Sunday, April 29, 2007

Meant to Be

I love it when things come together effortlessly, those precious moments when even the most difficult task or unlikely encounter is realized, as if the entire universe conspired to make it happen because it certainly wasn't the product of your sweat and blood.

This sort of thing has happened in my life ever frequently over the past 2 years.

The way Rico and I got together was serendipitous to say the least. We met at business school in Rio in 2001, when I was an exchange student studying management and he was in the middle of an economics degree. We dated briefly, including a chemistry-laden encounter on my last night in town, but totally lost touch after I returned to the US. I never dreamed I'd see him again...

Fast forward to 2003. Our mutual friend BL, also a student at the same business school, had gone to Mozambique on a short-term volunteer assignment and, when he realized that there were amazing opportunities in consulting, decided to stay in the country. He got a few local partners and started doing fundraising for private sector projects. A year later, BL convinced Ricardo to leave his job at an investment bank in Rio and move to Chimoio. Work continued to go well for the boys, and in mid-2005 BL convinced me to leave my job directing an HIV prevention program in Austin, TX and move halfway around the world to work with them. I accepted the offer and sold my car, broke the lease on my apartment, took my cat to live with my mom in California, and set out for an adventure.

The week before my departure date, BL called and told me that he'd be unable to pick me up from the airport in Maputo, one of my few conditions for moving to Mozambique. Instead, he said, Ricardo - you remember him, right? - would be in the capital on business and would pick me up and accompany me on the flight up to Chimoio.

After a long trip over from Brasil, I exited the Maputo airport and scanned the somewhat chaotic crowd outside the arrival area for any familiar face. To my delight, there was Ricardo. We hadn't seen each other for over 5 years. Overwhelmed with excitement - my first time in Africa, the prospect of a completely different career, the risk involved with my decision to move - I ran up to Rico and gave him a tremendous hug.

We both felt it. Our embrace was electric. In the midst of hopeful taxi drivers, honking horns, luggage porters, beggars and plenty of dust, all we could see or feel was the possibility held in the touch of our arms, the closeness of our faces, the sweet sweat on our necks. It was then that I knew: either this would be the most amazing thing ever to happen in my life, or it would be an absolute recipe for disaster. After all, Rico and I were to live together in Chimoio and, technically, he was my boss.

That night he took me out for dinner at Costa do Sol. We ate prawns, fresh crab and squid on the verandah of the restaurant overlooking the Indian Ocean, a swollen full moon rising orange on the horizon. We laughed, caught up on each other's respective lives, and subtly flirted. We also drank 2 bottles of South African Chardonnay, with one for the road for good measure.

Thus, my first night in Mozambique also became my first night together with Rico. We've been together ever since, and now are planning our wedding, to take place next year in the Anglican church of Santa Teresa, directly across the street from the Casa Rosa, in Rico's hometown and my heart-home. If that's not fate, I honestly don't know what is.

Since we are midful of the fact that we will be planning almost all of the wedding details from a distance, an early start is the key to a great ceremony. I'm pretty laid back about the specifics of planning - what food will we have at the buffet, what flower arrangements will be in the church, what color will our invitations be, etc. - but there is one detail I really care about being perfect: my dress. With that in mind, I wanted to take advantage of my time in the Bay Area to start looking for a wedding dress. My mom and I made plans to spend at least one day each week browsing around local botiques, and even to go to a bridal fair.

As we were driving back from Costco today, we spotted a little tiny bridal shop in the middle of a strip mall in Danville. On a whim, we decided to drop by. We didn't have an appointment, but the women in the shop were very kind and accomodated me anyway. I picked out several dozen gowns that I liked, and started trying them on. The second dress I tried on was breathtaking. I just knew. My mom looked at me and knew. The woman helping me knew. I went through the motions and tried on the other dresses, but they all paled in comparison to that second dress. We put in on hold just for good measure, but I know in my gut that this is the one. We will return to the shop on Tuesday to get it.

My dress is by a Spanish house called Pronovias, and the specific design was done for them by Valentino (yes, that Valentino). It is ivory silk with a halter neckline and a shirred beaded bodice. The skirt is layers of silk with a slit up the front, and somehow it manages to be slightly sexy but still overwhelmingly elegant. There is a long silk tie on the halter neck that drapes down my back. I tried on a veil and a simple tiara. The dress fits like it was custom-designed for my body and my personality.

And here is the best part: not only was this the second dress I tried on, thus saving me from hours of fittings at botiques throughout the Bay Area, it was on the SALE RACK! Because it is a one-of-a-kind dress from a discontinued collection, it was over 50% off. I couldn't believe it.

Wait - it gets better. I also found, at the same shop, the perfect dress for our rehearsal dinner. It echoes the layered look of the skirt on the wedding dress, but is super short and strapless. It is from a couture line, and has some details on the skirt that are somehow assymetrical that I can't even begin to describe in words. It is a deep teal satin (and a very small size, so I must be conscious about my weight for the next year. ai, ai). I love it!

My mom and I have been off the wall since walking out of the store. I feel so lucky. Sometimes I can't believe that THIS IS MY LIFE...

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Going to Momma-Dog´s Home...

...and, by extension, my home. And Azul´s, of course.

I leave Rio early tomorrow morning bound for San Francisco. Unfortunately my trip will not be very efficient in terms of travel. I have an 11-hour layover in Guarulhos (ticket booked purposefully this way due to recent chaos in Brazil´s air traffic) but have convinced friends from São Paulo to come out to the airport and keep me company. Then I fly via Miami, which nobody bound for the west coast deserves. Oh, well. I am flying on a free ticket so I´m not going to complain further.

My time here has been great, but I am the city´s social differences, by the violence (which thus far I have escaped), by hanging out with street kids at Praça XV as part of Jenna´s outreach work, by seeing old friends from business school and seeing how our lives are increasingly different and lack common ground, by the heat, by the casa rosa and all the attention it needs, by our caretaker who has multiple health problems, by how much I love it here and am still, perpetually, leaving.


Rico´s mom is taking me to Barra Shopping in a bit to get my sized-wrong engagement ring fitted so that it doesn´t slide off my forefinger. After that, I plan on checking out for the night and watching the novelas with Rico´s mom and grandma.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Back in My Heart-Home

Edited: I got Jenna´s blog address wrong on the the link the first time. Now it is fixed, so you can get to know her and her amazing work. I´m suddenly sad that I´m not going to be here, between the casa rosa and meeting such a cool friend...but we will come back, when the time is right.

I am back in Rio after an uneventful trip over from Maputo (uneventful = good), the highlight of which was a night at Marcia´s house in Joburg.

I have enjoyed two nights in the Casa Rosa, rediscovering all of the little details that I love about the house, making a mental list of all the things that eventually will need our attention. The house needs some work, that is for sure, but overall it looks great and still retains the magic that made me fall in love with the pink house 6 years ago.

I met a blog friend yesterday, Jenna, who is lovely and is doing some amazing work here in Rio. We had a great day antique shopping in Lapa, followed by a natural lunch in Santa Teresa and a late afternoon sit at the beach.

Today I´m at Rico´s mom´s house, hanging out with her, Rico´s grandma and Beth, the woman who looks after the casa rosa. I am about to show them photos from our life in Moz.

Hope you are well. I´m off to the US on Wednesday and likely will not get a chance to post before then.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Pre-Travel Ramble

Phew! What a week. I am tired and overwhelmed in that unique pre-trip kind of way.

Most of the week has been spent organizing my jewelry inventory. While I am away, my friend L. will represent me in the Mother's Day fair so that I don't lose the sales opportunity. For this to work, I had to put a code on all the products I'm leaving her and make a special spreadsheet. (Yes, that implies that I already have a spreadsheet. I keep track of all my pieces, calculate the cost down to the bead, calculate the time I spend designing and creating, take note of the sales date, and calculate my profit margin. No doubt about it, I have a business mind AND an art mind!)

So once all the organizing and price-tagging was completed, I got to packing my suitcases. It's hard to pack for 2 months. I am a pro at getting things together for a short trip, but this actually took quite some planning and effort on my part.

I didn't feel like cooking so Rico and I ordered Steer's takeaway. He had a cheeseburger and I had a surprisingly good veggie burger with barbecue sauce.

It still hasn't hit me that I am leaving tomorrow afternoon. Part of me is excited. I will visit my friend Marcia in Joburg. She is taking me along to her salsa class at the gym if my plane isn't delayed. Then I am off to Rio, via São Paulo. There I will stay in the casa rosa for a week or so. We have big plans in the works for the house that will take much of my time. I also have to work on the banana business plan. The good part is that I get to meet my blog friend Jenna for the first time. I'm sure the time in Brasil will pass much too quickly.

I am really looking forward to seeing my friends, and especially my family. I am looking forward to my art classes in California. I cnat'wait to go shopping with my mom. I am excited about the prospect of doing next to nothing for 3 entire weeks at my dad's house in NM. It will be great. I anticipate this trip all year.

Still, despite all the good things I know will come in this trip, I feel overwhelmed and anxious. I never used to be afraid of traveling, flying in particular, but it seems with each year that passes I get more and more apprehensive about getting on the plane. I suppose it's because now, for the first time, I have internalized all the wonderful things in my life. I am starting to believe that they will not *poof* disappear tomorrow. And that makes me cling, makes me become attached to the people and things in my life that I love and am grateful for. I don't want to lose any of this, thus the lump in the back of my throat as I contemplate all of the hours that I will be in the air.

Part of me is also - somewhat ridiculously - really worried about all the crime in Brasil. It's always been bad, and I've always dealt with it okay, but recently it seems that violence has escalated in a way that reveals the lack of value on human life in that country, across the board. Nobody is immune. It is a kind of random violence that makes you truly accept ideas like impermanence, makes you breathe in a fresh gulp of air each morning and go about your day, knowing that there is no other way. It's simply not worth thinking about the "what if's" - one would just become paralized. I know there is nothing I can do but be street-smart, but again I feel that lump in my throat.

Speaking of violence, on Saturday night we went to eat dinner with Lies and Tracy at this new restaurant that serves Mozambican food. We were sitting on the patio; our food had just arrived. We were distracted, talking and eating and listening to the tables behind us chattering away. All of a sudden, a guy ran up to our table from the street, stuck his hand between Lies and Tracy, and grabbed Tracy's cell phone from the tabletop where it sat between the girls. Once we realized what had happened, I yelled "Ladrão!!!" at the top of my lungs, and Rico leapt over the patio railing and started running down the dark street after the guy. Tracy hopped the railing as well and ran after them, as did a friend who coincidentally was eating at the table next to us. We could hear Rico yelling "Pega!!" as they disappeared down the street.

Out of nowhere, people appeared in the streets and started running after the thief and the group of expats. After a few blocks, apparently, someone who heard Rico yelling out managed to get in front of the guy and intercept him. The phone was recuperated, though not before Tracy had to shell out 500 meticais (about 20 dollars) to reward the man who caught the theif mid-run.

The police were there, but they just stood by and let the crowd have their way with the phone snatcher, who was about 16 or 17 years old. The guy got a pretty severe beating, and though Rico, Tracy and our other friend were extremely conflicted about the situation, there was nothing to be done as getting in the midst of a violent crowd with the police already there doing nothing surely wasn't a smart move at that point. They walked back to the restaurant where Lies and I were waiting anxiously and told the entire story. I also felt conflicted after hearing everything...

To top off my overwhelming week, Dona Lídia, our maid that we share with Jenny, has been ill for a week. She hasn't been able to come to work. She went to the clinic and they said she has malaria, again. I gave her daughter some Malarone to take home, but apparently the medicine didn't do any good. Dona Lídia is still quite sick, and now seems to be getting worse. Jenny calls her every few days to see how she's doing, and the last update we had she said she's got diarrhea. She's been to see a nurse, but again it didn't do much.

Dona Lídia keeps insisting that she has malaria, but I honestly doubt it. She's mentioned to Jenny before that she's worried about HIV/AIDS, but doesn't want to have as she's afraid of receiving a positive result. I feel terrible about the entire situation, very guilty, as if it were somehow my responsibility to take her to a clinic, convince her to get a test, get her medicines, give her money, take care of her kids, buy her vitamins, and make her realize that life is valuable and you don't let fear get in the way of living!

It is not, however, my place do do most of these things. I am available for some on the list, but help only works if the other person wants to accept it. I feel like, until Dona Lídia changes her mind and wants to face the reality of her health situation - whatever that may be - it is difficult for me to intervene. One thing I'm certain about is that, in terms of my personal values and beliefs, I don't think it's right for me to judge her decision not to have an HIV test. I respect it, I wish her decision were different - maybe one day it will be - and I hope that this does not turn out in the same way Zeca's saga did.

Nonetheless, I feel guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty guilty.

Okay. More on this subject later. For now, I wish to end on a brighter note as I'm going to travel tomorrow and this may be my last post for a couple of days until I get an internet connection.

In keeping with the vanity theme of the last few entries, here are some photos of my latest creations, complete with my short hair, which I am increasingly growing used to. Thanks for all of your nice compliments about the new 'do.

Have a great week!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Art in the Bedroom

Damnit. We went out for a simple chicken sandwich and came back with a work of fine art.

Trips to the Café Camissa, the little bar/restaurant on the same grounds as the Núcleo de Arte, are dangerous business as far as the old budget is concerned, but our flat certainly is looking nice these days.

The painting is called "A Artesã" (The Artisan). This lovely girl now sits above our bed, weaving her necklace and patiently waiting for the day we will finally get around to painting this wall café com leite. All we need is a tall ladder...

Isn't the light in this painting gorgeous? And the sweet, peaceful expression on the girl's face? Martine, the artist, has true talent.

Speaking of talent, the other wall of our bedroom is also covered in art. My dad is a fabulous photographer who has recently perfected his digital color technique, including doing his own printing at home with a mammoth HP that has 9 separate ink cartridges. These photos are from a series of shots my dad took in the towns near his house just south of Albuquerque.

My crappy image is far from doing these prints justice, especially with the glare from the glass, but you get the idea. The best part is that my dad's photos match perfectly with the new painting, which in turn matches perfectly with the satin bedding, which - we hope - will find the perfect backdrop in our "sable suede finish" paint, a blind purchase just like the "moroccan tan" on the living room accent wall.

Short and Stylin'

Friends, I am still getting used to the unexpected short haircut, but overall I like it. Good think I'm going back to the US soon because I need some hair products to make this style really work! Anyhow, I am having fun playing around with it and am inspired by Elisha Cuthbert and Michelle Williams who recently did pixie cuts and look great, very cute and feminine. Who knows, maybe this will be the push I need to go all the way short!

Have a happy weekend!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Orange Style

Orange isn't usually a color I like. I own one orange piece of clothing - this pumpkin colored shirt I got several years ago at Cantão, my favorite store in Rio. Even though I don't usually go for pumpkin colored clothing, I really love this shirt, so much in fact it seems I've managed to permit a few orange accessories to creep into my wardrobe over time. The shoes are from, my materialistic obsession when I lived in Austin and had a fatty NGO salary to spend away on stuff like shoes and handbags. The headscarf is an old thing from the Scarf Bag, this gigantic straw bag - like the name implies - full of old scarves passed down from my Grammy and my mom.

The Scarf Bag was the source of endless entertainment when I was younger when I'd tie squares of silk together to make shirts and skirts and play dress-up. A fabulous Halloween costume even came out of the scarf bag that my mom dubbed Diamond Belle. It was this lacy old dress from God knows what decade - the 1930's maybe - with the finishing touches of multi-colored ostrich feathers pinned in my hair and a fluffy off-white ostrich feather fan.

Anyhow, back to the orange and pink crazy paisley scarf in the photo. I never took advantage of the treasures in the Scarf Bag in my daily style until a few years ago when I grew the cojones necessary to rock a scarf and mean it. Now I wear scarves as headbands, around my neck, as belts, tied around a ponytail. I even learned how to make a proper headwrap using a scarf thanks to a lesson from Dona Lídia a few months ago.

So yesterday, when contemplating what to wear with my pumpkin shirt, I realized that this scarf would match perfectly. I got dressed and was waiting for Jenny to pick me up to go to a movie premiere downtown. Shockingly (ahem, ahem), Jenny was a wee bit late and I got bored. I grabbed my camera and started taking photos, mostly of myself because, you know, I'm not at all vain and would never do portrait sessions and later post the pictures on my public blog. As I was taking the pictures, I realized how matchy-matchy my outfit was and had a good laugh.

I wasn't even going to post these - I swear - but I felt compelled to after visiting the hairdresser this evening as I'm going through some mild withdrawals and felt the need to see my "before" look. My hair is no longer like it appears in these photos. I don't know how I will rock a headscarf without my hair sticking up and looking totally 80's. Just when I was getting used to this Elvira-ish haircut, now it's radically different. Okay, maybe "radically" is a bit of an exaggeration, but my hair is easily 3 or 4 inches shorter. Really short. Think lip-length messy bob.

I'm cool with short hair, and actually prefer it if truth be told, but the thing that frustrates me is that the haircut I am currently sporting is THE EXACT OPPOSITE of what I asked the hairdresser to do. All I wanted was a freaking trim! I even told the hairdresser that I didn't want a short bob just to be he understood I didnt'want a big change. Jenny was there at the salon with me. She is my witness that the guy totally took matters into his own hands and went wild with the straight razor. Yes, I could have stopped him in the middle or complained, but I'm not that motivated. And I actually kind of like the forced change in image.

Part of life in Mozambique is that each time I go to the hairdresser, no matter how clear and specific my request is, I always end up with a totally unexpected haircut. Even when I go to the same person twice in a row and ask them to just trim my ends, I walk out with an entirely different hairstyle. I don't really get it. It can't be that hard to replicate a basic haircut, but apparently it's a bit much to ask here in Maputo. Good thing I'm pretty laid back about my hair, and good thing I've got an oval-shaped face which makes it easier to pull off questionable cuts.

I will eventually post a photo of my new haircut, but before that I need to have a shower and wash out the blow-dried Texas-style volume and product the guy so proudly spent 30 minutes working into my hair. Underneath it all I believe there is a decent cut that I will grow to like if I can style it my own way. I hope...

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Spotted Recenty: Amusing

It's a bummer when you've spent a ton of money to get one of the largest color ads in the 2007/2008 Yellow Pages for Southern Mozambique and already you're scaring away your customers...

Or could it be that this is not a typo? With all of the unusual things you can find around here, one wonders...

Along a similar vein, check out this wine that Jenny served at a recent braai:

"Ajuda" in Portuguese means "Help", a fabulously appropriate name that captures exactly how I feel after glass # 3.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Chile, Watermelon and Impending Deadlines

I am leaving for Brazil and the US in 8 days. I just realized yesterday how soon my departure date is and how much I have to get done in terms of work before getting on the plane. I am kind of freaking out, to be completely honest, but I have faith that I'll be able to pull it together. Before leaving I have to finish the text of a business plan for our banana client, who is undertaking a US$ 10 million expansion project for which we hope to obtain funding from the IFC. I also have to complete a translation job for the artisan support NGO that was the focus of the strategic planning workshops I facilitated last month. The banana project is super challenging and takes a lot of time; the translation gig is tedious and also, unfortunately, takes a lot of time. I don't know how it will work out, especially since I haven't even started to think about packing my suitcases.

Meh. This is all my fault, really. Once again I procrastinated my way through the last 3 weeks when I could have - should have - been working on the banana project. With every single project I take on, I come to the exact same conclusion. I need to work on my time management skills, tackle the work earlier, not underestimate the effort the job will require, and stop putting everything off until mañana. I'm getting somewhat better, but I still end up stressing myself out to no end trying to play catch-up in the final weeks before a deadline.

Maybe one day I'll just accept that this is my work style, that despite the rush at the end and the stress that comes along with the crunch, I still produce a top-quality final product. Then again, maybe I'll stumble across some magical fountain of self-discipline and never have to worry about this again. Ha!

In other news, both Rico and I have headcolds. I think it's the changing of the seasons and all the freaking rain we've been getting lately. Also, I have a pretty reliable track record of getting sick right before a trip. I don't ever feel that anxious about upcoming travel, but apparently something happens in my body that I don't consciously recognize, and that prefers to manifest itself as a cold, ear ache, strep throat or nausea.

The solution? Lots of vitamin C, liquids and spicy foods. Yesterday Rico and I made fresh watermelon juice with the first and only such melon we've ever seen in Mozambique. The lady on the corner who we usually buy our fruits and veggies from had the big, fat watermelon in the middle of her produce stand. We immediately snatched it up for the fair price of US $6 (!).

Today I am making green chile stew to fulfill the spicy food quota. I'm using the last of the canned Hatch green chile that I brought back from New Mexico last year, just in time for me to restock during my upcoming trip. I love green chile stew. For me, it is the perfect comfort food. The only thing missing will be homemade tortillas because, after having turned out over 6 dozen of them in the last 2 weeks for various dinner parties, I am all tortilla-ed out. I suppose we'll have to make do with some fresh rolls from the padaria around the corner.

Edited to include recipe for Green Chile Stew and Tortillas:
(hope you enjoy, Safiya!)

But first, a disclaimer of sorts. When I cook, I tend not to measure or follow recipes, except when I'm doing some serious baking. Therefore everything here is an approximation - please adjust according to your taste.

Green Chile Stew

- 1 large onion
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 tomato, seeded and peeled
- 4 potatoes (the golden-skinned kind that are good for boiling, not the baking type)
- 500g cubed pork, beef or chicken (or omit to make vegetarian)
- 6 cups broth (chicken or vegetable)
- 1 cup New Mexico green chile (fresh is best, but canned works too)
- 1 tbsp dried oregano
- 3 bay leaves
- salt and black pepper to taste
- olive oil
- 1 large stew pot with lid

Dice the onion and the garlic, sautee in olive oil until caramelized.
Add the cubed meat and stir until browned.
Dice the tomato, add to pot.
Peel the potatoes and cut into cubes, add to pot.
Pour in broth - add more if necessary so that all of the ingredients are fully covered.
Add oregano, black pepper and bay leaves.
Bring to a simmer and cover pot. Cook for 30 minutes on low heat.
Add diced green chile.
Cook for another 10 - 20 minutes, or until meat is extremely tender.
Add salt to taste.

New Mexico green chile is the essential ingredient in this dish. You can order it online from several specialty food retailers. If you can't get your hands on some authentic chile, you could substitute other types of large, hot peppers (poblano peppers, ancho chiles, etc.) but it won't have the right flavor or consistency. You could possibly use roasted green bell peppers if you are really desperate, but I would call that sacrilege!

You can easily make this recipe vegetarian by omitting the meat and the chicken broth. I have a friend that makes a veggie green chile stew and adds mushrooms and pieces of mango(!) and has an avocado on the top. Sounds strange, but it turns out very delicious.

Flour Tortillas

- 4 cups flour
- 4 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 4 tbsp fat (can be vegetable oil, butter or lard)
- 24 tbsp liquid (can be milk or water - 6 tbsp per cup of flour)
- griddle or thick-bottomed frying pan

In a large bowl mix flour, baking powder and salt.
Mix in fat. (I like to use 2 tbsp or oil and 2 tbsp of cold butter cut in like you would for pastry dough)
No matter what kind of fat you use, the consistency once you are done mixing with the flour should be like coarse cornmeal. Add more fat if necessary to get this texture.
Slowly add liquid, stirring as you go. (I prefer to use milk)
Once the dough starts to form a ball, start mixing with your hands. Add more flour or liquid as necessary to get a soft dough that doesn't stick to your hands. (don't knead dough, just make a big ball and test consistency)
Tear off small portions of dough and use your hands to roll into golf ball-sized balls. Put balls on waxed paper, cover with cheesecloth, and let sit for 10 minutes.
On a floured surface, use rolling pin to roll out each ball into a thin circle.
Heat the griddle or frying pan on medium-low heat.
Put the first tortilla on the pan to cook (no greasing necessary).
Let the first side cook until bubbles form, about 1 - 2 minutes.
Flip the tortilla with a spatula and cook the other side for about a minute.
Adjust heat as necessary.
The ideal tortilla is slightly burned at the places where the bubbles rise up, but still soft enough to roll.


Sunday, April 08, 2007

Happy 2 Years to Me

It happened last year and, despite the fact that I was intent on not repeating the oversight, it's happened again this year.

I missed my own blogiversary! It was April 6th.

It seems that commemorating the accomplishment of maintaining my blog and going through a bit of introspection about the whole process will have to happen on another, less significant day.

Sunday Scribblings - In the News...

I am addicted to world news, but am picky about the format and source. I generally dislike reading newspapers (except the occasional Wall Street Journal when I am at my mom's house), love The Economist but don't have much patience for other news magazines, and religiously read internet news daily to get the latest on Mozambique (All Africa), the US (New York Times) and Brazil (O Globo). I also like watching local and international news on TV, though the local networks here have a lot to work on in terms of broadcasting quality and content, and the international news channels in our basic cable package (CNN and BBC) I find to be Western-biased and lacking a bit in objectivity.

The other day I was channel surfing trying to find something interesting to watch, and I happily discovered that we have a new source for news: Al Jazeera English. In the few weeks I've been watching, I can resoundingly say this is my favorite source for international news. I appreciate the network's objectives of emphasizing news from the developing world, of "reversing the [North to South] flow of information" and of "setting the news agenda".

From excellent coverage of regional news in the Middle East to the latest headlines from East Timor, Al Jazeera English makes good on its mission. They even have great coverage of news from Africa. When the military weapons depot exploded in Maputo last month, CNN and the BBC included a phrase about the tragedy in their newsfeed footers. Al Jazeera English, however, went above and beyond and was the only network to actually follow up on the story and do local interviews with the people affected by the accident. It's pretty amazing to me that the Maputo explosions didn't make mainstream news. After all, 102 people were killed and over 500 wounded. Then again, I suppose it's not really that surprising. Mozambique isn't exactly at the top of the news agenda for the Anglo/American networks that dominate the international news scene.

Anyhow, in addition to Al Jazeera English's great coverage of stories from the developing world, I think they have what is perhaps the coolest interlude programming in the news today: a documentary series called Couscous & Cola. I caught an episode last month and was immediately hooked.

Couscous & Cola tells the story of a high school debate club in Holland whose members are mostly recent immigrants from countries in Africa and the Middle East. The debate team is planning a trip to the US to participate in a tournament and get to know first-hand a bit of the country that provokes such strong feelings of admiration and hate in the kids and their families. Throughout the episodes, the viewer gets a chance to get to know more about the members of the debate team and their unique worldviews as the students discuss controversial topics and share their thoughts about their experience as immigrants in Holland. The program also follows the process the students must go through to be able to travel to the US, including hurdles such as obtaining their parents' permission, surviving interviews with the Consulate, and the seemingly endless wait to see if they qualify for a visa.

If you have access to Al Jazeera English, I highly recommend watching a bit of news or trying to catch an episode of Couscous & Cola. Even if you are in the US, where an uninformed taboo surrounding the Al Jazeera network makes it difficult to find a cable or satellite company willing to carry the channel, I think it is worth the slight hassle to download some of the news feed from the Al Jazeera English home page. Apparently you can get 15-minute intervals of news at a time on You Tube, though I've yet to try it out.

For more Sunday Scribblings about what we find fascinating, terrifying or intriguing in the news, go here.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Custom Jewelry - Ilha de Moçambique

Maputo, despite its status as the capital and largest city in Mozambique, is actually a really small place. Word travels fast through this community, and reputation alone can easily make or break a person no matter what his line of work. In my case, the Maputo word of mouth grapevine has been a great tool in growing my jewelry business. My marketing efforts are minimal to non-existant at this point. All I do is sell to my girlfriends at my occasional cocktail parties, and set up a booth at the crafts fair once a month.

Still, word has gotten around and I've recently received several solicitations for custom work from women in the international community. Coincidentally, both jobs involved doing custom designs using beads and components the women purchased in Ilha de Moçambique. One of the women got several strands of centuries-old trade beads that the islanders dig for in the sand that I reworked into 3 necklace sets and several bracelets. The other woman purchased pendants and discs made of gold-tone mother of pearl, which I made into slightly more upmarket designs.

Here are some photos of the results:

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Rain, Dogs and Cats

Today is the third in a sequence of damp, relatively cool days here in Maputo. At night we are sleeping with a comforter, the breeze coming in the bedroom window finally refreshing instead of suffocatingly hot, as has been the tendency for the past 5 months. We've even had a couple of short but pounding rainstorms, a sure sign that the seasons are changing.

They say that Mozambicans are more afraid of rain and dogs than they are of cars. I laughed the first time I heard someone make this observation back in Chimoio on a particularly rainy day, thinking he was just trying to make small talk. Now, after multiple opportunities to see how Mozambicans tend to react to water from the sky (Run madly for cover as if the drops were composed of battery acid), dogs (Freeze immediatly in place and look down, preferably with your hands over your face. If you can't see the dog, it can't see you and therefore won't attack), and cars (No problem. A several-ton hunk of metal speeding recklessly down the highway is no cause for concern. Feel free to waltz out into traffic with your children in tow, ride your bike across several lanes without looking, or take your herd of goats out for a stroll fully occupying the tarmac), I now understand the root of the saying and am 100% in agreement.

I've discovered in recent months that, along with dogs and rain, many Mozambicans are also afraid of cats. The reaction is much the same as it is for dogs - stop in your tracks and cover your face with your hands. I will never forget the plumber who came over to fix our bathroom sink and freaked out about the boys. When he saw Pria lounging on top of our dining table, her yellow eyes staring back at him, he collapsed onto the sofa as if his knees had given out from underneath him and proptly shielded his eyes with his hands. Somehow the poor plumber managed to stutter to Rico in a hushed voice, "O s-s-s-ehnhor gosta de g-g-g-ato p-p-preto?" You like black cats? He said it as if we had a box full of cobras or some other equally dangerous beast in the middle of the living room. Thanks to the plumber, "Gato Preto" has become our new favorite nickname for Pria, said in a throaty voice and reserved especially for those occasions when she behaves not like a sweet housecat, but as if the devil itself had posessed her.

I wonder what Mozambicans would think of our expression in English, "It's raining cats and dogs." I'd imagine that the idea of not just water but cats and dogs falling from the sky must be, for the locals, a pretty close approximation of armageddon.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Sunday Scribblings: Deepest, Darkest

The prompt "deepest, darkest" makes me think of secrets and fears.

I certainly have my fair share of both - secrets that cause me shame no matter how long ago they were born, and fears that are so awful I am afraid to even give them life on a page. Slowly I am getting to a point, though, where it is easier to face these shadow parts of myself. Therapy, writing, meditation, late night whispered heart-to-hearts with loved ones and the healing passage of time are my allies.

Still it can be overwhelmingly painful to sift through the sledge pile of secrets and fears. Many days I feel like quitting, just chucking the entire process out the window and never again bothering to analyze the beliefs, behaviors and events that led me into trouble in the past and have the potential, if continued, to lead me down the exact same path time and again until the lessons are learned.

I know, however, that the only way "deepest" and "darkest" will ever transform into something more illuminated is to continue facing these parts of myself head-on. With acceptance, secrets and fears cease to have power, a concept so beautifully illustrated each Sunday here.