóteo is one of the veterans at BOM having worked with CARE from 1998 (prior to the creation of BOM) and with BOM thereafter. His enthusiasm increases as he talks about the mission of BOM and declares proudly that he loves his job as he loves to help lifting up the poor. A young boy approaches our table and extends his hand asking for money Timóteo instead offers him the remaining third of his burger on his plate. We were humbled by his example.

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