Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Cross-Border Adventures

Rico and I went to Nelspruit on Saturday because I needed to cross the border and get the new visa in my passport stamped. I am in the process of getting my Mozambican residency permit (DIRE), and this is the second-to-last step to actually getting the appropriate identity document issued. It's been somewhat of a complicated process, in that I had to present loads of paperwork (including my MBA diploma, which has a gigantic water stain on it from the time back in Austin when, unframed and nestled in a manilla envelope, I mistook it for papers I no longer needed and used the entire thing to rest a potted begonia on, concerned that the water would seep into my carpet) but overall it's gone well considering the amount of bureaucracy involved.

Rico and I caught the Cheetah Express van that goes from Maputo to Nelspruit daily. The vehicle was new and clean, equipped with a sound system and a 15" dvd player, and the driver was well-trained and courteous. Our destination was the Riverside Mall, weekend playground for about 75% of Maputo's "elite", and the source of endless entertainment for those of us who like to compare and contrast various cultures. (See Bizarre-o World post from last year). It seemed we were in for an enjoyable trip.

Of course, by simply thinking that it would be an uneventful journey, we guaranteed that something would go wrong along the way. After all, Murphy* is Mozambican.

The adventures started in Matola, Maputo's industrial sister city. The driver pulled over at the main bus stop, along the N4 highway, where all vehicles going to South Africa collect passengers in Matola. A woman got on the van, and we were about to be on our merry way, when the police tapped on the driver's window. As Rico and I were near the front of the van, I could clearly hear the conversation that took place.

Driver: What seems to be the problem, sir?

Policeman: You can't stop here to pick up passengers. You don't have a license to stop at this spot. Let me see your license and registration.

(driver provides all requested documents, which policeman peruses with a disgusted look on his face)

Driver: You'll excuse me, sir, but this is an informal bus point. Everyone stops here, even the Greyhound bus, and none have a license. I've never even heard of a license for stopping in Matola.

Policeman: Grmph. You must have a license. Pull your van up here. No, come further. Keep coming.

(van driver pulls up exactly where cop indicates, on the shoulder just past the bus stop)

Policeman: You can't park your van here! You are on top of the sidewalk! You are blocking the way for the pedestrians! This is grounds for a multa.

Driver: But sir, I just moved the van to the place you indicated! How can you give me a multa for following your orders?

Policeman: Don't invent things. You parked on top of the sidewalk and you have no license to pick up passengers in Matola. I must impound your vehicle. You will follow me to the parking lot of the Municipal Council.

So, with no further argument to give and unwilling to pay a bribe, the driver followed the police pickup truck through the back roads of Matola to the Municipal Council parking lot, which, though it may sound official, was simply a parcel of untended land with a run-down building on one side and several idle-looking men sitting on the stoop. The Cheetah Express showing up was certainly the highlight of the month for them, and the men stared slack-jawed at us, unsure what to make of the commotion.

The driver parked the van in the spot indicated by the policeman (between a tractor and a pickup truck with no wheels, suspended on 4 concrete blocks), then got out of the vehicle to begin the ardous discussion process over the supposed infraction. Thankfully, he left the key in the ignition so we could continue to watch "Die Hard 4" on the dvd. It was nice to have the entertainment, as we sat in the parking lot for nearly an hour; unfortunately, since the key was in the ignition, it made that maddening ding-ding-ding-ding noise the entire time. For each pleasure there is a sacrifice...

Sufficient time passed, and the police grew weary of accusing the driver of one thing after another without receiving money for a refresco. With no further explanation, they returned all of the driver's documents and sent us on our way, no multa to speak of.

The delay in Matola meant that we hit the border crossing at Ressano Garcia at the absolute peak crossing time. I have never, in my entire life, seen a line so long and stagnant as the one on the Mozambican side of the border. With a deep sigh, we all got in line and mentally prepared for what was sure to be a 2-hour-plus wait.

Rico and I chatted with a fellow passenger who, coincidentally, lives in the flat across the hallway in our building. We've seen her in the hallways all of 4 times in the 1.5 years we've lived in this flat, so it was quite a surprise to meet her on the way to Nelspruit.

The line crept along, and soon an hour had passed. At this rate, we were going to make it to the mall just in time to spend 20 minutes shopping and get back on the van to return to Maputo. As our sole purpose for the trip was to get my passport stamped, we were not overly concerned. Still, it would be a shame to make it all the way to Nelspruit and not be able to enjoy the day a bit.

After a while, our driver went for a chat with the immigration officials stamping passports in a significantly shorter, separate line from the one we were standing in. Apparently the chat was successful, because minutes later the driver whistled and motioned for us to join him. As we got organized in the new line, I looked up at a sign on the wall above our heads: MINERS ONLY.

When it was finally my turn at the front of the line, the immigration official thankfully didn't question whether the cute white girl in front of him was going to work at the diamond mines at Kimberly or the gold mines at Barberton. Unfortunately, he did have some issues with my visas, specifically trying to tell me that I had overstayed my legal stay and that I would be in for a multa. Stupid multas.

Thankfully Rico, the master negotiator, was by my side and took over the conversation with the immigration official. He explained that the immigration agency in Maputo had issued me a new visa before the expiry of the one the official was having issues with, and therefore I was legal in Mozambique and didn't have to pay a fine. We went back and forth, discussing the details of the immigration law for foreigners, trying to convince the man that he should simply stamp my passport and let us go. It took some hard negotiating, our Brazilian Portuguese and outgoing attitudes definitely helping our case, but in the end we finally managed to get the all-important stamp. Mission accomplished.

After making it through the border in *only* 1.5 hours, we were back in the Cheetah Express and speeding past lush fields of cane, citrus and bananas. It is always shocking to me to see how the Mozambican side of the border is somewhat barren and covered in scrub acacia and thornbushes, whereas the South African side is immediately divided into organized, irrigated fields, with expanses of green as far as the eye can see.

The Riverside Mall was exciting, in the way that people from small towns in the interior get a rush from visiting the big commercial center in the district capital. Nothing is particularly special - it's just a typical expanse of clothing shops and department stores and a food court - but the simple fact that it's different from Maputo and involves a cross-border trip is enough for me. We bought curtains for our bedroom, a terracotta-colored lamp for the living room, soap and face creams from The Body Shop, and canned asparagus, tuna in brine, and chocolate from the supermarket. Didn't I tell you it was exciting stuff?

The drive back to Maputo was actually quite pleasant. There was a swollen, amber-hued full moon in the sky and we could smell the distinctly African air ripe with wood smoke as it permeated the interior of the van. Rico and I both slept nearly the entire way home, then walked the 3 blocks from the dropoff point back to our flat with our newly acquainted neighbor, shopping bags in hand, satisfied with yet another adventure.

* of Murphy's Law fame. You know, if something can possibly go wrong...

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Random Meme

I was going to tell you about the second round of police adventures we had this weekend (thankfully no shots fired), and about our trip to Nelspruit, and about the fact that Rico leaves tomorrow, but that will involve a semi-long blog post. Right now I have to finish a proposal for a client. However, as I love a good procrastinating spell, I couldn't pass up this meme tag from Karen.

The rules:

1. We have to post these rules before we give you the facts. 2. Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves. 3. People who are tagged write their own blog post about their eight things and include these rules. 4. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged and that they should read your blog.

Here goes!

1. I read celebrity gossip every single day. My favorite is Perez Hilton. Before moving to Mozambique, I never used to read celebrity dirt on the internet or buy gossip magazines. Now it's an addictive habit, one that I'm not sure how to explain. Perhaps because the celebrity world is so far-removed from my own reality here that it's a surefire way for me to zone out and relax. Plus, who doesn't love a good scandal?

2. I am very picky about sharing drinks and utensils with people, even Rico and my family. If someone takes a slurp out of my coke, or takes a bite out of my sandwich, I find it very hard to keep eating/drinking. I kiss these people without a problem, but the idea of foreign saliva on something I'm consuming is slightly repulsive.

3. I've talked about my closet before. It's color-coordinated, with the clothes organized by season within each category. My shoes are organized by style. My necklaces hang on the closet door, also organized by color. I hate when someone messes with my closet!

4. I am not usually a lucky person when it comes to winning lotteries and raffles. I did win big once, though, when I was 10 years old. We had a raffle at my school and I won a flying lesson. I got to go up in a little plane and act as "co-pilot". With the help of my friend's dad (the main pilot), I flew over our house, the school and other landmarks in Albuquerque. It was very cool, but I guess used up all of my lottery karma.

5. I love colored walls. Every single place I've lived where I've had the ability to paint the walls, I've gone for it. I like really bright colors, not some washed-out safe pastels. There is a giant red wall in our living room in Rio, the kitchen is bright yellow, and the wall in the entryway is an orange/ochre color. Here in Maputo, our living room wall is a terracotta/pink color, and we have plans to paint our bedroom wall the color of coffee with milk.

6. I am obsessed with a certain smell that I find addictive, but that I recognize is actually pretty gross. I have 6 piercings in my ears, and always wear little studs in them. I also used to have a belly ring (it fell out last year, but the hole is still open). I love to take out my earrings and smell them. Strange, I know, but there is this vinegar-y stench that comes off the silver posts that I find irresistible. If I take an earring or a pin and put it through the hole above my navel, then take it out and get a whiff, the smell is the same as from my ears.

7. I love going to the beach, but am really bothered by having sand on my body. I tend to get coated in sand (like a bife à milanesa) because of my hyperhydrosis, in particular on my hands and feet. It drives me crazy.

8. I laugh in my sleep. According to my mom, I have done this since I was a little girl. It only happens on occasion, but sometimes I laugh so hard that I wake myself (and others!) up in the middle of the night. I seldom remember what makes me laugh, but it is always a lot of fun in the moment.

So now, for the tagging bit:

Lacithecat, El Erik, Jenna, Marcia, Safiya, Alina, Alphawoman and Masd.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Sights and Sounds of 24 de Julho

Seen Recently Out and About in Maputo:

A car painted bright yellow, outfitted with rooftop loudspeakers, driving down Avenida 24 de Julho at 20 km/hr blaring out the following message for all to hear: "Participate in the National Census. You count! Census equals citizenship."

It seems the Government has pulled out all the stops to ensure that the upcoming census will be a success. I participated in the Pilot census last year where they were training their enumerators, field-testing the survey forms, and familiarizing the public with the whole process. I found some of the questions to be quite intriguing, the highlights I remember being:

  • "How many hoes are owned by your household?"
  • "Do you own a tractor?"
  • "Do you own a bicycle?"
  • "What is the language you speak at home with your family?"
  • "Do you own a computer?"
  • "How many times did you access the internet in the past year?"

I was happy to participate in the Pilot census, and look forward to the real thing later this year. I also look forward to accessing the results, as reliable, recent statistics about Mozambique are sorely lacking.

As we sat eating shwarmas at the sidewalk cafe where we saw the Census Mobile drive by, Rico and I played a little game I like to call The Fascinating World of Ambulatory Sales.

Walking salesmen are ubiquitous in Mozambique's cities as they are, I imagine, throughout the rest of Africa. Men usually have these jobs (women, it seems, tend to stick with selling fruits and vegetables at corner stands), which consist basically of holding out an assortment of items and literally walking all over the city trying to rustle up interested consumers. You may see men holding out 5 pairs of used shoes, or perhaps a package of clothes hangers, or a display board full of costume jewelry. The point is, these salesmen are everwhere, and the assortment of their goods is nothing short of fascinating.

In the 15 minutes or so that Rico and I concentrated on the salesmen walking past the Lebanese cafe, we observed the following goods for sale:

  • used clothing
  • used women's high heels
  • extension cords and plug adaptors
  • nail polish and other cheap-looking makeup
  • hair extensions
  • batiks
  • a giant rug, rolled up and balanced on a guy's head, easily extending 5 feet in either direction
  • carved wooden masks
  • clothes hangers
  • plastic buckets
  • straw brooms
  • batteries
  • cell phones and cell phone accessories
  • cigarettes and lighters
  • toy cars
  • stacks of pirated DVDs
  • a Mont Blanc pen (surely authentic)
  • a digital camera (result of an assault on a tourist, most likely)
  • a gold bracelet (probably same as above)
  • fresh brown eggs, stacked in a pyramid inside a plastic basin
  • fried sweet biscuits
  • pre-paid cell phone cards

15 minutes, people! I think you get the picture. Basically, if you sit long enough in a Maputo sidewalk cafe, all of the knick-knacks you could possibly desire will eventually pass in front of you, being hawked enthusiastically by a walking vendor.

A word to the wise: Don't make eye contact with said vendor unless you a) plan on purchasing whatever he is selling, or b) enjoy the fine art of convincing someone you really, really, really don't want to buy anything, no matter how "Good price, Boss!" it may be.

Monday, July 23, 2007


Typepad friends: you may have noticed I've been absent from the comments lately. Ever since buying a new laptop, Typepad has decided to reject all my attempts at leaving feedback on your blogs. I don't know what is going on.

I am going to try and create a Typepad account for myself. Perhaps that will fix things. Until then, know that I am still reading and enjoying in silence.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Night Ended with a Bang

Last night we went to Coconuts for a concert (after a nice, long nap, mind you - Maputo's nightlife starts ridiculously late and we can't deal with the 3am start times without some rest beforehand). We had a great group of people that included Brazilians, Americans, Italians, a Welsh guy and a Dane, all of us living and working in some spot in Mozambique. The evening started out with a dj, and we danced like mad to his eclectic mix of music.

The concert was supposed to start at 11pm, the headlining artist being Dama do Bling. She is one of Mozambique's top hip-hop artists and has her videos shown regularly on Channel O, South Africa's main music channel. Recently, the Dama do Bling came under harsh criticism from the moral crusaders of Maputo because she continues to dance her provocative, sexy moves even now that she is a couple months pregnant and starting to show. Apparently it's okay for a non-mother to gyrate and bump on the stage, but it's offensive to the good values of society if she is expecting a child. These criticisms caused a lot of discussion between people here in Mozambique, with many people praising Dama do Bling for being herself and not conforming to the traditional expectations of how a woman should behave.

We were all excited for the show, if nothing else because the environment inside Coconuts was contagious. It was packed full of Mozambicans and you could feel the energy as they waited for the Dama do Bling to come on.

Midnight passed, then 1am. We danced and drank. 2am came around, and no sign of a concert. Finally, at the fashionably late hour of 2:30, a full 3 1/2 hours after the posted start of the show, the dj announced the opening act.

Some girls came on the stage and did some dancing, then were followed by some guy doing R&B. Then the dj announced a true legend of Mozambican music, and an older man whose name unfortunately I was unable to catch came on stage, decked out in a white suit with a matching fedora. He sang beautiful music (all on playback, unfortunately, as was the case with all the other artists) and made the crowd go crazy. Then the dj announced yet another opening act, a rapper called Deny OG. Next came Lizha James, the self-titled "rainha do ragga", queen of a style that is a derivative of reggae. Lizha James and Deny OG are pretty big names in Mozambican popular music, equivalent to the Dama do Bling herself. We were pretty surprised that there were so many opening acts, and with so many "big" names.

By this time it was nearly 4am and we were certain that at any moment the main artist would come on and put on a killer show. The dj called all the opening artists to the stage. An announcement was made. "We would like to apologize to the audience and fans of the Dama do Bling, but she will not be able to perform tonight." We looked at each other somewhat shocked. The man continued, "she was feeling bad last night and went to South Africa to see the doctor. Earlier today, the Dama do Bling had a miscarriage and lost her baby."

We were shocked and saddened, and honestly a bit annoyed that they hadn't had the decency to make this announcement before everyone paid for tickets and waited around the entire night for a concert that never happened. Then we understood why the had called in so many artists for the pre-show - they were trying to make it up to the audience.

Tired and ready to go home, we called a taxi and all piled into the vehicle. There were 6 of us packed in there, since we all were going to within 3 blocks of each other, and it can be difficult to get cabs that late at night. Of course, while driving down the main seaside road, we got stopped at a police roadblock.

This is quite common in Maputo. The police are constantly pulling over drivers to hassle them about one thing or another, hoping to find some minor irregularity with the registration papers, or a car that isn't equipped with an orange safety triangle, or a driver with a license not translated into Portuguese. Any minor problem allows the police to threaten a multa, a fine which they always say will be extremely expensive. Usually encounters with the police end without incident. Some people willingly pay them off, giving "a little something for a soda", the preferred euphemism here for a bribe. Others, in posession of an official UN id card or a diplomatic passport, only need to flash their international heavyweight papers and they usually face no problems.

Last night, the police made us get out of the car and stand on the side of the highway. This is a bit uncommon, but they have been cracking down more at checkpoints because of a recent crime wave in Maputo. We obliged, and showed them our id cards. They hassled us because of the number of passengers in the car, and rightfully so. While one cop was talking with us, our taxi driver was busy paying off the other one. It took 150 meticais (about $6) to solve the problem, plus an extra 20 ($1) for the infamous soda.

As we were about to get back into the car, a shot rang out. Startled, we all looked at each other. "What was that?" I asked Rico.

"An AK-47," he replied.

The policeman looked at us with an intimidating face and explained that a car had failed to pull over at the checkpoint. In retalliation, the police SHOT AT THE CAR. Not a shot in the air, not a shot with a rubber bullet, but an honest-to-god, flesh and metal destroying AK-47 bullet. We were shocked, and hurried back into our taxi before anything else went down at the checkpoint.

I think I'm still processing the fact that police here willingly shoot at cars that ignore their waving roadside flashlights. What if that bullet had hit one of the occupants in the vehicle that continued down the highway? What if someone walking along the road had been in the way?

Add another one to the list of things I will never forget about my Mozambican experience...an AK-47 fired not 20 feet from where I was standing.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Great Weekend

The Codeine isn't as fun as I'd thought it might be. I just feel generally groggy, as if life were in slow motion. But it is certainly working against my cough. I'm now able to go out in public and not fear that people will think I have some sort of seriously contagious illness like Tuberculosis.

We've been hanging out with this friend the last few days, as he is in the big city for a bit before returning to the little village up north where he is working. It's always nice to catch up, especially for Rico, as he has only 1 or 2 guy friends here and usually ends up hanging with a bunch of girls.

Our houseguest S. is back in town, too, after a week in Sofala Province working on an HIV prevention project. She is incredibly fun to hang out with, always up for whatever might be going on. It's nice to have her back.

We all ate lunch at the fish market this afternoon, which is always an experience. You purchase your fish/squid/prawns/etc. in bulk at market stalls, then take it all to a series of little kiosk-type restaurants behind the vendors. The restaurants will cook up your meal the way you like best, and it is usually delicious and fresh for a pretty good price. The only problem is that it takes for-e-ver for the food to be prepared.

After lunch we came back home and all had a nap. The plan is to go to Coconuts tonight, the big nightclub here in Maputo, for a concert by a woman called Dama do Bling. Her style is basically hip-hop, but with a Mozambican flavor. Should be lots of fun, and great for dancing, something I've been missing these last couple of weeks.

Thanks for all the well-wishes for my health. I am definitely feeling much better.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Bring on the Legal Drugs

I saw a great Cuban doctor this afternoon at the clinic. He determined that my laryngitis was complicated by a severely irritated trachea and my stupid, ever-present allergies. I had somewhat of a coughing fit in his office, so he got to hear what I sound like as I hack away and gasp for air. I think he may have even felt sorry for me, because he got down to business with the old prescription pad and said he was giving me what people with tuberculosis take for their coughs.

Friends, after trying 5 different pharmacies to no avail, Rico and I finally found the medicines the good doctor recommended. In addition to a bad-ass looking inhaler and some allergy pills, I am now in posession of enough Codeine to get me arrested and heavily fined in several countries. I am a bit nervous to take the stuff after reading about it on the internet, but honestly this cough is at the point where I am willing to try anything.

Rico was kind enough to put together a medicine schedule for me, including a plan to wean me off the Codeine after 7 days so that I don't experience, as one site put it, "uncomfortable and potentially disturbing withdrawal symptoms."

Should be a fun week, y'all. I just hope I'm not completely out of it, as I have to actually get some work done and not just sit like a drugged lump on the guest bed watching nature documentaries from the 1980's on the Angolan public TV channel.

The Hacking Continues

After a week of antibiotics and anti-inflammatory pills, I feel better, but certainly not 100%. I've scheduled a visit to a throat specialist this afternoon because I still have some symptoms that I'm concerned will not go away on their own.

I continue to cough so much that the other day I "popped" something out of place in my windpipe and now have a clicking sensation every time I swallow. That, and it still burns in my chest when I try to take anything but a shallow little breath. Beyond these annoying symptoms, I generally still feel unwell, out of energy.

My mom reminded me that I've had antibiotic resistance in the past, so I did a little digging in my old journals to see if I could find the medicine that caused me trouble. Wouldn't you know it's the exact same one the doctor at the clinic here put me on last week? Sigh...

So I'm off to the Sommerschield Clinic where hopefully Dr. Jorge will find a solution for this persistent laryngitis, if that is indeed what I have.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Worth 1,000 Words

I'm supposed to let my voice rest in "real life", so I suppose I'll do the same thing on the blog, at least for today. Enjoy these wordless images from Mozambique, South Africa and Botswana, and please send some soothing, honey-coated thoughts this way for my poor larynx.

Without Water, Day 6

We are still without water in our flat. Time to go to the gym again, even though I'm not 100% back up to health. Ah, the sacrifices I make for a shower.

I've been busy with work, and it doesn't seem the rhythm will let up over the next 2 months. I'm working with an NGO that supports the crafts sector in Mozambique, putting together several fundraising proposals for them. It's hard work, and they have a limited budget, but at least it's an area that I am personally interested in. I'd much rather work with them and make less money than work analyzing some cement company's HR and accounting structures (or something equally uninteresting to me) all while making the big bucks.

There is the possibility I will sell out short-term, though. I have a meeting on Thursday with a local consulting firm that does more of the latter-type projects. They are in desperate need of help, and have been trying to talk to me about signing a full-time contract for quite a while now. I refuse to sign away my independence like that, but I am willing to explore a short-term contract, say for 3 months. Especially since I want extra cash for the end of the year so that Rico and I can visit my family for the holidays.

At least I'll be busy... Ricardo is getting ready to go to Brazil again for an extended period and I am facing the hard reality of being alone in Moz. It's always easier if I can maintain myself occupied for the duration of his absence.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Burning Questions Meme

My lovely, very pregnant blog friend Jenica sent me this list of interview questions as part of a personalized meme. If you want to play along and have me send you a list of questions to answer on your blog, let me know in the comments. Enjoy!

1. Do you floss? Increasingly, yes. I confess it's been a difficult habit for me to pick up. I'd say I'm at 70% flossing regularity right now, but definitely shooting for every day.

2. How has living in Mozambique changed you as a person? I realize what a tendency to be impatient I have. I use all of the salvageable parts of fruits and vegetables now, instead of tossing an entire tomato because it's partly rotten. I am seriously committed to being a jewelry artist. I realize the value my trash and cast-off items have to other people. I am a more confident professional. I am no longer shocked by extreme poverty. I have become very cynical and very hopeful at the same time, though not always in equal doses...I could go on for ages.

3. Name 2 moments or experiences in your life that *defined you*. This one is difficult. I guess the decision to move to Mozambique is one. I was on the phone with my friend B., who was already living here. He asked if I was interested in working with him and Rico. I thought for a second, then said yes. I said I'd leave my job and move in 4 months. The decision to leave everything and embark on a new adventure halfway across the world, full of risk and with nothing guaranteed (not even a salary!) was, I suppose, pretty typical of my personality. Certainly the decision to come to Mozambique defined a big part of me - my personal life, my professional ambitions... The other moment would be, for similar reasons, my decision at 15 to do a student exchange in Brazil. I am still feeling the impact of that experience to this day.

4. Go to www.thecolorcode.com, take the test and list what color you are. Do you feel that you can identify with this color? I am Red, motivated by power. I agree, especially after seeing the other 3 color choices which are not me at all. Maybe I am becoming more White as the years go by, but the core description of the Red type is definitely closest to me.

5. Name 3 pet peeves of yours, however neurotic they may seem. I hate when someone leaves the windshield wipers on when it's already stopped raining, even if for 30 seconds. I hate when my running shoes are tied unequally, so that one foot is tighter than the other. I hate when my closet is out of it's perfect color-coordinated order. Yes, I believe all of these qualify as neurotic.

6. And finally, name your favorite breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert. Breakfast is waffles with fruit, butter and real maple syrup. Lunch is green chile chicken enchiladas with rice, beans and sopapillas. Dinner is classic American Thanksgiving - roast turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberries and green beans. Dessert is tough. I love marzipan, peanut butter cookies, cheesecake, brownies and lemon tarts. I am unable to choose just one.

Thanks, Jenica! This was fun, and a good distraction from all the work I need to do today. :)

Crabby and Hoarse

Friday I felt so much better, thanks to my super horse pill-sized antibiotics and a good shower at the gym. Then I went and spoiled all of my recovery progress yesterday. Unintentionally, but still...the end result is the same. I feel like crap again.

The day started out fine enough. We still had problems with the water in the flat so I decided to have a bath, something I am motivated enough to do about 3 times a year here in Maputo because it's so much work. The bath tap doesn't work in our shower, so in order to fill the tub (even when there is sufficient water flow in the apartment), one must do it manually. I boiled 5 kettles of hot water from the storage jugs we had in the kitchen, then added a couple full of cold for good measure. The bath was lovely. I even lit a candle in the corner of the tub.

Later in the day we went out to lunch at Costa do Sol with our friend Marcos. I thought it would be a good idea to get some fresh air and have a proper meal. Unfortunately, the only seating available was inside the covered portion of the restaurant, where the acoustics are terrible. It was only at the end of lunch that I realized I'd just spent the entire 1.5 hour meal practically shouting at the top of my lungs to have a proper conversation with the guys.

I guess I really did a number on the old vocal chords, because now my cough is the worst one I've possibly ever had in my life. Unproductive and hacking, one of those coughs that you can't avoid or supress no matter what kind of honey/medicine/lozenge you coat your throat with. Last night Rico and I took it easy and watched "Chocolat" on dvd; I easily coughed through 80% of the movie, no exaggeration.

Also, I ate too much crab. I had 2 giant boiled ones, and spent most of lunch wrestling with their shells and sucking the meat out of crevices. I didn't realize it as I ate, because the process was so distracting and drawn out, but I ate way too much of a rich food that I'm not used to, right on the heels of a week practically without solid meals.

So today my voice is shot, I'm still hacking away, and my chest and back muscles are sore from all the effort. And I feel like I have a hangover from all that damn crab. I suppose I've learned my lesson, at a price, as always. Today I am eating fruits and veggies again, drinking tea, and avoiding speaking as much as possible. Good thing I have tons of work to do...

Friday, July 13, 2007


On a positive note, I am happy to report that, after the 5th consecutive night of waking up in a literal pool of my own sweat, I feel enormously better. Antibiotics - when needed, mind you - work miracles.

On a less pleasant note, this is Day 2 without water in our flat. Although inconvenient and uncomfortable, Rico and I are old hands at this. We take flushing the toilet with a bucket and boiling a kettle of water for a sponge bath in stride. I feel bad for our houseguest, S., who is actually sub-letting one of our rooms. What a drag to pay rent for a place and have no water (although this is the exact situation Rico and I are in, so I don't know why I feel bad for S. more than us). I must say that she is being very understanding about it, making do just like the rest of us.

I suppose this is just part of the package of apartment living in Maptuo. On Wednesday, our friends Jenny and P. didn't have any water at their respective places and had to come over here to have a shower.

Good thing Rico and I recently re-joined the gym at chic Hotel Avenida, just 2 blocks from our house. I plan on doing 15 minutes slow walking on the treadmill, then hopping in the locker room for a nice, long, steamy shower!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Diagnosis: Laryngitis

I finally sucked it up and went to the clinic. I had a very sweet, young female doctor which made the whole experience less bad. On another good note, my throat was so inflammed they didn't have to draw any blood, the preferred way of diagnosing an infection around these parts. Well, I suppose it's not good that my throat is this irritated, but I was happy not to get the old syringe. I am a giant baby when it comes to needles.

So now I am on antibiotics and will hopefully feel better soon.

Kudos to my mom, who took one listen to my dry, hacking cough over our Skype connection and wondered out loud if I didn't have laryngitis.

I admit, I am a bit surprised. I always thought laryngitis was not that bad, basically a convenient excuse for singers not to perform when they've been boozing it up a little too much the night before and are unable to give a decent concert. I thought laryngitis was for sissies.*

Let me tell you, I was wrong. I feel like shit squared.

The doctor told me that I may feel as if my voice is disappearing over the next few days, but not to worry. It will come back. Now that's something to contemplate...me unable to make a sound. Never happened in my entire life.

I suppose I'll have another item to add to my "first experiences in Africa" list should it happen.

*Yes, I do realize that I qualify as one by my own admission when it comes to medical procedures. Still...

I'm Ready to Feel Well Again, Thank You

Friends, I am going on Day 6 of being a miserable, feverish lump on the guest bed watching reruns of Law and Order. I could feel I was getting sick on Saturday - I always get a feeling like I have Chap-Stik (lip balm) coating my throat anytime I'm about to come down with a cold - and decided to take it easy. Later that afternoon, a severe allergy attack made sure that I wasn't just taking it easy, I was unable to get up from the bed.

Sunday the allergies were gone, but not the mysterious bug that was making my throat sore, causing a dry cough and pulling a disappearing act on my appetite. While sleeping that night, I woke up literally drenched in a pool of my own sweat. It was as if I'd jumped into a swimming pool, then rushed to get under the covers before even a drop of moisture had dried. With this lovely experience, I knew I had a fever as well.

Until Tuesday, my fever was low-grade, around 37.5. I thought it best to rest it out and let this bug run its course. Then, as the day progressed, my fever began to spike. When it reached 39 (about 102), I caved and started taking Tylenol and considered a visit to the clinic. The fever went down, but I still felt like absolute shit. I stayed in bed all day, then sweat copiously again at night.

Yesterday I woke up without a fever. Yay! Or so I thought. All I had to do was get out of a horizontal position, and the fever was back with a vengeance. I had a 1 hour meeting with a client, and while in his office I could feel my temperature going up drastically. When I arrived back home, my face was flushed red and all I could do was collapse in bed in front of the tv. Back to the usual pattern. Fever was back up around 39. Sigh. I promised Rico that if I still had a fever today, I'd go to the clinic.

Did I mention I hate, absolutely hate going to the doctor? The stress that I feel by having someone mess with my body, and honestly just by being in a hospital/clinic environment, is enough that it makes me even sicker. How ironic. So naturally I avoid the doctor until I am convinced that I am ill enough that I need antibiotics or a malaria test or something that home remedies just won't cut. Here I am mindful of my reluctance to get medical attention, as I know there are some endemic diseases that, if not treated promptly, can have serious complications.

So today I woke up without fever. Yay! Although I'm afraid I may jinx myself because I've just taken my temperature and it is at 37.2 (99F). Low enough that I'm even reluctant to call it a fever. But certainly an upwards trend. Merda. I don't want to go to the doctor, but I will if it goes higher.

Last night I freaked myself out by googling the symptoms of Tuberculosis. I don't think I have it, but it was certainly motivation to go to the clinic if this thing persists...

Edited to add:

I have given in. I am going to the clinic. Sigh.

Here's hoping I feel better tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Feverish Questions

It was bound to happen after all the time I spent breathing recirculated airplane air over the last 2 months. I've caught a bug that I can't seem to kick. My throat is sore, I'm coughing nonstop and I have a low-grade fever. Nothing super serious, but a real pain nonetheless. I hate being sick.

I started reading "Guns, Germs and Steel" by Jared Diamond while on my trip to the US. Although I admit to be struggling significantly with his heavy, textbook style of writing, the content is certainly interesting.

One of the things that struck me was his discussion of fever. Our bodies are so smart! When we are affected by a microbe or virus that makes us sick, something clicks in the brain to elevate body temperature a few degrees. The extra heat won't harm us, but in many cases the foreign element can't survive the slight increase in temperature and dies off, leaving us to recover naturally. What an amazing strategy.

It makes me think, however, that it is probably counter-productive for us to take Tylenol or Aspirin when we are suffering from a fever. In bringing the body temperature back down to normal levels, wouldn't that just allow the germs to stay alive and keep making us sick? Shouldn't the best option be to let a slight fever run its course without medication to bring it down, thus respecting our body's natural healing strategy?

Why are we encouraged by doctors to take fever-reducers when we run a temperature? (Obviously one must make a distinction between a high, potentially health-threatening fever and one that is less severe.) The more I think about it, the less it makes sense...

Saturday, July 07, 2007


A new apartment building has just been inaugurated a few blocks over from us on Av. Julius Nyerere, one of the main streets in Maputo. The apartments, from what I've heard from real estate agents and seen in adverts in the paper, are nice but nothing spectacular. Most are 2 - 3 bedroom, with maybe 2 bathrooms and a service area. The big selling points are the gorgeous view of the Indian Ocean from a spacious verandah, and the fact that because the building is new, it conforms to the security standards of most local Embassies and NGOs for their program staff.

You see, if you work for one of the main development / aid / diplomacy gigs in Maputo, you aren't allowed to just live any old place. There are very specific criteria regarding bars on doors and windows, 24hr security guards, off-street parking for cars, etc. As many of the houses and buildings in Maputo are a few years (ahem, decades) old, it can be difficult to find housing that conforms to these security requirements. My friend Jenny recently was looking to move into a new place and had a terrible, months-long search before turning up a place that was not only approved by the security standards of her work, but a reasonably affordable price as well.

How much do you think a 3-bedroom apartment in the building I just described would rent for per month? I know it's hard to envision the apartments, and I personally don't know what the amenities are like inside the place, but let me put it like this. It's a new building in a good, centrally-located neighborhood; however, the area is nonetheless somewhat run-down and is a frequent location for begging and assaults (lots of Western-catering restaurants = lots of foreigners = lots of petty crime).

So, what would be your guess for renting one of these apartments (in USD)?

$800 per month?

$1,500 per month?

Nope. Keep guessing...

$2,300 per month?

Still not high enough. Rico read in the paper this morning that the rents in this building START at $3,000 per month! And that is for the most basic apartment, probably the ones without the sea-facing varandas.

Honestly, for what is being offered, this is a total rip-off.

Chalk another one up to the massive presence of foreigners and foreign organizations in Mozambique. They are so desperate for housing, there is no doubt that these apartments will all rent in a second, no questions asked.

From what we hear from friends in Angola, it is 100 times worse there. I can't even begin to imagine it...

Friday, July 06, 2007


I took noticeably few pictures on my recent trip back to Brasil and the US. I'm not really sure why, I just wasn't feeling the photo vibe. It's especially strange considering that my dad gave me an early birthday present (super early - I'll be 26 in October) that is the most bad-ass digital camera I've ever gotten my hands on.

Part of me, I think, is afraid to start using this monster of a camera because it is so cool, and takes such good photos, I'll get sucked hopelessly into another creative hobby. I already have jewelry making, crafts fairs, knitting and crocheting, writing and cooking. Somewhere in there I find time for "real" work.

I can only imagine what it will be like if I get the photo bug, something that has happened to me a couple of times in my life already. We'll see. Perhaps as the weather warms up, I can put the knitting aside and wander around the streets of Maputo instead, taking photos of this beautiful yet somewhat run-down city...

At any rate, here are some photos from my recent trip, none of which I took myself.

Me and my mom doing a wine tasting in Locke, in the Sacramento Valley.

Here I am doing one of my favorite activities in the world: hunting for Native American pot shards (pieces of 1,000-year-old Anasazi ceramics, in this case).

Our campsite in the Jemez (New Mexico). My Dad and I have this camping thing down pat.

Our cooking and hanging out tarp setup. I am in the final stages of "The Poisonwood Bible" and completely oblivious to the fact that my Dad has the camera out.

Thursday, July 05, 2007


To the person that found my blog by looking for the keywords "cat revenge poo":

I hope you are sufficiently satisfied that you are not the only one out there suffering with this type of problem. I feel your pain, my friend. I really do. My advice is to get your cats fixed, asap.

To all of you out there that have found my blog hoping for hot pictures of Coco Austin's ass implants, so sorry to disappoint. You all do make up a sizeable amount of my traffic, however, so I'm actually not that sorry.

And to the poor soul that searched for "are cocker spaniels allergic to scorpion bites?", all I can do is hope that you were not actually in that situation and hoping to find the answer on my blog. Get yourself to a veterinarian, man. Either that or get a hold on your wild, morbid imagination!

And I Vow Not to Be a Bridezilla...

Exactly one year from today, Rico and I will be getting married in the Anglican church in Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro.

Lots of planning to go until then, but I am incredibly excited about how it will all come together.

This evening we will be having a conference call with the guy that will hopefully be our wedding planner (couldn't pull it off without one). I can't wait to start looking at the more concrete details, like what food we will have, what our cake will look like, and how on earth we will do the logistics for all of our friends and family flying in from overseas.

364 days to go, and counting!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007


Why is it so incredibly difficult to get out of bed on a chilly morning? Especially if you have 2 warm, cuddly cats lounging on your stomach? And a warm, cuddly boy next to you?

I suppose that's a pretty obvious question to answer, but every morning nonetheless I agonize over how hard it is to haul myself out from under the covers.

Our cold spell continues in Maputo. I am wearing slippers in the house and an overcoat over a turtleneck when we go out. Even Rico is cold, wearing sweats and complaining about how the boys steal the covers from him in the middle of the night. Rico is one of these people who is perpetually overheating, so for him to be chilly you know it's bad.

The cold weather has spurred us to make a big home improvement, one that we've been putting off since we moved here 1.5 years ago. Currently our shower is a miserable little dribble, especially if you want hot water. For most of the year, we use only the cold tap and make do, as it's refreshing to come out of the shower with goosebumps before being soaked in sweat from the 100+ degree, high humidity weather that is the norm here for the summer months. Now, however, the shower's lack of pressure is a problem, to the point where we are tempted to avoid bathing altogether because of the chill factor. So today, after talking with several workmen and hunting about in a couple of hardware stores, we are having a pump installed in our bathroom that will pressurize the water in the shower, both hot and cold.

Yes, friends, getting a pump installed is the highlight of my week. We do lead an exciting life over here in Maputo. :)

In other almost-as-exciting news, we also got it together and finally bought decent office chairs for our desks. My back is quite grateful, and the entire room looks much more professional without a pair of ratty brown kitchen chairs as our main seating options.

This week we also had our building guards make a new straw-knotted bed for the boys, as they'd outgrown the one we had made when they were still kittens. Our guards are very entrepreneurial, and certainly the exception to the rule of the "work-means-sitting-on-a-chair-and-sleeping" security guards throughout the rest of the city. Our guys - there are about 6 of them that constantly hang out at the entrance to our building, though only 2 are actually employed here - make baskets and other objects by knotting palm fronds together. It keeps them occupied, awake, and provides the possibility of earning a little cash on the side. The've made several objects for us, including drawers for our office shelves, hotplates for the kitchen, baskets and - the crowning glory of straw creations - a giant cat carrier with a lid and handles.

Now that I think about it, our flat went through a giant leap forward this week in terms of improvements. In addition to all the items mentioned above, we also hung a tapestry to cover the ugly electric meter in the hallway, bought 2 new teflon pans for the kitchen, bought a ladder so we can finally paint our bedroom wall a lovely coffee-with-milk color, installed a second cat door, and partially enclosed our big verandah with chicken wire so that the cats can reign over that area as well.

Ah, the excitement. (seriously, it is really, really exciting for us!)

Patriot Day

Happy 4th of July to those of you that celebrate the holiday, and Hapy Wednesday to the rest of you.

I am increasingly in the lot of people that don't celebrate the US independence day. Not because I'm making a show of being dissatisfied with my country's foreign policy or healthcare system or general treatment of immigrants; no, I just find it ridiculously hard to have holiday spirit while living abroad (and, increasingly, even when I am back in the US).

4th of July for me is only properly celebrated at my dad's house, with a dusty old American flag flapping from the porch, chicken on the grill and Willie Nelson on the stereo. Or perhaps 4th of July could be, on an off year, celebrated with my mom and her husband camping in the backwoods of California.

Either way, 4th of July for me is not about getting together with a random group of people, whose only connection is that they are either born in the US or married to an American, to sing some patriotic songs and perhaps light some half-assed fireworks. Holidays are some of the occasions that most remind me of what an anti-social streak I can have.

To be fair, it's not at all discrimination against 4th of July; I am reluctant to celebrate any holiday that is not exactly as I remember it from my childhood. I can only really "feel" Christmas, for example, if it is a cold New Mexico night and we are touring luminaria displays and waiting to see how long it will take before the cat tries to climb the tree. If I am out of that environment, the next best thing is to be anywhere with my mom, as long as she can cook. Her Christmas feasts are capable of bringing about holiday spirit in me even in my most anti-celebratory bouts. If I can't have NM Christmas or my mom's food, I'd almost rather not bother. I've tried to do the whole tropical winter holiday thing and it doesn't work at all. I don't feel Christmas cheer, I just feel like it's another party and yes, I'd like a third glass of wine.

Interestingly, Rico is also not really into holidays. Our Christmas last year consisted of eating takeaway steak and potatoes from Spur in a dingy hotel room in Bloemfontein, South Africa. The highlight of the evening, aside from the lovely view of a nuclear power plant out the window, was watching some second-rate action movie on SABC. Neither of us missed a proper holiday celebration in the least.

So, while I am aware of some Embassy-sponsored party taking place tonight to commemorate our Independence Day, my form of celebration will consist of leftover chicken curry, lots of tea to ward off the chilly weather, and a conference call with the IFC to discuss the famous banana project. I'll leave the real celebrating to the rest of you holiday-embracing Americans out there.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Another One Bites the Dust

The night I flew into Rio 2 weeks ago, I was supposed to go to the Lauryn Hill concert with some of my girlfriends. The show was sold out, but the plan was to get box tickets - expensive, but if we could get 3 or 4 girls in a box, it would be pretty reasonable. Unfortunately (or fortunately...), Rafa found out that the box ticket price was per person, not for the space. So, not wanting to stand out in the cold and haggle with scalpers, we all decided not to go to the concert.

I was disappointed, as Lauryn Hill has been one of my favorite artists since her time with The Fugees. I especially liked her solo work.

The next day, I found out from some acquaintances that did go to the show that it was horrible. Lauryn started nearly 2 hours late, then played for barely 90 minutes. She didn't include barely any of her hits in the repertoire, and her voice was hoarse and off-key. The audience in Rio was so disappointed by her performance that they booed and cat-called the entire time.

Also, I heard that in the days leading up to the concert, Lauryn accepted to be interviewed by Brasilian press, but only if the interviewer was Black. In the interview, which was done as per her request, it came out that before leaving the US Lauryn asked her agent for a load of cash, as she didn't think they used credit cards in Brasil.

Sigh. I have issues with both of these things, but am not in the mood to get into it.

So, in surfing the internet today, I came across this article. Seems Ms. Hill's antics were not confined to her show in Rio...

Meh. I respect her desire to be non-mainstream and do things on her own terms, but I really feel like we've lost exposure to a great artist in the process...

Winter, Courtesy of the Southern Hemisphere

I sacrificed 2 of the 5 cans of Hatch green chile I brought back from New Mexico last night and made a delicious green chile stew. It was just the right amount of spicy, perfect for the chilly weather we've been graced with in Maputo since I've been back. I even made 2 dozen flour tortillas to go along with the meal, with help from S. and Rico in the kitchen.

So when I say it's been cold in Maputo, let me clarify. It probably gets up to the mid-70's during the day, and likely not below 50 at night. Basically it's very pleasant weather, but since 1) I am super sensitive to the cold to start with; 2) none of the houses/buildings here are equipped with heating; and 3) my blood has thinned after years of tropical living, I find it actually quite cold and have to bundle up. I wear several layers and a sweater in the house, and put on my sheepskin slippers to keep my feet warm.

Unfortunately for me, but probably to the delight of both Rico and the cats, Pria is obsessed with my slippers and constantly attacks the fuzzy part of the booties as if they were some fleeting animal needing to be pounced upon. I think my slippers must still smell "wild", even after all these years being stuffed in the back of a closet, because Pria really goes nuts over the sheepskin. When they're off my feet it's no big deal, just marginally annoying because the stiff sole slaps against the floor every time Pria shakes her head, slipper clenched between her teeth, in an attempt to "kill" her prey. The big problem is when Pria tries to do this same thing when the slippers are on my feet. I spend my evenings yelling, "Pria! Pára. Pára!" mostly in vain, while flailing my ankles about trying to avoid the cat's mad attack.

For now, the annoyance of the cat attacking my feet is preferable to having cold toes, but if this weather keeps up for much longer I may have to find a new solution...