Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Cherry on the Poo Sundae

Last night, after dragging through a day of no running water, the tail ends of food poisoning and an allergy attack, I decided to go to bed early. Summer has arrived here in Maputo in full force, and with the heat and humidity still lingering in the air I decided to strip down in hopes of sleeping better. Clothes off, I turned out the bedroom light and made my way to the bed (which really is just a mattress on the floor - unfortuately a proper bed made of wood is still on my wish list).

I lay down on my back, enjoying the slight coolness of the sheets. After a few minutes I started getting hot, so I rolled over on my side. "That's strange," I thought, catching a whiff of something slightly acidic, slightly rotten and slightly sweet all at once. I started snif-sniffing, immediately hit with the suspicion that the boys had sprayed the bed to mark their territory. I smelled the pillow (normal), the part of the sheet that was directly covering me (also normal), then leaned over to to have a sniff at the sheet and blanket piled on the other side of the bed.

As I leaned, I felt something wet touch my boob. "Fuck," I hissed. I just knew they'd pissed in the bed. I honed in on the wet spot and sniffed. Something was definitely there alright, but it wasn't quite cat urine. I hauled myself out of bed and turned on the light to better check it out.

To my absolute horror and disgust, I saw that Pria had left me another message. A large, brown plop of semi-solid cat shit lay smack in the middle of the bed, surrounded by a ring of wetness that led me to believe this present had been delivered several hours earlier. The cat had cleverly covered up the poo with the sheet and covers, thus tricking me into thinking that all was well in the bedroom and that I could climb into bed for a restful night's sleep with no worries.

How supremely gross. I'd just been up close and personal in bed with a pile of cat shit. That wetness I felt on my boob? Yeah, you guessed it. I ran to the bathroom and scrubbed away at my torso with soap and water, which mercifully had come back on just in time for this disaster. After washing up, I changed the sheets, took off our foam matress pad (which thankfully prevented the actual matress/bed from being soiled), cleaned everything up to the best of my abilities and dumped the pile of dirty linens in the washing tank outside.

Yesterday I began my post by saying that my day had gotten off to a bad start, but nothing compared to the revenge poo of weeks before. No, my day didn't start out with cat shit, it just ended that way. What a way to jinx myself.

Crazy Days Ahead

Today started out semi-disastrously, although nothing compared to the revenge poo that rang in my morning a couple of weeks ago. I woke up early, despite a mild case of food poisoning acquired yesterday from a spinach esfirra at one of my favorite restaurants that has left me feeling tired and somewhat weak.

I hauled myself out of bed before 7am because the project manager of the current contract we're doing for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) requested a letter of recommendation from me last night that he please, please, please needed by this morning so that he could get in an application for a Ford Foundation scholarship program. He said he'd come pick it up before going to work, around 7:15, then never bothered to show up or even give me a courtesy call.

This lack of consideration for others is a common problem here. On Friday I was all excited about getting a haircut - my first one since July and desperately needed after the John Frida blue hair incident in the US - only to show up to salon and get blown off by the hairdresser. The receptionist said he'd gone to take someone to the hospital and would be right back. "Are you sure?" I asked, and she said yes, for me to sit and look at a magazine and the guy would be back in no time. 35 minutes later and one South African edition of Glamour down, I finally decided to call the hairdresser and see if he planned on showing up anytime soon. His reply? "Oh, not for at least another 40 minutes, honey. I had to give someone a ride to the central hospital." I was pissed, and told him that I totally understood having to go to the hospital but that he could have at least called me, or told the receptionist to reschedule on his behalf. Before walking home again I stopped at the bakery next to the salon and bought a big apple tart and some coconut macaroons and ate them all. I fully blame the calories on the hairdresser.

Another case in point - the other day our friend B. called for a taxi to come pick him up at his house. The taxi was a bit late, not altogether uncommon here, but after 25 minutes B. finally decided to call the driver's cell phone and see what was up. The problem? On the way to B.'s house the taxi driver had hit a pedestrian and was at the hospital going through the necessary paperwork to register the accident. The pedestrian wasn't seriously injured, but it totally escaped the guy's mind to call B. and alert him that it wouldn't be possible to give him a ride. Frustrating beyond belief.

Anyhow, back to my day. So I woke up early despite feeling like shit only to get the shaft from the guy at FAO. To add insult to injury, when I went to brush my teeth I opened the faucet and watched in disbelief as no water came out of the tap. I tired the hot water. Nothing. I went into the kitchen and went through the same exercise. No luck. There was no water in the building, never a fun thing to go through but made even worse when you are suffering from food poisoning and on the toilet at least once an hour. When there is no water in the building you can't use the sink, have a shower, wash your hands or flush the toilet as usual. It sucks.

We keep two big 20-liter canisters full of water under the sink at all times to be able to use on days like today when the water supply runs dry. I can barely lift the containers by myself, but managed to drag one into the bathroom and hoist it on top of the washing machine, which is next to the toilet, in such a position that I had some leverage and was able to fill up the back of the toilet tank each time I needed to flush.

After using the toilet and replenishing the tank a couple of times, I felt in dire need of a shower and wasn't keen on waiting around to see if the water would come back. So I lifted the water canister into the bathtub, got a plastic juice pitcher from the kitchen, and proceeded to have an improvised sponge bath with the remaining liters. It wasn't pleasant, but it was sure better than not having a shower and feeling greasy and dirty all day. Nothing like skipping a shower to make me unproductive and put me in a pissy mood.

It's now 2:30pm and there is still no water in the building. I went out before lunch and stocked up on some bottled water, juice and crackers so that I can make it through the evening without cooking, starving or dehydrating. This is the 4th time in about 3 weeks that we've had problems with the water supply. I don't really understand what the problem is, because the Indian grocery on the corner has water and I'm therefore inclined to believe it's not a city-wide or neighborhood-wide issue. It seems to be confined to our building. I asked the security guard/superintendent what was going on and he said something about the water tanks in the building being shared between apartments and that he'd already gone up to fiddle with the tank and the problem was all resolved. Only it's not. I still have no water. I'm thinking that the neighbor I share a tank with must be a water hog and is leaving me with none. Bastards. I hope it's fixed by tomorrow...

Speaking of tomorrow, that's when the madness begins. In a serious lapse of judgment, I'm participating in NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month that challenges writers to crank out a first draft of a novel of at least 50,000 words in just one month. Insanity at its finest, and I'm all geared up to be a part of it. Today I'm making an outline for what I plan to write. Tomorrow I will sit down and see how hard it is to really write 1,667 words in a day. Doesn't sound so bad, but when you consider that I basically write for a living (business plans, market studies and the occasional travel article) and that I'm supposed to be working on 2 simultaneous contracts during the month of November, it all starts to add up. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, though, and the dream of writing a novel will only happen if I am able to put the words to paper.

To satisfy curious minds: I will be writing about my experiences here in Africa - all of the stuff you've read about on the blog plus the things I've been unable or unwilling to put on the internet at this moment. The novel will consist of a love story (mine!), a series of mistakes and an amorous triangle that results in a bastard child (not mine) and the subsequent redemption of the father, the challenge of moving to a country not your own, the saga of a business being born and then burning up spectacularly in the midst of a shareholder dispute, observations about doing business in the developing world, and lots of anecdotes about travel and culture in Mozambique and surrounding countries. Not sure how it will all come together, but I have faith and they always say the ticket to success is to write what you know, right?

In other news, I participated in the crafts fair this past weekend and, despite a slow day on Saturday, my booth was on fire on Sunday. I sold more than I ever have in a weekend and got several compliments on my work. New friend Lacithecat came by with another American consultant who is here on a short-term assignment as well. Lacithecat bought a green turquoise necklace and her friend got a pair of copper chandelier earrings. It felt really good to have people validate my work as something beautiful and original. I'm set to participate in a huge crafts fair at the American School here on Nov. 18th where I hope to do some serious selling. Last night I was hit with the jewelry obsession sickness and made no less than 14 pairs of earrings and a big dangly necklace.

Business contracts, writing a novel, holiday crafts fairs...let the insanity begin!

Ah, one last thing. I may have jinxed myself by writing on the blog about the big change I'm anticipating on Nov. 13th. It may still happen, but it will certainly not be as significant an undertaking as I'd previously believed. Everything was hingeing on a meeting with a client where a budget needed to be approved. The client balked, and cut the budget by 66%, thus seriously affecting the funds available to pay me and bring to fruition the opportunity I'd referred to. I'll likely still take on this new endeavor, but not in the capacit I'd envisioned before. On the one hand, I'm disappointed. On the other, perhaps this is a sign...

Saturday, October 28, 2006

How's This for a Headline?

Mozambique: More Press Freedom in Mozambique Than in USA

The press is freer in Mozambique than it is in the United States, according to the latest Worldwide Press Freedom Index, published by the Paris-based press freedom body, Reporters sans Frontieres (RSF - Reporters without Borders).

The RSF index gives each country a score, based on the degree of freedom for journalists and media organisations. The best possible score would be zero, and a few European countries approach this. Tied at the top of the index, with a score of 0.5 are Finland, Iceland, Ireland and Holland.

Over the past few years, Mozambique's ranking has improved. In 2004, Mozambique was ranked 64th out of 167 countries. In the 2005 index, Mozambique was ranked 49th, and this year it has risen to 45 out of 168, a position shared with Cape Verde, Macedonia and Serbia.

But the United States has been falling steadily. In the first year the index was published it was in 17th position. Last year the US was in 44th position, and this year it is ranked as number 53 alongside Botswana, Croatia and Tonga.

RSF explains that this decline arises from the deterioration in relations between the Bush administration and the media "after the President used the pretext of "national security" to regard as suspicious any journalist who questioned his "war on terrorism". RSF also points out that US federal courts refuse to recognise journalists' cherished right not to reveal their sources. This "even threatens journalists whose investigations have no connection at all with terrorism".

RSF notes, in particular, the cases of freelance journalist Josh Wolf, imprisoned by the US authorities when he refused to hand over his video archive; of Sudanese cameraman Sami al-Haj held without trial at the US military base of Guantanamo since June 2002; and of an Associated Press photographer, Bilal Hussein, held by the US in Iraq since April this year.

There seems no limit to how bad a score can get, but the paranoid dictatorship of North Korea comes bottom of the pile, at number 168, with a score of 109. Runners up in infamy are Turkmenistan (98.5) and Eritrea (97.5).

In the RSF index, the African countries with the freest press are Benin (ranked at 23), Namibia (26), Mauritius (32), Ghana (34) and Mali (35).

The index covers events between 1 September 2005 and 1 September 2006, and is based on a questionnaire sent by RSF to 14 other freedom of expression groups on five continents, and to 130 RSF correspondents scattered across the globe, plus a variety of other journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activists.

To include any country in the index, RSF requires completed questionnaires from several sources. Thus a few countries are not in the index at all because of a lack of data. Among its 50 questions, the questionnaire asks how many journalists have been murdered, jailed, tortured, assaulted, threatened, or forced out of the country in the year under analysis. It also considers censorship and self-censorship, searches of media premises, and the jamming of radio broadcasts. It asks whether access to the profession of journalism is controlled (through such measures as a compulsory certificate), whether a licence is needed to start a newspaper, and whether there are undue restrictions on foreign investment in the media.

Article available online at here.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Powerless at the Wheel

One of our housemates from when we lived in the community house back in Chimoio was in a car accident yesterday. Apparently he was driving in Tete Province in the north of the country when an oxcart carrying a family with lots of kids crossed the highway right in front of his vehicle. Our ex-housemate decided to swerve off the road rather than hit the oxcart, and managed to get himself seriously injured in the process. He was taken to Malawi (not far from the border - he was lucky he had access to a decent medical center) and was operated on. He's got several broken bones, lost part of his ear, had to have stitches in his leg and had to have blood pockets drained from his face.

I'm horrified by what happened to him, and I really hope that he has a quick recovery, but there's part of me that just doesn't buy this story. This housemate had some serious issues with drugs and alcohol, in addition to being bipolar and off his medication for more than a year because it's not available here in Mozambique. So he self-medicated with other substances, and generally used getting drunk and high as a way to deal with the shithole that is Chimoio. I mean, we all dealt with that environment in our own special way - I got bossy and compulsively organized, B. overate, P. was a workaholic. I'm still not sure what Rico did but I'd venture to say it had to do with being overly patient even when staying quiet wasn't the healthiest option.

Anyhow, I certainly don't want to pass judgement but the fact remains that this housemate had several addictions and was more often than not fucked up. Every night he'd drink a case of beer on his own, not to mention the joints he constantly smoked. And many times he'd go to work drunk or high, and would often drive a car in these states without considering the danger he was putting himself and others in. So the whole story about the ox and the little kids - maybe it's true, but my gut says it's just a cover for what really made him swerve off the road. God help me for saying this if I'm wrong...

Hearing about the ex-housemate's ordeal took me back to all the times here I've been seriously worried that I'd be in a car accident while driving through the bush. A couple of months ago one of our clients died on the side of the road after suffering an accident in a remote area with no cell phone signal and nobody around to call for help - the same road we'd drive on every time we had to go to Zimbabwe via Espungabera, where our tea client is located.

One of the times I was most conviced that my life was in danger was actually a trip B. and I took to Espungabera with this ex-housemate driving the old Land Cruiser ambulance we used to borrow from a friend. Our ex-housemate was being really reckless in an unreliable vehicle on a dirt road that was winding down a cliff. I asked him to stop the car multiple times, to please drive safer, and he simply wouldn't listen. We were pretty much at his mercy because B. doesn't know how to drive and at the time I wasn't confident driving a right-hand drive vehicle, much less in offroad conditions.

When I expressed my concern, the ex-housemate said I was being paranoid and basically a sissy. I was so scared that I started crying in the front seat of the vehicle. I really thought I was going to die that day and thoughts of my family and friends started passing through my head. I remember thinking, "I can't belive it's going to be like this." Now, hearing about his accident, I can't help but remember that day and how terrible it felt to be in the car completely powerless...

I wrote this about the experience and later posted it on the blog:

We finally got on the road about 2pm, the start of bumpy, teeth-clenching ride that made me remember just how terrible travel can be. Everyone has a different tolerance for the “adventure factor” in a trip; in most cases, my standards are quite liberal, but there are a couple of situations that make me balk. High-speed driving along steep, curvy roads is one of them. Even more so if I’m in a decrepit vehicle on a dirt trail through the interior of Africa.

Now I’m certainly not in a position to criticize anyone else’s abilities, but G. drives like an absolute madman. He was right at home as the back side of the Land Cruiser skidded out of control, nearly sending us off the side of a huge cliff in the middle of an elephant reserve area. B. and I, on the other hand, were scared out of our minds. We pleaded with G. to take it easy, but it took several hours and a miscalculated curve that sent us slamming into a sugarcane field for the message to sink in. I was near tears the entire time, praying to whatever being has protected me thus far to keep special watch over our car.

About halfway through the trip, there is a big river with no bridge. The dirt road comes abruptly to an end and all vehicles, livestock, and people have to pile onto a floating platform to get to the other side. The platform, o batelão, is powered by a manual cogwheel that takes three big Africans to spin and moves at a snail’s pace between the banks. We loaded onto the batelão and stared out at the shallow water, grateful for a break in the driving. The light over the river was incredible – it seemed like the sky was split directly above us, one half heavy with gray storm clouds, the other an intense, clear blue. The bottom portion of a rainbow had formed in each half and thin rays of sunlight shone over the platform, accompanying us across the water. B. and I took it as a sign that we would make it safely, aware though that it was still a good 2 hours to Espungabera and it was starting to rain…

I also wrote this and didn't post it for fear of worrying my parents:

As we tumbled down the crater-ridden dirt road to Espungabera last weekend, I thought a fair bit about death. I don't mean to be melodramatic, but it was on my mind in a very real, immediate way. At the time, the practical side of my brain responded to the fact that I was scared shitless by imagining different worst-case scenarios. Perhaps we would skid off the road into a deep valley. Perhaps G. would lose control on the next curve and we would hit a tree. Or maybe we would run over a woman carrying laundry on her head, unable to slow down in time for her to scurry out of the road.

I kept imagining what my reaction would be to each of the situations. What if someone was seriously wounded? What if I got hurt? What if I suffered, pinned under the vehicle or left to watch my friends moan in pain unable to do anything to help. What if nobody found us? What would it be like to die in the middle of the bush in Africa, half a world away from family and loved ones?

I thought of my mom several years ago on a Zodiac boat ride we took while on vacation in Kauai. We were in a big, motorized raft in the open ocean along the Na Pali coast, speeding over every swell and catching air on the whitecaps. My mom was scared out of her mind. For the first hour, she was miserable, trying to dominate her fear and wrestle control over the situation. At some point, however, she had an epiphany and began to release her white-knuckled grip on the ropes. She looked out at the water, a deep swirling blue. She felt the wind on her face and the salt tangling her hair. She concentrated on the beaches and the tall green cliffs in front of us. At one point my mom leaned over to me and laughed, visibly enjoying the Zodiac adventure. “At least if I die it will be in a beautiful place together with my beautiful daughter.” I smiled and held her hand. She was able to recognize her fear, honor it, but also let it go. We had a great time on the raft.

I remembered this episode and tried hard to tune into a different wavelength as we bumped along the muddy road to Espungabera. I looked out at the landscape, long stretches of scraggly vegetation broken by the occasional granite boulder and odd patch of dark green jungle. Every few kilometers we would pass people walking alongside the road, going to and from small farm plots. I observed women carrying gravity-defying bundles of firewood or laundry on their heads, backs perfectly straight, bare feet making slow progress along the path home.

I watched groups of children walk down the road together, all wide-eyed and wearing rags, the older ones taking care of the younger ones. Some children carried hoes or tended small herds of goats. Many others walked along the road with nothing except a resilient smile and a friendly wave, chasing after our Land Cruiser as if it were the most exciting thing they’d ever seen. I wondered how many children had parents to go home to, what they would eat that night for dinner, if they would ever go to school.

After a while I, too, was able to make peace with my fear. It didn’t go away – I still felt my stomach in my throat every time we lost traction on a curve – but it certainly became more manageable. Like my mom several years ago in Hawaii, I accepted being powerless. I made friends with the idea that I might die right then and there.

There is something about the rawness of the surroundings here in Mozambique that brings you close to the fundamental questions of what it means to be human. Life is a blessing, and it is our duty each day to live it out to its fullest...

We are always at death's door. It feels pretty dramatic to come out and say it like that, but it's true. I've felt like my time is almost up on a couple of occasions, always to come out on the other side okay. I'm painfully aware, though, that it could be any of us, anytime.

Enjoy It While It Lasts

Big changes are on the horizon for me. Really big, as in my day-to-day existance as I've known it thus far in Africa is about to be turned upside down. I am uncertain how I feel about it. Part of me is excited and knows the change will bring along with it many benefits, both tangible and intangible. Part of me, though, is dreading it and questioning why on earth I am going to go down this path. Life will be different for me starting November 13th. I feel like a kid on summer break counting the days before the school year begins again, bringing with it all the enjoyable and maddening aspects of a tight schedule and loads of work.

In other news...

- I took the boys to the vet this morning for their rabies shot and a dose of deworming magic. They don't have worms, it's just standard here to give animals a deparasite/dewormer every 3 months. Supposedly they do it for people as well in the public hospitals. The trip to the vet's was traumatic as always, both for the boys and for me. Pria nearly bit the vet technician when he went to give her the shot, and it took 3 people to hold down the cat while the senior vet finally managed to give the vaccine. Not fun at all.

- I've been thoroughly enjoying all the home improvements Ricardo did while he was here for my birthday. Newly installed and/or fixed things include: a hammock on the veranda, a cat door leading to the small balcony off the guest room, said balcony's iron bars covered with chicken wire so the cats won't plummet off the 4th floor, curtain rod installed in our bedroom (no curtains yet, unfortunately), metal rod that holds up our shower curtain tied to a beam so it won't fall down anymore, and 2 photos taken by my dad framed and hung in the office. Saying Rico is a handy kind of guy to have around is a total understatement.

- There is a crafts fair this weekend and I am going to be there in full force with my new summer collection. I've made tons of cool jewelry with all the supplies I brought back from the US and can't wait to put it out there for everyone to see (and hopefully buy). Today I had an earring-making attack and managed to crank out 8 pairs of super dangly, sparkly chandelier earrings. They are by far the best earrings I've made to date.

- Tomorrow morning I'm going to attempt to go jogging with my friend Tracy. We will meet at 6:30am and run along what is probably the nicest street in Maputo, Avenida Frederich Engels. It is right next to the ocean, although since Maputo is a split-level city you're not actually on the beach, rather the street is the last thing before a massive cliff that drops down to the water. It has a very pretty view, lots of posh houses and tons of security guards. One of the advantages of the sun rising so freaking early here is that you can run at an ungodly hour of the morning and it's already nice and light out.

- Tomorrow I am also getting a haircut, long overdue. Perhaps I'll be able to get most of the blue out...

- Hung out with a very cool woman who is here doing a short-term consulting assignment. We had lunch together on Saturday, then checked out the Natural History Museum. It was surprisingly interesting. The collections consisted mostly of stuffed examples of African animals, all arranged in life-like positions on the museum floor (think Zebras being attacked by lions, a spitting cobra rearing up in front of an antelope - that kind of thing). There was also a Coelacanth preserved in the museum, the living fossil of a fish I remember reading about in elementary school and being so fascinated by. The highlight of the museum is a collection of elephant embryos showing development through the 22-month gestation period. Th embryos were collected during WW1 when some Portuguese general decided to clear out the land south of Maputo for agriculture. This involved killing over 2,000 elephants to make the area "safe" for humans to inhabit. What makes this slaughter even worse is that the area, to this day, has never been used for agricultural projects.

- There has been no water supply to our building for the last 3 days. I've had to take "showers" in the measly trickle of water that comes out of the sink. (For some reason water comes out of the bathroom sink but not the shower, toilet or kitchen sink.) Yesterday I thought the problem had been fixed upon hearing a gush of water in the pipes early in the morning. I rushed to take a shower but to my dismay the water ran for about 30 seconds, then stopped altogether. We have 20 liter plastic containers full of water stored underneath our sink to be able to make it through situations like this, but God do I miss running water. Hopefully it will be back to normal tomorrow.

- Good night.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

La Fruta Bomba*

Ways I know living in Africa has forever changed me:

This evening I arrived home late after a big meeting and decided to whip together a smoothie for dinner using the blender I got for my birthday. Papayas are in season right now and I'd bought a large one last week that I needed to use up. I also decided to throw in a banana (always in season), some fruit yogurt and soy milk. All the fixings for a healthy, nutritious meal.

I'd already used half of the papaya in a smoothie the other day, and had stored the remaining half, complete with seeds, wrapped in aluminum foil in the refrigerator. I got out the rest of the papaya and was removing the foil when a larger than usual cockroach crawled across the counter right next to my hand. I got the vague impression that it came from inside the papaya, but I figured that was impossible so I went on ahead and started scooping out the seeds. To my horror, another smaller cockroach crawled out from inside the fruit and made its way towards the rind, away from my scraping spoon. I quickly snubbed out both cockroaches with my finger (remember my admission in an earlier post about this?) and thought for a moment about what to do.

Now if you've ever seen a papaya you know it's full of strange black seeds that look somewhat like fish eggs. There are also tons of them inside the cavity of each fruit. Really, it's a pretty plausible idea that cockroaches could be living inside that jumble of slippery seeds. I drew the papaya right up to my face and started inspecting. As far as I could tell, there were no signs of movement, no nasty cockroach eggs masquerading as innocuous seeds, and certainly no dead insects - at least none that were readily visible.

What a dilemma.

I looked at the blender with all the other smoothie ingredients inside, just waiting to be mixed into deliciousness. I really like papaya in my smoothies, and they are only available during a short window each year (just like every other yummy fruit in Mozambique - no year round stocking in supermarkets here, folks) so I wanted to take advantage. Plus, I hated the thought of throwing out perfectly good fruit, especially since I live in a country full of people that go hungry and I'm on a tight budget myself. On the other hand, there was a high probability that not one but *two* cockroaches had been hanging out inside the papaya just moments before. Perhaps there were more in there that I couldn't detect...

Dear readers, I'd like to tell you that it was a difficult decision for me to make. It wasn't. I thought "What the hell - I'm sure I've eaten worse things!" and scooped the papaya into the blender and pulsed away. My smoothie was delicious, possible extra protein and all.

Had this incident taken place back in Austin, I'd have certainly thrown out not only the papaya, but all the fruit in my kitchen just in case. How things change...

*In Cuba and throughout much of the Caribbean, papayas are referred to as "fruta bomba" because "papaya" is a slang word for a woman's lady bits. The name supposedly comes from the fact that all those nasty little black seeds will explode out of the papaya if it is thrown or dropped from a significant enough height.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Sunday Scribblings: Good

This week's promt inspired a hundred different writing possibilities in my mind. Some of the takes I've considered are profound, others are light-hearted. I even considered doing a list of all the good food I can cook. :)

One thing keeps coming up, though. It's pretty random. It's a song that came out when I was in 8th or 9th grade by a band called Better than Ezra, appropriately called "Good." This wasn't just a good song - it was a great song. Even now I remember all the lyrics. It started with a catchy bass line, then progressed into an even catchier chorus that was all but unintelligible. My friend Meghan bought the cd and later let me in on the lyrics so I wouldn't have to sing along with the song using invented lyrics. The best part of the song, and the inspiration for the title, is when the lead singer belts out, "It was gooooooood, living with you, a-huh. It was gooooooood, oh-oh-a." Or something like that.

This song reminds me of the fun parts of high school - getting ready for dances, lacing up my first pair of Doc Martens, going to house parties with older friends and feeling like I was the shit, watching the movie "The Crow" obsessively, figuring out that the hot senior in jazz band liked me back, decorating the inside of my locker with photos and clip-outs from magazines, hanging out in public parks after midnight...

I was lucky in high school. I was always the girl that got along with everyone but didn't belong to any of the cliques. I hung out with people in my own class as well as people 3 and 4 years ahead of me - always the old soul. The popular crowd liked me because I liked to party and was always traveling to exotic destinations, I was friendly with all the nerds because we had advanced math class together, I got along with the goths and drama crowd because I was an odd bird in my own ways, always glad to go against the norms of life in a private high school.

Life was good back then. Simple, though at the time it felt like the world was about to end at least 4 times a week.

I never graduated from high school. I went on exchange to Brasil during my junior year, then decided while I was abroad that I just couldn't handle going back to the Academy after the experience I'd just had. I was fiercely independent, with a new and broader perspective on life. I wanted to go straight to college.

This is one of the little-known facts in the US that I wish more people were aware of. You can go to college without graduating from high school AND without getting a GED. I never did. The only requirements are that you have a sufficient number of upper-level credits (basically finishing your classes through junior year), that you take the required national exams (SATs and/or ACTs), and that you write your essays and fill in your applications for the university of your choice just like any other prospective student. Interestingly, this is a trend that runs in the family. My mom also didn't graduate from high school and went on to be a PhD candidate.

I left high school early because I felt like I'd suffocate in that environment if I went back after my time in Brasil, despite the fact that I actually liked high school and went to a place where I was getting a great education. A lot of people doubted my decision at the time, but I feel it was absolutely the right one.

I sit and think about how many kids *do* suffer in high school - are picked on, harrassed, and made to feel like shit on a daily basis by a bunch of insensitive people that are sadly at the highlight of their lives. How many of those kids would benefit from knowing they can go straight to college? To a place where there are dozens of freaks and geeks and people of every imaginable cultural background and lifestyle. To an environment where they are no longer alone...

Life in high school was good, but I'm glad I left it behind a year early. Get the word out...

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Revenge Poo

This morning I was woken up by the unmistakeable sound of diarrhea. At first I thought it was just an unusually vivid dream. Then I managed to open my groggy eyes and saw Pria, my sweet little boy/girl cat, squatting on our brand new comforter and letting loose a massive, runny revenge shit - with me still in the bed!!

Needless to say I was not a happy camper at 6:45am. I like my mornings to include meditation and chai tea, not a roll of paper towels and uncontrollable gagging.

So two things are clear:

1. The cats obviously disapproved of the fact that yesterday I was unable to provide sufficient attention and play time. I was laid up on the couch all day with the first migraine headache I've had since 7th grade when I got blind spots while taking a test in Ms. Stiles' math class. Yesterday I didn't get blind spots, but I sure got the headache, accompanied by photosensitivity so bad I could barely look at the computer screen. (side note to parents and other concerned parties: no, I don't have malaria or meningitis or any other strange illness and yes, I am feeling better today.)

2. The diarrhea is definitely caused by the commercial-brand crap cat food. I ran out of chicken yesterday and walked in the rain to the neighborhood Indian grocery only to find the door padlocked shut. The bread shop next door was also barred closed. Unbeknownst to me, yesterday was, like, the 23rd public holiday we've had in Mozambique in the last month. Since no shops were open, I had no way to get the ingredients for my homemade cat food and was forced to give the boys the regular chow for a day. Apparently it didn't go over so well...

So right now I'm tired, slightly annoyed and waiting for the shops to open so I can go buy a frozen chicken for my sweet boys. Grrrrrr. I suppose this is all good training for when I have kids, no?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

4 Days Together Is Too Short...

...but it's certainly better than nothing! Rico arrived in Maputo on my birthday and like a good boyfriend ignored his jet lag to come out and celebrate.

A couple of friends joined us for drinks and pub food at the bar of the Hotel Terminus.

If you look closely you can see one of my latest jewelry creations in gold chain, black glass and pearls. I don't usually wear my work, but decided that it was my birthday and I could do whatever I felt like that evening.

The next day Rico and I went out for lunch at this great seafood restaurant at a park called the Jardim dos Namorados (Lover's Garden). The name is certainly cheesy, but it's one of the nicest places to hang out in Maputo. There are several restaurants, a big playground for kids, a salon and beautiful manicured gardens.

We ate a great meal - mussels with garlic as an appetizer, followed by a fillet of garoupa fish smothered in a seafood sauce. Think big chunks of shrimp, crab, clams and even crayfish in a tomato cream sauce. Here I am looking satisfied after all that food, despite the fact that (argh!) my sunglasses are crooked!!

The view from the Jardim dos Namorados has to be one of my favorite things about Maputo. You can see the Indian Ocean stretch out for miles...

And then, before I knew it, it was time for Rico to go back to Brasil. This photo was taken yesterday after a meeting at FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) where our proposal was selected for a job that will start in November. We didn't even have time to change out of our professional attire before heading to the airport.

I miss Rico already. Start the countdown to December 15th...

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Sunday Scribblings: If I Could Stop Time

If I had the ability to stop time I'd want to use it right now. I am 25 years old and live in Maputo, Mozambique. I have a challenging job that keeps me on my toes, but still enough free time that I can make art and dance in the living room whenever the mood strikes. I am working on my first novel. I meditate each morning with a cup of tea in hand and 2 kittens in my lap. I adore my family and have connected with amazing friends around the world. Perhaps most exciting, I am in love.

A year and a half ago I threw caution to the wind and decided to move from Austin to Africa. Within 24 hours of moving to Mozambique, I made a decision that had the potential to completely alter my experience here - either in a disastrous or absolutely wonderful way. When I wrote this 2 weeks after arriving in the country, I had no idea which way the scales would tip, but my intuition told me that I'd was on the right path.

Now don't get me wrong - it's not like I came to Africa and stumbled upon some sort of ready-made paradise. My experience in Mozambique has certainly involved a fair share of tears, professional crises, cynicism, days when I wanted to pull out my own hair or punch one of my housemates in the face, and homesickness so fierce it makes me wonder what the hell I'm doing here in the first place. But in the end I've gotten my lessons and despite the ups and downs, I am a resoundingly happy person and only see it getting better from here on out.

So if I only see things looking up, why do I want to stop time now?

Because I've been here before. I know what it feels like to think you've got your shit together, that you've paid your karmic dues, you've learned your lessons and now it's time to reap the benefits. I thought I had it all not too long ago - the relationship, the job, the opportunities - only to have everything crumble away from one day to the next. I know that life can throw you a curve ball so fast and unanticipated that it hits you in the stomach and takes your breath away. I am afraid this will happen again.

It's sobering to realize that even now, after all the work I've done on myself, there is still a part of me that doesn't believe that I deserve all the happiness in my life right now. I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the inevitable tragic end to this story that quite honestly feels too good to be true sometimes. The perverse part of my mind invents scenarios about plane crashes, a dozen different terminal illnesses, a freak accident. I imagine how devastated I will feel when I receive the news that my relationship and wonderful life as I know it are over.

This is the same part of me that wants to stop time right here, now, on the brink of the amazing things in my life I know are waiting just around the corner. This voice comes from a place of fear. I am afraid that I will lose all of the people and things that make me so happy. I am afraid of the sadness and the void that will remain when it is all gone. I am afraid of the pain of picking myself off the floor again, wondering if I have it in me to start from zero all over again.

In the end I know that I can't hold onto anything forever. Impermanence is a scary thing, and it is even harder to accept when you know the pain of losing something or someone that close to your heart. But it remains that nothing is eternal. Sooner or later I will, in fact, lose it all - my family, my relationship, my art, my friends, my love. It will all go away. When I am able to accept the truth of impermanence, I realize that I don't really want to stop time now. I want it to go on for as long as possible, because the joy I feel right now is worth a thousand sorrows tomorrow.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

About La Vida of La Loca

This is part one of an as-yet-to-be-determined number of question and answer sessions about me, my life and the stories that come up on this blog. I hope this fills in some of the blanks.

Why is your blog called "Austin to Africa, Brasil to the Bay"?

Because these are 4 significant places in my life, especially considering the reason I started writing here in the first place. When I started this blog in April 2005 I was living in Austin, Texas. I'd just accepted an offer to move to Mozambique to work with a couple of my old friends from business school at a consulting firm they'd started the year before. Before actually moving to Africa, I took a month to hang out in Brasil, a place that is near and dear to my heart. The final part of the title refers to the San Francisco Bay Area where my mom currently lives, and where I think there's a good chance I may move at some point as well.

So what was the reason you started this blog?

To keep in touch with friends and family during my time here in Africa. Basically a blog was the easiest way to let people know how I was doing without having to write mass e-mails. I never expected a blog to lead me to such an interesting community of artists and writers, nor did I anticipate the desire it would light in me to write about and share my past experiences.

Where are you from originally?

Albuquerque, New Mexico.

What is your connection to Brasil?

When I was 15 I decided to go on a year-long student exchange. I can't quite explain my motivations, but part of me just knew that greater things were waiting outside the comfort of my own home. I looked at the catalog of all the destinations where you could choose to study and decided on my top 3: Brasil, Hong Kong and Venezuela. There was something about Brasil that fascinated me and I was thrilled when I got my top choice and was placed with a Japanese-Brasilian host family in Maringá, a city of about 400,000 in the southern state of Paraná.

I had such an amazing year abroad that when I finally had to return home to the US, I dedicated most of my time and energy to finding a way to get back to Brasil. I would spend every spare dollar on plane tickets and managed to go back at least 9 times over the following 2 years. It was almost like I'd never left Brasil!

In my second year at the University of New Mexico I decided to study abroad again, this time at a business school in Rio de Janeiro that had an exchange agreement in place with my college. At that point multiple Brasilian students had come to UNM on exchange, but no American students had gone down to the school in Rio. I was the first one!

In January 2000 I moved to Rio and kicked off the best year and half exchange I could have ever hoped for. I studied Marketing at IBMEC, one of the country's best business schools, and in the process met a group of guys that would have a significant impact on my life several years down the road.

Don't you have a house in Brasil? How do you manage it since you're obviously not living in Rio?

Right before I finished my second exchange in Brasil, I discovered this fabulous pink villa from 1910 for sale in the heart of my favorite neighborhood, Santa Teresa. I went to the open house and fell in love, but at that point it was basically an impractical dream to have a house like that in Brasil.

Then, in a sad but serendipitous turn of fate, my grandfather passed away in New Mexico the month before I was supposed to leave. My mom and I discussed the details of the inheritance and I proposed to her the possibility of using it to buy the pink house in Rio. She asked me to put together a presentation detailing the positive and negative points of my proposal as if it were a real business deal. I did, and managed to convince her that it was a sound investment, if nothing else from a financial perspective because the Brasilian Real had just crashed to 1/3 of its previous value that very same month. After some significant jumping through hoops, the pink house, or casa rosa as it's now known, was ours!

That was over 6 years ago. The original plan was for me to go live in the house as soon as I'd finished my MBA. Well, that didn't happen but we are able to manage because we have a very responsible live-in housekeeper that looks after everything in our absence. In fact, in an illustration of how small the world is, the person who looks after the house used to be B.'s nanny.

Who is B.?

B. was my best friend and classmate when I was living in Rio. We lost touch about a year after I moved back to the US, then randomly ran across each other one day on Orkut (Google's social networking site) while I was living in Austin. About a week later B. called me and filled me in on his life.

In 2003 he went to Mozambique as a volunteer for an organization that works with smallholder farmers in the Chimoio area. While on assignment, B. realized there was a huge opportunity for consultants in the country (lots of foreign investment and donor projects going on, but no qualified people to put together proposals and do fundraising) so he decided to stay. Along with a couple of partners, B. started a consulting company and convinced both me and Ricardo to come work with him in Mozambique.

How did you meet Ricardo?

We were classmates at the business school in Rio. We went on a couple of dates and there was definitely some chemistry, but we didn't have a relationship back then and ended up losing touch when I left Brasil. Ricardo moved to Mozambique a year before I did, and I only got back in touch with him via e-mail while trying to arrange the details of my trip to Africa. He picked me up at the airport when I arrived here for the first time, and our romantic relationshipas well as our professional one began from there.

That's the basic way we met. I want to save the details for another post because it's a great story.

So you and Ricardo didn't move to Mozambique as a couple?

No, thank God. I think I would have really resented him if we'd moved to Mozambique together, especially if I'd "followed" him here. Our relationship is a uniquely African happening.

Where is Ricardo from?

Rio de Janeiro.

Why do you call him Rico?

That's the nickname his family and close friends call him. Thankfully it's not pronounced like "Rrrrrrico, Suuuuave!" You actually say it like "Hee-Koo" because in Brasilian portuguese you say the 'R' at the beginning of a word as if it were an 'H'.

I had a hard time making the transition. Now I only call him Ricardo when we're in a business situation or if I'm frustrated with him about something.

What language do you and Ricardo speak at home?

Portuguese. He speaks fluent English, but since we met in a Portuguese-speaking context, it's actually really weird to speak anything else to each other.

What kind of work do you do?

Fundraising for local businesses and investment projects in Mozambique. A typical job goes like this:

A client hires us to help him/her get money to start a business, expand an existing business or get grant funds to support a project. I sit down with the client and get as much information as possible about the company or project idea. I then write a business plan that tells the client's story in a compelling enough way that a bank or donor will hopefully be convinced to invest.

What are B. and Ricardo's role in the business?

Ricardo is the front man of the company and deals with all the clients. He is responsible for negotiating our contracts and resolving any disputes that may arise. B. is an Excel whiz and does the financial modeling for all of the projects we work on.

How long have you lived in Mozambique?

Almost 1.5 years.

How long will you stay there?

We don't know for sure at this point. It's very probable that we'll be here for another 2 years. Rico and I want to save up enough money before we leave Africa so that we'll be able to cover our living expenses for at least 6 months wherever we decide to move next. This may take a while...

So what is next for you?

Also have no idea at this point. We may go back to the US so that Rico can get an MBA. We may move to Italy for a year to be with my grandmother. We may go back to Brasil. Or we might end up in some random place like Dubai or Moscow for all I know.


What else do you want to know? Ask away and I shall answer.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


- I just discovered my new favorite tv show. It's called Venus and Apollo (I think) and is in French. From what I can tell from this first episode I caught, it's about a beauty salon and the lives of the estheticians that work there. It was quirky, funny and full of racy humor. Just what I love!

This delicious discovery just aired on the most recent addition to the shitty cable package we have here - Fox Life. This channel alone has made our $60 cable bill worth it (that and the high speed internet). Whoever put together the show list on Fox Life is a genius. They have, like, 5 episodes of Law and Order daily, plus lovely extras that I'm just now discovering like the French show and Grey's Anatomy. I just saw Grey's Anatomy for the first time and liked it, but Venus and Apollo was so much better it really isn't fair to compare.

In other news...

- Homemade cat food has worked wonders. The boys have solid poo, shiny coats and absolutely no trace of the noxious farts they used to plague us with on a regular basis back when they ate crap commercial food. Victory!

- I had a great day at work today. I met with the banana client and had my faith renewed in my talents as a consultant. I understand his project, work well with him, and am confident that I can present this thing in a way that it will be cake to convince a financial institution to put in millions of dollars. It helps that this client's project is a virtual money factory, and that he is one of the best business-people I've ever come across. But it is a great feeling to know that he trusts me (and Rico) and thinks that I am a competent professional. I need more clients like this!

- Speaking of work, I've had a change of heart. I don't totally hate what I'm doing. The problem, I am convinced, is of my own creation. When I procrastinate and don't give it my all, I feel like shit. Not surprising. When I get down to it and really put my best effort into whatever project I'm doing, be it one that I'm thrilled by or not, it feels good. I feel good.

There's something at once liberating and sobering to realize that I am ultimately the source of all the barriers I perceive to hinder my path in life.

- My birthday is on Friday. I will turn 25. I am feeling one part sappy, one part excited and one part wise. It's an interesting combination.

- Rico arrives on Friday afternoon for a short visit. We will do as much celebrating and wrapping up of loose ends at work as possible in the 5 days he'll be in Mozambique.

- The hordes of miniature cockroaches that invade our kitchen and bathroom on a seasonal basis are back. I'm at the point where I've ceased to be creeped out by them and happily smash them out with my finger whenever necessary. Yes, I realize this is not completely normal behavior when it comes to dealing with cockroaches.

- I've been flossing on a surprisingly consistent basis. I'd say at least 5 days per week. This is a big accomplishment, folks. I plan to continue.

- I finally got up the courage to drop off my 2 favorite suits at the dry cleaner's down the street. It is my first professional laundry experience in this country. I love these suits. One is cream and made of corduroy, the other is made out of seersucker with skinny olive stripes. I am trying to remind myself that material things don't matter, but I think I might cry if the dry cleaner ruins these babies.

- Our maid announced today with an ear-to-ear grin on her face that she bought a new cell phone. She paid half of her monthly salary to buy this phone, all because her previous cell was, "too big." Her words.

Now there is nothing wrong with Dona Lídia buying a new cell phone. It think we all deserve to have new, fun things no matter what our social standing and respective purchasing power. The thing that gets me is that this is the same woman who just last week was complaining to me about not having enough blankets in the house to keep her kids warm. The same woman who tells me she doesn't have enough money to buy rice or milk for her family. My heart goes out to her and I always help when she comes to me with stories like this that hit my dual weak spots of 1) wanting to promote basic human rights, and 2) white western guilt.

I can't help but feeling played. Dona Lídia knows I won't deny her money/groceries/clothes when she comes to me with these stories about not being able to provide for her family. Smart woman. She knows I wouldn't give her money to buy a new, smaller cell phone when she already had one that worked perfectly well! Who cares if it is an old-school brick?!?

Priorities are obviously skewed here, and somehow through all of it I still manage to feel guilty. Fuck.

- When I was in the US on vacation last month I bought some John Frieda shampoo and conditioner at Walgreens. We were in a rush, so I got the "Brilliant Brunette" stuff that was formulated for "chestnut to espresso" instead of the more fitting (for my hair color) "amber to maple". I discovered on the plane home that this color formula crap turned my hair blue. BLUE!! My overgrown, already not so attractive blonde highlights are now the color of an old lady's hair.

- I'm hooked on crocheting. All I know how to make are headbands, but I've already cranked out 5 of them. Next step is to add beads and organza ribbon, then they'll be ready for the next crafts fair.

- It's time for bed. The sun rises ridiculously early here - by 6am it's completely light out - and pure, bright sunshine streams in the bedroom window making it difficult for me to sleep much past 6:30. Our curtains were pretty insatisfactory to begin with, but really the boys are to thank for this one. They tried to climb the curtains one day and the fabric simply gave out, ripping 2 gigantic holes in what used to be a nice green tribal pattern.

- Good night.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Maria, or Friend #3

This is my friend Maria. We met at the August edition of the crafts fair where we coincidentally set up our booths next to each other. Maria is originally from Maputo and makes the funkiest clothes out of capulanas, the ubiquitous local sarong fabric.

We got to talking and I quickly realized that this is the Mozambican woman I've been hoping I'd meet for the last year and a half. Maria is my kind of people! She's into natural and organic foods, loves art, lived for several years in South Africa and Swaziland, and is one of the most genuine people I've come across so far in this country. We hit it off immediately, and after the fair kept in touch and slowly began developing a friendship.

I invited Maria over for tea this past Friday and we ended up talking, sipping and munching on a banana cake I'd made for 4 hours. Four hours! At the end of the evening as we were saying goodbye, Maria said she'd like to invite me over to her house so that I can get to know her family and see a bit of her life as well. I gladly accepted, and we are going to make plans for me to pay her a visit the next Sunday we are both free.

So now I have 3 friends here in Maputo. For as much as I complain sometimes about feeling lonely and isolated, I really don't regret the way I'm approaching my social life. I'd much rather have a handful of true friends than loads of false acquaintances.

On that note, here are a few more pictures from the crafts fair, held monthly at this funky gallery space called Café com Letras. The last time I participated the weather was beautiful and we all set up our booths outside. The line of palm trees marks the boardwalk along the Indian Ocean.

The entire venue is decorated with plaster flourishes, mosaics, funky ironwork and paintings by local artists. Just being there is an inspiration to create beautiful things!

Here is my booth, full of necklaces and earrings. I have been in production mode lately and have all sorts of cool new pieces for this month's fair. I can't wait to participate.

Hope you all are doing well. :)

Saturday, October 07, 2006

54 Things About La Loca

This was swiped from the Queen of Memes, JVS. Her answers are great, as are her poems. She's trying to convert me into a lover of poetry and is actually making some headway.


1. A cuddler? I love a good cuddle, be it with a person or a kitten.
2. A morning person? Originally, no. But as I’ve accepted that I’m slowly turning into my mother, it seems a preferred wake-up time of 3:30am is looming in my not-so-distant future. As long as I have a cup of tea it will all be okay.
3. A perfectionist? Less and less with each passing day.
4. An only child? Yes.
5. Catholic? No, thanks. I've already got enough guilt as is.
6. In your pyjamas? No. I don’t even own proper pajamas.
7. Currently suffering from a broken heart? Yes, the one that comes with being far away from the people that you love.
8. Okay styling other people's hair? Definitely! I was Rico’s #1 barber of choice when we lived in Chimoio. We’d go out to the back yard with the hair clippers and some beers and I’d have at it. I was actually quite good, although he does have forgiving hair.
9. Left handed? No. But both Rico and my dad are.
10. Addicted to MySpace? Absolutely not. I really kind of despise it.
11. Shy around the opposite gender? Not at all. Never have been. It’s girls that I find intimidating usually.
12. Loud? Notoriously so. But it’s usually because I’m excited or making an excellent point. I guess being American contributes, too.


12. Bite your nails? Not anymore, unless one of them is uneven and I’m without clippers. Then I’ll have a go at it.
13. Get paranoid at times? Only if I’ve smoked loads of pot.
14. Currently regret something that you have said/done? I regret that I didn’t get the chance to see more of my friends while back in the US.
15. Curse frequently when you get mad? Especially in Portuguese. I have a mouth like a sailor and I really have to watch it here because people never curse. Ever. It’s really bizarre after living in Brasil where people have some of the most colorful insults I’ve ever come across.
16. Enjoy country music? Some. I like Allison Krauss, Dixie Chicks, Willie Nelson and 2-stepping to country music while in Austin.
17. Enjoy jazz music? I was in jazz band in high school and my dad is a jazz-o-phile. How can I not like jazz?
18. Enjoy smoothies? Yes, but haven’t had one in ages because I don’t own a blender and there are no smoothie shops in Maputo.
19. Enjoy talking on the phone? If it’s on Skype and therefore for free, yes. Otherwise my bank account doesn’t permit it these days.
20. Have a lot to learn? Tons.
21. Have a pet? Kittens Pria and Parceiro (aka “The Boys”) here in Maputo, full-grown cat Azul currently with my mom.
22. Have a tendency to fall for the "wrong" person? I certainly hope I’ve broken that trend!
23. Have all your grandparents died? No. I’ve still got my Grammy in Italy.
24. Have at least one sibling? Not by birth. I have several step-siblings, though. Dylan and Ann I count as the real thing.
25. Have been told that you are smart? Of course. I've been told that I'm humble, too.
26. Have had a broken bone? No.
27. Have caller id on your phone? Yes, and it permits me to avoid my least-favorite client when he calls.


28. Changed a diaper? No. Can you believe it? I’m sure I’ll put in my dues, though, when I have kids of my own.
29. Changed a lot over the past year? Diapers or in general? If it’s change in general, then yes. Nothing like living in rural Africa to bring about quiet revolution in one’s life.
30. Had friends who have never seen your natural hair colour? Yes.
31. Had surgery? Technically 3 times. Once to remove my 4 wisdom teeth, then on 2 separate occasions to dig out suspicious moles on my back. I’ve got some impressive scars, although the surgery was quite minor as far as that kind of thing goes.
32. Killed anyone? No!
33. Had a haircut in the last week? Unfortunately, no. Although I will get one next week.


34. Slept in the bed beside you? Rico.
35. Saw you cry? My dad at the airport.
36. Went to the movies with you? Rico and B. at the old funky cinema here in Maputo. It’s been ages since I’ve been to the movies.
37. Went to the mall with? Poor Rico, being dragged on a super-efficient shopping spree after Air France lost my luggage on the way to the US.
38. You went to dinner with? Last people I ate dinner in a restaurant with were my friend Marlene and her husband (plus several of their friends) back in Albuquerque.
39. You talked to on the phone? My mom. She called me from the Munich airport on her way back to the US after a visit to my Grammy.
40. Said "I love you" to you and meant it? My mom on the phone this morning.
41. Broke your heart? An ex-boyfriend with whom I no longer maintain contact. Happily it was a while ago and my heart has since been un-broken multiple times.
42. Made you laugh? My friend Liesbeth in an e-mail talking about how if she were rich she’d always be redecorating her “cribb”.


43. Pierce your nose or tongue? Used to have my nose pierced and loved it. Had to eventually take it out for a shitty job waiting tables.
44. Be serious or be funny? Funny.
45. Drink whole or skim milk? Whole. Although I really am grossed out by milk in general and you couldn’t pay me enough to drink a glass of milk all by itself. Now that I’ve found soy milk in Maputo I’m making the transition. I do like cream, though. And cheese. And ice cream.
46. Die in a fire or drown? Jesus, neither one.
47. Spend time with your parents or enemies? Parents. I love them!


48. What time is it? 5:30pm GMT+2
49. Nicknames? I’ve got a ton. Ali is the most common. Also used are Alf, Alfie, GC (girl cat), AC (africa cat), BD (baby dog), Burr Girl, Al, Gringa (hate that one), Monkey Bars, and Patroa.
50. Where were you born? Albuquerque, New Mexico
51. What is your birthdate? October 13th. It's on a Friday this year.
52. What do you want? To be able to consistently send and receive mail without paying for DHL. Seeing as I’m highly unlikely to get this wish granted, I’ll settle for a cold glass of beer and some art supplies.
53. Where do you want to live? Isn’t that the million dollar question…
54. How many kids do you want? Two, tops.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Looking Up!

Guess what?

Not one but TWO new girlfriends will be moving to Maputo at the end of October! And Lord knows I miss hanging out with girls. There's something about women getting together that is like a sweet balm for the soul, even if you are doing nothing more than talking about a new yoga routine or how you want to redecorate the living room.

One of the girls I met a few months ago when she was visiting Maputo. She's fabulous! The other girl I've only met virtually, but she too seems to be exactly the kind of person I'd choose as a friend. And there is even the possibility of a third new friend moving her with her husband, although that one seems to be up in the air still.

Keeping a blog has paid off, as that's how all these girls found me.

Understatement of the year: I can't wait for them to arrive!

That's More Like It!

Visiting exotic places with good friends is how I'd imagined passing the bulk of my days here in Mozambique. For those of you that read my blog regularly, you'll know my expectations were a little off. Instead of camping and wild nights dancing, my experience here thus far has involved lots of time at a desk in front of a laptop and not so many friends or nights out. Part of this is due to my own reclusiveness and introverted tendencies as of late. Part of it is due to the fact that I've found it tremendously difficult to find "my people" here. You know...the artistic, slightly nutty, adventuresome, worldly, intelligent, nature-loving, open-minded, fun, here for the long-haul kind of people. Slowly, however I'm managing to create the kind of life I want for myself.

In a post a few days ago I mentioned that I could literally count my friends here in Maputo on 2 fingers. Well, one of them is a woman named Tracy. She's also an American and we often work together on projects. She is in charge of a fund at the IFC that invests in small and medium local businesses. I am often on the consulting team hired by the IFC to put together the strategic plans and financial models for said local businesses.

It's been great to get to know Tracy, not only because she is someone I enjoy hanging out with but also because she has validated so many of my feelings about being an expat in Mozambique. We've had similar lonely, isolated, overworked experiences, struggling to make meaningful connections with people here yet at the same time really enjoying the good points this country has to offer.

Last Sunday Tracy and her boyfriend Sergio called me up and invited me to go to Macaneta beach with them for the day. Of course I jumped at the chance to get out of the city and go for an adventure. And what an adventure it was!

It started out with a 30 minute drive north of Maputo to a town called Marracuene. This place was hit really hard by the civil war and is basically in ruins now, but still very beautiful. The Inkomati River runs next to Marracuene, however there is no bridge so to get across you must take the batelão (ferry). This thing is basically a floating platform that can hold up to 6 cars at a time. I've been on a similar batelão going over to Espungabera where we had our tea project last year, only that one was propelled by 2 huge guys turning a cog wheel. This ferry was modern in that it acutally was equipped with a motor!

In line waiting to board the ferry across the Inkomati River.

No life vests? No trained personnel? Over capacity? No problem! Things like this in the US would never fly...

Tracy and Sergio waiting for our turn to ride.

Once we made it safely across to the other side of the river, we were faced with adventure #2 - soft sand tracks that everyone generously referred to as roads. There were vehicles stuck everywhere - good ones even, equpped with 4x4 - so we were a little concerned about making it the 4km down to the beach lodge where we were supposed to pass the day. Mind you, we were in the middle of nowhere. Times like this I actually feel like I'm in Africa. There were mud huts with straw roofs, little kids running around doing anything possible to make a buck (my favorite was the little guys that made model helicopters out of banana tree stalks), goats all over the place and lots of sand and sun.

And this was the good part!

We stopped on the only remaining piece of asphalt from a road built who knows how long ago and strategized. I remembered tips from an off-road driving guide Rico had bought back in Chimoio and left in the bathroom as toilet reading. I told Sérgio to take some air out of the tires and that he should constantly wiggle the steering wheel back and forth as he drove so that we wouldn't form a rut in the sand. Between my tips and the fact that Sérgio just gunned it down the entire length of the sand road, we managed to make it down to the beach. We were all pumped up with adrenaline when we arrived, so we ate some sandwiches and ran down to the water.

I'm somewhat of a sissy when it comes to swimming in the ocean - I don't like strong currents, big waves, cold water or places where there are jellyfish / sharks / sea snakes / sewage / trash messing up the water. That said, Macaneta was unfortunately not the beach for me. It was clean, but the waves were gigantic and it was apparent that there was quite the rip tide. The water was also freezing and full of blue box jellies. Needless to say I didn't get in. But we did have a good time walking along the sand and soaking up the rays.

Windblown and intimidated by the ocean, but very happy to be away from our desks.

Daughter of a South African friend uses her flip flops to catch crabs.

Unfortunately, this photo was moments before this little one got stung by a jellyfish. It hurt, but she was okay in the end.

The oar on this fishing boat weighed at least as much as I do. I could barely budge the thing!

Obviously we had a great day at the beach. Good thing I have friends who invite me along on these outings because it's the kind of thing where you 1) must know your way around the rural areas, 2) must be skilled at off-roading, and 3) must have access to a vehicle. None of which I do. Hopefully there will be more outings like this in the near future. After all, for those of us in the Southern Hemisphere, it's SUMMERTIME!!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Ups and Downs

Last night a huge storm rolled in and I sat awake for most of the wee hours of the morning watching lightning strike seemingly above our building. The acompanying thunder was the loudest I've heard in ages and it got the kittens all agitated. They chased each other relentlessly around the room, trampling me in the process and making it impossible to sleep. Like I would have been able to, anyway, with the storm and all.

Despite the lack of rest, I woke up this morning strangely satisfied. The sky was full of low-hanging gray clouds and the sunlight barely made it through. It was cold and generally nasty the entire day. I like this stormy, gloomy weather because it seems to justify my mood as of late. When it's cloudy and raining outside, nobody wants to leave the house, right? Nobody feels chipper. Nobody can be bothered to do anything but curl up with a blanket and some hot tea and watch DVD's all afternoon. So on gray days my feelings are actually in line with those of the general population. Everyone feels down, I'm not the odd one out.

Is it possible for a person to develop geographically or situationally induced manic depressive disorder? I honestly don't believe I suffer from the disease, but I certainly feel like I exhibit it's symptoms lately. I go from feeling optimistic and like my life is totally on track, to feeling the most unbelievable numbness and lack of desire to do anything at least 15 times a day.

Sometimes I love living in Africa. Life is laid back, there is no pressure from deadlines, emphasis is on the things that matter in life like family and friends instead of consumer goods. I live in a beautiful country full of simple people where it's easy to get by with relatively litte. On the other hand, this place is maddening sometimes. Nothing works on time, nobody is reliable, resources are absent or outdated at best, most people live in extreme poverty and that makes me feel guilty all the time. I miss my family and hate that I am so far away from the people I love. I have so few friends here I can count them on two fingers. Literally. For all the benefits, I wonder why I insist on staying here when the negatives make me so depressed.

Sometimes I love my job and the opportunity it gives me to do two of my favorite things: write and work in a developing country. I feel I can make a difference, that as a result of my efforts local businesses will be improved, entrepreneurs will get start-up money, foreign investment will be facilitated and in general I'll have helped Mozambique on the path to sustainable development. Other times I feel like consulting is just a bunch of bullshit, that I am a fraud. How can I tell anyone how to make their business better when, 1) I've never owned a business myself, and 2) I know next to nothing about the industries my clients work in. I am so smooth in presentations and can write in such a way that it seems I know what I'm talking about, who will ever know the difference? I am constantly worried that someone will "figure me out."

Sometimes I'm energized and inspired by the people I work with. Other times I see right through the polished exterior to the political connections, false alliances and corruption that are behind the scenes in just about every job I've ever worked. I get tired of dealing with these people, of playing the game.

Sometimes I love the fact that my self-employed existance allows me to get up whenever I feel like it, set my own schedule, wear any old thing to work, take time off whenever I'm so inclined, and basically be the master of my own destiny as far as time and lifestyle are concerned. Then there are the days where I realize that I have absolutely no capacity for self-discipline, that I really don't work very hard at all, that I procrastinate to no end all the while fretting about the work to be done and the salary to be earned. My success is a direct factor of the effort I put into this job, and the fact that I'm not able to get my shit together is really quite disapointing. All I want to do these days is make jewelry and crochet, read and write blog entries, cook and drink tea on the varanda. All lovely passtimes, but I can't seem to buckle down and get my "real" work done, no matter how much I try to bribe myself or set goals.

This is the existance I've always hoped for: self-employed, reasonable earning potential, opportunity to live in an interesting place, multiple chances for travel. I'm starting to realize that maybe I'm not cut out for this. Will I ever be disciplined enough to make it work? Because now I'm certainly not. Sometimes I think my lack of enthusiasm for this job is a sign that it's really not right for me. Some days I downright hate consulting and anything associated with the business world and that I'd really be better off with another occupation. Then there's this voice that creeps up and says that the real problem is that I'm taking my blessings for granted.

I feel like I need someone to give me a bit shake and tell me to get my shit together before this opportunity passes me by. I've tried to shake myself but it never quite seems to work.

I know everyone goes through similar conflicts about work and life in general, but I feel like mine are really extreme. I am either super happy or down in the dumps and wanting to cry. There seems to be no middle ground. And yet, my intuition tells me that it's not yet time for me to leave Mozambique, no matter how frustrated or alone I may feel. There is some part of my destiny here that I must still fulfull. I have a feeling it has to do with me finally coming to peace with the doubts I've written about above, and whatever it is I choose to do when the answer finally becomes a bit more clear.

I have a strong feeling it may involve writing a book.

After 25 Hours, a Lovely Treat

In the middle of my torturously long trip from New Mexico back to Mozambique, I had a 9-hour layover in Paris. Normally, this would have me cursing, but on this particular trip I had the good fortune to meet up with a blogger who has increasingly become my favorite source for world news: Paris Parfait.

The plan was that I'd arrive at the airport, collect my luggage, and take a taxi over to Paris Parfait's apartment. I was hoping that my friend Elite could also meet us, but unfortunately we weren't able to coordinate a visit this time.

Putting a slight kink in our plans, Air France managed to lose my luggage. For the second time on this trip. Sigh. I had to spend about 2 hours hassling with the baggage services office to lodge a claim before I could head over to meet Paris Parfait. On the plus side, I didn't have to schlep my 100 pounds of stuff halfway across the city.

I had a hilarious cab ride over to PP's apartment. I can understand French thanks to Alliance Français classes when I was about 5 years old and the similarity of the other romance languages I speak, but really can't form a coherent sentence or say anything other than the basic greetings and a few random adjectives. No problem.

My driver picked up on the fact that I understood what he was saying and asked what languages I speak. When he heard Portuguese was on the list, he started to tell me about this one time that he gave a Brasilian drag queen a ride and the guy was changing clothes and putting on his glittery makeup in the backseat of the taxi! I've never had a funnier non-conversation with a person in my life.

I arrived safely at Paris Parfait's apartment (full of cute antiques and beautiful furniture, by the way) and we sat down for some tea and figured out what to do with the little time we had together. We opted for a nice walk around her neighborhood, followed by a homecooked meal by her husband.

This was my first time in Paris and I must admit the city actually lived up to my expectations in terms of being beautiful, romantic, historical, cultured, etc. Even in our short walk to a bridge and then to the local grocery store, I got a nice taste of that part of the city. I can definitely see why so many people just fall in love with Paris...

In this picture, you can see some of the houseboats that are docked along this part of the Seine. I asked Paris Parfait if people really live in them, and she said yes, that some of the residents are even full time.

The commuter train runs alongside the river and I spotted these cool garden plots from the bridge. Apparently it's a community garden where residents of the neighborhood can get a patch of land and grow their own vegetables. There was even a little old man watering his plants as we watched from above.

This was, without a doubt, one of the funniest moments I had in Paris. We were on top of this big bridge looking out at the Seine and all the gardens. Paris Parfait told me to turn around and look up the length of the bridge, where we'd just walked up from a nearby park. I looked up the bridge and saw this cute little family cycling, and some nicely painted historical streetlamps. "That's pretty quaint," I thought, and ooh-ed and ah-ed for effect.

Only whe we started to walk back over the bridge did I look up again and notice what Paris Parfait was *really* trying to point out - there was a perfect view of the Eiffel Tower in the distance! When she'd shown me the view earlier, I happened to be at the only angle where the Tower was obstructed. In the photo above, the Eiffle Tower is hidden directly behind the lantern part of the street light on the left. Silly me, I didn't take another photo because I figured the one above would surely have captured the Tower.

We stopped by the bakery and got a fresh baguette, which Paris Parfait gave me to hold to boost the authenticity of my Paris experience. We had the baguette later with spaghetti bolognese and let me tell you, it was the most delicious bread I've had in ages. Shame I had to rush out the door to get a taxi back to the airport, because if I'd had a chance I would have surely eaten at least half the baguette by myself, along with another good glass of red wine.

My taxi was late picking me up, but it ended up being no problem. Sheer exhaustion hit me as soon as I sat in the car and slept for most of the ride back to the airport. The check-in desk was just opening as I arrived, and I got the news that they'd managed to locate my luggage and had re-tagged it all to my final destination, Maputo. (I later found out that was a fatty lie, but that's a rant I won't go into at this point.)

The rest of my trip was uneventful, and I sat next to some really interesting people. On the way to Joburg, my traveling companion was the Bishop of the Anglican Church in Cape Town. On the way to Maptuo, I sat next to a Welsh camera reporter coming to Mozambique to do a piece on corporate social responsibility. He was with a group of Welsh executives that had made donations to orphanages here, and they were all going to visit the beneficiaries of their charity.

And that was my trip back home. Can't wait to do it again next year!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Send a Good Thought...

my Dad's way today. He is having some pretty massive dental surgery right about now if my time zone calculation is correct.

So send a supportive thought, a prayer, a healing vibe - whatever it is will certainly be appreciated. And when you're finished, go floss your teeth.

Like my dentist in California told me a couple weeks ago while I sat in his chair, "You only need to floss the teeth you intend to keep." Yikes!

Hope you have a speedy recovery, Dad.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Sunday Scribblings: Skin

This is my favorite part of my skin. I got this tattoo on my lower back while living in Austin and I love it! I suppose the fact that I thought about getting this very tattoo for 8 years before actually doing it makes a difference. I feel it is the perfect expression of who I am, and I love the fact that a visual expression of my personality is forever inked into my skin.

In case you can't tell, the image is of two people sitting back to back on a palm tree. The original image is etched in silver on a triangular pendant that I got when I was 16 and on a month-long bus trip through Brasil.

We were in Brasilia visiting the Templo da Legião da Boa Vontade (in English called the Temple of Peace or Temple of Goodwill), this enormous 7-sided white pyramid in the middle of the city. Suspended at the top of the pyramid is the world's largest quartz crystal weighing in at 21kg.

The thing to do at the Templo is to take off your shoes and walk along the spirals on the granite floor - one black and leading in toward the center of the temple, the other white and spiraling out. At the middle of the spirals, and directly below the crystal in the roof, is a copper disc that supposedly purifies and charges with positive energy whoever stands upon it. I did the whole spiral-walking, energy exchanging ritual at the Templo and thought it was pretty cool.

As I was walking out of the pyramid and back to our bus, an old man selling jewelry called me over to his stand. I tried to explain to him that I didn't want to buy anything, but he was very insistent. "This is for you," he said, and placed a silver pendant in my hand.

"No, no. I can't accept this. Thank you." I tried to refuse the necklace, as I was certain it was just a ploy to get my to buy something.

But the old man shook his head and said, "You don't understand. This gift is for you. I don't want any money. Please, take it. It is for you."

He was so serious when he looked at me that I couldn't bring myself to refuse his offering again. "Thank you," I said softly. I looked at the triangle pendant and tried to figure out the abstract scrawls. "What is it?" I asked the man.

"You'll see," he said, and motioned for me to go back to the bus.

Eventually I did see - two people back to back on a palm tree as if on a desert island - although many people see a different image. The most common ones are two hands pressed together in prayer, or the head of a bull.

I don't know what it is, but something about that image of the people resting on the palm trees just resonated with me. I wore that necklace for about 4 years without ever taking it off. Eventually the chain it was on broke and I began switching it out with some other necklaces (it's hard for a jewelry lover to be faithful to just one necklace!). Even thought I wear other pieces now, this silver pendant is still one of my absolute favorites and a powerful reminder of my past and who I am.

I'd show a photo of the original necklace where I got the idea for my tattoo but it's currently in Rio with Rico. The day he left Mozambique I pressed it in his palm, trying to hold back tears, as if him carrying a pocket-sized reminder of me would somehow lessen the saudades. I like the idea that Rico can look at the necklace, one of my most treasured posessions, and remember not only how the pendant hangs around my neck, and how I tend to grab onto it when I'm nervous, but how the dark ink looks on my skin.

Mourning Flight 1907

The news about the Gol 737 that possibly collided with a smaller Legacy jet and crashed into the Amazon has left me feeling sick.

According to news reports from Brazil's online newspaper O Globo, the pattern of the wreckage led the captain of the Air Force to believe that the plane hit the ground in a vertical dive - nose first. The media is still reluctant to confirm that there are no survivors, instead preferring to say that if any of the 155 people on board the Gol flight were alive, it would be an absolute miracle. The jungle in the area of the crash is so dense that the initial rescue team had to rappel in from helicopters, then cut down trees to make a clearing so that others could manage to land.

The Legacy was piloted by and carrying Americans, including a reporter from the NY Times, and was able to land safely despite some damage to the wing and tail.

Rico and I were talking last night about what the last minute of life must be like for someone on a plane that is doing a nose dive into the jungle. I'm not a particularly religious person, but I really hope that in these moments there is some sort of intervention, either on the part of a higher Being or as a built-in funcion of our souls, that in effect "shuts off" pain and suffering. I hope there is a threshold where a person about to die under horrid circumstances, be it a plane crash, torture, or any other type of accident or injury, ceases to feel physical pain and fear and is able, instead, to have a bit of peace.

My heart goes out to the families of the victims of this accident. It will be a complex and very interesting investigation over the next few months to determine what exactly was the cause of this disaster.