Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Back to Cali

Puta que pariu, ninguém merece essa viagem!!!

Honestly, this trip was insane. My bunda is square from so many hours sitting in a small seat. And, as if enduring a 37-hour trip weren't enough, I had a middle seat from Atlanta to Phoenix and the woman sitting next to me had liberally doused herself in cheap, sickeningly floral perfume. I got a horrible case of allergies and am still sniffing and sneezing away even now.

So I made it back to California in one piece, and I guess all things considered I'm feeling pretty good. It's great to see my mom and Azul, and have the luxury of resting on a good bed and eating fresh sushi.

I'm going to watch some tv and then hit the sack...I promise a decent entry tomorrow.


Tuesday, September 27, 2005

30 more hours to San Francisco

I'm in Johannesburg airport right now, using the same internet cafe where I posted my first African blog and had my hand licked by a sleazy Pakistani that swore I looked just like his wife. In about an hour I'm going to board my flight to Atlanta. 17 and a half glorious hours over the Atlantic, complete with a stop in Sal Island, Cape Verde to refuel the plane.

I am already dead tired from several days of sleep deprivision in Maputo, mainly to be blamed on:
- updating budgets, reading case studies, and putting together objectives for the microfinance project I'm working on;
- watching total trash tv...and I do mean trash. Ricardo and I sat through episode after episode of Cheaters, The Bachelorette, Knight Rider, and Jerry Springer. Ah, the reality channel. Good times. The apartment we rented had cable, a total luxury after our tv in Chimoio exploded. Yes, that's right. We were watching a dvd last month and, all of a sudden, the lights in the entire house doubled in brightness, there was a sizzle and a pop, and acrid smoke started pouring out of the top of the tv.
- procrastinating and leaving packing to the last minute (surprise, surprise)
- telling stories late into the night with Ricardo about the devious things we used to do in middle and high school.

So I'm pooped, but glad to be going home for a visit. Hopefully there will be some good in-flight entertainment and some tomato juice (B-vitamins - I listened, Erin!) to wash down the Tylenol PM.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Signs of a Socialist Past

You can tell a lot about a city by the names of its streets. War heroes and politicians and cultural icons become immortalized on small green and white signposts, or etched in marble on the sides of buildings, or, as in Chimoio, painted in faded yellow on the dusty curb.

Here in Maputo, the street names unabashedly tell of a socialist past. To get from our apartment uptown to the internet cafe we are using in the downtown baixa, our path was as follows -

Head down Av. Vladmir Lenine to Av. Mao Tse Tung. Take a left and continue to Av. Salvador Allende. Go past Av. Eduardo Mondlane and turn on Av. Julius Nyerere. Keep going until Av. Frederich Engels, take another left, and you have arrived.

Interesting that now, along all of these streets, you find the offices of neoliberal, market-oriented, international development organizations like the World Bank and USAID...

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Speaking of international development projects, we just got word from the Dutch Embassy representatives that our proposal for the tea processing unit has passed Phase 1 evaluations. We will have a site visit at the end of the month, followed by a conference call with the potential funders as well as our project partners in Zimbabwe. If that all goes well, it is likely that the project will be approved!!!!

A much-needed dose of motivation as I wade through endless documents about rural microfinance initiatives in Mozambique for the current proposal I´m putting together for the European Union.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Finally, some pictures!

I´ve been especially lax in taking pictures here in Mozambique...I don´t know...something about walking around with a camera here makes me feel even guiltier than usual, like somehow I´m fulfilling the typical white-tourist-firstworld-exploiter role if I take photos of the Mozambicans and their daily lives as I walk around.

Anyway, I´m making an effort here in Maputo and have a couple of photos to share. Actually, this morning as Ricardo and I were riding around in Abdala´s beat-up taxi, I was lamenting the fact that I haven´t sucked it up and taken more photos. I realized that having a purpose for taking photos would make me feel better about the whole thing...some sort of pretext so that I could interact a bit with the people I´d be photographing. I need a theme, like Women of Mozambique or Market Vendors or something...a reason other than that I am a curious tourist that wants to take a snapshot.

So these photos were taken in Maputo last week...Enjoy!

Thursday, September 15, 2005

More Maputo

What do I love about Maputo?

Lots of things, but especially those that are totally absent from my life in Chimoio...

For instance, the restaurants! In a 4 block radius from the apartment we´re staying in, there is an amazingly diverse offering of places to eat. Choices range from Nando´s, a South African fast food chain that specializes in chicken, to restaurants specializing in food from Goa, Macao, Portugal, and even Thailand. Then there are the little take away stands selling steak rolls, french fries, sodas, and other snacks. Having so many great food options is like heaven for me, especially considering that in Chimoio there are only 3 restaurants that I even take a chance with, and at each of those the food is of poor quality and the service even worse.

I also love the fact that I can walk down the street in Maputo and not be constantly stared at, followed, asked for money, or become the butt of jokes by children that are not used to seeing white people. The relative anonimity that city life offers is delicious. I like being just another face in the multi-racial mix of pedestrian traffic. It´s great to leave the house and be able to walk around the block without fearing that the next day the entire city will be gossiping about what I was wearing, why I left the apartment alone, where I was going, etc. Chimoio is gossipy like no other place I´ve ever lived, and I am sooooo tired of it!

To illustrate...last week my mom sent a DHL package to me in Chimoio. Instead of delivering it directly to the address on the box, the delivery guy went to my flatmate Patricia´s accounting business, told her that a package had arrived for me, then returned to his delivery route. Along the way he passed my friend Gemelli as he walked along the street. The delivery guy ran up to Gemelli and, for some odd reason, gave him the airbill to my package. Perhaps he thought Gemelli would see me before he had a chance to make his way around to our house...who knows. By that point, Patricia had called me, Gemelli had sent me a text message, and Ricardo and I took bets as to who would actually deliver the package. Turns out it was Gemelli, who dropped by the DHL office on his way home, intercepted the delivery guy, and carried my package on his shoulder the rest of the way. Ridiculous, especially considering I have no idea who even works at DHL. Somehow, though, they all seem to know me and my circle of friends.

So...what else do I love about Maputo? The fact that there are universities and, in general, a significant portion of well-educated people in the city. In Chimoio, unfortunately, the pickings for an intelligent conversation partner are few and far between. Here, there is an interest in literature, culture, cinema, philosophy, business, and so forth that is a welcome contrast to the country bumpkins back ´home´.

And, finally, I love the fact that there are high speed internet cafes here!!! I miss having internet at home, but quick downloads and the ability to view more than one site at once has got me spoiled!

I miss and love you all!!!!!!!

Monday, September 12, 2005

I Love Maupto!

I remember when I first arrived in Maputo I thought to myself - Holy Christ, I´ve just left civilization behind. It was a shock to the senses to see the somewhat run-down condition of the city, people walking barefoot with livestock along the city streets, children running around with distended bellies, and the general chaos of any developing country.

Now, four months later and after having gotten used to life in Chimoio, I breathed a sigh of relief upon arriving in Maputo on Friday. As the plane touched down, I looked at the skyscrapers, businesses, asphalted streets full of people, and general hustle and bustle and thought to myself - Thank God I'm back in the civilized world!

Maputo is fabulous. Despite the poverty and need for a good coat of paint and road resurfacing project, it is cosmopolitan and beautiful. Ricardo and I will be here for the next 2 weeks and I am so happy to be in an urban environment I could burst!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

A Sip of Home

Today was an exciting break from the normal routine of life here in Chimoio. A big box arrived via DHL that my mom had sent last week, and Ricardo and I tore it open and unwrapped its contents like little kids. I now have new books to read, Out of Africa to watch on DVD, a fresh stock of Burt's Bees cremes, hair accessories, my favorite pair of red pants I'd left behind, 3 boxes of Chai tea, and a 700-count family pack of Splenda. Oooooh, life is so good right now. I am savoring my first sip of Chai tea in over four months, wearing my lovely red pants, and trying to decide which book to read first. Ricardo is happy, too, with the necessary computer parts now in hand to fix his laptop that has been out of order for over 6 months.

The aroma of the Chai brings me straight back to Austin where a cup of tea was at the center of my morning routine, and sometimes the only motivation I could come up with for actually getting out of bed. My alarm clock would start beeping at 7am. Still asleep, I'd hit snooze for at least 30 minutes. On particularly lazy mornings, I'd procrastinate and hit snooze for an hour and a half, barely leaving myself enough time to brush my teeth and head out the door for work. But as long as I had Chai in the pantry, the whole ordeal was much easier. I'd scoot Azul off my chest or head (preferred sleeping spots for a girl cat) get out of bed, put on my purple robe, and head to the kitchen.

I didn't have a microwave - something my mom tried to change each time she'd visit. "We can go to Wal-Mart, Ali. I'll buy a microwave for you. It will make your life easier." My mom has become increasingly microwave-dependent over the years, especially for things like oatmeal and frozen veggies and tea. But each time I'd refuse her offer. I liked the ritual of filling my royal blue kettle with water, selecting a tea bag, and waiting sleepy-eyed for the familiar whistle of steam escaping. Azul would jump up on the counter and help me brew my tea, and I'd have to focus my blurred vision to be sure there were no stray cat hairs floating in my Chai.

Then I'd take my cup of tea and sit at my desk in the living room to check my e-mail. Azul would follow me, jumping up on the back of my chair or sprawling out on my laptop keyboard, once again the helper cat. And there we'd sit for a good 20 minutes - reading e-mail and the headlines from the online version of O Globo, the main newspaper in Rio, drinking Chai, and preparing to face the day.

One sip of tea was enough to bring me right back. I even checked for cat hairs.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Ô, Coisa de Português!

Licença de Condução de Velocípides, aka Bicycle Driver's of the quirkier requirements I've come across here in Mozambique. This license is from a Portuguese friend who was doing volunteer work with the Catholic church.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Blessed with a Lazy Sunday

It’s a lazy Sunday in Chimoio. I’m sitting outside on dog-ravaged wicker furniture, trying to get a breath of fresh air and at least create the illusion that I’ve gone out of the house. Our three Rhodesian Ridgebacks are sprawled out on the porch keeping me company. There is a group of boys in the street playing an improvised game of soccer that really consists in taking turns kicking a half-inflated ball as far as possible, then chasing after it screaming. Each time the ball bounces past our gate, the dogs look up excitedly. About every third time the lure of the game is greater than their laziness and they run to the gate, barking like crazy, trying to chase after the kids.

Concentrating under these circumstances, as you can imagine, is a challenge. About an hour ago, at the height of the barking and excitement from the game, I decided I couldn’t take it anymore. I walked up to the gate, put on a stern face, and yelled at the kids.

“Can you guys move further down the street to play? You’re driving the dogs nuts.”

One of the older boys looked at me smugly, hands on his hips. Who was this white girl asking them to interrupt their Sunday soccer? He gave an answer fit for a teenager trying to impress his peers. “It’s not my fault your dogs are barking!”

The other kids broke out laughing and defiantly started kicking the ball around again. The dogs raced up and down the length of the gate, stirring up clouds of dust.

My patience was at an end. I raised my voice and called over the boy who had spoken earlier. “If you don’t move around the corner to play I’m going to set these dogs loose!”

He cocked an eyebrow and I walked over to the huge lock and chain that hold the gate closed. I had no intention of setting the dogs on them, but wanted to give the brats a good scare. I fished out my keys, jangled the lock and chain, and watched with satisfaction as the kids all sprinted around the corner to continue their game far away from our house.

The dogs have since chilled out somewhat, only barking when the ball escapes and makes it this far down the block, and I can finally write in relative peace.

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So the main thing on my mind lately has been Hurricane Katrina. My housemates and I have been accompanying the storm online, from the time it hit the Florida coast through the various botched relief efforts in New Orleans. I am overwhelmed by the size of this disaster, and my heart goes out to all the people that were affected by it.

People here in Mozambique have been quite sympathetic to the tragedy. After all, they know a thing or two about severe flooding. In 2000, excessive rains punished the southern part of the country, and the major rivers in the area spilled over their banks. Huge expanses of land were completely submerged, and help was slow to trickle in. Some of you may remember one of the most shocking images from the floods – a woman giving birth in a treetop, surrounded by dozens of feet of murky water. If the US is struggling to respond adequately to Hurricane Katrina, I can only imagine what disaster relief efforts must be like in countries that are void of forecasting technology and have fewer resources in the first place.

Hurricane Katrina has also put a very humbling spin on my philosophical musings about the concept of home. I can only imagine how tremendously difficult it must be to know very well where your home is, only to have it wiped off the map overnight along with all of your possessions. I have several friends that are passing through this very scenario right now…

Meghan, my friend from high school, had lived for 7 years in New Orleans with her boyfriend. They were able to make it out of the city in time, but were not able to take much with them and are now bouncing between relatives houses, trying to figure out where and how to start anew. Their apartment building is likely going to collapse from the soggy, unstable soil around it before they are allowed back in the city. Even if it survives, they are unsure whether or not they will return to New Orleans.

Even more gut-wrenching is what happened to Erin’s family. Last year, after losing nearly everything in the 4 hurricanes that hit Florida, Erin’s mom and dad decided to leave Pensacola and start over. They moved to Biloxi, built a beautiful beachfront home, and had a year of relative calm until Katrina. Thankfully, Erin’s family made it out of the storm’s path and is safe, but the water and wind literally ripped their house to pieces and they lost everything. I talked to Erin on the phone the other day and “overwhelming” was the only way she could begin to describe losing your home and all your possessions.

My heart goes out to them, as well as everyone touched by this tragedy.

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In other news, Ricardo almost certainly has Hepatitis A. He noticed last night while brushing his teeth that his eyes were yellow. We compared our eyes in the bathroom mirror, and the difference was shocking. Even his skin was jaundiced, making my pale complexion look pink and vibrant in comparison. He is also experiencing all of the other symptoms of Hepatitis A – abrupt onset of fever, abdominal pains, dark urine, loss of appetite, nausea…It’s hard to know if he had malaria and then came down with Hep A, or if it was his liver causing trouble the entire time. Even if he didn’t actually have malaria, it is much better to be on the safe side and take the course of treatment. Hepatitis A, while a pain in the ass, is not a fatal disease. Malaria, if not treated, almost always is.

Unfortunately, there is no treatment for Hep A other than bed rest and a low-fat, alcohol-free diet for 6 months. I am thanking my lucky stars right now that I overcame my fear of needles and got all of my shots before coming to Mozambique. Had I not been vaccinated against Hep A, I would likely be yellow-eyed and miserable along with Ricardo right now.

Speaking of things health-related, I am going “home” to San Francisco at the end of the month for a week of medical and dental appointments. The main reason for the trip is that my moles have been changing and growing in a way that is making me super nervous. Nothing serious so far, but I need to get them biopsied and potentially removed. I’m going to take advantage of being in the US and also get my teeth cleaned, go to the gynecologist, go to the dermatologist, and get my hair cut.

Yes, it’s a butt-buster of a trip just to have some basic procedures and tests performed, but it is well worth it in my book. Theoretically, I could get everything done in Nespruit, South Africa and use my international health insurance, but between the flight and hotel and exam expenses, it would be nearly the same price as a ticket back to the US. Also, there is something priceless about having your mom available to hold your hand while you freak out at the doctor’s office (something I’ve been known to do more than once).