A few weeks ago was one of those days where I came home thinking “this is why I love Africa.” It was an experience that took me by surprise and opened my eyes to the other side of Beira, the side you don’t often see. This world was not the expat, world where everything works ( well almost everything), where fresh borehole water is abundant at the turn of a tap, everything is fully air-conditioned, and let’s be honest a pretty comfortable and happy world. I saw the inner layers of Beira, the entrepreneurs making a plan in a city that is falling apart around them, where living each day is a constant struggle, but still managing to remain upbeat, positive and ultimately successful.
So lets start at the beginning….I annoyingly discovered that my phone had been dropped one too many times by my delightful toddler, and much to the happiness of my husband, nobody could hear me on the other end of the phone. It’s not like in the UK where you pop into your local friendly phone shop, and they send it off to some bright technician and, in 5 working days later, boom you have a fixed phone! Nope not here, here you have to find by word of mouth the smart IT guys who have self-taught themselves by opening, experimenting and cannibalizing old electronic devices while sitting in their bedrooms. So I popped on our expat WhatsApp group and threw it out there that I needed to fix my phone, seconds later someone responds “try this oke” (South African/Zimbabwean slang for “this guy,”) so “this oke” I did try! After lots of messaging and walking up down some back streets, I met up with “this oke.” So off we went into his “office”.
As we climbed up the stairs we made small talk in my broken Portuguese, (yes after four years it’s still broken!). We walked past broken stair lifts which, by the smell of them had been used for toilets once in a while, spotted the odd cockroach scuttling around my feet, and to be honest I can’t say it was an enjoyable experience. I started to lose count on the floors we had climbed but I think we stopped at level 10, and I popped my head out of the broken window and was amazed by the incredible view across the city!! So out my phone came and snap, snap looking like a real tourist! “this oke” was so patient and explained to me the views keep getting better the higher you go up! So after I think climbing at least 15 stories we arrived at the top of this building and yep he wasn’t the wrong the views were spectacular!
As we walked down the corridor to where ” this oke’s” “office” was, I was taken back by the amount of well dressed, wealthy-looking teenager/young adults that were sitting on the floors or at little makeshift desks studying with their textbooks out. I walked into the “office” which was a single room with an old sofa and table, an area for cooking with a single plate electric cooker top, and what looked like a small bathroom in the back. Every surface was covered with old bits of phone, computers and random electronic devices all been broken down and by the looks of it being built back up again. Ed Sheeran could be heard in the background from one of the numerous laptops that this group of young lads were working on. Poverty aside, it was if I had walked into a students IT Common Room in the UK. Why would I think it would be any different? Why was I surprised? What was I thinking it was going to be? A rundown, shady, dodgy group of street lads? I was so very wrong.
While I sat there watching my phone be dismantled and hoping this guy knew what he was doing, I listened to these young lads all chatting amongst themselves. Watching them come and go, exchange handshakes and tell each other about their days, help each other with whatever issue the other had with their fancy bit of tech they were working on. I found myself smiling to myself, so pleased that I had seen this side of Beira’s youth. They were inspired, positive, upbeat and incredibly polite. They cared about their futures, as they spoke about jobs, university courses and seeing the world. These attitudes are something that I have struggled to see a lot of here in Beira. I experience so much hopelessness, poverty and lack of desire to improve, an acceptance that this is the way things are so why bother trying. That moment there, smiling, sitting in that little room in this rundown tower block was a moment I will never forget. It gave me hope, hope that there is a generation embedded in this city that does want change and to grow.
After 20 mins or so my phone was working!! As I was escorted out, one of the young lads studying told me to have a look out the back as the views were terrific, and he wasn’t wrong. The views were breathtaking and gave such a unique perspective of Beira which compounded the experience I had just had in that little room with “this oke” and his mates.