Monday, March 27, 2006

A Profound Moment by Ali

Since I am still working on the rest of the story about our move to the new flat, here is an excerpt from an e-mail to my good friend Mark. He recently moved to LA to pursue a career as an actor and a model, and we have great conversations about "what is home?", how do you know when you have found the right career or right place to live, the right relationship, etc. Here is part of an e-mail that I wrote to him last week - in addition to some philosophical musings, it gives an idea of what the Nia intensive was like...

Dear Mark,

I, too, am a searcher. I haven't stayed in the same spot for more than a year and a half since I was 15. All this moving around has taken me to 2 places in Brasil, Austin, ABQ twice, and now 2 places in Mozambique. I feel a compelling need to keep moving forward, to have new experiences and meet new people, all with the idea that out of it all I will gain some life lesson essential to my time here on earth.

What I've learned from it all is the following:

- the huge revelations and life lessons never come at the time or place where you expect them to.

- the boring, sedentary times can actually be those revelations in disguise, and you only realize it later.

- every part of the journey serves a purpose. You are where you need to be now, and you will end up where you need to be when it's time.

- at some point it becomes obvious that it is time to stop searching, at least in terms of moving around to new places or changing careers. How do you know when you've found what you're looking for? Your body will tell you. Not your mind, your body. I know this sounds strange, but I'll try to explain what I mean in a litte bit.

- being happy and feeling satisfied with life will happen, but it's not at all the way you imagine it should feel like, and it is still rife with ups and downs and depressed periods. The difference is that you feel an overwhelming sense of calm and grounded-ness that rides you through the uncertain parts of life and always leads you back where you need to be. I always found that to be missing when I was in an intense " searching" phase. I would just search and search and at the end of the day feel very unsettled. Excited by life and in love with the people around me, but unsettled.

I can tell you I've been through fabulous times and also some very terrible ones. Many people have criticized the way I've lived my life, but I don't regret anything. But recently, I've received a loud and clear message that it's time for me to stop. I need to put down some roots, have some stability in my life, stay in one spot for a while.

Several things pointed me to this conclusion at the same time. The first was having lived for 9 months in Chimoio sharing a house with 5 other people. It was one of the hardest things I've done, for several different reasons. It undoubtedly brought out the worst in me. I wanted to run out of that situation after about month 2, but I made myself sit still and ride it out. I learned a lot. At the end of nearly a year, I decided that it was time to move on. Not because I was running away, but because a very wise voice inside me said I'd gotten all I needed out of the situation and it was okay to recognize that I was in a bad place for me.

The second thing was the Nia intensive training that I did in Cape Town. Nia is basically a way of finding health and healing through movement. It combines dance arts, martial arts, and healing arts to help each person find exactly what his/her body needs. Nia is very much about getting in touch with the body, doing what your body naturally tells you it needs. When the body is healed, the mind will also be healed. It involves a lot of philosophy about mind-body connectivity. So at the training, we did an intensive week of Nia and at the end all the participants became certified to be Nia teachers.

I love Nia, but the intensive was one of the hardest things I've ever done. I found myself very, very resistant in the first few days. I even plotted how I could make an excuse to leave the training after day 2. But again I made myself sit through the uncomfortableness of the situation. I got physically ill on day 3, and then it was like I'd crossed over to another place. I became acceptant of the process and made it through the rest of the training. I learned how to get in touch with my feelings, feel how they affect my body, and move my body the way I am called to move to help heal the feelings. It has been life-changing.

I know it may sound like a lot of hoo-haw, but it reminds me a lot of what you said about accessing your feelings to become a good actor. In Nia, you have to access your feelings and let them move your body to truly get the most out of dance. You only become a good Nia teacher when you access those parts of yourself.

I learned that I have been living my life completely in my mind. I have a fabulous life in my mind - I write, I think, I read - and I am recognized because of my mind - my work - and I let my mind make my life decisions - mostly rational and "thought out". But the mind can many times lead you astray, and a life lived wholly through the mind is an unbalanced one. I am learning how to live through my body again, and the body will never guide you wrong.

Let me give you an example:

Our Nia teacher told a story about a friend who was agonizing over whether or not to marry her boyfriend. This woman asked all her friends for advice, made lists of the pro's and con's of marrying this man, went to a psychologist, discussed it with her family, etc. And she still couldn't make a decision as to what was right for her life. So when she finally asked our Nia teacher what she should do, the teacher said to sit in a quiet place for 30 minutes and think about her boyfriend. Then, she said for the friend to notice what she felt in her body. So the next day, the friend came back and said that she'd sat for 30 minutes and thought about the man she was considering marrying. The teacher asked what she felt in her body, and her friend said that she felt her throat closing up, like she was being strangled. That was the unmistakeable message from her body that marrying this man was not the right thing to do.

So all through the rest of the Nia training, I tried to reconnect with my body and stop analyzing everything. I just danced and moved and meditated, doing everything my body wanted. All of a sudden, I became overwhelmed with a feeling that I needed to grow roots. I wanted to stay in the same place, be grounded. I felt this both in my dance, as well as in a larger way in my life. Interestingly, when we would do evaluations and feedback for each other as part of the training, everyone commented that my energy was not grounded, that it seemed as if I was dancing on air. Quite literally, the physical manifestation of what I need in my life right now.

I want to settle down, stop moving around, and grow my roots. Ricardo and I moved away from Chimoio in January and finally found an apartment in Maputo, the capital, at the beginning of March. We are now living together in an environment that I feel is good for me, where I can concentrate on my life and work and be a happy person at the same time. When I think about settling down, everything in my body feels joy. That's how I know this is the right thing...

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


One door closes and another one opens.

Not five minutes after discovering that the microfinance proposal was not approved, I got an e-mail from a person that found a reference to Agrolink on my blog. I responded giving him some information about the company and our areas of focus, and immediately got another e-mail back. From a random internet encounter now comes the following opportunity:

Dear Alexandra,

Super! Thank you so much for getting back to me so quickly. In a nutshell, the Government of Mozambique is looking at preparing a draft Compact for an operation with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). I was in Mozambique last month and ran across a reference to Agrolink while looking at rural/MSME access to financial service issues (including BDS), especially in the North. The XXX is a major MCC interlocutor.

I will pass on to my colleagues your coordinates.

I don't know if you are familiar with the Millenium Challenge Corporation, but it could be the meal ticket we've all been waiting for in terms of our operations here in Mozambique...

Yippee!!! I just went from -10 to +100 on the emotional scale in record time.

This Just In...

Remember the big microfinance proposal I put together back in October for a local credit union, asking the European Community for US 1 million to support a new rural credit programme?

Well, we didn't get it. It was a worldwide call for proposals, and the funding was limited. Of course part of me is tempted to play the "beat myself up" game because I know the proposal submission wasn't perfect. But I'm going to try my best to avoid that beast tonight. I know all to well it brings absolutely no good and won't change a thing.

Such is this business. You win some, you lose some...

Let the Negotiations Begin

Continued from last time...

Despite the tacky furnishings and plethora of teenagers in the flat when we visited, Rico and I were able to recognize that behind it all lay a fabulous opportunity. Three bedrooms, lots of natural light, wooden floors, and the perfect location. We squeezed each other’s hands in silent approval, then sat down to negotiate with Dona Flávia.

An interesting thing happens here when it comes to rent prices. Mozambique has been at the top of the international aid list basically since the civil war ended in 1992, and as a result there is a large expat workforce here with the cooperation agencies. When arranging housing for the expat employees, the main concern of these organizations is to find a secure, well-kept, convenient house or apartment. Price is literally not an issue as long as it falls within the agency’s budget for rent, an amount usually based on American or European standards for housing. As a result, landlords here are able to name their price and be certain that somewhere there will be an NGO or cooperation agency willing to pay, no questions asked. This phenomenon has created a rent market where a 3-bedroom flat, depending on the neighbourhood, can range from US$ 500 to US$ 2,000 per month. Hello, this is Africa! Apartments in New Mexico aren’t even that expensive.

The worst part about the inflated housing market is that if you are a white foreigner, many Mozambican landlords will assume that you are coming to the table with an NGO budget behind you, and this makes it next to impossible to knock the price down. But if anyone can negotiate, it’s Ricardo (seriously, he has an uncanny natural talent for this kind of thing), and after a good discussion with Dona Flávia we were able to bring her down from the original asking price of US$ 500 per month to US$ 450 per month – nothing short of a miracle given that this flat is awesome and the neighbourhood is very nice. We signed a 2-year contract, and even got Dona Flávia to agree to discount our rent for the improvements we make in the flat. For example, if we spend US$ 200 to replace the cracked sink in the bathroom with a lovely new one, we’d only pay US$ 400 in rent for the next 4 months. We even convinced her to buy back the appliances we’ve purchased (oven, refrigerator, etc.) as long as we leave them in the flat when we vacate, something we intended to do anyway.

While Ricardo was able to negotiate us a great deal on the rent contract, all the manipulating and pleading in the world wouldn’t have been enough to get Dona Flávia, her kids, and her stuff out of the flat by the date we were supposed to move in, originally set to be March 2nd. Dona Flávia was confident she could find a new apartment to live in by the end of February, giving us all a couple days to move furniture, purchase appliances, and scrape together the money for the standard pre-payment of 3 month’s rent at the start of a new contract...

Obviously you know that our move was delayed by a good 10 days. But the details? Oh, good friends, you'll just have to wait! Ricardo and I are flying to Brasil tomorrow with an overnight stop in Johannesburg, so it may be a couple of days.

Monday, March 13, 2006

The Flat, Part One

I've realized that if I wait until I've written about everything I want to, you all won't get an update until the end of April or so! So I'll post in chunks, in accordance with what I am able to write each day or week, and leave you hanging until the next entry because my storytelling is not at at all linear or even in manageable chapters!

Here is what I managed to write last night...

Today Ricardo and I finally moved into our new flat, only 12 days after the original date the landlady was supposed to hand over the keys. Although supremely frustrating at times, this flat was well worth the wait…and what a wait it was!

Ricardo found this apartment while I was at the Nia intensive in Cape Town. It was the first and only flat we looked at, and the one that we ended up renting – such luck is practically unheard of here in Maputo – but something inside me just knew it would work out this way. To paraphrase one of my favourite authors, Paulo Coelho, “When you wish for something with all your heart, the whole universe conspires for things to work out.”

I can’t think of anything I want more at this moment than to put down roots with Ricardo in Maputo. Being a 21st Century Nomad is certainly fun and full of adventures, but it’s a lifestyle that can leave a girl lonely and disconnected in the long run. Many things lately – from my community living time in Chimoio to the Nia intensive last month – have led me to the conclusion that settling down is just what I need right now. Mind, body, and spirit are all shouting out for me to stay in one place and enjoy a slower, more stable life.

So to that end, Rico and I set up an appointment to visit this flat as soon as I got back from Cape Town at the end of February. The apartment is located downtown in a pretty upscale neighbourhood called Polana and is 4 blocks from the ocean and near several restaurants and shops. The building itself is pretty drab and in dire need of some paint and a couple of structural repairs, but it is quite sturdy (it survived the earthquake!) and has 24-hour security guards in the front, so I can’t complain. Most buildings in Maputo look as if they took several direct hits during the country’s civil war, so it’s pretty standard that a nice apartment would have a horrid exterior. The building is also directly across the street from one of the coolest architectural sites in Maputo, an abandoned old Portuguese mansion called Vila Algarve that is covered in blue and white tile murals, so that adds a lot of character to the place.

Our flat is on the 3rd floor (technically the 4th – people here count the ground floor as level zero) and there is no elevator, so we get a really good workout huffing it up the stairs, but that’s good because both Rico and I are pretty out of shape at the moment.

The first time we visited the flat it was total chaos. The place was being inhabited by our landlord Dona Flávia and her, like, 15 school-aged children. There was barely room to walk around the flat because it was so full of gaudy furniture and kids running around. The worst part was the living room – Dona Flávia had, in good upper-middle-class Mozambican taste, furnished the room with a horrid set of black sofas imported from South Africa that had a pattern that looked as if the cosmos had suddenly gotten ill and spewed planets and nebulae on the dark velour. This sofa set dominated the whole room, but every spare space was filled with clutter. My favourite, in addition to the seating choice of course, was a huge fake-wood clock with plastic roses glued at each hour mark and gold lettering across the front that proudly announced, “High Class Quartz Clock.” Needless to say, I was a bit overwhelmed.

Despite the tacky furnishings and plethora of teenagers in the flat when we visited, Rico and I were able to recognize that behind it all lay a fabulous opportunity. Three bedrooms, lots of natural light, wooden floors, and the perfect location. We squeezed each other’s hands in silent approval, then sat down to negotiate with Dona Flávia. She originally wanted US$ 500 per month for the flat, but we were able to bring her down to US$ 450...

Oh, the suspense!! I'm sure it's just killing you!!!

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Surprise, Surprise

Guess what? We're still not moved into our new flat. Supposedly it will happen tonight, but then again that's what the landlady said yesterday, and last week, and at the beginning of the month. I'm just trying to be patient, understand that we'll move when we move, and remember that we'll get to discount these late days from our June rent so this isn't a financial problem either.

It's just so frustrating. I'm really looking forward to moving into our flat, and each day that the landlady dilly-dallies around is another day that Rico and I are living out of suitcases, eating all our meals in restaurants, and not having a proper work space. I'm finding it very hard to sit down and concentrate, be it on business stuff or on catching up on the blog.

I feel pressure to write - and I really do want to write about the experiences I've had in the last month - but right now I'm just a bit overwhelmed with the whole moving thing (or lack thereof).

The challenge, I suppose, is to sit still with all this anxiousness and pressure. Me fretting about won't make the landlady haul her junk out of the flat any faster, and it will only spend my energy. Wringing my hands over everything I've meant to write and haven't had a chance will not make my words come any easier.

My solution for everything at this point is to chill. Good writing and a good flat will come to those who wait...

Friday, March 03, 2006

We've Officially Got a Flat!

It's amazing!!! The flat is ours!!!

Ricardo and I just went over to the flat and had a meeting with the landlady. We signed all the final papers and payed a deposit of 3 month's rent, and she's agreed to move all her stuff out by Wednesday. I am having serious nesting urges, and can't wait to move in.

Today the weather is very windy, rainy, and cold. Yesterday it was easily over 90F. I haven't really figured out the climate here in Maputo yet. It reminds me of the schizophrenic weather in southern Brasil...

Well, Rico and I just had lunch and are off to run a couple of business errands and then go to GAME, this big South African department store just north of the city, to start shopping for our home!!!!! I feel like such a sap, but I am really excited about buying appliances and picking out towel sets.

Tonight I'm hoping to have some quiet time, what with the nasty weather and all, to finally sit down and write properly. Last night I was set on having a good write, but we got a big surprise that ended up delaying my plans and expulsing us from the flat we're currently staying in. For now, I'll just let you know that it has to do with a sewer (technically, I think it's a cess pool). You can let your imagination run wild from there until I conjure up a description to do the whole smelly event justice.

Until then, keep well!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Quick Update

Okay...once again we're at the internet café and I have a million e-mails to respond to and some research about bananas I want to do. Time is short, but I am still glowing and zen-like from my Nia training so it is all good.

So for a quick update:

- Ricardo and I have found a great flat and will be moving in tomorrow! It is a 3-bedroom with wooden floors and a small varanda. One room will be our bedroom, the other will be our office, and the last one will be a Nia room / guest room!!! I'm envisioning decking the whole thing out with mirrors so that I can dance the night away and watch how silly I look in the process. We signed a 2-year rent contract, so we're definitely moving down the "put down some roots" path, which makes me very happy. Next step: buy an oven, a washing machine, living room furniture, a work desk, some chairs, and A NEW MATTRESS!!! Yes, the glorious day is near. Behold the goodness of South African department stores that stock semi-decent mattresses.

- Work is going well. Ricardo and I cranked out a proposal for the EU in 3 days!! It was for additional support for the smallholder farmers in the Espungabera area that will be supplying the tea for our factory. It was definitely tough to put the whole thing together in such short time (I usually like to have a month or two), but it was good because it made me let go of perfection. Some parts of the EU proposal were not excellent, but it was okay. I just prioritized and moved on to write more important sections. All in all, a very good excercise for someone addicted to perfection.

- Speaking of work, we should have word from the EU this week about whether or not the microfinance proposal I put together has been accepted. If so, that's another million dollars chalked up to our fundraising efforts!

- Random things:

It's really hot in Maputo. Like 110 degrees F hot, and really humid. I sweat all day...

Ricardo and I went to the only gym in town last night for a trial workout. The gym is in the top floor of a really shi-shi hotel, with a view of the indian ocean as you run on the treadmill. I think we are going to join after we get back from Brasil.

I hand washed half of my clothes in a bucket this morning, then hung them up on curtain rods in the flat we are currently staying in. I can't wait to have a washing machine again.

We leave for Brasil in 2 weeks. My mom is going to meet us in São Paulo, then we will all go to Rio together. Big events during the trip: my mom meeting Rico's family, and being in Rico's best friend's wedding. Good times!

Okay...that's about it. I promise I am going to get my act together and write about this Nia training I keep referring to. It was life-changing, and I'm dying to share!!!