Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Into the agricultural heartlands

Tuesday 24th November

Early start this morning with a 6.30am departure from the hotel. Today we head due north to the town of Ulongwe in the heart of the crop growing district of Angonia. The purpose of the trip is to visit and assess the town as a proposed location for a satellite bank branch and departure point for a mobile bank.

An hour outside Tete we are confronted with the classic image of rural African poverty – the mud baked huts with straw rooves. They are scattered sparsely across the brown savannah and scrubland. The scarlet flash of the occasional acacia tree applies a well needed dose of colour on to the otherwise beige canvas of the local landscape.

As we ascend in the truck the climate and outlook change – the barren land becomes fertile and verdant. Smallholding plots of land abound. As he drives Timóteo tells how it is forbidden to actually own land in Mozambique instead you apply for a permit from the Municipality and are granted permission to cultivate the land.

We pull into Ulongwe two and a half hours after leaving Tete. It is clearly a hub of NGO activity as we pass the local HQ of World Vision and Médecins sans Frontières on our initial sweep of the main avenue.

We walk around the market and start asking stallholders how they would feel about having a microfinance bank in the town. As we introduce ourselves as BOM there is instant recognition for the bank. The stallholders here have heard about BOM in Tete (some 150 miles away) and say they are contemplating making the journey to open an account! When they hear of the possibility of a local branch opening they say they will certainly be signing up for loans and savings. They have heard of the excellent reputation of Opportunity International Bank of Malawi a mere 12 miles away!

The clouds burst and the mud paths in the market become streams . For a moment it dampens the pace of commerce.

On the way out of the town we hit a pothole which quite literally compressed my vertebrae momentarily as my head hammered into the roof of the truck!

Timóteo takes a break from driving and makes way for Mrs Speedy Sally Vicaria to take the wheel! Timóteo remains in constant touch with the office texting his colleagues from the backseat. Without much warning he asks Sally to pull over at a roadside market as he wants to take advantage of the cheaper prices and stock up on fruit and veg. As he loads his second kilo of peppers on to the truck I wonder whether he is planning a major week of entertaining at home. After a quick question it becomes clear that he has been texting the others in the bank and taking orders for groceries from amongst the team. This seemed well beyond the call of duty and again spoke volumes about the quality of the leader BOM has found to manage the bank in Tete.

At another stop Sally handed over the wheel to me. I couldn’t help noticing the timing of the handover coincided with a marked narrowing of the road and an increase in potholes! It got hairy at times as oncoming vehicles refused to heed my headlight warnings to move across to their side of the road. This was in part due to the fact that my intentioned flash of the lights amounted instead to a squirting of the windscreen with water as the levers on a Mozambiquan steering wheel are in reverse locations to their British counterparts!

The bridge over the Zambezi appeared in the distance – we had made it home safely.

No comments:

Post a Comment