Friday, June 30, 2006

More Botswana Fauna

(I guess I do like poetry, now, don't I?)

So yes, Botswana's animals were amazing. I'd seen most of these beasts in assorted zoos over the years, but it is a whole different experience when they are in the wild and free to get up close and personal to your safari vehicle.

That's exactly what this little guy did on our last day at Seba Camp. Our guide Max, using his supersonic visual powers, spotted a den of hyena pups about 200m off the sand road we were driving on and took us off-road to have a good look. We parked a reasonable distance away from the den and observed the 4 hyena pups lounging in the sun. One of them, curious as ever and not at all afraid of us humans, trotted over to our safari vehicle to have a closer look at who was observing him and his brothers. This little hyena was fearless, and even followed our Land Cruiser as we drove back onto the sand trail about 10 minutes later to try and find more game.

After spending 2 nights at Seba Camp, we took one of those small planes for a 30-minute trip North to reach the Chobe National Park, one of the best places in Botswana to see elephants, lions and leopards. It was much drier in Chobe, as the waters of the Okavango flow just to the South and West of the Park. It was really hot and dusty, and it was the first time we came across true water holes in the midst of the parched savannah. Many times we'd come across animals having a cool drink in the middle of the day, like this lone bull elephant below.

Like everywhere else we visited in Botswana, Chobe was full of impala. It was amazing to me that most of the time these antelopes would stand their ground and not sprint away as our vehicle approached. Here is a breeding herd we encountered on a hillside, grazing away at grass and low-hanging leaves.

And finally, here is a big elephant that decided to cross the sand road in front of us one afternoon. If you look closely you can tell that this animal is, in fact, one huge virile male!

And on that naughty note, I'll say goodnight!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Clear Delta Waters

The flood waters of the Okavango Delta are unbelievably clear. From the surface it looks like any old swamp, and I expected the water to be murky and stagnant. But thanks to the sandy bottom and quick seasonal flow of the water, the result is just the opposite. The waters of the Okavango Delta are so pure and clean, in fact, that the locals use the river water untreated for drinking and cooking (and by locals I mean anyone actually living in the area, not just the Kalahari Bushmen).

This is the view of the water, looking down from our safari vehicle into a stream about 1.5 meters deep. The photo doesn't really do it justice, but you get the idea. In these floodwaters we saw a catfish that was the size of a small child, several hippopotomi (I figure the plural of 'hippopotamus' must be along the same lines as 'cactus' - 'cacti'), and the shadow of an African Rock Python as it swam around looking for prey at night.

This is Max, our guide at Seba Camp, sitting in the driver's seat of the Land Cruiser we used to go on our game drives. The vehicle was amazing - it was perfectly equipped to take on both the soft sand of the bush trails as well as the flood waters of the Delta, thanks to a snorkel and some heavy duty low-pressure tires. Sometimes we would drive through rivers or lakes so deep that the water would come up around the doors and flood into the interior of the Land Cruiser. To accomodate and keep the passengers dry, the seats in the vehicle were raised up really high, so much so that my legs dangled over the edge without touching the floor. Between the elevated seats, my swinging legs, and the exitement of seeing all sorts of exotic animals, I must admit I felt like a little kid!

This was the view from inside the Land Cruiser as Max led us through deep flood waters. Water would rush inside the vehicle and swirl underneath our dangling legs, much to my delight.

This is a bridge over an especially deep portion of the Okavango flood basin made out of floating Mopane logs and wire. The camp supervisor, a Scottish guy named Tom, came to Botswana after being hired to build this bridge. He liked the place so much, and the owner of Seba Camp was so pleased with his work, that Tom decided to stay in Botswana indefinitely. In addition to being quite functional, this bridge expanded my definition of an engineering project.

This was a typical sight as we'd head out on our early morning game drives - fan palms reflected on the still flood waters. The absence of wind in this part of Botswana was striking.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


I generally avoid discussing work on my blog, but I have been having some seriously unsettled and stressed and heavy feelings lately regarding my professional life. I was able to identify that the source of my yuckiness and self-doubt was work, but couldn't seem to nail down exactly what aspect of my life as an independent consultant in Mozambique was to blame.

I mean, honestly, for as cool as my job sounds (and is) most of the time, there sure are some downfalls. Like a salary for the past year that would allow me to qualify for welfare and food stamps were I back in the US (let me tell you, just because I live in Africa doesn't mean life is cheap. I actually pay more for rent and groceries here than I ever did in New Mexico). Or the overwhelming bureaucracy to get even the simplest thing accomplished. Or the lack of a car / work computer / filing cabinet / office supplies / access to cute work clothes and shoes. And don't even get me started on some of the clients I have to deal with...

But no, as annoying as all these "environmental challenges" can be, I knew they weren't to blame for my funk. I started to wonder, while brushing my teeth this morning, if I was on the wrong career track altogether. If maybe writing business plans and conducting strategic planning workshops isn't really where I should be putting my efforts. I considered chucking it all to the wind and rebaptizing myself as a proper writer (the kind that pens best-sellers, not market studies), or a full-time NIA teacher, or an artsy vagabond of some sort selling jewelry to fund my travels up and down the coast of Africa. As fun as it was to contemplate these alternate destinies, some deep part of my gut told me that a career change was also not the problem.

Hmmmm... I put these musings out of my head and got to work on the projects we are preparing for the IFC. I put together new sections in one of the business plans, did a little market research on the internet, sent some e-mails, prepared a presentation for our first big progress meeting on Thursday.

My mom called while I was finishing up my work for the day, and I was so happy to hear her voice. I'd been secretly hoping all day that she'd call. We talked about our cats, the weather, the pretty teal poncho I'm wearing that leaves lint balls everywhere... and then somehow I was unloading my feelings about work. That I've been doubting myself, my capabilities, my path. That I feel unsettled and unsatisfied professionally these past few weeks. I talked and talked, and she listened and reassured, just like a good momma does. Before I knew it words were coming out of my mouth faster than my mind could direct and organize them. My conversation had become unconscious, I was speaking from the heart and not from the head. And I finally nailed what has been bothering me.

I feel limited.

I won't go into the details, but I am being required to think 100% "in the box" right now. I feel like I'm back in my MBA classes, writing papers according to a set framework and doing presentations full of catch-phrases because that's the way the professor expects it, and that's the way to get an 'A' at the end of the semester. I'm being required to do the equivalent now, only the players are different and I'm being paid for my time and effort, a very practical silver lining to the lack of creativity and joy I feel regarding my work as of late. But the concept is still the same. Play by the rules, don't rock the boat, stick with the traditional way of doing things and you will be rewarded.

Thankfully this limiting situation is a non-permanent part of my work and as they say - THIS TOO SHALL PASS. But oooooooohhhh am I ready for it to be over so I can get back to my projects that make me feel alive and motivated, the ones that affirm my belief that the private sector is the answer to sustainable development in Mozambique...

Monday, June 26, 2006

Elephants at Seba Camp

Botswana is known for its elephants, and Seba Camp certainly didn't disappoint. On our second day of the safari, we came across a breeding herd of elephants as we drove around the sand trails of the bush.

Max, our guide, turned off the Land Cruiser's engine and we sat observing the massive animals in silence. To the side of the herd were a couple of giraffes eating leaves. I squealed in delight like a little kid when I spotted a baby giraffe, not 2 meters tall, next to its momma. Unfortunately I didn't get a photo of the little giraffe, but it was amazing to watch everyone interact and graze in harmony...

...That is until one of the big boys decided we were altogether too close for comfort. He asserted his dominance by coming hearth-thumpingly close to our vehicle and trumpeting a warning call.

After sending us a clear message that WE were invading HIS territory, the big elephant ambled out of sight and took everyone, including the giraffes, into the bush with him.

Giraffes at Seba

Originally uploaded by Ali la Loca.

This was one of the first animals Ricardo and I spotted on our drive from the airstrip to Seba Camp. Giraffes make excellent photo subjects, in contrast to other animals, because they stand very still and don't run off into the bush when you approach in the Land Cruiser safari vehicle.

While in Botswana we learned how to tell the difference between male and female giraffes (males have large horns with no hair tufts, while females have smaller horns topped with hair), marveled at what lovely long eyelashes these animals have, and laughed as our guide Max pointed out that giraffes walk in a right-right, left-left pattern, unlike most animals that do cross-pattern movement (right-left, left-right), including human babies when they learn to crawl.

For being so tall, giraffes sure camoflauge themselves well. Several times we drove up on giraffes not 6 meters from our safari vehicle that I never would have seen had our guide not pointed them out. Max playfully called the giraffes "radio antennas," alluding to their ability to rise straight and still above the bush.

Blogger / Flickr Help

Obviously I'm new to using Flickr to post photos on my blog. Can anyone tell me if it's possible to post more than one photo to the same post, and if so, how?


Sunday, June 25, 2006

31 Years of Independence

Mozambique is celebrating its 31st anniversary as an independent country today. I honestly can't imagine what it must be like to be from a country that newly formed, especially considering that in Mozambique's case independence from Portugal only opened the door for a 16-year civil war. For all its obstacles to development and overwhelming bureaucratic ass-backwards-ness (inherited from Portugal and perfected in-house), Mozambique is actually a place that I feel pretty positive about.

I mean, I chose to move here over a year ago not because I had a cushy aid worker job waiting for me, or because I knew I'd find Ricardo, or for any other "easy" reason. I came to Mozambique because I was sick of my old job, ready for adventure, and feeling that stirring in my soul that lets me know when it's time to move on. I've had my ups and downs over the past year or so, but overall I rate this a very good experience and one I'm not ready to move away from. People often ask how long Ricardo and I plan to stay here. My best guess at this point is another 5 years, so maybe I'll still be around to celebrate 36 years of independence.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that it's a long weekend and there are plenty of party opportunities around thanks to the national holiday and the world cup, I have spent the entire day in my pajamas nursing a raging head cold. I started to feel sick on Friday, and the worst of it hit last night. I H-A-T-E having to breathe through my mouth when I sleep and woke up this morning in a foul mood and with cracked lips. So far today I've used half a box of kleenex, eaten 2 bowls of oatmeal, lounged around with the cats and watched (finally!) "The Constant Gardener" on dvd with Ricardo. The movie was amazing, and even made me forget my stuffy head for a good 2 hours.

I'm trying to upload animal photos from our Botswana safari, but blogger insists on being difficult. I am giving it one last valiant effort this evening before giving up and finding an easier way to upload.

I am off to watch the Portugal x Holland game with Rico, B. and the cats. I am wearing sheepskin slippers to keep my feet warm, to the delight of both Rico (who makes fun of me) and the kittens (who love to attack the fur around the tops of the slippers). I hope Holland wins...

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Bush Planes

Getting to the Okavango Delta was quite an experience. Ricardo and I woke up at 4am to catch the first flight of the day from Maputo to Johannesburg, then after a short layover boarded an Air Botswana jet from Johannesburg to Maun, a small dusty city known as the gate to the Delta. Our flight of about 50 passengers was all foreigners, the vast majority American. We arrived in Maun shortly after lunch and were greeted by the people from Wilderness Safaris, the tour operator that had organized our trip. They gave Rico and I bottles of cold water and led us onto the runway to catch a charter flight to Seba Camp where we would begin our safari. This lovely little 6-seater was the plane we took.

The first 15 minutes of the flight I was sooooooo excited. I spent the entire time with my forehead pressed against the window looking at the rivers and swamps and islands below, a seemingly impossible landscape for a place that is predominately desert. My hope, of course, was to see some animals from the air...

...which we didn't, but the scenery was still just gorgeous, not to mention the giddiness from being "on safari" and flying in a private plane over the bush in the middle of nowhere.

The Okavango Delta is the world's largest inland delta and is known as the "river which never finds the sea." Waters from the highlands of neighboring Angola enter northwestern Botswana through the Okavango River, the principal channel of the Delta that at one time was connected to a large lake, flowing into the upper Zambezi waterways, the Limpopo River and ultimately the Indian Ocean. But tectonic movement raised up part of the land and changed the flow of the Okavango River, which now disappears into a 6,000 square mile maze of lagoons, lakes and islands in the Kalahari sands.

This photo was taken approximately 13 minutes into our charter flight. I was happy and excited and busy looking down at the bush to try and spot animals. Around minute 15 of the flight, my expression changed as the first waves of nausea hit. I never knew I got motion sickness on planes, but -wow- did I find out in Botswana. All the color drained out of my face, I felt my Air Botswana lunch in my throat, and I had to stare at the horizon and practice deep meditative breathing to keep from reaching for the air sick bag. I can't emphasize enough how grateful I was to touch down on a bumpy gravel runway soon thereafter - I didn't even mind the dust and the bumps!


...I feel like a freak because I don't like poetry!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Veggie Lasagna and Self-Discipline

I have terrible allergies again today. I've identified a potential link between my sneezing and wheezing and alcohol consuption, which is kind of a bummer. Of all the things to be allergic to... I did some reading on the internet and discovered that likely my sensitivity is not to the alcohol itself but to some additive or processing component like brewer's yeast or corn or sulfites. Blah. I certainly don't think alcoholic beverages are the only thing fueling my attacks, but I have noticed a definite trend as of late... (she says with a glass of red wine in hand, waiting for the vegetable lasagna to finish baking).

We are going full speed ahead with the two IFC projects. It's nice to be busy, to have deadlines, to be accountable to someone other than Ricardo in my professional life. Having responsibilities I can't weasel out of or delay in accordance with my laziness is a blessing. I realize fully the importance of having structure and schedules in my life.

Part of me feels like for the past year I have been drifting, living too much of the good life, getting by with a minimum of effort and planning. As good as it is just to hang out and travel, I like having work to do and the sense that each day I contribute something concrete and meaningful to a project or a business or a dream. It's easy to find this balance between responsibilities and pleasure when the person enforcing the deadlines is someone other than myself, Ricardo or my mom (my main business and activity partners as of late).

The challenge comes when I have to self-discipline, be accountable to nobody but myself, plod away at a bit of work each day instead of leaving it all for the last minute. The rewards of working to fulfill my dreams and objectives and not those of another person or company are certainly much greater, but I increasingly realize that this is not without a tremedous amount of hard, hard work.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Sunday Scribblings: Bed

Yes, I'm doing my Sunday Scribblings on a Tuesday afternoon. I toyed with the idea of skipping this week's entry because I wasn't "on time", but then I remembered why I joined this writing group in the first place - to allow myself to be creative and write without judgement. I didn't join Sunday Scribblings to be perfectionistic or stress about deadlines. So here goes my entry, spectacularly on (my) time.

---------------------- ------------ ----------------------

My dream bed is as beautiful to look at as it is to sleep in. It is made of tropical timber, finely crafted so that the curves of the frame echo the curves of the wood. The mattress is dense and firm, but not so much so that it would make my spine ache in the morning. Covering the mattress are 300-count Egyptian cotton sheets, pure white, soft and beautifully ironed. They are tucked in, of course, using tight hospital corners so that there is no slippage when I crawl into bed and pull the covers up under my chin. On top of the sheets is a non-itchy wool blanket and the most fabulous white goose down comforter imaginable. The comforter is so plush, in fact, that it weighs down on my body and makes me feel as if I am in the middle of a cocoon.

And wouldn't you know I found this exact bed at Seba Camp in the Okavango Delta in Botswana, the first lodge we stayed at on our vacation last week. Only the people at Seba managed to improve on my dream bed by placing hot water bottles under the sheets at night and by decorating the rest of the room so beautifully that unless you looked quite carefully you'd never know that technically the accomodations consisted of canvas tent atop a wooden deck. Seba Camp was probably the most luxurious place I've ever stayed and I'd love to go back - if nothing else for my dream bed and the unbelievably soft towels in the bathroom. Oh yeah, that and the elephants and hippos in the pond right outside the room.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Full Moon Over Botswana

Ricardo and I were welcomed to the Okavango Delta on our first night in Botswana by a glowing yellow full moon. We watched her rise during our evening game drive, having sundowners on the shore of a lake of clear water, baboons grunting overhead and curiously eyeing our drinks. Every imaginable type of bird contributed its call to the approaching night, and we breathed in cool air perfumed with wild sage. We held hands and huddled under a blanket, watching in awe as the light from the moon illuminated the bush in one of the last truly remote places on earth.

The next morning we rose at dawn to have another game drive. Sitting close together in the Land Cruiser we watched the full moon, now a luminescent white, set in the west while the warm red glow of the sun taunted us in the east. It was colder in the bush than either of us were really prepared for, but the excitement we felt more than made up for our tingling noses and toes.

The sky turned first purple, then pink as we drove towards the small air strip near our lodge. We were driving to meet my uncle and his family, who had been delayed the night before after their Air Botswana flight from Cape Town to Maun had been unexpectedly cancelled.

On the way to the airstrip we passed a giant Baobab tree that our guide told us was over 1,200 years old. In Botswana they call this the "upside-down tree". According to the local San people, in the beginning the Creator gave each animal in the bush a seed to plant so that the earth would become full of plants and trees. The hyaena ended up last in the line of animals and, when handed the seed of a Baobab tree, decided to get revenge for his unfortunate ranking by planting the tree upside-down. It's not so hard to imagine that the visible branches of the Baobab are actually a complex root system and that hidden underneath the sandy soil of the bush one might find graceful limbs and lush green leaves. (Notice the full moon just to the side of the Baobab.)

The sunrise was beautiful and brought welcome warmth to the Delta. Around 7:30 the charter plane carrying my Unc, Aunt Michelle, and cousins Jeff and Lauren touched down on the gravel airstrip. I hadn't seen this part of my family in over 3 years, and it was a wonderful reunion made sweeter by the fact that Ricardo was there to meet everyone and join in on a wonderful vacation.

(to be continued...)


Zeca, our night guard from Chimoio, posing in the front yard.

When we would go hike up the Cabeça do Velho rock formation, Zeca would keep watch over the old, beat-up Land Cruiser "Ambulance" that we'd borrow from a friend.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Inevitable

Last week, while Ricardo and I were on safari in Botswana, Zeca passed away. He was 26 years old. Zeca had been sick with visible symptoms for at least a year, but only received his HIV+ diagnosis last month when urged by our friend B. to go to the clinic for a free blood test. Our friends back in Chimoio pooled money to pay for Zeca's funeral, and are trying to establish a bank account where Zeca's widow can withdraw about $50 each month to support herself and their children.

I am deeply saddened by the loss of the local person in Chimoio with whom I felt the greatest connection, but more than anything Zeca's death makes me feel angry. How is it possible that billions and billions of dollars are pledged anually to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa and yet a person like Zeca can go up to 1 month of his death without getting an HIV test??? Every time Zeca would get sick we'd pay for him to have a consultations with western practitioners either at the local public hospital or at the Clínica Fátima, supposedly the best private clinic in Chimoio. Zeca would also meet with traditional healers, and I find it OUTRAGEOUS that between both western and traditional doctors NOBODY recommended that Zeca have an HIV test. I also feel a fair amount of guilt that I never did more to help, given my background in HIV prevention. I simply assumed that Zeca already knew his status and, out of a desire not to offend him, never probed any deeper into the matter until it was already way too late.

I understand that there are overwhelming cultural barriers to be overcome when dealing with HIV/AIDS in Africa, and in just about any community for that matter. But what makes me want to pull my hair out is that so much of the money that is donated for HIV/AIDS prevention - especially from the US - is full of conditions as to how it must be used that end up rendering the programs inefficient and ineffective. Instead of focusing on strategies that combine traditional beliefs with the best in modern medicine, prevention initiatives are filtered through the values and priorities of the western world.

Mozambique and Angola are just 2 of the many countries in Africa that, since they receive funding from the US to fight HIV/AIDS, must push the "A-B-C's of Prevention" as follows: 'A' is for Abstinence and that is the best and most recommended strategy to avoid HIV/AIDS. 'B' is for Be Faithful, what you should be to your partner if you fail the whole abstinence part. 'C' is for Condoms, third in priority and what you should do if you have (gasp!) more than one sexual partner. Thanks to a certain president's agenda of morals and family values, an HIV/AIDS program in Africa is not eligible for federal dollars unless it pushes the A-B-C's as the primary strategy for prevention.

The fight against HIV/AIDS is an industry, just like the fight against poverty or malnutrition or infant mortality. Many people are getting rich from the perpetuity of these problems, from the bureaucrats in Washington or Brussels making funding decisions and taking their respective administrative overheads (sometimes up to 34% of the program's budget), to in-country NGO directors with $10,000-a-month salaries and brand new Land Cruisers, to the local government officials lining their pockets under the table. There is not enough accountability, and the most perverse part is that once the problems at hand are tackled, there will be no need for all these government programs and NGO workers and local staff with stable jobs and good pay.

Certainly there are some people and organizations fighting the good fight, but the more time I spend here in Mozambique the more cynical I become about the whole situation. Until enough people call a spade a spade and admit that our current models for combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, food shortages, etc. are pitifully ineffective, the situation will continue to worsen and there will only be more stories like Zeca's to tell.

(I have an image to go along with this post but Blogger won't let me upload the photo. Will try again later.)

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Back from the Bush

I have never been so completely isolated from the world, nor have I ever been in such an amazing place as Botswana in my entire life. The safari was wonderful.

Ricardo and I just arrived back in Maputo after a long day of Land Cruiser rides and flights in small charter planes. I am overwhelmed by the e-mails and blogs and comments I have to catch up on, not to mention work...

Tomorrow will be catch-up day. Tonight I'm going to watch Italy vs. US and drink some red wine Rico and I bought on our layover in South Africa. (By the way, I am totally incapable of deciding who to root for in this game. Perhaps after a glass or two of wine my allegiances will become clear.)

Pictures and stories from the bush to follow...

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Sunday Scribblings: Mystery

I want to know where all the things I've lost over the years have ended up. The destiny of things misplaced or stolen or cast away is a mystery that I love to contemplate.

The gold hoop earring that came unhooked as I walked down the street in Rio - was it picked up by a street kid, crushed under the shoe of a passing businessman, or perhaps carelessly swept into the sewer?

The plum colored tank top and pair of black pants that disappeared from the clothes line back in Chimoio - did the maid steal them to sell at the bazaar, and if so who was the buyer and where are my clothes now?

The flip-flop that fell off my foot as I boulder hopped across a river in Brazil - did it get swept by the rapids all the way to the Atlantic Ocean, did an ecologically conscious hiker spot the colored rubber and take my sandal out of the rainforest, or did it wash up on one of the banks and become buried in thick mud?

I'd love to satisfy these curiosities...

Friday, June 09, 2006

Random Thoughts Before Safari

I feel very rushed at the moment. A lot has happened this week that I planned on summing up in a post, but inspiration to write and free time just didn't seem to coincide and now it is late. Tomorrow at 7am Ricardo and I set off to Botswana for our safari vacation with my uncle and his family. I am excited, tired, overwhelmed, and more than anything relieved to get a break where I can do nothing but relax and look at animals for an entire week.

A short recap of the ups and downs of the week before I head out:

- Signing our contracts with the IFC. Job security for the next month and a half, a decent paycheck, good experience and a golden addition to my resume. This is the break we've all been waiting for, and hopefully it will make all of the sacrifices we've made over the last year totally worth it.

- Preparing and delivering 2 very successful project kick-off meetings for the project promoters and IFC representatives. I felt like I was in business school again as the members of our consulting team divvied up the work and put together a power point presentation. It had been quite a while since the last time I did a group presentation and it was nice to collaborate with others for a change.

- So what are our projects? We will be developing business plans for 2 local businesses - a flower company and a transport company - that will hopefully lead to bank financing for the clients.

- Home improvements forced by the fact that we have houseguests and felt compelled to raise the standards just a little bit. We FINALLY got new mattresses (a queen for me and Rico, and 2 singles for B. and Monty), ordered 2 beds to be made by one of our clients so the boys don't have to sleep on the floor, bought capulanas (sheets of cotton in bright ethnic prints that the women here traditionally tie around their waists as a sort of sarong) and had them made into proper curtains to substitute the towels that we'd been using until now as window dressings, bought linen at the fabric store and commissioned a tailor to make cushions for our wicker couch and armchairs, bought enough mugs and bowls for everyone, bought a bath get the idea. Our quality of living has improved about 150% in a few short weeks.

- Ricardo and I discovered a restaurant overlooking the ocean that serves excellent seafood and the best black forest cake we've ever tasted anywhere in the world. We went for lunch the other day and I had a great fillet of fish smothered in a seafood sauce (think bits of lobster, prawns, crab and clams) and an entire piece of cake to myself for dessert. Best meal at a restaurant in ages.

- Went to the expensive expat grocery store to buy cat food and ended up splurging on red bell peppers, dijon mustard, and turkey breast cold cuts. These things - along with many other foods I took totally for granted back in the US - are not available in regular stores. I miss them so much, though, it was worth the premium price. I ate one of the red peppers raw and straight out of hand like an apple as soon as we got home. The other I covered in olive oil and put in the oven and managed to make roasted red peppers for lunch today.

- Bought a 1 liter bottle of local honey for about $4. There is no label on the honey, as it is literally an empty whisky bottle someone took out to the beehive and filled on up. In addition to the fab price and delicious taste, my favorite thing about this honey is that we purchased it in an Indian-run convenience store where it sat on the shelf next to floor wax and canned garbanzo beans.

- Getting over my neurotic, perfectionistic, controlling tendencies and being able to enjoy the company of my friends/fellow consultants/temporary housemates. Thank God. I was at the point were I couldn't even stand to be around myself, so you can imagine what it must have been like for everyone else.

Okay. Time to type up some notes from our meeting this evening, then I have to finish packing my suitcase. It's going to be a long, nearly sleepless night but just thinking about the fact that tomorrow we'll be on SAFARI makes it all okay...

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Signed... of 5pm Maputo time, the 2 contracts we've been waiting for with the IFC.

Kick-off meetings scheduled with our clients for tomorrow afternoon.

Work on project to start on Monday (while Rico and I are away on safari!).

Check for 10% of consulting fees on the way.

Celebratory gin and tonics in approximately 7 minutes.

Deep sigh of relief from Ali - immediately.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Writing Through Time

In case you haven't already noticed, the time stamps on my posts are all 100% wrong.

Blogger used to have a time/date option automatically appear on the create post site. Back then, I would make the effort to put the proper time on my post before publishing. One day the time/date boxes disappeared and are now hidden in a "post and comment options" link that I am altogether too lazy and inconsistent to click and adjust each time I write. While I do get creative at odd hours, I am most certainly not composing most of my posts between 3 and 6 in the morning.

If you are ever curious as to the correct time of my writing, Maputo is at GMT +2.


Our contract with the IFC has been delayed nearly a month now due to the same administrative runaround that seems to plague every single international organization working here in Mozambique. I don't know why I thought it might be different with the IFC, what being part of the World Bank and all, but I was wrong. The IFC is mercy to the same bureaucratic insanity as everyone else...

First our contract was delayed because the office here was waiting for the head honchos in Washington to approve our proposal, sign off on our budget, and assign each of us unique identifying numbers as consultants for payments and tax purposes.

Then our contract was delayed because the project manager we are working with here had to get a signature from his supervisor, who was out of the office.

Last week, we were assured that the contract would be signed, so B. and Monty went ahead and bought their plane tickets and flew down here to Maputo from Chimoio. We were all raring to go with our work, our clients were ready and waiting...and yet no contract signing. "Just a couple more days, we're just working out the last administrative details," the IFC assured us.

Then the project manager announced that he had to travel to South Africa for 4 days to take a course and renew some certification required for his job. The contract signing would have to wait for his return.

In the meantime, Monty flew back to Chimoio and Ricardo, B. and I have been hanging out here at the flat just cooling our heels and trying to get caught up on random tasks. Since we don't know when our projects with the IFC will start, we can't dedicate ourselves to any of our other clients. So we're trying to be patient, trying to enjoy this dead-time inbetween one job and the next.

We got word today that the contract should be signed either tomorrow or Friday and that our work will kick off on Monday. Great news. Monty will fly in on Sunday and we will prepare our work plan for the next 6 weeks.

The only problem is that Ricardo and I are leaving on Sunday to go on safari in Botswana with my uncle and his family. We will be gone one week, returning to Mozambique the following Saturday. Had everything with the IFC gone according to the original schedule, our trip would not be a problem at all. While on safari Ricardo and I would be able to brainstorm together about the challenges of each project, read draft reports and market information, formulate strategies, etc. But now that we are set to travel the very same week our projects are supposed to start, we will not be able to get any work done while in Botswana.

Perhaps this is the silver lining in all the delays with the IFC: we will be forced to take a real vacation!!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


From my journal entry last night. When faced with people or circumstances that bring out the worst in me, I want to be able to disengage, put my energy elsewhere, and allow the grounded and wise part of my being to prevail. This is so easy for me to say, and so hard for me to actually do.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Sunday Scribblings - Earliest Memory

My earliest memory is of the blue rubber flooring in the train station in Milan, Italy. I remember the particularly acrid smell of the rubber, the raised blue circles to give the floor traction, the black smudges from the shoes of travelers rushing to catch a train. My mom and I were on our way to visit my grandmother at her home in Peci, a small village near Trieste. I held my mom's hand and helped keep watch over our suitcases. I must have been 3 years old.

I also remember plants and flowers at our house in Adelino, New Mexico when my mom and dad were still married. In the sunroom, surrounded by thick adobe walls and large windows with paper hawk silhouettes taped on the glass so that the wild birds outside wouldn't crash into them, my mom planted a rainbow of geraniums in huge wooden whisky barrels. I would help water the plants with my little plastic watering can, and when the geraniums were in full flower I would pick off the blossoms and make hot pink and red and white bouquets to give to my mom or my dad or my nani (Priscilla, my spanish-speaking nanny who would look after me while my parents were at work).

In the outdoor flowerbeds along the walls of the house, my mom planted beautiful flowers each year. I remember my excitement upon spotting the first grape hyacinths to pierce the soil, their little purple heads reaching up defiantly after a winter of snow and frost. Then came the crocuses in pastel hues, followed by an assortment of irises and full-sized hyacinths. The hyacinths were always my favorites. I absolutely love the way they smell, and can recall the particular sweet aroma to this day, even though it's been at least 10 years since the last time I rested my nose among the clusters of small flowers to get a taste of that amazing perfume.

We also had an orchard behind the house, rows of trees bearing apples, pears, peaches and plums. I loved to feel the late summer sun on my shoulders while my mom picked fruit and mulched the soil. What a delight to pluck a ripe, sun-warmed apple or peach off the tree and take a bite, juice dribbling down my chin and hands and arms. I remember our dogs running around, chasing each other between the trees, and our horses softly trotting and whinnying in the distance, waiting for a bale of hay and a lick of salt.

I grew up in the countryside of New Mexico for the first 5 years of my life, but thanks to my family heritage and my mom's job, I traveled internationally almost from the time I was born. I am now a "city girl", a 21st century nomad, a speaker of many languages and a navigator of many cultures. I have learned to feel at home being homeless, to find the comfort that usually comes with a familiar, time-tried geographical location through abstract things like writing and dancing and art.

I hope to one day strike the right balance between growing roots and wandering the world so that my children's first memories can be just like mine. I want to give them the perfect mix of stability and mobility. I want them to have the perennial flowers, thick fruit trees and animals that can only really come with a fixed geographical home, alongside the languages, landscapes and people of an international existance so that their eyes are opened, in a safe and supporting context, to the limitless possibilities of life.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

The A-Z's of Ali la Loca

Here are my responses to the A-Z meme, passed on to me by Telfair.

accent: In Portuguese I have a carioca accent that I picked up when I lived in Rio in college. Thankfully I don't have even the slightest trace of an American accent when I speak Portuguese, although sometimes people think I'm from southern Brasil.

In English I have an American accent, devoid of any regional twang since I grew up in relatively accent-less central New Mexico. I now speak "CNN English," a very proper, clear, internationally friendly form of language reminiscent of the way the correspondents on CNN present their news. My English is really ridiculous these days. I find myself overcompensating to ensure that I am understood by colleagues and clients that are not totally fluent in English, and as I result I end up speaking this strange language-school-instructor-gone-wrong version of my native toungue. I find myself back-translating from Portuguese, incorporating phrases from British or South African English, and even involuntarily making up words!

booze: I love Mexican beer with lime (especially Pacifico), cold Chardonnay with seafood, spicy red Zinfandel for sipping at home and feeling intellectual, margaritas in New Mexico, gin and tonic in African bars, tequila shots chased with orange slices coated in cinnamon for those wild nights I don't seem to have anymore, cooking with Kahlua, and Amarula on the rocks when I feel like a treat.

chore i hate: easy - washing dishes by hand.

dogs/cats: I love cats. Ricardo and I just adopted 2 abandoned kittens here in Maputo, Pria and Parceiro. In the US I shared my home with Azul, a beautiful lilac tortie Burmese that I got at the pound and who is now living it up in California with my mom, her husband, and 2 Australian Shepherds.

essential electronics: laptop, iPod and portable speakers that double as our stereo in the flat, iTrip for road trips, Canon Powershot SD200 digital camera, cell phone.

favorite perfume: I am picky about perfume and have a phobia of most floral and oriental scents. I am sensitive to strong smells, but I think this particular aversion can be traced back to my mom and her glorious romps through the fragrance departments at Duty Free shops, department stores, and just about any place that had sample bottles out on display. My mom would literally cover every available inch of skin from her elbows to her fingertips with strong scents like Obsession by Calvin Klein, or whatever the new perfume by Christian Dior was that year.

In reaction, perhaps, I tend to like perfumes that are fresh, clean, citrus-y, green, fruity, or marine-inspired. Many times I like men's perfume more than I like women's because it is not at all floral or powdery. Past scents I've used include Ralph by Ralph Lauren, pure tangerine oil applied at the wrists and neck, and Hugo Boss Woman. I recently branched out and actually found a floral scent I like - Very Irresistible by Givenchy, but only because it smells like pure roses.

My favorite scent ever is not actually a perfume but a creme - A Perfect World by Origins, an intoxicating blend of white tea and apricots.

gold/silver: Silver for everyday jewelry, gold for special occasions. I think my wedding band will have to be dual-tone because I love them both.

hometown: Albuquerque, New Mexico. My heart-town is Rio de Janeiro. My current home is Maputo, Mozambique.

insomnia: Sometimes, especially if I drink caffeine too late in the afternoon/evening. I also have trouble sleeping when I get hit with a wave of creativity. If I'm inspired to write or draw or create, I can easily forget about sleep and stay up into the wee hours of the morning.

job title: On my business card it reads Funding Manager. In reality what I do is consult with companies and project promoters to help develop successful business strategies. And then I write - business plans, memoranda of investment, feasibility studies, marketing plans, strategic plans, grant proposals - with the ultimate objective of raising money for these companies or projects. The main idea behind our work is that the local private sector holds the key to sustainable economic development and associated poverty alleviation in emerging markets.

kids: not yet.

living arrangements: With boyfriend/work partner and 2 kittens in a flat in the heart of Maputo. We will likely be here for another 5 years or so, after which our main residence will likely be the Casa Rosa in Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro.

most admired trait: I asked Ricardo about this one last night and he gave me three traits, all related, and incidentally ones that I agree with:

- transparente. I am transparent. I show my emotions on my face both physically and through my expressions. When I get stressed out or upset, my under-eye circles darken noticeably and I get really pale. I also make no attempt to hide what I feel. If I'm upset, it's obvious. If I'm happy, every one knows. And I have no problem whatsoever talking about what I feel if someone should ask, "What's wrong?"

- sincera. I am sincere and honest. I tell it like I feel it.

- direta. I am direct and precise with my thoughts, actions and words. If I am upset with someone, I usually approach them to say what is on my mind. If I am stressed, I talk or write about what is bothering me. If I am in love, I make my declarations with no hesitation.

number of sexual partners: right...

overnight hospital stays: Technically one, when I got a mad intestinal infection in Brazil, but they didn't actually book me in or give me a bed. I just sat in a chair in the waiting room all night with an iv in my arm, making frequent trips to the toilet accompanied by a nurse to hold up the bag of iv drip solution while I did my business.

phobia: snakes, strong waves and ocean currents, surgery, having somebody I love die in my arms after an accident without being able to do anything to help, being in a plane crash, losing my mind.

quote: "Music opens paths that only the wise know how to walk, and which, along with dance, builds bridges which bring you close to a world which cannot even be dreamt." - Subcomandate Marcos

religion: none.

siblings: I am an only child, but have had varying numbers of step-siblings throughout my life. The current situation is 1 step-sister and 1 step-brother on my dad's side, and 2 step-brothers on my mom's side, although I have never lived with any of them.

time i usually wake up: Depends. I go through phases. Sometimes I love to wake up early, around 6:30. Other times I like nothing more than to sleep until 10am. Regardless of how tired I am, I feel immensely gulity if I sleep past noon.

unusual talent: I also asked Ricardo about this one. His first answer was writing. I said that all of my blogging friends are unusually talented writers, so that didn't count. Then he said something racy, and I said that answer wouldn't work either because both of our mothers read this blog. His final answer was cooking. I'll take it. I am a damn good cook and I love to invent in the kitchen.

vegetable i refuse to eat: none. I've learned tricks for cooking okra (put in some lime, lemon or vinegar when you cook it to get rid of the slime) and jiló (a bitter Brazilian vegetable made delicious when battered and fried), so there are no vegetables at this point that I won't eat.

worst habit: I also asked Ricardo about this one, and he said my worst habit is one that I am very conscious of already. In his words, "é quando você resolve ser filha da puta com alguma coisa, e o faz de propósito." Basically, when I decide to be bitchy or difficult with something or someone on purpose. I definitely catch myself doing this, I definitely think it's one of my worst habits, and I definitely am trying to change...not because I don't want to be labeled a bitch, but because constantly lashing out with negative energy takes a toll on me that is simply not worth it.

x-rays: Regularly at the dentist's, and once on my foot when I hurt my big toe playing capoeira.

yummy foods i make: lasagne, green chile stew, passion fruit mousse, yogurt spice pound cake, omelettes, lentil curry with bacon... everything I make is yummy!

zodiac sign: Libra.

I would like to tag Safiya and Ladybird for this meme, if they feel so inclined.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

A Peaceful Place

From my journal yesterday. I feel like my drawing style has been the same since I was 12 years old...

I Want to Reach a Place of Peace

Sunset as seen from Cabeça do Velho rock. Chimoio, Manica Province, Mozambique.

This is the phrase I wrote in my journal last night. I have started using my paper journal as a place to draw and tell about my life through art. I've struggled to write consistently (at all, really) in my paper journal since starting this blog, but feel a strong calling to draw these days. Last night I drew a picture that expressed my desire to be lifted out of an ocean of chaos by a cluster of swirling blue clouds attached to my hands. In the middle of the page I wrote this sentiment in beautiful purple calligraphy.

Our fellow consultants and houseguests for the next month, B. and Monty, arrived yesterday. I immediately felt defensive and anxious in my own home. These guys are friends of mine and have been very respectful of our space since arriving, but something in me reverted back to what I call "Chimoio Mode". For those of you that have read my blog for a while, you'll know what I'm talking about. Basically, Chimoio Mode consists of me freaking out about having to coexist with other people. My stress over the lack of control of my environment manifests itself as an obsession with order and cleanliness, and I can get really bossy and short with my housemates if I'm not careful.

In Chimoio, many of my outbursts of organization and anger over the lack thereof were warranted. Our house was a true pigsty much of the time, and although 5 of us lived under the same roof, there was little of the respect and compromise that I expect from a community living situation. But B. and Monty have done nothing since arriving to merit this kind of a defensive response from me. The issue is mine, and I want to get over it. I don't want to spend energy on making a big deal about something that doesn't even exist. I don't want to be bossy and manipulative. I want to find a peaceful place so that we can have harmony in the flat over the next month and do some quality work for the IFC.

We are still waiting for the contracts to be signed so that we can officially start our work on the projects. Hopefully this will happen later this afternoon or early tomorrow morning. I am nervous and ready to get going on our work.

Last night, to get rid of my stress and try and be positive about the fact that I will be sharing my space for the next month, I went to dance class with my friend Nana and really let go. Yesterday we danced salsa and an African dance that to me sounds like kwaito, but I could be totally off on the name. I had a great time learning the moves and finding the pleasure in the dance. At the end of the class, to my surprise, the instructors called me to lead the cool-down.

One of the guys had noticed that I have a different way of dancing. He said that my energy is grounded and that I dance with my whole being, synergetically. I was so happy - this is one of the main principles of NIA and something I have struggled to achieve as part of my training. I was thrilled at the idea of being able to share some of the NIA moves that I love so much with the class, but being called out on the spot caught me off guard and I froze! My mind went totally blank and I couldn't seem to remember any moves, any stretches - nothing. I had a moment of panic, then just started breathing and raising my arms up and down like I was a yoga master saluting the sun. The class followed me, and after a while I was able to do some basic stretches and calm myself enough to lead the students through 2 whole songs.

I want to do more next week. This, I am certain, is the way that I will blossom into a NIA teacher. I just want to come more prepared next class, and with the appropriate music for the moves I will introduce. (Last night I had to do stretching to an upbeat pop samba song, which is part of the reason I was so disoriented. I'm used to soft, new-agey NIA music.)

So for the next month I am challenging myself to chill out, get over myself, put my energy into myself instead of trying to control other people or my environment, and to use dance as a positive outlet for dealing with the whole situation. I want to reach a place of peace.