Mozambican Border: Monopoly Money

Hailey and I were invited to go to Mozambique with the mission department of the Nkhoma Synod. Months ago, when asked if we would come, I may have been a bit over zealous with my answer. I said “yes” and committed finances to the trip without first consulting my wife (something I should have learned not to do A LONG time ago) or seeking the advice of our closest Malawian friend.

Needless to say, as we prepared for the trip, Hailey was less than excited about the idea of joining 40 Malawians in the bush of Tete. As I heard stories about past outreaches of the department I got increasingly nervous. We had visited the Malawian bush, but whenever I mentioned we were going to Mozambique the responses were equally shocking and depressing.

“Why?” “No one goes to Mozambique!” “Tete! There is nothing there!” A South African (also named Dave), who I met while getting my Malawian Driver’s License said, “Mozambicans are brutal to white people. Some, that live in South Africa, are even known to kill for just a few dollars.” Thanks Dave, real comforting…

I pictured all sorts of terrible scenarios. Sleeping in a car in the bush. Hot. Bat sized mosquitoes. Tribes, like wild African Dogs, circling us and barking “kill whitey” as they wait for Hailey or me to fall away from our comfortable pack of Malawians.

Some of our fears were relieved when Stephan, the director of the mission department (who also spent 20 years working with Campus Crusade for Christ), told us we’d be staying with a Nigerian missionary couple in a modern house.

We were supposed to leave at 7:30 in the morning, then it got pushed back to 9:00…We didn’t get picked up till almost 1:00 in the afternoon. We’ve learned that these things happen and you just have to shrug your shoulders and go with the flow sometimes. But it’s a lot harder to do that when you are anxious.

Eventually six of us got into a Nissan Pathfinder with all of our supplies and luggage (which quasi-comfortably sits 5) and made our way toward the Dedza border to meet with the rest of the team. We stopped on the Malawian side, got out and flashed our passports and drove across the border. The funny thing about the Malawian/Mozambican border is, in many places, it is wide open. Supposedly, it is okay to cross without passing through immigration if you aren’t going deep into the other country. But Tete is about 400 kilometers passed the border.

Hailey and I waited in line at the immigration checkpoint. As we were waved forward, we handed our passports to the officer. Stephan was standing right next to us; we didn’t think we’d have a problem at all.

Officer: (in an odd Portuguese accent that was new to me) Where’s your visa?

Stephan: They are with us, pastors working with the synod. They don’t need a visa.

Officer: Visa.

Me: We have a visa to be working in Malawi.

Officer: Mozambique isn’t Malawi, Visa.

Stephan: Can’t you do something for us?

At this point I thought we were going back to Malawi (Hailey would have been thrilled). It turns out we could get a visa for $75 each or 4,270 meticais (Mozambican currency). We asked if we could pay in Malawian kwacha. No. The angry officer stormed off with our passports–never a good thing.

A few minutes later, he called us to a back room. I stood to walk with Hailey and he said, “just the woman.” What?!? The only thing worse than running away with my passport was going behind closed doors with my wife. Our friend Jason could see the horrible thoughts that were running through my head and said, “she is fine.” I wasn’t convinced.

Twenty seconds later they called me into the same room. It was nothing. They just needed to take our photos to process the visas. The mood lightened a bit while the officers tried to figure out how to take a photo of someone with pale skin. Things seemed to be taking a turn for the better. Then they asked us to pay.

We had brought $200 for emergency money, but all the rest of our cash was in kwacha. After watching a fat officer struggle to add 75+75 (his friend had to tell him it was 150 and not 155), we handed over our two $100 bills. He examined them closely, sat the first one down and then looked at the second. “This one is no good, another one.” I explained it was all we had. He pointed to a red line on the bill. The ink that is often used in the states to check if it is a real bill or not had him convinced that we were giving him fake money.

I almost lost it. Our bill was straight from the bank, it looked brand new. I wanted to point out the colorful Mozambican monopoly money and say, “look at this crap!” Fortunately I remembered I was a pastor and on a mission trip.

I promised him it was real. He wasn’t buying it. He wouldn’t accept the bill.

He told us to go exchange the money for meticais (because if we had fake dollars, they’d accept it…). We asked him to point us in the direction of the exchange bureau; he pointed to a man on the curb outside. Great. Now we’d get screwed by two parties instead of one. Hailey went with Jason to exchange the money and I starred at the officers, who still held our passports, in obvious discontent.

We finally paid and got our passports back. I walked to the car shaking my head in disbelief. The bus with the rest of the trip participants had waited for us. It was now 5:30. I apologized to them all. They didn’t look surprised or bothered. Someone smiled and said, “That’s Mozambique.” What had I gotten us into…

 

  • Amy Beam

    That sounds so frusterating! I wonder why the other People in your group did t need a visa? I am glad that you are back from that little adventure unharmed.

  • admin

    Amy, they didn’t need Visas because there is reciprocity (I dunno if that is the right word) between residents of certain countries (as long as you don’t work, buy under a certain amount of goods,etc). The US has the same set up with many countries (Mexico, Canada, England, Ireland, shoot…even Malawi.)

  • MOM

    SOOOO glad I did not know these things prior to your trip!! What happened next??? What was it like in Mozambique??