Monday, August 28, 2006

Naughty, Naughty Boys

2 kittens + 1 family size roll of paper towels (specially purchased at the bizarro grocery store in Nelspruit) + 1 unsupervised afternoon = THIS

Pria and Parceiro managed to destroy the entire roll of towels including the cardboard tube inside. It looked as if a confetti-happy parade had marched through the living room, leaving behind assorted shreds of paper and trash.

Needless to say, Momma Cat wasn't thrilled but the boys sure had a fabulous time showing those paper towels who's the boss.

1.25 Years in Retrospect

A few days ago I completed my 15-month anniversary of living in Mozambique. When I hit my 1 year mark, I didn't do much to mark the occasion in terms of reflecting on my experiences thus far. I didn't even go through this exercise when I completed my 1 year blogging anniversary. For some reason, today I felt like contemplating so I present you with a list of selected experiences I've had since moving to Africa in May 2005.

- I've been viably self-employed for over a year, although sometimes I absolutely loathe consulting and feel like a total fraud in my attempts to advise anyone about how a business should be managed or a project put together. There are days, however, that compensate for these feelings. Days where I look at a completed business plan and am filled with pride, days where I belive for a brief moment that my work and my presence here can actually make a difference.

- I've visited remote rural communities in Mozambique, visited the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe, gone on a luxury safari in Botswana, hiked in the world's 3rd largest canyon, and taken a bus from Maputo to Johannesburg.

- I participated in the Nia white belt intensive training in Cape Town in February and got certified as a Nia instructor. This was one of the best weeks of my life, I learned so much about my body and how it is connected to mind and spirit. I've yet to start teaching Nia, but this is certainly something I'd like to incorporate into my life in the future.

- I got a boyfriend! Ricardo also happened to be my boss at the time, but we've managed to separate our personal lives from our professional lives and make both relationships work quite well.

- I shared a house back in Chimoio with 4 other people in what was one of the hardest experiences of my entire life. Sure, all of us sharing one bathroom was tough, but what really got me was having to share my space and in the process give up control over my environment. I learned many things about myself, including that I am not a very patient person.

- I got out of said shared living arrangement and moved to Maputo with Ricardo in the nick of time for me to retain some fragments of sanity. We found a fabulous flat, adopted 2 kittens, painted the living room wall terracotta color, and are slowly creating our home. It feels great to put down some roots, and I don't plan on moving anytime soon. No, really. I think we'll still be here for another 4 years if not more.

- I've realized that slowly but surely I'm turning into my mother. I wake up earlier than any of my peers, have started meditating and reading books on conscious awareness, have let my hair go natural, and have recognized my capacity to be obsessively organized.

- I've become the world's most creative cook, using substitutes for substitutes just to be able to replicate my favorite recipes given the serious constraints we face here in terms of well-stocked supermarkets. I've also learned how to use canned ingredients in my cooking in a way that doesn't turn my stomach, although this is a skill that I'd love to abandon as soon as possible in lieu of fresh ingredients.

- I've accpeted the fact that I live in a tropical country with an agriculture-based economy and yet the variety of fresh fruits and vegetables is sadly lacking. Most of our produce here is imported from South Africa and is quite expensive. Even the carrots and onions the women sell on street corners are imported, taken out of bulk plastic produce bags and carefully laid out on colored cloths each morning. Any decent-quality fruit or veggies grown here are exported, so good quality local stuff is a rarity. Usually I can only find 1 type of local fruit or vegetable per season.

- Speaking of which, I've learned about the seasonality of many crops and feel much more connected to the food I eat (despite the restrictions metioned above). Mangoes are in December / January, Litchis are in November, Pineapples are in January, Tangerines and Oranges are in June, and Avocadoes are in April.

- I've had a friend pass away from AIDS.

- I've seen levels of poverty that make life in a favela look wonderful.

- I've seen so many groups of small children wandering alone in the streets that it doesn't really shock me anymore.

- I've gone for 3 days without a shower because the water "ran out" in our house. Really this meant that the city water department shut off the water supply, leaving people to either haul water in plastic containers from a communal tap or call the fire department to fill the water tank with their hoses, a service for which they charge $20. After enough people pay the fire department to have their tanks filled, the city turns the water supply back on and splits the cash with the fire fighters. Fuckers.

- I've successfully avoided getting Malaria, even though I don't take any preventive pills.

- I've successfully avoided getting any sort of illness, and would venture to say that I'm healthier in Africa than I ever was back in the US.

- I've become terribly cynical regarding the work of NGOs, missionaries, and any charity-related organization in Africa.

- I've seen initiatives by local people in the private sector that strengthen my belief that the answer to Africa's problems does not depend on the international community, and that in fact the aid does more to perpetuate a bad situation than it does to remedy it. The solution is in the hands of local entrepreneurs, community leaders and visionaries. This belief leads me to question the work I'm doing here and whether or not I'm unwittingly contributing to problems myself.

- I've provided money and counseling to our maid when she became pregnant with her 5th child and pleaded with me to help her get an abortion.

- I've been approached several times by prominent Mozambicans involved in corruption schemes. These are people that have strong ties to the government, work in international NGOs that have "standards" and "regulations" and "moral committments" so that this type of thing does not happen. It doesn't matter that we didn't take the bait, there are multiple others out there who will just so that they can get a contract or keep a job. The Mozambicans that approached us with corruption offers are already filthy rich, live in 3-story homes and drive 4x4s. These people are siphoning off thousands of donated dollars that are intended for the poorest, most vulnerable members of this society. Many times I've been tempted to turn these people in, but this is not the right time...

- I've helped raise over $4 million in grants and financing to support local projects. This week we are trying to get another $1 million. Sometimes concrete figures are necessary for me to realize that yes, despite my procrastinating and doubts, I have managed to do something productive in the last year and a quarter.

- I've become a member of a crafts association and put the jewelry I make up for sale for the first time in my life. It's been scary but totally worth it. People seem to like my designs, I've managed to make a small profit, I've met some cool local artists and most importantly I've found a wonderful creative outlet to balance out my life as a consultant.

- I've met all of you, the members of this amazing blogging community, and found connections with people all over the world through writing and images that help me stave off any feelings of loneliness or isolation. For this I am very grateful.

A hundred other things should be on this list but I must start working now. We have a presentation this evening and I need to start preparing my Power Point slides.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Sunday Scribblings: The Monster

Around 3:00 this morning the monster in my stomach made himself known through a not-so-subtle manipulation of the dream I was having. I'll spare you the details, but one minute I was playing the guitar in a trailer on a movie set and the next it became very, very clear that I had to get myself to a toilet right away. Ugh.

I think the monster was created by a bottle of litchi juice that I drank during the jewelry fair yesterday afternoon. I'd walked across the street to a convenience store to get something to drink. I browsed the selection of beverages in the cooler and decided to be daring, to support local industry instead of buying some juice imported from South Africa or a sugary soda. So I grabbed a bottle of Top Juice, Mozambique's attempt at a juice industry. It looked harmless enough - the bottle was plastic and had an actual printed label, the lid was sealed and the whole thing was refrigerated properly.

Boy was I wrong! I don't know at what point the litchi took a turn for the worse, but I have no doubt that I imbibed a bacteria-laden drink. I mean it tasted okay, but I knew something was definitely off when I started experiencing stomach pains while packing up my jewelry a few hours later. I had a meeting with the IFC last night (yes, a meeting on Sunday evening, ah the good life of a consultant) and could feel the monster gaining strength and manifesting his foul mood. I wondered if the project officer sitting across the table could actually hear the grumbles of my gut...

The monster finally had enough early this morning when I had my first run to the toilet. He's continued to remind me of his presence at regular intervals thereafter, and I am currently sipping a cup of pomegranate tea with pinches of salt and sugar to maintain myself hydrated.

I'm sure the monster is having a good laugh because not only has he caused me to be ill, he's managed to set my bowels into protest on the worst day possible. I have a huge presentation to deliver this afternoon at the IFC on behalf of our client that has a transport business. It is the public announcement of his expansion plans, and I will be presenting to the directors of his company, his main clients (some of the largest multinational projects in Mozambique), and several government stakeholders from the Ministry of Transport and Communication. I am trying to make peace with the monster in my stomach so that I don't have to excuse myself and make a mad dash to the toilet in the middle of my Power Point.

Thursday, August 24, 2006


Bush sunset - Chobe National Park, Botswana

As you know, every morning I meditate on the varanda as part of a ritual that involves a cup of tea and some fresh writing. Something quite amazing has happened twice now - yesterday and now this morning - and I am overwhelmed by the possibility that it's not just coincidence.

This is what my ritual looks like: I usually meditate for about 10 minutes, but sometimes it's 12 or 14. I meditate at a different time each morning, anywhere between 6:30 and 8:30 depending on what's going on that day. I sit cross-legged on a large Zimbabwean cotton pillow, with another behind my back against the wall for support. I set the alarm on my cell phone for 15 minutes out, then sip my tea for a bit before taking a deep breath and settling into my body. I try to calm my mind, phase out the chatter that seemingly never stops, concentrate on my breath and imagine that I'm connecting with the light and the air around me. My meditation session usually ends when my cell phone alarm goes off. I take a couple of deep breaths, ease off the floor, and go about the rest of my day.

A few interesting things have happened since I started meditating almost a month ago when Ricardo left Mozambique. The first is that it's gotten consistently easier to leave my mind and connect with my body and breath. The second is that each morning I get a clear vision of what color my aura is. I know, it's pretty new-agey spirit mother kind of stuff. But it's true. Every day a few minutes into my meditating, I get hit with a wave of a specific color. I see myself bathed in a light that color, see it emanating from my pores and surrounding me like a halo. Each morning it's a different color. Today it was light lemon yellow. Yesterday it was teal. The day before it was an amber color.

The third thing - and the one that has me totally floored right now - is this: Like I said before, I usually stop meditating when my alarm goes off. I make myself sit still and push through whatever is in my mind and heart until I hear the ring. But yesterday I felt called to end my meditation before the alarm went off. I stopped for a moment and considered whether or not to give myself "permission" to cut it short. It seemed right, though. I clearly sensed that it was time to stop, so I went through my usual end-of-session steps. With my eyes still closed, I took 3 very deep breaths, pushing my palms together and drawing them up the core of my body when inhaling, then separating my arms above my head and letting them float back down on the exhale. I did this 3 times, then pressed my palms over my heart center in that traditional yoga/Nia gesture. As soon as I put my palms together, my cell phone alarm went off!! I thought, "Wow, what a wild coincidence."

But then today the EXACT SAME THING HAPPENED! I felt called to end my meditation early, that is before the cell phone alarm went off. I took my 3 deep breaths, raising and lowering my arms in a circle each time, then ended with my palms pressed together in front of my chest. As soon as my hands touched, the alarm went off. I couldn't believe it!

Has anyone else had a similar experience of being able to "sense" time so accurately??

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Early Morning Fog

This morning I look out the window of my home office and see the Vila Algarve shrouded in fog. It's so thick that I can barely make out the details of the blue and white tile murals that run along the outside of the abandoned mansion. We've recently learned through various different sources that the Vila Algarve, this architectural and aesthetic work of art, used to be owned by the Portuguese secret police during the colonial times. Rumor has it the mansion was used as a place of torture for any political dissidents or supposed enemies of the state. The other day when I was on the varanda staring out across the street, I noticed what looks like the entrance to a basement dungeon (!).

Perhaps this dark past has something to do with the fact that this beautiful-on-the-outside home is completely abandoned. On the other hand, these same sources claim that the Vila is now owned by the Mozambican Association of Laywers, and that the reason it's in ruins is due to "mismanagement" of donated funds from the European Union for its renovation. Either way, I think the fog fits this old home extremely well...

The fog also fits my mood this morning, too. I am confused about my work, how I feel about my current profession. For the life of me I can't determine whether I hate consulting and am miserable writing business plans and doing fundraising for local projects, or whether this is actually my dream job and I'm self-sabotaging because some part of me doesn't believe I deserve this success or happiness. I seem to flip-flop between these extremes at least 10 times a day. How strange not to know whether I despise something or want it with all my heart...

I realize that there is no "solution" per se to this dillema. The only thing I can do, for now, is to listen to my body and try and do away with any mind-chatter that tells me what I should or should not think about my work and my life here. I need to sit in silence and feel it in my bones. I am confident the answer will come.

I am also pretty certain that once I do gain a bit more clarity about my work situation, there won't be any radical changes in my life. In all likelihood I'll still do my consulting work, still make my jewelry, still write in my blog and fuel illusions of grandeur that I'll one day write novels about my experiences across the world. The main difference - and although small it is a crucial one - will be how I view myself.

Am I a consultant who does writing and jewelry design on the side?
Or am I a writer and jewelry designer who does consulting to pay the bills?

Something to meditate about, for sure. Speaking of which, I must make a cup of chai and go do my morning ritual on the varanda. I've found that the way I spend the first hour after waking is critical in determining how the rest of my day goes. If I connect with my body, eat a good breakfast and get showered and dressed as soon as possible, my day will almost certainly follow on a path that is satisfying. I feel good, accomplish many things on my to-do list, and have very few cravings for sugar or wine or Diet Coke. If I don't meditate or take a shower right away, I seem to get into a pattern of laziness and semi-depression that too often ends up with me getting no work done and eating 2 entire packages of sugar wafers for dinner. Not that this happened yesterday. (ahem).

Friday, August 18, 2006

Images from Blyde River Canyon

Last weekend I went on a fabulous road trip with 2 new girlfriends to Blyde River Canyon in South Africa. Unfortunately these friends are like most of the people I meet here - temporary residents of Mozambique - but we certainly doing what is possible in the relatively short time these girls are in town.

Blyde River Canyon is the 3rd largest in the world and is about a 4 hour drive from Maputo. One of my new friends drove the car on the way there, and I drove most of the way back. It was not nearly as traumatic as my first experience driving on the left nearly a year ago. I actually did quite well and felt pretty comfortable behind the wheel. The experience did loads for my confidence, and I'm at the point now where I could imagine renting a car and driving it myself and not totally freaking out!

As we drove, we stopped at various scenic lookouts along the way. This particular one was called Berlin Falls. I'm terrible at estimating heights but this waterfall was really, really high. The most striking thing was that the river that forms the falls appears to be totally stagnant. If it weren't for the veil of rushing water and the accompanying sound, you'd never know this wasn't just a still wading pool.

We stayed in a lodge inside the Blyde River Canyon national park. It was very comfortable, and cheap - less than $100 for a 2-bedroom chalet with a kitchen and bathroom. The room also came equipped with a fierce troop of baboons outside the front door. As we were unloading the truck upon arrival, my friend left one of the doors ajar while she wrangled with her suitcase. In the front seat, she'd left a partially eaten pack of peanuts. The baboons were able to smell the peanuts and one actually hopped inside the truck, stole the plastic package, and ran off onto the lawn to chow down! At this point the other baboons became really curious and started to try and get into the vehicle. One of them was even cheeky enough to try and attack my friend - who is very petite and managed to defend herself with the lid of a trash bin just outside the front door of the chalet!

After that adventure, we decided it was high time for some calm and we went to the lookout point to catch the sunset. It was amazing, and we were the only people around!!

The next morning woke up at 5:45 and set out on a 4-hour hike called the Leopard Trail. Again we were the only people on the trail. We didn't see any leopards, but we did see their scat. We also ran across a couple of monkeys and some baboons, but they weren't nuisance animals like the ones closer to the lodge. The canyon was full of mist and clouds, somewhat obscuring the view but keeping the air nice and chilly as we hiked. After about 1.5 hours going down into the canyon, we came across this magnificent lookout.

We hiked for another hour or so and almost reached the bottom of the canyon. Since we had to leave for Mozambique that same morning, we had to cut the hike short (otherwise we would have made it all the way to the huge river below). The way up was quite an adventure - we climbed almost vertical walls next to a waterfuall nearly the entire time, getting our feet soaking wet on several boulder-hopping river crossings.

Thankfully we made it back with few casualties. One of my friends cut her shin on a stump, and the other got some blisters from her wet socks rubbing in her shoes. My only problem was that my fingers went numb soon after we started the hike and remained that way for most of the time. I have Reynaud's Syndrome (just like my mom), and my friends got a kick out of seeing my fingers completely white in the absence of blood, then watch as they turned bright pink as the circulation returned about 10 minutes before we finished the hike.

Here we managed to balance the camera on a rock and take a self portrait with one of the canyon's upper walls in the background.

After the hike we packed up and headed back to the border with a very quick pit stop in Nelspruit. We hit the grocery store and I bought 10 kilos of cat chow, 10 kilos of cat litter, several packages of wet kitten food and a family pack of toilet paper. Fun stuff. Unfortunately we didn't have enough time to stop by bizarre-o Whole Foods or any of the home decorating shops. No worries, though, I'm headed back to the original land of consumer delights in just 12 days.

Did you get that? I go home in 12 days!! And not only do I get to see my family, I get to see Ricardo!! When I have tough moments these days, all I have to think about is sitting down with family and my love to eat a big plate of green chile chicken enchiladas and all is good in my world again!

The Jewelry Attack Continues

This turquoise piece came from a necklace of my mom's that burst apart. I managed to wrap the stone in the last length of silver wire that I had here in Mozambique, then string it on a soft leather cord.

This necklace is on the same brown leather cord, but the pendant is made of wood and ivory beads with some silver spacers in the middle.

This necklace I made a while back using freshwater pearls, amythest beads, and a piece of quartz as a pendant. End result is very feminine and dainty.

This necklace consists of garnet and light green glass beads. The green stone pendant I have yet to identify. Anyone know what kind of stone this is?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Routine

I've been feeling a bit down these last couple of days. Nothing serious, no tears have been shed (yet), but I just can't shake this sense of being mildly depressed, wallowy and blah.

I am having tremendous problems getting motivated to finish up this project that is due on Monday. Granted, it's about the transport sector in Mozambique - a subject that in and of itself doesn't get me particularly revved up - but I just can't seem to write anything coherent for the final version of the business plan. In addition to my procrastination, I am frustrated with this project for multiple reasons and I simply want it to be over. Done. I don't want to invest any more of my time and energy. Instead it's here looming over me, and the longer I put off my work the worse I feel. What a sad cycle.

All I want to do these days is make jewelry. I've already stated to Ricardo on at least 3 separate occasions that I was all out of materials. After each of those declarations, I managed to make a slew of new necklaces and earrings - and not just any old junk, things I genuinely like and am having a terribly hard time putting up for sale. Necessity truly is the mother of invention and I have been quite the creative girl, learning how to fashion my own silver clasps out of wire after the store-bought ones ran out, using new and different combinations of beads, scraping the bottom of the barrel in terms of innovation and inspiration. But now I am *really* out of materials. No tiger tail stringing wire, no silver wire to make clasps and ear hooks, no pretty beads at all. The one thing that was getting me through each day here in relatively good spirits has run dry and I don't really know what to do with myself.

I suppose I could revisit the scarf I'm knitting, or draw some pictures. I could paint another wall in the living room. I could start writing the book I have in my head. I could do a million and one things but I just don't feel like it. Blah, blah, blah!

Today I am making myself go out of the house to have a manicure and pedicure. Having nice nails always lifts my spirits, and the walk down to the nail spa is actually quite lovely. It's about .5 miles down a street called Frederich Engels that is lined with acacia trees and is home to some of the most posh mansions in all of Maputo. It's also along the edge of the cliff that drops off into the Indian Ocean, so every once in a while there is a stellar view of the water inbetween the big houses. I must leave in about 15 minutes.

I'm still meditating in the mornings, and find increasingly that the early morning hours are the part of the day that I most look forward to. I have a cup of tea, the cats want to be cuddled, I sit on the balcony and breathe and watch the world go by on the street below. I feel connected and at peace in the relative stillness of that hour. Then the day heats up, I go about my work (or avoidance thereof), read blogs and write a bit in my own, and count the hours until it is time to go to bed again. Fundamentally I like the routine I've got going, but there is something more than a bit terrifying about the monotonous, predictable nature of my days.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Pendant Obsession

Turquoise with silver spiral

Red glass with turquoise and silver

Turquoise with silver and purple beads

Brown smoky quartz and silver

Handmade blue glass bead and turquoise

As you can see I went on a bit of a pendant-making rampage last night. I made 4 new pendants on silver chains, all about the same size as the original turquoise one I showed a few days ago. I also made some new beaded necklaces and a couple of pairs of earrings.

There is another fair coming up at the end of this months and I think I'm going to participate!

Monday, August 14, 2006

Sunday Scribblings: Who Else Can I Still Be?

A quiet moment - Blyde River Canyon

I can still be a Nia teacher.

I can still be the author of a series of novels about my life.

I can still be a person who flosses every day.

I can still be a silversmith and make the kind of jewelry I dream about.

I can still be a wife.

I can still be a mother.

I can still be the one to break the chain of "issues" passed on through the generations.

I can still be a ballsy driver unafraid to take to the streets of Rio de Janeiro.

I can still be a person who doesn't dislike corporate finance with every fiber in her body.

I can still be an adventurer and visit Madagascar, Guyana, India and the U.A.E.

I can still be a chorus singer.

I can still be the life of the party.

I can still be happy with my weight and shape.

I can still be a vegan.

I can still be one of those fashionable women who can rock a headscarf.

I can still be a person who knows where home is.

I can still be enlightened.

I can still be me.

Friday, August 11, 2006

New Jewelry

Last night I made a piece of jewelry I like so much I just had to photograph myself wearing it. To my horror, as I posted this picture just now (4:45am!), I realized that MY GLASSES ARE CROOKED! This is, along with the laces on my tennis shoes being unevenly pulled tight, one of my huge pet peeves in life. I'm obsessive, I know. But I like the new necklace so much I'm putting this photo up here anyway. Know that the next 7 - 10 days will be occupied by me making minute adjustments to my frames and taking more pictures to see if my glasses are finally straight, because obviously the mirror is no longer a reliable indicator (I swore they were perfectly even before I took this photo).

So...all of that to say I made a fabulous necklace, pictured above (unfortunately with flash). It's a big hunk of turquoise that I got at a crafts fair in Austin. I cut a length of thick silver chain, made a sweet S-shaped clasp for the back out of wire, then held the stone in place by making a spiral on one end of a sterling wire. I made the necklace with the idea of eventually selling it, but this piece just resonates with me so much that I think I may have to keep it. I'll be wearing this new turquoise number on our road trip to South Africa today.

Speaking of which, I must suck down the rest of my tea, do my morning meditation and hop in the shower.

Blyde River Canyon

This fabulous place is where I am headed tomorrow morning for an impromptu road trip with two new girlfriends: Lycia, a girl from Brasil who is here working on an agricultural venture capital fund and Trisha, a girl from Louisiana who is here working on a biodiesel project. We will set out bright and early to drive to South Africa (where there is the distinct possibility that I might be the one at the wheel of the rental car - yikes!), then will spend the next 2 days hiking and basking in the glory of what is apparently the 3rd largest canyon in the world.

There will also likely be a stop a bizarre-o Whole Foods (aka Woolworth's) in Nelspruit on our way back to Mozambique to stock up on essentials like cat food and toilet paper that are much cheaper on that side of the border. I am as of yet undecided whether or not there will also be a stop at bizarre-o Pier 1 Imports (Mr. Price Home) to buy more lovely things to furnish our flat.

I am so excited that even the prospect of driving on the left-hand side of the road seems like no problem. Ha! I'm sure I'll have plenty of stories to tell when we get back on Sunday.

Enjoy the weekend!

(Images courtesy of

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Guess What?

Well, first of all Rrramone was lovely enough to draw this portrait of me and post it on his blog. All I had to do was correctly guess the location of sketch he drew in this contest. The portrait lookes much better over at his site where he has a black background, but I am digging the sketch so much that I just had to put it up here as well. Pay him a visit, he's a talented and terribly funny man.

The other big news is that RICARDO GOT HIS VISA!!!

He went back to the Consulate this morning with the stack of tax declarations, bank statements and work contracts that B. and I pulled together and scanned yesterday. Ricardo said that this interveiw went much better than the first one, and all the guy really wanted to know was the amount of Rico's monthly salary.

I am so pleased and even more relieved. During my morning meditation I visualized the Consulate guy telling Ricardo his visa was granted, the excitement in Rico's voice on the phone calling to tell me the good news, how I would jump around the living room and how I would eventually write about it all on my blog.

Thank you all so much for your positive thoughts throughout this process. I am the kind of person that believes it does, in fact, make a difference.

Between the good news about Ricardo's visa and the cool portrait from rrramone, I think I have made myself hoarse today with all this squealing in delight!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Shocked the Tears Right Out of Me

This evening I was remided once again of why I am grateful to have cats in my life.

As you know, Ricardo had his visa interview with the American Consulate today. I'm struggling not to be negative, but it's safe to say it didn't go so well. Apparently the guy who did the interview was, ahem, a total asshole. He said that Ricardo, "had no real ties with Brasil and had proven by moving to Mozambique that he should be considered a flight risk." Thankfully the guy didn't go so far as to flat-out deny the tourist visa, but now Ricardo has the burden of proving that he has no intention to relocate to the US like he did to Africa, and that his life here in Mozambique is "stable and convincing enough" that he has sufficient reason to return.

So now we are in a mad dash to get together all the bank statements, work contracts, residency permits, rent contracts and income tax declarations that have Ricardo's name on them and prove that he has been here for 2.5 years and is the Director of a legitimate business with ample assets and reasons to come back to Mozambique. Once B. and I compile, scan and e-mail these documents to Rico, he will go back to the Consulate for a follow-up interview and the final verdict regarding his visa.

Needless to say this news got me down a bit. I'm really, really trying to stay positive and not think hateful things about the visa issuance policies of my country but it's been hard. During a phone conversation with Rico a few minutes ago I let myself break down and cry a bit. A lot, actually. I felt frustrated and resentful that Ricardo might not be able to join me on this wonderful trip we've planned, that he might not be able to meet my dad and see the things I love about New Mexico, that I might not have a chance to matar as saudades in the middle of our geographical separation. Not to mention the fact that we've already purchased all of our tickets.

As I was crying and feeling generally miserable, Pria, the black kitten in the photo above, was rolling around belly-up on the new striped rug I got in Nelspruit a couple weeks ago. As she wiggled, I caught site of something that made my jaw drop. Something that made me forget my tears and fall completely silent on the phone, leaving Ricardo going, "Ali? Patroa? Alôôô?" Something so totally bizarre I could only start laughing once I regained my voice.

What was it?

Pria, our sweet little girl cat, HAS A PENIS!!!

Seriously. A little pink worm-like thing came poking out beneath her tail and hiney-hole as (s)he romped around on the rug, directly below what I now recognize to be a semi-developed feline sack-o-balls.

When I finally recovered from the shock, all I could say to Ricardo was, "Pria is a boy."

"A what?"

"A boy cat. She's got a penis."

"But she had girl-parts when we brought her home!" he said, rightly confused. "Parceiro even used to nurse on her 'down there'."

"I know." Parceiro did have a terrible habit of suckling on 'her' parts, but thankfully he stopped about a month ago and I'd just assumed that Pria's genitals were still slightly protruded as a result. I mean, I even read up on this on the internet and it was all seemingly normal. Little did I realize that Pria's swollen crotch was really a sack-in-waiting.

"So will we change her name to Prio now that she's a boy?" Rico asked, laughing.

"No, I don't think I can possibly think of her as anything but Pria, my girl cat, my sweet little gatinha." And it's true. I've raised this kitten as a female. All of her nicknames are girl-related. I look at her and can't possibly imagine that she's actually male!

"Yeah," Rico agreed, "she just seems like a girl. I mean she even acts like a girl." He laughed again and asked. "So what do we do now?"

"I guess we treat Pria like a girl cat stuck in a boy cat's body. I mean, this stuff happens to people, why can't it happen with cats, too?"

"Great, so now we have a transgendered cat."

"Yeah, I guess so."

We laughed some more, went over the list of documents Rico needs tomorrow to take to the Consulate, and eventually hung up the phone.

I suppose the moral of the story is not to make assumptions. We'd assumed all along that Pria was a girl, and now we find she has a wormy cat penis just like her brother. I think Rico and I had also assumed all along that his approval for a tourist visa to the US was guaranteed, and now we are realizing this may not be the case.

So please continue to think positive thoughts for Ricardo's visa. I certainly will be as I lay down tonight with my transgendered cat and her brother, them purring and me meditating, imagining how wonderful it will be to see Rico next month..

Good Vibrations

Sunbeams after an afternoon rainshower in Chobe National Park, Botswana

Please send positive energy and good thoughts to Ricardo this afternoon.

He has an interview at the American Consulate in Rio de Janeiro to determine whether or not he will be granted a tourist visa for our trip next month.

The interview will take place at 1pm his time (GMT -3) and 6pm my time (GMT +2), so do your math and send love and light our way!

Monday, August 07, 2006

Sunday Scribblings: Who Else Might I Have Been?

If I had followed through on my childhood answer to, "So, honey, what do you want to be when you grow up?": A botanist.

If I had been accepted to my second choice destination for my high school student exchange instead of Brasil? The wife of a Venezuelan doctor, living in Caracas and speaking Spanish all day.

If I had been accepted to my third choice destination? A student in an Economics master's degree program in Hong Kong.

If I had gone back to high school after my exchange to finish my senior year instead of starting college right away? A graduate of an Ivy League college instead of the University of New Mexico (for the record - I don't regret this choice in the least).

If I had not gone to Rio de Janeiro for 1.5 years in business school? I wouldn't have met B. and Ricardo, my partners in the consulting firm and the boys responsible for my move to Mozambique.

If I had not been somewhat of a wild child during said time in Rio? I wouldn't have hooked up with Ricardo the night before moving back to the US in 2001, thus providing a great background story to our current relationship.

If I had not found journaling and art as a healthy channel for my emotions? Insane.

If I had stayed in New Mexico? An employee of Sandia Labs with 1 kid and another on the way.

If I had been accepted to get my PhD in Public Health at Berkeley? A feminist neo-hippie working to provide treatment to women living with fistulas in Nigeria.

If I had stayed in Austin, Texas instead of moving to Mozambique? A burned out but exceptionally well dressed employee of an NGO.

If I had been born in Afghanistan? A girl disguised as a boy, saving my earnings from picking poppies and plotting a way to move to Europe.

If I had let my fears get the best of me? A woman stuck in a bad relationship.

If I had stayed in Chimoio? A royal bitch.

If I had not adopted 2 kittens? Lonely, but with a much cleaner house.

If I had never come to Africa? Someone less cynical.

If money weren't a concern? A professional dancer, preferably modern, flamenco or salsa.

If I had been raised by different parents? A rebel.

If I had the chance to do it all over again? Twice as wise.

If I hadn't been through all the experiences I spilled in my "secrets" post last week? Honestly? I don't care. I LOVE the person I am now and wouldn't want to change for the world!

Friday, August 04, 2006

On a Lighter Note...

I love our kittens! How am I expected to work when I have "helpers" like these ones? Notice Parceiro having a go with the mouse, and Pria sleeping with her head crooked all the way back.

Now Pria has her turn with the mouse, and I am left to wonder how it is that I lost total control of my own office.

Thank you all for your overwhelming support regarding the spill-my-guts post from yesterday. I had a terrible time sleeping and found myself up at odd hours thinking about my words and fretting about potential responses from family and friends. I was amazed at how much this post affected me after the fact, given that it was actually quite easy to write.

Ricardo called me twice in the middle of the night, throwing worries about time zones to the wind, to tell me how impressed he was by my post. "You're really corageous, you know that?" My response: "Yeah, I know." Rico and I both laughed at my total lack of humility when accepting a compliment. Seriously, though, what was I to do after telling all my secrets for the world to read - pretend like I wasn't aware that it took a lot of balls? I thought it best just to own up to the fact that I am a brave, brave woman.

PS - I mixed up dates in my post yesterday. The breakup after the whole Brasil incident happened in 2004, not 2005. It's funny, I still have a really hard time keeping dates straight regarding that time in my life. There certainly is some truth to the idea that we block out things that are uncomfortable or painful to think about.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Secrets No More

About 30 minutes ago I sat down to watch some TV (Channel O - South Africa's answer to MTV) and knit a few rows on the scarf I'm currently making. As I knit, my mind kept centering on an idea, insisting that I put words to it, that I share with the world a few of the secret things that make up Ali la Loca.

Acceptance. It's been in the air lately, swirling amongst the members of my blog community, be it through mirror meditation or encouraging comments. Perhaps its these first few days alone that have brought up the urge to disclose a few things about myself that I'd normally prefer to shroud in layers and lock up. I've been meditating, evaluating and observing my life here, wondering how it is that I got to this place (literally and figuratively) and where it is that I want to go tomorrow, next year, 10 years from now.

In the name of acceptance I'd like to share a few things about myself, my past, my fears and hopes.

1. I used to lie a lot. It was hard for me to say anything I feared would upset anyone else. I also had a tremendously difficult time telling people "no." This all has changed, and now I'm on the opposite extreme. I say exactly what I think and say "no" when I don't feel like doing something or going somewhere. I try to still act with kindess and respect, but I no longer sugarcoat or beat around the bush. I know that I come off as a bitch a lot of the time, but I'm a lot happier this way - and that's what matters in the end (to me, at least).

2. When I was in middle school, around 13 years old, my mousy brown hair "mysteriously" turned blonde. Contrary to what I told everyone and what they all ended up believing, especially my mother, my beautiful blonde streaks weren't due to hormones or blessed genetics. It all came from a bottle of hydrogen peroxide hidden at the back of my medicine cabinet. I'd wet a cotton ball and randomly dab it on my roots, creating blonde highlights. I did this for almost 10 years and never admitted to my hair being anything but natural. I felt like pretty, unique hair made me special. I felt beautiful, but always like a fraud.

One day, however, I realized that the blonde was way too brassy and not really a flattering tone for my cool, olive skin. So I dyed my hair dark, tried to get it back to my natural color. I had let my hair completely grow out last year for the first time in my adult life. Then, at a low point here in Maputo, I went to a hairdresser and had her put in highlights. I hated them and, kicking myself, am now growing out my natural color again. Nature knows best, and now I know not to fool with her. In about 6 months I'll be back to what she intened for me in the first place.

3. When I lived in Brasil as an exchange student I gained some weight in the first few months I was in the country. People started calling me chubby, so I stopped eating. 9 months later, I was anorexic and had stopped getting my period. My hair was falling out and I was pale as hell. But I was skinny, and to me that was all that mattered.

When I started college a year later, I started to eat again. And, of course, I gained back some of the weight. I also freaked out about it and started throwing up my food to keep thin. I also toyed with taking laxatives, but that never was really my thing. I hid my bulimia from everyone for almost a year until the depression and obsessiveness became unbearable. With the help of my friend Kyle, I went to a psychologist. She wasn't wonderful, and I ended up stopping therapy, but I told my parents about my eating disorder(s) and managed to stop purging my food.

Then, about a year later, I swung to the opposite extreme. I'd still binge eat like a bulimic, but I was too lazy and depressed to do anything to "make up for it." Not surprisingly, I gained weight. In my head, I was too fat to go out of the house. I was so ashamed of the way I looked and saw no way out of the cycle. All I could think was how desperately I wanted to go back to being anorexic but didn't have the willpower.

A total of 7 years after cultivating an eating disorder in Brasil, I finally got my life back together. I decided it was too painful, required too much effort, was too much to continue on the path I'd been following thus far. I tried to dedicate my negative energy into art instead of food. I started creating and painting and writing more than I ever have in my life. It didn't happen overnight, but I made it through to the other side.

Now my eating is pretty normal, but I still have serious body issues and am aware that food is the first thing I turn to when I feel stressed. I also believe strongly that, as with any other addiction, it is a disease that you must deal with for life. How do I know this? Because if I am honest with myself, I have to admit that part of me still wants to go back to being anorexic. Thankfully I'm wise enough to know that it's not worth it, but it sure does seem like a fabulous solution when times get tough...

4. I played the piano for 15 years, from the time I was 3 to when I was 18. Sometimes I miss piano now, but not because I love the music and the process of playing an instrument. Rather, I miss the thrill of impressing people and feeling the satisfaction of getting first place in a regional competition. I was really, really good at playing the piano and I loved it when people recognized my talent.

5. I struggle not to feel ashamed for being American.

6. When I lived in Austin, one day I found 2 enormous Ziploc baggies full of marijuana by the pool of my apartment complex. It was really high quality stuff, and an uneducated guess would put its street value at over $1,000. Instead of calling the cops like a good citizen, I took a quick look around to make sure the FBI or the owner of the drugs weren't lurking in the bushes, then took both baggies into my apartment. To even out my karma, I gave away about half of the pot to friends of mine that I knew smoked weed and would appreciate a free score. The other half I kept and, against all sound judgement, smoked for the next year anytime I felt like getting high.

7. Despite the fact that pretty much since high school I've smoked pot whenever I feel like it (although I've never actually bought any), I'm one of the most accomplished people I know. I'd go to class stoned all semester and get the highest grade out of 100 students on all the tests. I'd get high and clean the house, write a paper, organize my files, go for a jog or run errands. I even wrote a grant proposal once when I was high and ended up getting over a million dollars for the organization I was working for at the time. Even though morally I feel very guilty anytime I smoke, I can't say at this point in my life that I'm convinced that smoking weed is necessarily a bad thing in my life, as long as it's not done in excess.

8. I am not high right now, nor have I smoked pot in nearly a year, just in case you were wondering. I'm also not drunk or on any other substance other than the high that comes with shouting out your truths to the world.

9. I love my mom so much it's overwhelming. She is the one person on this earth I indentify with 110% percent. Sometimes I freak out thinking about how lonely I'll be when she's gone.

10. In 2003 I was raped by my neighbor in Brasil. I didn't resist his flirting or advances, and didn't say no when it all happened (see number 1). I had a boyfriend at the time who, unfortunately, came to Brasil to visit me exactly 2 days after I was raped. I was so ashamed, felt so guilty about what had happened, that I hid it all from my boyfriend and acted like everything was normal. Until the day my neighbor freaked out and supposedly came to the gate with a gun because he wanted to "talk to me." That was the afternoon I fled from our house and went to the hotel I wrote about in Sunday Scribblings a few weeks ago. In that hotel room I told my confused ex-boyfriend everything that had happened. In his eyes as well as mine at that moment, I hadn't been raped - I'd been a cheating whore.

It took 10 months of intensive therapy back in the US to get me to even start believing that just because I hadn't fought back or said "no" out loud, it didn't constitute a violation of my body and spirit. I still feel strange saying I was raped, as if because I enjoyed the attention of this neighbor and even flirted with him a bit before it all happened, because I didn't have a stronger reaction at the time, what happened to me doesn't "qualify." It's all still very gray, and as time passes I become more and more okay with the idea that it may just stay that way.

The relationship with my boyfriend at the time went on for a very painful year after the incident in Brasil. I don't think I've ever been so sad, yet simultaneously so relieved and happy as the day we broke up back in 2005.

11. As a result of number 10 above, I still have problems being touched (sexually or not) and many times find myself dissociating and having out of body experiences so that I don't have to deal with the uncomfortable feelings that arise when I am close to people. I'm working on it, but it's so hard to recognize that sometimes I can't deal with the person I'm totally in love with touching me, even if it's just to hug me or nuzzle my neck. Some days I even freak out if the cat walks across my chest! It's unbelivably frustrating to feel like I've worked through the bulk of the emotional baggage that came along with being raped/unfaithful, but somehow my body still lags behind in the healing process.

12. I'm terrible at parallel parking and can't ride a bike to save my life.

13. Although I'm not a smoker, sometimes I crave cigarettes. I feel especially guilty about this because smoking has very negatively affected the health of two people very close to me and Rico - my dad and his mom. I see what they have been through in terms of illness, and what Rico and I have been through in terms of watching our respective parents go through major health scares, and I don't want to do this to my kids. Ever. I don't want to be a smoker, yet I have to admit that the whole idea of cigarettes is very alluring to me.

14. I am superstitious. Every time I get on a plane/train/boat or take a road trip I go through the same ritual. I've done it for as long as I can remember. I close my eyes and make the sign of the cross 9 times in my mind. Then I say the following prayer: "Dear God please watch over me, everyone I love, and everyone that loves me. Let us arrive safely. Amen." The funny part is that I'm not even religious, much less Catholic.

15. I imagine terrible things happening to myself and to people that I love. I can't help it, these thoughts and images come into my mind no matter what I do. I think about people and animals trapped in fiery buildings, car accidents where I end up holding someone I love in my arms and helplessly watching them die. I imagine getting mugged, stabbed, shot, tortured and violently raped. I imagine the lurch of a plane right before it crashes. I imagine what it feels like to get "that phone call." I vaugely know that obsessive thoughts of bad things happening is a symptom of some psychological disorder but don't recall which one. Personally I think it's a reaction to finding happiness and having a life full of people that I love that the old negative voice inside tells me I don't deserve and will lose sooner or later anyway.

16. Despite this laundry list of secrets and tough times, and a whole slew of other things I've been through, I am an optimist. I am fundamentally happy and hopeful about what the future will bring. I love my life and wouldn't trade it for the world.


I am going to post this and then go straight to bed to cuddle with the kittens. I know the urge to delete this list will be strong, and the only way I know for sure to overcome it is to turn off the computer. I want to share with you, get all this out, take a leap towards acceptance. I feel it is the right thing to do at this moment. Thank you all for reading with gentle hearts.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The High Begins to Wear Off

Today was not such a great day. I mean, nothing bad happened per se, but I've just felt down and lonely since the minute I woke up.

I've been getting up really early and today was no exception. At 6:11am I was jolted out of a sound sleep by the loudest thunderclap I've heard in a long time. The rains came to Maputo this morning, full of lightning and heavy clouds. It was actually a nice change from the way I usually wake up...

You see, the neighbor that lives above us on the terrace of our building has a water tank (caixa d'agua) for which he refuses, for some unknown reason, to purchase and install a buoy. The result is that every morning between 5:00 and 6:00, when the City water starts to flow in for the day, the neighbor's water tank overflows and overflows like an urban waterfall right above our bedroom window. The sound is actually quite soothing - the annoying part is that every morning as soon as the water tank spills over, I have to make a mad dash to the bathroom to pee. After a while it gets really old.

Anyhow, I'm still meditating in the mornings and am proud of myself for keeping up with this routine. It's one of the few I've managed to make stick lately. Meditating definitely makes me feel better, but it just wasn't enough to get me over the hump today.

I feel lonely and I feel like a big loser. This is rather ironic since I've done more things and seen more people in the last 2 weeks than I have in the entire past year. I guess all of my lunches and meetings and trips and new friendships have simply served to illustrate exactly how limited my life has been up until now. Granted I live in Mozambique and the circumstances are unique, but I can totally see how so many women manage to lose themselves in relationships.

I've been so happy with Ricardo, so content to be with him and have our own little 2-person world, that I've completely neglected any sort of outside life. Sure it's hard to find people I identify with, and yes I did live in the middle of freaking nowhere for 9 months of my time in Mozambique, but it's just ridiculous that I, Ali la Loca, independent and extroverted woman that meets people on the bus and in line at the bank, should have no fucking life of my own to speak of!

More than anything I'm shocked to really realize how dependent I've let myself become over the last year. I'm not angry, and I don't regret the way I've dealt with life in Mozambique thus far, but I'm certainly ready to get over my fears and create a fun life for myself.

To be fair, Ricardo and I do have our own lives, but they revolve around very introspective interests. He reads news on the internet about economics and politics. I write in my blog and journal. He likes to fix things. I make jewelry and create yummy things in the kitchen. What neither of us have in Maputo, at least until now in my case, is any friends or activities outside our flat.

I've been asking myself a lot this week why I never made the effort to get out and make friends or create an independent life for myself. The answer is actually very simple, but hard as hell for me to admit: I've been afraid.

It makes no sense, really. I find it no big deal to pick up and move halfway across the world to a random African country. If Ricardo and I decided tomorrow to move to Sri Lanka, I'd be like, "Yeah, great idea for an adventure." And I'd really mean it. I love to do new things, experience new cultures, create a new identity and life depending on where I am. I love it all on a macro-level and am honestly not intimidated with these kinds of changes. It's the little shit that gets me, the micro-level...

I'm afraid to go to the post office or the bank if I've never been before. Why? Because I'm afraid to look lost and stupid and like an uninformed tourist. I'm afraid to walk down the street by myself. Why? Because I'm afraid I'll take a wrong turn and have to ask for directions, exposing myself as a silly white girl who can't manage a foreign country. I'm afraid to drive a car because I just know that if I have to parallel park I'll do a terrible job and people will laugh at my lack of skills. I'm afraid to go to the supermarket by myself because I am certain I'll make some mistake and either buy more things than I have money for, or pay with the wrong amount of money, or get the wrong change and not notice (all fears based on lack of confidence in my math skills, which is ridiculous because I made it through Calculus II for heaven's sake).

I find the small things that make up a day-to-day existance absolutely petrifying sometimes, and it's these fears more than anything that have limited me here in Mozambique. Only now, over a year into this game, do I even feel remotely confident enough to get out there and make it on my own, explore a little, make friends, get the hell out of the house. Still there are many times during the day that I am scared and nervous. I think what got me down today was a combination of realizing what a loser I've been for the last year and coming to terms with the fact that I'm still afraid of small, insignificant things.

For example this afternoon I decided to go out to get my nails done. My new friend T. had told me about a nail spa just past the Jardim dos Namorados, a park with a playground and several restaurants that I've been to multiple times with Rico. I made myself leave the house (after that little voice in my head making a million excuses for why I shouldn't), then walked down towards the park. I've been on this street tons of times, it's a nice part of town, and nobody was hassling me. But it didn't matter. I still felt the panic set in when the location of the nail spa wasn't immediately apparent. "Oh my God, I'm lost," I thought. "I'm going to walk to the end of the street and have to turn around and everyone is going to laugh at me because I obviously don't know where I'm going." All I wanted to do was turn the next corner, as if that's what I'd meant to do all along, and head back home. But I didn't. I made myself keep going, and eventually I found the nail place. They didn't have any appointments for today so I made one for tomorrow.

Since I'd walked all the way down to the Jardim dos Namorados and it was a beautiful day, I figured I'd sit on the patio of one of the restaurants and have a cappuccino. No big deal, right? Ha. What is it about sitting at a table by myself and having a coffee at 3pm that I find so terrifying? Something, apparently, because even though the view of the Indian Ocean was fabulous and the caffeine delicious, I was nervous and sweaty-palmed the entire time.

Maybe I'll find over the next 4 months that this all gets easier...

Sum total of today's stressing out? A whopping case of allergies. Ugh.

And just to end on a high note, I've managed to give myself tendonitis in my right forearm from repetitive and excessive use of the mouse. I'm on day 2 now of a self-imposed ban on the computer where I only use the darn thing for essential communication and business. As you may have guessed, it's not going so well and I have to ice down my arm every evening.

PS - when I sat down to write this evening I hadn't planned on spilling any of these feelings. I feel much better now that I did.