Friday, July 29, 2005

Only 6 more hours!

Last night I couldn't sleep. Ricardo is coming back home today. If everything goes well, one of our clients is going to pick him up at the Harare airport in 30 min and give him a lift for the 5 hour drive to Chimoio.

To say I can't wait to hear the client's truck pull up in our driveway is a gross understatement.

Time is going by soooooooooo slowly playing this waiting game...

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

You mean I get to go to Zimbabwe again?!?

Merdalina. Just talked to Ricardo on the phone and he is still in São Paulo. All SAA flights have been cancelled, and they are trying to reroute him on a British Airways flight to Harare through London.

Harare is 5 hours away by car. I have no idea how Ricardo is going to get back to Chimoio. The most likely scenario would be for me to drive to Zimbabwe and pick him up...But we don't have a vehicle and the car rental guy wants to charge double the amount he originally quoted to go to Beira. I would also have to register the car and get yet another visa. To fly from Harare to anywhere in Mozambique is ridiculously expensive. Ricardo's ticket from Maputo to Beira is nonrefundable and can't be changed. Merda. Merda. Merda.

I'm at the point where all I can do is laugh at our unbelievably poor luck...

One more reason I hate SAA

Puta que pariu, ninguém merece!!!

Stupid South African Airways is on strike and has cancelled nearly all domestic and international flights going in and out of Johannesburg, their hub. Ricardo is leaving Brazil today on a SAA flight and is supposed to arrive in Jo'burg tomorrow morning, with an afternoon connection, also on SAA, to Maputo. Now it looks like he may be delayed several days due to the strike...SAA's workers want higher wages since the company just declared fat profits this quarter. Management is not negotiating. The flight crews have stopped even showing up at the airport. No end in sight...Sigh.

I have already rented a car to drive to Beira and pick up Ricardo tomorrow evening. Now I'm not even sure he'll make it out of South Africa before the weekend. What a lovely way to add insult to injury after the *insane* month I've had here in his absence...

In other, better news, Agrolink is not being audited after all. This news came through the grapevine and was an excellent illustration of how facts are easily distorted when transmited from mouth to mouth over a cellhpone. Our accoutant called the company's ex-secretary who called BL who called me. BL and I both understood that there would be an audit. Apparently, the accountant was just concered that we have our books in order should someone from the finance ministry decide to drop in on Agrolink. I still think he was setting us up, trying to get a little something extra out of us to prevent the possibility of an audit. Everyone is interconnected here...the accountant could very well call the finance ministry and "request" a visit to Agrolink.

My weekend trip to Espungabera and Zimbabwe was fabulous. In comparison to my last trip, the drive was tranquilo. Stefano's driver picked me up at 5am on Friday and we bumped along the dirt road at a reasonable speed, slowing down on curves and taking care not to spin out. Espungabera is a little, little town in the mountains that has no paved roads, one restaurant, and phone service via radio waves. Totally isolated. It was great to hole up in Stefano's project headquarters and finally get some good work done on my proposal. No noise. No flatmates. Just me and my laptop and the occasional brainstorming session with Stefano.

Saturday I woke up again at the crack of dawn and got ready for the meeting with our tea client in Zimbabwe. It went amazingly well, and we were able to negotiate all the necessary details for our future joint venture and the proposal I'm currently putting together. We had lunch with the client and his family in their beautiful estate hidden in the middle of a tea plantation. We had fresh fish and bread pudding, gin and tonics after the negotiations, and lounged about in the most extravagant house I've seen since setting foot in Africa. Swimming pool and manicured gardens and sweeping verandahs - the whole works. The client and his family are very worried, though, that any day Mugabe could swoop down and expropriate not only their tea plantation and factory, but the family's home as well. Yet another reason they are interested in doing business in Mozambique - it provides an emergency exit out of Zimabwe if necessary.

So now my task is to sit down and finish the proposal. Happily, the details and overall concept of the project have finally come together in my head, and I have a clear image from which to write. I did some simple cash flow projections and budget work yesterday, and my goal is to get a draft completed before Ricardo arrives. I have a lot of work ahead of me, but I'm much less stressed out because I finally understand what the project is all about.

Our trip back to Chimoio was uneventful, except for the fact that we left at 5am and gave a lift to two of Espungabera's district administrators that hadn't bathed in a couple of days. I had to crack the window and stick my nose out into the cold dawn air as not to pass out from the ripe odor inside the 4x4. A car full of smelly men was nothing, however, compared to my last trip back from the mountains.

When BL, Gemelli and I went two weeks ago, we decided to drive back through the Zimbabwean side of the border. Even through the trip is an extra 200 km, nearly all of the roads are paved and you can make it back to Chimoio in about the same time as on the dirt trails through the interior of Mozambique. Obviously this doesn't hold true if you take a wrong turn and drive for 1.5 hours in the wrong direction. Somehow we missed the turnoff for Birkenough Bridge and ended up driving through the semi-arid savannah full of baobab trees. We were so fascinated by the huge trees - enormous, leafless beings that dominate the landscape like fat sentinels - that we didn't even notice we were off track. After finally correcting our mistake and getting on the proper highway, we got lost again in Mutare, the border town with Mozambique. It was dark, and there were no signs indicating where to go. All the street lights were burnt out, and packs of people roamed the streets, staring at the white strangers cruising around in circles. We finally asked a man on a bicycle how to get to the border and he sent us on a totally deserted road, past a looted gas station, into a thicket of trees. We were convinced it was a setup when finally I spotted a faded sign for Beira, the port in Mozambique over 300km away. Thank God. We zoomed through customs and drove the rest of the way home to Chimoio telling jokes to keep awake.

Well, it's time for me to get to work...My deadline for a draft is the 1st and the final proposal has to be mailed out on the 8th. Long days ahead, for sure.

Monday, July 25, 2005

On our way up the sacred mountain in Espungabera. These huts are typical of the region...

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Tea, Chá, Té

I am tired. I was at the office by 7:30 this morning to meet with a client and finalize some contracts that were supposed to be signed two weeks ago. Managed to wiggle my way out of another visit to the notary (phew!) and headed home for some quiet time to work on a big proposal that is due in 2 weeks. I just spent over 2 hours reading about the tea industry - how tea is grown, processed, distributed...the works.

Tomorrow morning at the crack of dawn I am headed again to Espungabera and then Zimbabwe the next day for a meeting with our tea manufacturing client. Should be back in Chimoio by Sunday evening. Hopefully this trip won't be as, ahem, adventuresome as the last one...and maybe I'll actually have some time to write about these trips I keep referring to!

Big plus - since I'm leaving for the weekend on business, I've been able to escape being the responsible party to deal with the audit in Ricardo's absence. Yay!!!!!

Love to all. Saudades...

Precious calm moments...

On top of the mountain...there is something quite Beatles-esque about this photo.

Cabe�a do Velho (Old Man's Head), a granite formation just outside Chimoio where we went hiking last Saturday.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

You've Got to Be Kidding...

So today I received a fabulous piece of news...just what I needed to lessen my stress and ease my workload.

Agrolink is being audited. I think it's our accountant that set us up. I had a total Enron moment this afternoon stuffing as many files as possible in my briefcase to take home and dissect.

This came on the heels of a 3 hour stint at the notary's this afternoon, where the Senhor Conservador hit on me nonstop in front of our client as we were trying to get some contracts authenticated. Niiiiice. Nothing like suggestive comments from the head notary, someone you are required to treat with a certain level of obsequiousness in order to get anything accomplished in the business world of Chimoio.

What a day, what a day.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Good Day, Sunshine!

After a good, long cry last night, I must admit I feel a million times better. Bless BL for putting his macho ways aside and listening to my troubles...

So today is a good day. I woke up early, had a great cup of espresso and a tangerine, and am now ready to get some significant work done on my proposal.

Ah, by the way, I didn't have a virus. Norton was misreading the code from an internet toolbar I used once in the past as a trojan horse. Gemelli helped me delete it, and now the problem is fixed. So no fear when opening my e-mails (whenever it is that I get a chance to write them!)

Send good proposal-writing thoughts my way!!!!!

Love you all.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Stressssssssssssed Out!

Okay, work is totally kicking my ass. I am STRESSED!!! Drinking lots of herbal tea and listening to good music and generally trying to keep my head above water. But Holy Christ. This is insane. I still have faith, though, that it is all going to be worth it!

Needless to say I need to stop making promises to finish posts. It never happens. I will finish writing about my trip to just won't be today or tomorrow. Or probably not even the day after.

I think I just downloaded a virus on my computer from an e-mail from our most important client. Merda! Hopefully SpyBot will come to the rescue and I won't have a total crisis on my hands...

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Loose Ends

Just to tie up a couple I noticed while re-reading past posts...

1. I got my visa renewed without ever having to set foot in the immigration office. I'm good here for another 6 months, until 26 December!

2. One of the maids was fired yesterday. Thankfully for my conscience, it wasn't just becuase of my missing clothes. She had also been taking honey, rice, laundry detergent, hand soap, and other small items over the past few months. We gave her 2 months salary as a severance pay and sent her on her way.

3. Espungabera part II will come later tonight after I run on the treadmill. Ugh. Writing will be my reward for sweating and suffering during a 45 minute run.

Love you!!!!!!!!!!! I miss you guys all so much.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Definitely Not What I Was Expecting...

Wow, what a way to make me curious... Comments on my previous entry have me totally blown away right now.

First, I'd love to know who exactly is behind this subtle movement to convince me to leave Africa!! Hahahahah!!!

Second, this was not at all the reaction I was expecting. Honestly I thought any feedback would come in the form of, "Hang in there, Ali. An insane workload and slugs in the bathroom and electrical blackouts are just part of the experience." Now two people in a row have pointedly suggested that perhaps it's time I throw in the towel and come on home, wherever that might be right now. Is my situation really that irrational? Do people hear about the things I'm doing and, despite any initial amazement or envy, think that I'm a few screws loose and rattling down a road that leads to nowhere?

Third, I am open to the possibility that perhaps dial-up internet and the blogosphere have completely wiped out my capacity to detect and appreciate dry humor... Frightening, to say the least.

On the heels of's Friday night, I've worked all day, and I'm pooped. Brains totally scattered. I meant to finish writing about my trip to Espungabera but I just can't seem to muster up the effort. I want to make a point, though, to finish that story... Perhaps tomorrow.

So, at the end of the day (a stressful, frustrating, somewhat lonely one at that), all I have to say is the following: To leave Mozambique now would be to veer away from the path I have fought so hard to finally identify. It may seem precipitous, but this is it. I just know it. Everything is coming together...

Wednesday, July 13, 2005


Wow. I’m in an incredibly foul mood today. Every little thing is getting on my nerves… I feel like complaining so, in the absence of an actual person to hear me gripe, I’m going to air my frustrations on the internet.

The biggest thing pissing me off right now has to do with my clothes. I thought it was bad a couple of weeks ago when the maids were destroying my underwire bras and staining my pants. The bulk of my clothes have already been ruined to one extent or another, but at least I still have them. I’ve learned to live with a bleach stain here and an iron burn there. But now it’s getting serious. My clothes are fucking disappearing. First it was an eggplant colored tank top from Zara. Then a white shirt. And now my favorite black pants from Express that fit like they’d been tailor-made for me. Most likely one of the maids or one of the handymen here took my clothes off the line in the backyard to sell at the bazaar and get some extra cash. Apparently this is a common problem here in Mozambique. To make matters worse, it’s not like I can go out and buy a new pair of pants and some shirts. This is Chimoio. There are no clothing stores. Everything is second-hand and irregular and rejects from other, better-off countries. I now have only one pair of long pants to wear. Thank God Ricardo is in Brazil right now and has promised to buy new clothes for me. I am concentrating on letting go, being less materialistic, realizing that it’s just clothes and not the end of the world. But I could just scream right now…

What else is irritating me today? Hah. There’s a list.

I’m totally stressed out with work. I’m not currently receiving a salary (although Ricardo and BL have guaranteed that I will be paid pending project success) but am shouldering the majority of the responsibilities for Agrolink while Ricardo is away. The amount of work obviously has me stressed, but it’s not what is pissing me off. It’s the fact that all of the other shareholders made a big stink about how I couldn’t have any responsibilities or take on clients in Ricardo’s absence because I wasn’t a formal shareholder and therefore didn’t have the right to receive any information. And then everyone discovered that it was easy to pass things off onto me, that I would follow-up and do a good job. That I am overly responsible and a perfectionist. All of a sudden it’s not a problem that I’m not a shareholder. Everyone is putting the most tedious, time-consuming tasks in my hands. Part of me is flattered by this; I wouldn’t have responsibilities if people didn’t think I was capable of doing a good job. But part of me is also pissed off. I want to turn to the people that made a fuss about how I shouldn’t be allowed to work on major projects and flat-out refuse to do what they’re asking.

I’m also in a bad mood because it’s cold as hell in Chimoio right now and I spend most of the day freezing. It reminds me of winter in Maringá. We have no heat in the house and I have to work and sleep totally bundled up. I’ve taken to draping myself in a blanket while I work at the dining room table, carrying it around with me like a cape every time I go to the kitchen or answer the phone. I sleep under three blankets with my red wool overcoat draped over me. I have to wear two pairs of socks so my toes don’t go numb. Thankfully we have hot water in the house, but it comes out of the showerhead in a slow trickle and only covers a small part of your body. As such, every time I take a shower I get goosebumps and end up even colder than when I started. I don’t have a hair dryer, either, so I have to let my hair air dry. I’m amazed that I haven’t gotten sick yet.

I hate having a maid. Okay, obviously I like the fact that I don’t have to do dishes or scrub the toilet, but I despise having someone in my space, messing with my things. I feel uncomfortable every time I am around our maids, resentful that I have no privacy. Dona Gina and Dona Margarida barely speak Portuguese. They survive on a meager salary. They scrub the floor with a sponge and hand-wash all of our clothes. They clean up after five white foreigners. I hate it all. I am filled with bourgie guilt every time they ask me for money to buy dried fish and maize meal for lunch. I feel terrible even complaining about the fact that they probably stole my clothes. These women need the money much more than I need the clothes; they have suffered already so much just by virtue of being Mozambican…but I’m resentful. I’m pissed off. This fucking sucks.

My back hurts. I sleep on a sad excuse for a mattress – it’s lumpy and the springs poke through what is left of the fabric cover, making it impossible to get a good night’s sleep. My work arrangement doesn’t help one bit. I sit in a plastic lawnchair and work on my laptop at the kitchen table. The chair is too low and the table way too high. My fingers fall asleep as I type. I’m getting ingrown hairs on the backs of my thighs because I sit all damn day. I can’t seem to stretch my back enough to make the aches go away.

Finally, I miss Ricardo. He has become a fundamental part of my life here in Chimoio, and I am counting the days until he returns from Brazil…Sigh.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Home (Alone) Again

I’m in a very comfortable place right now. It’s late. My favorite CD – An Afro-Portuguese Odyssey, a collection I picked up by chance in the Oakland Museum of Art several years ago – is playing in the background. I’m alone, a rare occurrence since I left Austin nearly 3 months ago. Everything has been wonderful since then, fast-paced and exhilarating, but it’s so nice to get some time to myself. Before coming to Africa I lived alone or with a cat as a roommate for nearly 7 years. I would sometimes pass an entire weekend at home without exchanging word with another person face-to-face, only realizing that I’d been isolated for days when, startled, I’d run into a neighbor at the mailbox and say hello. I loved my time alone…dancing to music in the living room, staying up until 4am on the computer, drinking wine, and working on art projects. Tonight is the first taste of that life I’ve had in quite a while, and it’s such a relief to be home.

I say that in the figurative sense, but it’s an even bigger relief to be physically home. Yes, our humble abode, the same place where this morning I found a 4 inch leech on the bathroom floor! Honestly, after the weekend I had a slimy, blood-sucking slug at 7am is no big deal.

It all started Friday with an *insane* day at work. Since Ricardo has been in Brazil I’ve basically been running Agrolink as all the other shareholders hold different full-time jobs. In addition to administrative tasks like going to the notary and renewing our Zimbabwean employee’s visa, I have been preparing a huge proposal and following up on current projects. I spent all day Friday with a very important client who is in the process of finishing the inception phase of a seed propagation project. Essentially, a crucial contract was supposed to be signed that afternoon to guarantee a donor contribution, and everything that could have possibly gone wrong along the way did. The afternoon went by in a blur between phone calls to banks in Holland, frantic interest rate calculations, and text messages to the client. By the end of the day I was totally frazzled, all vestiges of thought revolving around a double gin and tonic and my house slippers.

Instead of being able to sleep in and do away with some stress, I had to wake up early and get ready to travel to Espungabera. A good 6 hours away, Espungabera is a speck on the map in the mountains near the Zimbabwean border where we are working on a tea processing project. Agrolink is developing a deal with a potential client in the area, and we had a meeting scheduled for Sunday morning at 8am, with plenty of prep work still to be done in the meantime. Basically, I traveled over 560km in 2 days just for this meeting, a project left in my hands to develop while Ricardo is away.

The trip to Espungabera could have been straight out of a movie, one where things go from bad to worse to unbearable for the protagonist and you can’t help but laugh out loud at the whole bit. To start, we had to borrow a car for the trip, a beat-up old Land Cruiser that was used for several long years as an ambulance for the Mozambican Red Cross. A friend of ours picked up the wagon at an auction a while back and is now dying to sell it for any salvage value. The vehicle, which Ricardo and I affectionately baptized as the “Jipe de Guerra”, is a banged up old whale that has no shocks, no hand brake, no 2nd or 5th gears, no mirrors, no seat belts, no radio, and a diesel engine that blows black smoke at every turn. In any normal situation, driving the Jipe de Guerra along the nearly deserted road to Espungabera would be an unthinkable idea. This is Mozambique, though, and life here is governed by a different set of standards.

Before hitting the road, we had to search the entire town for an open shop where we could purchase 2 tires, a couple of liters of oil, and a jack. Poor Gemelli drove us around for nearly an hour before finding a makeshift stand where some guys were selling used tires and scraps of metal. We bought the necessary tools and two tires for $25, then headed home to fix up the car. The first big laugh of the day came when BL haphazardly unloaded the tires in the back yard right into a big pile of dog shit. Without noticing the mess below, he later picked up one of the tires and inadvertently smeared shit all over his hands. Disgusted, he threw the tire in the air and ran towards the garden hose to wash up. Not noticing what had happened, Gemelli made a mad dash to catch the tire in mid-air and ended up with his shirtfront and pants full of dog shit as well. I laughed uncontrollably from the front porch as the boys ran around the yard like a couple of spooked geese, squawking and wringing their hands in disgust.

We finally got on the road about 2pm, the start of bumpy, teeth-clenching ride that made me remember just how terrible travel can be. Everyone has a different tolerance for the “adventure factor” in a trip; in most cases, my standards are quite liberal, but there are a couple of situations that make me balk. High-speed driving along steep, curvy roads is one of them. Even more so if I’m in a decrepit vehicle on a dirt trail through the interior of Africa. Now I’m certainly not in a position to criticize anyone else’s abilities, but Gemelli drives like an absolute madman. He was right at home as the back side of the Land Cruiser skidded out of control, nearly sending us off the side of a huge cliff in the middle of an elephant reserve area. BL and I, on the other hand, were scared out of our minds. We pleaded with Gemelli to take it easy, but it took several hours and a miscalculated curve that sent us slamming into a sugarcane field for the message to sink in. I was near tears the entire time, praying to whatever being has protected me thus far to keep special watch over our car.

About halfway through the trip, there is a big river with no bridge. The dirt road comes abruptly to an end and all vehicles, livestock, and people have to pile onto a floating platform to get to the other side. The platform, o batelão, is powered by a manual cogwheel that takes three big Africans to spin and moves at a snail’s pace between the banks. We loaded onto the batelão and stared out at the shallow water, grateful for a break in the driving. The light over the river was incredible – it seemed like the sky was split directly above us, one half heavy with gray storm clouds, the other an intense, clear blue. The bottom portion of a rainbow had formed in each half and thin rays of sunlight shone over the platform, accompanying us across the water. BL and I took it as a sign that we would make it safely, aware though that it was still a good 2 hours to Espungabera and it was starting to rain…

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Our backyard.

The front porch of our house.

Waiting to cross the Lucite river on the highway from Chimoio to Espungabera. No bridge, dirt road. Welcome to Africa.


Sweet Jesus, we now have internet at home!!!!!! I shudder to think what the phone bill will be for our household of e-mail and messenger addicts.

I've been working out of our living room for the past week because Agrolink moved into a new office and we have no furniture yet. I have totally occupied the only large table in our house with my laptop, stacks of papers, and empty coffee mugs. Work has totally overrun my life, especially now that Ricardo is in Brazil for a month and I am responsible for fundraising, proposal writing, and all of the administrative aspects of the business. I'm literally in front of the computer from 9am to midnight! Now that I have the internet at my fingertips, this is bound to go from bad to worse.

In other news, Capitu, one of our three rhodesian ridebacks, is in heat. All of the dogs in the neighborhood are going nuts, barking long into the night and trying to find a way through the iron gate in front of the house. Paulo, our boy dog, is feeling like the king of the hill these days since he has Capitu all to himself. The other day he and Capitu were going at it and got "stuck" together. We had to throw bucket after bucket of cold water on the two dogs to get them to separate. I'm already imagining what life will be like with 5 flatmates, 3 adult dogs, and lots of little puppies!!!

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Things I Miss

When I made the decision to move to Chimoio, I knew that I would miss a lot of things from "home". The strange thing is, you can never really anticipate what those little details will be. When I lived in Rio de Janeiro in 2000, I developed an insatiable craving for peanut butter. When my mom came to visit, she brought a family size jar of crunchy Jiffy and I ate it all in about 3 days. Straight from the jar, on bread, spread on apple slices - I couldn't get enough. Oddly enough, I never used to eat peanut butter back in the US and never in my wildest dreams would have anticipated a jar of Jiffy being the product I missed most from home.

A similar phenomenon is at work here in Mozambique. I find myself missing the oddest things...

I miss being able to make a shopping list. All of our groceries here come from Shoprite, a South African chain store that is surprisingly like a US supermarket. However, all of the products that make it to Shoprite Chimoio are rejects from the South African stores. You find the most bizzare items, most of which are already expired, and there is no consistency in terms of product availability. One week you find pretzels from Austria, lentils from India, and Cadburry's chocolate bars. The next, none of these items are available and in their place you find litchi juice, England's equivalent of Gatorade, and Pringles chips. It's literally impossible to plan out a meal in advance, much less create a list of necessary ingredients. You get what you can, and that's that.

I miss having an oven. Right now our kitchen is only equipped with two electric burners, severely limiting my culinary abilities. I must admit, though, that we are pretty creative when it comes to cooking. The other day I actually made flour tortillas from scratch and improvised the rest of the ingredients for a taco dinner!

I miss ready-to-brew Chai tea, Luna bars, Diet Coke, green chile, and pre-packaged tortillas. I really miss being able to go to Zen and get good japanese food to go. There are only a couple of restaurants in Chimoio, all of questionable quality.

I miss washing machines and dryers and dishwashers and hot water heaters. Predictable things to miss in a poorly developed country, but oooohhhhh do I long for a hot bath and fluffy towels!

And, of course, I miss having high speed internet access 24 hours a day in the comfort of my own home. Access here is precarious at best, and I'm having to learn new ways of keeping in touch without constant access to e-mail and unlimited cell phone minutes.

Most of all, I have realized that half of the things I brought with me on this trip are totally useless in Chimoio. I knew it would happen, but I am now kicking myself for not having been more practical in deciding what to bring and what to leave behind. Take, for example, the purse dillema. Having the right purse for the right outfit was *so* important in Austin, even more so in Rio. I struggled for hours trying to pack my suitcase; letting go of even one purse seemed like such a sacrifice. I finally narrowed it down to 6 purses, of which I have used 2 thus far. Truly ridiculous...