Sunday, April 30, 2006

For My Mom

Today is my mom's birthday!

She is off for the weekend celebrating at some hot springs in California, and I am trying my hardest to create a post in her honor before she is back in internet and cell phone range. I've been in front of the computer for most of the day, thinking about how much I admire my mom, all the important lessons she's taught me, and how grateful I am for our indescribably wonderful relationship. It's hard to capture it all in words.

Instead of trying to create an all-encompassing post about what an amazing woman my mom is, I've decided to share some of my favorite things about her, some of my dearest childhood memories, and a few stories that show what a strong, intelligent, kind-hearted, and sensitive woman my mom is.

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My mom is a fabulous cook. When I was a little girl, maybe 4 or 5, I remember helping her in the kitchen as she would make these delicious homemade cakes and cookies and flan. I would stand up on a stool so that I could reach the counter and help measure a cup of sugar, mix batter until it was smooth, or use cookie cutters to form neatly shaped sugar cookies. My mom always let me lick the leftover batter of whatever it was we were cooking, my favorite being the 2 ejectable beaters of the electric mixer.

Stored away in a shoebox full of photos at my mom's house is a picture from one of our cooking sessions. I am sitting in one half of the kitchen sink (it was dry, I suppose) licking a batter-laden beater from the electric mixer. I am wearing a pink tutu and purple leg warmers and have a crown on my head. I'm not sure if I actually remember the day that photo was taken or if I have created a false memory from looking at the picture together with my mom, but for some reason I remember that the photo was taken around Christmas. We had gone to see the Nutcracker ballet (like we did every year) and I decided to dress up like the Sugar Plum Fairy as my mom and I cooked together. We hummed the songs from the Nutcracker and I danced around the kitchen until it was time to lick the sugar plum batter leftover from the cake my mom was making.

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My mom is in incredible shape for her age. Every day she takes an assortment of vitamins, wears sunscreen on her face and hands and disciplines herself to exercise, be it a run with the dogs, the same Jane Fonda tape she's done since 1986, or a walk with her husband through the open space park near their house. My mom also lives the life of a Buddhist monk - she wakes up at 4am, has a cup of tea and reads or writes for several hours in the morning, eats brown rice and vegetables, and doesn't drink alcohol or smoke.

Last month when my mom met up with me and Rico in Brazil, we went on a hike in a town called Monte Verde. It was about an hour hike through the mountains of the Atlantic Rainforest - all uphill and on very muddy and irregular terrain. But my mom was a trooper and kept up like it was no big deal. Other women about her age passed us and were quite literaly being pushed/carried up the mountain. Not my mom! She was even more fit than me or Rico, something that was a big inspiration in our decision to incorporate exercise and a healthy diet as an essential part of our lifestyle.

(my mom and Rico during the hike in Monte Verde)

(we made it to the top!)

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My mom and I vacationed together to Kauai, once during spring break of my 8th grade year and again when I was in 10th grade. I remember driving around the island in a turquoise green rental car, listening to mix tapes I'd made of REM, Tori Amos, and Concrete Blonde. My mom and I sang out loud to the tapes as we zig-zagged down Waimea Canyon, very justly dubbed the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, looking at the red cliffs and even redder dirt broken only by taro fields in the valley below.

We visited a ghost town that used to be the heart of Kauai's sugar industry and walked up and down streets lined with tin-roofed buildings now taken over by artists and hippies. In one of the old buildings, a woman had opened a clothing boutique and my mom bought me this beautiful Chinese-inspired black satin skirt and blouse with lace trim.

I remember going to the farmer's market in the middle of a field, browsing the fruits and vegetables despite a light rain. We tried breadfruit and pineapples and lovely prepared dishes with fresh ginger.

One day my mom and I got an adventurous bug and began to explore the island off the beaten track. We turned off the main highway and followed a smaller road up a steep hill. At the top, we found a Japanese cemetery with most of the graves dating back to WWII and before. All the writing on the tombstones was in Japanese characters, some were crumbling with age and humidity, others were well-kept with vases of silk flowers and candles.

Another day my mom and I were driving to Hanalei to have a coffee when we passed a hitchhiker on the road. She was in her 20's and had braids and a hippie dress and a big backpack over her shoulder. I almost died of shock when my mom - at that time a very proper, rational, in-control and organized person - pulled over on the shoulder, motioning for the girl to hop in the backseat. I always had the image of my mom as the kind of person that would *never* pick up a hitchhiker, no matter how inoffensive s/he looked. But there all of us were in the car, my mom and the girl talking about how they'd both studied at Santa Cruz and how the girl was part of a commune on the island. We dropped her off a few miles down the road, then went to have a coffee in town. That day I got a peek into a different side of my mom's personality, one that is free-spirited and intuitively trusting and adventurous, a side that has definitely blossomed in recent years.

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Many of my favorite travel memories with my mom are in Brazil, from Iguaçu Falls to the Pantanal to Rio. Most of all, though, the thing that impresses me about my mom's experiences in Brazil is that she taught herself Portuguese the year I was an exchange student in Paraná state. By listening to tapes, talking with some Brazilian friends of ours back in New Mexico, and reading articles in Portuguese my mom was able to learn a new language when she was 46 years old! My mom can now take part in any conversation, do business, order at a restaurant, take a taxi and do anything else she pleases - all in very good Portuguese.

(here is a photo I love, taken in front of an art shop in Santa Teresa a few years back)

Another thing I love about my mom is her willingness to take a risk and not be at all bitter if things don't turn out exactly as planned. While I was living in Rio, I fell in love with a beautiful pink villa from 1910 for sale in Santa Teresa, a culturally and architecturally rich neighborhood on a hill above the city center that has an unfortunate reputation for violence. I called my mom up and propsed to her that we buy the pink house as an investment. I had (and still have) plans to move back to Rio someday, and the timing was perfect. The Brazilian real was at 3 to 1 with the dollar and this beatiful house was more than a bargain. My mom took a trip to Rio to visit the villa and close a deal with a laywer and the previous owner of the house, and it was a done deal. Thus began the story of the Casa Rosa, my current "home" and one of the places on this earth that truly has my heart. I am forever grateful that my mom was willing to take a risk and invest in overseas real estate, and hope one day to be able fulfill equivalent wishes for my children.

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My mom is the queen of nicknames. Each of our pets has had at least 10 nicknames, each more unique than the next. I don't know how my mom comes up with these names, it's like she has a nickname factory in her head that rolls creative monikers out whenever she pleases. A few examples:

Lady, our cocker spaniel that died last year, was also known as Pearl, Hunnifer, Pearl-Lynn, Perf-a-Lynn, Schnarfling and BD (baby dog).

Azul, my burmese cat that is currently living with my mom, is also called GC (girl cat), Zeeny, Zeenzibar, Zul-Salamin, Zulie, Zeen-Been and, simply, "a girl" or "the girl."

Not surprisingly, I am also blessed with many nicknames. Some of them my mom has used since I was a little girl like Monkey Bars, Alf, Alfie and Alifer. Others are more recent, like the series of nicknames based on initials we've adopted and now almost exclusively use when we talk to each other. These newest nicknames were inspired by names given to Lady and Azul. Instead of just calling the cat GC, my mom also started calling *me* GC (girl cat). Same thing with BD (baby dog). The logical progression from there, of course, was for my mom to become GC (grandma cat) and MD (momma dog). When I talk to my mom on the phone or write an e-mail, 9 times out of 10 I call her either GC or MD.

The latest additions to the initial nickname series are AC (Africa cat) and RD (Rico dog). In a move that just made my heart glow with happiness, Ricardo started calling my mom GC-in-law! I love it!

(here we are, GC and GC or BD and MD if you prefer)

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My mom is effortlessly elegant. She loves to wear tailored clothes and big pieces of jewelry with gemstones and silver or gold. When I was younger she wore mostly black, but in recent years she has branched out and included colors in her wardrobe. Either way, she is always pulled together and looks just beautiful!

One of the best things about my mom is that she is naturally elegant. Long ago she stopped getting perms and is self-assured in her decision never to dye away the whites in her salt-and-pepper hair. She has also decided never to get plastic surgery, something that she definitely doesn't need (thanks to all the exercise and healthy living and suncreen) and that I think is a wonderful decision in the face of all these women nowadays botoxing and lifting away any wrinkles or expression lines. My mom is confident and self-accepting about her looks, and this comes through as a beauty that no plastic surgeon will ever be able to create.

(shopping and looking chic in San Francisco)

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My mom gave me the best birthday present ever when I turned 16. I was on exchange in Brazil and homesickness and culture shock had hit me big time. I felt very alone, very frustrated, and missed my mom! She wrote me the following in an e-mail, a message that gives me comfort to this day:

"I am always with you. Just touch what I have touched and I will breathe into your lungs a wind for the singing of your songs." (anonymous)

Perhaps this is the greatest gift any mother can give her child - the realization that we carry each other with us no matter how great the distance, no matter what the circumstances. My mom is always with me, just as I know I am always with her.

(breakfast together in Austin the week before I moved to Mozambique)

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When I was a little girl, my mom would entertain me on long trips with what she called "The Color Game." My mom carried around in her purse dozens of colored fabric swatches cut into triangles. The game was to hold each swatch up to each other's faces and determine which colors looked best given our skin tone, hair color, eye color, etc. We would then separate the swatches into piles and classify each one. "These are winter colors," or, "these are summer colors." Sometimes we would think of another person, like my grandmother, and choose the colors that would look good on her.

Another favorite game involved the Scarf Bag, a huge straw bag full of old scarves that my mom and grandmother had collected over the years. I'd play dress-up with the contents of the Scarf Bag, creating sarongs and headwraps and tube tops, then model everything for my mom. The Scarf Bag was also an endless source of Halloween costumes, my favorites being Diamond Belle (skirt and top made out of black lace scarves, colored ostrich feathers in my hair) and a gypsy with a Hungarian-looking shawl around my shoulders and my mom's huge filigree earrings from Mexico.

(in front of a wall of color at my friend Jamie's house for Thanksgiving dinner)

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My mom is always there for me in a crisis. Always.

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My mom and I love to shop, love to have a Diet Coke in the middle of a long afternoon, love to order 2 delicious vegetarian dishes for dinner and split them, and love to talk about psychology, celebrity gossip, meditation, clothes, and the general joys and crises of living with other people throughout all of the above activities. Our conversations are wonderful, just the right balance of light and heavy. I miss them dearly.

(dinner at Fonda San Miguel, my favorite restaurant in Austin)

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When I was at the Nia training in February in Cape Town, one of the activities we did was called "The 5 Stages of Development." The idea is to relive the key stages of early life - birth, creeping, crawling, standing and walking. Each of these stages is linked to important developments in a child's personality, and if a child skips over one of the steps it can have consequences later in life. For example, studies show that children that skip creeping are less motivated, and that kids who do not crawl tend to have concentration problems. This activity is incorporated into Nia with the idea that by reinacting each of the phases, our body can compensate for what we may have missed as children.

We started the exercise by lying on the floor in the fetal position. We were instructed to remember what it was like to be in the embryonic state, to be completely safe and cared for inside the watery environment of the mother's womb. After a while, we were called on to reinact our own births, to respond to that unconscious call that it was time to come into the world and take the first breaths of air. We looked around with curious eyes, seeing light and faces for the first time. Then we started creeping, using our arms to raise our chest off the ground and pulling our slack legs behind us. Creeping is really hard. Your legs are useless and heavy, but the desire to move and explore is greater. Then we were instructed to crawl, to find a use for our legs and experiment with cross-pattern motion of the arms and legs. Finally, we felt what it was like to stand up for the first time, and to take the first tentative steps of a toddler. It was a strange exercise, but one that provoked surprisingly strong reactions from the women in the group, including myself.

When going through "The 5 Stages of Development" I was able to imagine perfectly what it must have been like at the moment of my birth. I felt my eyes come into focus for the first time, and saw the loving face of my mom in front of me. I felt her warm embrace, and knew immediately that even in this strange world of cold and light I was safe. I felt the bond between mother and baby, imagined how beautiful and moving that moment must be for those actually experiencing it.

More than anything, the exercise made me realize how much I miss and love my mom. I wish I could see her more often, that we could talk every day and hang out like we did when I lived in the US. I wish life weren't so short, that we could have unlimited time to enjoy each other's company and bask in the relationship that we have built over the years. Alas, as my mom taught me, we must accept that everything is impermanent in this life including ourselves. We can't buy more time and we can't go back to fix things we wish we'd done differently. All we can do is take advantage of the moments we do have, precious few they are...

Happy birthday mom. I love you!

(Monte Verde, 2006)

Saturday, April 29, 2006

File Under: Unlikely Entertainment

Who went to the gym 5 out of 5 days last week?

Damn straight! Since Rico's birthday on Monday we have paid our dues at the rooftop exercise club at Hotel Avenida for at least an hour every day. I even made it despite my cold, which I am super proud of because being sick is such a convenient excuse to avoid the gym.

Today is our day off. We have enjoyed a lazy Saturday of internet and good food. I made a Thai curry with coconut milk for lunch, and for dessert we had big slices of carrot cake with chocolate frosting that I made a couple days ago. And since we are now officially working out 6 days a week, there is not a guilty conscience to be found in the flat.

In other news...

Last night we went out with Nana and some of her friends to the Clube Naval and had a VERY STRANGE night (keep in mind as you read this that the Clube Naval is one of the most upscale bars in Maputo). To start with Rico was the only guy among 6 women, but trooper that he is he managed to enjoy the evening despite the gossip and makeup runs to the bathroom. We arrived at the Clube Naval expecting something similar to the last time I went out with Nana - a bar full of loud techno-y music and a hip multi-cultural crowd. Boy were we wrong! Apparently it was some nutso Portuguese girl's birthday and the entire evening at the Clube Naval was catered to her celebration. First there was a karoke showcase where the birthday girl sang 5 or 6 songs in a terrible drunken and off-key voice, the highlight being when she decided to stand on top of the bar and belt out "It's Raining Men."

When the girl finally stopped with the karoke, we were presented with the *real* treat of the evening - FEMALE AND MALE STRIPPERS. I kid you not. Out from behind a closed door emerged a redhead that Rico and I debated for several minutes as to whether it was an ugly and overly made-up woman or a drag queen. Our argument came to an abrupt end when the stripper started a choreographed dance routine, pulled off her wrap dress and underwear, dropped to the ground and showed off an assortment of tricks with ice and a family-size bottle of hand lotion. No doubt about it, we were dealing with a woman. A strange-looking Afrikaner woman with orange-red hair and a C-section scar, but a woman nonetheless.

Then came the male stripper, a tall bald South African with a leopard print cowboy hat, black mesh pants with rows of gold sequins at the bottom, and a red silk g-string underneath the whole thing. Thankfully he didn't bare all like his female counterpart, but he did put on quite the show. Priceless moment number one came when the stripper lifted one of Nana's friends out of her chair, laid her down on the stage, and proceeded to use her as a "prop" for several bumps and grinds in the routine.

Priceless moment number two came when the guy lifted up the crazy Portuguese birthday girl over his shoulder and started to spin around. The girl was so drunk that with each spin she would clamp her hand over her mouth and hold back a stream of vomit. After a couple of twirls, the stripper sat the birthday girl down in a chair with plans to give her a sort of lap dance. Unfortunately, the girl was so trashed that she fell off the chair before the guy could get his moves on, and her friends had to come scoop her off the floor and drag her to the bathroom.

Priceless moment number three came after the show when the male stripper (in a new set of clothes, thank God) decided that he'd like to hang around the bar and make some new friends. He sat briefly at our table and chatted up some of Nana's friends, then moved on to another group of people to have a drink and shoot the shit, never mind the fact that just minutes before he'd been dancing around in a g-string.

Needless to say, a double gin and tonic was more than necessary to take in the night's events.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Time for an Emergen-C

I'm getting sick.

I can just feel it - the itchy throat that feels like I swallowed a tube of chapstick, the runny nose, the sinus pressure. No mistake, I'm coming down with a cold.

May I make a confession? I am so happy to be getting sick!

I know it sounds completely crazy, but there is reason behind my madness. Since moving to Mozambique a year ago, the only times I've gotten a cold have been at HOME. Be it in the Casa Rosa in Rio or my mom's house in San Francisco, something in me knows that I'm safe and that there is somebody to take care of me if I let down my guard and get sick. Home is a place where you are allowed to be vulnerable, and where the world won't end if you are unable to travel or work or drive the car because you feel so terrible. Home is a place where being sick means you lie in bed all day, have some soup or some tea, watch DVDs and have somebody to cover you with a blanket and listen to you complain about your sore throat or your splitting headache.

Until now, some primal part of my body didn't feel safe enough here to let down the defenses and get a cold. But now - in our new flat in Maputo where I've been giving in to all urges to put down roots - something has changed. My mind and now my body feel at home. Safe. This is my space.

So I am happy to be getting a cold. The only thing better would be if I could weasel a sick day out of the whole thing and stay home from work. Unfortunately, when you work from home staying home from work loses all appeal!

Being sick has also provided an excellent excuse for me to skip out on dinner tonight with a client that I particularly dislike being around. Rico is out right now at one of Maputo's best Italian restaurants with the guy and has promised to bring me back freshly made tortelloni.

While I wait for my gourmet delivery dinner, I am using the internet at my brand new wooden work desk!! We had 2 desks custom-made and they were finally ready today. Just having a proper office space has made a tremendous difference in our productivity. I think Rico and I worked more today than we have in a long, long time given that we don't have any deadlines looming. The sheer excitement of having a real, honest to God home office gave us some much-needed motivation and we worked a full day.

Well, we took a break in the afternoon to go to the gym, but in my book that still counts as a full day's work. Today was leg-day on the weight machines and I can already feel that I am going to be a very sore girl tomorrow. It's only been 2 days, but the satisfaction of making it to the gym and being disciplined about our workouts makes me grin from ear to ear!

All things considered, not a bad day at all!

Monday, April 24, 2006

Happy Birthday to Rico

Today he is 27 years old. It has been a very calm, uneventful day and this has me feeling somewhat sad although Rico says it's no big deal. If things were different - if we had some extra money and a lot of friends in this city - I would have liked to organize a surpise party for him just like he did for my birthday back in October. Alas, the budget is tight and we recently moved to Maputo and are still somewhat isolated here. I suppose we celebrated Rico's birthday in the best way possible given our situation...

This morning I made us a special breakfast: 2 cups of coffee each and a ham and cheese omelette. Not that the meal was particularly fancy, our breakfasts usually don't go beyond a carton of yogurt or a bowl of All-Bran. After breakfast, I gave Rico my present. In the world of presents, it's not the most exciting but I do hope it will have a lasting impact.

My birthday present to Rico was a 3-month membership to the nicest gym in Maputo. I also got one for myself, with the idea that Rico's 27th birthday will mark the start of a new phase of healthy living, plenty of exercise, and fresh and nutritious food. It's a change we both agree is important, but we needed a bit of a push to actually get to the gym and committ to a healthier lifestyle. I hope that Rico's birthday will serve as a landmark that we can look back on one year later and realize that we've managed to implement the changes we wanted.

I hope that the gym membership will be looked upon as a present that expressed my concern with our well-being, my desire to grow old together with Rico and have as few health problems as possible. I fear, however, that the present may be interpreted in a different light. A friend back in Chimoio called to wish Rico happy birthday and when he found out that I'd given him a gym membership, this friend asked to speak to me on the phone and said, "Man, Ali, that's like a husband giving his wife an oven for her birthday - the one who benefits isn't the person having the birthday!" Will it be possible to actually convince people that this present isn't so I can have a boyfriend that is ripped and has a rock hard six-pack??

Anyhow, we went to the gym today and it wasn't so bad. The treadmills face a big picture window on the 14th floor of a building that has a killer view of the Indian Ocean, and the gym is actually really nice. After an hour of cardio and weights, though, it was time for a little celebration. We walked to an ice cream parlor and had a pitcher of fresh juice and a waffle with honey, whipped cream and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Yum!

After our treat, we came back home and watched "Y tu mamá también" on DVD on my laptop. The plan now is that I will make a big stack of tortillas from scratch and we will have a taco dinner. Nothing extravagant, just some good old New Mexican food to celebrate the beginning of one more year...

(I'm secretly making Rico a lovely birthday card...the only problem is that for the card to be a surprise I have to make it during a time when Rico and I are not together, something that doesn't happen all too often. So I will wait until a day when he has a meeting and I am at home alone for a couple of hours, then I will bust out the art supplies and make a beautiful card. Unfortunately, I didn't get any time alone this week and therefore the card will not be delivered on his birthday, but I suppose it's the thought that counts, right?)

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Take Five

5 places I want to visit:

5 songs I particularly love:
"This must be the place" - Talking Heads
"A paz que não quero" - O Rappa
"Chan chan"- Buena Vista Social Club
"Te dejo madrid"- Shakira
"I know what I know"- Paul Simon

5 foods I crave:
green chile
huevos rancheros
turkey, stuffing and cranberries
pão de queijo

5 habits that annoy me (in other people):
chewing with one's mouth open
picking at one's cuticles or pimples
leaving the windshield wipers on after it's stopped raining
breathing through one's mouth
leaving the faucet on when washing dishes, brushing teeth, etc.

5 things I'd like to buy right now:
a gym membership
a wicker chest of drawers
a blender
a mattress (yes, still on the list. the saga seemingly never ends)

5 changes I'd like to implement in my life:
wake up the first time my alarm clock goes off
start work at the same time every day, keep regular hours
start meditating daily
take more photos
avoid eating white flour and sugar

5 things I'd love to receive in a care package:
a book called "The Dark Star Safari" (author unknown to me)
canned green chile
season 4 of the tv show 24 on DVD
a ball of beautiful yarn to knit
Tazo chai tea

5 things I want to do tomorrow:
definitively unpack my suitcases and organize my things
make mashed potatoes
make Ricardo a birthday card (on Monday he'll be 27)
give myself a manicure and pedicure

Friday, April 21, 2006


The weekend after her birthday party Teresa invited us to celebrate Easter with her family and friends at a potluck in Matola, the industrial hub next to Maputo that is surprisingly rural despite all the factories and concrete in the area. Ricardo and I signed up to bring a lasagne and a chocolate-coconut pound cake, and Teresa drew a map for us with the following instructions: "Turn right at the gas station in front of the Parmalat factory, then go into the village and drive straight until you see a big white house."

So after my big night out with Nana, I woke up early last Sunday and whipped up a spinach and meat lasagne and waited for Rico's plane to arrive from Chimoio. Once he arrived in Maputo, we got a taxi and headed out to Matola to find the big white house and Teresa's Easter party.

After about 20 minutes driving on the EN4, the highway that leads to the border with South Africa, we passed the Parmalat factory and turned off the pavement onto a dirt road full of holes the size of a small car. It was as if we had entered a whole new world. Behind us, the well-maintained toll highway, Pajeros and Land Cruisers zooming past factories and manufacturing plants somewhat forgotten since the colonial times but up and running nonetheless. In front of us, the bumpy dirt road leading into a traditional village full of reed and mud huts and barefoot children wearing rags running alongside our taxi to get a peek at the white visitors to their neighborhood.

A few minutes after entering this village on the side of the highway, we came across several other cars that were all pulling U-turns on the main dirt road. The taxi driver rolled down his window and asked if they were going to Teresa's Easter party. They all were. Apparently, the main road Teresa had drawn on the map for me was water-logged and impossible to pass with a passenger car. So our driver turned around as well and followed the convoy of cars in front of us down an alternate route to the big white house.

We were driving into the heart of the simple community. We passed women selling tomatoes and children playing an invented game involving a wheel frame and a ball made of pieces of trash tied together in a plastic sack. We drove past a hut where 2 women took turns using a giant wooden mortar and pestle to smash cassava into mash. Two young girls raced next to our taxi and called out to Ricardo, "Tio lindo, tio lindo!" Cute uncle, cute uncle! Perhaps they didn't think we understood...perhaps they were just enjoying the thrill of flirting with an outsider.

Our convoy of cars drove deeper and deeper into this community, the lead car pausing every several hundred meters to ask for directions. Apparently everyone knew where the big white house was. There was no hesitation - each person asked for directions would point emphatically this way or that, and our line of cars would follow suit. After a right turn down a skinny dirt lane, we came across a huge concrete wall with hundreds of cars parked in front of it. There were security guards all around guarding the enormous white residence just on the other side of the wall. Ricardo commented that it was like we'd arrived at an oasis. I couldn't have agreed more.

The "big white house" Teresa had modestly described to me was more like a complex. We walked inside the massive gate and felt as if, once again, we had stepped into a different world. The residence itself was enormous, a 2-story white mansion covered in ornate plaster details. Sprawling out from the house was a garden easily the size of a football field. On one end was a beautiful swimming pool and a blue tile fountain. On the other, there was a giant trampoline and a Moonwalk for the children at the Easter party to play away the afternoon. In the middle of the garden they had set up a white tent covering a buffet line, a full bar, and multiple tables and chairs already full of guests. All around the edges of the garden were manicured rose bushes, mango trees, palm trees and other colorful plants and flowers. A group of 4 peacocks strutted and pecked its way through the flowers, occasionally stopping to eat a fat worm or throw a cock-eyed glance at a partygoer. The whole thing was beautiful, but so surreal.

I set my lasagne and cake on the buffet line and Ricardo and I walked up and down admiring all the exotic dishes people had brought. I sampled several different curries, a mix of cassava leaves and coconut called mathapa, and some roasted goat meat. Rico played it safe and had a big piece of my lasagne and some spicy Indian appetizers. For dessert we had flan and a piece of my pound cake. All very delicious...

The Easter celebration was huge. There were at least 150 people at the party and everyone was eating, drinking, doing karaoke, and dancing to the Brazilian, Portuguese and Hip-Hop the DJ was spinning. At one point there was a huge Easter egg hunt for the kids (only chocolates and candy, not actual dyed eggs like in the US). It was a delight to see all these kids madly dash around the yard, yelling in excitement when an egg was discovered, then unwrapping it and eating it as quickly as possible, leaving a trail of colored foil all around the garden as the search for the next treat began immediately thereafter.

Ricardo and I made our way from table to table, chatting with people and trying to fit in. The party was fun, but we were definitely the odd ones out. Not only were we the only non-Africans at the party, I got the impression we were the only non-family members as well. Nonetheless, everyone was very nice to us and Teresa made quite the effort to introduce us to people and make us feel welcome. Nana was at the party as well, but I didn't get to hang out with her too much because she was one of the main people in charge of organizing the whole event. Poor Nana was on her feet all afternoon hiding Easter eggs for the kids, directing the help to clear the plates from the tables or replenish the buffet line, and generally keeping busy.

At one point in the party, Ricardo and I found ourselves alone at one of the tables. We were chatting and people-watching in general when I noticed some movement along the top of the big white wall. Several children from the community had managed to climb up the outside of the wall and duck their little heads under the lowest rung of the electric fence that ran around the residence. There, perched at that great height and with their faces wedged just below a potentially painful shock, they watched the kids inside the wall play in the pool, jump on the trampoline, eat cake and ice cream, dance to music, and go on an Easter egg hunt. They watched the adults make second and third trips down the buffet line, fill their cups with Johnnie Walker, and laugh together with friends and family. The children watched silently, intently.

It made me want to cry. The whole situation made my stomach tighten and my throat close. It felt so wrong that there would be a house like this in the middle of such poverty, that children from the community be isolated in so many ways from the pleasures and abundance of the Easter celebration. I desperately wanted to invite these onlookers to join in the festivities, to lavish them in attention and food and games for one afternoon. I remembered the big mansion in middle of the simple neighborhood where I used to live in Austin that would organize an Easter egg hunt in the front yard for *all* the kids in the area each year. I thought about how much the kids from Matola would probably love to participate in any Easter egg hunt, much less one in the huge white house that dominates their village. I feel like something along these lines is light-years away from happening here in Mozambique...

Ricardo and I eventually left the party and for the rest of the night I couldn't get the image of those kids on the wall out of my head. It felt wrong, and part of me hated the owners of the white house for their ridiculous show of affluence in the midst of such poverty. But another part of me remembered how these same people had opened their home to me and Ricardo, shown such hospitality to a couple of strangers, the only tie being that Teresa - the sister-in-law of the people that own the big white house - also used to live in Chimoio.

I think the hardest part about the Easter party was realizing that there are no easy answers. Just because someone is rich doesn't make him a bad person. Just because someone is poor doesn't make him a victim. Without a doubt I see Africa through Western eyes, upper-middle class eyes, female eyes, my eyes. I make my own judgments based on my experiences and values. I see small children excluded from a party and I want to cry. I see a mansion in the midst of a poor village and I think it's wrong. I think I know what would make a child from the community happy on Easter, but who's to say that chocolates or a swimming pool or a new dress would make a difference? Perhaps the child on the outside of the wall is already satisfied and happy and actually much richer than the one on the inside of the wall will ever be?

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Teresa's Connections

When Ricardo arrived home after a meeting several weeks ago and announced, “Teresa wants to know if you teach English classes,” I knew it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

Teresa is the Director of a Mozambican NGO that promotes development in the agricultural sector, and one of Agrolink’s principal partners for the work we do with smallholder farmers. Teresa used to be the head of the NGO’s Chimoio office, and coincidentally was transferred to the Maputo office one month before Ricardo and I moved to the capital. Teresa is also from a very well-connected and influential family in the political sphere of this country, so when she expressed interest in improving her English I knew that it would be in our vested interest for me to start teaching pronto.

Since Teresa has to travel frequently for her job, we decided to structure our classes in intensive Phases where we have lessons every day for about 3 weeks followed by a break while she is off monitoring projects. We just finished Phase 1 yesterday and will pick up our classes again on May 15th. Quite honestly I couldn’t hope for a better arrangement. Just when I am starting to burn out on teaching, Teresa takes off for a couple of weeks and I get a chance to restore my energy and concentrate on other things for a bit.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I’m actually enjoying being an English teacher this time around (as compared to my experiences in Brasil where I taught conversational English to a group of unruly teenagers and business English to a sleazy lawyer who complained constantly that my price was too high). Now instead I have a student who actually wants to learn English and is happy to pay a fair wage for my time and effort. It’s been quite satisfying to watch Teresa’s language skills improve – perhaps even more satisfying than receiving a check for several hundred dollars yesterday that will make a huge difference in our life right now.

In addition to the obvious benefits that come from teaching English, Teresa has also taken me and Ricardo under her wing as fellow Chimoio transplants. Last weekend was Teresa’s 42nd birthday and she insisted that Rico and I attend the party at her house. Knowing it was yet another offer we couldn’t refuse, we bought a beautiful bouquet of purple flowers and took a taxi out to the upscale new development by the beach where Teresa and her family live. Even though we arrived an hour after the party was supposed to start, Rico and I were one of the first guests to show up.

We felt a bit out of place in the midst of Teresa’s relatives that were still setting up tables and chairs on the patio, but one of her cousins took an immediate liking to Ricardo and from that point on we had someone to hang out with. Teresa also introduced me to her niece, a girl my age named Nana who grew up in Virginia, studied Financial Economics at Marymount, speaks perfect American English, and whose father was Mozambique’s first ambassador to the US. Nana and I got along really well and made plans to hang out. All in all, not a bad ripple effect for a couple of English lessons I was somewhat forced into!

Meeting Nana at the birthday party turned out to be a blessing. Rico was in Chimoio this past weekend and I was feeling super depressed. Then Nana called on Saturday and invited me out with some of her girlfriends for a night on the town. I accepted immediately, excited about my first time out in Maputo and only my second time out in Mozambique since moving here nearly a year ago. The night started at the Clube Naval, the beautiful colonial building on the waterfront where Portuguese soccer matches are shown on big TVs in the restaurant downstairs and Maputo’s young and hip dance and play pool in the bar upstairs. I actually really liked the upstairs bar, my favourite part being the excellent people-watching.

Maputo is without a doubt the most diverse place I’ve ever lived, and the group of people in the bar certainly illustrated the miscegenation quite well with Mozambicans of African, Indian and Portuguese descent drinking together with Europeans and Chinese and all the possible racial mixes in between. What’s more, each person had his or her own style, so in addition to the racial diversity the bar was full of rastas, punks, socialites, gangstas, and hippies all mingling and having a great time.

After a couple of gin and tonics at the Clube Naval we headed to a bar called The Lounge. A lot of Nana’s friends were at this bar and I met some really interesting people. One friend, a Mozambican guy called DJ Renegado, sat at our table and excitedly told us that he’d been selected to play the after-party of a really big hip-hop concert that will take place in Durban, South Africa in July. The concert will feature Pharrell Williams, Snoop Dog, Rhianna and several other big acts from the US and South Africa and the concert promoters are paying for DJ Renegado to fly down there and turn tables after the show. According to Nana and her friend Kadiga from Cape Verde, DJ Renegado is by far the best DJ in all of Mozambique. Meeting him made me want to get tickets for the show in Durban, but right now it’s just not a possibility.

Another friend of Nana’s, a guy of Indian descent but with thick dreadlocks in his hair, sat at our table and told us that his house had been used last week for filming a scene from “Blood Diamonds,” a movie about Sierra Leone starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Connely that is being shot here in Maputo right now. His house will appear in the film as the residence of the Prime Minister of Sierra Leone. Even though it was totally against the rules, Nana’s friend hid in the stairwell of his home while they were filming and managed to capture part of the action on his cell phone without any of the producers noticing. He pulled out the phone and proceeded to show us the clandestine material. Although the quality wasn’t that great, you could definitely make out Leonardo talking to a Black man in a suit in the middle of a huge office. From their expressions, an argument was taking place and you could see Leonardo pace back and forth, then throw up his arms in frustration and storm out of the room. Nana’s friend told us that he and his family had received an invitation from the Director to attend another shoot on Wednesday where a shootout and a car chase will take place. How exciting!

We finally left The Lounge around 4:30 in the morning, super late by my standards but “an early night” according to Nana. She dropped me off at home and I literally fell into bed, too tired to even take off my makeup. I had to wake up early the next morning to make a lasagne and a coconut-chocolate pound cake for a big Easter celebration that afternoon that Teresa had invited me and Rico to attend. Definitely the most memorable Easter I’ve ever had, it is a story that will have to wait, however, for my next blog because I must do some work on the timber proposal now….

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Censorship of Self

Sometimes I am afraid to write in my blog about being down, depressed and sad. I realize that this is the main venue my parents, relatives and friends use to keep up with my life now that I live half a world away, and I have a tendency to censor my writing as to not worry anybody back home. I feel like every piece of news I share takes on immense weight, and because of communication and time constraints I'm not able to balance out the good and the bad. So I usually choose to write about the good, and limit the bad to tales of culture shock and simple frustrations. It's just easier that way.

Another problem with writing about my dark moments is that I feel they are always interpreted through the filter of "Ali went to Africa and lives in precarious conditions with no stable job and no real support structure." Any depression or frustration or hurt I might experience comes as a consequence of the fact that I live in Mozambique, and the reaction I get from many family members and friends is to simply say, "Ali, you should come home."

I experienced this last July, when I wrote a post venting my frustrations about our living conditions in Chimoio. Ricardo was in Brasil for the month, and I was left to deal with a million problems that cropped up with the company in his absence. I also had an unfortunate incident with one of our maids, who stole some of my clothes to sell in the local bazaar. I wrote about how angry and stressed I was with the situation, and got several comments and e-mails asking why I didn't just come home. I still don't know who made some of the comments as they were anonymous, but the whole thing made me feel even more frustrated and disconnected.

After that incident, I haven't really written about my "down times" here because I don't want to worry people and I don't want to have to deal with the inevitable perception that if I just left this crazy life in Mozambique everything would be fixed. Not that there is anything hugely wrong in my life, I've just realized that I don't share about half the things that happen here because of the desire to avoid people's reactions or spare their feelings.

I suppose with a blog there are certain things you have to censor, especially if you are writing under your own identity (which I do) using the real names of the people in your life (for the most part also true). For instance, I try not to write too much our business dealings because I know that potential partners or clients might come across my blog while searching for Agrolink. This was the case for a person representing the Millenium Challenge Corporation, so I think the no-business-dirt-on-the-blog policy is here to stay.

I also don't like to write about my relationship with Ricardo in detail. I like our relationship to be private, something ours to develop and cherish without our families and friends providing their opinions based on the things I might write. Many times Rico will say beautiful things to me that I'd love to share, but I just don't feel like this is the right venue. The fact that potential business associates might read this blog just reinforces this feeling, because technically speaking Ricardo is my boss and we already have a delicate path to walk without me gushing on and on about how he is the best boyfriend in the world.

But the fact remains that Ricardo is a huge part of my life and we spend literally 24 hours a day together. We live together, work together, have the same activities and, for the most part, share the same friends. It's hard not to write about our relationship when it is so present in my life, but I try and extract my own opinions and feelings to share. I think this is probably quite healthy, because my blog is one of the few things I have right now that MINE and mine alone.

I think that's part of the reason I am so disturbed right now about the fact that one of the few things that is actually MINE I feel compelled to censor. I have a paper journal, but I haven't really been able to write in it since I arrived in Mozambique. One of my current goals is to write in my journal more frequently, but I just can't seem to get motivated.

I find living with another person and sharing nearly every moment makes it hard to find time for myself. I know that I can - it's just a matter of me planning it out. I also find that being with Ricardo 24/7 makes it easy for me to avoid feeling depressed or sad. On the one hand that's really nice - I've got a boyfriend that makes me happy and lighthearted. But I also miss having dark days where I listen to singer-songwriter music, write nonstop and contemplate life.

This weekend Rico has gone back to Chimoio for a really important shareholder's meeting with Agrolink. It is a meeting that will be definitive for our work from this point forward. He is also boxing up all the things we left behind back in January to take back here to Maputo. So I have the flat to myself for a couple of days, and so far it has been an interesting experience.

It's been a LONG time since I've been truly alone for more than 4 or 5 hours. I miss it. I am a loner at heart and realize that for me to lead a balanced and sustainable life with Ricardo, I need to make time for myself. I also have realized just how much I enjoy being with Rico. We are a wonderful match, and I am grateful for the fact that we've found each other...

But this time alone has also been really tough. Because I tend not to dwell on depressing or down thoughts when I'm with Rico, it seems they've all come in a flood now that I'm alone for a bit. Yesterday I spent the entire day feeling like shit. I was depressed, fighting urges to binge on whatever food was in the house, and procrastinating like mad. I think I spent about 9 hours on the internet, visiting people's blogs and desperately hoping that a friend or two would log on to Skype or MSN or Yahoo so that I could have a chat and feel connected to someone.

The thing that was the worst for me yesterday was that I knew I had options to snap out of my depression, but actively chose not to. I knew I could get up off the wicker couch and do a Nia DVD, listen to some music, write a short story or a letter, organize our room, take a walk... A dozen opportunities to turn my day around and I decided I'd rather wallow in my depression and be sedentary.

Yesterday was a real lesson for me about the body versus the mind. My body was screaming out for me to stretch, move, dance and love life. My body felt terrible because I was sitting all day and letting the toxins from my stress and depression stagnate in my muscles and joints. On the other hand, my mind was ablaze with counterproducte (but convincing) thoughts. "Fuck it. I'll work tomorrow on the proposal." Or, "I want to eat something. Anything. Maybe I can go out and buy some chocolate, " when all the while my body was sending a clear message that I was full. My mind said, "I'm too lazy to do Nia," but my muscles and bones pleaded otherwise. My mind conviced me, "Just one beer, just one pita bread, just one piece of cake. Just another hour on the internet." In the end, my mind won out yesterday...

They say there is a silver lining in everything, and I am happy because even though my day yesterday was basically wasted, I got the silver lining: I can choose to listen to my body, or I can choose to listen to my mind. My body will never trick me; my mind often will.

Today is a better day, but I feel really melancholy. I woke up and felt alone and sad, so I decided to download some new music on iTunes. I got Calexico and One Giant Leap because I knew that I'd feel better if I listened to some good songs. I also decided to write. Finally. Write about the fact that I feel down, the fact that I am depressed this weekend, about the fact that I feel lonely and disconnected here in Africa...

I'm glad to be expressing these things. I feel better. I don't want to abandon this experience or this job or this relationship. But sometimes the going gets tough and not feeling free to share (by my impositions) makes it all that much worse.

The Celebrity in You

Last night my friend John Lee sent me a link to a face recognition site ( that is more addictive than a can of condensed milk when you are depressed. Basically, you upload a photo to the site and it uses algorithms to analyze the face(s) in the photo and compare them to a huge database. The system then identifies the people in the database that most closely match the face(s) you submitted, along with a similarity score.

The site was designed for use with genealogy work with the idea that you can scan photos of everyone in your family and the program will automatically recognize them when subsequent photos are uploaded. It will also recognize people that may be related to you based on their facial algorithms, so you can potentially find long-lost relatives and bastard children...

The really cool thing about this site, though, is that they maintain a huge celebrity database so you can "find the celebrity in you." This is the super addictive part. You upload your photo and the program identifies the celebrities that have the most similar facial traits based on the algorithms. The results are really entertaining.

After submitting many different photos of myself, the verdict is:

1. Beyoncé (70% - 74%)
2. Jessica Alba (68% - 72%)
3. Mischa Barton (64% - 70%)
4. Eva Longoria (62% - 68%)
5. Mariah Carey (62% - 68%)

Other frequent matches include Penelope Cruz, Eva Peron, and Halle Berry.

Apparently, I have the face of an ethnic girl (with the exception of Mischa Barton). I love it!
Find out what celebrity you look like here:

Friday, April 14, 2006

Inspired by Alina's Blog

1.Grab the book nearest to you, turn on page 18 and find line 4.
"...their Mozambican workers in 1979, leading to an immense loss in..."
From "Mozambique: The Bradt Travel Guide". Talking about the oil crisis that caused South Africa to lay off most of its Mozambican mine workers, and the resulting foreign exchange crisis experienced here.

2.Stretch your left arm out as far as you can.
I've come across a can of 2M beer (one of Mozambique's national brands), a colorful cotton pillow from Zimbabwe, and a lovely wicker couch made by local craftsmen.

3.What is the last thing you watched on TV?
We don't have a TV, so I really have no idea. The last memorable thing I watched was an episode of 24 when Rico and I were in Rio.

4.Without looking, guess what time it is?
I'd have to say 12:53.

5.Now look at the clock, what is the actual time?
I swear I'm not making this up. It's 12:55!

6.With the exception of the computer, what can you hear?
Traffic outside our flat - mostly chapas, the ubiquitous vans used for collective transport here in Mozambique. I can also hear occasional pieces of conversation from my neighbors as they walk through the stairwell.

7. When did you last step outside? What were you doing?
Yesterday afternoon. Rico and I went to the grocery store, bought 2 cartridges for the printer, and stopped by a lovely Lebanese café to buy a bag of fresh pita bread (US $2.25 for 10 enormous pieces of bread).

8. Before you started this survey, what did you look at?
Articles on venture capital in emerging markets.

9. What are you wearing?
Old comfortable jeans, a soft t-shirt, and Havaianas. I don't plan to leave the house today, so I'm dressed in lounge clothes.

10. Did you dream last night?
Yes, that I was in Namibia swimming in the ocean. The tide came in and I had to swim under huge waves to get back to shore. The beach was full of beautiful pieces of polished glass and smooth stones.

11. When did you last laugh?
Probably last night right before going to bed.

12. What is on the walls of the room you are in?
Sadly, not much. I've put up a cross from New Mexico full of silver milagros with a picture of Frida Kahlo in the middle, but it not in a permanent spot on the wall. I just took advantage of an existing nail to break up the monotony of stark white walls.

13. Seen anything weird lately?
Each of the last 2 days Rico and I have gone walking around the city, we've encountered drunk men passed out on the sidewalk of a really busy street.

14. What do you think of this quiz?
A good distraction from the work I should be doing (i.e. updates on the timber project)

15. What is the last film you saw?
"Derailed" with Jennifer Aniston and Clive Owen. I watched it on South African Airways on our way to Brasil last month. It featured several scenes that creeped me out like few movies I've ever seen.

16. If you became a multimillionaire overnight, what would you buy?
Lots of plane tickets. Shoes. A 4x4 vehicle. A new laptop. Studio space for me to teach Nia classes. Antique furniture and crystal chandeliers for the Casa Rosa. An IRA. Pedicures and manicures for life. A personal acupuncturist. The Villa across the street...

17. Tell me something about you that I don't know.
I am afraid of many things: parallel parking, snakes, lightning, crossing the street in countries where they drive on the left, going alone to unfamiliar places...

18. If you could change one thing about the world, regardless of guilt or politics, what would you do?
Make everyone live in a country other than their own for at least a year.

19. Do you like to dance?
LOVE to dance.

20. George Bush.
Oh, shame.

21. Imagine your first child is a girl, what do you call her?
Sofia, Isabella, Alexandra, Alexa, Katia, Katarina...

22.Imagine your first child is a boy, what do you call him?
Alexander and Marino are the only ones I really like.

23. Would you ever consider living abroad?

24.What do you want GOD to say to you when you reach the pearly gates?
With my blessing, please come in. But I don't really think there are pearly gates...

25. 4 people who must also do this meme in their journal.
Those who are inspired.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Next Step

A brilliant idea occurred to me yesterday. I am going to apply for a Fulbright Grant for research in Mozambique. Several friends of mine have been awarded Fulbright grants for lecturing and research in Korea, Brazil, and Chile. The idea that I might also apply just never crossed my mind...

Until now.

The deadline is August 1st, and I already have an idea of what I'd like to propose as a research project. I will be applying in the Business Administration category, and would like to focus on the role that venture capital and other forms of investment can play in sustainable development of the private sector in Mozambique.

I will begin to prepare the application material next week. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Mornings Like Mom

For some time now, I have realized and accepted that I am becoming more and more like my mother. We now work in the same field and have similar professional talents. We have the same general set of values regarding how people should treat each other and what the best ways are to resolve conflict. We are both into conscious awareness, meditation, reading and writing about self discovery, and Jungian analysis. We even look more and more alike as the years go by, especially now that I've let my hair go naturally wavy and wear my glasses more frequently.

I've noticed that I also have in me some of the tendencies that my mom exhibited when I was a child, but has now successfully managed to deal with in a healthy way. Several traits became especially apparent in Chimoio, like the obsessive organizing of my closet and clothes, the tendency to be bossy when under stress, and the creation of unattainably high standards, both for myself and for my friends, housemates and family.

While we were in Brasil last month, my mom made a prediction to Ricardo as we were discussing this subject:

"Just wait," she said, "at some point in your lives Ali will start waking up at 4am because it is the only time she'll have to herself."

Given my relationship with mornings, I've never thought this a likely scenario. But wouldn't you know it - even in this I have to admit I'm becoming more like my mom, who has woken up at or before 4am ever since I was born (apparently when I was younger, I was a huge fan of the pre-dawn hours). Now that Rico and I are in Maputo, something has changed about the way my body and mind deal with waking up early. It is now a pleasure, and I look forward to a couple hours alone each day to have a cup of tea, do some meditation and stretches, update my blog, and enjoy the stillness.

Granted, I'm now waking up between 6:30 and 7:30 - a far cry from 4am, but definitely a move in that direction considering I used to wake up in Chimoio between 9 and 10am every day. At this rate, I wouldn't be at all surprised if the 4am wake-up call starts even before I have a child...

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

NIA White Belt Intensive

As you all know, I attended the Nia White Belt Intensive in Cape Town at the end of February. I am now a certified Nia teacher, although I'm far from feeling ready to teach. I do plan to teach within the year, however, but I still need to do a lot of practicing! I think Nia would be a wonderful thing for me to bring to Mozambique, and I know that having it as part of my daily life would do wonders for how I feel, both inside and out.

On the last day we had a graduation ceremony. We all sat in a circle and were recognized by our fellow participants. As each person received her training certificate, the rest of us took a few minutes to describe that person. So for example when it was my turn to receive my certificate, everyone in the group said what their impressions of me were. The list was really incredible, and it was such a nice exercise to do as a closing activity.

There were 14 of us that went through the intensive, with participants from South Africa, Israel, the UK, Switzerland, and the US/Mozambique (me). The woman with her arms crossed in the middle of the picture is Kathy, our trainer, who is originally from the US and brought Nia to South Africa 4 years ago.

In the middle of the circle, we created a sort of Nia altar. Each person in the training brought a special object from home to share with the group. Everyone was so creative and throughtful with their offerings. One girl brought a teapot and went through the motions of serving each of us a hot cup of tea to warm our souls. Another person brought photos of her family because they are the most important thing in her life and she wanted to share the feeling she gets when she thinks of her family. Other people shared flowers and special pieces of jewelry.

My favorite offering was from a girl from the UK, Miranda. She'd gone to a rocks and minerals shop in Cape Town the day she arrived for the Nia training. At this shop, she told us, she'd spent over an hour searching through bins and bins of polished rocks to find the perfect ones for her to take home as souveniers. However, Miranda decided the night before our graduation ceremony that she wanted to give a stone to each person in the Nia intensive. As we sat in our circle, she presented each of us with a beautiful rock, and explained how the color and shape of the rock represented aspects of our personalities and our dance. Miranda's choices were amazing - there was a polished stone perfect for each woman in the group.

My stone is opaque gray-blue and triangle shaped. All over one side of the stone are black splotches. Miranda said she chose the stone for me because blue is my color, because I wear a triangle necklace around my neck, and because I have dark patches in my life that I am working through, underneath which lies a beautiful person.

My offering to the group was my triangle necklace that I got when I was 16 in Brasília. It has an engraving of 2 people sitting back-to-back on a palm tree. I love the necklace so much that I got the design tattooed on my back last year in Austin.

Here is a picture of our Nia altar (we got our offerings back at the end of the graduation ceremony.)

And here I am looking as if I'm in a trance. Really, Miranda is telling me how much she thinks we are alike, and that she hopes I wasn't offended by the rock she gave me (I wasn't).

And here we all are immediately after finishing the intensive. I don't think I have ever felt so at peace in my entire life.

I don't think I even need to say how much I encourage anybody interested to try out a Nia class, and to attend a White Belt intensive. You can be at any athletic level and don't have to have any experience in dance or anything else (even to participate in the intensive), just a desire to connect with your body and find the joy of movement.

Monday, April 10, 2006

English Classes

Good morning. I am up relatively early (for my standards, at least) and am preparing to give my english class. I purposefully scheduled my class for 9:30am monday through friday so that I would be forced to keep some sort of consistent schedule. I've found that unless I have an outside committment, it is extremely hard for me to wake up at the same time every day, take a shower, and be ready for work by a reasonable hour. Now that I teach in the mornings, I wake up between 7am and 7:30am, have a nice cup of tea or coffee, and enjoy some time to myself as I get ready for the day.

I am strangely enjoying my english classes. I used to despise teaching back in Brasil, but this time around it's somehow different. My student is a Mozambican woman, about pre-intermediate level, who wants to improve all aspects of her english - speaking, writing, reading, and grammar. She has chosen to do intensive classes with me, and we meet for an hour on monday, wednesday, and friday and an hour and a half on tuesday and thursday. It's definitely intensive, but it's also a lot of fun (gasp!) even for me. I make up my own lesson plans, supplement them with content from the internet, and teach away as if it were my life calling. It is nearly effortless for me, something very strange to recognize since my memory of past english classes is that they were torturous.

So today we will talk about food, and the difference between "countable" and "uncountable" nouns in english. Us native speakers seldom stop to consider why it is we say, for example:

some salt
a carrot
some milk
a biscuit

Also, us native speakers often struggle to explain clearly the difference between:

some chocolate
a chocolate

Both are correct, each has a different meaning. We know it intuitively, but are hard-pressed to explain.

One of the things I enjoy about teaching english is that it forces me to think about my own language. I learn all sorts of new grammatical rules, and start to analyze why it is I say the things I do.

Have a good day!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

See How Hot My Hair Looks?

Here I am with Rico at the reception of his best friend's wedding. Rico was one of the best men (in Brasil they have, like, 10 maids of honor and 10 best men up on the altar with the bride and groom) and I was a happy spectator, excited about the chance to wear a fancy dress. Notice the soft ringlets in my hair? Yep, all natural no-comb required goodness.

The night before we left Rio we had an impromptu going away dinner at a very unique restaurant. The menu is half japanese food and half mexican food, and there is an all-you-can-eat special where you can order sushi, sashimi, tacos, and nachos until you can't handle any more wasabi or chili. In the photo with me is my friend Tatiana.

Here is another photo from the japanese-mexican dinner. Rico is sitting behind me followed by Cândida (his sister-in-law), Rodrigo (his brother), David (a friend from Belgium), and Gustavo (a friend from college at Ibmec). Good times.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

A Few Bathroom Observations

  • We currently have the following reading material available in the bathroom: A document about the African Development Bank called "Private Sector Development" and the "NIA White Belt Training Manual." Previous selections back in Chimoio included the South African edition of FHM magazine with Jenny McCarthy on the cover wrapped up in a garden hose, and a book that takes a critical look at capitalism called "The Roaring Nineties." Our interests are diverse, to say the least.

  • I've discoverd that if I leave my dental floss on the shelf next to the toilet I am 99% more likely to floss my teeth on a daily basis.

  • I often shower wearing my Havaianas flip-flops. This habit started back in Brasil when I'd have to use communal or just generally unsanitary showers. The habit continued in Chimoio because I was convinced that one of my housemates was the type of person that would pee in the shower. Now that Ricardo and I are in our own flat in Maputo, obviously the shower is clean and pee-free, but I still use my Havaianas about half the time. Why? I discovered to my dismay that my flip-flops smell really, really bad if I don't give them a good scrub at least once a week. Since I can't get new Havaianas here, the solution is to keep them as clean and chulé-free as possible, thus the regular trips to the shower.

  • I have lost all shame when it comes to bodily functions, especially around Ricardo. Any imaginable sound, smell, or by-product a body is capable of making is no big deal. And let me tell you - life without being grossed out or embarrased by the normal things our bodies do is absolutely liberating!

  • Our bathroom is infested with dozens of little cockroaches. Actually the entire flat is full of the damn things, but we have deduced that at least one of the nests is inside the hinges of the doors to the linen closet in the bathroom. Every night they come out in droves, searching for anything tasty to feast on. In one of the grossest sights I've ever seen, I got up to use the bathroom one night and found Ricardo's hairbrush literally crawling with about 15 cockroaches. I grabbed a can of Doom and proceeded to spray away until the hairbrush was covered in poison and the roaches were twitching their last twitches. Then I opened up the medicine cabinet and, to my horror, saw 4 or 5 little beasties crawling on my comb. It seems that cockroaches are especially attracted to dandruff, or whatever it is that gets left on the bristles of a hairbrush or comb. They also apparently like weed, as I found a group hanging out on the handmade cannabis glycerin soap I bought in Cape Town. Needless to say, we now keep our toiletries sealed up as much as possible to avoid this kind of nasty surprise.

  • For unrelated reasons, I have stopped combing my hair. Not that the idea of cockroaches on my comb isn't revolting, but there is a higher power at work here. I've discovered - and Ricardo and several friends have confirmed - that my baby-fine hair looks a million times better if I twist it into locks and let it air dry. No comb necessary, just a few shakes of the head, some twirling of the fingers, and a good scrunch or two and I'm ready to go. It's unbelivably practical, and my hair gets these lovely soft waves and lots of volume. I may be in Africa, but I obviously still know what's important in life - that your hair looks good!! Hahahaha...

Friday, April 07, 2006

Never Mind

My photo is too large. Will have to edit and try again later. Ricardo has been wanting to use the internet for the last hour and I can no longer tell him, "Just 5 more minutes!" with a straight face.


Since we now have HIGH SPEED INTERNET at home, I've decided to get my act together and update my blog profile, include new links on my page, and finally post a photo. Since the photo has to be published on the internet for it to appear on my profile, I thought I might as well share it with you all.

This was taken in Austin just before Christmas 2004 when my friend Jamie and I went to see the huge tree made of lights they put up every year at Zilker Park. The strands of lights are all connected to the top of a moontower (yes, like in the movie Dazed and Confused), where they form the top of the Christmas tree. You can get "inside" the tree by standing near the moontower. Then the thing to do is look up at all the lights and spin around like mad. The lights turn into a big colored spiral, and when you finally stop you get super dizzy. Most people even fall down when they stop. Jamie took this photo of me just as I stopped spinning. I'm happy to report there was no fall afterwards, just a huge smile that is Classic Ali.

Wholesome Cooking

Since we moved into the new flat I've been cooking up a storm. I love to cook, and it is a pleasure to do so with a semi-decent gas stove and ample marble couter space at my disposal. The kitchen still isn't very well equipped but with one knife, a few mixing bowls, a frying pan, two pots, a cake mould, and a cutting board I've been able to do wonders.

Here is what I've cooked - all from scratch, mind you - since we got back from Brasil last week.

  • Spaghetti with a mixed vegetable sauce of tomatoes, bell peppers, onion, garlic, spring onions and italian parsley. This was our first meal in the flat. Ricardo and I both reflected about how nice it is not to have to eat in a restaurant.

  • Whole roasted chicken stuffed with a mix of onion, garlic, lemon, and orange. I seasoned the chicken with an organic spice mix I bought in Cape Town that has coriander, mustard, sweet chili, ginger, garlic, and pepper.

  • Chicken salad using the leftover bits of the roast bird. I added bell peppers, peas, onion, mayonnaise, and lemon juice to make a nice, tangy lunch the next day.

  • Tri-color bowtie pasta with a homemade tomato sauce. I spiced things up with some fresh peri-peri chilis I bought from the woman on the corner who sells vegetables. I used 1/4 of a chili in the sauce - the peppers are small to begin with, no more than an inch long - and it was so powerful Ricardo almost gave up on the pasta. I loved it, though. Good old skewed New Mexican taste buds...

  • Grilled chicken breasts with a lemon, mango, tomato and chili glaze. Lovely and tropical. I made some spiced rice to go along with the chicken, as well as a tomato and cucumber salad.

  • Beef fillets with caramelized onions, tomato rice, and a fresh salad.

  • Butter-flavored pound cake with a semi-sweet chocolate ribbon. I invented this recipe to use up some very expensive chocolates we had in the house. My mom gave me and Ricardo a sampler box of Scheffen Berger chocolates as a gift when we were in Brasil together. There were 5 different kinds of chocolate, each made with a varying concentration of cacao. The chocolates ranged from 41% (milk) to 80% (extra dark). Rico and I decided that we couldn't really handle the darker chocolates, so I decided to use them in a dessert. The result was a crowning glory of a cake, a perfect balance between the sweet pound cake and the bittersweet chocolate fudgey layer in the middle.

  • Brazilian-style rice and black beans with a fried egg on top and a salad on the side.

  • Mashed potatoes with butter, milk and fresh herbs. They came out nice and fluffy, thanks to a trick I learned from the side of the baking powder tin I bought last week. Add 1/2 teaspoon baking powder to the potatoes right before you mash them, and the result is lovely, light texture that you just can't get without putting a hand blender to the whole thing.

  • Beef stew with potatoes, carrots, peas and onions in a chicken stock. We ate the stew poured over the mashed potatoes that were left over from the day before. Ricardo recently learned the phrase "comfort food" and wanted to know if this dish qualified. I told him it practically defined the idea of comfort food: slow-cooked, homestyle, creamy, hot and delicious!

  • Repeat of the butter pound cake with the chocolate fudge ribbon. Ricardo liked the cake so much we sacrificed some of the lower percentage chocolates from the Scheffen Berger box to be able to make it again. I gave 4 pieces to the maid for her to take home for her kids, and she made me promise to teach her the recipe.

  • Yesterday for lunch I made pasta arrabiata, where I accidentally went a little wild with the peri-peri. Poor Ricardo, I felt sorry for him as he gulped down glass after glass of water.

  • Today I was inspired and finally made gnocchi for lunch, along with a tomato-carrot sauce. I hadn't made gnocchi for a good 10 years, but they came out just as delicious as the time I made them back in Albuquerque. I saved half the dough to make freshly boiled gnocchi again tomorrow, but with a different sauce. I'm considering a cheese or cream-based sauce if we can find the ingredients. If not, I'll go with my all time favorite - gnocchi al burro.

Increasingly, I am convinced that cooking is therapy for me. There's just something about preparing all the ingredients, chopping everything and organizing the raw ingredients into neat piles on the cutting board, lining up the spices and oils I'll use as I cook, and cleaning up as I go along that is soooooo satisfying. Not to mention the lovely feeling when the end result is a delicious, healthy meal.

I think cooking is along the same lines of color-coordinating my closet and folding my clothes into neat stacks, organized by season and style. I cook like one of those cooking show hosts on TV. Everything is pretty and orderly and clean - my kitchen, my closet... I suppose we all compensate somewhere when the other parts of life aren't so controllable.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Tilework, Trash, and English Lessons

Close-up of the beautiful Portuguese tile work on the walls of the Vila Algarve. This beautiful old home is totally abandoned. I yearn every time I look at it out the window for a huge chunk of change to fall into my lap so that I could buy up the building and rehabilitate it to its former glory. This stuff belongs in a museum...

View of the Vila from our caged-in varanda. If you think these iron bars are impressive, you should see what protects our front door...

More tilework. Apparently the Vila Algarve is owned by the Mozambican Association of Lawyers or something like that. They have done absolutely nothing with the building for over 5 years I am told. Now it just sits and tempts me from across the street, while piles and piles of trash accumulate in front of what used to be a grand entrance.

There is a huge trash collection problem in Maputo, and the trash heap across the street sometimes gets so large that it occupies half the block and is composed of chest-high mounds of rubbish. When the sanitation people finally get around to collecting the trash, it takes a bulldozer and a flatbed truck to do the job. No kidding. A full-on Caterpillar bulldozer. The come around to scoop up all the trash, dump it in the truck bed, and then haul it off to God knows where. The bulldozer is horribly loud and awkward. It groans and squeals in a way that all the WD-40 in the world couldn't ease. The best part? Trash collection Maputo-style takes place between 10:30 and 11:30pm, a lovely way to be jarred out of an otherwise decent night's sleep.

Speaking of sleep, it's about that time. I have to wake up early to give an ENGLISH CLASS tomorrow morning. Yes, you heard right. I am once again an English teacher... Very mixed feelings about this development, but it's definitely necessary right now. Nothing like a move into a bare apartment to bust your budget wide open...

Monday, April 03, 2006

The View of Vila Algarve

Not a bad sight to have in front of the varanda and out the office window.

Don't Blindly Trust the Bank

The saga of finding a new flat and the countdown to moving day continues...

The last weekend in February, Rico and I went by the flat to sign the rent contract and pay our $1350 pre-payment. We decided to pay part of the amount in cash and part by check to avoid walking around the streets of Maputo with our pockets loaded. Prior to the day of the payment, Ricardo went to the bank and asked for his current account statement. “Perfect,” we thought, “there is enough in the account to pay $1000 to Dona Flávia and still have a couple hundred leftover.”

So Rico made out a check, I handed over the cash, and we signed the contract. The apartment was ours! Dona Flávia assured us that she’d be out of the flat by the 2nd, that she was going to move to a new place over the weekend. Despite the fact that there was absolutely no sign of Dona Flávia making any preparations for the move, we took her word in good faith. Crazy things happen all the time here in Africa – cleaning out a jam-packed apartment in 2 days, space-print velour couches and all, wouldn’t be such a stretch…

So Rico and I left to enjoy our weekend and make plans for our upcoming move. We decided to go window shopping at Game, the South African department store north of the city, to check out prices on stoves and refrigerators (houses do not come furnished with kitchen appliances here in Mozambique). We were browsing around the store when Rico’s cell phone rang. It was Dona Flávia. In the overly formal way Mozambicans announce a problem, she let us know there had been a constrangimento, a constraint. It took me a while to learn this linguistic quirk, but now that I know constrangimento means shit’s hit the fan, I seem to hear it all the time. Anyhow, the constraint in our situation was that Rico’s check had bounced. What??? We knew there were sufficient funds in the account – we’d just gotten a bank statement before writing the check. Ricardo apologized profusely to Dona Flávia and we immediately called the bank manager to see what was going on. The manager, who is an acquaintance of ours back in Chimoio, checked Rico’s balance even though it was a weekend. To our dismay, he confirmed that the account balance was zero!! Panic!!!

Ricardo and I hopped in a taxi and headed home to check the statement we’d received from the teller the previous week. Already our minds were busy creating theories to explain the missing money. Maybe someone from the bank embezzled it? Maybe someone at Agrolink got access to the account number and withdrew funds without authorization? Maybe Dona Flávia made a mistake… We got home and searched frantically through the stack of papers and receipts on the kitchen table for the bank statement. We finally found it. Just as we’d thought, the statement confirmed a balance of more than enough to cover the rent check. Ricardo and I stared at the statement, thoroughly confused. Suddenly Rico started cursing, “Filho da puta imbecil! Caralho, merda!” What a stupid son-of-a-bitch! He pointed to an ink stamp in the corner of the bank statement. It read “01/01/05 – 26/02/05.” January to February of 2005. The teller had managed to get the statement from the wrong year!!

We called Dona Flávia and explained that the bank had made a mistake, and that we’d personally bring her the money the next day. Thankfully Rico and I were able to pool enough in cash to make the rent payment. Even so, we were more than embarrassed about the situation and aware that our slip-up could make us lose the flat.

When we arrived the next morning to deliver the cash, Dona Flávia answered the door and let us know that her husband, who we’d not met yet, would deal with us in the living room. Dona Flávia’s husband got right to the point. “Irresponsible young expats are a dime a dozen here in Maputo. People who are just not serious about commitment, who are not trustworthy renters.” He also added that since Dona Flávia wasn’t able to cash the check, they weren’t able to make the 3-month deposit on their new home and the landlord had rented it to another family. They would have to search for a new home, and until they found a new flat we wouldn’t be able to move in. Ricardo and I apologized up one side and down the other…

More to come soon...