Thursday, June 28, 2007
Here is how to play:
If you had the opportunity to do a 1-year internship in a company or field completely unrelated to your current career or specialty, what would be your top 5 choices?
Here are mine:
2. Host of a radio show on world music
3. Professional dancer
4. Work in logistics, like with DHL
5. Manager of a commercial agriculture project
We played this game last night over dinner. Rico and our friend/houseguest S. had interesting lists that overlapped somewhat with mine and my mom's original choices. Rico, my mom and I all share the desire to work with some type of highly complex logistics operation. S. and my mom both wanted to work at a fashion house.
What are your top 5 alternate career internship choices?
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
I had a pleasant, uneventful trip over here from Brasil. I spent $70 and went to the transit hotel for my 7 hour layover in Joburg and slept and had a shower. The result of my splurge was that I arrived in Moz rested and ready for a semi-night out with friends at our favorite Lebanese restaurant.
Today Rico and I tidied up our house and welcomed our latest houseguest, S., a girl I met several years ago in Rio who is a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend. She is very cool and is here for 1.5 months working on a public health project.
Speaking of work, we did manage to finish the banana project and are set to have a conference call about the business plan this week. I have also been asked to work on a grant proposal for a local NGO that supports artisans and the marketing Mozambican crafts in the international market. I worked with them before on a series of workshops to develop a strategic plan for the organization. Apparently they were pleased with the results, as they have approached me to work with them again.
So, in short, life seems to be back to normal. The boys are still naughty and seem to have doubled in size while I was away. Rico is well, busy with wrapping up an agricultural project. Maputo is still the same, save for cooler weather (thank God) and an unfortunate bout of carjackings (good thing we don't own a vehicle).
Hope you all are doing well.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
I´m back in Rio. It´s amazing to me, what with all the moaning I do about feeling split between my various "homes" and the loneliness that ensues, how easily I can adapt to being in said homes. It´s like there is a suit I slip on as I get off the plane in whatever city is the temporary recipient of my roots. There is a particular language, set of mannerisms, way of dressing, way of feeling and interacting with others that is unique to each place; the switch between one home and another, and how this shapes who I am for a time, is almost seamless. Almost.
One day I am in Maputo, speaking a modified Portuguese that has come to be second-nature. My speech includes new words, colloquialisms of who knows what origin. I say maninge when I mean "a lot" and I automatically omit gerunds from my vocabulary, preferring instead the Portuguese-from-Portugal habit of saying everything in the infinitive. "Estou a chegar," my taxi driver Zeca is always saying. Literally, "I am to be arriving."
In Maputo, when I go to shake somebody´s hand, I have now acquired the custom of placing my left hand on my right elbow. This is the local way, used across Southern Africa. It shows respect. Supposedly it comes from the days when there was still such conflict among tribes that using both hands to greet someone was a way of proving that you didn´t have a weapon clasped in your left hand, hidden away in a fold of clothing. I learned to shake hands like this without really thinking about the process; I simply mirrored what I saw Dona Lídia do, what I saw our building guards to with each other, how I saw old friends greet one another at the beach. I mirrored what I saw, seemingly one of the best strategies for becoming culturally fluent in a new land.
One day we were to give a big presentation at the IFC (International Finance Corporation) for a client we´d been working with for the last 3 months. The client was Portuguese, but had lived in Mozambique for 20 years. He owned a transport company, and we had prepared an expansion plan for his fleet of Marco Polo Volare busses. When greeting the client before our presentation, I shook hands with him in the local manner, left hand softly resting on my right elbow. He immediately noticed and laughed, making some comment about how I´d really become Mozambican. Something about the way he said it made me feel very stupid, as if I´d subtly insulted him by shaking hands that way. It also made me realize that I´d never shake hands with someone in that manner if I were in a meeting in the US or in Brazil. Without getting into a socio-cultural analysis of why the man was slightly put off by my gesture, it made me realize that my Mozambican suit was fully constructed and being put to good use.
A transformation happens when I step onto the South African Airways flight to go from Maputo to Rio. I am careful in what I wear on the plane, not wanting to be singled out as a tourist when arriving in Brasil. I want to do everything possible to lessen my chances of being mugged, ripped off by the taxi driver, or having anyone think of me as less than 100% local. I never wear running shoes on the plane, the favored footwear of many a traveling American. They are a dead giveaway. I am careful to ensure that my shoes are shined, that my nails are manicured, that my belt matches my purse, which obviously must also match my clean shoes. I brush up on my slang Brazilian Portuguese in my head while in the air, trying to hear exactly what the proper carioca accent should sound like for each word. I make sure to expunge from my vocabulary any typically Mozambican phrases or intonations, lest I be identified as a foreigner.
Perhaps the biggest component of my Brazilian suit, aside from the fashionable exterior look and the modified accent, is a heavy dose of paranoia. As soon as I step on that plane, my hand is constantly on my purse. I automatically divvy up my money into separate bundles, never wanting to put all my cash in the same pocket or backpack. I make sure I always have a spare $50 in a hidden place - perhaps a sock - so that if I do get assaulted I´ll at least have money to get a cab or make an emergency phone call after the fact.
When I get off the plane in Rio, it´s as if I never left. I still know all the streets by heart. I still am able to ride the bus without getting too horribly lost. I know the correct change to give the newspaper salesman, and I am still recognized in the bakery in Santa Teresa. I smile at the workman next door, then pleasantly engage in a bargaining session with him as he tells me about the fabulous crystal chandelier he´s acquired from an estate sale and wants me to buy. I go the beach and don´t bring a beach towel, a backpack or a book. I can even drink water straight from the tap without getting the least bit of an upset stomach, that´s how smooth my Brazil suit is.
Then I go to the US. In some ways being in the US, in particular Albuquerque, will always feel more like home than anywhere else. Rightfully so, that´s where I spent uninterrupted the first 15 years of my life. In other ways, however, the US is the place where I have the hardest time putting on the cultural suit. Or rather, pulling it out of the closet, dusting it off, checking for signs of mold and then crossing my fingers to see if I can still get it zipped.
Some things are easy to slip back into. Ordering red or green, beef or bean when I get enchiladas at Pete´s, the local restaurant that is just about the only surviving, much less the only thriving part of Belen, New Mexico. It is natural to drive a car again. I feel comfortable as ever shopping for a shower curtain and a garlic press in Target´s home department. In California parts of life as a temporary resident are quite easy to acquire, too. I take the BART all over the Bay Area. I walk through the seediest parts of the Mission as if I lived in the second story of the yellow Victorian on the corner and walked that stretch of sidewalk, past homeless people and hookers and taquerias, every single day.
Other things aren´t so seamless. I find it increasingly hard to relate to many of the people I used to be close to. I feel overwhelmed by what constitutes normal day-to-day life for a lot of Americans. I don´t care about Paris Hilton going to jail or the great prices in the new carbon-copy-suburban-hell housing develoment that was just inaugurated east of the highway. I am tempted to judge, then realize that I´m in no position to be up on a high horse, that living in a country where I am surrounded by poverty doesn´t make me any saint, doesn´t give me any divine perspective or prerrogative that other, ordinary Americans don´t have. Yes, I have traveled. Yes, I have chosen a path less frequently trod. But I am no better than my geographically challenged fellow citizen, and I am certainly not free of the very vices I so often criticize in my writings. This is often a fact I must remind myself of multiple times per day. My tendency for arrogance does not make me happy.
Sometimes in the seemingly endless slip-on / slip-off of my cultural suits I forget to stop and consider what - or rather, who - is actually holding up the figurative fabric. Occasionally I get a glimpse at how sensitive I am about my own cultural identity, about belonging to a country that I often don´t feel is mine, about living in countries to which I will never truly belong, no matter how carefully I stitch my suit and patch any holes.
I had such a moment while in Locke, California last month with my mom and her husband. We were exploring the old downtown of this historic Chinese settlement along the Sacramento River and went into an art gallery that was offering a wine tasting. The woman behind the counter, trying to make some smalltalk, asked where we were all from. My mom introduced herself and her husband as being from Walnut Creek, then said, gesturing to me, "and she is from Mozambique." Would you believe I freaked out and corrected my mom on the spot, saying, "I´m not from Mozambique, I just live there." Not because I objected in the least to being associated with citizens of Mozambique, but because I didn´t want to seem like I was posing as something I´m not. The point is, I´m hypersensitive about having an identity that consists wholly of hiding my deep down, red-white-and-blue born American roots and trying to pass as someone else.
The line between being true to my international experiences and relying too much on them for an identity is surprisingly fine. My ex-boyfriend, who I don´t reference often here because we had some major problems and I don´t want to air dirty laundry on the internet, made me aware of how much I can depend on the international component of my life to define myself as a person. He made me aware of this in a not-so-nice manner, inferring that I relied on my global experiences to feel special, and that if you took away my travel record and my language abilities, he suspected that my reaction would be to wither up and die.
As can be imagined, I developed somewhat of a complex after the series of fights revolving around how I present myself, and became pretty socially inept at parties and other instances of smalltalk for some time afterwards. I´d constantly think "Do I say I studied in Brazil? Or do I omit it? Do I say I´ve been to Tahiti? Or do I let the converation about Polynesian islands pass without a word?" The simple question "So, what do you do?" became the one I´d dread the most, a close second being "So where are you from?" For a while there, I wished desperately that I had been born and raised in Minneapolis and had worked in insurance my entire life just to avoid the awful, conflicted feelings these questions brought up for me.
My international experiences are a part of me, and I used to share these things with pleasure and without over-analyzing before meeting my ex-boyfriend. I´ve partially recovered the ability to do so now, just with one foot perpetually behind, always afraid that I´m trotting out the exotic parts of my life to impress, to get a reaction, to feel special, to remind myself that I´m not like the rest of them.
It´s an unbelievable relief that I´m about to marry a Brazilian who doesn´t care one way or another if I say I´m from the US or if, to avoid having the same conversation about how I learned Portuguese for the 1,000th time, I make a false claim and say I´m from Rio. To Ricardo, it´s not a big deal. He doesn´t see me as a poser or someone with serious identity issues. He just sees Ali, no matter what country we are in or what language we are speaking. There is something incredibly heartening to see that Rico has identified essential, unwavering parts of my personality that don´t change with the suit. I supposed I know they are there, too, the fundamental attributes that make me who I am; they just become hard to see sometimes what with all the overlying layers.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
When I was younger, I used to love packing my bags in anticipation for a trip. I also used to love flying. It was all such an adventure.
Now I dread both packing and flying. Now regular and essential parts of my lifestyle, they are no longer signs of an adventure ahead.
I still hate unpacking. Always have, likely always will.
As I finish my cup of tea, select a few ripe apricots to have for breakfast, and look at my stuff strewn all about this house, I wonder - once again - where did the time go. I've been away from Mozambique for 2 months already. How did this happen? It seems it was just yesterday I was having a severe allergy attack after Dona Lidia pitched up at our door nearly collapsing with malaria. Rico took her to the clinic, I stayed home and finished packing and made chocolate-orange cake and chicken soup to pass the time.
Before I know it I'll be back in Maputo, with Rico and our sweet boys, starting the countdown for his extended trip to Rio in July. Seriously, the pack-unpack-hello-goodbye cycle never ends.
Monday, June 11, 2007
1. The name most people call me is actually Ali (minus the la Loca), a nickname for my middle name, Alexandra.
2. I am never called by my first name, unless by doctors or the government.
3. I have a famous relative in history. He is my great-great-great uncle on my father's side of the family, and is known for killing Alexander Hamilton (the man on the US $10 bill) in a duel.
4. I lived on a quasi-farm in New Mexico until I was 5 years old. We had several acres of irrigated land, horses, geese...the works.
5. I am an only child.
6. I am set to marry an only child.
7. I was always very, very good in school.
8. I was also very lazy about studying for tests, almost always putting it off until the night before, or sometimes even waking up the morning of the exam and cramming.
9. Nonetheless, I usually got the highest grade in my class.
10. This has made me feel like a fraud for much of my life.
11. To be fair, I had a really hard time with physics and finance. These were the only classes I remember having to bust my butt stuyding for. Also, they were the only times I was satisfied with a B grade.
12. My undergraduate degree is a double major in Latin Amercian Studies and Portuguese. It was a very easy degree for me to get, but then I realized that I didn't want to work in academia or be a language specialist, and knew I had to get another degree to be employable in other areas.
13. I got an MBA with a concentration in marketing.
14. I hated most of the classes I took in business school, and never thought I wanted to work in business until moving to Mozambique.
15. Ironically, I now do almost exactly the same thing as my mom, who was always my symbol of the consummate business woman.
16. I used to direct an HIV Prevention Program at an NGO in Austin, Texas.
17. I was the only white girl in the program.
18. That was one of the most challenging periods in my life, but it prepared me for living and working in Mozambique.
19. I used to be totally pro-NGO.
20. Now I am very, very cynical.
21. When I was 15, I moved to Brazil to do a year-long student exchange.
22. I lived with a Japanese-Brazilian family.
23. I learned how to speak fluent Portuguese - somehow with no trace of an American accent!
24. As a result, people that hear me speak Portuguese assume that I am Brazilian.
25. I always have the same conversation when I meet people for the first time in Brazil. "What do you mean you're American?" "Well, I used to live in Brazil..."
26. This has, over the years, given me somewhat of an identity complex.
27. I used to be very ashamed of being American.
28. To the point where I'd ask my mom to speak Italian with me in public instead of English when we were traveling in other countries.
29. Now I am actually pretty proud to be American, despite all that is happening with our foreign policy.
30. I had such a good experience in Brazil when I was 15 that I decided to go back for another exchange when I was in business school.
31. I lived in Rio de Janeiro for a year and a half, and attended classes at IBMEC, one of the highest-ranked, shi-shi-est schools in the country.
32. Most of my classmates were the children of Brazil's wealthiest families. They wore all designer clothes and many drove Porsches or had drivers take them to school.
33. I felt like a fish out of water.
34. At that school, I quickly became friends with the few "normal" kids.
35. One of them, Ricardo, I dated for a while toward the end of my stay.
36. We totally lost touch when I moved back to the US, and I never thought I'd see him again.
37. Through a mutual friend, Ricardo and I ended up working and living together in Mozambique.
38. Since my first day in the country, we've been a couple.
39. Technically I was dating my boss.
40. Now we are engaged and will be married in July next year.
41. I'd definitely like to have kids someday.
42. Just not yet. For a good several years.
43. I've never been one of those girls who is nuts over babies and little kids.
44. In fact, I never babysat the entire time I was growing up.
45. The first time I held an infant was in 2005, when my friend had a baby in Mozambique.
46. It scared me half to death.
47. I feel more maternal with kittens than I do with little babies.
48. I love cats. My life just isn't the same without them.
49. I actually don't think it would be a terrible fate to end up as "that crazy cat lady".
50. I like some dogs, but absolutely cannot stand the way they smell. Especially if they are wet.
51. I am terrified of snakes.
52. When I was in high school, we found a 6-foot diamondback rattlesnake in our yard in Albuquerque. I freaked out, my mom called animal control, and I can to this day remember the exact rattling sound of the snake as it was carried up our outside steps. They took it to the reservation north of our house and let it go.
53. I love to go camping, but the whole snake thing has me perpetually on-guard in the wilderness.
54. I'd much rather "use the woods" than a filthy public toilet.
55. I love the smell of Ponderosa Pines. If you smell in the cracks of the bark, it is just like vanilla extract.
56. I don't like the smell of most perfumes, especially powdery florals.
57. I love to take road trips.
58. I'm not afraid of flying, but have to repeat the same prayer 3 times before the plane takes off, otherwise I fear something bad might happen. I say, "Dear God, please watch over me, everyone that loves me, and everyone that I love. Let us arrive safely." Then I mentally do the sign of the cross 9 times, though I'm not Catholic.
59. I am shockingly morbid in my thoughts. I have to say "stop it!" out loud sometimes to get the images of me and my loved ones meeting terrible fates out of my head.
60. I think this happens because I love my life and the people in it so much, and I feel like such a lucky person, I just keep waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop.
61. My favorite number is 13. When I am waiting for things to cook, I will often count in sets of 13 to determine when I should turn off the burner or stop stirring something.
62. I realize that I have some symptoms of OCD, but I don't believe I suffer from the disorder.
63. I love the smell of coffee, but don't drink it. Not because I am a martyr, coffee makes me feel sick to my stomach.
64. I start every morning with a cup of tea. My favorites are black tea with milk, chai and peppermint.
65. I am not crazy about chocolate. I'll eat it, but much prefer toffee or vanilla when it comes to desserts.
66. I hate mayonnaise. I am also very picky about eggs. I despise egg smell or runny eggs.
67. Other than that, there aren't many foods I don't like.
68. Oh, except organ meats. And licorice. And canned meat. I forgot about those.
69. If I eat too much sugar and white flour, I become depressed.
70. Partly because it reminds me of my eating disorder days, but also because I think these foods have a genuine chemical effect on my body and brain.
71. Dancing is one thing that will almost always cheer me up.
72. I especially like salsa and carnaval-type Brazilian music for dancing.
73. I took ballet, tap, gymnastics and rhythmic gymnastics for many years as a child.
74. Then there was a large gap where I felt like an immense klutz and wouldn't dance at all. I'm not really sure what happened, but now I love dancing.
75. I am a certified Nia teacher, but don't think I want to actually teach classes.
76. I like to be the student when it comes to dance.
77. I also like to show off, and that's not really good for being a teacher.
78. Speaking of showing off, I used to be incredibly talented at playing the piano.
79. I played for 15 years, starting when I was 3 years old.
80. I won many state championships, placed 2nd and 3rd in regional competitions, and was my piano teacher's star pupil.
81. I considered studying music in college, but wisely decided against it because what I really loved was the performing aspect, not the music for itself.
82. My taste in music is quite ecclectic. My favorite artists are Paul Simon, O Rappa, Julieta Venegas, Lenine, Jimi Hendrix, and Freshlyground.
83. I am good at music, dancing and languages but TERRIBLE at sports.
84. In Myers-Briggs types, I am an ENTP.
85. I am a loner and often don't enjoy being around people, despite the fact that my typology says I am an extrovert.
86. I am very good at public speaking and presentations. Having to speak in front of 200 people does not bother me one bit.
87. I am terrified of having any medical procedure done.
88. I am so scared I usually cry at the doctor's office, and have had full-on crises at the dermatologist's and the eye doctor's, for procedures that would not really bother most people.
89. My mom and I own a pink house in Rio that I am in love with, though it causes me a lot of stress sometimes. I still think I'll live there at some point.
90. I saved the life of the woman that takes care of our casa rosa. It wasn't a dramatic physical feat, but an intervention at a critical time in her mental and physical health.
91. I have a lot of dark spots in my past.
92. Some of them I have totally worked out, others still have an effect on me.
93. The biggest ones are not on this list because, while they have shaped me, I refuse to let them define me.
94. I don't like animated films or cartoons, except The Simpsons.
95. I am very vain and spend a shocking amount of time looking at myself in the mirror.
96. Before I moved to Mozambique, I owned about 80 pairs of shoes.
97. My closet is perfectly color-coordinated, and organized by season within each color family.
98. I hate when people pick at their cuticles or scabs, but I often do these things myself with great pleasure.
99. I can't stand when someone leaves the car's windshield wipers on once it's stopped raining, even if for 30 seconds.
100. I spend way too much time on the computer.
Sunday, June 10, 2007
So with two 10-hour flights and an equal number of 12-hour layovers on this trip, I had plenty of opportunity to read some great books.
The first one I read was "A World of Strangers" by Nadine Gordimer, a South African author. Although this book was written in 1958, and the main character is a man who works in publishing, I found I related quite a bit to the story on a personal level.
This was the second book by Nadine Gordimer that I'd read. The first one was her critically acclaimed 2001 novel "The Pickup", which I enjoyed immensely once I'd managed to get used to her sometimes difficult style of writing.
I find she writes in a similar manner to the way I catch myself talking sometimes. I'll begin a sentence in the middle, then loop around to the part that actually makes sense, making my conversation partner pay particular attention to see what on earth I'm talking about. I think I tend to do this because I talk as I think a lot of the time, and don't bother to rearrange the language in my head to make it more digestible for a listener.
With a lot of Nadine Gordimer's writing, I found I had to speak sentences aloud to understand what her characters were trying to say. She also has a strange habit with comma use, putting commas in places you wouldn't expect according to proper grammar rules, but that make perfect sense when considering the natural rhythm of spoken word.
The other great book I read was "Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight" by Alexandra Fuller, a Zimbabwean author who spent her childhood in what was then Rhodesia. She wrote from a child's perspective what it was like to grow up the daughter of white farmers during that country's struggle for independence. It was, like "The Power of One" and "The Poisonwood Bible", a poignant but also very funny take on some of history's most difficult chapters.
I think I will pick up additional books by both Nadine Gordimer and Alexandra Fuller when I am in the Johannesburg airport on my layover at the end of the month. Since Ricardo will be spending some significant time in Rio again this year, I imagine I'll have more of an inclination to read in the quest to make time pass as fast as possible in his absence.
Friday, June 08, 2007
Another thing that really impressed me is how similar the Congo described in the book is to modern-day Chimoio, and to all of the rural areas we've visited in Mozambique. Many of the details in the novel - the kind of "Baptist donation bin" clothes people wear, including men donning "ladies' wear jackets", the way women pound manioc in giant mortar and pestles, the back-breaking labor that the women do while the men sit idly about, the long printed swaths of fabric used as wrap-around skirts over all other layers of clothes... It was all incredibly familiar, and I was left with the distinct impression that the author herself must have spent some significant time in her life observing the people and places of the Congo.
It's been a long time since I read a book that I enjoyed so much. I think the last one was "The Power of One" by Bryce Courtenay. Coincidentally both are books about childhood in Africa, told primarily from the perspective of young people growing up in countries in the midst of tremendous political change.
I was so in awe of "The Poisonwood Bible" - and really continue to be, truth be told - that it's been difficult to imagine sitting down to write something myself, even if just a blog entry.
I take solace in the fact that Barbara Kinsolver apparently wrote this book 30 years after her experiences in Africa. Many times I get in a panic because I fear that I will forget, or otherwise be unable to replicate, the experiences that I am having now in Mozambique. I'd very much like to write a proper book about what we've seen in others and lived through ourselves, but since I no longer keep a personal journal where I can write absolutely candidly, I fear the critical details of what I want to share will dry up and blow away if not recorded RIGHT NOW.
Yes, there is the blog, but there is a whale of information that I've not put up here over the last 2 years, either because it was somebody else's tale to tell (I try not to write about other people's dirt online), or it was the kind of story that I fear if published while we are still in the country could create some significant problems for us (as they have to do with blatant corruption and deceipt, both on the part of Mozambicans and foreigners we've come across).
I know that a tremendous amount of research went into writing "The Poisonwood Bible", that certainly the author didn't simply sit down and pour out all those fabulously accurate details in the space of a couple of months. I know she had to rely on other books on the subject, a KiKongo dictionary, the Bible, and friends and researchers up-to-date on the political and cultural happenings of the 1960's.
Thinking about this process, and the fabulous novel that resulted, gives me hope that I will be able to write the things I desire when the time is right. If Barbara Kingsolver was able to do it 30 years after the fact, then 5 of 7 shouldn't be too tragic for me, I imagine. Or even more, who knows. I am aware that hindsight will play a vital role in what I write and how I write it. The kind of understanding and perspective I hope for in my eventual writings about Mozambique cannot be forced to exist, and can only come about through good old time.