Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Awkward Moments, or How I Acquired a New Taste

The scene: An invitation from my friend T. to join her for dinner at the house of a Dutch man who does lapidary work on Mozambican gemstones.

Awkward Moment I

We realize, after drinking a coke and some juice and throwing about much more conversation than is socially obligated, that food is not in the plans. Unfortunate, given that we'd understood this to be a dinner invitation. Especially unfortunate considering I'd spent the entire day at the plantation with my crazy boss who doesn't eat lunch, and was completely ravenous as a result.

Awkward Moment II

Dutch friend: Would you like some wine?

T.: I don't mean to be rude, but is there going to be something to eat? Because I can't have alcohol on an empty stomach, I'm still recovering from the party this weekend. If there's a snack available, I'll have some wine, otherwise just another coke for me, thanks.

Dutch friend: Oh, did you expect to have dinner?

T.: Noooo! I just brought Ali over to look at your gemstones.

Dutch friend: Well, I can make you a specialty from the Netherlands! We will have croquettes.

T.: Ummm, I don't really know what that is, but I don't eat pork.

Dutch friend: Let me check the package. If there is no pork in the ingredients, we will have croquettes.

Ali la Loca (thinking): I don't care what's in the damn things, please feed me!!!

Awkward Moment III

After confirming there is, in fact, no pork or semi-hydrogenated pork products in the croquettes, we move to the living room to have a look at the guy's impressive gemstone collection. I am completely enchanted - imagine a table full of rough and cut aquamarines, tourmalines, topaz, rubies, emeralds, apatite, iolite, amethyst, garnets, sapphires and more! Total heaven for a rock and mineral geek like me.

But I am also starving, so my attention is fully directed to the basket of french fries and sausage-type things the friend finally brought out for us. T. looks at the croquettes and mouths to me across the table, "I don't eat beef, either!"

"That's okay," I say. "Just eat some potatoes and I'll have the sausages."

Unfortunately, the friend serves the food for us, a crispy breaded sausage for T. and a long, thin one for me. I dig into my food, and poor T. does her best to camoflauge the fact that she hasn't touched the sausage. Inevitably, at some pont, the friend catches on.

"Oh. You don't like the croquette."

"No!!" T. protests. "It was just too hot when I cut it open. See?" And to prove her point, takes a valiant bite of the beef-laden sausage.

However, she is unable to eat any more of the thing. When the friend excuses himself for a moment to the other room, T. hisses across the table, "This has pork in it! I can taste something funny. It's pork!!"

The friend returns and sees the nearly-whole sausage still on T.'s plate. "You don't like it. I knew it. It's okay."

Sheepishly, T. admits she suspects the croquette is made with some pork.

"That's okay," I say. "I'll eat it for you," and hungrily take the sausage from T.'s plate. I take a bite and enjoy the crispy breaded coating that contrasts with the almost creamy meat filling.

The Dutch friend looks puzzled. "I'm sure there is no pork in it," he says. "I looked at the packaging! This croquette is only made with beef and horse."

"HORSE????" T. and I yelp simultaneously, swinging around to look at the man with carbon-copy horrified looks on our faces. "This is made with HORSE??"

My stomach turns into a spin cycle, and I can tell by her face that T.'s is doing the same.

Then I realize how ashamed the poor guy looks, how red his face has suddenly become, how he has slumped in his chair and his neck has disappeared into his collared shirt under the weight of his bowed head.

I decide to play the diplomat.

"Ah, horse," I say, as if it were the most normal thing in the world to be offered as a compensation for a dinner that never materalized. "I used to eat horse all the time as a child at my grandmother's house in Italy. It was considered a realy delicacy," which is a semi-truth because they did indeed serve it on many occasions, but I was always too finicky to muster up the courage to try the stuff.

I wonder if he knows I'm lying. I realize, somewhat horrified, that I'm going to have to eat the horse croquette if I wish to pull off the story I'm spinning.

"Just eat it," I tell myself, having flashbacks of all the times I've been in a similar situation. I try not to think of the horses we had at my dad's house when I was a child.

I manage to get down the entire thing, except for one bite which I leave on my plate to give the illusion of politeness. I could eat more, but the awkwardness of the situation has made it imperative that T. and I make a timely exit.

After saying our goodbyes, T. and I head to the car and have a good laugh at the whole evening once we are around the corner and certainly out of earshot or sight.

"I'm so sorry!" T. says emphatically.

"It's okay." I assure her. "I really liked looking at the gemstones. It was a nice night overall."

"Do you want me to take you to Mundo's to get something to eat? Poor thing, you were starving when we got there."

"No, it's okay. I'm not really hungry anymore...that horse sausage was actually really good!"

We start laughing again and replay our synchronized "HORSE!?!" exclamation a few times just for kicks.

"I can't believe you liked that stuff," T. says, shaking her head.

Quite honestly, I can't either. It seems totally wrong, but then again, it was in a similar situation that I first discovered how tasty intestines can be. On a regular day, no way I'd eat such a thing. But under the right circumstances - after a day of work with no lunch, or when fried and put inside a tortilla with a bit of chile and eaten at 3am on a Juarez streetcorner after a hard night drinking - anything is possible in terms of culinary appreciation.

Legitimacy, Sort Of

After what seems like an eternity waiting, I finally got my DIRE (Mozambican residency permit) today.

Most DIREs I've seen are in the form of a little booklet with an id photo and pages for visa stamps, much like a mini-passport. This is what I was hoping for, but for whatever reason my DIRE is just a stamped visa-type page in my actual passport.

I was looking it over this afternoon and had a hard time making out the hand-written word on the top of the official seal.

"Residência .......?" To me it looked like "I6carIa", ou seja, total gibberish. Damn flourishy handwriting that is so common here in Mozambique.

I tried to decipher the word for a few more minutes, then got frustrated and finally had to ask Ludmila, the girl down the hall who runs the Clearing business, for a little help.

"Ludmila, can you tell me what this word says? Residência what?"

Ludmila gave my DIRE page a good look, then burst out laughing.

"Residência Precária!!" she crowed. "What a funny title. They must not like you at the immigration office!"

So it's official: I am now a Precarious Resident of Mozambique, with a passport full of stamps and signatures to confirm my unstable status, valid for the next 12 months.

WTF?? Precarious???

I can't wait to try and get in and out of the country with this thing...

Monday, October 29, 2007

Please Stop Feeding Me Ice Cream!

This weekend has left me tired.

Friday night was a huge leaving party for Patty and Luis who have left Maputo for new adventures in Haiti. They will be seriously missed, though we did see them out in grand style - live timbila band, dj, lots of Mozambican food and cake, dancing and an open bar to fuel all the activities.

In an interesting turn of events, Hugh Marlboro came to the party. It was nice to interact in a completely social setting, but being at a party with my boss made me nervous and I ended up drinking too much too quickly once he'd left to calm my nerves. I was sorry for this move the entire day Saturday.

Yesterday I went to a good Spanish movie with Vero and her friend. It was called something like "Las Cosas que Hacen con que la Vida Valga la Pena". Long title, but a surprisingly good movie. After the film we went to Café Camissa at Núcleo de Arte and listened to a band and had some drinks. It was fun, but I should have called it a night and gone to bed at 8pm instead of past midnight.

Good thing Hugh Marlboro is out of town on Mondays. I was dragging at work today.

I had a funny interaction with Ahmed, the warehouse manager. What started out as little welcome gestures - sending me a plate of bananas or a soda (I finally managed to pop the cap off a coca-cola using the door jamb!)- have escalated to him buying me lunch nearly every day! It comes as a total surprise, as do the other treats, and despite all my protests I've been unsuccessful at convincing Ahmed that I bring my lunch to work now and would like to eat it lest the food spoil in the not-cold-enough refrigerator. I tried all sorts of arguments - including the "my husband gets jealous when other men buy me lunch on a regular basis" one, but nothing was getting the message across.

This morning Ahmed sent up his helper from the warehouse to ask what I wanted for lunch. I said nothing, that I'd brought soup to eat and wasn't that hungry anyway. I thought I'd been clear, but apparently not because about an hour later, Ahmed was like, "Do you want piri-piri or no piri-piri?" and let me in on the little surprise that he'd gone ahead and bought me a quarter grilled chicken with salad!

I ended up eating it, but that's beside the point!

So after the chicken incident (this is the second time it's happened), I knew I had to talk to Ahmed again. Today, after much back-and-forth, we finally reached an agreement. I ended up playing the work card, saying that as of next week I will be analyzing the warehouse operations (which is true), and that nobody could get the impression that he was trying to suck up to me, or that I was somehow favoring him because of all the free food. I said I needed to remain impartial in my position, and that the surprises had to stop (a bit of an exaggeration, because I won't be making any critical decisions about the warehouse, but still a plausible excuse not far from the truth).

Ahmed conceded after much consideration, on the condition that he could still buy me an ice cream every day. I said he was free to buy me ice cream as long as he was buying for the entire office and not just for me. He said, "Clever girl, because of you now everyone will be enjoying ice cream every day."


It's funny, I still don't know how to read this situation. My initial thought was that Ahmed was trying to suck up. Then I thought he liked me. But there is something in his attitude that makes me think that possibly, just possibly, he's just a nice guy. Or maybe I'm just a sucker. Either way, I'll be eating a lot of ice-crystal-laden neapolitan ice cream in soggy-with-humidity sugar cones.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


This morning I am feeling very tired. I had a terrible time sleeping last night, first because of the torrential rain and lightning storm that started around 2am (prompting me to run out of bed half naked and make a mad dash for the verandah to haul in the cat boxes before they got soaked by the rain), then because Pria was acting posessed and wouldn't stop doing her ambulance meow and trying to get inside the drawers of my wicker bureau.

I finally gave up around 5:30 and hauled myself out of bed and made a pot of tea.

The sky is still gray and heavy outside. The cats have thankfully calmed down somewhat (a big breakfast of chicken helped, I imagine), and I actually quite enjoyed a leisurely morning surfing the internet.

I'm going to make some pancakes with black currant jam, then I am off to work.

I've had an interesting week thus far - after an improvised crash course in the importation and exportation of new and used goods, I've been assigned to design a standard operating system for each process. I've put together a really cool manual in PowerPoint for the import process (by far the more complex one), and will be presenting it to Hugh Marlboro this morning. One of the smaller companies in the Empire is dedicated to Clearing, and the systems I'm putting together will become their operating guidelines.

I never thought I'd find standard operating procedures a thrill, but I suppose it's no surprise that having a big-picture look at a particular process, then translating it into an organized system is supremely satisfying to my semi-neurotic, ultra-nerd personality. :)

In a similar vein, I also think I would have enjoyed being a software engineer.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Vision of Humanity: What Creates Peace?

I found this fascinating:

Brazil and the US are both ranked as having Low states of peace. Not surprising.

South Africa and Zimbabwe, two of Mozambique's neighbors, are glaringly red with Very Low states of peace. Again, no surprise here, especially with the violence in South Africa and the political and economic meltdown of Zimbabwe.

Mozambique, one of the world's poorest countries where a brutal civil war was fought between 1975 and 1992, has a Medium peace ranking.

I find this fascinating, and it helps answer the question that Ricardo and I so often struggle to answer: Why do you live in Mozambique if you have "better" (read: more developed and comfortable) options elsewhere?

We choose to stay here, among other reasons, because we have a quality of life that is unparallelled in any of our other potential homes. Not to say we won't eventually live elsewhere, it's simply that the outside perception of what life in Mozambique is like is quite different from reality.

I don't think I'll ever cease to be amused when a carioca asks, with a shocked expression and genuine concern for our well-being, "But isn't it awfully violent in Mozambique?"

For more information on the Vision of Humanity, visit here.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


Today I went to the gym for the first time in a while. The last time I made it there was a couple weeks ago at 6am with my friend Jenny - which is something I'm trying to make a habit - but then my membership card expired and, truth be told, I got lazy. Before that, I'd fallen off the workout wagon and gone for a good 3 weeks without a workout.

After several guilt-laden conversations this week with Rico, and a general sense of malaise because I've been eating too much junk and not getting enough physical exercise for a while now, I decided it was time to stop wallowing and get it together. So Rico and I made it to the gym this afternoon, which was a good first step.

I renewed my membership, which was a shock to the old wallet. When I was freelancing, I could go to the gym whenever I pleased during the day, so I was able to purchase the "off-hours" package and work out from 7:30am to 4:30pm. It was expensive compared to what I used to pay for my gym back in Austin, but not outrageous.

Unfortunately, now that I'm working full-time, I have to purchase the regular membership which is ridiculously expensive. For one month it is USD 118! For this price you get access to several cardio machines, an assortment of weights and a swimming pool that isn't big enough to do laps. There is also a wet sauna in the locker rooms, but I can't stand being in there with all the steam. On the plus side, the gym is just 3 blocks from our house, is kept spotless, and has a fabulous view of the Indian Ocean when you are on the treadmills (the gym is on the 10th floor of the Hotel Avenida).

Staying in shape is important to me. Exercising has a positive effect on my mood and my energy levels, but I'll be honest - the main reason I am motivated to work out is because I want to get/stay skinny. I'm not necessarily proud that this is my principal motivation, but I'm being honest here. I'm sure it's a vestige of my eating disorder days, but I start to feel panicky if I'm not offsetting my calorie intake with some regular form of exercise. My weight still has a profound effect on my self-image and mood. When I am feeling skinny, I am happy; if I put on a little weight, I enter into a cycle of depression.

So I paid a ton of money for the gym membership because 1) I know it is important for my physical and emotional well-being; and 2) I am more likely to actually go work out 3 times a week if I feel I've paid a lot of money and therefore must make good use of my investment. My goal is to go to the gym 3 times a week, ideally in the mornings.

Today's workout made me optimistic. As I mentioned, I haven't been to the gym regularly in a while, so I was expecting to have a difficult workout and not be able to do more than 10 minutes running on the treadmill. Imagine my total surprise when I ran for 25 minutes non-stop! I haven't run this much since I started going to the Avenida gym last year. I have no idea why my fitness level seems to have gone up in my month of sloth-dom, but I'm not complaining. I just hope the trend continues and that I don't go for a workout tomorrow only to find that my resistance has taken a nosedive.

My goal for December is to be able to run 5km. Today I did 3.8, so I feel this is a reasonable target. Hopefully this will keep me motivated, along with the knowledge that if I gain any weight I won't fit into my beautiful wedding dress...

Sunday Scribblings: My First Act as Queen of the World Will Be...

Can you believe that I can't think of a single good answer to this prompt?

Everything I come up with sounds like a half-assed answer from a contestant in a beauty pageant.

"I'd provide clean drinking water for all the world's population."

"I'd improve the public education system in the US."

"I'd designate many new environmental reserves and enforce measures to save our planet."

"I'd outlaw fast food and other health risks, like transfats and corn syrup."

"I'd completely change the way the meat industry and other animal-related industries function, ensuring that animals are treated humanely and not abused just to maximize profit."

I can think of a hundred such answers, but none of them are really mine, in the sense that they are generic and the type of acts we expect people in power to promise.

No, I'd want to do something truly unique for my first act as Queen of the World. Something generations would remember me for. Something that would seriously change how we function as a society...

Something like invent a kind of chocolate that has zero calories, yet still provides the exact same taste and comfort we expect from this mother of all soothing treats. Imagine if chocolate were guilt-free for the women (and men) of the world! I venture to say that we'd have a lot less depression, and a lot more enjoyment and pleasure in life.

You see, I'd really be a selfless Queen of the World, implementing something like this when I don't even like chocolate that much!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Marketing at Its Best

Every night at 6:30, some guy walks in front of our building whistling the mCel jingle. It is like clockwork, and supremely annoying.

I must admit, however, that the mCel marketing team has put together an exceedingly effective campaign. That whistle gets stuck in your head and never leaves, providing the perfect auditory accompaniment to the increasingly common sight here in Mozambique of houses and shops painted bright canary yellow and spotted with green smiley faces. They will paint your exterior walls for free if you are willing to accept the mCel corporate logo as your new decorating scheme. From the rapidly changing palette of the country's streets, this seems to be one popular deal.

This evening, to my total horror, Ricardo whistled back, thus starting a call-and-response session in which the guy on the street would whistle the first half of the jingle and wait for the mystery whistler on the third floor to complete the musical phrase. After a couple of rounds, I shot Rico a look that instantly got the point across. I wonder, had I not been at home to discourage him, how long the interaction would have lasted. It was the whistling equivalent of that classic "pigs in the haystack" knocking pattern. You know, dum-da-da-dum-dum....dum-dum!

I can only imagine the night whistler's disappointment when Rico leaves for Rio on Monday and he loses his mCel jingle partner. For all of my talents, I am completely unable to whistle.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Highlights of a phone conversation with Faustino, the company's bureaucracy-solver and paper-pusher, who has taken a painfully long 4 months to get my Mozambican residency permit (DIRE) processed. Mind you, though he's been workign on my documents for quite a while, we have never met and this is the first time we've ever talked on the phone.

A: [in Portuguese] Good afternoon, Mr. Faustino, this is Ali la Loca with the Banana Empire. I was wondering if you could come by the office and pick up some papers that I need processed at the notary's office.

F: Epa! You speak decent Portuguese! I thought you'd speak terrible, accented Portuguese because, you know, you're American.

A: Yes, Mr. Faustino, I speak Portuguese. I used to live in Brazil. So do you think you can stop by and pick up these papers?

F: Sure, I'll be there tomorrow afternoon. And by the way, your DIRE will be ready d'aqui a nada (literally "in no time at all", but really means it could take for-e-ver to be done). The Director of Immigration is out of town now, but will be back late next week and can sign your papers then.

A: Perfeito. I'll be glad to finally have my passport back.

F: So you speak decent Portuguese by now, right?

A: Right. [I'm thinking, "Haven't we already been over this?]

F: Aaaaah. Because I have to tell you, when I took your passport to the Immigration Department, it was so funny. Aquela gente fartou-se de rir com o seu nome. Diziam que só faltava um 'a' no final! Aí ficavas burrrrrrrrrra!

Unfortunately, my last name is just one letter away from meaning "stupid girl". Apparently, the immigration officials "exhausted themselves" laughing at my name, keenly observing that if you just tacked an 'a' on the end...

I dryly informed Faustino that, despite his obvious amusement with the joke, it wasn't the first time I'd heard it in the 10 years that I've been speaking Portuguese.

Realizing that quite possibly he'd just made a terrible impression on someone who is his boss' right hand woman, Faustino tried to backtrack. "Epa! Mas não estou a dizer isso sobre a sua pessoa. É o nome da senhora que é engraçado, 'tás a ver?" (I'm not saying that you are stupid, it's just your name that's funny, you see?)


My hope is that Faustino was sufficiently embarrased that not only will I have my DIRE by the end of next week, I'll also have the Mozambican equivalent of my driver's licence in hand.

*"Notionless" comes from the bastardized English back-translation of the Portuguese "sem noção", the perfect way to describe people like Faustino.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Warehouse Manager's Got My Back

Work continues to be a bit boring. Hugh Marlboro was out of the office all day Monday and Tuesday, and I was left with literally nothing to do. I called him after lunch yesterday and basically said that I'd done all the work I could think of, and would he mind terribly if I left the office to run some errands. Hugh M. didn't mind, especially since the errands at hand involved wading through the bureaucracy of getting my US driver's license recognized by the Mozambican authorities so that I can legally drive the company vehicles and not rely on taxis or coworkers to get a ride home at the end of the day.

Today Hugh M. was back in the office, but he went to some lunch (gasp!!) around noon and left me once again with insufficient work to keep me busy. Maybe I'm just overly productive or something because I'm excited about my new job, but I was finished with all of my tasks for the afternoon in less than an hour. To pass the time, I decided to read a few chapters from "The Essential Drucker". At least if I am reading management-related books I feel less guilty about doing things other than work while I am in the office.

I think my new friend Ahmed down in the warehouse feels sorry for me. Either that or he's trying to manipulate the new girl into really liking him and putting in a spontaneous good word with the boss. Either way, I am grateful.

Every afternoon Ahmed sends up a treat for me, either personally or via one of the warehouse boys. The first day it was a coca-cola. Yesterday I got another coke and an ice cream cone. A guy came up with a little wheeled cart, put a plastic sack over one hand, gripped a stale sugar cone with the covered hand, then painstakingly spooned neapolitan ice cream into the cone. I ignored the pesky voice in my head that wondered how many times that ice cream had melted and been re-frozen over the past week, or how many hours it had sat as a sloshy mush in the pushcart just inviting bacteria to procreate. Nope, I told that voice to go away and enjoyed my strawberry-chocolate-vanilla goodness, if nothing else because it gave me something to do for 25 minutes.

Oh yeah, and the coca-cola that Ahmed sent up yesterday? I tried to open it on the door jamb again, only this time instead of slicing my finger I managed to create an explosion of coke into the hallway that made a giant splat on the newly painted buttercream-yellow wall in front of my office and left sticky pools on the floor. And even with the escape of at least half the soda in the bottle, the stupid cap still didn't come off! I tried to mop up the mess with a kleenex from my desk, but promptly stopped when I realized that I was rubbing off the paint along with the coke on the wall. It was one of those moments where I was laughing out loud at the ridiculousness of the situation, wishing I had someone to share it with, but also crossing my fingers that nobody would come down the hall and see the mess and wonder what on earth I was doing in my office. I finally got the coke bottle open by slamming the cap a couple of times against one of the hinges in my desk cabinets.

I think I need to bring a bottle opener to work, as the afternoon coca-cola seems to be a regular occurence when Hugh Marlboro is out of the office.

Today's gifts from Ahmed were a Nokia phone charger and a plate of 4 bananas. Yesterday I casually mentioned that my phone was about to die (I've been borrowing a phone from Jenny ever since mine was stolen from the beauty salon a few months ago; the only problem is that we share a charger between us, so my phone frequently runs out of battery), and today, Ahmed showed up with a charger just as my phone automatically switched off.

The bananas were perfect, too, as I'd already gone through the non-perishable snacks I'd stashed in my drawer, and was unable to eat my cup-of-soups because there are no utensils in the office and I neglected to bring my own from home. I was really hungry this afternoon, and it was as if Ahmed read my mind when he showed up with the fresh fruit.

I went down to the warehouse to thank Ahmed for all the snacks and so forth, and he said, "Of course, you are up there all by yourself all day, and I know you can't plan a lunch hour or take time away from work to eat. I'll always send up something for you - a soda, some fruit, a little snack."

"Thank you so much," I said, and really meant it. So it wasn't just my imagination that nobody ever freaking eats in that office!

Amhed smiled and said, "If you ever want to eat something more, I have a friend who owns a restaurant near here and we can order food to be delivered. Just let me know and I'll give you the number."

Perfect! This doesn't really help me on the days that Hugh Marlboro is in the office, as I am at the mercy of his schedule and must eat quick snacks when I get the chance. But the option of ordering in a meal is great for the days when the boss is out of town. Perhaps next Monday I'll try it out.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Slow Day: Coca-Cola Was the Highlight

Today I had a veeeeeeeery boring day at work.

Hugh Marlboro goes out of town every weekend and only returns to Mozambique on Tuesday mornings, leaving me to fend for myself at the office on Mondays. As I get more accustomed to my job and the work begins to pile up, I suspect that my one day per week without a boss will become something I look forward to. But for now, having Hugh Marlboro out of the office means that I am bored.

I had one big task to do today - create a management plan and a policies and procedures chart for one of the smaller companies in the empire - and I finished it by 11am. The rest of my day consisted of making about 18 different lists (including Things to Buy in the US, To Do - General, Jewelry Supplies to Purchase, Things to Ask Rico Before He Leaves, To Do - Professional, and Clothes Wish List) and writing some letters. I will mail the letters this week, but whether or not they arrive at their destinations is another story entirely.

Perhaps the highlight of my day was when Ahmed, the supervisor of the fresh produce warehouse that Hugh Marlboro runs out of the first floor of our giant office complex, came upstairs and offered me an ice-cold Coca-Cola. It was the first truly welcoming gesture I've had from one of my colleagues, and it was especially nice because it was hot and humid today and I had already sucked my water bottle dry. I tried to open the bottle using the metal bit on the door jamb as a lever, but only succeeded in slicing my finger. I finally had to ask the secretary if she had a bottle opener (the reasonable thing to have done in the first place, I know), only to watch her wedge the bottleneck in the door jamb of her office and pop off the cap with one swift jerk of the wrist.

I am puzzled by a few things in the new office. Most notably, it seems as if nobody eats lunch ever, period. I don't even see people snacking during the day. At first I thought it was just Hugh Marlboro's strange habit to avoid meals and chug along all day fueled by multiple cups of coffee and sugary tea. Since I am currently shadowing Hugh M., I am somewhat at the mercy of his aversion to lunch. My solution is to keep a drawer in my desk full of treats that I can quickly eat or drink down while Hugh M. is in the toilet or on a phone call (i.e. juice boxes, trail mix, granola bars, cookies). However, now that I've been in the office more than a couple of days, I've noticed that nobody freaking eats in the place! Every 2 hours the office maid comes around with an unsolicited cup of tea or coffee, but that's it.

The second strange thing is that we don't seem to have a constant supply of water to the office. The toilet many times refuses to flush, so we have to resort to the old bucket flush or simply let the yellow mellow, so to speak. This means there is also no water in the sink for hand-washing (I keep sanitizer in my drawer, just like a good American thank-you-very-much), and all water for tea and coffee, I imagine, must be bottled or else there is a secret supply of water in the kitchen downstairs. So I bring a sports bottle full of filtered water to work every day, trying to lessen my part in the massive consumption of bottled water in this country. It is ridiculous how much plastic bottles of water contribute to waste and pollution, and it is easy to forget that, as an expat in a developing country, this is not the only solution for safe drinking water.

I'll step off the soapbox now. Don't worry. But it's annoying that when my water is gone, I can't refill and have to resort to drinking tea, coffee or a juice from my stash. I brought in a sack full of Splenda today and instructed Dona Regina, the maid, to put one packet in each hot beverage she makes me. This way, at least, I can guzzle tea and coffee all day with a slightly less-guilty conscience because I'm not rotting my teeth or consuming unnecessary calories.

Hugh Marlboro is back tomorrow, thank God. This means good things not only for my level of occupation at work, but also for the blog. Hopefully tomorrow I'll write of exciting things like learning how an irrigation pump works, or why bananas suffer more from stem rot in the winter than in the hotter, stickier summer months.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Sunday Scribblings: First Job, Worst Job, Dream Job

My first job was also, coincidentally, my worst job.

I was 15 and living in Maringá, Brazil as an exchange student. As commonly happens, local English schools are willing to turn a blind eye to the fact that students on a temporary residency visa cannot work, so desperate are they to hire native speakers that will, as an added bonus, teach for next to nothing.

The lure of $250 reais per month (at the time, roughly equivalent to USD 250) to teach conversational English was too great. I didn't really stop to consider what the reality of teaching back-to-back 2 hour classes on Friday afternoons would be like. I thought the job would be easy, a relatively painless way to get some extra cash so that I could travel to the Amazon at the end of my exchange year.

Boy, was I wrong on all fronts.

To start, I was teaching English to teenagers. Teenagers, for God's sake! They are a tough crowd any day of the week, but keep in mind that I was only 15 at the time. Half of my students were older than I was and therefore paid me no respect. A good portion of the boys were more interested in trying out their flirting skills on the American girl than learning about phrasal verbs. The kids would throw things while I had my back turned, and would torment me by yelling out words in Portuguese that I intuitively recognized as filthy, but didn't yet know their meaning.

It was clear to me that all of my studetns were only in conversation classes because their upper-middle-class parents thought it was the appropriate activity for after school. They didn't give a crap about learning new vocabulary; they just wanted to get the hell out of the classroom.

After my first double class session, I went home and had a breakdown. The class had been a disaster. It is damn hard to fill 2 hours of time, especially given that the language school didn't supply me with any teaching materials, books or curriculum suggestions. I was on my own, and improvising my way through the classes once my hour or so of prepared material ran out was taxing, to say the least.

Every week I'd struggle to come up with ideas for class. One day we talked about food habits and made a meal in the courtyard of the English school on a double burner that I'd brought from home. Another day I brought in my high school yearbook and we talked about the differences in being a teenager in the US and in Brazil. Yet another day, at the very end of my creative ideas, and quite frankly sick of the job, I had both classes watch "Say Anything" without subtitles, then write me a paragraph about their reaction to the movie.

I lasted about 2 months at this job, then resigned. I missed the steady income, but still managed to make it to the Amazon, mostly thanks to the help of my parents. It would have been satisfying to pay my own way 100%, but the stress of my job wasn't worth it. I gladly accepted the help, knowing there was no way I wanted to pass up the chance to visit the rainforest.

So that was both my first and worst job, though I've certainly been through much more terrible situations in jobs since then (i.e. the time in my job as Director of an HIV Prevention Program when one of my staff members yelled, when asked to arrive on time to work, "Fuck you! I don't gotta do what you tell me. You aint my mother!" and puffed out her chest, challenging me to discipline her. I fired her on the spot.). I've certainly had my share of drama in jobs, but that first one as an English teacher was without a doubt the most painful on a regular basis.

As for the last bit of the prompt, I'm sure it will come as no surprise to those of you who have been reading my blog over the past month that my dream job is actually my current job! Yes, I know, I am one lucky girl. :)

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Happy Birthday to Me

Today is my birthday. I am feeling decidedly un-birthday-ish.

Rico is back for a visit, which is wonderful, and we had a nice dinner last night with a colleague, and have fun plans for the rest of the weekend. But I am in a bit of a funk. Very subtle, but I just can't seem to get excited or really *feel* much of anything except rather numb.

Maybe it's because of the terrible dream I had last night. It was about one of my worst fears, the kind you are afraid to even put a name to and write about lest you unwittingly make it come true. I have nightmares and vivid dreams that shake me up on a regular basis, bit this one was different. It really messed with me on a core level. I know I should pay attention.

Then again, maybe feeling un-birthday-ish is simply what happens as you get older. And, at 26, I am decidedly old. Ha, ha.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

In Awe of a Tangle of Metal

Today I learned about diesel engines.

Hugh Marlboro and I had a meeting with Gerson, the owner of Eagle Trucking Parts and Services, who gave us the big sell as to why he should be the one to do the maintenance on the banana empire's fleet of trailer trucks.

Gerson's business operates out of a structure that resembles an airplane hangar, just off the road to Ressano Garcia. When we walked into the building, after a somewhat awkward introduction in which Hugh M. didn't know what title to give me, and Gerson was clearly a bit shocked to see a woman along for the ride, it was if we had entered another world.

The inside of the workshop was dark, crammed full of about 20 giant trucks in various states of (dis)assembly. Several spotlights were strategically set up around the space to provide illumination for the workers tooling away at engines or changing filters. Pans of thick black motor oil were scattered about, and everything looked as if it had been coated in a fine layer of grease.

I silently cursed myself for wearing a light-colored suit to work. Not only was it raining outside, filling the streets with reddish mud just waiting to splash up on my pale khaki pants, here I was in the middle of an industrial oficina, certain that my next step would lead to a fatal smattering of truck grease on my corduroy blazer.

Hugh Marlboro and Gerson stopped to admire a dissected engine that was nearly as tall as I am. "Ah, yes. The International 4700. What a beauty! I used to use these in my trucks, but now I run the D-1880." Hugh M. affectionately patted the side of the engine as if it were a small child.

"Yah," Gerson agreed. "The 4700 is good because it isn't run by a computer. If there are problems on the road, the driver can pull over and fix the engine himself in one hour."

I stared at the metal tangle of pipes and cylinders and valves and began to understand my Dad's fascination as a fine arts student in the 1970's with photographing irrigation pumps and conduit. The International 4700 certainly did look like a work of art.

Hugh Marlboro and Gerson went on to discuss the merits of one engine manufacturer versus another, the availability of spare parts on the regional market (key in deciding which engine to buy, almost as much as the quality of the thing itself), and the various importation procedures to acquire second-hand trucks and trailers from the United States.

We inspected several other engines, then met Jappie, the chief mechanic at Eagle Trucking. He had bright blue eyes the exact color of his work uniform, and he was covered from head to toe in black grease. Jappie shook Hugh Marlboro's hand without hesitation, then became suddenly self-conscious when he realized that I too intended to shake his hand. He pushed up the sleeve of his coveralls and offered me a clean bit of wrist to shake instead, not wanting to dirty the lady's hand with his own.

Jappie showed us what he was working on, an engine the size of a small car that even Hugh Marlboro was impressed by. "This is from the dredger they use in the Port of Maputo," Jappie told us. "We do all of the maintenance on their dredgers and excavators."

I was suddenly hit with a great desire to understand how all of those engines worked. What amazing pieces of machinery, each part perfectly suited to a specific task that, when performed in conjunction with a series of other tasks, creates enough power to move 28 tons of bananas or clear a channel in a port. Unbelievable!

Back in the truck, I asked Hugh Marlboro, "So, when do you think the last time was that a woman set foot in that building?" Not that anybody had been disrespectful or blatantly ogled me, it was just quite obvious that women were not part of the day-to-day operations of the place.

He started laughing and said, "You've got a point, man."

"Better yet," I continued, "when do you think the last time a woman wearing high heels set foot in there?"

He laughed so hard I thought he was going to swerve the truck off the road. "Poor things," he said. "Probably still don't know what hit them. And to top it off, you looked interested in the engines back there."

"But I was interested in the engines!"

"You want to know about engines?" Hugh Marlboro gave me a sideways look. "You really want to know about diesel engines?"

"Yes!" I said. "I'm being serious!"

"Well then, I suppose I will have to teach you how an engine works." He thought for a moment, then continued, "This will be our little exchange. You give me Portuguese lessons, I will teach you mechanics."

"You've got yourself a deal."

So tomorrow, along with a meeting with the notary and a trip to the main plantation block, I can expect a practical lesson on the workings of a diesel engine. Sounds good to me!

Monday, October 08, 2007

The First Day

My first day of work as the Apprentice to the Boss of the Banana Empire was just as wonderful as I'd hoped it would be.

I was picked up in the morning by Nacho, a Mozambican guy in his late 20's whose hair is a brassy, home-peroxide-dye-job shade of blonde and who wears a thick gold hoop with a diamond in his left ear. He works in the customs clearing area of the company, and told me all about how he has to be on-call 24/7 to free trucks full of fresh produce from the bureaucratic grip of the border.

I think Nacho was a bit shocked to see me walk out of the building, as his only instructions had been to pick up "Dona Alexandra", the way I am referred to by many a polite colleague, but which leads to the impression that I am a haughty Portuguese woman in my late 40's. Nacho didn't hide his enthusiasm that Dona Alexandra turned out to be young and laid-back. He took the opportunity to show off a bit, cranking up the radio as we drove down Avenida 24 de Julho so the passada was blaring at a disco-style volume.

About 20 minutes later, we arrived at the company headquarters with style. The company has just moved into a new office, a gigantic white warehouse alongside the EN4, the toll highway that connects Maputo with South Africa. My new boss, Hugh Marlboro*, was already waiting for me in the parking lot in his truck.

I hopped in, and we headed to our first meeting of the day, a site visit at one of the plantation blocks with the District Administrator of the jurisdiction in which this particular piece of land falls. The visit was announced at the last minute, and Hugh Marlboro had no idea what the Administrator might want. We discussed several potential scenarios on the bumpy, potholed road, past lone acacia trees and seemingly abandoned herds of goats.

Once at the plantation block, Hugh Marlboro and I went to the small packhouse structure in the middle of the property to meet with the farm boss and wait for the Senhor Administrador. The farm boss was a hefty South African, nearly as round about the middle as he was tall. He wore orthopedic socks pulled up to his knees, sport sandals, and the ubiquitous short-shorts of white farmers in these parts. He and Hugh Marlboro had an animated discussion in Afrikaans about how the ceiling of the packhouse might be modified to improve ventilation near the tanks where the workers dip the bananas in an anti-fungal bath, cut them into market-friendly bunches, and pack them into crates to be loaded onto waiting trucks. I don't speak a word of Afrikaans, but between the similarities to English and the shower of hand gestures the men were using, I was able to follow the conversaion.

After hanging about the packhouse for a while, I got the grand tour. This particular plantation block, my new boss told me, was not up to par. I could see what he was referring to - compared to the main farm that I'd visited several times, this block was downright chaotic. The banana trees were somewhat dried out and frayed-looking. The space between the trees was littered with old plant material. And the dirt road that links the plantation area to the packhouse was so poorly maintaned that we nearly got stuck several times in the thick mud left after last week's rains. Hugh Marlboro told me that he was unsatisfied, that he wanted - with my help - to identify why this particular block was lagging so far behind the other tidy and efficient plantation areas and then make the necessary changes to improve it.

Over an hour had now passed since we arrived at the planation block. Hugh Marlboro impatiently tapped his fingers on the steering wheel of his truck. "I'll wait around for a Governor," he told me, "but not for a District Administrator. This man is wasting my time. Let's go." I nodded in approval, and we bumped down the dirt road toward the highway back to town.

On the way, we took a small detour and stopped at the beautiful country house Hugh M. lives in when he is in Mozambique (he frequently spends weekends away, visiting family or on mini-holidays). The house was originally built in the 1960's, before the Portuguese fled the country, and has all the solid construction and ornate tile details that one would expect of a proper Iberian-inspired home. Hugh Marlboro purchased the house several years ago and did a massive restoration, as the place had been claimed by the elements after years of war and neglect. The outside is now a fresh sunshine yellow, and the inside is beautifully decorated with oversized furniture made of precious hardwoods, mounted heads of buffalo and kudu from Hugh M.'s time as a game safari operator, and tasteful sculptures and ceramic vases. The style of his home is impeccable, incongruous with his current incarnation as a banana farmer, and much more in line with his prior occupation as a trauma surgeon.

We sat down on a pair of brown leather couches in the living room and Maria, the maid, brought us tea and an assortment of biscuits. We engaged in pleasant smalltalk about the plantation site and the packhouse structure and the company's urgent need for a financial manager.

As tends to happen when Hugh M. and I get together to chat, the conversation soon veered from concrete work topics to abstract philosophising about personality types, relationships and the unique roles we play in life. He turned to me and said, "My dear, let me tell you something. There are thinkers in this world, and there are do-ers. My company is based on a great group of do-ers right now. They know exactly what their job is, and they go out and perform to the best of their abilities."

I nodded along, waiting for him to continue.

"I have a good base, Ali, but I am lonely as the only thinker in the company. I don't mean that the others aren't intelligent - that's not it at all - but I feel the need to work alongside someone who understands me, who can follow my vision and anticipate my strategies. I need someone to brainstorm with, someone who canc hallenge me and ultimately make me a better thinker."

"I understand what you are saying. You need a peer."

"That's it! And you, my dear, you are something very special indeed. Because a do-er is valuable, and a thinker is valuable, but when you come across someone who is a thinker and a do-er you must act quickly as to not lose that gem of a person."

I could feel my cheeks burning. "Thank you," I managed to say, unable to contain a wide smile.

Hugh Marlboro continued, "Ali, this sounds quite strange, but you are the person who I can most clearly see being me. It makes no sense - you are a 26-year-old American woman - but I identify something in you that reflects who I am, how my head works. You are the one who can substitute me."

"I know exactly what you mean," I said. And I honestly did. In the two years that Hugh M. and I have been working together on his expansion project, I've gotten to know him reasonably well. We've had seemingly endless work sessions in which we'd sit down with a cup of tea and he'd talk for hours, explaining to me everything that was in his head, while I dilligently took notes on my laptop and accompanied him step-by-step in the strategies he described. Many times during these work sessions, I was surprised by how similar our thought patterns were, how I could finish his sentences and anticipate his big-picture conclusions without knowing half of the details involved.

Part of what I am describing is what makes for a good consultant - the ability to adapt to a particular client's working style and way of thinking, to really get inside his head and understand the essence of his business. But with Hugh Marlboro it was a step further. We just clicked.

I recognized our affinity early on, and wondered if I wasn't deluding myself, after all Hugh Marlboro is a massively successful entrepreneur and I am a young professional who still hasn't managed to figure out just what she wants to do in life. But here he was, confessing that he saw the same inexplicable relfection-of-self in me that I saw in him. I suppose this is how most apprenticeships begin...

Hugh M. and I sat for a moment absorbing what we'd both just acknowledged. I nodded my head, not knowing what else to do.

Finally he broke the silence. "I have something I want to show you," he said, holding out a double cd case. "I just bought a fabulous classical music collection. Listen to this!" He walked over to his state-of-the-art stero system and put in the cd, skipping over the first few tracks until he found the one he was looking for. He turned up the volume and held out his arms expectantly, palms up, much like an orchestra conductor anticipating the first nearly inaudible sign of a bow drawing across a string. Hugh Marlboro took a deep breath, then dramatically sliced through the air with one hand in perfect time with the opening notes of a symphony.

"Verdi!" he said triumphantly. "I love this march."

He sat back down on the leather couch and proceeded to sing along to the opera, closing his eyes and swaying as if nobody else were around.

With Hugh Marlboro immersed in the music, I gazed out the windows of the living room and took in the scenery. The air was hazy with smoke from charcoal fires, filtering the mid-morning sun and casting an almost blue light on the countryside. A large jacaranda swelled lilac with blossoms in the yard, branches rustling in the breeze. In the distance, I could see several huts with thatched-reed roofs.

Verdi's opera became more intense, a full choir and insistent strings attesting to the pain and power of love. Scenes from the movie "Nowhere in Africa" flooded my mind, the juxtaposition of Europe's finest culture with the raw reality of the bush. I imagined myself in a Shakespeare-inspired ball gown, running out the side door and into the yard, past the flowering tree, kicking off my pointed shoes and continuing to run past thorn acacias and curious children, the soft dirt clinging to my toes.

The opera drew to a close. Hugh Marlboro looked at me contentedly and let a small sigh escape.

"Shall we go to the office, my dear?"

And so ended my first morning on the job. The afternoon was equally interesting, highlights being a meeting with a high-up government official to discuss the approval of a landing strip near the main farm block, an animated discussion about what constitutes a good manager, and high tea and a Portuguese lesson at the Polana Hotel.

Pinch me. I can't believe my job is this good.

*I finally figured out who my new boss reminds me of. He looks just like Hugh Grant, only not quite so city-groomed and metrosexual. But if you cross Hugh Grant with the Marlboro Man - poof! - you have the exact image of my boss.

And yes, all of the names of the people I work with have been changed. Maputo is small, and for those inclined to do a minimal amount of research it is pretty easy to figure out where I work; nonetheless, for the sake of my conscience, everyone has received nicknames.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Shift in Seasons

I just wrote a giant, lyrical post and now it is gone.

Amazingly, it's not blogger's fault, it's that of my stupid fucking computer. My left mouse button on my touchpad has suddenly stopped working. When I click, it either has the function of the right button or it does nothing at all. Paranoid me, I have the habit of always selecting all of the text in a post and hitting [control+c] just in case something goes wrong during the publishing process. So after writing this giant post just now, I went through my usual thing of selecting and trying to copy the text. But since my mouse button is shot to shit, instead of backing up my writing, I managed to erase the whole damn thing.

I am very, very frustrated. But this is a good lesson, once again, of the importance of just letting go.

To sum it up:

The rains have come to Maputo. Sticky, sweltering summer is just around the corner.

I start my new job tomorrow. I am excited.

I am doing well, and thank you all who have e-mailed, etc. for your concern. I think what I am going through is quite normal for someone who is getting ready to make a major life decision.

It was much more eloquent the first time around...

Oh Lord, Do I Relate

I found this great list on Facebook. There is a group called "You Know You Went to an International School When..." True, I didn't actually attend an international school, but this list totally hit home. Afer reading and identifying with nearly everything, I don't know whether to laugh or cry...

Here is the edited version, with only the ones I relate to, just because the original version has nearly 90 items.

1) You can't answer the question: "Where are you from?"
2) You speak two (or more) languages but can't spell in any of them.
3) You flew before you could walk.
5) You run into someone you know at every airport
6) You have a time zone map next to your telephone.
7) Your life story uses the phrase "Then we went to..." five times (or six, or seven times...).
8) You speak with authority on the quality of airline travel.
9) National Geographic (OR THE TRAVEL CHANNEL) makes you homesick.
10) You read the international section before the comics.
11) You live at school, work in the tropics, and go home for vacation.
12) You don't know where home is.
13) You sort your friends by continent.
14) Your second major is in a foreign language you already speak.
15) You realize it really is a small world, after all.
16) You feel that multiple passports would be appropriate.
17) You watch a movie set in a 'foreign country', and you know what the nationals are really saying into the camera.
18) Rain on a tile patio - or a corrugated metal roof - is one of the most wonderful sounds in the world.
19) You haggle with the checkout clerk for a lower price.
20) Your wardrobe can only handle two seasons: wet and dry.
22) You get back to the states and serously cannot remember the currency exchange
25) Your dorm room/apartment/living room looks a little like a museum with all the "exotic" things you have around.
26) Half of your phone calls are unintelligible to those around you.
27) You go to Pizza Hut or Wendy's and you wonder why there's no chili sauce.
28) You know the geography of the rest of the world, but you don't know the geography of your own country.
29) You have best friends in 5 different countries.
30) It takes 24 hours to reach home in a plane
31) You can only call your parents at 8am and 8pm
32) You never really use a seatbelt
36) You got sick a lot and often had food poisoning
37) It wasn't unusual to find a lizard or cockroach in your house
38) You got to go home twice a year ...thats if you're lucky
39) Home almost felt like a museum
40) You are a pro packer, or at least have done it many times
41) Living out of a suitcase, you find, has it pros
43) Family photos you sent every year took months to arrive and often were in front of some exotic statue or endangered animal no one has heard of
46) When you return to the States you are overwhelmed with the number of choices in a grocery store ( I stood by the chocolate syrup for about 20 min. because there was a whole row)
47) You literally have real friends (not facebook friends) from different schools all over the nation on your friends list
48) Everyone had a 'staff'; maid, house cleaner, driver and babysitter
51) There was only one grocery store.. usually at the embassy that resembled the ones at home.
52) Once you get home you miss your adopted home and visa versa
53) You are never content in one place, be it city, state or country for long. You're a mover.
54) You never had a job until you reached college
55) Blackouts are quite common, yet after a while no one seemed to notice and sometimes you would find yourself doing homework to the light of your phone or flashlight
58) you know everyone else in this group, because he/she went to school with one of your friends
59) Your passport has more stamps than a post office
61) When you carry converters because you actually realize there are different types of outlets
62) When people give you funny looks because you are a gold or platinum elite member of your airlines
64) You don't think its strange that you haven't talked to your best friend in a while because you know you will always have a unique bond
65) You wake up in one country thinking you are in another
66) You don't feel at home at home anymore
67) When a friend talks about their dreams of traveling to across the world to a secluded country and you can give them all the best restaurants and places to visit. You're like the traveler guidebook.
68) You don't even bother to change your watch when traveling
69) You hate subtitles because you know there is someone that can make an accurate translation.. you!
71) When you think everyone else is a foreigner in a county foreign to you
72) When something unusual happens and it just doesn't seem to phase you as being something unordinary
73) When you speak many broken languages at once when you are drunk
74) When your friends take you to an 'ethnic' restaurant as a joke and you can read the menu, order food for them and actually stomach the meal
75) When you start introducing yourself followed by your country of origin....
78)You have to change your passport because it's full... not because it's expired... and this several times during your school years
79)Paying a cop is not considered a bribe
80)You've dated people from other countries
81)You start to keep your experiences overseas to yourself because people look at you as though you are spoiled for having the opportunity to indulge in a new culture.. sad
82)You are afraid to go back to visit your school because you know no one will be there that you used to know, they all moved
84)When you have free accommodation in any city you travel to around the world because some friend from the old days lives there!
85) you're scared of going 'home' because you haven't been there in so long, and changed so much, that you think people might not like you anymore
87) You have more than one driver's license, none of which are valid at home, that, or in college, you still can't drive!
88) You always have to think which side of the road to drive on

Loved this.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Jewelry Sale!

My birthday is right around the corner (13th) and I've decided to share the love and have a massive Alexandra Amaro jewelry sale over at my Etsy site!

Rings, earrings, necklaces and jewelry sets are all discounted from 20% to 40%.

Each piece is one-of-a-kind. Come check it out!

When It's Meant to Be...

My Situation at 8:00am on 26 September:
  • No passport (stuck in immigration office for the last 2 months thanks to incompetence of people processing my residency permit)
  • No valid Mozambican visa (previous visa expired while passport was stuck in aforementioned bureaucratic runaround, thus making me unable to leave the country without paying a massive fine)
  • No yellow fever vaccine (requirement for entering both Brazil and Mozambique - my last one just expired last month, and of course I hadn't renewed it yet)
  • No airline ticket (just a last-minute reservation with South African Airways, which I found out had been cancelled when I went to purchase my ticket)

Between 8:00am and 1:00pm, I managed to do the following:

  • Work with the agent at South African Airways to recreate my cancelled reservation, miraculously maintaining the same super-cheap fare. I couldn't believe I was traveling on a same-day ticket for $750, less than we sometimes pay for tickets we purchase 3 months in advance.
  • Hassle the person in charge of processing my residency permit relentlessly in an attempt to get my passport out of the immigration office. After about 20 desperate calls and texts, and a pointed intervention from my new boss, the message got through: strings were pulled, favors were called in, documents were submitted, and by lunchtime my passport was ready to be picked up in Matola.
  • Marvel at the "new" visa in my passport that conveniently made me legal in the country and gave me permission to cross the border one last time before completing my residency permit process. I prefer not to know the details...
  • Obtain a valid yellow fever vaccine, despite the fact that there is a 10-day window period before the immunity kicks in. All I had to do was lament to the woman at the public health clinic about how concerned I was that I wouldn't be allowed to enter Brazil, what with my last-minute trip and accompanying last-minute shot. She asked what day I was traveling. I said, "Today," and tried to look pitiful. She did some quick math on her fingers, then back-dated my shot record the requisite 10 days, simple as that.
  • Pack a carry-on bag with everything necessary for a week-long trip to Rio.
  • Do a slew of errands: pay the month's rent for our flat, pay the security guards, pay our maid's salary, arrange for the cats to be looked after, and reschedule all of my work obligations for the week.
  • Catch a ride to the airport with Jenny and have a quick lunch.
  • Convince the agent at passport control that there were no irregularities with my visas, now please-give-me-the-stamp-so-I-can-catch-the-plane.
  • Successfully pass through immigration, board the flight to Joburg (had to do an overnight to get to Brazil), and marvel at the fact that I'd managed to pull together an international trip in less than 6 hours.

This was a great trip that stemmed out of not-so-great circumstances. Definitely the best money I've spent in a long time. I won't go into the details now, but I am feeling much better today than I was this time last week, that's for sure.

Thanks for all your kind thoughts - it was very nice to know you are out there.