Thursday, November 15, 2007

Assorted Experiences from the Past Few Days

Recently seen/heard/tasted/contemplated in my world:

  • Outside my office window, in the small patch of grass between the warehouse loading platform and the national highway, there are 3 goats and a spotted, shaggy-assed animal I only recently identified as a sheep that idly graze throughout the day. They are not collared or chained, or even tended to by a small child as is often the case with hooved animals, yet they don't run into traffic or try to escape. I find this amazing. [By the way - what is the collective group name for hooved animals? I've come across it in livestock reports here, but for the life of me can't remember the term. I have the word "rudimentary" stuck in my head, but this is obviously not what I'm looking for. Anyone??]

  • As I was working at my desk yesterday, I noticed a furry brown jumping spider about the size of a penny. He was quite content hanging around the area near the front of the desk where I have my phone and message pad. My initial thought was that I should somehow get rid of the spider - either by killing it or taking it outside - but I was lazy and/or creeped out by the possibilities and decided to do absolutely nothing. Good thing spiders don't bother me; I was able to forget about the thing and go about with my work day as usual. This morning, I heard a strange buzzing noise and couldn't figure out where it was coming from. A bit of investigation turned up my friend the jumping spider gripping a giant fly between its front legs and injecting it with what I imagine to be some sort of poison, as after a while the buzzing stopped and the spider disappeared into my ceramic pot with his prey. I am glad I didn't kill the spider, much in the way I imagine farmers with rodent problems tolerate snakes. My skin crawls a bit with the idea of a poisonous predator spider, but at the same time I do have a significant fly problem here in my office...

  • In case you are wondering, the flies come from the warehouse. They are attracted to the produce, and have been particularly bad this week after we received an entire semi-truck load of rotten potatoes from a supplier in South Africa. I don't know if you've ever come into contact with potatoes so rotten they have turned to slime, but let me tell you, it's a terrible smell and an equally disgusting sight. However, it is an interesting business situation - what is one to do after importing a load of rotten produce? Do you destroy the rancid products? Do you send them back? What do you pay your supplier, if any thing at all? How do you offset the costs associated with the loss? How do you prevent this from happening in the future?

  • Yesterday I went with Ahmed, the warehouse manager, to deliver several important letters about town. I was happy to be out of the office, even if it was just to run some errands, and Ahmed was even happier because the warehouse is like an oven these days, the metal roof trapping the heat that has finally arrived in full-force here in Maputo. At least my upstairs office is air conditioned...

  • One of the places where I had to drop off a letter was at the Ministry of Agriculture, a building that was partially destroyed by a fire last year. The blaze was more than slightly suspicious, as it happened to do away with an incriminating paper trail just when someone high up was about to be investigated. The office I had to visit is on the 4th floor, and it is surreal to climb up the stairs in the bowels of this building and see the roof and walls becoming increasingly black and charred. There are spots where you can look right into someone's office from the stairwell because the fire opened up a hole in the wall that has yet to be fixed. If this were in the US, I can assure you the building would not be open for public use, but here it's a different story. Work continues as usual despite the burned structure and lost data.

  • The best part of the letter-dropping mission? The 25 industrial-sized fire extinguishers clustered in front of the building's reception area. Given the evidence at hand, you'd think someone would have distributed those extinguishers to the upstairs offices instead of having them all concentrated and useless just 10 feet from the front door. Ah, the irony...I admit to having had a good chuckle all by myself when I saw the scene.

  • Also on the letter-delivering mission, Ahmed told me a terrible joke inspired by a song that came on the radio. Unfortunately it's one that doesn't translate well into English, but here it goes in Portuguese for those of you who can understand the language: "Qual é a coisa que muda de cor, anda para trás, e come crianças?" The answer: Michael Jackson!

  • Today Hugh Marlboro told me that he is intrigued by my personality, that he sees aspects of me that are basically complete opposites and that he can't manage to reconcile. I took it as an immense compliment, because I like to be complex and shit, ya know?

  • Slowly but surely, I am starting to understand Afrikaans. Not to the point where I can say anything useful, but I can totally follow conversations. Most of the management here at the banana empire consists of Afrikaans-speaking South Africans. Exceptions are me (American), an Italian guy and a Mozambican woman. I find it fascinating to see how everyone manages to communicate. On a daily basis I hear English, Afrikaans, Portuguese, Shangaan, Zulu, Swazi and Italian being spoken (though this last one consists of mostly cussing!). All of the managers here speak the local dialects because they learned them as children growing up on farms with laborers. The dialects are the main language in the plantations and the warehouse, but they also crop up in unexpected places. For example, the other day a high-up member of the Government paid a visit to our office. I found it fascinating that he and Hugh Marlboro communicated with each other in Zulu, despite the fact that Hugh M. speaks perfectly good Portuguese. I am almost to the point where I can tell the dialects apart, as Shangaan sounds very smooth and is full of vowels, while Zulu and Swazi have clicks and are in general more guttural.

  • I went to a Macanese restaurant the other day and had spicy soup and deep-fried crab. I've been curious about this place since I first visited Maputo, and I totally regret having waited so long to try it out! The food was delicious, I was entertained by the decor (fake grape vines full of red grapes suspended from half the ceiling, red lanters on the other half) and even found some cool teas for sale that I will try over the weekend. Supposedly one is for energy and the other has a calming effect on the drinker. I'm afraid I'll be overly sensitive to one or the other, so I'm saving the tasting for a non-work-day. [My Google skills provided me with "Macanese", the adjective for a person or thing from Macao. I've been wondering about the proper form of this word for quite a while, but it's just one of those things I never remembered to look up.]

  • Speaking of food, I had a yummy thing sent up to me this morning from the warehouse boys that unfortunately I don't know the name of. It is a fritter made with the nhemba bean. There were two fritters nestled inside a french bread roll. They were slightly spicy and reminded me of falafel. Definitely something I will eat again, if I can manage to remember the name.

  • My work day is coming to a close, so I will go. Yes, I am blogging at work. I am bored again, as Hugh Marlboro has taken off for an early weekend out of the country and failed to leave me with adequate tasks to keep me busy. This afternoon I am writing. Tomorrow I will read some Peter Drucker and feel slightly less guilty about the whole not working thing...

  • Have a good day, y'all! (Which reminds me, I should be receiving a duplicate Texas drivers license in the mail at my Dad's house in the next few weeks to replace the one that I've "lost" while out of the country. Mozambican transit authorities, eat your hearts out, there is an original US drivers licence coming your way shortly!)


Jane Poe (aka Deborah) said...

What a cornucopia of events and observations! Glad you're not creeped out by spiders - I am! Happy that you're doing well and enjoying the rich array of experiences that surround you. xx, JP/deb

Anonymous said...

I think it's "ungulates".

Francesca said...

Just to acknowledge the fact that you are now formally included in my morning- and breaks-routine. Even if I don't leave a comment that often, you do stimulate a lot of thinking in my deep-fried brain. bjs!

Amelia/Badjia said...

It is a badjia, the fritter. I believe originally indian mozambicans made it popular but it is now very mozambican(regardless of race). local people, from the poorer strata(not muslim) eat it with bread for breakfast to enhance their MATABICHO.It has protein due to the beans, and recommended for people living with HIV/AIDS who dont have access to other forms of protein. I prefer a chamussa - yummy!
it is friday, enjoy.

embot said...

You were thinking of ruminants. I think that classification is based on chewing cud and not on hooves though so anonymous a.k.a. "dad" is probably right.

Safiya said...

Ungualtes - This is why I read your blog, it's enlightening on many levels ;)

Ali la Loca said...

~Jane Poe - I can honestly say that even on slow days, I am never truly bored. There is always something going on out the window that is new and different to my foreign eyes.

~Dad - Thanks. Not the word that was in my head, but definitely the right one for what I described (hooved animals). I'm impressed with your knowledge of random terminology.

~Francesca - It's nice that we can be a part of each other's day even with distance. I read you regularly, too.

~Amelia/Badija - Perfect! Thank you for helping me with the name. My favorites are rissois, for sure. :)

~Embot - Yes, that is what I was thinking of. Not the correct term for what I wanted, but definitely what was in my head.

~Safiya - Glad you enjoy my TOTAL nerd side. :)