Saturday, December 22, 2007

Desert and Dial-Up

We are at an internet cafe in Los Lunas, New Mexico taking advantage of hot drinks and fast bandwidth. I purchased the cowboy boots for my colleagues, bought a pair of running shoes for myself, and Rico downloaded iTunes and a couple of language packs from Microsoft.

Yesterday we went for a drive with my dad to Bosque del Apache wildlife refuge, then around to Quarai at the Salinas Missions. We got hit by a blizzard while in the middle of the red flagstone church and pueblo ruins at Quarai - definitely a memorable experience for two people who have been living in the tropics for quite a while.

Here are some photos from our day trip:

Best wishes to all of you - I hope you are enjoying the holiday season with loved ones just as much as we are.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Tour de Santa

More images from our graffiti photo-taking expedition this afternoon...

The first picture shows the outside of the Casa Rosa with the bonde passing below. A few years ago, some photographer in Santa took a similar shot and actually made it into a postcard, of which I promptly bought about 150 in the souvenir shop down the street.

The banana trees in the second photo are in our garden, and are doing quite well with all the rain we've had recently. Bananas seem to be a theme in my life...

In the rest of the photos, you can see some of the typical architecture of the neighborhood, as well as bits of the art that is everywhere up here.

Also included in the sequence is a series of photos taken at the Parque das Ruinas, a neoclassical palace where Laurinda Santos Lobo would hold fabulous parties with music, art and dance some 100 years ago. Isadora Duncan was often a guest at these parties. After the socialite Laurinda's death, the palace fell into ruins and was left as abandoned until the city of Rio promoted its rehabilitation as a cultural center. Two architects mixed modern steel beams and glass panes with the columns and remaining structures from the original construction, and the result is quite unique. The Parque das Ruinas offers some of the most beautiful views of the city in both directions (downtown and Zona Sul), and best of all is only a 10-minute walk from our house.

Ah, and you can finally see what my new short haircut looks like, though I must add a few disclaimers: 1) It was windy today, and my hair in many of the photos is being either plastered against my head or thrown up on end as a result; 2) I took a shower and left the house without doing a thing to my hair. Were I not so desperate to take some photos before the rains return, I'd have taken the time to scrunch in some wax, thus diminishing a bit of the 80's aerobics instructor vibe I fear I've got going on. Regardless, I'm happier with my hair. I don't know if it's because it's grown a bit in the last 2 weeks, or if I'm simply getting used to it. Either way, I'm not complaining.

Graffiti in Santa Teresa

In Santa Teresa, many times art imitates life. Much of the best graffiti in the neighborhood is based on actual street scenes, with incredibly lifelike replicas of neoclassical palaces appearing as the backdrop to the latest team of Brazilian soccer stars. Of course, many of the murals feature the bonde (trolley), the rickety yellow and blue symbol of Santa Teresa.

The graffiti in Santa, much like the other expressions of creativity in the neighborhood, are living works of art. They are constantly changing, different artists contributing their expressions to a clandestine visual conversation. Certain spots in the neighborhood are always receiving new layers of color and commentary; other places are seemingly abandoned, left to the rain and humidity, the colors fading to gray and leaving ghost-like traces of the original images.

I have a long-running obsession with street art. Today, finally, Rico and I took a long walk through the neighborhood so I could photograph some of the graffiti closer to home. Rio has some of the best urban art in the world, I am convinced, and I'd like to be able to take pictures of the murals and statements in paint that I see out bus windows as I go up and down the city streets. Perhaps, one day, I will go on this mission with my friend Jenna, who also shares this desire. Until then, I share with you here the unique style of Santa...

Mozambique Island Trade Bead Bracelets Available for Pre-Order

Unique bracelets by Alexandra Amaro featuring 300-year-old glass trade beads from Ilha de Moçambique - now available at my Etsy shop.

A historical trading center with ties to Arabia, Persia and India, the island was settled by the Portuguese shortly after Vasco da Gama’s arrival in 1948. In 1558, Mozambique Island was named the capital of Portuguese East Africa.

Over the years, some 500 ships sank off the island, spilling such trade items as pottery, glass beads, ivory and coins into the shallow waters of the Indian Ocean. Today, at low tide, local boys dig in the exposed sand flats for the remnants of these treasures.

These bracelets feature different combinations of trade beads in bright colors, many with etched designs and faceted details. All bracelets close with a handmade sterling silver clasp.

A limited number of bracelets are available for pre-order and will be shipped on December 17th when I arrive in New Mexico. If you live in the US, these will arrive in time for Christmas since they will ship via Priority Mail.

Visit my Etsy site to pre-order your Mozambique Island trade bead bracelet - a unique gift idea for yourself or a loved one!

Estamos Juntos

At noon my phone beeps with an incoming text message: Come downstairs. It's lunchtime.

I type the final paragraphs of a petition for the rights to a parcel of land near the river, suspend my computer, and head down to the warehouse.

After 2 months of eating cookies, cup-of-soup, cashew nuts and whatever other non-perishables I can store in my desk drawer instead of a proper lunch, I have felt the sorry effects on my body. I have gained weight, and not surprisingly feel sluggish during the day as the result of subsiding on carbohydrates, tea and coffee.

I've found a solution, however, to my lunch woes. My colleagues on the top floor of the office - the financial people, the administrators, the paper-pushers - may be content to go through the day with no lunch break, but the boys in the warehouse take a much more sane approach to eating. They actually set aside an hour each day, at a fixed time, to enjoy a proper hot meal.

Each day, we share a communal lunch. I cook family-sized portions of chicken curry, lasagne, rice and beans, enough to go around.

The first day I cooked for the warehouse boys, Raimundo, the cashier who sits inside a locked metal cage and deals with all the money from the fresh produce transactions, was afraid to eat my food.

"It's different from what I know," he said, one eyebrow cocked, examining the tray of ground beef and potato casserole I'd brought to work. "This is white people food!" he teased, sending a broad smile in my direction, all the while ensuring he was out of arm's reach lest I try to run after him and give him a smack upside the head.

After watching Ahmed and Paulo try my food with no disastrous effects, Raimundo consented, gingerly taking a bite. He chewed slowly, his tongue taking in the taste of the white people beef and potatoes, then suddenly clutched at his throat, fell to his knees, and mimicked the slow, painful death of someone who has been terribly poisoned.

"Fine," I said, turning my back and feigning indifference. "If you don't like my food, I'll just give your portion to the other guys."

"Noooooooo!" Suddenly Raimundo was up on his feet, full of health, grabbing for the serving spoon to pile on his plate a generous helping of casserole.

Now that Raimundo is over his fear of white people food, which I think was an honest concern on his part in the beginning, though masked by humor, we all eat together like the mismatched members of a little family. Paulo and I take turns bringing the main dish. His wife cooks delicious Mozambican and Portuguese-influenced food - matapa, couve, cacana, cozido, rice and potatoes. I supply the so-called white people food, though usually with a heavy dose of New Mexican, Indian or Italian influence. Raimundo contributes, too, bringing local delicacies for me to try such as raw manioc, badjias, and chamussas and rissois filled with meat and shrimp.

We divide the food into 2 tupperware containers, then heat everything up in the crazy microwave from 1988 that has found its final resting spot in our office kitchen. I am the only one who can make the microwave work, the labels and numbers long having worn off the front panel from years of being pressed by oily fingers. I have a special combination of buttons that I press to get the microwave to work, a sequence I invented by trial and error, though guided in large part by the memory of the giant microwave my mom's ex-husband would use to make nachos back when I was in middle school.

Once the food is hot, we crowd around the desk at the warehouse entrance and enjoy our communal meal. Ahmed buys 2 large bottles of coke or sprite, which we drink out of teacups due to the lack of proper plates and dishes in the office kitchen.

We share tupperwares - one for me and Ahmed, the other for Paulo and Raimundo - sometimes eating with forks, and sometimes eating with our hands depending on the food. Both Ahmed and Paulo are Muslim, and they remind me and Raimundo how it is pleasing to Allah for us to eat from the same plate, to use our hands, to connect through food.

For all of my hangups concerning shared drinks and food contaminated by the saliva of others, I am surprisingly happy eating this way with my colleagues. In fact, I haven't been grossed out a single time by the idea of communal plates, utensils or cups.

On the days when nobody brings food from home, Ahmed will order take-away meals for us, usually grilled or fried chicken with chips. I once asked Ahmed how many chickens he eats per week; without hesitation, he said at least 6!

After lunch, I sit and socialize with the boys for the remaining part of the hour. We have established a special friendship in the past 2 months, something I think came as a bit of a surprise to all of us. We joke with each other, we laugh, we tease. We talk about serious subjects as well - relationships, race, money and, of course, work. Ahmed, Paulo, Raimundo and I have managed to create that over-used workplace concept of team spirit. We have each other's backs. We make each other smile. No matter how shitty the day, it is always more bearable because we are all in it together. As they say in Mozambique, estamos juntos.

These are the friends I've been hoping to find in the last 2.5 years. We are friends because we are colleagues, because we enjoy each other's company, because we have things in common no matter how different our occupations, backgrounds or individual paths. Our friendship is based on these commonalities, not on the fact that I am a foreigner looking for an "authentic" experience with Mozambicans, nor on the perception that I represent money, a job opportunity, a leg up, a status symbol. We are friends because we are friends, full stop.

In addition to our daily lunches, we have established a wonderful weekly tradition. Every Friday, at the end of a long work week full of trucks, potatoes, onions, bananas, erratic bosses, electrical outages and everything else that operating a business in Mozambique has to throw at us, we get in Ahmed's tricked out Honda Civic and go for beers and food. Each week we choose a different place to sit and shoot the shit. Sometimes I treat the boys, sometimes they insist on being gentlemen and treating me, sometimes we split the bill. It doesn't matter what each person's money situation is for that week - we work it out among ourselves so that nobody is left out of the Friday beer because of financial concerns. It will all balance out in the long run, we figure.

Last week, Ahmed, Paulo and I went for beers at the Clube dos Professores, a tucked away little restaurant near the University. Raimundo wasn't with us - he stayed back in Matola because of the torrential rains that had been falling for several days. He didn't want to deal with the hassle of taking an inter-city chapa at night through the flooded streets, so we dropped him off on our way into Maputo.

Ahmed, Paulo and I sat at a table on the covered patio and ordered pizza and several rounds of 2Ms. There is a summer promotion going on right now, so with each beer we got a sort of lottery ticket. Over the course of the evening, Ahmed won 2 free drinks, and Paulo scored a 2M printed bandana. I was unlucky, perhaps the result of my ominous birthdate, as Ahmed kindly reminded me with each frustrated ticket I scratched.

As we drank on the patio, the rains intensified. Water had been falling on Maputo for the previous 2 days, and the city was already flooded due to the poor (ou seja: non-existant) drainage system in the streets. But the rain that fell that night at the Clube dos Professores was of biblical proportions. The drops thudded on the tin roof with such force that we had to shout in order to hear each other. The water accumulated on the street outside the restaurant and reached such a level that it began to creep over the front steps, innundating the patio floor and the inside dining areas. The water poured down from the sky and we realized: we were stuck, at least for the time being. It simply wasn't worth trying to brave the flooded streets of Maputo in Ahmed's low little car. We looked at each other, and smiled. "Another round, please!" We drank and laughed and marveled at the rain.

I confess: part of me wished the water would never stop coming down.

Monday, December 10, 2007

What Lies Ahead

For some time now I have sensed that it is coming. It is just far enough away that I can't make out the details, yet close enough that my intuition is buzzing and the signs are becoming more frequent, less possible to ignore.

Change is waiting around the corner for me. Big change. New-life-chapter type of change.

On the surface, this may seem apparent. I have wedding plans for July 2008. Rico and I will soon be living together again in Maputo after multiple months of geographic separation. I am about to sign a 2-year contract to formalize my job at the banana empire.

Yet I sense in my bones that none of these already-anticipated life events are the big change I am intuiting. There is something else out there, something so powerful that the small signs I am already picking up on leave me dizzy and feeling as if I'm in a fog. Quite literally. Usually my path forward is quite clear. Right now, I can't even tell up from down.

Part of me is afraid to acknowledge what my intuition is screaming out. I am scared that this change will be painful, that it will rock my increasingly comfortable life and make me feel as if the floor has been pulled out from under my feet. Yet I am afraid that if I ignore the signs of this looming change, pretend that I don't feel something is ahead in my path, that the choice to remain stagnant will be even more painful.

Right now I feel like those animals that are able to sense an earthquake before it arrives. I know something significant and inevitable is in my future, but I don't know if the shaking ground will turn up a wealth of treasures or a pit of snakes.

Hell, I don't even know if the change is the metaphorical equivalent of an earthquake. For all I know I could be on the brink of winning the lottery.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Satisfying the Inner Nerd

Remember this request for help in identifying a couple of snakes I've come across while driving through Mozambique?

Well, this morning one of the ladies at my work brought in a snake book and I finally managed to identify one of the beasts. There is no doubt in my mind that the snake in the first photo on the linked post is a FOREST COBRA (Naja melanoleuca).

The forest cobra is found throughout Africa and presents many color variations depending on the region, which is why, in my endless Google searching, I failed to identify it as a potential candidate. The forest cobras that are usually featured in internet photos are those from central and west Africa, which usually have spectacular banding, or are all black.

The variation of the cobra found in Mozambique, however, tends to be a light olivey-brown, with dark speckles increasing along the length of the body so that the tail is solid black. The snake has a light-colored underbelly, glossy scales, and is the second-largest cobra in the world!

I wish I had a scanner at work, because I'd show you the photo of the Boskobra (name in Afrikaans) that is in this book. It is virtually identical to the snake I photographed in the road, with the difference that the one in the book is hanging out in a tree (how supremely creepy - a cobra in a tree!).

When we stopped the car on the road to Boane to look at the snake, I was overcome by instictual fear. As long as the windows were up, I was cool. Kind of freaked out, but relatively speaking calm. Like being at the reptile house in the zoo. But the minute my friend rolled down my window to have a better chance at unobstructed photography, my entire body prickled in goosebumps, I screamed, and squished myself against the other people in the backseat as far as I could to get away from the window. There was something about that snake that provoked pure fear in my body.

Now, at least, I feel justified in knowing that I was looking at one of the continent's most venomous creatures.

Oh, and by the way, when I first posted this request for snake identification, my Dad guessed that it was a cobra. Nice work, Dad!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Trying to Keep My Head Above Water!

I'm overwhelmed and wish I had more time to do all the things I must accomplish before my trip to Brazil on Saturday. I also wish I had a car. And real living room furniture. And a Valentino dress, and a house with a garden, and a pony...

I'm tired and up too late. Also battling a sinus infection. Again. Ugh.

More later, most likely tomorrow during one of the inevitable periods of boredom I get during the day.