Thursday, December 29, 2005

My Best Christmas in Rio Ever!

Time goes by so slowly for those who wait, and so quickly for those who have too much to do! Madonna's remixed Abba song is playing nonstop here, along with a lot of Pearl Jam (they just did their first brazilian show ever last month and it was huge - 40,000 fans showed up).

It hit me today that our stay here in Brasil is more than halfway over and I haven't accomplished nearly half of what I set out to do here. Not that this trip hasn't been productive - it has been incredibly so - but the old to-do list just seems to get longer and longer. The more time I spend in the Casa Rosa, the more things I find that need taking care of...

But I have managed to do a whole lot in two weeks. I bought a victorian 8-place dining table with chairs stuffed in red velvet, a wooden desk for my office, two chests of drawers, a crystal chandelier, two red outdoor lanterns, and several old prints of landscapes in Rio. I also acquired from Ricardo and his mom a microwave, a sofa, a large glass table, 8 wooden chairs, 2 huge abstract paintings, a rug, and a ton of dishes and glasses. Now that the Casa Rosa is much better equiped and decorated, the big task at hand is to organize and install everything.

For the first time the Casa Rosa feels like a true CASA. Home. Somewhere I'm just dying to spend a good chunk of time, preferably together with Ricardo. He has been a tremendous help here, fixing the pump for the pool, carrying heavy furniture up the stairs, installing an electrical shower, and helping me hang pictures. Life is so much easier with a carioca boyfriend!

We've been having a great time here in Rio so far, even though both Rico and I have been super busy. I've met all of his relatives and had a chance to interact with all of them at some point so I feel they actually know me, which is nice. Christmas was the main excuse for family visits and dinners, and we ended up having quite the adventure on Christmas eve.

Brasilians traditionally celebrate the holiday at midnight on the 24th with a big dinner. Rico, his mom, his grandma, and I all went to his aunt's house for the Christmas meal. Rico's aunt is a very successful fashion designer here in Rio and has several botiques throughout the country. Her house is in a neighborhood called São Conrado and is a bonafide mansion, with a view overlooking the ocean and Rocinha, Brazil's largest favela. Talk about contrasts. While we ate cod, turkey, and ham with silver utensils and drank wine out of crystal goblets, we watched homemade fireworks and the occasional bala traçante (automatic machine gun bullets with red light trails) being shot off in Rocinha...

Contrasts apart, Christmas was really nice. Everyone in Rico's family got me gifts, which was totally unexpected, and we opened presents around the fake tree. I generally hate Christmas in the tropics, but this one was quite special.

After dinner and gifts, Ricardo and I were tired and were going to get a taxi back to the Casa Rosa (a 35 minute drive) when his aunt offered to lend us her Mercedes to use for the night, as well as for the rest of our stay in Rio! Of course we jumped at the opportunity not only to have a car to use, but a super luxe car at that. Rico's aunt gave us the key and gave us the rundown about the insurance and how to open the trunk, and we were on our way.

By this time it was about 2:30am and totally dark. As we pulled away from the house, Rico asked if I had ever been assaulted before. I said no, and he proceeded to give me instructions about what to do in case someone tried to carjack us. Keep calm, put your hands up, don't make eye contact, and give up whatever the assailants ask for. Rico said that most likely nothing would happen, but since we were in a Mercedes in Rio de Janerio, we had to be prepared for the worst.

Not 10 minutes later we pulled up to a traffic light and the car suddenly died. Rico tried to restart the engine and it just coughed and spluttered. He turned the key again and again to no avail. The car stubbornly refused to start. Panic started to set in, especially after the assault conversation, and I could see Ricardo getting nervous as well. We were basically sitting ducks, alone in a Mercedes in the middle of the night, with the car full of Christmas presents. I could feel my palms beginning to sweat profusely, and I started to imagine the worst.

After a dozen unsuccessful tries to get the engine going, Rico decided that the car might be out of gas, despite the fact that the pointer was at half full. We got out of the car - which was in the middle of the lane, mind you - and ran down the wrong way of the highway, trying to fit in the narrow shoulder, until we came to a gas station some 400 meters away.

Rico bought a can of gas and we went back to the car. By this time, Rico and called another aunt and uncle (not the ones that lent us the car - they conveniently had their cell phones off - but relatives that lived close by where the Mercedes had died) that came and met us in the middle of the road to try and fix the car. Ricardo poured in the extra gas and, to our dismay, the car still wouldn't turn over.

Then it started to pour rain. Just our luck...

We decided that we had to get the car out of the road and into a safe place, because waiting in the middle of the highway on the shoulder was just asking for an assault. The solution was to push the Mercedes backwards down the highway to the gas station, then wait in the protected area for a tow truck. The only problem was that Ricardo's uncle had just had an operation the day before for his varicose veins and couldn't walk. His cousin Juliana was too young to help out. So it ended up that Rico and his aunt Renata (wearing stiletto heels!) pushed the Mercedes down the wrong way of the road in the rain while I tried to steer the car in reverse to the gas station. What a scene - Ricardo sweating like a pig, his aunt slipping in her heels, and me unable to see a damn thing out the back window because the glass was tinted nearly an opaque black. Somehow, though, we managed to get the car into the Petrobras station, safe and sound. I am still in awe that we were actually able to pull it off!

So once the Mercedes was out of the road, we had to wait for the tow truck. What better thing to do to kill some time than exchange Christmas gifts, have some beers, and shoot the shit? Not much, especially if you are in a gas station in the middle of the night! I wish someone had thought to take a picture. We must have been quite the sight. Rico's uncle was laying down in the back of the Mercedes with his legs stretched out because of the varicose operation, his feet sticking out in the rain. His aunt, cousin, and I were all in high heels and formal wear, presents in hand, gossiping and shouting the way only a group of girls can manage. Rico was on the phone with his mom, who eventually showed up at the gas station along with his grandma (who was a little tipsy from having beer at the other aunt's holiday dinner). Basically, we had a family reunion in a gas station while waiting for the tow truck. Only it was Christmas. In Rio. In the rain. And it was the most fun I've had on a generally predictable holiday in years and years.

After about an hour and a half the tow truck finally showed up and hauled off the Mercedes to the mechanic's. The rest of us hugged and kissed and said our goodbyes, laughing out loud at what will likely go down in history for everyone as the strangest Christmas ever.

Whew. Finally I got a chance to write. It's midnight on the 29th - my Dad's birthday, by the way, he is 60 today. Happy Birthday, Dad! Love to you all.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Leaded or Unleaded? Sails for Me, Actually.

Since once again I was unable to find a 2-hour slot in my day to sit down, have some juice, and write in peace about my Christmas adventures that ended up in the gas station, I have decided to write about something vastly less complicated.

Sub-Saharan Africa is set to completely phase out leaded gasoline by the end of 2006. Before moving to Mozambique, I didn't even know that people still *used* leaded gasoline on a regular basis. The last time I saw it was a good 20 years ago at the Allsup's in Belen, New Mexico. But, as I've discovered, leaded gas is alive and well in many countries, to the detriment of the environment and people's health.

The transition to unleaded only is being accompanied by some hilarious tv commercials. The one most common on the cable network in Chimoio is actually from Angola and features a guy grinning, practically jumping up and down, letting us know that there is an exciting new option for *new* vehicles that will improve performance and reduce health risks. The guy then goes on to specify that new vehicles are those manufactured after 1989!

On that note, Ricardo and I are off to bed early tonight. Tomorrow we are waking up early to go sailing on his uncle's boat. Yes, sailing. And since his uncle just had varicose vein surgery and can't do any lifting or moving around in general, I am going to learn how to sail tomorrow to help Rico man the sails!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

What a Surprise...

Well, once again I had no time to write about all of our ridiculous adventures here in Rio. We spent last night drinking beer on the varanda (newly equipped with furniture!!), slept late with hangovers, then went to Rico's mom's house to unpack kitchen stuff, assemble a bed and some shelves, and have lunch with his grandma. It's past 10pm and we just got back to Santa Teresa. Instead of writing, we're going to the Bar do Mineiro to have a beer and some crabcakes - moving has got us tired and hungry!

Love to all, I'll try again tomorrow to write!

Monday, December 26, 2005

What a Vacation!

I have been so busy since we arrived in Brasil 9 days ago it's insane. Rico and I have been helping his mom move into a new apartment all week, including most of Christmas day. I've also been running around trying to find furniture for the house in various antique stores throughout Rio. It's been a hectic week, but Rico's mom is almost unpacked, I have a new dining room table, a big desk, a couch, and lots of new paintings, and I've met all of Rico's relatives during the various Christmas eve celebrations that took place (brasilians celebrate at midnight on the 24th with a big family dinner).

So far the trip has been very productive, but we haven't had a chance to sit back and relax. I knew before arriving in Brasil that it wasn't going to be much of a vacation (I have to finish writing 2 proposals before we go back to Mozambique), but I didn't anticipate having so much work to do between the move and trying to catch up on the maintenance and furnishing of the casa rosa. I can't complain, though. It's been fabulous...I just wish I had more time to write about it all!!!

Tomorrow I've set aside time to be at home - there is someone coming to look at the roof (leaking again), and to give an estimate to fix some of the doors and windows (not closing properly due to heat and humidity), and to deliver some of the antiques I bought this afternoon. I hope that inbetween waiting for everyone to show up, I can hang some pictures, wrap super-late holiday gifts for my family, and WRITE A DECENT ENTRY IN MY BLOG!

Hope you are all well and had a fabulous holiday. Rico and I spent most of our Christmas in a gas station in the rain. It was straight out of Chevy Chase...more tomorrow.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Continua Lindo Mesmo!

Right now I am sitting in front of three 10-foot tall windows, enjoying a sunny break in the drizzle here in Rio. Of course it was raining when I arrived (why break with tradition, right?) but despite the somewhat gloomy weather I am so excited to be back in the Casa Rosa.

Rico and I drove from São Paulo to Rio yesterday evening with his brother and sister-in-law. The trip was full of traffic because of holiday shoppers, so we took about 5.5 hours instead of the usual 4 to arrive in Rio. I was woozy the entire trip because I have a cold and the stupid pharmacist in SP sold Rico cold medicine with antihistamine in it, swearing the whole time that it wouldn't make me drowsy. The trip was made better, however, by the fact that I tried out my iTrip for the first time (thanks, Dad!) and it worked beautifully. The technology that thing uses is unbelievable - I was playing dj in the backseat and the songs I chose were broadcast on the car radio.

So I met Rico's mom and grandma when we finally got to the Rio, and now know his whole immediate family. I have this funny feeling in the bottom of my stomach that they both got the impression that I don't speak portuguese very well (good scenario) or that I was high (not so good scenario). Why? Because of the damn drowsy cold medicine I took. My nose was dripping so much in the car that I took two pills about an hour before arriving in the city. By the time we got to Rico's mom's house, it was 11pm and I was so out of it that I was slurring my words and my eyes were half shut. Rico and I joked on the way to the Casa Rosa last night that I might end up with a dictionary as a Christmas present. Either that or a recommendation for an NA group!

Rico and I arrived late up in Santa Teresa after the brief visit with his family, ate a papaya and some Christmas doughnuts called rabanada that Rico's grandma made for us, hugged and kissed Beth, then went to bed. We were both totally exhausted from the long days of travel since leaving Chimoio last week.

This morning I woke up to rain, but it didn't matter. It is wonderful to be in Rio, and even more so to be in the sanctuary of the casa rosa. There were fresh mangoes and guavas on the kitchen table, as well as the most fabulous bunch of bananas I've ever seen. Each banana is twice as thick as the ones you usually find in the grocery store, and the flavour is delicate and sweet. The coolest part is that they are from our banana trees in the garden! Needless to say, breakfast was delicious.

I've spent the rest of the morning conducting an inventory here in the casa rosa, taking note of every little thing that needs to be fixed, what funriture I need to buy, what questions I need to ask the various workmen that have been here in my is a process that is already pretty overwhelming. There is a lot to be done, but I am so much more relaxed about the whole thing since Ricardo is here with me. It's such a luxury to have a man around that can fix faucets, re-wire electrical outlets, lift heavy objects, and deal with the workmen when they've done a shoddy job.

Well, much love to you all...I'm off to have some pineapple juice and finish my list of things to do around the house.


Sunday, December 18, 2005

Business in Maputo...

Thoughts from a few days ago in Maputo...

One of the coolest things about doing business in Africa is that you have relatively easy access to the most influential people and projects in a way that just doesn’t happen in any other place in the world. To illustrate, Agrolink – a very young company both in terms of its track record as well as its shareholders (average age of 29) – has the unique privilege of working on some of the most important projects in Mozambique, including a start-up business involving the country’s former president, and work with an institution that has as its main shareholder the former first lady of both Mozambique and South Africa. In the majority of the business that we deal with, we meet directly with the Director right from the start. No run-around necessary to get a direct line for the person in power, no bullshit preliminary meetings with executive assistants or company representatives. We are able to go straight to the top in a way that I’ve never experienced in my professional life in the US or in Brasil.

While definitely a very positive scenario for me and Ricardo and all of our associates, I recognize that the state of the African business world is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it is a reflection of the continent’s colonial legacy and the consequential racial and economic distortions that continue to shape business interests in most places. Not only is monetary wealth concentrated in a small percentage of the population, the vast majority of Africans also miss out on the opportunity to obtain a quality education (any education, really) and to develop the skills necessary to capitalize on the tremendous resources and potential that exist here.

On the other hand, I feel like having access to the big deals and opportunities here is a fair reward for those willing to take the risks associated with business in Africa. While the access is relatively easy, actually realizing a project is definitely not. There are multiple barriers along the way to making a business feasible, much less successful, in any part of the world; in Africa, these barriers are a thousand-fold, not only in terms of the investment environment but in terms of infrastructure and overall quality of life.

It is a complex and unequal situation that, among other things, has attracted heaps of attention and donations from the international community. While this aid is well-intentioned, and many times specifically earmarked to support local business development in Africa, I increasingly believe that it does more harm than good and, in the end, contributes to keeping potential businessmen and women uncompetitive and dependent on others for survival.

I frequently ask myself where that line is that separates the beneficial from the harmful in terms of conducting and supporting business in Africa. What activities constitute a continuation of that vicious cycle of exploitation and inequality that has plagued the continent for so long? Is it actually possible for an outsider, be it a company, an NGO or an individual, to come to Africa and not inadvertently contribute to the problems? How are Agrolink or Guarani or any of the other projects we are involved in different from those that I criticize so openly?

Some days I find myself horribly cynical with regard to this whole thing. I feel like Africa and her people are destined to be poor and sick and dependent forever. I see greedy companies, and market-distorting subsidies, and endless corruption, and failed project after failed project after failed project. It seems like a major downhill battle, one that will only be won in the end by the same people that already have the money and power in Africa. It’s tempting to blame the misery here on the Western world, but I see many, many problems stemming from and complicated by Africans themselves. A culture of dependency is widespread in Mozambique; after hundreds of years looking to someone else to fill your pockets and structure your life – first to colonial regime, then the communist-inspired state government, then the international aid pouring in from every which way – people are not entrepreneurial, not market-oriented, and in general wait for a handout to fix all their problems. There is widespread corruption on the part of the African officials that complain so much about how they are victims of history. If they weren’t so intent on filling their coffers illegally, there would be much more money to go to the people in their countries that actually need it. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, but this is how I see the world on my cynical days.

Other days I am filled with hope and excitement. It is amazing to work in a place where you can make a real contribution to the development of an entire country. Because of our efforts, Mozambique will likely become a major player in the African tea market (it was the continent’s third-largest tea producer before the civil war from 1975 – 1992). Literally thousands of small-scale farmers will have better incomes and access to technical support thanks to Agrolink’s business development activities in the agricultural sector. If our current proposals go well, Mozambique may well become the largest exporter of bananas to both South Africa and Pakistan, and a major timber operation will be established that will launch Mozambique in the international tropical wood furniture industry. These are real projects with real, measurable benefits…

Today has been an optimistic day for me in terms of our business efforts. Ricardo and I attended a trade conference this morning that brought together players in the financial services and fundraising sectors. Ricardo made a presentation about Agrolink and the recent partnership we established with an American NGO called TechoServe (finding business solutions to rural poverty – We networked with the movers and the shakers in the industry, and made lots of great contacts with banks, development organizations, and even a venture capital fund that is wholly devoted to Mozambican projects. The coolest part is that all of these senior executives and government officials looked at Agrolink – and by extension me and Ricardo – as their peers.

A funny part of the conference networking was that at least seven people flat-out asked if Ricardo and I were married! Maybe it was the fact that we were both wearing gray power suits…maybe it was our matching carioca accents…maybe I had “I’m Sleeping with My Boss” stamped in red on my forehead and somehow missed it in the mirror when I was putting on my makeup. Who knows. Whatever the reason it was amusing, especially since nobody has explicitly asked either of us if we are a couple since we started working together/dating back in May.

Speaking of work, I should get back to it. We have an antsy client that Ricardo has been “managing” for the last several weeks, and the only part of his US$ 20 million project proposal that is not yet finished is the narrative – ou seja, my responsibility…

Rico and I arrived safely in São Paulo yesterday evening. I met his dad, brother, and their respective wives and family. We had a fabulous gourmet Christmas dinner that his dad cooked and exchanged gifts. To my surprise, there were a couple under the fake tree for me, too!

We are driving to Rio this afternoon with Rico's brother and wife, then it's on to a good night's sleep in the casa rosa!!

Monday, December 12, 2005

What More Could I Want for Christmas?

Ricardo and I are leaving Chimoio this afternoon and won't be back for at least a month. That in itself is a fabulous holiday present, as my patience and sanity are wearing thin from being here and I really, really need a break. I need a break from being cooped up at home with no car and nowhere to walk to. I need a break from having a home office that consists of a vinyl sofa, a fan, and my laptop. I need to breathe the air of a real city, watch the traffic, go to shops, eat at a 24-hour deli. Most of all I need some time to myself. Living with people stresses me out like nothing else, especially when many of my housemates do not share my ideas about what constitutes respectful, harmonious community living.

We are flying to Maputo this afternoon, where we will spend the week working with Agrolink's two largest clients at the moment. I will be really busy, as the projects are both in the final stage which means they are my responsibility. Lots of writing ahead of me this holiday season as I try and finish the two proposals and get them up to par to submit to the IFC and other funding entities.

After a week in Maputo, Ricardo and I will fly to Johannesburg on Friday, spend the night, then fly to São Paulo on Saturday morning. Ricardo's dad will meet us at the airport (I get to meet the fam!!!!!), then after a night's rest we will drive to Rio along with Ricardo's brother. In Rio, I will meet the other half of his fam (mom and grandma). Ricardo and I are going to split our time in Rio between the casa rosa in Santa Teresa, and the new apartment he and his mom just bought in a beachfront area called Recreio. I can't wait to be in a clean, beautiful, peaceful house where I can get rid of some of this stress!!! Also, I imagine that New Year's Eve brazilian style will help that as well - drinking on the beach, jumping over waves for good luck, eating great food, and wearing all white for peace in the coming year.

I will have internet access throughout our travels, so keep commenting and e-mailing. We should be back in Africa around January 13th... Much love to you all!!!

Friday, December 09, 2005

Happy Friday!

This is my Friday...

I woke up around 8:30 after oversleeping an hour because my cell phone doesn't have a snooze feature and my alarm clock requires AAA batteries that I can't seem to find here. I took a quick shower and, when getting dressed, noticed that the clothes hamper in our room has been slowly accumulating over the week and is now full to the brim. I am almost out of clean underwear, and Ricardo and I are traveling on Monday to Maputo and then on to Brasil for a 3 week getaway.

I asked Dona Margarida to be sure and wash the clothes in our hamper today and she told me it wouldn't be possible to do any laundry because there was a water shortage again in the house. I went outside and looked at the tank and, sure enough, there was only a splash of water left. It's been a week now that water from the city system hasn't come into our tank. We had to call the firefighters out here with their hose on Wednesday, and they put in about 1,000 liters. We ran through that quickly, and now are left with no water once again.

Even for Chimoio, a week with no city water is strange, so I asked Dona Margarida to go to the utility company and see if our water had been cut off due to a late bill or something. The more I thought about it, the more I was certain that my lazy, unorganized roommates had failed to pay the water bill on time while Ricardo and I were in Maputo last week. Turns out I was wrong. The water company told Dona Margarida that the shortage was a city wide problem and - paciência - there should be water in no time.

Really that means that we might go another week with no city water. Mozambicans love to use this phrase - D'aqui a nada - no time from now. When you hear that, you know that the person is just giving you false hope. D'aqui a nada means that you will wait hours, days, even weeks for whatever it is you need NOW.

So now water...I'm already thinking about what my suitcase will be like. Full of dirty, dirty clothes. Hopefully we'll be able to call the fire truck out to the house again, although I have my doubts because it is a weekend. Otherwise, our first stop in Maputo will likely be a laundromat.

I ate some cheese and a granola bar for lunch, washed down with a Diet Coke (!) from the case Rico and I purchased in Maputo last week and put in the back of the jeep to bring to Chimoio. I am wholly unsatisfied with my lunch. What I'm really craving is some meat - a big steak, some picanha, lamb chops, whatever. Point is we don't have it here at home and I am not about to walk to Shoprite in the insane heat. Fortunately, in less than 10 days I'll be back in the land of the carnivorous, aka Brasil.

I've been working most of the day writing my latest project proposal. This time around it's a timber project to establish a factory near the Zambezi river and produce furniture and other wooden articles for both the Mozambican market and for export. It's a huge, huge project. Definitely the largest Agrolink has worked with to date. It has me stressed out, but not yet to that desperate state that comes in the last week before deadline. I still have most of December to write, so I'm relatively on track...

Ricardo has been in Malawi all week meeting with potential clients (I was supposed to go as well, but stayed behind to work on the timber project). He is on his way back to Chimoio and should arrive within the hour.

Until then, it's e-mail and blogging for me... Happy Friday to everyone, and I miss you dearly!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

On the Road - Part Two

What's that on the back end of this beat up 24-wheeler filling up with leaded gasoline at one of the precious few service stations along the EN-1? Why I can't quite make it out...

Ah, but of course. Six goats tied to the back of the trailer, surely getting the ride of their short little lives as the truck navigates the mud fields of Mozambique's national highway.

Just another normal day, folks...nothing unusual here. Carry on, then.

Humble Living

Six months in Chimoio has opened my eyes to the fact that, despite always thinking of myself as a person who tries to reuse and recycle, I was very, very wasteful before I moved here. I only realize it now that my habits have changed and I find myself quite naturally using the last drop of ketchup in the bottle instead of opening a new one, or giving nine incarnations to the same manila envelope, taking great care not to crush the edges or spill tea on whatever documents might be inside at a given point.

In the shower I now use even the smallest scraps of soap, smashing them together to make a lump large enough that it won’t slip through my fingers as I scrub. Toilet paper is a sacred commodity and we use every sheet on the roll, even the ones that get sort of torn up because they are glued to the roll. I use lotion and shampoo until the very last bit is gone, adding water and storing the containers upside-down to make them last just that tiny squeeze longer. Back in Austin, I would throw out lotion before the bottle was empty because getting that last dollop out that the pump could no longer reach and easily deposit in my hand was way too much work. Sheer laziness, or simply becoming bored with a particular product, would lead me to junk the whole thing in favour of a new scent or a full container.

Things have changed in the kitchen, too. Before moving to Africa, if I was making a dish and used only ¾ of an onion, I would either throw away the remaining part or store it in a Tupperware only to grab a new onion the next time I cooked because I wanted the freshest ingredients possible. I remember making a meal with my friend Kyle and his girlfriend Juleah after they served with the Peace Corp in Turkmenistan and lived in a dirt-floored home with an outhouse. I remember noticing how careful they were to take advantage of every part of a potato, or save even the smallest bits of lettuce. It was strange to me in the sense that they were much more conscientious about recycling than I was and it stood out. Now I understand. Here, every last ring leftover from using an onion gets stored in the fridge to be incorporated into the next dish requiring onion. Every spoonful of rice or pasta salad gets saved, no matter how small the quantity. If nobody gets around to eating or cooking with the leftovers, they become dinner for our 3 Rhodesian Ridgebacks.

Even our dog food is non-wasteful. We don’t usually buy commercial chow for them because it is expensive and can only be found at Shoprite. Unless someone with access to a car is available to go to the store and actually has money on them, the dogs don’t get Purina. Usually, we make our own dog food from rice, bones, and the lower quality cuts of meat that the butcher doesn’t use. We also throw in whatever vegetables are about to turn, an egg or two that nobody is quite sure how long they’ve been in the fridge, or leftovers from our meals.

The definition of when clothes are really dirty has become much more flexible. Whereas in Austin I used to wash nearly everything after one wear, here I only put clothes in the hamper that smell bad or have large stains on them. Not only does washing clothes here totally tear them up and fade the colors, it requires water. We don’t always have water in our house, so we only wash what is truly necessary.

For example, for two days now we have had no water in the house. We have a 2,000 liter tank in our backyard that is where the water provided by the city system flows in and is stored. Then we have another, smaller tank where water is pumped and actually gets connected to our faucets here in the house. The only problem is that the city water supply is quite irregular. Water usually flows into the tank around 6pm, with an average of 500 liters coming through every day. Sometimes, though, no water comes at all. Or maybe it comes in at 4am with only 100 liters, not much for a house with 6 people living in it. We've learned that there is a conspiracy between the water company and the fire department where the city turns off the water so that everyone has to call the fire truck to come around and fill cisterns and tanks with the fire hose. The fire department charges about $20 for this service - totally inflated - and a cut goes, of course, to the city utility company.

Rationing water has become a way of life. On days like today, we only flush the toilet for number two. Everyone fills a bucket to bathe instead of using the shower, trying to limit 3 bucket-fulls per person. We buy bottled water from the bar down the street instead of filtering the tap water through our new Brita pitchers. The maid doesn’t wash any clothes and leaves the dishes for one big scrub at the end of the day using large basins instead of the kitchen sink.

Having to worry about having enough water is terrible. I can only imagine what it must be like for families that have no running water and depend on rivers and community wells that fluctuate with the seasons for any water at all. We don’t really realize how much of everything we do is dependent on an abundant, easily accessible water supply until the well is dry, so to speak.

It has been unbelievably humbling to realize how much I wasted in my previous life – how much everyone wastes – back in the US or even in Brazil. It is deeply troubling to me to think about this now because I thought I was doing a pretty good job of conserving resources. I had no reason to believe otherwise. So many people around me were much more wasteful that me, the typical members of a society obsessed with consumption and super-sized quantities of everything, that my behaviour seemed excellent in comparison. Also, I had never gone without – without food, without office supplies, without water, without a car, without Kinko’s or Costco or Whole Foods – so how would I know if my efforts to conserve were working or not?

You really have no motive to change your behaviour until its damage becomes apparent…

Monday, December 05, 2005

On the Road - Part 1

This is EN-1, Mozambique's main national highway. Yep, this treacherous stretch of mud and pothole-ridden asphalt is the country's principal thoroughfare, connecting Maputo in the south to Pemba in the north. Ricardo and I braved EN-1 for over 17 hours on our way back to Chimoio on a trip that we split over 2 days.

How did we end up on this highway? Our housemate Patrícia bought a car in Maputo and asked us to drive it up for her. Up for an adventure, we agreed. I don't think we bargained for how much of an adventure it would actually be. Thankfully, Patrícia bought a Suzuki jeep called an Escudo that has 4-wheel drive and is quite a valiant little vehicle. That, combined with Ricardo's excellent driving skills, is the only reason we were able to make it through the mud.

Under any circumstances, EN-1 is terrible. But when it is raining and the road is under construction, it is even worse. Now don't be fooled into thinking that the muddy parts in the photo are because of construction in process. Nope. That's about as good as it gets.

Construction means that at some point there was funding for improvements so all the asphalt was torn off certain stretches of the highway and detours were put in place onto other, worse muddy expanses that pass as roads. The problem is that this is Mozambique. The road was horrible to start out. Funds are deviated and poorly distributed. There is no organization. For 6 months of the year there are incessant rains, putting a halt to any progress that might have been made in terms of resurfacing. The result is pathes of EN-1 are mud, others are a mix of dirt and leftover asphalt, others still retain most of their tar but are full of potholes a foot deep that are guaranteed to bust an axle if you land in them, and other stretches are all gravel.

The good thing, though, is that there are signs to point you in the right direction.

And to tell you when to proceed ahead...

Unfortuately, though, this is all you see for hours on end...

We were one of the few vehicles to actually make it through the mud without getting totally stuck...

Friday, December 02, 2005

1200km to Chimoio

Ricardo and I are leaving Maputo tomorrow to take a super road trip back home to Chimoio. Our housemate Patricia recently bought a car here in Maputo and asked us to drive it back for her. Of course, we said yes. We will be driving a Suzuki Escuna (not sure what it is in the US), a mid-size jeep-like vehicle. The trip should take a total of 12 hours, and we are going to split it up between 2 days of driving. Tomorrow we will do 8 hours to the beachside resort of Vilankulos, then the next day we will head inland to Chimoio.

I'm sad to be leaving Maputo, but all signs point to me and Ricardo moving here in March next year to operate a branch of Agrolink in the capital...

Happy driving to me, and I promise to enjoy the white sands, endless coconut palms, warm waters of the indian ocean (no sharks, mom, don't worry - I won't go in past my knees), and the excitement that goes along with any road trip, much less on in AFRICA!