Friday, March 30, 2007

Keeping in Touch

I have been TERRIBLE about keeping in touch with my friends and extended family since moving to Mozambique. Every morning I think, "Today I'm going to write a group e-mail and let everyone know what I've been up to," but the task is somehow too daunting. I haven't sent out a proper group e-mail to my friends in over a year. A year! How on earth do I begin to tell them about my life, about being engaged, about living in Mozambique, about all of the struggles and triumphs of the past year. I tell myself that it's not necessary to write about all the details, that a few lines reassuring everyone that I haven't dropped off the face of the planet will suffice. But even then I can't seem to get it together to write...

Part of me feels very frustrated when I receive an e-mail from a friend back home asking what on earth I've been up to and why I never send news. This blog is public, and before leaving the US I sent an e-mail to everyone with the address, explaining that I would keep regular updates about my life on this site. Back then I didn't know what my internet connection would be like here in Mozambique, so I figured that a blog was the best option for keeping in touch with multiple people with little connected time required on my part. Every e-mail I write to family or distant friends, I remind them of my blog address and let them know that this is where I regularly post updates and photos. Many people do, in fact, keep in touch with me via the blog, but many others have never even clicked on the link. It is often the people in the latter category that then remind me how long it's been since I e-mailed, how I've disappeared from the radar of the people in my past.

I wonder why it's so hard for me to write an e-mail these days...Back when my main form of keeping in touch with friends and family was writing actual, honest-to-God letters, I never had a problem. Writing a letter was a fabulous exercise in creativity. I'd carefully select a piece of stationery and a coordinating pen color. Sometimes I'd make my own personalized paper by drawing an intricate border. Sometimes I'd paint a background before writing on top with a thick black ink pen. I'd always decorate the envelopes as well, sometimes even making my own out of colorful photos from National Geographic or Nature, carefully folding the magazine pages into the right shape, taking care not to smudge glue on the beautiful letter inside.

My friend Lambros, who I met when I was 14 at a tourist office while on holiday in Greece, was my faithful penpal for 7 years. Each month we'd each painstakingly design a letter full of news from our respective lives. He is an artist, and would often include comics and portraits for me inside the envelope. Once e-mail took over, however, our correspondence decreased. How strange that in a time when it is much easier to communicate across borders, instead of flourishing, our words to each other came nearly to a stop. We are still unbelievable friends, and each e-mail we do manage to send goes straight to the heart, but there is something about the magic of letter writing that I doubt will ever be recreated electronically.

A similar trend emerged with all of the people that I used to so faithfully write letters to each month. My friends from music camp (yes, American Pie fans, I went to band camp, but don't get any funny ideas - I played the piano!), friends from my exchange summer in Italy, my host family from Brasil. As soon as e-mail became the preferred mode of communication, I increasingly lost touch with everyone.

It's not only e-mail; it seems I have an aversion to most modern technology meant to facilitate communication. I have Skype installed on my computer, but I am always on invisible and only talk to my Mom and Dad on a regular basis. I never go on MSN or Yahoo chat, even though I know half of my friends are on my contact list. There's something about the instantaneous nature of the conversation that makes me shy away. How do I go about chit-chatting with someone I haven't talked to in nearly 2 years? What do I say? "How's the weather? What's new with you?" And what do I answer to the inevitable question that comes my way: "So, what's it like in Africa? Do you like living there?" How can I possibly begin to answer that in a chat message when I don't even have a clear answer myself?

Last month, mindful of the fact that I struggle to keep in touch with the people I care about, I did an experiment. Although it's been proven time and again that I can't reliably receive mail in Mozambique, I decided to sent out a handful of letters to family in the US and Brasil. Imagine my shock when, not 3 weeks later, everyone confirmed they'd received a letter in nearly perfect condition! Now that I know the mail service here works at least one way, perhaps I can take up letter writing again. Even if I can't explain everything about my life on an A4 sheet of paper, at least I can personalize a letter, include a photo or a drawing, address the envelope in calligraphy - anything to transmit what I feel so direly lacks in e-mail and chat rooms.

So friends, family...if you are reading this, send me your physical address. Now that the possibility of writing letters has returned to my life, you just might get a little something in the mail from Mozambique.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

At Last, a Cool Spell

Finally it's a rainy day in Maputo. The temperature has cooled from last week's record of 41C (it felt as if you were standing in front of a hair dryer on high the entire day) and is now a comfortable, if not a bit humid, 25C. This part of Mozambique has been in a moderate drought for the past few months, while the central provinces were hit with floods from nearly all of the major rivers that cut across the country before flowing into the Indian Ocean.

The cool, fall-like weather - combined with a mild hangover from throwing Erik a New Mexican themed going away party last night - put me in the mood for some comfort food. I made up a recipe for butternut squash lasagne with curry and bechamel sauce and it turned out really well, exactly the taste and texture I was craving.

I can't believe I was actually willing to cook today, since I spent about 4 hours in the kitchen last night in preparation for the party. I made carne adovada with red chile and pork, fajita style green chile chicken, and ground beef with cumin and tomatoes. Erik was a great sport and volunteered to help me make a dozen flour tortillas, which came out perfectly burned and bubbly thanks to the heavy cast-iron griddle Jenny lent me. Patty and Luis brought some tequila and I tried my hand at making margaritas. We even managed to find margarita mix and triple sec at the bottle store to make the drinks authentic. A couple other friends showed up for the party, and by the end of the night everyone had a full stomach and a little buzz to make falling asleep a super easy task. I was so sleepy, in fact, that I didn't even get a chance to say a proper goodbye to Erik. I had to excuse myself from the party (okay, by this point it was just me, Rico and Erik) and hit the sack.

Today has been a slow day. In a few minutes a woman from UNICEF who is a faithful jewlery client of mine is coming by so that I can work on a custom design for her using some mother of pearl she got at Ilha de Moçambique. I love doing custom projects, and I am really looking forward to this one in particular because she's offered to pay me part in cash and part in-kind. This means I will have some beautiful mother of pearl to play around with for future designs.

I'm off to have some mint tea and a piece of chocolate before my client arrives. Hope you all are having a lovely day.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

We Can Count 26

This is the latest painting Rico and I got from the Núcleo de Arte, a festival of colors and feathers by a local artist called Valentim. It is now hanging in our hallway, and I don't think either of us are capable of walking past without stopping for a few moments to try and count the number of birds. It's harder than you'd think, especially because the painting is about a meter long and in a narrow space that doesn't allow for much perspective. It took me and Rico about 6 different tries before both coming up with the same number of birds. In the process, I even discovered a beautiful, lean woman camoflauged near the right side of the canvas (the easiest thing to see is the outline of her boobs).

How many birds do you see?

Monday, March 26, 2007

Sunday Scribblings - In the Kitchen

This was our kitchen in Chimoio, the place where I would spend the bulk of my time during the 9 months I lived in that crazy shared house. It was dirty and constantly in a state of disarray despite the fact that we had a maid, but I loved it despite the chaos. Cooking was somewhat of an escape for me, a chance to be away from my housemates and have some quiet moments to mull over the day's events and my general feelings about being in Mozambique. At times it felt like being in the kitchen was the only thing that kept me sane...

One day as I sauteed portabella mushrooms for an omlette (an exciting once-a-year find at Shoprite), I contemplated death.

It was the day after one of the scariest car rides of my life. I had felt completely out of control careening down a dirt road on the side of a cliff with one of our housemates driving. I suspected he was drunk and on pills. I pleaded with him to stop the Land Cruiser, to let me drive. He refused, and I cried in the front seat while trying to hold on to the door handle. There was no seat belt. At that moment I was certain we would have an accident. My mind went wild imagining the possibilities...the vehicle toppling head over tail into the banana plantation below, or perhaps slamming into a tree on the side of the road. I was anticipating the possibility that I could die out there on the dirt road from Chimoio to Espungabera. In the end, we made it with only one minor incident where we went off the road into a cane field. I never got in a car again with this particular person driving.

Cooking the mushrooms gave me a chance to decompress, to re-live and then recover from the trauma of being at the mercy of a vengeful, dangerous driver. The emotions were so strong that I started to cry. A few tears splashed into the pan with the mushrooms, sizzling briefly. As we later sat down to eat, I imagined for a moment that my tears might have an intoxicating effect on my housemates, like Tita's powerful cooking in "Like Water for Chocolate", bringing everyone at the table to silence as they accepted the concept of impermanence.

Now that Rico and I live in Maputo, cooking still is my favorite time to contemplate my life, as if chopping tomatoes, adding a touch to curry to a soup, and struggling to peel the tough outer layer of manioc root were the catalysts for introspection. Being in the kitchen now, however, is no longer an escape; rather is all about the joy of inventing new flavors, experimenting with ingredients and sharing healthy food with the person I love.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

In the Wake of Tragedy, Who Should Pay?

With the weapons depot explosion death toll at 100, the big question in Maputo these days is "Who is to blame?" The most common answer is the Government, though there are some conspiracy theories already making the rounds about disgruntled workers at the armory who were underpaid and provoked the blasts as a way to make their discontent known.

The explosion at Malhazine is not the first accident involving a military armory in Mozambique. Back in 1985, the exact same depot involved in last Thursday's tragedy exploded, killing several people and prompting the local population to start a campaign for the Government to remove all weapons depots from residential areas. For whatever reason, no action was taken and several other accidents around the country occurred, including an armory in Beira and one in Matola, Maputo's industrial sister city, just 2 months ago. While none of these accidents were of the proportion of last week's events, they were clearly a sign that storage of outdated heavy artillery from the country's civil war in populated areas was a potential recipe for disaster.

As people in Maputo mourn their dead and start the difficult task of rebuilding homes and damaged property, the question on everybody's mind is who will foot the bill. Many of the people affected by the explosions were desperately poor to begin with. On the news the other day, they told the story of a woman who had literally saved for 15 years to build her dream home - a simple concrete block structure with 2 rooms and a kitchen - only to have it completely destroyed when a projectile from the blast crashed through her roof, killing 3 family members. In addition to the loss of her loved ones, this woman has no home, most of her posessions destroyed, and is currently sleeping on the street and cooking one meal a day over a coal fire using a pot lent by a neighbor. "Who will pay to fix my house?" she wailed during the news interview. "How will I start again?" Sadly, her story is not unique, and many Maputo residents affected by Thursday's tragedy are asking the same difficult questions.

While the general consensus is that the Government should provide coffins, building materials and other basic provisions to support the victims of the explosions, I wonder whether the money will truly come from Mozambique's coffers. In a country were over 50% of the GDP comes from foreign aid and there is a marked culture of dependency, I can already see the appeals for international assistance. Part of me believes that in the wake of a tragedy such a this one, it is not only appropriate but *human* that we step up and help our brothers who are suffering. At the same time, I wonder if a wave of donor aid to "fix" the situation won't send the wrong message. After all, this accident was highly preventable and action could have been taken years ago for a very reasonable cost.

By ignoring the situation despite multiple examples of what the consequences would be, the Mozambican Government, in my opinion, is guilty of extreme negligence. Shouldn't the onus of responsibility for assisting victims, rebuilding structures and, most importantly, moving all remaining weapons depots to unpopulated areas rest on the shoulders of the local Government and not the international community? I worry that significant foreign aid at this point would send the message that it's okay for the Mozambican Government (and others for that matter) to ignore essential security issues, because donors are always available and waiting to send 1 or 2 million to the rescue once the situation blows up, in this case quite literally.

To me it's like the parent who is always there to bail their child out of any situation in which he has screwed up and is sufferng, completely missing the lesson that actions (or inactions) have consequences. When will this idea be applied on a larger scale in the international community?

Friday, March 23, 2007

Explosions in Maputo Kill 72, Injure Hundreds

The explosions from the national armory finally stopped last night around 21h. Rico and I sat glued to the news, watching unsettlingly graphic footage of people being taken to the hospital, many missing limbs. Hundreds of people were forced to flee their homes as the explosions sent mortars and rockets, not to mention a constant rain of shrapnel, into heavily populated residential neighborhoods. The news channels also showed slow motion footage of the largest explosions. I couldn't believe my eyes as I saw the first few seconds of the bombs that caused the black smoke I later photographed from our balcony. There were literally mushroom clouds of fire soaring up over Maputo, smaller rockets streaking across the sky like fireworks with each large explosion.

This morning's daily newspapers are not out yet (it's nearly 11am). The news we've been getting so far is either from local TV or international media reports on the internet. At latest count, 72 people were killed in the accident and nearly 350 injured. The toll is likely to rise over the coming days.

Here are some links to international articles if you are interested:

In English here, here and here.

In Portuguese here.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

An Afternoon of War Flashbacks in Maputo

I don't know if this has made the news where you are, but Maputo is being rocked by explosions since about 16h this afternoon. Apparently heat-sensitive weapons in an army depot in the Malhazine neighborhood near the airport became unstable and started exploding. At first it was just a series of low, distant explosions. We thought perhaps it was the skeleton of the Four Seasons Hotel skyscraper being demolished along the coast (set to happen any day now), but when we walked to a lookout point we saw the building still standing. A security guard informed us that it was a paiol (weapons depot) exploding.

On our way back home, Rico and I saw scenes of chaos along Av. Julius Nyerere, one of the main streets in Maputo. Many windows and shopfronts had shattered, the ceiling of our bank branch had fallen in, and people had run down to the street from the top stories of apartment buildings. Here in our apartment building things seemed okay (we are about 5km from the weapons depot), just 2 very frightened cats and lots and lots of explosions.

From our varanda you could see a huge black cloud rising above the city. The explosions got increasingly louder, to the point where a couple of them scared me so much that I instinctually dropped to the floor and covered my head. There are some serious arms going off - think small bombs and missiles. At one point, after a particularly loud boom, a black mushroom cloud rose over Maputo.

The news is all over the TV. People frightened and running into the streets in mass, traffic jammed up, utter chaos. No reports of injuries are in yet, but there are sure to be several, especially in the areas close to the depot.

Now that the sun has gone down, you can see the flashes of light from the explosions. There are big flares that rise up in cloud form, as well as streaking flames that look like the sparks rising from a prodded campfire. Explosions of varying intensity have been going on for nearly 3 hours straight. This is insane.

Not 2 months ago, another paiol exploded, this one in the neighbor city of Matola. Apparently it wasn't as intense as this one. It is not very reasurring to know that weapons leftover from a brutal civil war are not only still stockpiled in the country, they are stored in obviously unstable conditions.

If this situation is scary and upsetting for us, I can only imagine what it must be like for the Mozambicans that lived through 16 years of civil war and are now having graphic reminders of the sounds and sensations of that period. I can also only begin to imagine what it must be like to live in a place like Baghdad or Mogadishu, where these explosions are part of a daily soundtrack and associated not with a freak accident, but with destruction of a country and death of loved ones.

Ricardo and I are fine, just waiting for this all to finish.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Meme...the Path to Success

I was tagged by Alina for a meme with the following instructions:

"Compose a new blog post listing the top 5 to 10 things that you do almost every day that help you to be successful. They can be anything at all, but they have to be things that you do at least 4 or 5 times every week. Anything less than that may be a hobby that helps you out, but we are after the real day in and day out habits that help you to be successful."


1. Drink tea. It's the first thing I do in the morning. My favorites are Tazo Chai with milk, good old black tea with milk, Almond Sunrise and peppermint. Having a cup of tea helps me transition out of sleep and take a few minutes to calmly check in with myself and plan what I need to do during the day.

2. Write. Whether it's on the blog, for a business plan or just an e-mail to friends, I write every single day. Writing helps me be successful because it's the foundation of my current job. For each business plan I write that gets funded, for each feasibility study I develop that is well-received, I am improving my reputation in the business community here and increasing my chances of landing that next contract. From a personal perspective, writing helps me work out my issues in a way that talking sometimes can't. It also helps me keep in touch with my family and friends, virtual or not, that live far away and whose support I rely on to keep moving forward.

3. Make art. I love making jewelry, drawing, knitting, crocheting, making greeting cards and dreaming of how I can use fabric once I learn to use a sewing machine. Being creative keeps me happy and feeling balanced. Also, with each new piece of art I make, I get better at my craft. Since I want to eventually sell my jewelry seriously, with a web site and perhaps a little shop, improving my technical and design skills is an important factor in being successful.

4. Take a shower. This may sound like an insignificant item on the list, but let me assure you it's not. Without a shower in the morning my day goes to pot. I feel lazy, grimy, useless and depressed. It is extraordinarily difficult for me to have a productive, kind-hearted day if I don't make it a point to shower.

5. Speak multiple languages. Being a polyglot is essential for the kind of work I am interested in and the lifestyle I want to lead. Now that I live in Mozambique and am together with Rico, 95% of my life is carried out in Portuguese. I use English to write, have meetings with clients that don't speak other languages, and talk to friends and family. I speak Spanish to my cousins and a couple of friends. Both my Spanish and Italian are in dire need of some practice. I have lost a lot of the fluency I know is buried in my brain, and I'd like to recuperate my ability to converse with ease.

6. Remember my mantras. "Don't take it personally" and "Don't make assumptions". These keep me in check when I get stressed with other people. Less stress = better health + better relationships. If that's not a recipe for success, I don't know what is.

What are your daily steps to success? If you want to answer, consider yourself tagged.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Unbelievably Dark Days

Do you know what is happening in Zimbabwe? What has been happening for many years now, without any consequences for the man responsible for massive oppression and death?

Please click here and see what is going on. Warning: this is graphic material.

For the last 2 years, since arriving in Mozambique, I have had feelings of anger and indignance bubbling up inside me regarding the situation in neighboring Zimbabwe. Before coming here I admit I knew extremely little about Zimbabwe...about how the country used to be the agricultural star of Africa and was considered even more "developed" than South Africa...about the struggle for independence and the rule of Ian Smith...about how a former national hero is now the very person responsible for beating his country into the ground.

But now, strangely, I feel very passionate about what is happening in Zimbabwe. The country is not my own, I have never lived there. Still, among all of the horrific situations in the world today - Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Côte d'Ivoire, etc. - there is something about the crisis next door that particularly moves me. In the past weeks, the violence and tension in Zimbabwe has escalated. Finally we are seeing consistent coverage on the international news networks about what is happening. I am holding my breath, along with all of the other people that give a shit about the fate of that country and its people, wondering when it will finally implode.

The first thing I heard about Zimbabwe was about the land reform implemented by Mugabe. Many of the white farmers that had lost their land ended up moving to Manica Province. In the capital Chimoio, we had many clients and friends that had farms outside the town. They came to Mozambique with hopes of creating an agricultural miracle. The Government here had the same expectations, and when I arrived in Chimoio everyone was talking about how the Zimbabweans could possibly change the future of agriculture in the Province.

Now, several years later, it is apparent that this miracle never materialized. Many of the white farmers invested in tabacco and paprika and went broke, partly due to irresponsible contract farming policies by the companies, partly due to the fact that there is not an environment in Mozambique conducive to commercial agriculture, at least not now. Some farmers did make it, though, including several clients of ours that are involved in plant propagation and fruit production.

Over the course of living in Chimoio, we got to know many Zimbabweans quite well. We even had the opportunity to cross the border several times to visit clients, especially while working on the proposal for the tea processing plant. Between 2005 and 2006 I visited Zimbabwe 4 times. Even though the US State Department already had a travel warning out, and even though all sorts of "people in the know" warned us about how dangerous the situation was in Zimbabwe, we drove across to the Eastern Highlands nonetheless. Each visit was an incredibly positive experience. We were received warmly by blacks and whites, rich people and poor people alike.

Despite the great impression we had of Zimbabwe and her people, it was already apparent at that time that the country was in the throes of a serious crisis. Cars were lined up around the block to get a tank of gas. What struck me was that the lines were colorblind - whites and blacks alike turned off their car engines and leaned lazily against their vehicles to wait. Occasionally we'd pass tanker trucks on the road in Mozambique, on their way back to Zimbabwe after filling up over the border.

The streets in Mutare and Chipinge, the main cities we visited, were void of cars. Nobody had gas, except those people lucky enough to have black market connections. At one gorgeous (and deserted) lodge Rico and I stayed in, the owners were offering guests petrol to buy on-site so that people wouldn't be afraid of getting stranded in Zimbabwe and therefore give up on tourism by car.

Our client we were visiting - the tea guy - was the last white farmer in the entire Eastern Highlands region. He'd established a training program for his black workers, and made sure that a good portion of the company's management was composed of blacks. By doing this, he managed to put off the government and the war veterans coming to claim the land they saw as rightfully theirs. We toured the tea plantation and the factory, then had a delicious lunch at the sprawling home of our client. Yes, their home was a contrast to the poverty we'd seen on the road. But these people - and all of the other white Zimbabweans we'd met in Chimoio - were passionate about their country. They did not identify as colonizers, or as Englishmen. They were Africans, 100% Zimbabwean, equally as enraged as their black compatriots at the atrocities being committed.

The general feeling I got during our visit was that everything in Zimbabwe was slowly grinding to a halt. Agricultural production had all but ceased, as the black war veterans that took over the white farms did not have production techniques or management skills to run a commercial operation. Food supply dwindled. Poor neighborhoods were bulldozed over to "clean up" Harare. Civil liberties were squashed. Inflation skyrocketed, forcing the government to bleach old bills and reprint new amounts over the worn beige paper, each time adding a healthy allotment of zeros to the end of the number.

Tensions mounted as living conditions became more and more unbearable, not to mention the political absurdities going on the entire time. While watching his countrymen starve and face massive unemployment, Mugabe made sure to keep his allies happy, giving them ludicrous gifts such as brand new Mercedes and diamond-studded watches.

Opposition forces mounted, but what I still do not understand to this day is how the Zimbabwean people have managed to hang on for 7 years of total economic and political crisis. Why hasn't there been a revolution of some sort? Why has nobody tried to assassinate the old bastard? And why hasn't the international community given a rat's ass, until the severe beating of the opposition leader last week during an illegal detention?

Watching what is happening in Zimbabwe makes me feel sick. How is it that in this day and age such atrocities still exist...are permitted to exist? How much longer will the people of Zimbabwe be able to survive? And what will be necessary for a once promising and powerful country to start healing the wounds of the past, once again?

Monday, March 19, 2007

I Should Have Worn Green

Last Saturday the Irish Embassy in Maputo put on a formal ball to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. A big group of our friends attended the gala, lured by the promise of free Guinness and Bailey's all night plus a multi-course meal and dancing. Okay, the boys didn't care so much about the dancing bit, but that was what attracted me, together with the chance to put on pretty clothes and lots of makeup. I even got my nails done and a new haircut for the occassion.

(Side note to those of you that commented on my bangs in the last post: I have much more noticeable bangs now. I went back to the same woman to get a haircut - just a trim, mind you - but this lady is incapable of replicating a haircut or being subtle with the scissors. No matter what I ask for, I always walk out with a totally new hairdo, most of the time much shorter than what I'd bargained for. Luckily for me, I am super easy going with my hair. You can just about do anything short of shaving it or dyeing it brassy blonde and I'm cool. So yes, my hair is shorter with lots more bangs and some very short layers on top. I kind of felt like Elvira for a while there, but now I'm used to it and am acutally loving the new style!)

Anyhow, back to the Irish gala, it was so fun to get dressed up. I think this is the first time I've ever worn formal attire in Mozambique, so it was an exciting opportunity to get out one of the long dresses and stilettos that have been lurking in my closet for 2 years, just waiting for a turn in the limelight. I wore this long white Grecian-style dress with a panel of gold detail just below the chest, with a sky-high pair of copper heels. With my new hair, I was totally feelign like Aphrodite!

But I should have known better. Anytime you wear white, you're asking for it. My reminder of this came not 5 minutes into the Guiness and Bailey's reception on the (extraordinarily windy) terrace of the Rovuma Hotel. We'd all gone to the outside bar to grab a drink. Rico and Erik ordered pints of Guiness; I already was sipping on a shot of Bailey's. The bartender served a full glass of dark beer and handed it to Erik, who was standing upwind from me. Just then, a tremendous gust of wind blew across the terrace. The top quarter of Erik's beer went airborne and splattered all across the front of my white dress. I was COVERED in Guinness.

I ran to the bathroom inside and madly began tearing off lengths of cheap toilet paper, wetting them under the sink, and scrubbing at my dress as if my life depended on it. It was a tough process. The wet toilet paper kept disintegrating mid-scrub, leaving my chest covered in little rolls of paper that looked disturbingly like dandruff. The fabric in my dress was impressively thirsty, soaking up what seemed like liter upon liter of water without any change to the light brown beer stains. After about 15 minutes and some very curious stares and questions from the other ladies in the bathroom, I was able to get the Guiness out to my satisfaction.

Then came the next problem. At this point my white dress was completely soaked in front, rendering the fabric 100% transparent. With no absorvent hand towels in sight, I did what any resourceful girl would have: I hit the button on the hand dryer and assumed a half-limbo pose, offering up my wet chest and stomach to the hot jet of air. If the comments and stares from the ladies were odd before, imagine now! I slow-motion shimmied under the hand dryer for another 10 minutes until I was confident you could no longer see straight through my dress, then headed back to the party. By this time, I'd totally missed the cocktail reception and found Rico, Erik, Jenny and Tracy just as they were sitting down to dinner in the ballroom.

The rest of the evening was uneventful in comparison. We had a nice meal followed by some fabulous chocolate mousse, drank a dangerously assorted variety of beverages, bought raffle tickets and then drank some more when we didn't win, then danced to a live band until we were worn out and ready for bed. All in all, an enjoyable night despite the fact that I feel somehwat out of place with the donor/diplomat crowd, and had a couple of Lords of Poverty moments observing the whole gala...

And who knew there were so many Irish people in Maputo? I'll admit I was shocked.

Sunday Scribblings: Inspiration

There is this small cooperative gallery in Maputo called Núcleo de Arte where local painters and sculptors exhibit their works on a rotating basis. Next to the gallery there is a small bar where the artists hang out and listen to Fela Kuti or Bob Marley; behind the gallery is an open-air workshop where people are free to paint or carve away at the precious tropical hardwoods Mozambique is so famous for.

I first discovered the Núcleo de Arte with my friend Tracy. Last year she bought several paintings by up-and-coming local artists, and I went along to keep her company and drool over all the beautiful works. I walked out of the gallery empty-handed but full of inspiration. Not only did I want to buy paintings, I wanted to create. It was an intoxicating feeling being around all that art, and in the company of someone who truly is an appreciator of aesthetics, color and texture.

Last week I dragged Rico to the Núcleo de Arte to pass time as we waited for the market to open for its post-siesta afternoon hours. Much to my surprise, Rico *loved* looking at all the paintings, and was just as excited as I was by all the beautiful art. There were several works in particular that caught our eye (thankfully we have similar taste in these matters), and on a whim we decided to put in an offer for a painting by an artist called Tsenane.

One of the nice things about acquiring art in Mozambique is that you can usually negotiate a bit regarding the price. We ended up getting a nice discount, made arrangements for payment to the aritst, and last weekend finally took our first piece of fine art home to hang in the living room.

Here we are posing in front of the new painting before attending the St. Patrick's Day formal gala on Saturday. Chique, no?

And here's a close-up of the painting, whose proper title is "Estandarte da Liberdade." Unfortuately it was overcast all day and I was unable to get a photo without flash. But you get the idea...

The painting is the perfect addition to our living room - it blends quite nicely with the terracotta accent wall and our earthy-colored throw pillows and cotton rug.

Today Rico and I took another trip to the Núcleo de Arte to make an offer on one of the other paintings that had caught our fancy during the visit last week. If all goes well, tomorrow we will be adding another painting to our home, this a bright red, yellow and green semi-abstract portayal of a bunch of tropical birds.

Oh, how I wish I had my brushes and oil paints here with me...I am inspired to be creative, and painting something seems like just the thing to do. Since I can't do a canvas painting, maybe this is the push forward we need to finally put some color on the walls in our bedroom. We already have a brown suede-finish all we need is a bit of time. :)


Friends, I'm doing a little celebratory dance while sitting at my laptop.

After 4 months of extensive market research, writing, editing and trying to manage "team issues" without punching someone in the face, I am happy to report that the FAO feasibility study is finished. I now know more about peri-urban horticultural production and marketing than I ever thought possible, given that I am not an agronomist and never dreamed I'd be working with agriculture-related studies and proposals.

I feel a bit like I've just birthed a child: the process was painful and seemed as if it would never end, but now that all is said and done I'm extremely proud of the result.

Time for some Thai food and a beer!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Reality TV to the Rescue

Yesterday was the final day of the strategic planning workshop I've been co-facilitating. It was a really intense experience - only 4 participants - but overall the client came out very satisfied with our work.

Preparing and facilitating this workshop was one of the greater learning experiences I've had since coming to Mozambique. Not only did I pick up several new methodological tools, my PowerPoint skills increased exponentially. I also got some important interpersonal lessons, coming out of the workshop with what I feel is a good relationship with someone who, when I first met him, I felt our interactions were somewhat strained and almost competitive.

I've done a lot of reflecting over the course of the workshops about how I present myself, and how I can facilitate relationships or jeopardize them merely because of the posture I choose to adopt. I feel like I began my relationship with this particular person feeling very compelled to "prove myself" - as a competent consultant despite my age, as a woman who runs with the big boys and is not a pushover, as a person who knows the value of her work and does not fall prey to her self-critic.

I'll admit I did a fair bit of Reality TV Representation in the beginning. :) I think I've talked about this before on the blog. Basically when I am in situations that either a) intimidate me professionally, or b) I am dreading for some reason - usually because of some uncomfortable interpersonal situation, my strategy is to pretend that I am on Reality TV. Rico and I saw this show once - I can't remember the name - but it was based on the concept of "fake it 'till you make it."

The producers would choose contestants with a dream career, but zero experience in whatever area they wanted to work in. The idea was that over the course of a month, the contestant received intensive training, classes and coaching from experts in their dream profession. The ultimate goal was to trick some industry expert or choosy client into thinking that this person was a seasoned professional. You'd get accountants on the show that wanted to be models and had to strut down the catwalk trying to get a deal with a fashion label, or construction workers that dreamt of being interior designers and had to put together a maquette to try and win over a potential client. Interestingly enough, most of the time the contestants on this show were able to convince the judges/experts/clients that they were, in fact, the person they were presenting themselves to be.

I try and remember this - how much confidence and appearance count - all of the times I am nervous about my business skills and consulting abilities. And do you know what? It really helps. Once I've been "faking it" for about 15 minutes, my inner-critic retreats and I am able to carry out my work based on the skills I know I have deep down.

The other trick I use is to pretend that I'm on The Real World or some other show where you have several participants. There is invariably one person that is labeled as immature, unable to deal with tough situations without being petty or shying away. Then there is always that person that shows integrity, who steps up to the tough situations and handles them with grace and respect. When I'm dealing with people or situations that I dread, I imagine that I am being filmed and that the entire world will eventually see the footage. I remind myself that I want to be known as the girl with integrity, not the one that fell short of her committments or avoided the tough situations, or acted in a manner that would later lead to regret or embarrassment.

For as silly as these tactics may sound, let me tell you - they work, at least for me. :)

Now that I've put the workshop behind me, I can get back to my regular work rhythm. The FAO study will be completed tomorrow (finally!!), then Rico and I are going full force to finish putting together a business plan for a banana project. The next month will be quite intense, but if I've planned it right, I'll complete all my work just in time to catch the plane for the US in mid-April. A well-deserved vacation/art/Nia break is just around the corner and I can't wait.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Avocados - Yay! Hangover - Boo!

This is my 400th post!

I struggle with following through on so many things in my life, so it's especially satisfying to see that my blog is still going strong nearly 2 years after I started it.

Yesterday I had another jewelry/cocktail party. We made an effort to spruce up our flat a bit - rehang the batiks that had fallen off the walls, bring some of our potted plants inside, and do a general cleaning - and it really paid off. Even though we didn't really make any big changes to the flat, it felt much more inviting. Also, we finally have an appropriate number of chairs so that we can actually have people over and not have to squash everyone on the couch.

Now I am paying the price of hosting a party on a Sunday evening. I am hungover and unfortunately have a ton of work to get done today. Ugh.

On a positive note, it's now avocado season in Mozambique and I am looking forward to having beans and squash with a big slice of avocado for dinner.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Planning Ahead

The wedding will be in Rio de Janeiro.

The ceremony will be in a small gothic-style Anglican church in Santa Teresa that is in dire need of some refurbishing, but magical nonetheless. Rico and I saw a couple getting married here last year and it touched me so much I cried all the way up the stairs to the casa rosa.

The reception will be in the casa rosa, which is also in need of some work. We need to paint, replace some of the 5-meter-tall doors and shutters, spruce up the courtyard garden and put the lion's head fountain back in working order, and buy several pieces of furniture and art.

The date, assuming that the church accepts us semi-heathens (I was baptized Episcopalian but did not continue with the church, and Rico is Catholic but didn't quite make it to his First Communion) and is available for rent, will be May 24th, 2008. We figured that a federal holiday (US) plus more than a year's notice will make it possible for as many friends and family members as possible to attend the wedding.

Planning a wedding is something I never thought I'd be doing, especially at this point in my life. (Before moving to Mozambique I swore I'd be celibate for a year and not get involved with anyone, but that is a story for a different post.) I confess I am loving the process and already am starting to think about my dress, the flowers, the party, the honeymoon and all the wonderful years that will come after this commitment.

Monday, March 05, 2007

I've Got the Crafting Bug...Bad!

All I can think about these days is how much I want to learn how to sew, how I want to take up painting again, how I need more time to make jewelry, how I miss having a blowtorch mounted on my kitchen table for lampworking, how I want to paint the wall of our bedroom *yesterday* with the chocolate colored suede-finish paint Rico and I got at GAME...

Of course this is, like, the one period when I actually don't have oodles of spare time on my hands to do art projects...though you wouldn't know it with the spurt of blogging I had today, would you?

I'm really looking forward to going home in April-June for a visit. I plan on taking classes in silversmithing, soldering, gemology, precious metal clay, lost wax molds and more. I also want to hit the crafts stores hard to stock up on supplies. Most of all, I'm looking forward to having an art appreciation buddy (my Momma Dog) and a crafting buddy (my stepmom, Laura) by my side again to inspire me and cheer me on.

One of my very favorite things ever is sorting beads by color, shape and material. Laura and I did plenty of sorting when I was in the US last September. As you can see from our matching blue "uniforms", we really take our work seriously.

Even poor Rico got suckered into some compartamentalizing, putting my Dad's old tackle boxes to good use.

During my last trip, Laura taught me how to crochet. Here we are checking out some knitting patterns in a magazine from the 1970's. This time around I want to learn how to use the sewing machine!!

No, I wasn't kidding when I said I missed having a blowtorch on my kitchen table. This was my studio/eating space back in my apartment in Austin. Here I'm working on some glass beads, the original way I got hooked on jewelry making.

Friends, this is my idea of bliss...plentiful art supplies, friends and family around to keep me company, and endless vacation hours to create away uninterrupted.

Image DNA

I swiped this from Alina, who had her own images on her blog last week.

Sunday Scribblings: Superstition

The summer I was 17, I traveled with the members of my capoeira group to the birthplace of Grupo Raça, a speck on the map on the upper end of the Recôncavo Bahiano called Muritiba. We traveled for nearly 3 days by bus to reach Muritiba, hanging our legs out the windows and watching the scenery change from the red dirt of Paraná in the South to the scrubby caatinga of Bahia. We ate and showered at truck stops along the way, and tried to make the uncomfortable hours pass more quickly by playing berimbau and singing capoeira songs. We were all excited, on our way not only to meet Mestre Medicina, the founder of Grupo Raça, but also to participate in a mass batizado, literally a baptism, the big ceremony in which capoeira players show off their skills in hopes of moving up to the next belt level.

We spent nearly 3 weeks in Bahia, each person from our group in Paraná taken in by a host family from Muritiba. My friend Michelle and I were lucky - we got to stay with one of the contra-mestres, a huge black man called Coelho. Like his nickname implied, Coelho had been rabbit-like in creating his family. No less than 8 children lived in his humble brick home, painted bright yellow on the outside. Another 3 sons were already grown and had moved to Salvador, the big city, to pursue a better life.

Michelle and I were taken in by Coelho as if we were simply 2 long-lost daughters. We slept together on a thin mattress on the floor of the girls' room, giggling each evening with Maíra, Paula, Liliane, Jéssica, Elaine and Roberta packed into bunk beds above us. All of Coelho's daugthers and his 2 sons, Matheus and José, played capoiera as well. As a result, Michelle and I always had plenty to talk about with the kids.

Just like their other children, Coelho and his wife gave Michelle and I chores and curfew during our homestay. Each morning we'd help hand wash dishes and hang clothes before piling into the back of Coelho's pickup truck to go across the dusty town to capoeira practice. At night we'd meet the boys from our capoeira group, along with all the teenaged locals, and hang out at the local gas station and drink beers. Just before 2am, Coelho would turn up in his truck, honk at the end of the street, and we'd go racing down the road to get a ride home before the front gate was locked for the night.

One morning, after a particularly hard day of treino and a long night of drinking and flirting at the Esso station, I woke up to one recurring thought: Coffee. I need coffee. I stumbled down to the kitchen where Coelho's wife was making cheese sandwiches for breakfast.

"Tia, tem café?" I asked, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes and trying my best to look alert.

She took one look at my pathetic appearance and started laughing. "Vem cá, bichinha. Come here, honey. You need something strong or you're going to get yourself kicked in the face during practice."

She poured me a huge, steaming cup of sweet coffee. I sat at the table and took big gulps, watching Coelho's wife wrap the sandwiches in waxed paper. Once the last drop of coffee had disappeared from the plastic mug, I excused myself and headed outside to the garden-hose-turned-shower to finish waking up. "Obrigada, Tia. Vou tomar banho."

The woman turned to me as if I'd just announced I was planning on sprouting wings and a feathered tail and flying all the way to treino. "You're going to WHAT?"

"Take a shower, Tia."

"Now? You can't!"

"But there's nobody using the shower right now and I want to take advantage before all the girls get in line."

"Você é doida!"

For the life of me, I couldn't figure out why Coelho's wife was calling me crazy for wanting to take a shower. I decided to ask. "Mas por que não posso tomar banho?"

"Porque faz mal." It's bad for you.

Now it was my turn to look at Tia as if she had lost her mind. Brasilians are obsessed with cleanliness and make a habit of showering at least 3 or 4 times a day in the summer. Tia just shook her head and looked at me, clucking softly with her tounge as if to say, "You poor, lost foreign girl. You really have no idea, do you?"

Now I was intrigued. "Why would a shower be bad for me?"

"Because you just drank hot coffee!" Coelho's wife widened her eyes and threw up her hands, emphasizing what was apparently common knowledge. "You can't have a cold shower now. It will make you sick."

"How will it make me sick?"

Tia took a deep breath and began speaking very slowly, as if explaining something to her youngest daughter. "You know when you pour warm soda over a glass of ice, and the ice cubes crack because the temperature is so different? Well that's what will happen to your brain if you take a shower right now. Your body is hot from the coffee. The water from the hose is cold. If you combine the two, your head will suffer and you will feel terrible pain." She grasped the sides of her head and pantomimed someone screaming, just to drive home the point.

On the inside, I felt like laughing at this silly superstition. But it was apparent that for Coelho and his family, this was an issue to be taken seriously. As a foreigner and a guest in their humble home, I decided to show some respect.

"Tá bom. Okay. I'll have a shower later, after practice."

Coelho's wife nodded approvingly. "Isso, bichina. Good, honey. I can't have you risk your health like that. What would your parents think?"

Yes, I wondered. What on earth would my parents think if they knew I'd nearly been allowed to have a cold shower after a hot cup of coffee. Obviously this close call was what they should be worrying about, not the fact that their 17-year-old daughter was taking a bus trip across Brasil with a group of teenage friends, spending nights drinking at the gas station with local boys, and every morning hopping into the back of a pickup truck, sans seatbelt or helmet, on her way to do some serious capoeira. What would they think indeed...

The Boys Love a Hiding Place...

Thankfully the DHL box didn't originally contain a cat; it just became a perfect hiding place for Parceiro once it was opened.

Pria keeping it incognito on top of the refrigerator, next to the fruit basket.

The middle compartment of our bedside table is the perfect spot for a boy to lurk.

Thursday, March 01, 2007


After a very, very nasty bout with the flu I am finally feeling better. I was bed-ridden for a full 4 days with a fever, snots, stomach problems and an earache. I knew it wasn't malaria because of the symptoms, but on day 2 when I wasn't feeling at all better and my fever wouldn't go down, I conceded to a visit to the clinic. The doctor had me do a malaria test that, surprise surprise, came out negative. I was betting that I'd be diagnosed with an ear infection or something, but nope, my blood work showed no sign of infection. End result? The doctor gave me a prescription for paracetamol with - get this - coedine. Since I wasn't in super serious pain or anything, I passed and just stuck to the Tylenol we had at home. I must say I was kind of shocked at the prescription. Coedine? The last time I had that was when my wisdom teeth were pulled in college.

Perhaps the worst part was that since I was so sick, I missed out on the monthly crafts fair that I usually participate in. I have all sorts of new pieces and was excited to do an exposition, but apparently it wasn't meant to be this time around. I'll have to schedule a jewelry and brownie cocktail party sometime in the next couple of weeks to make up for it.

Anyhow, I am now feeling much better and facing the fact that I no longer have a viable excuse to put off the work I don't want to do.

I am finishing up the FAO feasibility study on horticultural production in Maputo's peri-urban areas. It's an interesting study, but the problem is that one of our consulting team members totally cocked up his contributions to the document. Not only was his input late, the information was incomplete and in some cases simply lifted verbatim off prior studies that I had elaborated (and therefore caught what was going on right away). Now I am stuck with the sucky job of cleaning up the mess, while Rico is stuck with the sucky job of pressing this person to put in a bit more effort and contribute something decent. We've pushed back our deadline, and hopefully it will all be sorted out by next week.

My conclusion from this experience is that working with this person simply isn't worth the effort. We've had problems with him not delivering on his responsibilities before, and I'm sick of dividing profits equally with a person that doesn't pull his weight. Time to put up some limits.

Enough about work.

My friend Jenny came back on Monday from a weekend trip to Inhambane Province to do emergency needs assessments for the areas hit by Cyclone Favio. We met up for a beer and some dinner last night and heard some of her stories. Apparently Vilankulos has been hit really hard - most of the homes have been flattened, and even some of the sturdy, upscale lodges have been destroyed. Hearing about Jenny's experience made me want to participate in a similar mission at some point. I don't know how I'd go about it (Jenny has all sorts of connections through her job), but the idea of hands-on help in a disaster area is so much more gratifying and impactful than "development work" from behind a laptop.

Ah - on a totally different topic, the boys have fully recovered from the big snip and are doing really well. Not counting the first day they came home when Pria let fly 3 times to let us know she was unhappy about the whole ordeal, the boys haven't had any more revenge episodes. It seems the problem has been solved (knock on wood).

While getting the cats fixed certainly played a huge part, another contributing factor to the solution was that Rico and I finally got a proper bed. For the last year, we've been sleeping on a mattress on the floor. It was an easy target for the boys, as they had to do absolutely zero work to climb on top of something soft and have at it. Now that our mattress is raised a full 40cm off the ground, it has made such a difference. No longer are we stampeded in the wee hours of the morning as the cats chase after each other and wrestle in the dawn light. Now they simply pass underneath our bed, and only hop up if they want some loving or if it's time for us to wake up and feed them. It's such a lovely change. Rico and I are sleeping better, the cats are seemingly happier, and we spend a lot less money on bleach. May this trend continue indefinitely.