Saturday, December 23, 2006
Ricardo and I leave early tomorrow morning on a 10-day road trip to South Africa. We will fly to Joburg, then rent a car and drive the 1500km to Cape Town in time for reveillon, then backtrack to come home by the 3rd.
I'm really looking forward to some time away from my routine and away from Mozambique. I'm going to miss the boys, even the bad one, but I need to get away and renew my energies.
Much love, see you in 2007.
Friday, December 22, 2006
This is the Bad Boy, lounging in the most appropriate spot for a cat - the dish drying rack in the kitchen. The Bad Boy has been particuarly naughty these days. The current tally is one revenge poo and one revenge pee. Can anybody explain to me how a cat that is still technically a kitten can expel over a liter of liquid?
This is the Sweet Boy, who has learned in the last week how to turn on the faucet of the sink so that he can play with the water stream and douse everything in the kitchen in the process. My guess is that the Bad Boy put him up to it. :)
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Right now we are enjoying our time together and celebrating the big news. I promise details in the next few days.
Hope you all are well!
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Over the weekend I went out with the girls and had a great time. In the last month I've actually developed a social life so I've been getting out of the house on a regular basis to go dancing, have dinner, hang out and have drinks and listen to live music. We went to a great jazz bar on Friday night called Gil Vicente and enjoyed open mic night. The first act was wonderful - a woman from South Africa singing in Zulu who was full of attitude and had a beautiful soprano voice. This woman and her band, along with the lovely company of my girls, helped me get out of my funk.
Today I am off to do a field visit for the project we are currently doing on horticultural production feasibility in the green zones of Maputo. I must get my things ready for the visit, but wanted to say hello, thanks for your comments, and that despite my absence on your blogs and a general lack of e-mails to friends and family, I am still reading, appreciating and thinking of you all.
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
It reminds me of my last months of work directing an HIV prevention program at an NGO back in Austin. My ability to see a positive trend in our efforts had completely disappeared. I was burned out, unmotivated and consumed by the feeling that all of those billions of dollars spent on health education and risk reduction were in vain. The solution seemed relatively simple - get people to use a condom, get people to not share needles, encourage people to get tested, help people to create viable alternatives to selling their bodies for sex, decrease the shame surrounding homosexuality so that men aren't compelled to have anonymous sex through a hole in a bathroom stall, help people start talking about these issues instead of ignoring them and assuming they aren't at risk.
And yet, despite all of the organizations staffed with competent people, despite all of the money and awareness campaigns and celebrity messages, the number of new infections in the US has been steady for the last 10 years at 40,000 new HIV cases per year. I began to realize it was a complex and ultimately uphill battle. In the end, I found it hard to see past the larger statistics and knew it was time for me to move on.
I feel the same way about the situation in Mozambique, and by extension much of Africa. The problems here are also hugely complex - absolute poverty, corruption, disease, famine, lack of education, gender inequalities - yet you'd think with the billions and billions of dollars being thrown at this place, there might be some positive trends by now. I suppose there are when you look at isolated cases - Mozal is a successful aluminium smelter that accounts for a large part of the country's GDP, there have been several interesting microcredit initiatives aimed at providing credit to the poor, the cashew industry is slowly recovering and might regain the pre-independence production levels in a few years. There are also some donor programs that have met their objectives and look quite good on paper or through a quick site visit.
The problem with these success stories, however, is two-fold. On the one hand I don't see these initiatives will be sustainable in the long-run. They are up and running now because there is some foreigner behind the efforts, be it a donor organization, a multi-national company or an individual investor. The impulse to move forward is not coming from Mozambicans for the most part, although most of these programs do involve some sort of training scheme whereby ownership will be transferred to locals after a few years' time.
The second problem is highlighteed by the question "Who is really benefiting from these initiatives?" The more time I spend here and the more experience I have with different projects and programs, the more I believe that the ultimate beneficiaries of development in Mozambique are foreigners and foreign companies. I do understand the "trickle-down" effect, whereby the local population benefits from private-sector economic development. I can see how a factory worker or a miner or a smallscale farmer can earn $100 more per year because of some of these initiatives. However, who is really getting the good deal? I'd argue it's the owner of the cashew processing plant, the multi-national mining company behind Mozal, or even the director of the NGO that is ostensibly "helping people" yet earning a $10,000 per month salary, living in a cushy condominium protected by electric fencing, driving a brand new Land Cruiser and making plans for his next posting in 2 years' time.
The more I really examine my own work here, I realize that my efforts have led to the same conclusions - foreigners getting the overwhelming benefits of development efforts. In the tea factory, the owners are all foreigners. Yes, there is an outgrower scheme to support local farmers, and yes there will be macro-economic benefits for Mozambique, but the real people that will benefit are the company owners. I think about the cotton ginnery we've just received funding for. Same story. The timber project we've got in the works is also the same, with the investors standing to make millions and millions of dollars if the venture is successful.
I understand that the basic idea of private sector development is that the investors should get a return on the money they've put in, that this provides the incentive for efficient and sustainable growth that will in turn lead to progress in the country. I get this, and despite all of the problems, I still do believe that private sector development is the "least bad" solution at this time. All of the others - socialism, state subsidies, donor support from the international community - lead to a cycle of dependence that, in my opinion, undermines any chance of Mozambicans embracing a spirit of sustainable entrepreneurship and development on their own terms. As long as there are handouts with no strings attached other than those that satisfy outsiders' terms and conditions, I am convinced that the problems will go on.
And yet I also firmly believe that the current path we are on will not lead to a positive future for Mozambique. I imagine the country in 10, 20, 30 year's time and see the same inequalities, the same poverty, the same preventable illnesses and lack of education. The only difference is that I see most of the land being owned by foreigners, most of the population working in association with some foreign-owned project or company, and most of the revenues being somehow channeled outside the country. I look at all this and begin to understand how neo-colonialism is a frighteningly real trend in Mozambique...
The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that I do not have a role to play in the development of this country if I truly believe that the driving impulse of economic growth should come from and ultimately benefit Mozambicans. I am just another player in the game, inadvertently contributing to the same end I so love to criticize.
Thursday, November 30, 2006
Here are some of my latest creations...
The bracelets are done with carved jade beads and old African glass beads with sterling silver accents.
The necklace is one of my favorite designs that happened totally by accident when I looped a long chain with beads twice around my neck and loved the result. It is done in silver with foil-lined glass beads. The necklace and the matching earrings (not pictured) were purchased by Lacithecat, one of my lovely girlfriends here in Maputo, and will make a great christmas gift for someone.
This is so much fun!
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
I tried to cheer myself up by taking a trip to the fancy-schmancy expat grocery store this afternoon. I spent more on 5 or 6 items than I do in an entire week's worth of normal shopping at the Indian grocery on the corner. A little splurge was worth it, though. So what did I indulge in? Well, all the things that I crave and can't usually find anywhere except specialty shops. I bought celery, broccoli, a big crate of nectarines that are perfectly ripe and I intend to eat until I'm sick of them, then freeze the rest, a mint-toffee chocolate bar and some canned gourmet cat food.
The boys and I all enjoyed the treat, and most of the evening was spent munching on something or other and cuddling. I also watched some really trashy tv. "The Simple Life" is being shown here in Mozambique and I am thoroughly embarrassed by everything that program peddles as entertainment and cultural values.
Friday, November 24, 2006
I've just arrived home after a night out with Jenny. We started at Ti'Palino for a picanha dinner sponsored by the brasilian owner of the restaurant, followed by a night of live music and dancing at a place called Bar Africa. The music was truly amazing, and for the first time since I've been in Mozambique I really danced my bones.
The band featured this evening was Mabulu, a multi-generational group project that brings together musicians of traditional marrabenta style and hip-hop, among other styles. The first time I heard Mabulu was actually on a cd I purchased on a whim while visiting the Oakland Museum of Art several years ago with my mom and her husband. The cd is a compilation by Putamayo called "An Afro-Portuguese Odyssey" and is one of my all-time favorites. I listened to it nonstop, especially one track by this group Mabulu. At the time I never dreamed that I'd one day be living here.
We ran into a few odd characters throughout the evening - highlights being the brasilian girl who proudly announced to our table over dinner that her boyfriend was also her cousin (!), and some old Mozambican man that approached us at Africa Bar and really seemed intent on picking a fight with me and Jenny. He was so rude, so offensive, so unquestionably overstepping boundaries that Jenny eventually told him off in great style, polite yet quite firm. It was one of those sweet moments where I just wanted to yell, "Yeah! That's right!" as the man sulked off after 2 little white girls put up some limits.
It was definitely a great night, despite the negative energy from this man. Nothing like some good music and good dancing to ward it off.
I called my dad on skype once I got home. He and his side of the fam were celebrating Thanksgiving this afternoon. My celebration here yesterday consisted of homemade carne adovada and flour tortillas. Seriously yum. I think I ate at least a pound of pork and chile by myself!
I've just heard a rooster crow over the songs of the birds. This is my clue that it is well, well past my bedtime. From what is possibly my latest non-proposal-writing night awake in Mozambique, I wish you sweet dreams.
Thursday, November 23, 2006
Being in Mozambique has been a blessing for my nascent career as a jewelry designer. First, I am the only person in Maputo if not in the entire country that makes and sells jewelry made with silver, semi-precious stones, pearls and handmade glass beads (made by me!). I have a guaranteed market, which is great luck.
The other way in which being here has been a blessing is much more subtle. I don't have access to any high-quality supplies, and am only able to work with what I already have in stock or the few things I'm able to bring back from trips to the US or Brasil. This really has pushed me on the creative front. I have used beads and wire in ways I never would have imagined, finding ways to use every last treasure in the tackle boxes I use to store my supplies.
Now that my creativity has been challenged (and I feel I've risen to the occasion), I can't wait to get back to the US or somewhere where I have proper access to materials so that I can actually execute the design ideas that are in my mind. Here I do my best to approximate, but I'm still not able to pull off everything that I envision. This is frustrating, but it keeps me on my toes.
Here are a few of my latest creations:
Handmade wire-wrapped circles with dangles of silver beads and freshwater pearls. Necklace detail. Earring detail.Lapis lazuli, turquoise, freshwater pearl and silver beads form a v-shaped pattern on this necklace.Detail of the matching dangle earrings.Lapis, turquoise, pearl and silver set.
Foil-lined glass pendant with sandalwood beads and blue glass crystals.
Mix of lapis lazuli, jade, obsidian, amethyst and howlite beads with quartz crystal pendant.
Mix of amythest, rose quartz, jasper and jade beads with carved carnelian accent.
I've had one of the worst weeks ever in terms of my allergies. Part of me thinks this is a good thing, as does my doctor at the clinic, because it possibly signals a "healing crisis". This means that my body is finally reacting to stress and allergens when they occur instead of bottling up the reaction much like people do with emotions they don't express. At some point, there is a crisis. And the more you push things inside, the worse (although less-frequent) the crises tend to be. The doctor at the clinic said that my allergies are so bad that my body is not capable of reactions at this point, so there is the possibility that the string of attacks I've experienced this week is actually a good sign. I'll admit, they have been progressively less intense...
Anyhow, back to the boys. I decided not to get them fixed because the prospect of going to the vet by myself, leaving them there all day, then having to deal with the post-op really has me stressed. Super stressed. I know getting cats neutered is relatively speaking no big deal, but it's taking a toll on me and I'd prefer to wait until Ricardo is back to give me some emotional support at the vet's and afterward.
I realize this means I may have to deal with more, um, incidents in the bed, but the relief I felt this morning when I decided to cancel the appointment at the vet's was worth it. I may have avoided another allergy attack in the process, because I already could feel it building up when I woke up, and now my pre-crisis symptoms seem to have subsided.
Hopefully foregoing the snip today won't mean that I have to deal with even more stress in the next month because of the boy's raging hormones. I'd like to think I made the right decision...
Monday, November 20, 2006
Responding to the curious requests of the readers of this blog, here is what my self-inflicted haircut looks like:
I did it with a shag cut in mind that would bring out the waves in my hair. I knew I'd never be able to do a clean-lined bob, so I just went for a modern look inspired by a razor cut I once had.
Yes, I realize that it does look a bit as if I took kitchen scissors to my hair, but I'm strangely (and thankfully) pleased with the results.
So since I'm showing off my hair, I'd like to share a little something else...
(CAUTION - WILDLY UNFLATTERING PHOTOS OF ME FOLLOW)
For the second time in a month, I've woken up with a grossly swollen lip.
Okay, so the lip in and of itself is pretty bad, but the fact that this photo was taken at 5:30am after a night of little sleep and much annoyance (see PS at end of post) doesn't really help. Not such a great look, I know, but I felt compelled to share this freaky lip thing and there's nothing like a photo to do its bizzareness justice.
The first time it happened was the night of the dinner party I had here with the girls. The morning after I woke up and the left side of my bottom lip looked as if someone had inflated it with an air pump. I could barely close my mouth properly because that part of my lip was so heavy it tended to droop. I looked as if I'd been punched in the face, and mercifully had no appointments that day and could hide out until the swelling subsided 12 hours later.
This time I woke up with my top lip swollen symmetrically around the cupid's bow. I looked like one of those women who goes a little over the top with the collagen injections and ends up with a super trout pout. My upper lip was so swollen I could barely drink my tea without drooling. It even got a bit tender as the skin was stretched that much. It's finally gone down a bit after about 12 hours, but not before driving home the affirmation that I will never get lip injections!
I have no idea what is causing this reaction. My lip doesn't hurt (other than the skin being tender where it is overly puffed up), there is no itching, no rash and no sign of a bite, be it from an insect or self-inflicted. I haven't eaten anything particularly suspect in the days before these occurrences. The first time I had a dinner of salads, rice, some cake and a bit of wine. Yesterday for a late lunch/dinner I ate clams (which I do all the time here with no problem), some ice cream, fruit salad and juice.
I'm taking herbal remedies for my respiratory allergies, which I considered as the culprit, but then remembered that when I had the first swelling episode I wasn't taking any medications or supplements whatsoever.
Any ideas on what this is??
In other news, it's mango and litchi season here in Mozambique. The mangoes will be here for several months, plentiful to the point that I will surely be sick of them come February. Litchis, however, are a different story. I'll be lucky if I can find them for another 3 weeks before the season is over and I must wait another year for this treat.
PS - Not only did I wake up with a fat lip, Pria pissed on the bed with me still in it. It was definitely a revenge piss, a clear message that she wasn't happy with me. Starting around 4am, Pria started to tear up my room - first a box of kleenex, then she knocked over my glass of water, then the cats managed to open my closet door and start climbing on and knocking down my clothes. After each offense, I'd remove whatever the "toy" was or shut the closet door, then try and go back to sleep. The boys weren't happy they were being restricted, and Pria let fly.
I'm taking the boys to get the big snip on Thursday...I'm already starting to stress! I hate taking animals to the vet!
Sunday, November 19, 2006
Thursday, November 16, 2006
This evening Jenny, Lacithecat and I went out for dinner and cocktails at Las Brasas, a really nice place that is, in my opinion, by far the best restaurant in Maputo. The restaurant has a bar attached, which is where we opted to spend the evening sitting in the loft above the main space, lounging in comfy sofas, sipping caipirinhas and wine and enjoying each other's company in one of the few places in town that plays music at an appropriate volume for conversation.
The highlight of the evening, apart from just being able to hang out with cool girls, was the food itself. We all ordered the same dish - Espetada de Mariscos - which is quite literal to its name and consists of king prawns, squid and fish skewered on an enormous sword, doused in lemon and salt, then grilled to perfection. The presentation of the meal is the best part. Not only do they use this fantastic skewer for cooking the seafood, they bring it all the way to your table. The girls got quiet a kick out of being served such a fine meal suspended on a vertical sword that looks as if it should be the weapon of choice for the heroine in Quentin Tarantino's next film.
It was all delicious, and it is nights like this that I am reminded of the things in Mozambique that are really wonderful. Cheap first-rate seafood, interesting people from all reaches of the world, and a development environment that challenges even the most jaded person to do some serious soul searching and question his or her role in it all.
These past few days have been intense. I've had a total of 2 crises in as many days, the kind of breakdowns where I sat on the floor sobbing unintelligebly holding Pria and Parceiro in my lap while Rico patiently listened on the other end of our Skype connection. The crises revolved around the following:
1. My health. I've been suffering from mysterious and debilitating allergy attacks for the last year and a half. Losing one day of each week to ill health is taking its toll on my quality of life, and I finally decided I must listen to what my body is telling me and take care of this imbalance. I went to a really cool alternative medicine clinic here in Maputo, and the doctor confirmed what I've suspected all along. My allergies are a physical manifestation of an emotional block from my past. Basically, to get well I must treat the physical symptoms, but more importantly the root cause of my distress. This will require some painful work on my part. I think I'm finally ready, but I've also had a gimpse of what awaits me. It's not pretty, but I am going to take it all on in the name of my physical and emotional health.
2. Procrastination. I've hit a major wall with NaNoWriMo. Not just writer's block, I haven't even been able to open the document for the past week. Writing just a few words of the story seems beyond any capabilities I have at this point. People keep asking how the book's coming along and, well, it's not. I had a breakthrough the other night while thinking about why it's so hard for me to write something that is supposedly enjoyable and of my own volition.
I had somewhat of an epiphany when I realized that by procrastinating, not being able to follow through on things that are important to me despite my best efforts, I am blocking myself from doing something truly brilliant with my life. It's kind of hard to explain.
I've always been blessed with the natural intelligence to put in relatively little effort and always come out with the best grade in the class, the proposal that gets funded, the most praised project, the highest honors. When I was in college, I'd fuck around for most of the semester and put off studying until the night before an exam, sometimes until the very morning I was supposed to take a test. I'd then buckle down, read the entire textbook, retain the information and write about it in a coherent enough way that not only would I pass the class, I'd get the highest grade of all my peers. I never put in the effort I witnessed in some of my classmates, the dilligent studying for an hour a day, day after day. I never was able to do that, nor did I need to. I would always pull through at the last minute and somehow manage to shine. Not only did this get me a 4.0 in college, it instilled in me the belief that behind the good grades and academic honors I was a fraud. I held my breath waiting to be found out.
This patter continued in my professional life. I'd put off working on a grant until the week before the deadline, despite the fact that I'd many times have months to prepare my proposal. When the pressure finally became too much, I'd hunker down and write furiously, designing program outcomes and writing convincing arguments for funding. The first grant application I ever wrote I managed to get 1.5 million dollars for the organzation I was working for at the time. I couldn't belive it. If only the funding organization or my bosses saw the bullshit that I knew was behind my smooth words. I felt as if I was constantly walking on eggshells and putting on a front, desperately wanting everyone to believe that I was a smooth professional when behind it all lay the truth - I was an illusionist, using lingustical smoke and mirrors to conceal the fact that I didn't *really* know the first thing about what I was doing. I've always known how to talk a strikingly convincing talk.
My whole life I've been able to get away with minimum effort, relatively speaking, with maximum results. In terms of efficiency it's great, but it comes with a terrible sense of guilt and impending doom. It also makes me feel like nobody understands me. Anytime I want to complain about how lazy I am, how I only dedicate a little part of myself to my work, how what I do doesn't even come close to what I know my personal capabilities are, the response I get from most people is that I am insane and that I should stop fishing for compliments. I mean, what on earth is the girl that gets all A's and had an admirable fundraising track record doing complaining about not being good enough?? After a while I learned to keep my mouth shut, lest I alienate all of my hard-working friends...
Last night it hit me - I procrastinate and don't put my best effort into so many things that are important to me: Nia, keeping in touch with friends and family, inumerous projects that have been abandoned midway, and most recently NaNoWriMo. The difference from my procrastination and half-assed yet stellar resulting efforts in school and work is that I don't have to answer to anyone for these personal pursuits. They are entirely mine. Mine to pursue, mine to accomplish, mine to judge. Or not. I don't have anything to prove, there are no merit marks or million dollar grants to be won. The only prize in the end is the journey itself, which may or may not result in a feeling of self-fulfillment at the end. The more I put things off and refrain from giving it my all, the more I keep myself from accomplishing something truly brilliant - by my own standards. I've said it before - I am ultimately the cause and the solution to all of the shortcomings I perceive in my life. Having this truly sink in is a stinging slap in the face.
NaNoWriMo is still unopened, but at least I feel better about it. I managed to write on the blog today, which is a big accomplishment, especially considering the subject matter. Now I'm trying to find the balance that feels right to me between respecting my natural work rhythm (erratic is an understatement) and making myself be dilligent and not procrastinate to the point that I feel it keeps me from fully realizing my dreams.
3) The final motive for my recent crises is uncertainty regarding my professional life, but this is old news. I am an artist at heart who unfortunately (or fortunately) discovered at an early age that she had a real knack for business. Now the challenge is how to find balance, that damn elusive state of being. It's not exactly straightforward, and the uncertainty regarding the details is quite overwhelming at times.
In the end I'm grateful that I finally broke down and let it all out. I feel immensely better today, with a renewed positive outlook on life and a slightly clearer vision for where my next steps must be to reach my goals.
Sometimes a good cry does wonders for the soul...then again, so do girlfriends, kittens, a loving family and an infinitely patient boyfriend!
Monday, November 13, 2006
This week's Sunday Scribblings prompt is the following quote:
"I don't want to be a passenger in my own life." (Diane Ackerman)
My initial response to this is to write some profound thing about not wanting to sit passively as my life passes me by. The word 'passenger' in this context immediately makes me think of a lack of control, motivation, willpower, or even desire to be involved in determining the path one's life will take.
But then I think a bit more and realize that actually, I think being a passenger in my own life is pretty cool. I often feel like my life is a movie and I am somehow floating over the whole scene watching it unfold. It's almost like an out-of-body experience. This happens in situations where I feel pain, where I am intimidated by something or someone, where I am taking a risk, or where I am just plain overjoyed and can't believe this is all happening to me.
I remember during a particuarly terrible breakup, being able to step back from my ex-boyfriend's yelling and accusations as we walked down the street and become a "passenger" in my life. I started to see the whole thing in third person. I watched myself crying, shoulders hunched, and visualized a stream of light coming down from the heavens to shine on me. It was like a spotlight from God, comforting me and letting me know that it would all pass soon. If I hadn't been a passenger at that moment, I would have let my ego engage in a situation full of rage and pain. By taking a step back, I became strangely objective in the midst of the storm.
Every time I go do a presentation for work, I also feel like a passenger. Instead of being in the moment and giving into my fears that I am a fraud, a bullshitter, a little girl trying to pass herself off as a consultant that has something useful to say, I imagine that I am the star of a movie about some competent professional woman. I watch myself go through the motions, fielding questions, presenting facts. I am able to give these stellar presentations and it doesn't even feel like I am the one making it all happen.
Even in very happy times I find myself playing the observer. Incredible things are happening in my life right now, and it feels quite literally like I am playing out a script of some movie where the happy ending is just about to be unfolded. I can't belive this is really my life. I sit and watch it all come together and can't help but smile.
In this sense I like being a passenger, being able to disengage and watch my life go by with me as the protagonist, as if I were watching rolling hills and miles of citrus fields outside the window of a long-distance bus. I like giving myself the permission to not get caught up in certain situations, to just observe without judgment and let it all pass...
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
It's all I can manage tonight, between 2 projects I must work on and my NaNoWriMo manuscript-in-the-making that desperately needs attending to (word count much lower that it should be, statistically speaking)...
Meme swiped from the lovely Paris Parfait.
a) Four jobs I have had in my life:
Director of an HIV/AIDS Prevention Program
Waitress (after I'd finished my MBA, interestingly enough)
ESL Teacher (surprise, surprise for an expat to have been an English teacher at some point)
b) Four movies I would watch over and over again:
The Motorcycle Diaries
The English Patient
The Constant Gardener
c) Four places I have lived:
Rio de Janeiro
Albuquerque, New Mexico
d) Four TV shows I like to watch:
Venus and Apollo
e) Four places I have visited:
f) Four websites I visit daily: (sorry, not plugging blogs tonight...)
Perez Hilton (I've become addicted to gossip since moving to Africa.)
Go Fug Yourself
All Africa Mozambique
O Globo (news from Brasil)
g) Four places I would like to be right now:
The house of either of my parents (New Mexico or California)
The Casa Rosa, where Rico currently is staying (Rio de Janeiro)
Seba Camp on safari in Botswana
On the beach collecting seashells
h) Four of my favorite foods:
Green chile chicken enchiladas
i) Four bloggers I'd like to respond:
Self select, my friends. I'd love to hear from all of you.
Monday, November 06, 2006
In several short months, much has changed. While still simple, the flat is much more welcoming and feels increasingly like a home. The terracotta accent wall Rico and I painted really does so much for the whole feel of the flat. Also, I've managed to find a lovely group of girlfriends to hang out with. Two of them I already knew were coming - L. from Belgium who moved here together with her boyfriend, and J. who was born and raised in Brasil but from an Armenian family - as they'd found me on the blog and we'd been exchanging e-mails for several months. The other two girls are short-term consultants with TechnoServe, a local nonprofit business development firm, and are American. Interestingly enough they also found me through the blog! Unfortuantely the TechnoServe girls leave in December, while L. and J. are here for the long haul just like me.
I invited everyone over for a dinner party, a small gathering for the people that have a connection to my blog. It was such a lovely evening. I made all sorts of salads as the weather has been unmercifully hot and humid lately. We had wine, and J. brought 2 cakes that the cats managed to get into and knock off the counter while we were having the main course. We managed to save the dessert, though, and enjoyed it even though the frosting was totally smushed.
A funny part of the evening came after dinner when the subject of this post came up. Of course, since all the girls found me through the blog, they'd read this appetizing description of what I permit in my kitchen. I assured them all that my standards for what I eat and for what I serve others are radically different. I'd never dream of putting out fruit or any other food item that had been even potentially contaminated.
It was a great evening, and I look forward to hanging out with these girls many times in the coming months. I realized once everyone had gone home around 1am that I'd neglected to take any pictures. That's okay. I hope this becomes a regular event in our lives, where I can take photos any time I please.
Sunday, November 05, 2006
Sometimes I'm right and the day gets off to a good start. I have tea, meditate, eat a healthy breakfast and accomplish a nice list of things at work. I make some jewelry, play with the cats and write for the blog or for my budding novel.
Other days it's not so good. Within minutes of getting out of bed I'm off and running down a comfortable but terribly unhealthy path. I'll eat an entire pack of sugar wafers for breakfast, have a glass of wine before noon, procrastinate on my work obligations and surf the internet in my pajamas.
The hardest part of these days is that they almost always revolve around overeating. It's like once I make the first wrong move - sugar, fat and alcohol in whatever combination and in excessive quantities - my day is blown to shit. I can't seem to stop at one cookie or one piece of cheese, I end up eating the entire package in an attempt to make myself numb. I'll lament all day about how fat I am, about all the willpower I lack, about how shameful my behavior is. I feel alone and desperate, like I did so many nights in college back when bulimia had me caught up in her tight little grip.
Things are better now - I no longer purge - but the binges are still there when I get stressed or when I manage to fall off track due to a holiday or a big night out. Despite the fact that I am in recovery from my eating disorder, the pain is still the same. All the underlying feelings are still there, and I am humbled when I realize that they may not ever go away. It's the way that I deal with them that changes, to what degree I give into my negative impulses and let my inner critic get the best of me. Every night after a bad day it still hurts to the bone. I still want to cry, still desperately hope for someone to swoop down and hold me until all the pain passes.
I know now that every minute I wait for some magical figure to fix my problems is a minute waisted. I am the answer. I must be the one to speak the kind words I long to hear and pick myself up the floor for a hug and some loving when things get tough. For the most part, I've gotten much better at this. But some days, when I am feeling particularly depressed and isolated, all I can manage to do is get into bed and hope that sleep comes quickly. The morning always brings me hope, even if it is just for a second.
Thursday, November 02, 2006
That's right. Another brown one right in the middle of the sheets, this time almost fully solid and therefore slightly less revolting to clean up.
I wish I could say "just kidding" and ignore the fact that this is the 3rd time in about a month that the cat has shit on my bed.
What do I do?? Why is the cat acting out like this?
A few thoughts...
- Cat is feeling neglected (I left for a trip to the US, I don't play with them enough, etc.) and this is a way to get my attention. The boys sleep most of the day, and we play together in the morning and the evening for about 15 minutes each (usually I throw balls of crumpled up paper for them to chase), but maybe this isn't enough?
- Litterbox is unsatisfactory. We recently moved it onto the varanda and the boys access it through a cat door, which seems to be no problem. Also, the first poo on the bed incident happened when the box was still inside. They frequently hang out on the balcony and use the litter box on a regular basis. However, sometimes when it rains the cat litter can get wet. When this has happened I haven't changed the litter immediately, thinking it wouldn't be an issue because it's water, right? Maybe not...
- Cats becoming territorial, this is their way of acting out on all those hormones. They are brothers, 7 months old. I haven't really noticed them spraying or anything, but they are still intact and definitely play fight and do mock mating (yes, I know, it's pretty bizarre).
- Mattress is somehow impregnated with miniscule shit particles and therefore the smell attracts the cat to use my bed as a litter box. Do I throw out the mattress? Deep clean it? Keep the door to our room permanently shut?
I know that when you housebreak animals, every time the poo or pee in a place they're not supposed to, you're supposed to tell them "no", then take them to the appropriate place where they should use the toilet. Eventually the associate and learn where they are and aren't supposed to let fly. The problem is that I have yet to catch Pria shitting on the bed, with the exception of the other morning when I was *in* it and she took a poo anyway. I told her "no" and put her outside in the litterbox, but obviously it didn't work.
Help!! What do I do? This is getting out of control...
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
I have a really, really important meeting this morning and all I want to do is have a good shower. It's an integral part of my routine to pump myself up for important meetings. I have to feel good (meditate, stretch, have tea), look good (hot shower, blow dry hair, put on a cute suit and heels, do makeup), and convince myself that I am actually a competent professional (lots of mind games). In a few minutes I'm off to have another sponge bath using the 20-liter canister and a juice pitcher. I guess I'll have to wear my extra sexy heels to compensate feeling grungy.
If this meeting goes well, we may be on our way to raising funds for a US $19.5 million project that we put together for a client last year. It would be a miracle...
I'd like to comment on how my day has been cat shit-free thus far, but I'm afraid of what that kind of comment may bring around later in the evening. I'll remain quiet.
I started NaNoWriMo last night and it was an interesting experience. I'd prepared an outline of what I wanted to write and had a goal of 1,667 words. I managed to write 1,420 words, but about a topic that veered significantly from my outline and plans for the storyline at that point. I'm not upset, though. I really do prefer to write by intuition, without restrictions or trying to force myself in any particular direction. This is especially true when writing about my own life - if I just let go, things seem to fall in place quite nicely. We'll see what tomorrow brings.
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
I lay down on my back, enjoying the slight coolness of the sheets. After a few minutes I started getting hot, so I rolled over on my side. "That's strange," I thought, catching a whiff of something slightly acidic, slightly rotten and slightly sweet all at once. I started snif-sniffing, immediately hit with the suspicion that the boys had sprayed the bed to mark their territory. I smelled the pillow (normal), the part of the sheet that was directly covering me (also normal), then leaned over to to have a sniff at the sheet and blanket piled on the other side of the bed.
As I leaned, I felt something wet touch my boob. "Fuck," I hissed. I just knew they'd pissed in the bed. I honed in on the wet spot and sniffed. Something was definitely there alright, but it wasn't quite cat urine. I hauled myself out of bed and turned on the light to better check it out.
To my absolute horror and disgust, I saw that Pria had left me another message. A large, brown plop of semi-solid cat shit lay smack in the middle of the bed, surrounded by a ring of wetness that led me to believe this present had been delivered several hours earlier. The cat had cleverly covered up the poo with the sheet and covers, thus tricking me into thinking that all was well in the bedroom and that I could climb into bed for a restful night's sleep with no worries.
How supremely gross. I'd just been up close and personal in bed with a pile of cat shit. That wetness I felt on my boob? Yeah, you guessed it. I ran to the bathroom and scrubbed away at my torso with soap and water, which mercifully had come back on just in time for this disaster. After washing up, I changed the sheets, took off our foam matress pad (which thankfully prevented the actual matress/bed from being soiled), cleaned everything up to the best of my abilities and dumped the pile of dirty linens in the washing tank outside.
Yesterday I began my post by saying that my day had gotten off to a bad start, but nothing compared to the revenge poo of weeks before. No, my day didn't start out with cat shit, it just ended that way. What a way to jinx myself.
I hauled myself out of bed before 7am because the project manager of the current contract we're doing for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) requested a letter of recommendation from me last night that he please, please, please needed by this morning so that he could get in an application for a Ford Foundation scholarship program. He said he'd come pick it up before going to work, around 7:15, then never bothered to show up or even give me a courtesy call.
This lack of consideration for others is a common problem here. On Friday I was all excited about getting a haircut - my first one since July and desperately needed after the John Frida blue hair incident in the US - only to show up to salon and get blown off by the hairdresser. The receptionist said he'd gone to take someone to the hospital and would be right back. "Are you sure?" I asked, and she said yes, for me to sit and look at a magazine and the guy would be back in no time. 35 minutes later and one South African edition of Glamour down, I finally decided to call the hairdresser and see if he planned on showing up anytime soon. His reply? "Oh, not for at least another 40 minutes, honey. I had to give someone a ride to the central hospital." I was pissed, and told him that I totally understood having to go to the hospital but that he could have at least called me, or told the receptionist to reschedule on his behalf. Before walking home again I stopped at the bakery next to the salon and bought a big apple tart and some coconut macaroons and ate them all. I fully blame the calories on the hairdresser.
Another case in point - the other day our friend B. called for a taxi to come pick him up at his house. The taxi was a bit late, not altogether uncommon here, but after 25 minutes B. finally decided to call the driver's cell phone and see what was up. The problem? On the way to B.'s house the taxi driver had hit a pedestrian and was at the hospital going through the necessary paperwork to register the accident. The pedestrian wasn't seriously injured, but it totally escaped the guy's mind to call B. and alert him that it wouldn't be possible to give him a ride. Frustrating beyond belief.
Anyhow, back to my day. So I woke up early despite feeling like shit only to get the shaft from the guy at FAO. To add insult to injury, when I went to brush my teeth I opened the faucet and watched in disbelief as no water came out of the tap. I tired the hot water. Nothing. I went into the kitchen and went through the same exercise. No luck. There was no water in the building, never a fun thing to go through but made even worse when you are suffering from food poisoning and on the toilet at least once an hour. When there is no water in the building you can't use the sink, have a shower, wash your hands or flush the toilet as usual. It sucks.
We keep two big 20-liter canisters full of water under the sink at all times to be able to use on days like today when the water supply runs dry. I can barely lift the containers by myself, but managed to drag one into the bathroom and hoist it on top of the washing machine, which is next to the toilet, in such a position that I had some leverage and was able to fill up the back of the toilet tank each time I needed to flush.
After using the toilet and replenishing the tank a couple of times, I felt in dire need of a shower and wasn't keen on waiting around to see if the water would come back. So I lifted the water canister into the bathtub, got a plastic juice pitcher from the kitchen, and proceeded to have an improvised sponge bath with the remaining liters. It wasn't pleasant, but it was sure better than not having a shower and feeling greasy and dirty all day. Nothing like skipping a shower to make me unproductive and put me in a pissy mood.
It's now 2:30pm and there is still no water in the building. I went out before lunch and stocked up on some bottled water, juice and crackers so that I can make it through the evening without cooking, starving or dehydrating. This is the 4th time in about 3 weeks that we've had problems with the water supply. I don't really understand what the problem is, because the Indian grocery on the corner has water and I'm therefore inclined to believe it's not a city-wide or neighborhood-wide issue. It seems to be confined to our building. I asked the security guard/superintendent what was going on and he said something about the water tanks in the building being shared between apartments and that he'd already gone up to fiddle with the tank and the problem was all resolved. Only it's not. I still have no water. I'm thinking that the neighbor I share a tank with must be a water hog and is leaving me with none. Bastards. I hope it's fixed by tomorrow...
Speaking of tomorrow, that's when the madness begins. In a serious lapse of judgment, I'm participating in NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month that challenges writers to crank out a first draft of a novel of at least 50,000 words in just one month. Insanity at its finest, and I'm all geared up to be a part of it. Today I'm making an outline for what I plan to write. Tomorrow I will sit down and see how hard it is to really write 1,667 words in a day. Doesn't sound so bad, but when you consider that I basically write for a living (business plans, market studies and the occasional travel article) and that I'm supposed to be working on 2 simultaneous contracts during the month of November, it all starts to add up. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, though, and the dream of writing a novel will only happen if I am able to put the words to paper.
To satisfy curious minds: I will be writing about my experiences here in Africa - all of the stuff you've read about on the blog plus the things I've been unable or unwilling to put on the internet at this moment. The novel will consist of a love story (mine!), a series of mistakes and an amorous triangle that results in a bastard child (not mine) and the subsequent redemption of the father, the challenge of moving to a country not your own, the saga of a business being born and then burning up spectacularly in the midst of a shareholder dispute, observations about doing business in the developing world, and lots of anecdotes about travel and culture in Mozambique and surrounding countries. Not sure how it will all come together, but I have faith and they always say the ticket to success is to write what you know, right?
In other news, I participated in the crafts fair this past weekend and, despite a slow day on Saturday, my booth was on fire on Sunday. I sold more than I ever have in a weekend and got several compliments on my work. New friend Lacithecat came by with another American consultant who is here on a short-term assignment as well. Lacithecat bought a green turquoise necklace and her friend got a pair of copper chandelier earrings. It felt really good to have people validate my work as something beautiful and original. I'm set to participate in a huge crafts fair at the American School here on Nov. 18th where I hope to do some serious selling. Last night I was hit with the jewelry obsession sickness and made no less than 14 pairs of earrings and a big dangly necklace.
Business contracts, writing a novel, holiday crafts fairs...let the insanity begin!
Ah, one last thing. I may have jinxed myself by writing on the blog about the big change I'm anticipating on Nov. 13th. It may still happen, but it will certainly not be as significant an undertaking as I'd previously believed. Everything was hingeing on a meeting with a client where a budget needed to be approved. The client balked, and cut the budget by 66%, thus seriously affecting the funds available to pay me and bring to fruition the opportunity I'd referred to. I'll likely still take on this new endeavor, but not in the capacit I'd envisioned before. On the one hand, I'm disappointed. On the other, perhaps this is a sign...
Saturday, October 28, 2006
Mozambique: More Press Freedom in Mozambique Than in USA
The press is freer in Mozambique than it is in the United States, according to the latest Worldwide Press Freedom Index, published by the Paris-based press freedom body, Reporters sans Frontieres (RSF - Reporters without Borders).
The RSF index gives each country a score, based on the degree of freedom for journalists and media organisations. The best possible score would be zero, and a few European countries approach this. Tied at the top of the index, with a score of 0.5 are Finland, Iceland, Ireland and Holland.
Over the past few years, Mozambique's ranking has improved. In 2004, Mozambique was ranked 64th out of 167 countries. In the 2005 index, Mozambique was ranked 49th, and this year it has risen to 45 out of 168, a position shared with Cape Verde, Macedonia and Serbia.
But the United States has been falling steadily. In the first year the index was published it was in 17th position. Last year the US was in 44th position, and this year it is ranked as number 53 alongside Botswana, Croatia and Tonga.
RSF explains that this decline arises from the deterioration in relations between the Bush administration and the media "after the President used the pretext of "national security" to regard as suspicious any journalist who questioned his "war on terrorism". RSF also points out that US federal courts refuse to recognise journalists' cherished right not to reveal their sources. This "even threatens journalists whose investigations have no connection at all with terrorism".
RSF notes, in particular, the cases of freelance journalist Josh Wolf, imprisoned by the US authorities when he refused to hand over his video archive; of Sudanese cameraman Sami al-Haj held without trial at the US military base of Guantanamo since June 2002; and of an Associated Press photographer, Bilal Hussein, held by the US in Iraq since April this year.
There seems no limit to how bad a score can get, but the paranoid dictatorship of North Korea comes bottom of the pile, at number 168, with a score of 109. Runners up in infamy are Turkmenistan (98.5) and Eritrea (97.5).
In the RSF index, the African countries with the freest press are Benin (ranked at 23), Namibia (26), Mauritius (32), Ghana (34) and Mali (35).
The index covers events between 1 September 2005 and 1 September 2006, and is based on a questionnaire sent by RSF to 14 other freedom of expression groups on five continents, and to 130 RSF correspondents scattered across the globe, plus a variety of other journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activists.
To include any country in the index, RSF requires completed questionnaires from several sources. Thus a few countries are not in the index at all because of a lack of data. Among its 50 questions, the questionnaire asks how many journalists have been murdered, jailed, tortured, assaulted, threatened, or forced out of the country in the year under analysis. It also considers censorship and self-censorship, searches of media premises, and the jamming of radio broadcasts. It asks whether access to the profession of journalism is controlled (through such measures as a compulsory certificate), whether a licence is needed to start a newspaper, and whether there are undue restrictions on foreign investment in the media.
Article available online at here.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
I'm horrified by what happened to him, and I really hope that he has a quick recovery, but there's part of me that just doesn't buy this story. This housemate had some serious issues with drugs and alcohol, in addition to being bipolar and off his medication for more than a year because it's not available here in Mozambique. So he self-medicated with other substances, and generally used getting drunk and high as a way to deal with the shithole that is Chimoio. I mean, we all dealt with that environment in our own special way - I got bossy and compulsively organized, B. overate, P. was a workaholic. I'm still not sure what Rico did but I'd venture to say it had to do with being overly patient even when staying quiet wasn't the healthiest option.
Anyhow, I certainly don't want to pass judgement but the fact remains that this housemate had several addictions and was more often than not fucked up. Every night he'd drink a case of beer on his own, not to mention the joints he constantly smoked. And many times he'd go to work drunk or high, and would often drive a car in these states without considering the danger he was putting himself and others in. So the whole story about the ox and the little kids - maybe it's true, but my gut says it's just a cover for what really made him swerve off the road. God help me for saying this if I'm wrong...
Hearing about the ex-housemate's ordeal took me back to all the times here I've been seriously worried that I'd be in a car accident while driving through the bush. A couple of months ago one of our clients died on the side of the road after suffering an accident in a remote area with no cell phone signal and nobody around to call for help - the same road we'd drive on every time we had to go to Zimbabwe via Espungabera, where our tea client is located.
One of the times I was most conviced that my life was in danger was actually a trip B. and I took to Espungabera with this ex-housemate driving the old Land Cruiser ambulance we used to borrow from a friend. Our ex-housemate was being really reckless in an unreliable vehicle on a dirt road that was winding down a cliff. I asked him to stop the car multiple times, to please drive safer, and he simply wouldn't listen. We were pretty much at his mercy because B. doesn't know how to drive and at the time I wasn't confident driving a right-hand drive vehicle, much less in offroad conditions.
When I expressed my concern, the ex-housemate said I was being paranoid and basically a sissy. I was so scared that I started crying in the front seat of the vehicle. I really thought I was going to die that day and thoughts of my family and friends started passing through my head. I remember thinking, "I can't belive it's going to be like this." Now, hearing about his accident, I can't help but remember that day and how terrible it felt to be in the car completely powerless...
I wrote this about the experience and later posted it on the blog:
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 G. 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. B. and I, on the other hand, were scared out of our minds. We pleaded with G. 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. B. 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…
I also wrote this and didn't post it for fear of worrying my parents:
As we tumbled down the crater-ridden dirt road to Espungabera last weekend, I thought a fair bit about death. I don't mean to be melodramatic, but it was on my mind in a very real, immediate way. At the time, the practical side of my brain responded to the fact that I was scared shitless by imagining different worst-case scenarios. Perhaps we would skid off the road into a deep valley. Perhaps G. would lose control on the next curve and we would hit a tree. Or maybe we would run over a woman carrying laundry on her head, unable to slow down in time for her to scurry out of the road.
I kept imagining what my reaction would be to each of the situations. What if someone was seriously wounded? What if I got hurt? What if I suffered, pinned under the vehicle or left to watch my friends moan in pain unable to do anything to help. What if nobody found us? What would it be like to die in the middle of the bush in Africa, half a world away from family and loved ones?
I thought of my mom several years ago on a Zodiac boat ride we took while on vacation in Kauai. We were in a big, motorized raft in the open ocean along the Na Pali coast, speeding over every swell and catching air on the whitecaps. My mom was scared out of her mind. For the first hour, she was miserable, trying to dominate her fear and wrestle control over the situation. At some point, however, she had an epiphany and began to release her white-knuckled grip on the ropes. She looked out at the water, a deep swirling blue. She felt the wind on her face and the salt tangling her hair. She concentrated on the beaches and the tall green cliffs in front of us. At one point my mom leaned over to me and laughed, visibly enjoying the Zodiac adventure. “At least if I die it will be in a beautiful place together with my beautiful daughter.” I smiled and held her hand. She was able to recognize her fear, honor it, but also let it go. We had a great time on the raft.
I remembered this episode and tried hard to tune into a different wavelength as we bumped along the muddy road to Espungabera. I looked out at the landscape, long stretches of scraggly vegetation broken by the occasional granite boulder and odd patch of dark green jungle. Every few kilometers we would pass people walking alongside the road, going to and from small farm plots. I observed women carrying gravity-defying bundles of firewood or laundry on their heads, backs perfectly straight, bare feet making slow progress along the path home.
I watched groups of children walk down the road together, all wide-eyed and wearing rags, the older ones taking care of the younger ones. Some children carried hoes or tended small herds of goats. Many others walked along the road with nothing except a resilient smile and a friendly wave, chasing after our Land Cruiser as if it were the most exciting thing they’d ever seen. I wondered how many children had parents to go home to, what they would eat that night for dinner, if they would ever go to school.
After a while I, too, was able to make peace with my fear. It didn’t go away – I still felt my stomach in my throat every time we lost traction on a curve – but it certainly became more manageable. Like my mom several years ago in Hawaii, I accepted being powerless. I made friends with the idea that I might die right then and there.
There is something about the rawness of the surroundings here in Mozambique that brings you close to the fundamental questions of what it means to be human. Life is a blessing, and it is our duty each day to live it out to its fullest...
We are always at death's door. It feels pretty dramatic to come out and say it like that, but it's true. I've felt like my time is almost up on a couple of occasions, always to come out on the other side okay. I'm painfully aware, though, that it could be any of us, anytime.
In other news...
- I took the boys to the vet this morning for their rabies shot and a dose of deworming magic. They don't have worms, it's just standard here to give animals a deparasite/dewormer every 3 months. Supposedly they do it for people as well in the public hospitals. The trip to the vet's was traumatic as always, both for the boys and for me. Pria nearly bit the vet technician when he went to give her the shot, and it took 3 people to hold down the cat while the senior vet finally managed to give the vaccine. Not fun at all.
- I've been thoroughly enjoying all the home improvements Ricardo did while he was here for my birthday. Newly installed and/or fixed things include: a hammock on the veranda, a cat door leading to the small balcony off the guest room, said balcony's iron bars covered with chicken wire so the cats won't plummet off the 4th floor, curtain rod installed in our bedroom (no curtains yet, unfortunately), metal rod that holds up our shower curtain tied to a beam so it won't fall down anymore, and 2 photos taken by my dad framed and hung in the office. Saying Rico is a handy kind of guy to have around is a total understatement.
- There is a crafts fair this weekend and I am going to be there in full force with my new summer collection. I've made tons of cool jewelry with all the supplies I brought back from the US and can't wait to put it out there for everyone to see (and hopefully buy). Today I had an earring-making attack and managed to crank out 8 pairs of super dangly, sparkly chandelier earrings. They are by far the best earrings I've made to date.
- Tomorrow morning I'm going to attempt to go jogging with my friend Tracy. We will meet at 6:30am and run along what is probably the nicest street in Maputo, Avenida Frederich Engels. It is right next to the ocean, although since Maputo is a split-level city you're not actually on the beach, rather the street is the last thing before a massive cliff that drops down to the water. It has a very pretty view, lots of posh houses and tons of security guards. One of the advantages of the sun rising so freaking early here is that you can run at an ungodly hour of the morning and it's already nice and light out.
- Tomorrow I am also getting a haircut, long overdue. Perhaps I'll be able to get most of the blue out...
- Hung out with a very cool woman who is here doing a short-term consulting assignment. We had lunch together on Saturday, then checked out the Natural History Museum. It was surprisingly interesting. The collections consisted mostly of stuffed examples of African animals, all arranged in life-like positions on the museum floor (think Zebras being attacked by lions, a spitting cobra rearing up in front of an antelope - that kind of thing). There was also a Coelacanth preserved in the museum, the living fossil of a fish I remember reading about in elementary school and being so fascinated by. The highlight of the museum is a collection of elephant embryos showing development through the 22-month gestation period. Th embryos were collected during WW1 when some Portuguese general decided to clear out the land south of Maputo for agriculture. This involved killing over 2,000 elephants to make the area "safe" for humans to inhabit. What makes this slaughter even worse is that the area, to this day, has never been used for agricultural projects.
- There has been no water supply to our building for the last 3 days. I've had to take "showers" in the measly trickle of water that comes out of the sink. (For some reason water comes out of the bathroom sink but not the shower, toilet or kitchen sink.) Yesterday I thought the problem had been fixed upon hearing a gush of water in the pipes early in the morning. I rushed to take a shower but to my dismay the water ran for about 30 seconds, then stopped altogether. We have 20 liter plastic containers full of water stored underneath our sink to be able to make it through situations like this, but God do I miss running water. Hopefully it will be back to normal tomorrow.
- Good night.
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
This evening I arrived home late after a big meeting and decided to whip together a smoothie for dinner using the blender I got for my birthday. Papayas are in season right now and I'd bought a large one last week that I needed to use up. I also decided to throw in a banana (always in season), some fruit yogurt and soy milk. All the fixings for a healthy, nutritious meal.
I'd already used half of the papaya in a smoothie the other day, and had stored the remaining half, complete with seeds, wrapped in aluminum foil in the refrigerator. I got out the rest of the papaya and was removing the foil when a larger than usual cockroach crawled across the counter right next to my hand. I got the vague impression that it came from inside the papaya, but I figured that was impossible so I went on ahead and started scooping out the seeds. To my horror, another smaller cockroach crawled out from inside the fruit and made its way towards the rind, away from my scraping spoon. I quickly snubbed out both cockroaches with my finger (remember my admission in an earlier post about this?) and thought for a moment about what to do.
Now if you've ever seen a papaya you know it's full of strange black seeds that look somewhat like fish eggs. There are also tons of them inside the cavity of each fruit. Really, it's a pretty plausible idea that cockroaches could be living inside that jumble of slippery seeds. I drew the papaya right up to my face and started inspecting. As far as I could tell, there were no signs of movement, no nasty cockroach eggs masquerading as innocuous seeds, and certainly no dead insects - at least none that were readily visible.
What a dilemma.
I looked at the blender with all the other smoothie ingredients inside, just waiting to be mixed into deliciousness. I really like papaya in my smoothies, and they are only available during a short window each year (just like every other yummy fruit in Mozambique - no year round stocking in supermarkets here, folks) so I wanted to take advantage. Plus, I hated the thought of throwing out perfectly good fruit, especially since I live in a country full of people that go hungry and I'm on a tight budget myself. On the other hand, there was a high probability that not one but *two* cockroaches had been hanging out inside the papaya just moments before. Perhaps there were more in there that I couldn't detect...
Dear readers, I'd like to tell you that it was a difficult decision for me to make. It wasn't. I thought "What the hell - I'm sure I've eaten worse things!" and scooped the papaya into the blender and pulsed away. My smoothie was delicious, possible extra protein and all.
Had this incident taken place back in Austin, I'd have certainly thrown out not only the papaya, but all the fruit in my kitchen just in case. How things change...
*In Cuba and throughout much of the Caribbean, papayas are referred to as "fruta bomba" because "papaya" is a slang word for a woman's lady bits. The name supposedly comes from the fact that all those nasty little black seeds will explode out of the papaya if it is thrown or dropped from a significant enough height.
Monday, October 23, 2006
One thing keeps coming up, though. It's pretty random. It's a song that came out when I was in 8th or 9th grade by a band called Better than Ezra, appropriately called "Good." This wasn't just a good song - it was a great song. Even now I remember all the lyrics. It started with a catchy bass line, then progressed into an even catchier chorus that was all but unintelligible. My friend Meghan bought the cd and later let me in on the lyrics so I wouldn't have to sing along with the song using invented lyrics. The best part of the song, and the inspiration for the title, is when the lead singer belts out, "It was gooooooood, living with you, a-huh. It was gooooooood, oh-oh-a." Or something like that.
This song reminds me of the fun parts of high school - getting ready for dances, lacing up my first pair of Doc Martens, going to house parties with older friends and feeling like I was the shit, watching the movie "The Crow" obsessively, figuring out that the hot senior in jazz band liked me back, decorating the inside of my locker with photos and clip-outs from magazines, hanging out in public parks after midnight...
I was lucky in high school. I was always the girl that got along with everyone but didn't belong to any of the cliques. I hung out with people in my own class as well as people 3 and 4 years ahead of me - always the old soul. The popular crowd liked me because I liked to party and was always traveling to exotic destinations, I was friendly with all the nerds because we had advanced math class together, I got along with the goths and drama crowd because I was an odd bird in my own ways, always glad to go against the norms of life in a private high school.
Life was good back then. Simple, though at the time it felt like the world was about to end at least 4 times a week.
I never graduated from high school. I went on exchange to Brasil during my junior year, then decided while I was abroad that I just couldn't handle going back to the Academy after the experience I'd just had. I was fiercely independent, with a new and broader perspective on life. I wanted to go straight to college.
This is one of the little-known facts in the US that I wish more people were aware of. You can go to college without graduating from high school AND without getting a GED. I never did. The only requirements are that you have a sufficient number of upper-level credits (basically finishing your classes through junior year), that you take the required national exams (SATs and/or ACTs), and that you write your essays and fill in your applications for the university of your choice just like any other prospective student. Interestingly, this is a trend that runs in the family. My mom also didn't graduate from high school and went on to be a PhD candidate.
I left high school early because I felt like I'd suffocate in that environment if I went back after my time in Brasil, despite the fact that I actually liked high school and went to a place where I was getting a great education. A lot of people doubted my decision at the time, but I feel it was absolutely the right one.
I sit and think about how many kids *do* suffer in high school - are picked on, harrassed, and made to feel like shit on a daily basis by a bunch of insensitive people that are sadly at the highlight of their lives. How many of those kids would benefit from knowing they can go straight to college? To a place where there are dozens of freaks and geeks and people of every imaginable cultural background and lifestyle. To an environment where they are no longer alone...
Life in high school was good, but I'm glad I left it behind a year early. Get the word out...
Thursday, October 19, 2006
Needless to say I was not a happy camper at 6:45am. I like my mornings to include meditation and chai tea, not a roll of paper towels and uncontrollable gagging.
So two things are clear:
1. The cats obviously disapproved of the fact that yesterday I was unable to provide sufficient attention and play time. I was laid up on the couch all day with the first migraine headache I've had since 7th grade when I got blind spots while taking a test in Ms. Stiles' math class. Yesterday I didn't get blind spots, but I sure got the headache, accompanied by photosensitivity so bad I could barely look at the computer screen. (side note to parents and other concerned parties: no, I don't have malaria or meningitis or any other strange illness and yes, I am feeling better today.)
2. The diarrhea is definitely caused by the commercial-brand crap cat food. I ran out of chicken yesterday and walked in the rain to the neighborhood Indian grocery only to find the door padlocked shut. The bread shop next door was also barred closed. Unbeknownst to me, yesterday was, like, the 23rd public holiday we've had in Mozambique in the last month. Since no shops were open, I had no way to get the ingredients for my homemade cat food and was forced to give the boys the regular chow for a day. Apparently it didn't go over so well...
So right now I'm tired, slightly annoyed and waiting for the shops to open so I can go buy a frozen chicken for my sweet boys. Grrrrrr. I suppose this is all good training for when I have kids, no?
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
...but it's certainly better than nothing! Rico arrived in Maputo on my birthday and like a good boyfriend ignored his jet lag to come out and celebrate.
A couple of friends joined us for drinks and pub food at the bar of the Hotel Terminus.
If you look closely you can see one of my latest jewelry creations in gold chain, black glass and pearls. I don't usually wear my work, but decided that it was my birthday and I could do whatever I felt like that evening.
The next day Rico and I went out for lunch at this great seafood restaurant at a park called the Jardim dos Namorados (Lover's Garden). The name is certainly cheesy, but it's one of the nicest places to hang out in Maputo. There are several restaurants, a big playground for kids, a salon and beautiful manicured gardens.
We ate a great meal - mussels with garlic as an appetizer, followed by a fillet of garoupa fish smothered in a seafood sauce. Think big chunks of shrimp, crab, clams and even crayfish in a tomato cream sauce. Here I am looking satisfied after all that food, despite the fact that (argh!) my sunglasses are crooked!!
The view from the Jardim dos Namorados has to be one of my favorite things about Maputo. You can see the Indian Ocean stretch out for miles...
And then, before I knew it, it was time for Rico to go back to Brasil. This photo was taken yesterday after a meeting at FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) where our proposal was selected for a job that will start in November. We didn't even have time to change out of our professional attire before heading to the airport.
I miss Rico already. Start the countdown to December 15th...
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
If I had the ability to stop time I'd want to use it right now. I am 25 years old and live in Maputo, Mozambique. I have a challenging job that keeps me on my toes, but still enough free time that I can make art and dance in the living room whenever the mood strikes. I am working on my first novel. I meditate each morning with a cup of tea in hand and 2 kittens in my lap. I adore my family and have connected with amazing friends around the world. Perhaps most exciting, I am in love.
A year and a half ago I threw caution to the wind and decided to move from Austin to Africa. Within 24 hours of moving to Mozambique, I made a decision that had the potential to completely alter my experience here - either in a disastrous or absolutely wonderful way. When I wrote this 2 weeks after arriving in the country, I had no idea which way the scales would tip, but my intuition told me that I'd was on the right path.
Now don't get me wrong - it's not like I came to Africa and stumbled upon some sort of ready-made paradise. My experience in Mozambique has certainly involved a fair share of tears, professional crises, cynicism, days when I wanted to pull out my own hair or punch one of my housemates in the face, and homesickness so fierce it makes me wonder what the hell I'm doing here in the first place. But in the end I've gotten my lessons and despite the ups and downs, I am a resoundingly happy person and only see it getting better from here on out.
So if I only see things looking up, why do I want to stop time now?
Because I've been here before. I know what it feels like to think you've got your shit together, that you've paid your karmic dues, you've learned your lessons and now it's time to reap the benefits. I thought I had it all not too long ago - the relationship, the job, the opportunities - only to have everything crumble away from one day to the next. I know that life can throw you a curve ball so fast and unanticipated that it hits you in the stomach and takes your breath away. I am afraid this will happen again.
It's sobering to realize that even now, after all the work I've done on myself, there is still a part of me that doesn't believe that I deserve all the happiness in my life right now. I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the inevitable tragic end to this story that quite honestly feels too good to be true sometimes. The perverse part of my mind invents scenarios about plane crashes, a dozen different terminal illnesses, a freak accident. I imagine how devastated I will feel when I receive the news that my relationship and wonderful life as I know it are over.
This is the same part of me that wants to stop time right here, now, on the brink of the amazing things in my life I know are waiting just around the corner. This voice comes from a place of fear. I am afraid that I will lose all of the people and things that make me so happy. I am afraid of the sadness and the void that will remain when it is all gone. I am afraid of the pain of picking myself off the floor again, wondering if I have it in me to start from zero all over again.
In the end I know that I can't hold onto anything forever. Impermanence is a scary thing, and it is even harder to accept when you know the pain of losing something or someone that close to your heart. But it remains that nothing is eternal. Sooner or later I will, in fact, lose it all - my family, my relationship, my art, my friends, my love. It will all go away. When I am able to accept the truth of impermanence, I realize that I don't really want to stop time now. I want it to go on for as long as possible, because the joy I feel right now is worth a thousand sorrows tomorrow.
Thursday, October 12, 2006
This is part one of an as-yet-to-be-determined number of question and answer sessions about me, my life and the stories that come up on this blog. I hope this fills in some of the blanks.
Why is your blog called "Austin to Africa, Brasil to the Bay"?
Because these are 4 significant places in my life, especially considering the reason I started writing here in the first place. When I started this blog in April 2005 I was living in Austin, Texas. I'd just accepted an offer to move to Mozambique to work with a couple of my old friends from business school at a consulting firm they'd started the year before. Before actually moving to Africa, I took a month to hang out in Brasil, a place that is near and dear to my heart. The final part of the title refers to the San Francisco Bay Area where my mom currently lives, and where I think there's a good chance I may move at some point as well.
So what was the reason you started this blog?
To keep in touch with friends and family during my time here in Africa. Basically a blog was the easiest way to let people know how I was doing without having to write mass e-mails. I never expected a blog to lead me to such an interesting community of artists and writers, nor did I anticipate the desire it would light in me to write about and share my past experiences.
Where are you from originally?
Albuquerque, New Mexico.
What is your connection to Brasil?
When I was 15 I decided to go on a year-long student exchange. I can't quite explain my motivations, but part of me just knew that greater things were waiting outside the comfort of my own home. I looked at the catalog of all the destinations where you could choose to study and decided on my top 3: Brasil, Hong Kong and Venezuela. There was something about Brasil that fascinated me and I was thrilled when I got my top choice and was placed with a Japanese-Brasilian host family in Maringá, a city of about 400,000 in the southern state of Paraná.
I had such an amazing year abroad that when I finally had to return home to the US, I dedicated most of my time and energy to finding a way to get back to Brasil. I would spend every spare dollar on plane tickets and managed to go back at least 9 times over the following 2 years. It was almost like I'd never left Brasil!
In my second year at the University of New Mexico I decided to study abroad again, this time at a business school in Rio de Janeiro that had an exchange agreement in place with my college. At that point multiple Brasilian students had come to UNM on exchange, but no American students had gone down to the school in Rio. I was the first one!
In January 2000 I moved to Rio and kicked off the best year and half exchange I could have ever hoped for. I studied Marketing at IBMEC, one of the country's best business schools, and in the process met a group of guys that would have a significant impact on my life several years down the road.
Don't you have a house in Brasil? How do you manage it since you're obviously not living in Rio?
Right before I finished my second exchange in Brasil, I discovered this fabulous pink villa from 1910 for sale in the heart of my favorite neighborhood, Santa Teresa. I went to the open house and fell in love, but at that point it was basically an impractical dream to have a house like that in Brasil.
Then, in a sad but serendipitous turn of fate, my grandfather passed away in New Mexico the month before I was supposed to leave. My mom and I discussed the details of the inheritance and I proposed to her the possibility of using it to buy the pink house in Rio. She asked me to put together a presentation detailing the positive and negative points of my proposal as if it were a real business deal. I did, and managed to convince her that it was a sound investment, if nothing else from a financial perspective because the Brasilian Real had just crashed to 1/3 of its previous value that very same month. After some significant jumping through hoops, the pink house, or casa rosa as it's now known, was ours!
That was over 6 years ago. The original plan was for me to go live in the house as soon as I'd finished my MBA. Well, that didn't happen but we are able to manage because we have a very responsible live-in housekeeper that looks after everything in our absence. In fact, in an illustration of how small the world is, the person who looks after the house used to be B.'s nanny.
Who is B.?
B. was my best friend and classmate when I was living in Rio. We lost touch about a year after I moved back to the US, then randomly ran across each other one day on Orkut (Google's social networking site) while I was living in Austin. About a week later B. called me and filled me in on his life.
In 2003 he went to Mozambique as a volunteer for an organization that works with smallholder farmers in the Chimoio area. While on assignment, B. realized there was a huge opportunity for consultants in the country (lots of foreign investment and donor projects going on, but no qualified people to put together proposals and do fundraising) so he decided to stay. Along with a couple of partners, B. started a consulting company and convinced both me and Ricardo to come work with him in Mozambique.
How did you meet Ricardo?
We were classmates at the business school in Rio. We went on a couple of dates and there was definitely some chemistry, but we didn't have a relationship back then and ended up losing touch when I left Brasil. Ricardo moved to Mozambique a year before I did, and I only got back in touch with him via e-mail while trying to arrange the details of my trip to Africa. He picked me up at the airport when I arrived here for the first time, and our romantic relationshipas well as our professional one began from there.
That's the basic way we met. I want to save the details for another post because it's a great story.
So you and Ricardo didn't move to Mozambique as a couple?
No, thank God. I think I would have really resented him if we'd moved to Mozambique together, especially if I'd "followed" him here. Our relationship is a uniquely African happening.
Where is Ricardo from?
Rio de Janeiro.
Why do you call him Rico?
That's the nickname his family and close friends call him. Thankfully it's not pronounced like "Rrrrrrico, Suuuuave!" You actually say it like "Hee-Koo" because in Brasilian portuguese you say the 'R' at the beginning of a word as if it were an 'H'.
I had a hard time making the transition. Now I only call him Ricardo when we're in a business situation or if I'm frustrated with him about something.
What language do you and Ricardo speak at home?
Portuguese. He speaks fluent English, but since we met in a Portuguese-speaking context, it's actually really weird to speak anything else to each other.
What kind of work do you do?
Fundraising for local businesses and investment projects in Mozambique. A typical job goes like this:
A client hires us to help him/her get money to start a business, expand an existing business or get grant funds to support a project. I sit down with the client and get as much information as possible about the company or project idea. I then write a business plan that tells the client's story in a compelling enough way that a bank or donor will hopefully be convinced to invest.
What are B. and Ricardo's role in the business?
Ricardo is the front man of the company and deals with all the clients. He is responsible for negotiating our contracts and resolving any disputes that may arise. B. is an Excel whiz and does the financial modeling for all of the projects we work on.
How long have you lived in Mozambique?
Almost 1.5 years.
How long will you stay there?
We don't know for sure at this point. It's very probable that we'll be here for another 2 years. Rico and I want to save up enough money before we leave Africa so that we'll be able to cover our living expenses for at least 6 months wherever we decide to move next. This may take a while...
So what is next for you?
Also have no idea at this point. We may go back to the US so that Rico can get an MBA. We may move to Italy for a year to be with my grandmother. We may go back to Brasil. Or we might end up in some random place like Dubai or Moscow for all I know.
What else do you want to know? Ask away and I shall answer.