News - August 28, 2014

‘I couldn’t walk straight’

Yvonne de Hilster

Who? Sivan van Leerzem
What? Internship on embassy staff
Where? Maputo, Mozambique

‘I did various bits of research for the Dutch embassy in Mozambique. On the potential in Mozambique for Dutch agribusiness, for example. But I also looked at how successful the policy of the urban water company in Maputo has been in supplying the poor with clean drinking water. In practice, I spent many whole days in the office collecting and processing information. Field work turned out to be too expensive, unfortunately. The only road from Maputo to the middle and the north of the country goes through a conflict area. So for essential visits, embassy staff fly, but plane tickets for an intern are not budgeted for. 

I did visit a few farms near Maputo, though. It was interesting to see the differences between a farm belonging to an Australian and those of the small local farmers. The Australian’s neat fields and rows and huge crops were a big contrast with the small farmers’ patchwork of little fields. And their corn cobs were three times smaller than the ones in the shops here. 

In the evenings and weekends I spent a lot of time with other foreigners. We went to cafes or halls with live music, where you drink beer out of half-litre bottles. Or we enjoyed the blue sea and gleaming white beaches. We had to go quite a long way for them, as the beach near the city is strewn with rubbish and the sea there is brown because of the harbour and the river mouth. Mozambicans themselves rarely go to the beach with a towel and a picnic basket. That’s just not part of their culture. 

Once on a Friday afternoon after work I went for a beer with a Mozambican friend. Just like most of the bars, this one had no windows, but tube lighting and plastic chairs. But the drinking tempo was high, even for a student. By the end of the afternoon I couldn’t walk straight.’