Monday, July 31, 2006

Sunday Scribblings: My Two Cents

I don't know what it is, but ever since Ricardo left I've felt completely exhausted. Granted, I am waking up quite early and being more productive during the day than I was when Rico was here, but I find myself just wanting to collapse at the end of the evening.

I am feeling especially drained today after spending 7 hours preparing a writing sample for that Project Monitor position with the EU I interviewed for two weeks ago. As a result, despite all of the potential soapboxes I could mount for the current Sunday Scribblings topic, I have decided to keep it very simple.

My two cents worth is that Paul Theroux's book "Dark Star Safari" is the most accurate and best-written account of Africa I've yet to come across. It is the story of an overland trip the author took from Cairo to Cape Town, with an added prologue about the situation in Zimbabwe. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about this continent, its problems and the only hope - in my opinion as well as Mr. Theroux's - for a way forward.

Since I'm already plugging things in this post, I'll add here that the online interview I did last week is now published, and the site is actually quite extensive and has some great interviews. Check out my interview and the experiences of other expats here. I suppose this also qualifies for my two cents about living and working in Mozambique.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Bizarre-o Africa

Yesterday my friend T. and I finally figured out the perfect way to describe Nelspruit. Do you remember the parallel universe of Bizzare-o from the Superman comics, or perhaps the parody episode from Seinfeld when Jerry and the gang wander into a coffee shop on the other side of town and find their eerily similar counterparts?

Well that's what Nelspruit is: Bizarre-o Omaha, Nebraska.

Everything is so similar to the midwestern United States. The wide freeways, the big parking lots overrun with 4x4s, the shopping mall everyone flocks to on the weekend, the rolling farmland, the ruddy-cheeked grain-fed locals wearing shorts and sandals. If you don't concentrate on shop names, the direction of the traffic, or the language and cultural traits of the people, you'd swear you were in Omaha. It is all uncannily familiar.

Upon closer inspection, there are differences. The green fields surrounding Nelspruit are full of citrus, avocado, sugarcane, bananas mangoes and nuts. The jagged hills of the lowveld are dotted with palm trees, aloes and precious hardwoods. The girl with a spiral perm working as a receptionist at the auto parts shop speaks Afrikaans, as does the family in the waiting area with 4 overweight blonde children that are whining and tugging on their mother's overalls. The groups of punked-out teenagers cruising the mall, with their dyed black spiked hair and pierced lips, speak English to each other but with an accent so thick I struggle to even recognize it as my own language. The African women employed as janitors at the mall have headwraps and wear printed sarongs around their waists and chat with each other in Songa. All of the stores carry the same familiar goods, but have new and unknown names.

T., her boyfriend and I shopped at Mr. Price Home (bizarre-o Pier 1 Imports) for home furnishings. We bought cute shirts from a local label called Ginger Mary at Truworth's (bizarre-o Macy's). We had coffee and bagels at Mugg and Bean (bizarre-o Starbucks), before leaving the mall and heading to Hi-Fi (bizarre-o Best Buy) to get an electric tea kettle and some blank DVDs. Then we went grocery shopping at Spar (bizarre-o Safeway) where even the layout of the store and the packaging of the bakery and deli products was exactly the same as in the US. They even had that counter with ready-to-eat fried chicken, potato salad and eggrolls (only at Spar they were samoosas). Finally we stopped at Woolworth's (bizarre-o Whole Foods) where I just about died and went to heaven looking at all the organic and natural products.

I went to Nelspruit convinced that I'd do some window shopping and only buy essentials that I can't find here in Mozambique like good cat food, clumping litter, and whatever random foodstuffs I came across. I ended up going on a full-fledged shopping spree, unable to contain myself in the midst of all these beautiful products (just like from my favorite shops back home), but with excellent prices thanks to the recent devaluation of the Rand. And although I ended up spending way more than I'd planned, I am so happy that I went ahead and splurged.

You see, our flat has been bare since we moved in back in March. We spent all of our available funds purchasing the essentials that are not included when you rent an apartment here in Mozambique: an oven, a refrigerator, a washing machine, light fixtures, and the most basic of furniture. Since the move, we've been so busy with work and living on such a tight budget that we've done absolutely nothing to fix up the flat.

I don't have a problem living simply, but I have to have a home that feels beautiful. I could live in a one-room shack if I had to as long as it were put together with love and decorated minimally to express my personality. I need pretty things on the walls (even if they are just photos of friends, family and exotic places). I need my environment to feel clean. And unfortunately, our flat - until the past week - has been none of these things. Our landlord made no effort to keep this place up. The walls are filthy and the ceilings are stained gray, the wooden floor panels in some of the rooms are coming apart, the doors are splintered and don't close properly, the closet doors are crooked and destroyed by the landlord's kids covering them with stickers, the bathroom sink is crooked and cracked, the shower has rusty pipes and the curtain rod is falling out of the wall, we have no proper curtains... The list goes on and on. The "foundation" and basic structure of our flat is very nice, but it feels as if the poor place has just been left to rot.

In its current state, I am embarrased to have people over to the flat. I feel like my home is dingy and unkempt, and that it isn't even a shadow of how I'd like my environment to look and feel. It was to the point that the state of our flat, the lack of beauty in my daily life, was making me depressed. So in the last week, I have made a tremendous effort to start making some positive changes, even on a limited budget.

Here are a few photos to illustrate the changes:

Before Ricardo left for Brasil, I told him I really wanted to get some color on the walls. We went to Game, the South African department store here in Maputo, and bought some paint. It was a blind purchase, just a bucket with a promising name: Moroccan Tan. We purchased a gallon and decided to paint an accent wall in the living room last weekend. Here is Ricardo mixing the paint on top of our table. Notice the green bucket holding the flowers Rico gave me. We don't have a vase and were unable find anywhere to purchase a decent container on a Sunday.

Here's our wall after 3 coats of Moroccan Tan. I couldn't get a picture without the flash, so the color is a bit more pink in the photo than in reality. I'd describe the wall as a light terracotta. What a difference in the feel of our home this one wall made!

Since we painted not a week ago, I have this Moroccan Tan color seemingly imprinted in my brain. Shopping around Mr. Price Home in Nelspruit yesterday, I found this cotton floor rug and just knew it would be perfect. It's part of a collection called Jozi Design that supposedly captures South Africa's new urban design trends, a mix of tradition and modernity expressed in fabric. Parceiro, basking in the sun below, certainly appreciates having a rug to lounge on.

The day before Ricardo left, our couch cushions we'd ordered over 2 months ago finally were finished. This is the epitome of Mozambique - simple jobs like stitching pillows take forever because so many things go wrong in the process. The upholstery shop has no stuffing for the cushions. Then the stitcher gets malaria. Then the shop owner falls ill and is unable to give us the bill for the job. Then the delivery man gets malaria and can't drop off the cushions. We went through quite the runaround for a few couch cushions, but it was worth it as they add a nice touch to our handmade wicker furniture. (Interesting fact - the natural linen I purchased to make all of these cushions cost US $12, a steal at $2 per meter.) Pria, about to launch herself onto the rug, is loving the cushions as well, especially when she gets to use them as a scratching pad.

While participating in the crafts fair on Friday, the guy at the booth next to me was selling his handmade batiks. This one caught my eye and he made me a great deal on it before I packed up for the day. Batiks are very popular in Mozambique, one of the traditional forms of artwork. This particular work is now hanging above the table next to the terracotta wall.

What a difference a week makes! Our living room has been transformed, and I'm no longer ashamed to have visitors in this part of the flat. The other rooms still need a tremendous amount of work and injections of color and beauty, but I am quite satisfied with how the living room is turning out.

Wanting to take advantage of my decorating bug, I put this smaller batik up on the wall in the hallway. This was a present from Rico several months ago, and until now it had just sat in a heap on top of the bookshelf in our office.

And finally, I bought a duvet cover and 2 embroidered cushions on sale at the mall yesterday. These are for our guestroom, which I will eventually decorate using a chocolate, turquoise and rust color scheme. Right now there is beautiful bedding in the guest room, but unfortunately no bed or other decorations. One of our clients is supposedly making us a trundle bed for this room, but he's been promising for over 2 months now and I'm not holding my breath.

Our bedroom, unfortunately, is the saddest room of the lot at the moment. So much so that I'm ashamed to even post a picture. Hopefully in the next few months I'll be able to work on our room as well and eventually share with you another transformation.

(Other things purchased in Nelspruit include kitten food, cat litter, several kinds of cheese, banana chips, hot mustard, assorted spices, almond protein bars, balsamic vinegar, soap and exfoliant from The Body Shop, candles, and 2 beautiful t-shirts that I can't seem to post a photo of. I'll try to share next time, along with some photos of my jewelry creations.)

Friday, July 28, 2006

Beads and Baubles and a New Friend

Today I participated in my first ever crafts fair. There were about 40 participants (I was the only non-Mozambican craftsperson), and the fair was held in the most spectacularly beautiful building - easily the prettiest place I've seen in Maputo so far. This space, called Café com Letras, was once an art gallery and was full of colored walls, tilework, wrought iron shaped like women and sunbursts covering the windows instead of the standard-order bars, and even still had a great collection of paintings by local artists on display. Café com Letras apparently is no longer used as a gallery - or for anything really, as far as I could gather - but I take it as a very positive sign that at least these crafts fairs are being held there.

The fair itself was held in the courtyard, where several rustic huts provide shade. I set up my stand against one of the walls, with a girl selling candles and soaps on my left and a guy selling batiks on my right. Here is my table, full of earrings and necklaces and bracelets.

Unfortunately, since the crafts fair wasn't advertised and it was a Friday, not many people showed up. I'd say that in the 7 hours I was there, about 25 people at the most wandered in to check out the artwork. Many people were complaining about the slow pace, but I was okay because it gave me a chance to chat with people and get to know some of my fellow craftspeople.

And do you know what? Despite the poor turnout, I sold something! Several things, actually.

A couple of Italian girls came by and bought a long shell and turquoise necklace, a pair of dangly earrings with round onyx beads linked together with spiraled silver wire, and a necklace and earring set made of sage glazed ceramic beads, silver discs and lime green glass beads.

A Mozambican guy with a guitar strapped to his back came over and asked if I had anything for men. I responded that my jewerly wasn't gender-specific, and that anything he liked could be worn by a man. This guy was really interested in my stuff, and finally settled on a necklace consisting of a Murano millefiore glass bead nestled between 2 bits of silver on a black leather cord. Honestly, I would have never picked this particular piece as the most "masculine" of my collection, but it thrilled me that this guy was totally up front about the fact that he was buying jewelry for himself. He even asked me to help with the clasp so he could wear the necklace out on the street. I was so excited to have this guy as my customer and had to bite my tounge not to cheer him on and be like, "You go, man! Represent alternative lifestyles in Mozambique! Buy whatever jewelry you think is pretty and don't let anyone tell you otherwise."

Then my new friend T., who is an American working in private sector development here, came by and bought a pale blue and lilac necklace and earring set. I was especially happy that T. ended up with this particular set because it had a big glass bead in the middle of the necklace I'd handmade using lampworking techniques.

All in all, I sold $75 worth of jewelry and - after buying lunch, paying for my taxi, and purchasing a beautiful batik from the guy in the booth next to me - brought home around $50 profit. Not anything astronomical in terms of sales, but I am satisfied and, most importantly, I survived the day without my self esteem taking a pounding.

I received compliments all day long on my work. People tended to describe my jewelry with the same words - elegant, refined, minimalist, tasteful, good quality. It was so validating to hear this feedback, even though I felt like some of my fellow craftspeople checking out my work were giving me the olho grande. I have to say, since most of my pieces are made with silver, semi-precious stones, handmade glass beads and crystal, they do stand out a bit from the rest of the stuff at the fair. Not that other peoples' works of art aren't worthy and beautiful in their own right, it's just that (as you read in my other post) materials are really hard to come by here. Most people take advantage of what is available locally and make rustic creations using natural fibers, seeds, wood and, in some cases, cheap chinese clasps and costume jewelry. I feel somewhat bad about having the advantage of access to materials in the US and Brasil, but on the other hand my prices are considered high so I don't sell the same volumes as the other fair participants. Maybe it all evens out in the end...

In other news, I am off to Nelspruit, South Africa tomorrow for a day trip with my friend T. and her boyfriend. They are taking their car to get fixed and to go shopping, I am going along for the ride. T. is someone I have known (of) since moving to Maputo, but we've never really had a chance to hang out. Now that I'm here alone, I decided to be proactive and invited her for lunch yesterday. We went out for Thai food and ended up having a fabulous time. I can now say that I have a friend in Maputo!!! T. is American, but just like me she has a multi-cultural background and has lived all over the world, including Angola and several other countries in Africa. It was priceless to hear her admit during our lunch that she feels isolated here in Mozambique and has struggled to make friends (even though she has a local boyfriend). I think we validaded each others' experiences and learned that we're not alone in the ups and downs of living in this place.

So, in the name of friendship, I decided not to participate in the fair tomorrow despite the fact that 2 TV stations filmed today and there should be a load of people coming through tomorrow. I can always do another fair. A day trip to South Africa with a new friend, however, is not to be passed up!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Online Interview with Ali la Loca

This interview was conducted by a girl who is putting together a web site about the experiences of expats around the world. I'll let you know when the site is published so you all can go by and have a look.

Your name: Ali la Loca

Where were you born?

Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA

Are you living alone or with your family?

I live with my boyfriend, Ricardo and 2 kittens.

In which country and city are you living now?

Maputo, Mozambique

How long have you been living there?

I have been living in Mozambique for 14 months. The first 9 months I lived in a town called Chimoio, in the central part of the country. At the beginning of this year, I moved to Maputo.

What is your age?

24 years old

When did you come up with the idea of living in another country and what factors helped your decision?

I first lived abroad when I was 16 as a high school exchange student to Paraná state in southern Brazil. I had such a wonderful experience that I decided to go back to Brazil while getting my MBA, this time as an exchange student at a business school called Ibmec in Rio de Janeiro. I lived in Rio for a year and a half, and through my studies met Ricardo. In 2004, Ricardo and another fellow classmate came to Mozambique to start a consulting business. They invited me to work with them, and in April 2005 I left my job as director of an HIV/AIDS prevention program at an NGO in the US and moved here to do grantwriting and fundraising for the consultancy company.

Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?

No. I obtained a tourist visa from the Mozambican Embassy in the US before my departure. I have gotten my visa renewed or re-issued about 4 times since arriving without much hassle. It is possible to have a tourist visa issued at the Maputo airport upon arrival that is valid for 30 days.

The process to get a DIRE, the residency permit that most foreigners have, is somewhat complicated. However, a DIRE is not required to do work in the country as long as you are hired as an independent consultant by an international organization.

How do you make your living there? Do you have any type of income generated? If you have a job there, how did you get it? Did you get it in your native country or did you look for a job when you got there?

I am a partner in a consultancy company that specializes in fundraising for projects throughout Southern Africa, primarily in agriculture, financial services, industry and community development. My income is generated through success fees for fundraising and flat fees for developing business plans, feasibility studies and grant applications. I did not have to look for a job in the traditional sense because we have our own company, but do have to look for clients and projects on a regular basis.

Do you speak the local language and do you think it's important for expats to speak the local language?

The official language in Mozambique is Portuguese, although many people speak it as a second language and still use local tribal languages, referred to as dialetos (dialects), in their daily interactions. In many areas of the country, especially near the borders with Commonwealth countries, English is understood. It is possible for a person in Maputo to get by without speaking Portuguese as the business community, Government, and most service staff are fluent in English.

That said, I believe it is important for expats to speak Portuguese (or even one of the dialects). I think it is a sign of respect that you don’t expect local people to cater to you and speak your language, and even the most rudimentary attempts at the language will generate significant goodwill. In addition, speaking Portuguese certainly helps in terms of making friends, haggling over prices, and dealing with any sticky situations that may arise (i.e. bribery attempts).

Do you miss home and family sometimes? What do you do to combat homesickness?

I miss my family all the time. I am an only child and am extremely close to my parents, who live in the US. We get to see each other once or twice a year, but the plane ride back home is horridly long (think 36 hours flying time and 4 connecting flights) and prohibitively expensive (around US $2400 return). Even though we can’t see each other very often, I talk to my mom on Skype (free internet-based telephony) just about every day, and to my dad using my cell phone whenever possible.

One thing that usually helps combat homesickness is to receive care packages and letters, but unfortunately this is difficult in Mozambique. The mail system in this country, for all practical purposes, is defunct and totally unreliable. In the nearly 1.5 years I’ve lived here, I have yet to receive a piece of mail – no postcards, no letters, no packages – and it’s not because people haven’t tried sending me things. Mail simply disappears into the bowels of the system, never to be seen or heard from again. The only way to send things to and from Mozambique is via a courier service such as DHL. On the good side, things sent via courier services tend to arrive within 5 business days and are delivered right to my doorstep. On the not-so-good side, DHL and other equivalent services are unbelievably expensive – a small box can cost up to US $400 to send!

Most of the activities I turn to when I feel homesick are introspective and creative. I like to write in my blog, make jewelry, draw, knit, and try my best to replicate recipes from my favorite restaurants around the world. I also like to hang out with my boyfriend, play with our 2 kittens, take a walk, or go out to eat or for a drink.

People with 4x4s can take advantage of the many beautiful beaches near Maputo. Bilene, a green lagoon to the north, and Ponta d’Ouro, a dune-covered beach to the south, are two of the popular destinations for weekend getaways. Ricardo and I have yet to check out these destinations, but they are certainly on our list of things to do in the future.

Do you have other plans for the future?

Ricardo and I plan to continue with our consultancy company here in Maputo for another 3 – 5 years. After that we will likely move to the US where he would like to do an MBA. Long-term, our plans are to have Rio de Janeiro as our home base.

Parallel to our consulting activities, we are working with 2 partners in the US to develop a venture capital fund that will invest in emerging managers, markets and companies. The focus for this fund will be agriculture, financial services, industry and healthcare in Southeast Africa, Brazil and the US.

What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?

My boyfriend and I currently rent a 3-bedroom flat on the top floor of a small building. We pay US $450 per month, a reasonable price that we got through some heavy negotiating with the landlord.

The housing market in all of Mozambique, especially Maputo, is horribly inflated due to the large number of international cooperation agencies working in the country. When these organizations need to find housing for their expat directors, or a nice place to have an office, they are willing to pay European or American prices to ensure a safe, hassle-free rental. Basically, if the amount the landlord asks for rent is within the agency’s budget, it’s a deal. Mozambicans take advantage of these heavily-lined foreign pockets and are used to charging absurd amounts for rent, always in US dollars.

It’s not at all uncommon for a 2-bedroom apartment in Maputo to cost US $600 per month, and a house to cost anywhere from $700 to $2,500 depending on the neighborhood. Most landlords require a 2-year contract and that 3 to 6 months of rent be paid upfront. Nearly everything about the rental process – including price – is negotiable, although it really helps to be fluent in Portuguese.

What is the cost of living there?

Generally speaking, life in Mozambique is expensive. The country is very dependent on imported products, from fresh produce to furniture to domestic appliances, and as a result prices are high, selection is limited, and it can be difficult to find quality items. Food is one of the most expensive things here, both in grocery stores and in restaurants. A dinner for 2 people at a reasonable restaurant with an appetizer, main course, and drinks averages US $40. Taxis are also pretty expensive for developing country standards, with a typical in-city round trip fare running US $10.

Ricardo and I are able to live comfortably on about US $1,000 per month, but we lead a simple existence. We don’t have a 4x4 to guzzle gas, we eat at home at least 2 meals a day, we don’t go out much on weekends, don’t escape to South Africa or Swaziland at every chance possible (like many of the other expats here), and have only the very basic furniture and accessories in our home. Since we have a limited budget and an uncertain cash flow, we have learned that many of the material things and activities we deemed “necessary” before moving to Mozambique are really dispensable and we are quite happy leading a minimalist lifestyle.

There are, however, some comforts that we aren’t willing to toss away just yet. For example, trips to Brazil and the US to visit family at least twice a year, a gym membership at Hotel Avenida ($50/month) to use the weight room and the beautiful pool, special occasion splurges at Costa do Sol for king prawns and calamari, and a bottle of South African wine to relax whenever necessary.

What do you think about the locals and how do they treat foreigners like you?

It’s hard to generalize about a population, but if I had to choose one thing to say about Mozambicans it would be that they are very respectful. From the extremely formal way the write letters and address people, to the innocent things cat-calling boys yell out after pretty ladies (“Kisses for you, my love!”), Mozambicans are gentle and proper in just about everything they do. Even their use of language is respectful; it is almost unheard of to hear somebody say a bad word, and in the most frustrating or angry moments you might hear a Mozambican utter the equivalent of “Darn it!” or “Heck.”

Again to generalize, Mozambicans treat foreigners well and with the same respect they show their compatriots. In Maputo it is common to see foreigners walking around and I feel I am able to blend in as a member of a diverse urban population. In more rural parts of the country, however, foreigners are somewhat of a novelty and may attract a lot of curious attention from locals, especially children.

The only negative thing I have experienced in terms of being a foreigner – aside from the occasional hassle from customs officials – is the fact that outsiders tend to be prime targets for beggars and souvenir hawkers, and some of these people are disconcertingly persistent. It is not at all uncommon for a child asking for change to follow a foreigner for blocks and blocks, refusing to give up until they get a coin or two. The same thing is true for the men that sell batiks and carvings. They especially like to try their luck with foreigners, showcasing their merchandise as they follow you wherever you are going, “Please, Boss. It’s a good price, Boss. Buy something, anything. Please, I haven’t had lunch yet, Boss.” These street vendors usually won’t give up until you purchase something or tell them in a strict voice to please leave you alone.

Do you have any tips for our readers about living in that country?

• Get vaccinated against Hepatitis A and B
• Eat as much of your favorite foods and consume as much of your favorite products as possible before coming to Mozambique – they likely won’t be available here
• Padlock your luggage anytime you travel, especially on connections via Johannesburg
• Make friends with a good taxi driver
• Wear insect spray at night and sleep under a bed net
• Learn Portuguese
• Don’t travel by road after dark
• Don’t rent an apartment that is higher than the 4th floor
• Visit northern Mozambique
• Avoid elevators whenever possible
• Unplug your computer and other electronics from the wall outlet immediately anytime there is a blackout
• If you find something in the grocery store that you like, buy the entire lot – it won’t be there next week when you come back to buy more
• Don’t swim in freshwater (lakes, ponds, rivers, etc.)
• Learn to love seafood and grilled chicken
• Take a multi-vitamin every day

Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about anything related to that country and/or living there?

I have a blog called “Austin to Africa, Brasil to the Bay” where I regularly post photos and write about my impressions of life in Mozambique. Come check it out –

The best, most accurate portrayal of Africa I have ever read is a book by Paul Theroux called “Dark Star Safari.” It chronicles his overland journey from Cairo to Cape Town. I highly recommend it to anybody wanting to know more about this continent.

How They Find Me

A list of the recent keywords that linked back to my blog:

  • moroccan mafia
  • brazil padlock market
  • seba camp
  • baggage handlers carte blanche
  • malarone side effects male fertility
  • dermatologist mole specialist austin
  • hyperhydrosis treatment
  • margarida havaianas
  • cariocas gostosas accent
  • nose blowing honk

and, my absolute favorite,

  • gargantuan breasts of africa

I have been contemplating all day whether or not this was a typo. I like to think not. hehehe.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Day 2 On My Own

Really, it hasn't been that bad. I kind of expected that I would be a depressed mope this week, unable to work, teary all day, and doing nothing but watch South African music videos on Channel O and eat chocolate. I have no illusion that the truly low and lonely times won't come, but so far being alone in Maputo has been okay. Good, even.

I've been more productive than I have in ages, and although I know I'm keeping busy as part of a strategy not to wallow, it's such a lovely feeling of accomplishment to get things done - and by myself nonetheless.

Today, for example, I woke up early and mediated for 15 minutes on the varanda. Then I had some chai and played with the cats. I took a shower at an appropriately early hour (something I struggled with when Rico was here and we'd lounge in the mornings), then got to work. I made an outline for an evaluation report we will be doing next month, sent some e-mails, and worked on the remaining business plan for the IFC.

Around 9am I started running errands. I went to the bank to get money, the first time I've been to the bank by myself since Ricardo and I moved to Maputo in January, and unbelievably only the second time I've been to the bank by myself since moving to Mozambique nearly a year and a half ago! (In my favor, the first bank experience back in Chimoio was so traumatizing I feel somewhat justified in my aversion going to the bank alone. It was like being in a cattle car - seriously. I had to paw my way through a smelly crowd and wait for 2.5 hours just to make a deposit.)

After a successful trip to a surprisingly clean and orderly bank branch near our flat, I called our regular taxi driver, Zeca, and hit the town. I went to the fabric shop and bought a square of thick black fabric to cover my table at the crafts fair this weekend. Then I went to the office supply shop and bought a buletin board for the office (that will double as an earring holder at the fair). The stupid thing cost $38 dollars, a totally inflated price for a product of dubious quality, an all-too-common phenomenon here in Mozambique, land of the import-dependent. My next stop was a camera shop where I got 4 photos taken for use on assorted documents and visa applications. Finally I went to the bakery and bought fresh bread.

This evening I made some jewelry, talked to Rico's mom on Skype, and finally got a chance to talk to Rico himself on the phone. He's made it safely to Brasil and was enjoying a churrasco when we spoke. I tried not to be jealous.

All in all, quite a satisfying day. As long as I'm busy, everything is just fine. I miss Rico, but I feel I have a purpose throughout the day, things to accomplish, errands to run, documents to write, phone calls to make, jewelry to create, and cats to play with. I wonder how long this will last...

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Tras la Tempestad, La Calma

This week has felt like a whirlwind. It's as if a swift, spinning force swept through my life, picked me up and took me for a ride, then spit me out in a foggy and foreign place where I am now, Dorothy-like, trying to get my bearings.

The most obvious change is that Ricardo left yesterday for Brasil. He had to go back to Rio to resolve some personal and family issues and will likely stay through the end of the year (although none of our clients here know that!). It's so strange not to have him here. Everything I know in Mozambique I've discovered with him by my side, every part of my existance here I've created together with him. Our relationship - both business and romantic - started within a matter of hours after I stepped off the plane last year (a story I am well overdue to tell) and I feel more than a bit lost now that Ricardo is gone and I am having to redefine my life here.

Obviously, I feel very lonely. I have a few budding friendships here in Maputo, but nobody I have grown especially close to or who I feel comfortable calling to hang out without the pretext of a lunch or a night at the disco. I feel very alone in this country and, more than anything, very foreign.

Our flat feels increasingly like home, but Maputo certainly doesn't. Not yet, at least. I honestly like it here quite a bit and don't feel a desire to abandon ship anytime soon. I'd actually like to spend at least 2 or 3 more years here, if not more. Who knows then I'd feel more like I belong here? Somehow, though, I suspect time is not the problem. There are certiain things that will never change no matter how jaded or accustomed or familiar I might become with my surroundings.

I will always be a white girl, a muzungu, walking down the street and attracting the attention of begging barefoot children, vendors hawking everything from extension cords to carved wooden boxes, old women with crippled limbs pleading for change to buy bread, teenage boys who stare at my breasts, women that stare at my clothes, shady men who stare at my purse and try to evaluate whether or not it's worth the effort to try and rip me off. I feel guilty all of the time, nervous most of the time, and mildly depressed at some point for varying lengths of time every day. (Note to parents and concerned friends - I do, actually, feel quite safe here. Crime is on very innocent levels compared to places like Rio de Janeiro or Johannesburg.)

All these things happen when I'm with Ricardo, too, but I'm not as affected. We're partners, we identify with each other, we share the same perspective, and for as much as we may be fish out of the water here - we're flopping around and gasping for air together, and that makes all the difference in the world. Now I just feel disoriented.

Yesterday afternoon I walked to an Indian grocery about 4 blocks away from our flat. I bought cat food and juice and some Halls cough drops. It was so strange to carry a purse, to pull out my wallet and count my money, to check if the shop girl gave me the correct change, to bag my purchases and make sure the weight was distributed evenly. These are all things Ricardo does (well, not carry a purse, but he usually keeps my things in his pockets so that I don't have to). I have been so spoiled having a boyfriend that I can depend on.

I like to think of my self as a very independent person, but since coming to Mozambique I've had the luxury of allowing myself to lean on a partner. I'm certainly not incapable of dealing with life on my own here in Maputo, but there is certainly an adjustment period that is hard to go through.

This afternoon I went to another Indian grocery, about the same distance away but in the opposite direction. I bought more cat food (a 1.5 kilo bag of dry Friskies chow - the shop yesterday only had canned food, which I hate feeding the kittens because it gives them noxious farts), some Diet Cokes, and a yogurt. I walked home and ignored a boy who persistenly called after me, "Alô fofinha! Alô fofinha!" I'm not likely to give anybody shouting at me on the street the time of day, but certainly not a guy that is calling me a cute fluffy little thing.

The rest of the day I've occupied myself with work (which there is plenty of), playing with Pria and Parceiro, and making jewelry. Thank God for crafts and kittens. I don't know how I'd get through these next few months otherwise.

I've joined the local Association of Craftspeople here in Maputo and am going to participate in a crafts fair this Friday and Saturday. It is my first time ever selling any of the jewelry I make, and I must say I'm really excited! I'm also a little nervous, struggling with pricing and wondering what I'll do if nobody buys anything, but I'm grateful to have something to distract me and pour my creative energy into in Ricardo's absence.

Ricardo leaving for Brasil was certainly the event this week that had the most impact on me, but several other things went on that contributed to the whirlwind effect. First, we finally finished up one of our contracts with the IFC. We were hired to develop a business plan and carry out a feasibility study for a potential rose production project just outside Maputo. I can't really go into the details, but several things about this experience (and a couple other projects) made me seriously doubt whether or not this is the kind of work I want to be doing. I felt horribly cynical about my role here in Mozambique, wondering if I'm actually part of the problems I so like to criticize regarding the work of foreigners and foreign organizations in Africa. I was thinking about what a Plan B might look like - teach NIA, write novels, sell jewelry, teach English. Around last Wednesday, just about anything was looking more appealing than consulting.

Then, the very next day, Ricardo, B., Monty and I all got called for an interview with a European Union program represented locally by PricewaterhouseCoopers. Basically, the EU is in desperate need of Portuguese-speaking Program Monitors to conduct mid-term and final evaluations of projects being implemented in the lusophone countries of the ACP (Africa, Caribbean and Pacific). The job would entail up to three 20-day assignments per year wehre the Program Monitor would travel to the project site, spend 10 days doing results-based evaluation, then an additional 10 days to write a report. The criteria for the job - as described by the EU - are strong writing skills, experience in program management and evaluation, fluency in Portuguese and English, a willingness to travel, and a "high tolerance for frustration and stress." Sign me up, boys!

The interview went really well, and now we have to submit writing samples. We should hear back from the EU before mid-August. I was really excited about the prospect of being involved in this kind of work, not necessarily that it's what I've always dreamed of doing, but it would give me a new assignment to look forward to every couple of months. One thing I've learned about myself is that I thrive on change, and this seems like the ideal job - one that will allow me to move around, but that will also provide continuity for my resume and permit me to keep working on my current consulting stuff or anything else I might choose. We are all hoping to get called for the position (there are multiple openings, given that monitors are needed for various projects in different countries), and it was just the thing I needed to get over my professional crisis of the day before.

Then, just yesterday, I had another switch in perspective in terms of my work here. I really can't go into details about what happened, but I can say that two separate situations got me going. The first had to do with political pressure winning out over sound business judgement in an institution where I would have hoped for a more balanced decision. It made me realize that I worked my ass off for nothing.

The second situation was about corruption, a festering problem that eats away at the structure of this country and many others in the world. In this particular case, a prominent local person working for an international NGO very blatantly proposed a "deal" in which s/he would pocket part of the funds earmarked for a project that we may become involved in, while in return providing some "support" to us in the bidding process. This is not the first time something like this has happened, and my take on the situation is very clear: no fucking way. I would be the biggest hypocrite in the world if, after getting up on my soapbox so many times to rant about the lack of accountability in the donor universe and the fact that scores of people are abusing the system, I were to turn a blind eye to corrpution when I stand to benefit financially or otherwise. I put my foot down on this one, and only time will tell what the ramifications of this moral position may be, positive or otherwise.

A lot of other stuff happened in the past week, but for now this is all I can write. It's 10:30 and I'm looking forward to crawling into bed with Pria and Parceiro. I'm also looking forward to waking up early, as one of my goals in Rico's absence is to meditate on the varanda for 10 minutes each morning.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

A Year's Worth of Flowers

I had just finished showering when I heard the key turn in the lock of our front door. Ricardo was home. "I think I'll surprise him," I thought to myself, and walked out into the hall naked. What better way to welcome home someone who has spent an entire Saturday afternoon working?

Little did I know, Ricardo had a suprise of his own in store for me. Flowers, four huge bunches of them, purchased on the way home from a street vendor. The bouquets were so huge I could barely see Ricardo's face behind all the blossoms - white crysanthemums, yellow gladioli, peach sweetheart roses, and a stunning purple and yellow flower that I've yet to identify but is definitely my favorite.

"I've been meaning to get you flowers for a long time, but it's hard to surprise you. We're never apart." (It's true!) Ricardo continued, "Today I took advantage and bought all the flowers I should have given you over the past year." He smiled and handed me the four huge bouquets.

I stood in the hallway, naked, my arms full of flowers, and started to cry. What a lovely boyfriend I have. Shame he's leaving tomorrow...

The Pickers

Yesterday, to my absolute delight, I discovered that my elbows are peeling, thick callousy layers of skin just waiting to be picked at and tugged off by my short but determined fingernails. I spent a good 20 minutes peeling off layer after layer of weird, wrinkly elbow skin. I was so engrossed in this task that I didn't even hear Ricardo call my name to see what I wanted to drink.

You see, my friends, I am a picker. I love to pop a pimple, coax out an ingrown hair (especially those stubborn ones that burrow after a wax), peel a sunburn, rip off those weird dead skin blisters that sometimes appear on my feet or hands, or - the best - squeeze at this strange pin-sized hole on my shoulder that perpetually fills up with a ribbon of white goop.

I think the world can be divided along these lines - the Pickers, and the People that are Utterly
Grossed Out by the Pickers and their obsessive ways.

So while I go back to peeling away at my elbow, I would love to know where you all stand. Fellow Pickers - I know you're out there! Come by and leave a comment about your favorite thing to squeeze or pop. And anti-Pickers, feel free to express how strange we really are!

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Oh, How They've Grown

When Pria (the black one) and Parceiro (the gray tabby one) became part of our fam they were only 4 weeks old and fit in the palm of Rico's hand. They couldn't eat dry food yet, so I'd feed them baby food every day and rub them with a damp washcloth after each meal so they could learn how to clean themselves in the absence of a momma cat. During the first few weeks, Pria and Parceiro would sleep on my meditation pillow in the living room because we were afraid that if the kittens slept in the bed with us we might accidentally squash them in the middle of the night.

Now, at 3 months old, they have grown so much! And they have developed that incessant curiosity that kittens are so well known for. They climb the mosquito screens on our windows, drag crumpled wads of paper out of the office wastebasket and chase them around the house, and are currently fascinated with our bathtub. And, of course, they are big enough to sleep with us now. (One of my favorite parts of the day is when Rico looks at me and asks, "With cats, or cat-less?" He can usually tell the answer just by looking at my face, and most of the time we end up sleeping all together in the bed with the kittens purring away and making torties.*

I took these pictures last week when Pria (above) and Parciero (below) were each lounging on their own meditation pillow on our wicker armchairs in the living room.

Our kittens are even developing distinct personalities. Parceiro is the naughtier of the two, and has gotten especially agile in the last month. He likes to jump and climb on anything and everything in our house. Pria is always wanting attention and affection, and she loves to drape herself over our shoulders or snuggle up to our necks. She is also the more vocal of the two, always letting us know with a squeak or a yowl where she is and what she wants.

One thing both kittens love is to "help" us while we work at the computer. The above photo was taken soon after we adopted the cats. The two of them together didn't even take up the space of one of Rico's arms.

In this photo taken last week you can really see how they've grown. It's to the point where it's not really feasible to work if Pria and Parceiro both decide to flop down like this. There is barely enough space to maneuver the mouse, much less write anything or look over a document.

* "Making torties" is a phrase my mom and I use to describe when cats knead their paws in pleasure. It comes from growing up as a child in New Mexico where I used to watch my Nani make a dozen tortillas from scratch every day, kneading away at the dough before rolling out each piece and browning it on a hot griddle.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

No One Walks Away Victorious

A few years ago, while doing research for a grant application for HIV prevention programming with inmates in the Texas prison system, I came across a list of executed inmates that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice maintains on their website. It is surprisingly well maintained, with up-to-date information on the executions and a profile of each inmate on death row - including each person's last statement.

A part of me was fascinated by this information and, instead of continuing with my research, I spent the entire afternoon reading about the men and women that had passed through death row. I went through each person's online file: demographic information (the bulk of the offenders were Hispanic or Black and young), the official 4 or 5 sentence description of the crime committed, dates the inmate was admitted and executed, and two photos - one straight shot and one profile.

Once I had a bit of background about the crime, I would read each person's last statement. Most involved God, many insisted they were innocent and were being injustly committed of a crime, some asked for forgiveness, some asked for peace, and others simply stated "Warden, I'm ready."

There was one last statement, however, that hit me in the guts and made me cry. It was this statement that, seemingly out of the blue, I remembered this morning and felt compelled to share.

Napoleon Beazley, a Black man from Houston, was arrested at age 18 for shooting an elderly man in the forehead while attempting to steal his car. Seven years later, at the age of 25, Napoleon was given a lethal injection by the State of Texas. These were his last words on May 28, 2002:

"The act I committed to put me here was not just heinous, it was senseless. But the person that committed that act is no longer here - I am.

I'm not going to struggle physically against any restraints. I'm not going to shout, use profanity or make idle threats. Understand though that I'm not only upset, but I'm saddened by what is happening here tonight. I'm not only saddened, but disappointed that a system that is supposed to protect and uphold what is just and right can be so much like me when I made the same shameful mistake.

If someone tried to dispose of everyone here for participating in this killing, I'd scream a resounding, "No." I'd tell them to give them all the gift that they would not give me...and that's to give them all a second chance.

I'm sorry that I am here. I'm sorry that you're all here. I'm sorry that John Luttig died. And I'm sorry that it was something in me that caused all of this to happen to begin with.

Tonight we tell the world that there are no second chances in the eyes of justice...Tonight, we tell our children that in some instances, in some cases, killing is right.

This conflict hurts us all, there are no SIDES. The people who support this proceeding think this is justice. The people that think that I should live think that is justice. As difficult as it ma seem, this is a clash of ideals, with both parties committed to what they feel is right. But who's wrong if in the end we're all victims?

In my heart, I have to believe that there is a peaceful compromise to our ideals. I don't mind if there are none for me, as long as there are for those who are yet to come. There are a lot of men like me on death row - good men - who fell to the same misguided emotions, but may not have recovered as I have.

Give those men a chance to do what's right. Give them a chance to undo their wrongs. A lot of them want to fix the mess they stated, but don't know ho. The problem is not in that people aren't willing to help them find out, but in the system telling them it won't matter anyway. No one wins tonight. No one gets closure. No one walks away victorious."

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Glasses Lost to Joburg

I loved to wear these glasses to the beach. Here I am on a sunny afternoon in Rio enjoying the sun with my friend Maura. Doesn't she have the most fabulous smile?

Showing off the glasses once again, this time on the shores of Chicamba Real dam near Chimoio. Rico and I seem to have a lot of photos together just like this one, taken at arm's length and wearing sunglasses. If it weren't for my memory, I'd never know where each one was taken.

Sunday Scribblings: With Baggage

Every time I travel through Johannesburg, no matter how sturdy the lock, my baggage has been tampered with.

To date I have lost two good-quality padlocks, one of them the original Swiss Army lock that came with the bright blue suitcase of the same brand that my dad bought me several years ago. That lock was a warrior and had held up against perilous travel conditions and pilfering hands in bus stations and sleazy hotels all over the world. Until Johannesburg.

The first time was on the way back from our holiday visit to Brasil. I had managed to misplace the padlock that was on my suitcase and Ricardo and I, fully aware of Johannesburg’s bad reputation, made a special effort to buy a new lock in the São Paulo airport before catching our flight. Not surprisingly we were ripped off at the airport shop and ended up paying $14 for a small combination lock. At least with 4 number wheels we thought the thing would be impossible to crack open. But we were wrong. Arriving in Maputo the shiny gold lock was noticeably missing, and I made a small scene verifying the contents of my suitcase right there on the baggage claim floor. Satisfied that my leather jacket and favorite high heels were still in place, we headed home and wondered how the lock had possibly disappeared.

“Did you not close it properly?” I asked Rico somewhat accusingly.

“Yes, of course,” he said. “I even scrambled the numbers.”

“Do you think someone cut it off?”


Ricardo then told me about a report he’d seen on Carte Blanche, the South African equivalent of 20/20, where they had exposed a crime ring in Johannesburg airport. Apparently some crooked baggage handlers were paying street boys a few pennies each to sit in the airport basement and try their luck cracking the codes on the combination locks guarding the suitcases that sat idle during international layovers. An idle boy with nothing better to do has a pretty good chance at guessing the combination of at least two or three locks a day. When the boys weren’t able to open the locks, the baggage handlers would sometimes take lock cutters to the suitcases that oozed wealth – the Louis Vuitton sets and monogrammed matching safari bags.

Apparently the reporters from Carte Blanche had used hidden cameras to catch the baggage handlers and street boys in all their lock-busting and thieving ways. When the head of Johannesburg airport security was confronted with the footage, his response was that only 15% of passengers complained about missing articles in their luggage and that, for him, was an acceptable rate. No need to do anything more about the problem.

After losing my lock on the way back from Brasil, I still had some doubt in my mind as to whether we had failed to close the thing properly or if my bag had really been the victim of a South African airport crime ring. My doubts came to an end when, on our way to Botswana last month to go on safari, my Swiss Army lock was busted. I didn’t notice it was missing until Ricardo and I were already squared away in our tent at Seba Camp. I went to get my pair of wool socks out of my suitcase and noticed the lock was gone.

“Rico, did you open my suitcase?”

“No, why”

“Well, my lock is missing.”

“You didn’t take it off already?”

“No. They must have broken into my bag in Johannesburg.”

I pouted and started going through the contents of my suitcase to see if anything was missing. Everything essential I’d brought along was still apparently in its proper place. I put the missing lock out of my mind for the duration of our safari.

For the trip back to Maputo, Ricardo and I managed to condense all of our valuable items into one suitcase and secure it with his lock (although the notion that our belongings were safe because of a padlock was quickly vanishing). Upon arriving home, were pleasantly surprised that our bags hadn’t been further tampered with during our layover in Johannesburg.

The next day we unpacked and got back into the rhythm of normal life. We piled our dirty clothes into the washer and did a load of laundry. We made an appointment with the vet to come give our kittens their next series of shots. And we realized that a trip to the local grocery store was urgent given that the only food left in our kitchen was a pack of instant chicken soup, some mushy potatoes, and a plastic bottle of vegetable oil. We usually walk to Mohamed and Bros., a small Indian-run market a few blocks away. As the morning sun was already quite strong, I went to grab my Dior sunglasses as I can’t stand strong light in my eyes. I searched and searched, and for the life of me couldn’t find the huge white case where I always keep my non-prescription sunglasses.

After about 10 minutes of searching, it hit me. I’d taken my Dior sunglasses to Botswana. I usually wear glasses and prescription sunglasses, but I’d brought along a pair of contact lenses and my non-prescription sunglasses as a backup just in case I managed to somehow squash my regular glasses on safari. Since no bad luck had befallen my regular glasses on the trip, I hadn’t even realized that my Dior sunglasses were missing when I searched through my suitcase at Seba Camp. I felt my face flush with anger. The stupid baggage handlers and their gaggle of lock-busting street boys had ripped off my sunglasses!

Granted, I got these sunglasses at a huge discount on over a year ago ($30 for a $200 pair of glasses!). Granted, I usually wear my boring old prescription sunglasses. Granted, I don’t really need 2 pairs of shades. But sometimes I like to look glamorous, or simply crave the convenience of not carrying around two pairs of glasses and their respective cases no matter where I go. And now my chic Dior plastic frames were gone, off to a better life with some suburban Joburg madame who had likely purchased them from some street corner hawker while waiting in her Audi for the light to turn green.

I have always looked down on people that get their luggage plastic-wrapped in the airport as total suckers. But now, after my experiences with not one but two busted locks in Johannesburg, I think I will be first in line for that service next time I travel. At this point it seems to be the only solution that will ensure that I arrive at my destination not only with my baggage, but with all of my valuables as well.

For more stories about baggage, click here.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Two Big, Lazy Cats

Well, blogger will only let me upload these two photos for now, so I guess this will be a lion story in three or four parts.

Here you can see the two male lions wrestling and horsing around with each other in the grass. As we watched them playing, Ricardo (who is new to the world of cats - both domestic and wild) marveled at how similar the lions' behavior was to that of our kittens, Pria and Parceiro.

After a good tumble, the lions lay down to rest and wait for the ladies to arrive with food. They have such a regal presence, truly beautiful animals.

What was amazing to me was how safe I felt in their presence. I mean, these guys were not 3 or 4 meters from our open-sided safari vehicle. If the lions had wanted to, it would have been ridiculously easy to hop in the Land Cruiser with us. But the vehicle gave me a tremendous and false sense of security. If I had been on foot, my heart would have been beating wildly and my palms beading up with sweat.

Actually, I think I'd really like to do a walking safari if I ever get the chance. Being in the vehicle is conveninent and you really do feel safe. But part of the experience also feels fake. I don't really know how to describe it...

Thursday, July 13, 2006

New Template!!

I am loving my new look! I think this funky template just about sums up what this blog is all about.

Many thanks to my new friend, the multi-talented Boho, for creating this perfect image.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


It was the 4th day of our safari in Botswana and we had not yet seen any of the big cats. Everything up to that point had been wonderful - lots of animals, delicious food, and the sweet company of family not seen in ages. I think we all tried not to concentrate on the disappointment that would come if we didn't come across a lion or leopard.

Our guide at Savuti Safari Lodge was a Botswanan guy named Energy. When we asked if Energy was his real name he said no, that his real name was at least 4 blocks long and very complicated. To make it easier on the tourists, his colleagues had baptized him Energy, because he tirelessly went through the duties of each day, motivating the others and setting an example of youth and vigor.

Energy, true to his name, became intent on finding us a big cat. Each morning we'd set out before dawn in hope of tracking down a lion or leopard. After all, the Chobe National Park is famous for its large populations of feline predators. Energy would stick his head out the side of the Land Crusier and stare intently at the sand path, looking for telltale tracks of a lion stalking its prey or a leopard retreating into the bush after a long night's hunt.

The last morning we were at Savuti Safari Lodge, Energy was hot on the trail of a lion. We followed these tracks for at least an hour, periodically stopping for the guide to get out of the vehicle and have a close-up look at the prints in the sand, trying to determine which way the lion had gone.

We drove for what seemed like centuries. We were tired and cold and frustrated. Until suddenly Energy became very quiet and intense and told us in a whisper, "The lions are here. Just here. Very close." We drove around a curve and came across a sun lit field with the following magnificent sight right not 3 meters from our vehicle.

A beautiful male lion, basking in the morning light and waiting for his lady to kill something tasty for breakfast. Male lions are notoriously lazy, leaving all the stalking and hunting to the females.

We watched in awe as he gave a good yawn and then slowly sauntered over to his friend.

Yes, we were in the presence of not one but two big male lions!

...whose photos you will have to see in another post because Blogger won't let me upload anymore onto this one!

Sunday Scribblings: Hotel Stories

I have many stories about both wonderful and terrible things that have happened in hotels. So many, in fact, that I felt overwhelmed by this prompt and the many directions I could take in my writing... But I've finally settled on one - a terrible one, but part of my story nonetheless.

The darkest moment in my life, the one that my girl-cat Azul helped me gut out, happened in a hotel in Copacabana. I'd fled our beautiful Casa Rosa in a taxi that afternoon, convinced that I was being pursued by an obsessed neighbor who I'd been told had a gun and had come knocking on our gate looking for me while I was out. Not knowing where to go, and not feeling safe at home or with friends, I fled to a familiar hotel on the beach- the Olinda Othon.

Years before, my mom and I had stayed in this same hotel when she came to visit me in Brasil during my exchange year. There was something comforting about being in a place where I'd spent time with my mom, almost as if residual parts of her being were mixed in with the dust on the marble windowsill of the hotel room, ready to protect me and give me strength.

In the height of my paranoia, I purchased a room using a fake name and paid in cash. Before even going up to the room, I sat at a computer in the hotel's internet café and promptly changed all the passwords for my e-mail accounts and internet banking. I'd been tipped off (by the same person that told me I was being stalked and had to leave the Casa Rosa immediately) that my neighbor, an IT genius, had hacked into my accounts and gotten access to all of my personal information. When I finally got everything changed, I went up to my hotel room, shoved a heavy wooden chair under the doorknob and took the phone off the hook. Then I started to cry.

I wasn't alone on this day in the Olinda Othon. Along with me, and not understanding anything that was going on, was my boyfriend at the time. He'd flow to Brasil to have a vacation with me before we were supposed to move to Austin together. It was supposed to be the most romantic trip ever, but it turned out horribly. He sat looking at me with wide eyes, urging me to call the police or the American Consulate, or my laywer to take care of the situation. I refused. There's nothing like feeling guilty and ashamed to make all logical thoughts get stuck in the mud, especially when you know deep down that you are to blame for the whole mess. We sat for hours on the 1940's style beds until I worked up enough courage to tell my story, the sequence of events that ended up with us in this hotel room, scared to death and confused, facing the end of our relationship.

Once my story was out, the anger came, then the pain, then more tears, then the feeling that all was lost in this world. It was a horrible night, most of which I spent perched on the edge of the blue-tiled bathtub feeling numb and wishing I could go back in time.

I made it through to the next morning, and we set out in a black car with black tinted windows to go to the airport. We'd changed our trip plans the night before were booked on the first flight back to the US. We had separate seats, at his request. I felt for the first time what it is like to have caused someone so much disappointment and grief that they literally can't stand to be in yoru presence. I flew home with a horrible feeling in my stomach, genuinely afraid that I'd single-handedly ruined my life and that I'd never again be happy.

It took a while, and the images and words from that night in the Olinda Othon still haunt me on occasion, but I'm healed and happier than I ever thought possible...

For more hotel stories, click here.

EDITED slightly about 2 hours after posting, when I realized that certain small but critical details were either missing or unclear.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Being Ali la Loca

According to this fabulous personality test, I am a Dynamic Creator. Seems to be in line with my Myers-Briggs results, where I am a strong ENTP.

What type are you?

Friday, July 07, 2006

My Roots

Field of sunflowers behind my dad's house.

Sandia mountains as photographed during a day hike.

Angel from the Sanctuario de Chimayo.

Luminarias and snow, welcoming Christmas in New Mexico.

A bit of history in Las Trampas.

Nothin' Like a Deadline force a decision, and quickly!

Soon after I found out I couldn't use my Continental miles to upgrade on Air France, my travel agent informed me that I had until the end of business today to purchase my ticket or else I'd lose my reservation and "super cheap" fare of $1900.

Depressingly, $1900 to fly round trip from Johannesburg to Albuquerque is actually a good deal. So I jumped. I talked to my dad, confirmed the dates, made payment arrangements, and told the agent to ticket the darn thing.

The bright side of all this, aside from the fact that I'm going to see my family and hang out with Ricardo in my hometown, is that I will have an ungodly layover in Paris. Bloggie friends that live in or near Paris - I want to meet you!!!!!!!!! This, certainly, will add a bright side to my long and torturous flights. E-mail me if you are interested / available between 3pm and 9:30pm on September 20th.

Not Fair

This just in: I HATE CONTINENTAL AIRLINES and their bullshit policies.

Apparently you can accrue Continental OnePass miles when traveling on Air France flights, one of the airline's codeshare partners. Great news. I'll earn a bunch of extra miles


You are not eligible to USE your accumulated Continental OnePass miles (of which I already have a ton) for upgrades on Air France flights. In other words, I will be stuck in economy class for the entire 458 hours this trip will take.

This little detail just threw my entire plan into a tailspin. I'm once again considering traveling through Brasil (but not stopping for a visit). At least that way Rico and I could travel together fore part of the trip, and I wouldn't be faced with a 9-hour layover all by myself in Paris. Ugh.

Reconsidering all my plans starting NOW.

Like a Broken Record

I just realized I wrote about the exact same thing in two consecutive posts. While I was writing, the fact that I was being repetitive wasn't at all apparent. It felt like I was saying something new or at least clarifying all the geographical confusion from the first post. Now, reading back over everything, I realize I've just said the same darn thing in two slightly different ways.

I guess some part of me needed to hash this all out again before shelling out (or asking that someone else shell out) lots of hard-earned money on plane tickets.

Maputo to Burque, Rio to the Bay

So the verdict is in. I will be flying the following route at the end of next month:

Maputo / Johannseburg / Paris / Houston / Albuquerque

I am tired just looking at all the cities I will have to pass through to arrive in New Mexico. I am waiting for my final itinerary so that I can count up the total hours of travel and complain here using concrete numbers. The good news is that I have enough miles on Continental that I'll be able to upgrade on at least one of the long-ass international flights on Air France.

By the way, I have never been to France. Not even to CDG airport. I am excited about this first trip to the country, even though I will likely not make it much beyond the transit area. I think there is a lot to be said about observing a country and its people via airports, and I am looking forward to some quality layover hours having a look at who is passing through Paris, what they are eating, what they are wearing, and what it feels like to communicate in below-elementary level French.

I realized in my obsessive re-reading of my own blog that my post from last night isn't very coherent. Let me sum it up...

Ricardo will be in Rio from late July to early December taking care of some stuff. He will stay part of the time in the Casa Rosa, the funky pink house my mom and I picked up back in 2001.

The Casa Rosa is one of the places I love most in this world, but there are also a series of obligations - not so fun ones - that I feel in association with the house and the people that help us take care of it. It's hard to manage a house in another country, and I feel like each time I stay in the Casa Rosa I have to use every possible minute to "fix things." I talk to workmen, assess any new leaks in the roof, look over the bills that have been paid, try and do some basic accounting, buy furniture, arrange to have whatever pump or light fixture or telephone wiring is on the fritz, deal with the housekeeper... So for me to even feel like I'm getting a vacation and enjoy the many good parts of the Casa Rosa, I need to be there for a minimum of 2 weeks.

Obviously, with Ricardo soon to be in Rio, I would really love to stop by Brasil on the way to the US for my step-sister's wedding. We'd hang out together in Rio for a week, fly to the US and visit my dad and then my mom, fly back, and spend another week in the Casa Rosa before I'd catch the plane back to Africa. This had been our plan up until the point last night when I actually started to work out the details...lots of lost time in layovers, questionable opportunities for quality time with anyone, expensive tickets, jet-lag, and the impossible to ignore feeling that if I'm going to fly so freaking far and spend so much money (although a good part will be contributed by my parents), having only 5 days with my mom and 5 days with my dad is INSANE AND UNJUSTIFIABLE! Especially when I'd be away from Maputo for nearly a month - away from my responsibilities with our consulting company, away from the kittens. It's just too much...

So I bit the bullet and made the decision that inner voice of mine knew I was wanting to make the entire time: skip Brasil, spend more time with my family. Life is short, health is not guaranteed, money runs out. I would be crazy not to take advantage of the opportunity and spend an extra 10 days in the US. The way it stands now, Rico will fly from Rio and I will fly in from Maputo, we will be in the wedding and hang out in NM for a few days, fly to California to visit my mom, then Ricardo will return to Brasil and I'll spend a couple extra days with my dad.

I'm a bit bummed that my decision to postpone Brasil until December means I will miss out on a few things, namely Rico's mom's birthday, extra time with Rico, the chance to catch up with my carioca girlfriends, and the opportunity to be in the Casa Rosa for a few days...but so it goes. I feel solid with my decision, and know from the bottom of my heart that it is one that I won't regret - even if it does entail a torturous flight across the world all by my lonesome.

Family is worth it. And damn do I miss mine.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Distance is a Bitch

Ricardo and I are planning a trip to the US in September because my step-sister Ann, the girl on the right in the photo below, is getting married in Bernalillo, New Mexico!! Exciting news that definitely warrants a trip home to celebrate together.

In addition to the good excuse that we will be in the wedding, it's high time for me to pay a visit to my dad and step-mom, pictured below. I haven't been back to New Mexico since I left the US in April 2005, and I will gladly admit that I am homesick and can't wait to spend some quality time with that part of the family (and eat as much green chile as is humanly possible in 10 days).

I must also pay a visit to these fabulous girls, my friends Tara and Marlene. I miss having friends. As pathetic as it sounds, I haven't made any friends here in Mozambique. I have some acquaintances, and know a girl that I hope will with time become a good friend, but I can't really say I have anybody right now that I can call up to go out for a coffee, or sit at home and make jewelry together, or go out to a movie and gossip with. I miss my friends, especially my girls back in 'Burque.

And of course my friend Tomas. He and I have been buddies since middle school, through good times and bad. This photo was taken the last time I was in New Mexico, back in September of 2004 (God, I just realized what a long time it's been!!! Is this right, or am I forgetting a trip somewhere in there?)

So here's the catch: Mozambique is, like, the most impossibly far away and impractical place from which to travel to New Mexico. Even more so that South African Airways did away with their direct service between Johannesburg and Atlanta. The easiest (and, coincidentally also the cheapest) way for me to get to the US from here is to fly first to Brasil, overnight in São Paulo, then head to Albuquerque via Dallas the next day.

The only problem is that every time I go to Brasil I want (and feel obligated for many different reasons) to spend at least a week, ideally two. And of course, since I haven't seen my dad in ages and always love spending time with my mom in California, I want to stay at least two weeks in the US as well. We also need to spend enough time for my dad and Ricardo to bond, as it will be the first time they meet. :)

So when I stopped to work out the details of our trip to the US, it became apparent that I would be away from Maputo for at least three, probably four weeks. Yikes! That's a really long time to be away from a girl that is supposed to be holding down the fort business-wise, and who also has two kittens that will need to be looked after by a cat sitter.

I'm realizing now that there are a couple of crucial details regarding the upcoming months that I haven't shared yet with the blog world. The first and most relevant for matters of the heart, the business, and our upcoming trip is that Ricardo will be leaving for Brasil in about 20 days. He will be in Rio from late July through early December to take care of some pending matters and personal business. (Was that vague enough for you? Good. It was supposed to be...) So basically I will be alone here in Maputo, keeping everything running and in control with our business, and hanging out with the kitties.

I feel sad and excited and grateful and relieved and confused and worried and lonely and happy all at once about what this time apart will bring. But it's not in this post that I will muse about the implications of temporary geographical separation. For now I'll just moan about how it makes planning oh-so-difficult.

Ricardo will go from Rio to Albuquerque. My original plan was to fly to Brasil, meet Ricardo and hang out for a few days, then fly together to the US for the wedding. Then I would fly back to Africa via Brasil after a nice vacation with Rico and the fam in the US. Then I realized exactly how much time this would all entail, and that I would be tired and probably stressed at the end of it all, and questioned whether or not I'd be able to get anything done or spend any quality time with my friends and family in a trip where I'd spend about 5 days in each city/state/country.

I thought for a bit and made a decision. I will not be flying via Brasil. I will wait until December to go to Rio and accept the fact that - in large part thanks to the fact that Ricardo will be staying part of the time at our Casa Rosa in Santa Teresa - things will not completely fall apart if I don't go to Brasil next month. I will dedicate the days I would have spent in transit and in Brasil to spending more time with my family and friends, and Ricardo and I will simply meet up in the US for our vacation. This is a decision I know I will not regret, hard as it was to make for some reason.

So now the big question is the following: what is the easiest and cheapest way to get from Maputo to Albuquerque? Right now the deck is stacked in favor of flying Lufthansa via Johannesburg, Frankfurt and Denver. Ugh.

I'm afraid to count how many hours of flying time this trip will entail, but rest assured at some point I will tally it all up and complain righteously in a future post.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Lazy Day

Three cheers for Ali la Loca spending the *entire* day doing nothing useful.

Okay, nothing job-related and useful. I did manage to cook wild rice and chicken and salad for lunch, homemade tomato sauce with pasta for dinner, and I even made up a recipe for banana cake for dessert.

And then, of course, there was the last semi-final of the world cup tonight between France and Portugal. I think with all the virtual discussions lately with new bloggie friends about Portugal - in sports and in politics and in history - have managed to create a soft spot in me that didn't exist prior to last week or so. So while I was thrilled with the results of last night's game, I was pretty lukewarm about France's win. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that they knocked Brasil out of the competition...

So tomorrow I will get back in gear in terms of work. I will also abstain from making Italian food until next week, even though our cupboards are bare and the only real food left in the house at the moment is - you guessed it - lasagna noodles!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Work Work Work

work work work work work work work work work work work!


Looking forward to getting through our big meeting this afternoon and meeting up for drinks with a new friend who is here for a visit and just may be moving to Maputo!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Sunday Scribblings: Two Peas in a Pod

Azul and Ali, Ali and Azul. Two girl-cat peas in a pod.

In November 2002 I adopted this beautiful burmese at the Humane Society in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She was scared, starved to the bone, and craving attention. The first time we saw each other Azul lept out of her cage into my arms and started rubbing her face all over mine. In that moment I knew that this cat was special. "I don't think I have a choice," I told the volunteer at the shelter. "I think this one will be coming home with me."

I nursed Azul back to health and we became great friends. We kept each other company on lonely nights, slept together huddled under blankets in my tall single bed, and spent hours sitting in my armchair, me knitting and Azul draped around the back of my neck purring.

Less than a year after I rescued her, Azul returned the favor and saved my life. I mean it. I don't know what would have happened that night in July 2003 had I not had the image of my sweet Azul to think of and get me through the toughest, most painful moment I've ever endured. This is a story for another day, but my girl-cat most certainly was what got me through to the next morning without doing anything stupid.

Now Azul lives in California with my mom and 2 big Australian Shepherds. She has grown, become a brave little thing, reigning supreme in a house previously dominated by canines. My mom's husband built an enclosed area on the deck of their house where Azul can go soak up the sunshine, chase birds, and keep my mom company as she does her morning reading and has a cup of tea.

I miss Azul more than I can stand sometimes, but it's comforting to know that she's in good hands. And I quite like the idea that she and my mom are together, the two girl-cats that I love so much, halfway around the world waiting for the day when I will come for a visit.

For more peas in a pod click here.

Bad Luck

Note to self:

Don't make lasagne until the world cup is over.

I'm going back to my roots, although given my track record as of late I will not mention by name the team I am now cheering for in this sad competition.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Burnt Beans and Skewed Alleigances

Dinner was a bit of a disaster tonight. I put a pot of black beans on to boil, went into our office to use the internet, got distracted, and proceeded to burn the crap out of the beans. Now that I have a "developing world" mindset about food, we ate them anyway with rice and fried eggs. Keep in mind that we have our fellow consultants as houseguests. Before moving to Mozambique I wouldn't have dreamt of serving burnt food for dinner when there was company. Now I really don't mind. Sometimes things don't come out too tasty, or they are burnt, or too salty. My consolation is that I've had much worse food in restaurants here in Mozambique and I'm certain our houseguests have as well. We adapt, we accept, and that's that.

Portugal just won the match against England. The moment the game was over, people started driving around the streets of Maputo honking their horns, whistling and shouting. I find it unbelievably strange that so many people here are cheering for Portugal, the ex-colonial power that basically viewed this country as a source of cheap labour for the South African mines and not much else. Maybe the Mozambicans are among the world's most forgiving populations, but I just can't get it through my head how one can feel allegiance towards a former opressor.

Curious about how it is in other former colonies, I asked one of our fellow consultants who is Zimbabwean which team people in his country were supporting. He said that it was a mix, but that people were most certainly not supporting England like the Mozambicans support Portugal.

On a related note, a short lesson in linguistics. Mozambicans that speak Portuguese as a second language have a peculiar way of adding an 'e' to the end of most words. Fazer (to do) becomes fazer-e. Mil (thousand) becomes mil-e. Ricardo and I had a good laugh when, true to form, a crowd of people in the street below our building showed their enthusiasm for the game by repeatedly yelling "Portugaaaaaaallllleee-Portugaaaaaallllleee-Portugaaaaaaaalllllllleee!"

Given that England's defeat confirms a trend that the teams I cheer for in the World Cup seem to lose (i.e. Angola, Ivory Coast, Mexico, Croatia, Ghana) I'm beginning to feel a bit nervous about the Brasil vs. France match coming up in about an hour. And as if my apparent bad cheering luck weren't enough, the superstitious part of me also thinks that the fact that I burned the beans tonight (something I never do) is a bad, bad omen for Brasil.

Baobab Trees

I just love myself a fat Baobab tree! The first time I saw these giants was when Ricardo and I drove from Chimoio to the little town of Espungabera where the tea project we raised $600,000 for will eventually be located. Both Chimoio and Espungabera are in Mozambique, but the roads in that part of the country are so bad that it was easier to cross the border to Zimbabwe and drive some 150km out of our way just so that we could be on tar roads and drive over 70 km/hr. It was driving through the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe that I first saw a Baobab. I was amazed at how large they were, big fat stumpy things jutting out of the dusty landscape, but somehow beautiful and majestic at the same time. Unfortunately, I never got a photo of a Baobab on the multiple trips to Zimbabwe we took last year.

I was grateful to have my camera charged and ready when we came across a few Baobabs in Botswana. This gigantic tree was at Seba Camp, and what I managed to capture in the photo is actually only one half of the entire tree.

To put things in perspective, here is the entire trunk of the Baobab with my family, Ricardo, our guide Max and I lined up in front of the tree for a portrait. This thing would put the redwoods in California to shame! Max told us that this particular Baobab is more than 2,000 years old.

Ricardo and I decided to stretch our arms as far out as we possibly could in this photo. Even so, we were totally dwarfed by the thickness of the Baobab.

In another part of Seba Camp, we came across a slightly smaller Baobab whose trunk looked as if it had been attacked by an industrial shredder. Max informed us that the damage was caused by elephants, who have a habit of stripping the bark off trees in the bush to feed themselves. This causes a huge problem, because most trees can't regenerate their bark and once an elephant strips off the protective outer layer, the tree can't hold in moisture and eventually dies. Most of the dead trees you see in the bush are the result of elephants.

Baobabs, however, are a different story. They are one of the elephants' favorite trees because their bark and inner fibres are very fleshy, almost sponge-like. But no matter how much damage an elephant may cause, the Baobab is able to regenerate and form "scars" to heal the places where its bark and fibres have been stripped away. It's an amazing evolutionary trait, and the end result is these very cool, lumpy areas on the outside of the Baobabs. This tree has already regenerated a good part of the damage from the elephants, but even so it is in danger of toppling over should another feeding attack occur.

Here is a close-up of Rico inspecting the damage the elephants caused. You can see part of the trunk that has been regenerated from previous elephant feeding, just to the right of the torn up fibres.

This particular Baobab our guide estimated to be about 1,000 years old.