Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Too much coffee and zimbabwean english

After thirteen straight hours in front of my laptop (8pm yesterday to 9am this morning!!), I am FINALLY done with the Agricultural Input Supply Sector Study. The duration of time it took for the completion of the required work at hand was an amount of time well beyond the usual duration of time necessary to complete a study. In a nutshell, my brain is fried.

Ricardo is leaving tomorrow for a month-long trip to Brazil and is taking both of my big blue suitcases with him to bring back things we can't get here in Chimoio. Everyone in our household has made a request list for Ricardo and I am already laughing imagining him trying to pass through customs on the way back to Africa. My list includes socks, plastic document folders, havaianas filp-flops, and *lots* of clothes. In the short month I've been here, about half of my clothes have been ruined thanks to hand washing and shoddy detergents. My brand new burgundy towel is already threadbare and full of bleach spots, my underwire bras are bent at totally unnatural angles, and my white linen pants are stained with unidentifiable dark blue splotches. It looks like I sat in an inkwell, but hey, this is Chimoio. Stained pants are just another part of life as usual. I can’t wait for Ricardo to come back from Brazil with a whole new batch of shirts and pants for our maids to ruin.

Okay, I recognize that I shouldn’t be complaining about bent bras and detergent stains when someone else is hand washing and ironing my clothes, but AAARRGGGGHHHH!!!!!! Assim não dá pra ser feliz!

Monday, June 27, 2005

No Privacy Whatsoever

Today I am officially illegal in Mozambique. I was under the erroneous impression that my visa was valid for 2 years and would allow me to work here. In reality, the Embassy in Washington granted me a 30-day, single entry tourism permit. When I discovered this little error last week I panicked, imagining having to abandon my African adventure due to bureaucracy. Ricardo and BL laughed at my concern, reminding me that this is Mozambique, after all, and getting visa after visa is not a problem. Ricardo, who has been here for over a year, just received his residency visa last week. He got so many 30- and 60-day visas in the interim that all of the pages in his passport are used up!

Friday Ricardo and I delivered my passport plus about US$100 to a Mozambican "contact" who will cut through the red tape at immigration and get me a new visa. Nothing like handing over your passport to a complete stranger, convincing yourself that this is, actually, a very rational thing to do. Right now I'm playing the waiting game, hoping that I will not only get a new visa I won't have to pay a fine for the days I'm here illegally. My passport is supposed to be back in my hands by the end of the day. I'll believe it when I see it...

So other than my illegal status, things here are going well. My health is pretty much back to normal after a month-long coughing bout and some minor intestinal disturbances last week. Nothing like living with 4 other people to quickly dispose of any vestiges of modesty I had when I arrived in Mozambique. There is only one bathroom in our house and the walls are paper-thin, transmiting an unfortunate soundtrack to the rest of the rooms each time someone, um, takes care of business. By nature I am an extremely private person when it comes to bathroom issues, but in order to survive here I've had to learn to replace my embarrassment with humor.

When I felt the seismic rumbling in my gut the other day, I knew there was no hiding what was about to come. I announced to my housemates that I was taking bets as to whether the culprit behind my intestinal troubles was the All Bran cereal I'd eaten that morning or the suspicious-looking fish I'd had for lunch.

I should have known better than to think I could resolve things in peace. About halfway through my efforts, I heard Bruno and Ricardo laughing outside the bathroom door. "Esta música é dedicada a você." This song is dedicated to you. BL held his laptop up to the door and the syncopated beat of a bossa nova guitar carred through the air. At first I thought it was Tom Jobim or Vinicius de Moraes, but then I paid attention to the lyrics.

"Cagar é bom quando a gente está em paz,
Escutando na água o som
que a merda caindo faz...

Cagar molinho, cagar soltinho,
De qualquer jeito, de qualquer maneira,
Até quando é caganeira...

Cagar é bom, é muito bom,
Cagar é bom demaaaisss....

Tirimrimrim tirim
tbloft tbloft, tbloft,

(It's so nice to take a shit in peace,
listening to the splash that the poop makes in the water...
Soft shit, runny shit
Any type, in any manner
Even when it's diarrhea...
Taking a shit is good, it's really good,
Shitting is really wonderful.
Tirimrimrim tirim
tbloft tbloft, tbloft,

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Bossa nova bathroom music courtesy of my carioca housemates. I swear to God, there's never a dull moment in Real World Mozambique.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

The Duration of Time for Ali to Go Insane!

The word of the day today is TEDIOUS. I have been working for the past 2 weeks rewriting a terribly organized, shabbily written study on the agricultural input supply sector in Manica Province. The study draft I'm working from is in Zimbabwean English and is full of unnecesasry linguistic flourishes that are driving me insane.

An example: "The duration of time that will be taken to carry out the necessary activities of the project." For the LOVE OF GOD, just say "Project Timeline"!!!!!!!

Today, I sincerely hope, is the last day I will ever touch the damn thing. I can't handle another minute of writing about irrigation infrastructure, seed suppliers, and the average number of ox ploughs and hoes in each family sector farm!

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Home Part 3

After nearly a month in Mozambique, life is finally settling into somewhat of a stable rhythm. I don't want to say routine - because there is certainly nothing ordinary or predictable about the people and projects that fill my days and keep my mind whirring at night - but I am definitely beginning to feel grounded. It's almost ludicrous, really, that I should feel so stable right now. Every last detail of my life is different than it was two months ago, and I am still very much a stranger in a strange land. It's the little details, however, that make the difference and allow me to already feel completely at home in this new setting.

Home is the time I spend each evening sweating on the treadmill, pounding my feet and trying desperately to forget about the red digital clock in front of me. I absolutely hate running on a treadmill, but Ricardo and I have made it somewhat of a ritual and I must admit that I've come to savor those 45 minutes of solitude. I've learned to completely zone out as I run, putting my legs on auto-pilot and letting my mind free-associate. It's a time of reflection, planning, and intense saudades for all that I've left behind.

Last night as I ran, I thought of my girlfriends back in Austin: driving around in Marlen's jeep with my hair blowing in the wind; early morning walks along the river with Jamie and the dogs; making caipirinhas and watching the Ivete Sangalo DVD at Leticia and Bruna's house; night after ri-donk-u-lous night with Erin. I thought about my mom and all of our nicknames for each other. I remembered lazy afternoons at my dad's house, the tv on in the background even through nobody was watching.

-------- ---------------- ----------

Home is the familiar array of bath and body products in the shower. Burt's Bees toothpaste and face scrub and carrot body spray. Organic shampoo and mint conditioner. The same purple pick I've used for over a decade to untangle my hair.

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Home is the way Ricardo and BL and I talk shit to each other in carioca slang portuguese. Nearly four years had passed since we last hung out in Brasil, yet we didn't skip a beat. I feel as comfortable with them now as I did back then, barhopping in Copacabana and having bizarre adventures. We drink beer and insult each other and invent stupid games to pass the time. Monday night we had an impromptu party that ended up with shots of Drambuie, carnaval music, and dancing around the living room in our pajamas. The familiarity of a solid friendships, more than anything, has made me feel at home here.

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It's raining in Chimoio, the first storm since I set foot in Africa. Home is the smell of wet concrete, red dirt turned to mud on the soles of my shoes. Jemez to Maringa to Chimoio; it all comes full circle.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Don't Worry, I'm Still Alive and Kicking!

Argh, I hate falling behind on my writing. So much has happened in the last week and it kills me not to be able to capture all the highlights on my blog. I've also been sick and overloaded with work. As such, I apologize in advance for the hodgepodge entry I'm about to write...

Last Thursday, Ricardo and I went to a little town on the Zimbabwean border called Espungabera. The trip out there was fabulous - we were in a 4x4 loaded with one ton of maize seeds in the back, bumping up and down on a dusty mountain road. We went through an elephant reserve (didn't see any animals...) and had to cross a river on a floating platform because there was no bridge! By the time we arrived I was so covered in dirt it looked as if I'd been to the beach! We were in Espungabera for 3 days working on various projects and meeting with clients from across the border. Each day we'd visit plantations and possible production plant sites, then go back home and strategize over beers and espresso.

The trip back to Chimoio was even more exciting, as our colleague Stefano drove 130 km/hr through the mato, making my stomach flip-flop at every curve. We got stuck at the bridgeless river because the platform workers had already gone home for the night. We had to spend 2 hours waiting in the middle of nowhere, praying that the workers would return. In the end, Stefano decided that we would take matters into our own hands and we drove onto the platform and started to cross the river wtih the help of some local boys. Halfway across, the real platform workers showed up and started shouting for us to turn back. They removed the wooden ramp so that we couldn't drive onto the shore, and we waited in the middle of the water as Stefano and the workers screamed at each other. In the end, they hauled the wooden planks back into place and we were able to continue our journey.

So I'm back in Chimoio again and have been ridiculously busy. I've been preparing one proposal after another, spending all day on the computer and becoming increasingly resentful of the fact that I'm getting burned out on writing. My brain feels like sludge when I'm done working, and I can feel the juicy details I like to include in my stories just dripping away, perhaps never to find their way to the computer screen or the pages of my journal.

In other news, I've been coughing for nearly a month now. Yesterday Ricardo laid down the line and made me start taking cough syrup again. We bought a syrup made in India that is, without a doubt, the nastiest medicine I've ever tasted. It has the consistency and flavor of melted margarine blended with Nutra Sweet. Yuuuuuuuuuuck!!!

Okay, I'm going to get back to my proposal now. Hopefully over the weekend I'll get inspired and compose more about the trip to Espungabera...

PS - Welcome to the world, Baby goddaughter. More on that later, as well.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

I Work Hard for My Money...

Work starts early here in Mozambique, and all six members of our household have to be at our respective offices by 8am. Keep in mind that there is only one bathroom for everyone to share, so in order to shower and make it out the door on time the day has to start even earlier. For those of you that know me well, you can imagine how thrilled I am every day when my alarm clock goes off at 7am and I don’t have the luxury of hitting snooze for an hour and a half. Thank God the fights for the bathroom take place at an hour when nobody is really awake yet. I shudder to think about the yelling and cussing that would take place if any of us actually had the energy to do anything but grab a cup of coffee and silently glower at whoever just took 40 minutes in the bathroom.

Actually, sharing a house with five other people in the middle of nowhere makes you develop the patience of a saint. Not only do you have to manage the interpersonal conflicts that inevitably crop up, there is a whole host of external problems to deal with that, if not handled properly, will make you lose your mind in a week flat. Almost unconsciously you develop a new set of values and limits for what is and is not acceptable. No water in the cistern? No problem. “Banho de hoje só amanhã!” After all, we’re in África. A shower can wait a day or so. No electricity? That’s okay. You don’t *really* need to iron your linen pants and dress shirt. It’s Chimoio, for Christ’s sake. At least three other people at your meeting will be wearing shorts and wrinkled shirts. After a while you learn to laugh at the very things that drove you nuts back home. It’s the only possible way to make it through a situation like this without becoming resentful and totally stressed out.

Needless to say mornings are a blur in our house. I’ve perfected my routine so that I take 20 minutes flat to wake up, take a shower, get dressed, eat something, and pack up my laptop and assorted power cords in time to catch a ride to work. Well, okay, I don’t always make it in time to catch a ride, but I have cut the time it takes me to get ready in the mornings in half. Pretty impressive by any standards, especially for a girl! And on the days I miss my ride I am forced to walk to work, providing not only a little bit of exercise but a chance to learn my way around the city.

For the past week I have been volunteering at a nonprofit called ACDI/VOCA (Agricultural Cooperative Development International/Volunteers Overseas Cooperative Assistance). Basically, ACDI/VOCA works with small-scale growers providing technical assistance, improving production methods, and creating market links to the private sector. I’ve been helping them develop a proposal to assist small-scale growers form agricultural production associations, obtain access to micro-financing and improve quality of life indicators. I think I’ve learned more about irrigation, cash crops, outgrower schemes, and micro-financing in 10 days than I have in my entire life prior to Mozambique.

Most of the farmers here produce paprika, sesame, baby corn, soy, beans, cabbage, tomatoes, sunflowers, and tropical fruits including mangoes and litchis. There is sufficient market demand for these crops, but the farmers don’t have the tools or infrastructure to efficiently work their fields. Mechanized equipment is practically unheard of, and only a lucky few growers have livestock or irrigation to produce a constant yield. The biggest hurdle is lack of access to credit, a problem made even more difficult by the fact that the farmers don’t have assets to offer as collateral even if they could obtain financing. It’s such a straightforward problem, but one that is unbelievably difficult to solve given the way things work around here.

Next week I’ll be starting full time as a Fundraiser at Manica Agrolink, the company founded by a group of my friends. There are currently five shareholders in Agrolink – two Brazilians (my housemates), an Italian, a Mozambican, and a guy from Portugal. Each brings to the table a unique background, ranging from agronomy to investment banking. Agrolink works in many of the same areas as ACDI/VOCA, however the company is more focused on business and commercialization opportunities in the agricultural sector. Current projects include a tea plantation near the Zimbabwe border, a market study on agricultural inputs, a huge banana producer, and a proposal to provide business training to growers’ associations. It’s all still very new to me, but hopefully I’ll be able to raise some money for Agrolink sooner rather than later and get this show on the road.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Why Am I So Happy?

Two years ago I thought my life was complete. I seemed to have everything in the palm of my hand, packaged up in pretty paper and ready to be unwrapped at my leisure. I had the relationship, the degree, the career plans, the friends, the image.

But, as tends to happen when things are going well, life threw me a giant curve ball. Seemingly overnight, every aspect of the perfect life I'd relished had gone down the drain. I was left with a relationship in shambles, living in a new city with no friends, waiting tables to pay the bills. I was more miserable that I could have ever imagined, and I only had myself to blame.

Looking back, I made choices that I deeply regret. I ignored red flags that I wish I'd had the courage to confront. I allowed other people to determine what was best for me, coming frighteningly close to shutting out that little voice that has always guided me. But I also realized that if I didn't do the hard work necessary to turn things around, similar downfalls would haunt me for the rest of my life.

I spent a good year in therapy, learning to forgive myself and others. I clung to family and friends. I dedicated hours every night to writing, Azul curled up on my lap. I found a job that reminded me of what being down on your luck truly means. More than anything I vowed to follow my instinct and seek out that which I knew would make me happy in the end.

Fast forward to June 2005. I have followed my heart, let intuition guide me to the most remote place I've ever been. My current state of bliss stems from the following:

Once again I feel my life is complete, only this time it is according to my own terms. It's all coming together perfectly: the job, the sense of adventure, the relationship, and the feeling in my gut that THIS IS IT. I know what is at stake here. I know how much it hurts when the floor drops out from underneath you. I know nothing is guaranteed. But I'm willing to try again. The potential rewards are stunningly worth the risk.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005


I'm sitting in the conference room of ACDI/VOCA, the agricultural development nonprofit I've been volunteering at for the past week. The office is really a big house that has been equipped to receive clients, so I'm looking out the window at the front yard. To my right is a verandah and the driveway. There is a rooster in the front yard that spends the day chasing after a group of hens and cock-a-doodle-doo-ing at all the wrong hours. In driveway is a fat turkey that has wandered in from the neighbor's yard, gobbling away at nothing, accompanying the rooster and the hens.

And then there's my contribution to the rural symphony. I have this awful cough that has been with me for 3 weeks now, hanging on despite two bottles of cough syrup and daily doses of honey. It's a deep, dry hacking that sounds like someone trying to turn over an Oldsmobile with a dead battery, each coughing attack leaving me red-faced and out of breath.

I feel sorry for my colleagues in the next room. Nothing like a silent, tranquil work environment to get things accomplished.

Monday, June 06, 2005

The Road to Chimoio

There is something about traveling on small, poorly regulated airlines that creates an icy stone in my stomach. Cubana de Aviación, VASP, AeroFlot - all have ancient fleets and conform to a security standard that is treacherous at best. I was expecting to add another airline to the list last week when Ricardo and I boarded an Air Corridor flight from Maputo to Beira. Air Corridor is Mozambique's newest airline, a private company created about a month ago to compete with LAM, the government's domestic airline that previously monopolized the travel market. It turns out that Air Corridor was a much better experience than I'd anticipated. Okay, so there were some things that TSA would have frowned upon (no ID check, people carrying boxes on board for strangers) and the whole process was a bit unorganized (no assigned seats and one big line to get on the plane) but overall Air Corridor got a big thumbs up. Ricardo and I had just gotten settled in two tight seats in coach class when a flight attendant approached us and asked where we were going. Ricardo responded that we were headed to Beira, and the attendant motioned for us to collect our bags and follow her to the front of the cabin. I was slightly confused, but it all made sense when she smiled warmly and motioned for us to sit in the two bulkhead seats in first class. A free upgrade! What a way to kick off the trip.

After a delicious meal of baked fish and a good strong coffee to top it off, we landed in Beira. Gemelli and BL, two of our friends/colleagues, were waiting curbside with a driver and a 4x4 to pick us up. BL was one of my best friends when I lived in Rio and it had been a good 4 years since we'd last seen each other. We made a proper scene in the airport, hugging and shouting and becoming the entertainment for the rest of the people waiting outside. Not only were there 4 white people traveling together - reason enough to stare agape - they were all cackling like idiots! We piled our suitcases in the back of the 4x4 and headed down the dirt road to Chimoio, some 200 kilometers away.

The highway was really terrible, mostly dirt and dust interspersed with sections of bombed out asphalt. We jolted along, listening to hip-hop on my new iPod speaker system, drinking beers (not the driver, mom!), and eating fresh cashew nuts. We danced and laughed, speeding our way past livestock and roadside vendors. After about an hour on the road, Ricardo and I both had to pee so the driver slowed down slightly to look for a good section of trees for us to "use the woods."

Suddenly we heard a "POP" followed by a grinding of metal on asphalt. The 4x4 dropped to the left as the passenger-side wheel spun off the car and flew across the highway, nearly missing a man on a bicycle. Our driver managed to keep control of the vehicle and we skidded to a stop, about 100 meters before a steep curve and the beginning of a roadside ditch. Stunned, we all piled out of the car. A brush fire had started where the overheated wheel landed, and people ran to the scene of the accident to check out the action. The axle had snaped clean in half, a smoking scrap of metal all that remained. A tall African man on a bicycle rode by us, hands streched toward the sky. "Now I know that God exists!" he shouted emphatically, relishing his new lease on life after a flaming tire had missed his head by only a few inches. "We are all lucky to be alive!"

After about 30 minutes a tow truck arrived and we called up Stefano, an Italian friend/colleague, to come pick us up in his 4x4 and drive us the rest of the way to Chimoio. We joked on the way home that it was thanks to Santo Mijo (Saint Piss) that we hadn't suffered a fatal accident. Needless to say I was incredibly grateful when we finally pulled up to the house, exhausted from adrenaline and three straight days of travel.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Life by Ali

Sometimes I sit and wonder why the hell things happen the way they do. Life couldn’t possibly be simpler or more amazing. But when you’re in the thick of it all and things are really going bad, you can’t recuperate even a thousandth of the feeling you get when you first fall in love or when you realize that everything is happening exactly as you’d dreamt. It feels so complex. You drive yourself crazy trying to figure out why everything is so tangled up, why nothing works out for you. You even get used to living in washed out color, nearly convinced that feeling like that forever wouldn’t be *that* bad. It’s just life, right?

Then overnight something unexpected happens. You get a phone call or meet a stranger on an airplane, or maybe you feel that spark that, with no logical explanation whatsoever, makes your world turn upside down. In an instant it all comes together and life, once again, is ridiculously good. Of *course* things had to happen that way. It is all so simple, so amazing.

Guess which end I’m on right now…Unfortunately, life moves by at a pace much quicker than I can record in words, so you'll just have to stay curious about the details until I can get faster internet access and find more time to write. Suffice to say that life is very, very good these days.


It takes just under an hour to fly from Johannesburg to Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, but it feels as if you’ve landed in another world. Johannesburg International Airport is fast paced and cosmopolitan, full of people sipping on cappuccinos and browsing through Chanel perfumes and Lacoste polos to pass the time on a layover. Maputo International, on the other hand, isn’t much more than a landing strip, some cargo jet carcasses, and a big shed that doubles as a terminal. There are no gates or jet ways as the airport is only equipped to handle one airplane at a time, and all the luggage is transported by a rusty tractor hooked up to a wagon. And God help anyone who actually has a layover in Maputo because the only thing to do is drink beer in the 8-chair bar and hope that at some point another flight will arrive.

Miraculously, all of my suitcases made it to Mozambique on time and in one piece. I piled everything onto a creaky luggage cart and wheeled towards customs. I hadn’t made it halfway to the “Nothing to Declare” line when an imposing figure in an olive military uniform approached me and, without even asking what was in my bags, waved me into a small room. “Passport, please.” The official looked at my visa stamp and asked suspiciously, “And what will you be doing in Mozambique, Ms. Burr?” I explained that I was in the country to work as a fundraiser for agricultural projects and would be living in Chimoio for the next year. He placed my suitcases on a small table and began taking out all the contents I’d so carefully folded and arranged. “Of course you don’t mind if I have a look, right?”

“No, please, go ahead.” The official began with my backpack, taking out my iPod, brand new iPod speakers, Palm Pilot, digital camera, and a tangle of cords and adapters.

“It seems you have quite a lot of electronics here. Where are your receipts?” How much did you pay for this camera?”

“Everything here was a present from my Dad. I don’t know how much he paid.”

“Well, if you don’t have receipts I’m going to have to determine the value of these electronics. I think this camera, for example, is worth $400. You’ll have to pay to bring these things into Mozambique.”

“But sir,” I protested, “How will I take photos of your beautiful country if you make me pay for the camera? I don’t think that’s right.” I gave him a saccharine smile, knowing exactly how the situation would play out. The Portuguese left a fabulous legacy both in Mozambique and Brazil of bureaucracy and bribes, and petty government figures are the worst for squeezing a little extra cash out of even the simplest transactions.

The official held out his hand behind my suitcase and whispered, “Here, you pay me now. Pay here.” I fished around in my wallet and retrieved a $20 bill, likely the equivalent of a week’s salary for him. We quickly completed the transaction and he smiled, satisfied with the fat bribe, but not yet done looking through my things. He continued pawing through my suitcases, pulling out my clothes, opening bottles of lotion and sunscreen, and sniffing at my multivitamins and assorted medicines. He came across my stock of Tampax and triumphantly held up three brand new boxes. “You didn’t bring enough!” His belly shook with laughter. “For one year you will need much more than this!” Right, very funny. What an observation. On that note, the official piled everything back in my bags and extended his hand. “Welcome to Mozambique.”

Ricardo was waiting for me outside the terminal amidst a throng of porters, people carrying crates of produce and cardboard boxes, and curious onlookers. I ran over to him and gave one of the most heartfelt hugs of my life. My trip from Rio to Maputo had gone off nearly perfectly, the only bump along the way being the bribe at customs, and God was I relieved to see a familiar face waiting for me at the end of the journey. Ricardo took my suitcases and we piled into the saddest excuse for a taxi I’ve ever seen. The car was all mismatched junkyard parts and primer, the only actual paint being a bright yellow roof. The dashboard was a mess of wires and cracked plastic, but somehow the radio still functioned and was blaring out Afropop hits. Abdala, the cab driver who would be with us for the next several days, did a masterful job of fitting all of my things into the hatchback and we set off for the city center. This was my first taste of mão inglesa, as the Portuguese refer to driving on the left hand side of the road, and I must say it felt ALL WRONG. The steering wheel was misplaced, the gearshift was switched, and cars were transiting down the wrong side of the street. It seemed as if someone was holding up a giant mirror to everything and everyone except me.

Once I got over the initial shock of mão inglesa, I was plastered to the window, absolutely fascinated by Maputo. On the one hand, it a city with all of the apparent infrastructure and social problems of a developing country. The roads, when asphalted, are full of crater-sized potholes and have precious few signs or traffic signals. Pedestrians and animals wander into the streets, seemingly oblivious to the rush of vehicles, making driving a veritable obstacle course. Women dressed in brightly printed skirts and head wraps sell fruit, cigarettes, second-hand shoes, and newspapers on big mats while their barefoot children run around further clogging the space that otherwise would serve as a sidewalk. Everything appears dusty, crumbling and forgotten. On the other hand, billboards are up all over Maputo advertising cell phones with infrared ports, Toshiba laptops, and the marvels of cable TV. Mozambique simply skipped an entire phase of modernization in certain areas, going from a total lack of infrastructure due to colonial neglect and civil war straight to cutting-edge technology. Such are the contradictions here; a person living on less than a dollar a day might have a cell phone but no running water at home.

Thursday night Ricardo and I went out for dinner at one of Maputo’s best restaurants, Costa do Sol. We sat at an outdoor table just across from the beach, sipping on white wine and catching up on the four years since we’d last seen each other. In the distance, the moon rose full and bright over the Indian Ocean casting a reflection on the water. Ricardo knew the owner of the restaurant and he took amazing care of us, bringing out sampler platters of the best seafood I’ve ever eaten. We shared a crab the size of a dinner plate, laughing as we struggled to hammer its shell open and get out every sweet piece of meat. Then came a tray of tiger shrimp, each one easily five inches long, sautéed with garlic and potatoes. We got a second bottle of wine to celebrate my arrival, settled the bill, and then headed back to our apartment downtown.

The next day we got down to business bright and early. Ricardo is the President of Manica Agrolink, a consulting firm started by some friends of ours that promotes business development in the agricultural sector. I am currently employed by Agrolink as a Fundraiser, and Ricardo spent the day briefing me on the latest deals the company is trying to put together. We had several meetings with potential clients and business partners including some hydro-geologists, an agronomist, and an investment banker. I was blown away by the possibilities that exist here in Mozambique. The country is in a state of rapid development, especially in sectors such as agriculture and tourism, and now is the time to act. The money is available, people are willing to work hard, and there are interesting projects to support. The only thing missing is the right people to link everything together…and here we are.

That night Ricardo and I went out again to a small bar downtown to have drinks and dinner. The previous week, Ricardo had taught the owner how to properly make caipirinhas, cutting out the bitter white part of the lemon, mixing in the right amount of sugar, smashing everything together, and pouring in just enough cachaça to make it pop. The owner was from Zambézia state, an area in the north known for having the best food in Mozambique. He went back to the kitchen and prepared a veritable feast for us. First we had shish-kabobs with chunks of spicy beef, onions, and bell peppers. Then he brought out soft-shelled crabs liberally doused with a spicy sauce that made the roof of my mouth fall asleep for a good 20 minutes. Finally he brought out the main course: grilled chicken with peppers, a mash of white beans and manioc, and pumpkin leaves pureed with coconut milk. Needless to say the food was delicious, and we washed everything down with the closest thing Mozambique has seen to authentic Brazilian caipirinhas. The best part? We walked out of the bar without paying a thing for our meal. The owner wouldn’t accept even a tip, saying that the spike in caipirinhas sales he’d already experienced was quite sufficient.

The following morning Ricardo and I packed up all of our suitcases and Abdala gave us a lift to the airport. More adventures next time as I catch up on my narrative and tell about our trip from Maputo to Beira by plane, then on to Chimoio by 4x4…