Tuesday, January 31, 2006

No Sleep 'Till Brooklyn!

Oh, dear. It's 4am and I am wide awake. I was unable to sleep from the moment I curled up in our nest of towels, blankets, and yoga mat around 11pm, and spent the ensuing hours tossing and turning the best one can manage on a hardwood floor. My body was sore from sleeping on the floor (although my back still feels better than with the crater mattress), I was hungry, and for some odd reason I wasn't even tired. For those of you that know me, or for those of you that simply share the go-to-sleep-late-wake-up-even-later gene that dominates my rest patterns, you understand that waking up voluntarily at 4am is just plain wrong.

But here I am in our living room, listening to our night guard Zeca snore on the wicker couch on the porch when he is supposed to be alert and defending our house. It's very strange because here in Chimoio the sun starts to rise about 4:45am and by 5:15am it is totally light outside. By the look of things out the window, were I back in New Mexico I'd swear it was about 7:30am. So to try and make myself sleepy despite the light outside, I had some cereal and am now killing time on the internet. I'm actually still quite awake and it's been a full hour since I hauled myself off the floor. I feel lovely now - I'm even thinking about taking a run on the treadmill - but I have no illusions that this sleepless night will quickly catch up with me.

Rico and I are supposed to go to Beira today in Canas' beat-up old Land Cruiser. The truck is in pretty horrible shape (think no shocks, no 2nd or 5th gears, no radio, no air conditioning), and the road to Beira is even worse. It's the rainy season now, and the already severely potholed road has washed out completely in some places so you have to drive on dirt or, depending on the weather, mud. Never a fun way to pass 3 hours, and I'm sure that with my pending sleep hangover it will only be that much worse.

Maybe this is all in anticipation of a new mattress and office furniture, like a little kid that can't sleep on Christmas Eve because he knows that a mound of presents is waiting to be unwrapped under the tree. Maybe I just need to stop drinking so much tea and coffee...

Our Getaway

Me and Rico, slightly windblown after the ride out to Chicamba in Patricia's jeep, enjoying a Coca Cola by the lakefront.

Here we are in the shade of a kiosk at a lodge on the lake called Casa Messica. In the foreground you can see Gemelli and Patricia, BL is hidden behind her, and Ricardo is in the back with his feet propped up.

This is the view from the Casa Messica. The blue lake with the granite hills covered in forest really remind me of Rio de Janeiro, if you can imagine Rio's Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas before it became polluted and surrounded by apartment buildings.

Here is a view from the dirt road that leads to the kiosk where we had lunch. Chicamba Dam is such a nice spot for a day trip, I wish we were able to go more often.

Update: here is a photo I took on our holiday trip to Rio of the Lagoa. It is taken from a road called Paineiras that links Santa Teresa to the Alto da Boa Vista and Barra da Tijuca by way of the Tijuca national forest. I think the Lagoa and Chicamba are quite similar, especially when you think about what Rio must have looked like when the Portuguese arrived...

Monday, January 30, 2006

Good Morning!

Rico and I have now been sleeping on the floor for 4 nights. We made a little nest out of all the blankets and towels that were in our drawer, plus my yoga mat underneath the whole thing. I am still adjusting to sleeping on the floor, the hardest part being that my hands seem to fall asleep multiple times each night, but overall I must say that my back feels much better. We are on a mission this week to get a new mattress.

Likely, this will involve a trip to Beira in the big white Land Cruiser that we occasionally borrow from our friend Canas. We also need to buy desks and chairs so that we can finally start working from the big colonial house that Agrolink has been renting as an office since July. We share the office with our housemate Patricia, who is Chimoio's best and busiest accountant, so the space isn't totally unoccupied. I must confess I am really looking forward to being able to work from an office that is separate from my home life. Between that an a new mattress, my quality of life seems set to drastically improve in the next week or so.

Yesterday, my housemates and I decided to get out of the house and go for a drive to Chicamba Dam, a beautiful river/lake about 30 mintues from Chimoio. It was well worth the effort. I hadn't been out of the house in 5 days (think about that for a minute. Five days without setting foot in the grocery store, the post office...nothing!) and was starting to become really irritated and depressed from the monotony of life in a small town where your only real responsibilities never take you outside the house.

So Chicamba was really beautiful. Bright blue water, some canyon-like cliffs and hills all covered in semi-tropical forests, with occasional boulders and sheer walls of granite poking out through all the green. We ate lunch at a lakeside kiosk. We all had fish from the lake (tilapia, I think), and I finally tried xima, the ubiquitous corn mush that is a staple in most southern African countries. It is also known as sadsa in Malawi, or pap in South Africa. It is basically a big, thick mound of a cream of wheat-type porridge that is cooked with no salt. I had mine with a tomato sauce and peri-peri, the local blend of peppers and oil that Mozambicans so love, smothered all over the top. It was actually quite good.

Unfortuately, today is back to business as usual. For me that means being at home all day and working on the final details of the timber proposal. Right now, I'm going to make a cup of tea. That's about all I can handle at this point...I'm still very, very sleepy!

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Oooh Baby, Baby!

Ah, I forgot to tell you all about the good news...

A couple of days ago, I got a call from the director of the Mozambican credit union that I elaborated a microfinance proposal for back in October. It was this huge project for the European Union, and it was a bitch to write. I still get this sinking feeling in my stomach when I think about how much was imperfect in the final version of the proposal...

Anyhow, the director called me to say that he'd received a letter from the EU informing that the microfinance proposal had passed to the second stage of evaluation and now will go to a committee for technical analysis. So basically we made the first cut, which is great news especially since I was so hard on myself about the whole thing.

The final result should be out within a month. Keep your fingers crossed...

Friday, January 27, 2006

Makes you want to go swimming, huh?

One of our clients had this kayak in his backyard. He uses it to go out on a small dam near his farm, some 20 miles outside Maputo. Check out the standard-issue sign on the side of the kayak!!

Thursday, January 26, 2006


Two posts in one day! This one, however, is a coped list from a friend's blog. Read away!

(X) Smoked a cigar.
( ) Crashed a friend's car.
( ) Stolen a car.
(X) Skipped school.
(X) Slept with a co-worker.
(X) Been called a slut.
(X) Had a one night stand.
(X) Made out with a member of the same sex.
( ) Seen someone die.
( ) Shoplifted.
( ) Been fired.
( ) Snuck out of your parent's house.
(X) Had feelings for someone, who didn't have them back.
( ) Been arrested.
( ) Gone on a blind date.
(X) Had a crush on a teacher.
( ) Been to Canada.
(X) Been to Mexico.
(X) Been on a plane.
(X ) Thrown up in a bar.
( ) Purposely set a part of yourself on fire.
(X) Eaten Sushi.
( ) Been snowboarding.
(X) Taken painkillers.
(X) Love someone or miss someone.
(X) Laid on your back and watched cloud shapes go by.
(X) Questioned your heart.
( ) Been obsessed with Post-It Notes.
(X) Squished barefoot through the mud.
(X) Been lost.
(X) Been to the opposite side of the country.
(X) Swam in the ocean.
(X) Felt like dying.
(X) Cried yourself to sleep.
( ) Played Cops and Robbers.
( ) Recently colored with crayons/colored pencils/markers.
(X) Paid for a meal with only coins.
(X) Done something you told yourself you wouldn't.
(X) Made prank phone calls.
(X) Laughed until some kind of beverage came out of your nose.
(X) Caught a snowflake on your tongue.
(X) Danced in the rain.
(X) Written a letter to Santa Claus.
(X) Been kissed under mistletoe.
(X) Watched the sun set with someone you care about.
(X) Blown bubbles.
(X) Made a bonfire on the beach.
( ) Crashed a party.
(X) Gone roller-skating.
(X) Had a wish come true.
( ) Humped a monkey.
(X) Worn pearls.
(X) Jumped off a bridge.
( ) Told a complete stranger you love them.
(X) Kissed a mirror/window.
(X) Sang in the shower.
(X) Have a little black dress.
(X) Had a dream that you married someone.
(X) Glued your hand to something
( ) Got your tongue stuck to a flag pole/light post.
( ) Kissed a fish.
(X) Worn the opposite sexes clothes.
( ) Been a cheerleader.
(X) Sat on a roof top.
(X) Screamed at the top of your lungs.
(X) Done a one-handed cartwheel.
(X) Talked on the phone for more than 4 hours.
(X) Stayed up all night.
(X) Picked and ate berries
(X) Climbed a tree.
(X) Had a tree house.
(X) Are scared to watch horror movies alone.
(X) Believe in ghosts.
(X) Have more then 5 pairs of shoes.
( ) Worn a really ugly outfit to school just to see what others say.
( ) Gone streaking.
( ) Played Ding-Dong-Ditch.
( ) Been pushed into a pool with all your clothes on.
(X) Been told "You're hot," by a complete stranger.
( ) Broken a bone.
(X) Been easily amused.
(X) Caught a fish, then ate it.
(X) Caught a butterfly.
(X) Smoked pot.
(X) Made out with a complete stranger .
(X) Laughed so hard you cried.
(X) Cried so hard you laughed.
(X) Mooned/flashed someone.
(X) Had someone moon/flash you.
(X) Cheated on a test.
( ) Had a Britney Spears CD.
(X) Forgotten someone's name.
(X) Slept naked.
(X) French braided someone's hair.
( ) Gone skinny dipping.
(X) Ate dog/cat food.
(X) Been drunk.
(X) Drank so much you puked.
(X) Played truth or dare.
( ) Been to Japan.
( ) Played mailbox baseball.
(X) Ridden in a taxi.
(X) Been in love.
(X) Been dumped.
(X) Kicked someone's ass.
( ) Celebrated New Years in Times Square.
(X) Lied to a friend.
( ) Celebrated Mardi-Gras in New Orleans.
(X) Been to Europe.
(X) Been to Africa.
( ) Slapped someone I loved.
(X) Driven over 400 miles to attend a show/festival/fetish.
(X) Met someone in person from the internet .
(X) Been in an abusive relationship.
(X) Fallen asleep at work/school.
(X) Used a fake ID.
(X) Watched the sun set.
(X) Felt an earthquake.
(X) Touched a snake.
(X) Slept beneath the stars .
( ) Ridden on a camel.
(X) Climbed a mountain .
(X) Played "Clue."
(X) Had a sleepover.
(X) Been tickled .
( ) Seen a UFO.
(X) Told a lie.
(X) Been robbed.
(X) Been fishing.
(X) Snuck into a movie.
( ) Consulted a psychic.
(X) Won a contest.
(X) Been to a zoo.
( ) Been suspended from school.
(X) Been in a car accident.
(X) Had braces.
(X) Eaten a whole pint of ice cream in one night.
(X) Touched a starfish.
(X) Hated the way you look.
( ) Jousted/sword fought/jedi light thingys.
(X) Witnessed a crime.
(X) Pole danced.
(X) Met someone famous.
(X) Pulled an all-nighter.
(X) Been to the circus.
( ) Been to jail.
( ) Laughed during a sad scene in a movie/tv show.
(X) Played with an Etch-A-Sketch.
( ) Eaten caviar.
(X) Gone horse back riding.
(X) Couldn't sleep.
(X) Had a song stuck in your head.
(X) Hated your computer.
(X) Owned a pet.
(X) Made a banana-split.
( ) Stepped on a nail so hard, that it went into your foot.
(X) Made homemade ice cream.
(X) Actually enjoyed your classes.
(X) Used a magic 8 ball.
( ) Seen a moose up close.
(X) Sung karaoke.
(X) Tripped up or down the stairs.
( ) Had a crush on a family member.
(X) Made a mud pie.
(X) Seen a musical on Broadway.
( ) Cut down a christmas tree.

Lullaby and Good Night

I have been a wreck lately and I blame it all, 100%, on the mattress Rico and I sleep on every night. I think even a mattress you'd find discarded and full of stains in a back alley would likely be more comfortable. At this point, I'd even be willing to try it out and see for myself.

Besides being a cheap import from South Africa's bargain basement of rejects that end up as classy products hawked in Mozambique, the mattress has a freakin' crater in the middle where I imagine at some point long, long ago there were springs. Now there is just a big, empty void that you automatically roll into when you lie on the mattress.

Not so bad if you sleep alone. You can sort of huddle up in the slump and pretend you are sleeping in a hammock. But let me tell you, when you try and share the bed with another person, things just go downhill. Literally. Rico and I each end up at a 30-degree angle, sort of forming a V with our bodies as one half sinks towards the middle and the other is propped up by the only functional springs that still remain in the mattress. The good springs, of course, nearly poke through the fabric and if you're not careful about how you turn and wiggle about at night, you get the nasty surprise of a spring in the forehead, a spring in the hip...you get the idea.

We seem to have reached a critical point in our mattress' life-cycle where each passing day represents a significant deterioration in structure. For months, the mattress was bad but bearable. Just a little dip in the middle, nothing to really complain about. But now, this is just insane. At this rate, by next week the crater will be so deep that our butts will sink to the floor when we lie down at night.

Our bed reminds me of going camping and pitching your tent in a spot that looked flat when I started, but when you try and sleep you find out that the ground is actually on quite an incline. The springs that prod you in the night are just like those rocks you were too lazy to dig out before putting up the tent. The slope of the mattress, if you choose the wrong position to sleep in, is just like deciding to lie down with your head near the tent door, only to find out the next day that you spent 8 hours with your head below your heart and nearly faint when you try to stand up in the morning.

Did I mention my BACK HURTS?? I already have back problems, but this is just out of control. Last night it got so bad that after trying to be zen and accept the 30-degree incline, not fight it, I decided that I could no longer deal with the mattress. At 3am I rolled out my yoga mat on the hardwood floor, grabbed a pillow and sheet, and tried to make the best of it. The yoga mat was actually much more comfortable, but I got cold after a while and kept being paranoid about spiders and scorpions crawling over me during the night. So at around 7am, I climbed back up into the crater.

It's now 11am, I just woke up, and I am in a beautiful mood after a good night's rest.

Oh, hold on. What's this I feel? Allergies coming on? Allergies? Today? Awesome! Just the thing I need to complement the shooting pains in my back.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Home Again

Ali called me this morning to let me know she arrived safely back in Chimoio. For the next few days she will not have Internet access. The phone bill did not get paid in her absence.

She sends her love and asks that you all write soon.

Katherine (Ali's Mom)

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

in Maputo

We made it back to Maputo in one piece and will spend the rest of the week here finishing up the timber project and working with other clients.

I have terrible allergies today and am in an internet cafe with no air conditioning, feeling the sweat drip down my back and legs.

Understandably, I´m keeping this one short.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Homeward Bound

We are leaving Rio in a couple of hours to start our journey back to Mozambique...I can't believe my trip is over!!!!!

We will overnight in São Paulo, then head on to Johannesburg tomorrow morning. We should be back in Maputo - and reachable by cell phone - by Friday afternoon (we arrive at 3pm Moz time).

Love to you all, thanks for reading.


Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Igreja de São Paulo

There is this fabulous gothic-style Anglican church, the Igreja de São Paulo, directly across the street from the Casa Rosa, that must be at least 80 years old. The plaster exterior of the church is crumbling away, exposing the brick structure of the walls and spires and creating a network of deep cracks in which pigeons and white doves make their nests. It is darkened with soot, and the cross on the main spire tumbled down soon after the picture below, but it is still a beautiful and mysterious building that I love having as a backdrop to the house.

Despite its neglected exterior, the Igreja de São Paulo still functions as a church, with an afternoon service on Wednesdays and morning worship on Sundays. From our varanda you can hear the Dean, a woman called Inamar, conducting sermons and leading the choir in hymns. On Christmas, there is an especially nice service complete with bells and the entire congregation singing traditional holiday carols, only in Portuguese. I was feeling somewhat homesick and out of the Christmas spirit until I woke up on the 25th to the sound of carols and decided to sing along, in English, while sitting alone in the garden in the early morning sun.

The Igreja de São Paulo is one of the main cultural and historical points in Santa Teresa. Until recently, the church had a very unique double purpose, serving not only as a place of worship but as the only movie theater in Santa Teresa. Every Sunday at 7pm, people would pay $5 reais for a ticket and a guaraná soda, sit on the wooden pews, and watch indie films from Brasil, Latin America, the US and beyond, projected onto the white altar at the front of the church. I remember watching "The Motorcycle Diaries" in the church two weeks before moving to Mozambique and having a near religious experience between the beauty of the film, the half-illuminated stained glass windows, and the excitement of an upcoming adventure.

This past Saturday, for the first time ever, I saw a wedding in the Igreja de São Paulo. It was in the late morning, the church was full of people, and cars were lined up all along the street. Rico and I had just arrived from his mom's house and were unloading a bunch of things she had given me for the Casa Rosa: boxes of silverware and dishes, throw pillows, a vacuum cleaner. Curious to see what was going on, we stopped unloading, sat on the stairs, and opened the front gate to get a good view of the church.

After a while, a man in a suit got out of one of the cars parked along the side of the church. He walked around to the passenger side, opened the door, and helped his beautiful daughter out of the car. Since the church is small, there is no waiting area or side room for the bride to get ready for her entrance. It all has to be done outside! The bride was the epitome of who I imagine getting married in the Igreja de São Paulo: short, jet-black hair in a 1920's bob tied back with an ivory scarf, a simple strapless ivory silk dress with a train, and a body full of tattoos. Lots and lots of tattoos that actually looked great with the dress, artsy and alternative just like Santa Teresa.

Rico and I watched the bride and her father wait outside the church, just hidden from the people inside, until the opening notes of the wedding march music came on. The bride adjusted her scarf headband, fluffed out her train, and took her father's arm to enter the church and walk down the aisle. I felt like a total sap, but I started to cry on the stairs. Rico gave me a hug and shook his head. Mulheres...Oh, you sentimental women. He joked around about how we all love a good cry at a wedding, but really I could tell he was moved by the whole thing as well.

We resumed unloading the car and then went to have some lunch. About an hour later, as we were driving back up the street to the Casa Rosa, we noticed that the wedding was over and everyone - family, friends, onlookers, and the bride and groom themselves - had moved from the church to the Bar do Mineiro next door to have drinks in the noon sun in lieu of a traditional reception. The bride, still in her ivory dress, posed for photos with a digital camera, glass of beer in hand.

It was the perfect finish to what I thought was the perfect wedding for Santa Teresa. After all, where else in the world will a total lack of zoning permit an Anglican church to share a wall with a somewhat dingy bar on one side, and an elementary school on the other?

Monday, January 09, 2006

Three Weeks in Tropical Paradise

Oh, how gullible I was when I believed back in November that I would be on vacation in Brasil for three weeks with my boyfriend. What a sweet illusion...I thought I'd go to the beach with friends, do some antique hunting in Lapa, catch up on e-mails, read a good book in the hammock on the varanda, and consume as much meat, pão de queijo, and fresh fruit juice as humanly possible. Right.

Instead, the past three weeks have consisted of the following:
  1. Working on a timber proposal for a pissy client back in Maputo who doesn't understand that putting together a $15 million dollar business plan isn't something that can be done overnight;
  2. Stressing about the fact that I was too busy to work on the timber proposal from day one, and that when I did have time to work I procrastinated;
  3. Meeting the family. This consisted of an early Christmas dinner with Rico's dad, stepmom, and stepsister; meeting his mom and grandma when I was doped up on drowsy cold medicine; meeting his uncle Alfredo and his daughters; another Christmas dinner, this time on the 24th, at Rico's aunt Claudia's house with her boyfriend and daughter; spending that night at a gas station with Rico's uncle Marcelo, his wife, and their kids; meeting his other grandma for a snack at her house...You get the picture. It's been nonstop family schmoozing since we arrived. And I must say, for all the bad press that in-laws get, I really, really like Rico's family and I feel they genuinely like me as well. Word has it that everyone is talking about marriage...
  4. Helping Rico's mom move into a new apartment. Moving is a pain in the ass under any circumstances, but Emilia chose to move during the week of Christmas when everything is closing for the holidays and the heat is unbearable. We worked our tails off - especially Rico, who has been solving problems for his mom and grandma right and left - and Emilia (his mom) and Maria Antonia (his grandma) now have a sweet apartment with a huge varanda that overlooks a nice plaza.
  5. Taking care of the Casa Rosa and everything that a huge house built in 1910 needs in terms of repairs, furniture, and security. This has included buying tons of furniture, lamps, and paintings (the fun part), making sure the alarm works properly and all the sensors are in place, calling the exterminator to spray for rats and termites, buying assorted construction materials, getting estimates for fixing leaks, patching up holes and cracks in the wall, making our pool/fountain enjoyable again, and fixing all the 12-foot tall wooden doors and windows that don't close or are permanently swollen shut. I must say, Rico has been an unbelievable help in all this. Having a carioca boyfriend with a car and good connections in the city is such a blessing, and has made my stress level at least half of what it used to be with regard to the Casa Rosa. The good news is that we got a lot accomplished and the house is looking amazing.
  6. Conducting an intervention with the woman that takes care of our house and is like a member of the family for us. Yes, intervention, as in serious problems that can only be resolved with intensive outpatient therapy. Feeling incredibly humbled by the situation realizing that if we hadn't intervened this person would probably be dead within a few months. Her situation is so, so sad...I plan on writing a lot more about this whole experience later, but it has made me grateful for all that I have in terms of health, education, money, compassion, understanding, family...
  7. Trying to visit with friends, enjoy our new cable tv, write e-mails, and rest inbetween all my other responsibilities above.

Needless to say, I am tired and need a VACATION!

Of course, this whole saga wouldn't be complete without the cherry on the sundae. Yesterday, while trying to clear up some space on my overloaded hard drive, I deleted an Outlook directory that I swore I would never need. Back in July, when Ricardo spent a month in Brasil, I was left to handle all of Agrolink's pending business. In order to manage everything, I needed access to some of Ricardo's e-mails that had client info or important attachments for follow-up.

Gemelli, one of my housemates and the company's IT guy, copied Rico's entire e-mail database onto my computer instead of just the directory I needed for the month's business. All of his messages were in Outlook, and I had never used the program. So Gemelli configured my Outlook, imported Rico's files, and got me all set up to work not knowing that I had access to much more that I was supposed to.

Being the good girlfriend that I am, I deleted all of the e-mails from my inbox except the ones in the file I needed. July came and went, and I finished up everything that had been left in my hands. But I couldn't shake the temptation to snoop through Ricardo's e-mails, knowing that while they had been deleted from my inbox, they were still alive and well in the directory, hidden in the bowels of my laptop.

Many times in the following months I sat with the data base icon in front of me, feeling like a modern-day Pandora tempted by an inbox, using all my strength not to double click and read through God knows what from Rico's past. Every time I was able to resist, but I'd always leave the Outlook icon where Gemelli had copied it, Rico's messages deleted from my e-mail but accessible should I ever want to realize my urge. In the meantime, I decided that I like the convenience of Outlook and started using it myself instead of web mail. I downloaded all my e-mails and haven't looked back since.

Yesterday, faced with a nearly-full hard drive and lots of files to download, I decided to clean out my computer. It was like a virtual spring cleaning. Click-happy, I set out to delete things I hadn't used in over two years, photos from the past that had already been backed up, music I don't really like or listen to but insisted on keeping in my iTunes...and the famous Outlook data base with all Ricardo's e-mails.

I want to do the right thing, I decided, and deleted the file. Just in case, I immediately emptied my recycle bin to make sure I wouldn't have a last-minute snoop. The virtual trash can on my desktop became skinny once again and I felt good. Satisfied. Proud of the tough decision I'd made to resist private thoughts and documents and maintain the integrity of my relationship.

Then this morning I went to check e-mail. An error message popped up informing me that Outlook could not find the directory where Rico's e-mails had been stored. Okay, I thought, no big deal. My e-mails are stored in another place in my laptop. But the dialog box was insistent. Outlook wouldn't open. I became more and more frantic as I realized what had happened.

Somehow, after Gemelli's initial configuration of Outlook, my e-mails became associated with the original Outlook.pst that contained Rico's e-mails. Thinking I was doing the right thing and deleting my hidden copy of my boyfriend's messages, I actually deleted ALL THE MESSAGES IN MY OUTLOOK!!!! Everything is gone. Adios. Such is the hard luck of the semi-computer illiterate. And, perhaps, the just payback for a girlfriend that saved prohibited e-mails should the day come when she wanted some sweet revenge.

Sigh. At least I have copies of everything on Yahoo web mail, but this entails configuring everything all over again and downloading over 90 megabytes of information. Please keep in mind that I live in the third world and rely on a dial-up connection that is precarious at best.

After I cried and confessed to Rico what was going on, I was able to see the humour in the whole situation. I even managed to laugh. I can only hope that my good mood lasts through the 4 days it will certainly take to download all my emails and reorganize my folders in Outlook.

Did I mention I need I vacation?

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Sailing in Guanabara Bay

Here is the view of downtown Rio from Rico's uncle's sailboat as we cruised through the bay. The water was calm, the wind was great, and the sun exceptionally strong.

This is the back view of Sugarloaf as we headed out of the bay and around into the open waters near Copacabana beach. Things got pretty choppy and I made the mistake of going down into the cabin to pee. It was like being in a cardboard box on a roller coaster. While I was fine out in the open air, the trip to the bathroom made me soooooooooo seasick!

You can't really tell it by my smile, but here I am just dying to vomit over the edge of the boat. Thankfully it didn't reach that point, as Rico decided to turn the boat back into the calmer waters of the bay. Of course, about 10 minutes before our sailing adventure was over, I felt just fine...

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


This new year has made me reflect a lot about friends. Most of mine are far away, our friendships established after a couple of intense hours, weeks, or years of shared time and space. We manage to keep in touch thanks to e-mail and the occasional phone call, sporadic contact leading up to a shared lunch or quick encounter in an airport before one of us is to catch a plane and head off to the next far-away destination.

I miss my friends, and I am reminded in these initial days of 2006 that true, lasting friendships are hard to come by and just delicious when they finally fall into your life.

I have been blessed with the opportunity to reconnect with several of these true friends, be it in person or via e-mail. Lambros, my Greek friend I met at a tourist office in Athens when I was 14, wrote a lovely recommendation about me in his blog, The Yellow Spacesheep. He and I used to write real, honest to God letters to each other, faithfully decorating paper and envelopes with crayons and ink sketches each month along with the latest news and reflections from each of our lives. We wrote faithfully to each other for years and years. Each day I would expectantly check the mail to see if a letter from Lambros had arrived. He is an artist, and each new letter usually included a sketch or comic strip for me to hang inside my high school locker.

In the summer of 1999, I visited Lambros and his family in Athens as part of a month long trip to Europe. It was a really difficult time in my life, and I was struggling with the things that torment many young girls in our society - low self esteem, an eating disorder, and an incessant desire to be perfect. Lambros gave me some of the best advice of my life as we painted together in his studio one evening.

"To be truly happy," he said, "you only need to do three things: Love yourself, trust yourself, and learn to say 'no'."

What wise words from an 19-year old boy...

He is now in London, working as cabin crew with British Airways, following his heart. Our friendship is now virtual - I miss our letters - but it is still so nice to know that someone on the other side of the world still thinks of you fondly.

Here in Rio, I've met up with several friends from the past, distant but still close to my heart. Maura, who was my neighbor and classmate when I lived here in 2000/2001, is someone I always make a point to visit when I am in town. She is wonderful to be around, one of those people that just lifts your sprits without even trying. We hung out together the other night, drank caiprinhas and danced to axé music in the first pouring rain of the new year in the front yard of her house.

Maura was there for me during a period of crisis in my life a couple of years ago, when all of my other friends in Rio preferred to forget that anything was wrong and totally avoid hanging out with me or even sending e-mails. But through the whole time I thought my life was over and that I had screwed everything up, Maura was there to remind me that I deserve to be happy, invite me to stay in her house until I felt better, make me espresso and diet cookeis, and tell me that everything would turn out okay in the end.

I met up today with Isabella, a friend from Maringá that I met only briefly at a barbecue about 5 years ago when I was visiting a mutual friend of ours that I'd studied with during my student exchange. Isa is very liberal, a leftist and an environmentalist, and we actually met through a huge argument about cultural imperialism and how the United States is the source of most of the evil in the world today. Needless to say she nearly keeled over when she found out that I am American, with my accentless Portuguese and house in Rio. From that moment on, we became friends. She made a special effort today to take the streetcar up to Santa Teresa to visit me in the Casa Rosa. It was the first time we had hung out since the original barbecue where we met so many years ago, but it was obvious by the effort she made to see me that the seed of a true friendship was planted back in Maringá.

There are so many others that are special to me...Gaby in London, Erin in Austin, Kyle in Burundi, Hannah in Pennyslvania. I am truly blessed.

And I am expcially grateful for these good friends when I realize that many people choose to be near me not because of friendship, but because of greed or falsity or self interest. My eyes have been opened once again to the futility of the students at the business school I attended here in Rio. People that I considered my ture friends have, over the years, shown their true colors and completely abandoned our friendship when it was no longer of use to them...

I have several friends here in Rio that refuse to come to my house since we got the Casa Rosa in Santa Teresa. Why? Becasue the neighborhood has a reputation for being eccentric, for rejecting the upper class Zona Sul way of life, for being dangerous because there is a mix of social classes up here on the hill. People that see no use in having a friend that lives in Santa Teresa, as opposed to friends that live in Leblon, or Barra, or Ipanema.

These are people that were happy to be my best friends when I lived in a different neighborhood, when my mom was head of a money management firm and they needed a job recommendation, when being American was equated with being chic and rich, when I was single and always ready to hit the dance floor. They swore that we were best friends and that nothing would ever change that...

Year by year I began to notice their true colors. The fact that these friends were more concerned with money and status than with the ups and downs that come from a relationship. As soon as I had a crisis in my life, got a boyfriend, moved to a not-so-chic neighborhood (albeit in a bad ass house!)...what was before a fun if not a bit superficial friendship was chucked out the back door along with last season's Louis Vuitton handbag, Ugg boots, yellow Lance Armstrong bracelets, and all the other things that were out of style and no longer propelled that person forward in the eyes of the socialite trash that rules their world.

I am grateful for the true friends I have and that I know will be there for me through crises and successes, monetary affluence and times where you just can't afford to buy a new dress or go out because you've got bills to pay...

People that know how to differentiate money from worth are few and far between, especially in the little business school world I live in here in Rio.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Holiday Photos!

This photo is from our midnight Christmas dinner before the Mercedes broke down. Here we are on the varanda of Ricardo's aunts beautiful mansion in São Conrado neighborhood. From left to right: Maria Antônia (Rico's grandma), Maria Cláudia (Rico's cousin), me, Emília (Rico's mom), Cláudia (Rico's aunt), and Getúlio (Cláudia's boyfriend).

In front of the fake Christmas tree: Cláudia, me, Rico, and Maria Antônia.

Here we are on Christmas Day enjoying leftovers - codfish, turkey, chocolate nut mousse, and wine - at the house of a friend of Rico's family. From left to right: Socorro's husband, me, Rico, Emília (Rico's mom), Maria Antônia (Rico's grandma), and Socorro (the family friend).

Here I am with Bibi and her brand new Hello Kitty dolls. Bibi is the granddaughter of Socorro and was super shy when she first met us. As the afternoon wore on, Bibi decided to come out of her shell and we played with her new mini refrigerator, made chocolate mud pies for the Hello Kitties, and took lots and lots of photos.

Happy New Year to all, more photos and stories to come soon.