30 September 2009

Recent newsletter article I wrote...

Living at “the bakery” in Bela Vista is a part of the Healing Wings experience that few people forget. Was it the crashing Mozambican house music? The lack of running water, and often electricity? The roof that leaked? The late nights and early starts? Yes these all contributed to some memorable days but during my 9 months staying there what got to me most was the bread. One might think it would be simple, place an order for number of breads the night before, in the morning collect breads and make payment. Alas, nothing is this simple in the bush.

The proprietor – a fierce Mama if ever I saw one – would insist I pay for the Healing Wings breads the night before. I had no problem with this, but when you wake up to find no breads have been baked and the lady has disappeared (with the money) it can be a bit of a hindrance to your morning’s productivity. Unfortunately incidents like this were a regular occurrence. Conversations amongst the ‘Baker Boys’ – as we were known – often revolved around why Healing Wings didn’t have its own bakery. I was looking to get involved in a project at Healing Wings so thought maybe this could be the one, and so the plan was born.

Putting some figures down on paper it looked like it could work financially, and only take 2 months or so to build, or so I thought. That was in May 2008 and building is still not completely finished! Just goes to show just how much previous building experience I’d had! The start up capital was just about depleted by Jan 2009 and things were not looking too positive. “Why did I take on this stupid idea!?” I often asked myself, it really looked like we’d never make completion. Guiding words from friends and family kept me in check and the project ticking over until on the 11th August this year we were finally at a stage where we could test the oven.

The Baker I had employed took one look at the oven and said it wouldn’t work and needed to be re-designed. Just what I needed to hear, but by this stage I was willing to do anything just to see some breads produced. Over the next three days the local builders under the bakers guidance dug a huge hole under the oven to provide for the heat source, the larger it got the more worried I got, until they said it was ready, now just light a fire for 24 hours and it will be hot enough to bake.

24 hours, and about three trees later, I picked up the courage to open the oven door and feel the ‘baking temperature’. Not only was the oven cooler than a summer’s day in Scotland but there were huge cracks in the ovens base and smoke pouring from the foundations. “Enough!” I shouted, “put it back how it was” I demanded, and so, sheepishly and with a few “mulungu maluku” (crazy white man) comments, the builders filled in the huge hole they had created. Fortunately the original design held its own and baking could officially start!

Today, some six weeks later we now have two full time bakers employed and have produced 4700 breads (Pao in Portuguese) and counting. I would like to employ more people but we’re taking things slowly so far, trying to improve sales everyday and keep the project sustainable. It was always one of my original aims to provide lasting employment and skills to the local community but that can’t be done if the business loses money month on month. For now though the figures are looking fairly positive and costs are so far being covered. Over the next few months I would like to earn enough that we can buy the rest of the building materials and finish the building once and for all, but just seeing the employees working hard and the tasty bread produced is enough to show me the project has been a success, however long it may have taken!!

29 September 2009

Sales outstrip Demand

A first for Mozbak, I had to turn away customers today as we had sold all the bread we baked. Word is definitely spreading as two of todays customers came from afar, (sort of) by bicycle and weren't from the immediate vicinity, ie our usual customer base. Tomorrow I don't want to be sitting with the same problem so am baking 10% more breads, or 145 to be precise.

Its amazing what a difference a little marketing does. This morning I told myself "today we will sell more!". I loaded up a few small plastic bags (or "checkers" as they're called here - after the south african supermarket) with breads and went and did my rounds of the local workforce. The weather played into my hands as its a chilly overcast day here and I think that makes one more hungry. Perhaps I should integrate the weather forecast into my decision on how many breads to bake for the next day! I have implemented the 'Bazza Bonus' plan whereby if you buy 4 breads or more you get one free, this is proving very popular but now everyone expects a 'free' bread... Nothing wrong with putting the product out there and reminding everyone its available. One of the noticable differences is the number of people buying more than 4 breads, today I even had to turn away one lady who wanted 16 breads, my heart broke. That would have been the largest single order I had taken!

In case you are wandering where the 'Bazza' in 'Bazza bonus' comes from its from my nickname here; "Bazza Bazza" so earned as its a local phrase I always used to say to our staff (It means 'come lets go') and they just started calling me by that. The bakery is know as the Padaria de Bazza Bazza so it makes sense to call the free bread plan a Bazza bonus!

28 September 2009

oink oink ^..^

It seems that the friends of the piglet we so enjoyed on the weekend got wind of their lost brothers fate. They didn't fancy more of the same and made a break for freedom, twice. Both times they were rounded up and returned to their pen. The last time though minus one of the elder pigs. The runaway was missing for 24 hours before being spotted this afternoon, the guys managed to get a rope around it but buckled under the strain of his 100 kilograms and he got away. He could be hungry for revenge by now leaving a few people here scared to walk home in the dark!
Both bakers were back at work today and I think they finished the earliest ever. 135 breads baked by 6pm, not bad at all.
Going over the finances today I was a little disappointed to see that I had slightly overestimated one or two figures and our profits weren't quite where I thought they were. No major problems though, we're still in the black which is good for a small enterprise in its 7th week of operation. Things don't look like improving too much any time soon though as the time is rapidly dawning to start spending money finishing the building work, on the oven, and the tiling etc inside. I just left this when I realised I could start baking, but its really not professional to be working in an area thats not been properly finished. Costs to finish will be in the few thousand of rands (100's of dollars). But I am wary to borrow and would much prefer to earn the money and plough it in as I can afford it. Of course the more bread we sell the quicker this can be done!

27 September 2009

Sunny sunday afternoon

A scorching 37 degrees Celcius here on the farm today. Lucky I had access to the pool earlier for a quick dip but before that it was work, work, work. We're still busy eating the pork from yesterday (lunch and dinner today) but it tastes great.

Alfonso is away in Maputo but the time spent with "the apprentice" young Alberto has paid off and he is able to take the reigns tonight, although he did come in 2 hours late...

26 September 2009

Vegetarians look away now...

We decided its time to branch out from the bread business and as its the 9th anniversary of the farm we are cooking a piglet on a spit in the bakeries oven. great stuff! As you can see we had some interest from the dogs, who are very politely standing watch at the door hoping they will get some nice pork!

I have been managing to sell some breads in the local town which is good news for our income. Today I even swapped bread for some bricks (needed for outer oven walls). Just when I thought the day couldn't get any better, the nissan is working again! All in all quite an up and down week!

25 September 2009

Oh Dear

The clever marketing people at Nissan cam up with the slogan "Shift_expectations", great creative work one might think. Sure, I don't have huge expectations, but I do expect that when you turn the key in the ignition, the car starts. Unfortunately in the case of our car yesterday, this was too much to hope for. The car did make it to Maputo to do the shopping but its stranded there and the goods needed to be collected by someone else and brought here. Perhaps "shift_to-Toyota" would be more appropriate.
Anyhow the car was due back here at 3pm yesterday but the goods only arrived when my friend (in a working Toyota Hi-lux) went to pick them up and returned at 7:30pm. By this time my staff were on the verge of walking home. I had to pay them a bonus to stay on and actually bake last night as they were so fed up with waiting. On the good side, I do now at least have some flour to bake with!

24 September 2009

back on track

Thank goodness, last night saw the return of the infamous nissan from South Africa and its now running smoothly. This means I could send off the shopping trip this morning and will now have flour for tonights baking. Of course nothing is ever totally smooth sailing here, its raining today and I only put away a certain amount of wood under cover. So now I am short wood and the wood I have is wet. Perhaps I can put it into the oven and try to dry it out, lets see.

Yesterday I also received some nice emails from friends who had been reading the blog, thank you! good to see the word is spreading :)

One of the problems I have been encountering of late is broken bread. Sounds strange I know but if the bread does not cool properly it can break when transported. At the moment the bread is cooling by standing upright, as shown in the picture above. Speaking to Alfonso though I ascertained that I need some wooden trays for the breads to sit on whilst cooling off. These I will construct myself, but if I'm going to make a few trays I might as well construct a rack system so I can stack the trays efficiently. Am hoping to get a round to designing it today then I can get building next week.
This morning has already been quite hard work. I have dug and thrown concrete for two foundations, one on either side of the oven. These will support the outer wall of bricks that will provide the insulation I need for better thermal efficiency (so i won't need as much wood). I still need to buy the cement (about 6 bags) and bricks (about 100) but I also hope to get this for next week.

23 September 2009


I don't seem to be having the best of luck lately, just when I sorted out my labour issues (see previous post) along comes some problems with transport... Our Car, a nissan hardbody, is still not back from being repaired in South Africa and I'm rapidly running low on flour. We were due to go shopping in Maputo today but couldn't. Friday is a public holiday in Mozambique so we have to get the supplies tomorrow, if we have the car...

To illustrate the point I have posted a map showing our position in relation to Maputo where we do our shopping. If you follow the map due south of Maputo we are just past the small town of Bela Vista, the journey is about 50 km but due to the poor roads, journey time is around 1 hour.

22 September 2009

well oiled machine (Cars excluded)

Things are going like a boeing, everything that is but the cars... Alfonso is finding it a lot easier, and less lonely, having a partner to work with.

We could be in for an intersting week, Only 50kg of flour left in the store (about 3 days worth) and now we are having car trouble and have no cars on the farm. Tomorrow I was going to buy 200/250 kg of flour but it looks like we might not have a vehicle by then. At this rate my best plan might be to get a friend of mine, who's coming through with his daughter on wednesday night, to buy flour at a South African supermarket. Not the cheapest option, but do I have any choice? nope... but I hold thumbs our nissan hardbody will be ready for tomorrow (its gone to a mechanic in Nelspruit, South Africa about 400km away).

21 September 2009

Tools of the trade; # 2 the 'bread flicker'

Another name I just made up, "the bread flicker". I know it looks just like a plank of wood, but honestly there's more to it than that! This simple tool is used to place the breads into the oven. As you can see from the photo (right) the breads are lined on to the flicker 3 at a time, also at this point they are scored along the top with a sharp knife. The breads are then manouvered into a row and with a slight flicking and tipping action they are slid off onto the oven floor, ready for cooking. Sound simple? well there's a bit more too it, as the bread is at dough stage it is very soft and pliable, if you flick too hard or they fall off they will collapse and lose shape, or worse, stick together leaving a tricky mess to sort out. The Flicker must be dusted down with flour on a regular basis to prevent the uncooked rolls sticking to it.

Once the breads are cooked they are more easily removed by the bread oven shovel.

20 September 2009

The new Team!

Just been down to the bakery and the two Al's - Alfonso and Alberto seem to be working well together. Its now 9pm and they've done 20 breads so far and another 20 were in the oven.

Tomorrow we'll have to get down to the gritty business of negotiating Alberto's salary. I think it should come in under Alfonso's pay, as Alberto is to be the 'apprentice'. In the end though I don't think it can be too much lower as it needs to be enough for him to live on. Normally in a business one might expand increase sales then increase capacity to match, now I have more overheads and need to get my sales up so that I can cover my expenses. Easier said than done.

New labour

Not Tony Blair's bunch of expense claim stealing cronies, but the new labour(er) at the bakery. Subsequent to my previous labour woes, when I heard that Alfonso had injured himself I feared the worst. It turns out that in the course of killing a snake that was in his house he injured his right hand rendering it useless. Normally this would mean he didn't come to work and then... no bread. Fortunately he has found 'the apprentice' I have been telling him to keep an eye out for. So I now have a new employee; Alberto! (or Bert as he seems to prefer)
Both Alfonso and Alberto arre working tonight, Alfonso directing and Alberto learning the ropes and performing any physical jobs. I've just been on duty to wash dishes for the farm so I'm keen to head down to the bakery now and see how they're getting on!

19 September 2009

Building the oven - Part 1

I've been thinking about if for the last week or so and often get a lot of questions as to how I built my oven. I'd like to get some of my design and building photos posted but to be honest the first step was much simpler than that; researching the design. I had never built anything like this before but somehow was confident I would be able to find all I need to know to build a wood fired oven online. Just put the keywords in Google you might think... yes but then you get 153,000 results, so where to from then? For anyone thinking of following in my footsteps the below list includes a few of the websites I found useful. Note I have not used any of their designs exactly but adapted them to my requirements (more on that later):

Traditional Oven - Quite an extensive site with everything from designs to recipes

Log Cabin Chronicles - Guide to clay oven building, not too technical though.

Forno Bravo Pizza Oven - They sell ovens but have this oven design available for free online.

Fitzpatrick wood fired oven - Good photos on this site from their oven build.

I found these sights useful but most of them are based on designs for outdoor pizza ovens, nothing wrong with that, but i felt the need to adapt this for my needs. Namely I wanted the oven door to open into the bakery and not to be fed entirely from outside, saving walking around with bread dough exposed to elements etc.

17 September 2009


After much talk (mostly on here) about how I wanted to branch out and start selling breads to local shops I finally had the transport and bread on hand to go and do it today. At last I thought, some more income. I can employ that baking apprentice, finish the oven, give Alfonso a pay increase... Alas, it wasn't to be! the two shops I had a chance to visit were closed. In total I sold no extra breads other than those of which i have a regular contract to sell (120 per day). so I'm feeling a little bummed about that but I know I must just push on, something will come up if I keep trying!
On the plus side, total sales for Sept have already topped what we managed in August. 1799 this month so far versus 1376 for August.
This afternoon was spent sorting rotten potatoes from good ones to sell. I had know idea something could smell so bad, I'm actually off now to wash my hands with some heavy duty detergent!

16 September 2009

It never stops...

I've been trying steadily for one hour to finish an assignment I'm working on but it seems I can't get a quiet moment to myself. I keep getting disrupted for the most random tasks. This morning it was to break into one of our buildings which is locked up so that I could flick on the power that had tripped. At least I learnt something, how to open a door thats locked by mortis lock with a crowbar, and leave no visible trace. Just as well I learnt how to do it as 10 mins later I was called back to do exactly the same thing! The cause of this circuit breaker tripping? Twelve, yes 12! cell phone chargers connected to one plug point via a network of extension cables and multi point plugs. You see there is no permanent electricity in the surounding community, so for most of our workers the farm is their power point for charging cell phones. It seems stupid but to avoid overloading our (already flimsy) wiring we will have to draw up a roster for people who want to charge their phones, so they'll get a certain time on a certain day when they charge them. Its the best idea we could think of for now, for a world so engaged with our cell phones these days I can't imagine the people of Cape Town or London, waiting their turn in a list to charge their cell phones!

14 September 2009

fun filled afternoon

Summer has pretty much arrived here at last, the temperature was 33 degrees celcius this afternoon, that probably the hottest day we've had in a good few months.

I've been lucky enought to be house sitting for our pastor these last few days so I had good intentions this afternoon of cutting his grass for him so it looks nice and neat. Needless to say things never work out quite as planned, upon arriving at his house I smelt smoke and saw there was a small bush fire about 100 metres from the bottom of his lawn. Within 2 minutes it was about to engulf the wooden stables at the bottom of the garden and was rapidly encircling the house... Great, I thought, I've looked after the place well so far, am doing him a favour, and now just before his return the whole place is going to burn down... With my career's future on the line I found an old bucket and tin watering can and jumped into the thick of things trying to put out the flames. Of course I wasn't exactly dressed in the appropriate fire fighting attire, just board shorts and rubber slip slops (sandals) which melt if you get too close (its happened to me before). I called for re-enforcements and they eventually arrived much to my relief and allowing me to get on with the original task of mowing the grass.

After all the hot action by the house I was summoned back to the farm to go and choose a cow to be sold this evening. "They're only paying 8000 mets (about 2500 rand / 313 USD) so not a nice cow but not too small." I was told... Great but what does a 8000 met cow look like, smaller than a 10,000 one and bigger than 5,000 one I'm sure, but as I've never sold a cow before I was a bit lost. I did manage to pick out what I thought was an appropriate candidate only to find out it was a baby water buffalo, oops, anyway I left the decision to the herders in the end, but it'll be my ass on the line if its the wrong type!

What of my reward for putting life and limb at risk to save a property? I nice swim in the pool of course!

Finishing oven

Despite having been baking now for nearly five whole weeks, the oven we're baking with isn't actually properly finished yet... When I realised it would work I just went ahead and commenced baking but it actually needs quite a bit of work still to insulate it and prevent heat loss. Why is this so important? If you've heard me rambling on about collecting wood so much, you'll realise the oven is consuming more firewood than I originally anticipated. Last night driving around at half past midnight collecting wood I decided it was time to finish the oven properly and in doing so make it more heat efficient and hopefully it will consume less wood!!
As you can see from the picture to the right, the oven is pretty much just the brick arch shell at the moment with a thin (about 40mm) layer of clay and cement mix plastered over it. The improvement plan would involve building up an outer wall around the oven on sides and rear about 150mm from the current wall of oven. The gap would then be filled with compacted clay soil and the top I would cover with roof sheeting. All in all it should look better (not so important) and use less firewood. The proof will be in the baking.

12 September 2009

Sales success

I'm not sure if this could be called a massive 'sales success' but I did succeed in opening what could hopefully be a good new avenue of sales yesterday. I had the car for half an hour and needed to go and audit the rice processing operation in the local town (that makes it sound very grand, its actually quite modest), along the way i thought i'd take some breads to sell. I went to the local bush shop and told them, in my very basic portuguese, that I had breads to sell. The few customers there and shopkeeper laughed at me, then proceeded to buy all the breads from me. Was it my accent? I thought, who knows, the fact is they bought the bread and I'm hoping to make it a daily drop off point. I have 20 extra breads now from last nights bake (220 in total) which i'm off to try and sell now, wish me luck!

11 September 2009

The big city

Last night I went through to pick up Alfonso at his place in the local village, see picture right. I must say it doesn't look like much, but he at least has a prime view over the river. During the course of my stay in Mozambique we have helped a number of the longer serving staff members to buy construction materials to build their own (bricks and cement) houses. Seeing the state of Alfonso's place yesterday showed me that this is something I would like to be able to do for him.

There is definitely potential to make the most from modest means. One of Alfonso's neighbours has gone for the mock provencal look, currently very trendy in the fancier suburbs of Cape Town and Johannesburg for around 2-3 million rand (200-300 thousand GBP / ) and up, this however can be yours in sunny Bela Vista, mozambique for a fraction of the amount.

10 September 2009

All I need is... Wood

The beatles needed love but all I need is... wood!
Yes I'm still suffering from a lack of good firewood. I don't mind going into the bush, collecting and cutting myself but time is the main issue. Usually I only have some free time to do wood collection and cutting from about 4pm to 6pm. I have however discovered that there is LOTS of wood surrounding our fam, i just need transport and a helping hand to collect it. I walked for about 5km yesterday into the bush looking for one of the dogs that had gone missing. No sign of him but I did see lots of wood! Don't worry though dog returned home safely last night having freed himself from a snare that was around his waist.
I have also recently moved living quarters again, I'm now living in what was my old office, nice size, but not very homely. Unfortunately the nearest bathroom dos not have any hot water so last night saw me at 11pm kneeling in the bath tub washing from a bucket... Why a bucket? you may ask, well then you can mix hot water (boiled in the kettle) witht he cold from the tap to get a good (ish) temperature. All rather basic I know but thats life in the bush.

8 September 2009

Brown House

As promised yesterday here's a quick snap of the brown house snake they caught outside the office.

We baked 135 breads last night, of which I've sold 127 so far this morning, covering the costs at least. More flour is on the way from Maputo tonight and for once we have enough stock on hand. the only thing I'm still suffering from a bit is a lack of good firewood. I bought a nice sized bundle the other day for 40 Mets. (12 Rand/ USD 1.40 / GBP 1.00) but that only lasted a night. My duties elsewhere on the farm are keeping me too busy to cut wood myself for now so I'm sure I will have to buy-in wood again for tonight. I don't really be-grudge it so much though, as it is supporting the local 'economy' and giving someone a little extra income.

7 September 2009

Labour Woes

Another day, another labour related problem it seems. I'm not talking at national level here, I only have one employee, but Alfonso was sick yesterday and didn't come into work. Unfortunately the cynic in me knows that today is a public holiday and hence yesterday off, 'sick', along with his usual saturday off would give him a nice long weekend... hmm am I being too cynical? I'll have a word with Alfonso and lay down the rules. Namely - if you're sick you need a slip from the local clinic to bring in the next day. With the huge problem of HIV/AIDS in this area lots of our (the farm) employees need to go for bi-weekly checkups, white blood cell counts etc. This is of course provided for, the state here gives them a special medical book and they just show us it has been stamped to be renumerated for that day. All sounds very systematic I know but you must have these systems in place or people will take chances, as employees everywhere do, I know I used to ;)

Summer has most definitely started here, today it is currently 32 degrees Celcius, pretty warm! Fortunately there is a slight breeze but it's not much comfort. Spring/Summer's onset means snake season is coming, I've already seen a few out in the last few weeks but they should become more common as they come out of hibernation and go hunting for food. This morning there was a commotion as a 'big' snake was spotted in the gardens in front of the office. The 'big' snake turned out to be a harmless brown house, which was safely caught and released into the food store of all places, needless to say this wasn't to everyone's liking and one of my colleagues who is cooking lunch now refuses to enter the store. Not very helpful. I haven't downloaded the pics of this morning's snake yet so i have posted a picture of a juvenile boomslang in the roof of the gazebo, he's very shy and lives between the reeds, only showing his head occasionally then retreating once he's spotted movement.

6 September 2009


A good morning from sunny Mozambique, apologies to all who've been following my adventures as I haven't updated for a day or two. Yesterday was far too busy a day on the farm, 2 trips to Maputo to sell our potatos and a re-supply trip to the beach camp had to be sent off. Normally all in a days work but Friday night was a late one and yesterday I was feeling the effects, no I wasn't out partying! I was up supervising the baking till 1:30am (we did 245 breads). A 6am rise on saturday ensured I only managed 4 and a half hours sleep, not enough to keep me going and in high spirits for the day. Fortunately I managed to retire at a much more acceptable 9pm last night and am feeling fresh and ready for a Sunday today!

3 September 2009

Things seem a lot more on track. Only produced 125 breads today, but so far sold 124 of them. Keeping efficient at least. I really want to look into selling to a few of the local shops but have been hindered this week by a lack of transport. If I can get 10/20 fresh breads as samples and drive them around to a few places hopefully it will open up new sales avenues, lets see...
I had a late night last night helping witht he potato harvest. We're pulling up between two and three tons a day from the lands and I had to go and load 140 ten kg bags last night at 8pm. Sounds like quite a mission but it was actually very pleasant. Its a full moon at the moment and working by moonlight was quite a surreal experience.
Have posted a picture of the sunset over the bakery that I took last night. We're getting in to spring now but it already feels like summer with long hot days. Cutting wood with a bow saw was not fun this morning!

2 September 2009

at last...

Alfonso's return was a success last night I'm pleased to report. 140 breads made, 125 sold so far today, looks like things are back on track for now. I've spent the morning cleaning up the Bakery and cutting and chopping wood. I took a few guys out into the bush on Monday for a wood mission but most of that is now cut and some has already been burnt.
Wood consumption is definitely higher than I predicted. In fact a number of people warned me how much wood I'd need and I pretty much ignored them, now I'm seeing the light. Our other ministry in Nelspruit currently has the chainsaw so I think the plan will be to try and borrow it for a long weekend. Cut down as much wood as possible and then I can always saw it into the correct size pieces here on site.

1 September 2009

Production update

Despite the setbacks of this last week production for August was 1358 breads and 40 Hamburger rolls. Not altogether bad I suppose, and some good news on the Baker front, Alfonso is due back in tonight! woohoo back in business! :)