Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Waiting for the Page to Open

Well, I am back in the land of dial-up internet. My dad - who is one of the more technologically savvy people I know, and who owns a 9-cartridge bad-ass color printer he uses for large-format digital photo printing - still, unfortunately, relies on the old dial-up modem to get online.

Although it would be fitting with his personality quirks to reject some seemingly fine amenity of the modern world based on some moral issue, this is not the reason for the internet deficiency in this home. The reason, I have come to find out, is that it is physically impossible to run cable to his house because his property is cris-crossed and surrounded on all sides by irrigation ditches.

Ah, the benefits of country living. No high-speed internet, no cable TV. He has sprung for "the dish", but has passed over the several-hundreds-of-dollars-a-month internet service from the same provider.

I have become so spoiled, once again, with high speed internet. I am remembering what it was like to be in Chimoio, where not only did we rely on dial-up, we had to share the line between 6 people, all hungry to communicate with the outside world. No wonder I was a nut-case back in that shared house...

*** *** ***

In other news, Ricardo and I ordered save-the-date cards for our wedding, which arrived here the other day. I had a look at the cards and they are very cool, but slightly different than the impression I'd gotten from the computer-generated proof. I suppose this is a good lesson for when we actually order our invitations - get a real, paper-printed proof before deciding on colors. I'm not disappointed - I mean, they are save-the-date cards after all, not some huge important detail in my life, but it's always surprising to see how my assumptions can be off.

We've had to postpone our wedding slightly. The new date is 05 July. It will still be in Rio, still in the Anglican Church, still with the reception in the Casa Rosa.

We decided to change the date because my cousin L. (one of only 3 cousins! I have a very small family) is set to graduate from high school the exact same day Rico and I had chosen for our ceremony. I really, really want my uncle and his family to be at our wedding, and certainly didn't want to force one of "those decisions" as to which event everyone would attend. So we pushed the date forward to the next available US federal holiday and are planning accordingly.

Now I have the small task of obtaining addresses, preparing envelopes, and mailing out save-the-date cards for the 125-or-so people that will be invited who live in places other than Rio de Janeiro.

*** *** ***

The banana project will be finished late tonight. My part of the project, that is. Rico still has to add in all the finalized financial information, but other than that, it's ready to go. I can't believe it.

Speaking of, I should get to work. I have a brand-new laptop I'm working on (I love it, it's another Toshiba), complete with Office 2007, and I'm taking a bit of a beating trying to find all the specific little tools I am accustomed to using in Word and Excel.

Have a great day , friends.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Anniversary II

Ricardo and I have been together for 2 years.

It has also been 2 years since I moved to Mozambique.

It seems like this whole chapter in my life started an eternity ago, yet at the same time I can't believe how quickly it all passes.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Saudades, part Infinite

I am tired. I stayed up past midnight last night working on the banana business plan. It is going well, but there is still a tremendous amount of work to be accomplished before our submission deadline on Wednesday.

I have a jewelry class tomorrow in which I will use a torch to melt and forge silver to make rings. The next day I have a class where I will learn to use precious metal clay. I am really excited.

I leave California on Monday. I am happy becuause this signifies the beginning of 3 weeks in New Mexico with my Dad, Laura and hometown friends. I am weight-of-the-world sad because it means I have to say goodbye to my Mom, once again.

I love coming home, whichever home it may be, but I hate having to leave. I wish I could somehow replicate myself 5 times: one Ali to be with Mom, one Ali to be with Dad, one Ali to be in the Casa Rosa, one Ali to be in Maputo with Rico and the Boys (working to sustain all of these busy replicas of myself), and one Ali geographically unattached, free to roam the world scouting out new places to have adventures.

Until this is possible, I suppose I'll just continue the seemingly endless cycle of suitcase packing---suitcase unpacking---suitcase packing---suitcase unpacking---always longing for something and someone far away.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Wire and Hammer Techniques

Two of the jewelry classes I've recently taken focused on contemporary wire-work techniques and how to make hammered metal components. I loved both classes and have been working on several pieces that incorporate the new skills I've learned. Here are a couple of examples, now available at Alexandra Amaro, my etsy site.

Hammered silver 4-leaf clover components with black onyx briolettes and jet swarovski crystal accents.

Caged amethyst rondelles with handmade hill tribes silver bicones and iolite detail.

Hammered hand-formed silver swirls with teardrop freshwater pearls.

Check back soon - I'm working on a mother of a necklace that uses several wire-work techniques. It has blue lace agate and pearls, and lots of silver coils and handmade chain links. Hopefully it will be finished before I leave California...

Maputo Eats

I was tagged by Marcia, the organizing queen, for this meme in which you must name your 5 favorite local restaurants for dining out.

Here are my picks for Maputo, in no particular order:

1. Las Brasas. This is one of Maputo's more upscale restaurants, located in the heart of the city on Av. Julius Nyerere. Las Brasas has many Mediterranean-inspired dishes, as well as plenty of local seafood and even ostrich fillets. My very favorite thing to eat here is the Espetada de Mariscos, a huge, dangling sword filled with prawns, cubes of fish and squid that is presented sizzling hot to your table.

Recently this restaurant changed ownership and, under new Brazilian managers, offers daily lunch specials and a killer caipirinha at the bar.

2. Hotel Terminus Restaurant. Right across the street from our flat (and a popular place for business meetings), this hotel restaurant offers some of the best food in town. My favorite is the Galinha Zambeziana, a half chicken cooked in coconut milk and spices. This is also one of the few (only?) places in Maputo where you can get gnocchi, served with a rich bleu cheese sauce.

Also, Hotel Terminus' restaurant has some killer desserts. We especially enjoy splitting one that consists of rum-roasted cherries poured over a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

3. Costa do Sol. This is perhaps Maputo's most famous dining establishment, in its same ocean-front location since the 1960's. The seafood here is unbelievable, especially the mixed platters.

Rico and I are friends with the owner and, as a result, never have to order from the menu. We just show up and ask our friend to make a recommendation. We've never been disappointed.

Costa do Sol is has a special place in our hearts (and stomachs) because it was the place we first went on a date. It's the restaurant where we always commemorate our dating anniversaries, and where we celebrated the night Rico asked me to marry him.

4. Inter Thai. There are 5 Thai restaurants in Maptuo (yes, 5, for a not-so-big city) and, while all are nice, this one is my favorite. The atmosphere at Inter Thai is what makes it so nice. The restaurant is essentially in the enormous backyard of the owners' home, and is fully landscaped with a fountain and a big bamboo forest. There is even a gift shop on the premises where you can buy Thai silk scarves and canned lychees.

My meal of choice here is either green curry with beef, or Pad Thai. We like to come here and drink beers and eat spicy food for hours on end, especially on Maputo's scorching summer days.

Also, Inter Thai is the place to go in Maputo if you need quick service. We've never had a dish take more than 15 minutes to get to our table, something ultra-rare in the city.

5. Mundo's. Typical choice, but this expat hangout is by far the best place in Maputo to get a pizza. You can get any of a number of toppings, and the dough is thin and cooked in a wood-burning oven until it's crispy. My favorite pizza at Mundo's is not on the menu, but occasionally offered as a special: mozzarella topped with figs, arugula (or rocket for you South Africans) and roquefort. It's incredible! Rico likes to get a margherita with prosciutto on top.

Mundo's is in the middle of the city on Julius Nyerere and is a good place to meet people, have a drink, or watch a sporting match - especially if you're into rugby or the english premiere league soccer.

6. Cafe Milano. I know, I know. The meme said 5 places, and here I am choosing 6. But I couldn't leave Cafe Milano, a.k.a. the Schwarma Place, off my list. This is a Lebanese restaurant on Av. 24 de Julho with a great sidewalk patio and a takeaway deli area where you can buy a bag of 10 giant homemade pita breads for 2 dollars.

This is a great place to spend the afternoon drinking beer and eating schwarmas. I like the beef ones, Rico prefers the chicken. We come here an awful lot, so much in fact that the waitresses recognize us and we don't even have to order, they already know what "our usual" is.

Hmmm...seems we have lots of restaurants that revolve around beer drinking and spicy food. :)

------ ------ ------

I have many, many other favorite places in the city... Nautilus for executive lunch specials, Cristal for codfish and mango mousse, Vila Italia for homemade ravioli...

Whoever started this meme should keep track of the answers and make a page where one can access the top 5 restaurants for various cities.

Yum! If you feel inspired to share your dining preferences for the city you live in, consider yourself tagged.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Sunday Scribblings - Masks

There have been two occasions on which I danced with someone - a complete stranger in both cases - with such polish and passion it seemed as if we'd been preparing for the moment our entire lives.

The first time was in Santiago, Cuba. I was at the end of my 10-day public health mission and was sipping a mojito in the bar of a swanky hotel in the city center. A small live band played in the corner, predictably running through the set from the Buena Vista Social Club.

Strangely, nobody danced. That is, until the band struck up one particularly uptempo salsa song, straying from the tourist-pleasing formula. Out of nowhere a man appeared at our table and asked me to dance. I accepted, and we made our way to the makeshift dancefloor in the center of the bar. Only one other couple was on the floor, and all eyes in the place were on us.

Granted, it's much easier to dance well when you have a man for a partner who is a strong lead. Even that, however, isn't a guarantee that you will dance well together. There is chemistry involved in dance, just like in meeting someone in a bar. No matter how good the two of you look separately, you may not click at all when you are together. And so it is always somewhat of a gamble when you get up on the dancefloor to dance with a stranger.

That night, in the warm Santiago heat, I clicked with this anonymous Cuban man. We started out simple, a quick basic salsa step. Then the man discovered that I spoke Spanish, that he could give me little cues like "Venga!" or "Espera!" as we danced, verbal affirmations of what my body was already anticipating. Our moves became more complex, and I was able to follow each double-step, cross-back turn he led me through.

At this point we were really in sync and the entire crowd in the hotel bar was watching the two of us, clapping their hands to the beat and shouting out encouragements as we spun together. We sensed that the music was coming to a climax, one of those songs that was sure to end with a bang. My partner's eyes told me that he wanted to nail the ending. He began to twirl me, fast revolutions under his arm. I tried my best to spot a fixed point with each turn so that I wouldn't become dizzy and stumble.

Faster and faster I spun until he gave a sharp whisper, "Ahora!", then expertly hooked his foot behind my ankle. In a split second, he jerked my feet off the ground, sending me sailing backwards with the momentum of my turns. I didn't even have time to panic from the fall; I had already landed in his waiting arms, my back arched, one arm above my head and the other by my side, as if it had all been planned and painstakingly rehearsed months in advance.

The second time I danced in such a way with a complete stranger was at a Halloween party in Austin, TX. We were in a warehouse that was packed full of people, some in costume, others just dressed homegrown Austin-weird. A dj was spinning a great mix of Brazilian, Salsa, Merengue and Drum 'n Bass.

That evening I wore a black dress of my maternal Grandmother's from the 1940's with a matching black shawl that I attached with a spectacular brooch of rubies, aquamarines and diamonds that used to belong to my paternal Grandmother, a woman I never met. My hair was up in a bun and I had on deep, wine-colored lipstick. I was a vintage vision of elegance and demure style.

I had been dancing in a group wtih my girlfriends in one corner of the warehouse-turned-danceclub. We grooved and gossiped and sipped at free glasses of wine in plastic Dixie cups. A classic Celia Cruz number started playing and I felt someone tap the back of my shoulder.

I turned around and began laughing hysterically when I saw my prospective dance partner. He was a short man wearing an oversized, guffawing George W. Bush mask. Strapped to his chest, on the outside of his dark pinstripe suit, was a massive set of plastic tits with bright pink airbrushed nipples.

"Do ya wanna daaaaiiince?" he drawled from under his mask, extending his hand to ask for mine.

What the hell, I thought, and walked arm-in-arm to the middle of the dancefloor with the short, tittyfied version of our President.

From his appearance and stature, I was not expecting much from my partner. I figured it would be one of those comical dances, where you make complete asses of yourselves in lieux of actual coordinated footwork and proper turns. "Whatever," I thought, I was up for some fun on Halloween.

And so we started dancing, the connsumate odd couple. To my ultimate surprise, the guy was a strong lead, his hand firmly placed in the small of my back guiding me through some simple steps at first, then increasingly intricate footwork.

Maybe it was the wine I'd been drinking, or maybe it was the hilarity of the idiot mask and the size DD plastic boobs on my partner. Whatever the reason behind my high, I was completely in the zone. I was following each little step, hitting every spin, moving in time with this costumed stranger in a completely effortless way. Somewhere in the distance, I could hear my girlfriends cheering us on.

We ended the song with a tight, fast series of turns, our legs so close they were almost interlocking. I could feel Mr. Bush's prosthetic nipples digging into my sternum as we spiraled, causing me to giggle, but not to lose my step. With Celia's last belted-out melody, my partner pushed me out of our spin, held onto my arm and dropped to one knee by my side. He had some serious jazz-hands going, and I gladly followed suit. The perfect, Broadway-cheezy end to our moment together.

As the next song came on, boobie Bush quickly bowed to me, then waved his little hand goodbye and sprinted off into the crowd, never to be seen again that night.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Bananas, Bananas, Bananas

Bananas, bananas, bananas, bananas...

Yes, this means I'm working - while on vacation - but it was something I'd anticipated.

I'm actually not sad about being at the laptop, working on the seemingly interminable business plan for our client's expansion project.

(It feels really good to be working. Getting stuff accomplished. Getting rid of that nagging feeling in my stomach that I have unfinished business I've been putting off.)

The business plan should be done by next week. I can't wait.

Then all we have to do is cross our fingers and hope that we are able to raise $10 million for this project.

PS - not that you would have ever had occasion to repeatedly type the word "bananas", but in writing this post I discovered it's really hard. Go on, try it! It reminded me of doing warm-up exercises when I used to play the piano, or practicing some horribly difficult series of eighth-notes vs. triplets, trying to get the pattern to physically sink into my fingers.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Vacation, California Style

This is what I live for. Quality time with my family, my girl Azul, art classes and beautiful places to roam just outside our front door.

Increasingly I realize that I will likely never go work for a "real company". I value my freedom and my time too much. It would have to be an extraordinary job offer for me to give up the ability to take 2 months off each year to travel across the world and visit the people and places I love. It's getting to the point that I'd literally have to be offered millions to give this up, and even then I'd wonder what kind of obligations and stress I'd be getting myself into...

Anyhow, some photos of what I've been up to lately:

Smiling before a day of shopping. I made this kyanite and iolite necklace and earring set. A similar one is available at my Etsy Shop here.

Hanging out with my girl Azul / Zinha / BebeZee / ZulZalamin. The cat of 1,000 nicknames.

We love a Burmese!

Last weekend we drove to Pacifica where, miraculously, the fog was missing in action.

Instead, we got to see this beautiful view of the coast while taking the dogs for a walk.

More vacation photos to come soon!

I Am Scrrrrrumptious!

These past few days have been chock-full of activities.

Saturday I drove about an hour out to Vacaville (a literal Cow Town - haha) to meet this amazing blogger. I got a bit lost amongst the outlet malls and car dealerships, but managed to find the Chili's where we'd agreed to meet. We had a wonderful lunch, full of get-to-know-you talk, then moved across the street for some tea and coffee to continue our conversations.

What ensued was, I humbly believe, one of the more insightful political discussions I've ever taken part in. I won't bore you with the details, but we managed to combine large-scale politics with personal-level psychology, using these two lenses to analyze several of the hot topics in the world today. Fascinating stuff, especially because we come from very different backgrounds and lead very different lives, yet share similar centrist, realist viewpoints.

To say I enjoyed meeting Amber is a gross understatement. What an intelligent, kind woman!

The next day, Mother's Day, I had the pleasure of meeting yet another blogger, Kristine. She was participating in an open studio arts crawl in the Mission and my mom and I decided to check it out. Are you familiar with her life-sized wire sculptures of couture dresses and fabulous handbags and stilettos? Kristine does amazing, unique work. My mom and I walked into the studio where her exibit was and - to my delight - Kristine recognized me as we came in the door. I think we were both mildly in shock the entire time about meeting each other, and had a great time talking about her sculptures and the fact that we've been blog friends for an entire year.

After chatting a bit, my mom and I checked out the rest of the artists' expositions, then went back to Kristine's space for an unfortunately quick goodbye. We met her husband, who wowed us with his knowledge of Ferragamo shoes and Givenchy fragrances, talked about my wedding dress, and made (hopefully) plans to meet later this week for a coffee/tea.

We walked out with one killer wire stiletto heel and two painted red wire hearts. I plan to give mine to Rico for our upcoming anniversary on the 26th (shhhh, don't tell him).

After the arts crawl, my mom and I were in the mood for a treat. We spotted a cafe/restaurant type place and decided to check it out. As we walked in, I glanced at the sign over the doorway and realized what we were in for: it was Cafe Gratitude, the place that so many of my blog friends rave and rave about, the mecca for raw and vegetarian gourmet cooking.

Our experience was, well, mildly disappointing.

Friends, I hope this doesn't constitute a serious block in our virtual relationships. Perhaps this just isn't the type of place for me. Maybe I had my hopes up too high after reading all of your reviews about the restaurant. Whatever the reason, I sadly don't share your opinion of Cafe Gratitude.

The entire time we were in the place I wanted to burst out laughing, turn and shake our waitress or the cook by the shoulders, and say, "Are you kidding?"

All of the items on the menu are named with affirmations. Instead of ordering Soy Spiced Noodles, you ask for "I Am Succulent"; instead of a Strawberry Mango Smoothie, you proudly state to your waitperson "I Am Enlightened".

When the orders are up in the kitchen, the cook yells out to the waitress, "Teresa, You Are Gracious, Empathetic, Empowered and Serene," or whatever equivalent list of adjectives is ready to go to her table. As we were waiting for our food, the cook called out an especially long list of positive qualities about a waitress called Irene and my mom snarkily said, "She must be some woman!"

I get the idea behind Cafe Gratitude - I really do. I am kind of a hippie, I love dancing Nia, I could imagine myself being macrobiotic or something similar, I appreciate organic and try to recycle. I am generally "that kind of person." But there is something about Cafe Gratitude that seemed too forced, too incredibly saccharine for my taste.

I ordered a raw milkshake with almond milk, unprocessed cacao chips, dates and vanilla. My mom had a slice of key lime pie with a raw macadamia nut crust. When our waitress brought our treats and announced to my mom with a flourish of the hand, "You Are Delightful!" I smiled and had to agree. My mom is a peach and it was Mother's Day, after all. But when the waitress turned to me and said, looking deep into my eyes, "You Are Generous!" I had to bite my lip to keep from snickering sarcastically.

I wanted to say, "Really? I am Generous. Do you know me? Because actually I tend to be quite Selfish, especially when it comes to food." Ask Rico. I'm certain he will agree in spades.

More than the overly optimistic affirmations about the patrons and the waitstaff, I had issues with the quality of the service. I had to ask 3 times for a glass of water. My milkshake arrived mostly melted and I didn't have a spoon to scoop out the almonds and chocolate chips with. Our waitress forgot to bring us the check. Little things, I know, but when you are paying out the wazoo for prime organic ingredients, you want the experience to be smooth.

And one last observation - for an establishment that is so into political correctness and the celebration of people of all shapes, sizes and colors, the clientele was surprisingly white bread. As in 100%. Including me and my mom. Not that there is anything wrong with having all white patrons, but it took me a bit by surprise. I wonder if it was just that particular day, or if they do struggle to draw in multicultural patrons, something rare in the middle of the Mission...

Anyhow, for those of you that are diehard Cafe Gratitude fans, you will enjoy that our outing ended with a heavy dose of karmic justice. Upon arriving home, I got some serious diarrhea. I guess the almond milk didn't really agree with my stomach.

Or perhaps, in good Cafe Gratitude lingo, I could say "I Am Cleansed."

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Moving Forward Quite Nicely with All Tasks

Every day I work for several hours making jewelry, taking hundreds of digital photos of my creations (knowing full well that only 6 or so will be in focus due to my underperforming camera), update my super price-and-cost-calculating spreadsheet, and post new items on my site.

Alexandra Amaro, my shop on Etsy, is updated with several new earrings, a bracelet and a couple of jewelry sets. A heartfelt thank you to those of you that have supported my fledgling initiative.

I have also been busy ticking wedding-related items off my to-do list. Yesterday my mom and I hit the shops and I found sandals for the rehearsal dinner, a marcasite bracelet (I'm doing all my jewelry for the rehearsal in marcasite - should go great with the teal satin fabric), and - drumroll, please - SHOES FOR MY WEDDING DRESS.

It was as serendipitous as when I found the dress last week (remember? it was the second dress I tried on, period). We were in this boutique called Foot Candy and I told the woman I wanted a classic, ivory closed-toe mule with a heel to go with my Old-World-feel dress. The saleswoman said she wasn't sure she could help me, that they only had one ivory shoe in the entire shop.

The shoe she proceeded to show me was something that, I swear, not in a hundred thousand years I would have picked out for myself. It was an ivory silk mule with a pointed toe, alright, but then there were the - what should I call them - "accessories" around the ankle. You know those sandals with a cascade of jewels and charms and stuff that hang over the top of the foot from an ankle strap? That's what was going on with these shoes. I'm talking lots and lots of dark chain-maille-type links with crystal flowers and teardrops hanging all over the place. Totally not my regular style, but whatever, it's for my wedding, it's worth trying anything on that may be an option.

So I tried on these fabulously intricate shoes not expecting to like them much, and do you know what? I LOVED THEM! They are - appropriately - by a Brasilian designer called Constanca Bastos. I think the ankle jewelry will be the perfect combination with my dress and the gigantic crystal cuff my mom is lending me to wear on the big day.

I know this all sounds amazingly tacky in my descriptions - a teal satin rehearsal dinner dress, rhinestone and chain maille high-heeled mules, a huge crystal cuff. It's pretty fertile stuff for the imagination. But trust me - it's all coming together to make an elegant, slightly offbeat, unique statement - all perfectly suited to my personality and personal style. The individual pieces may be things I'd never have picked out for myself, but the big picture is coming together quite nicely and I couldn't be happier.

Now the only thing left is to find invitations and to buy about 100 meters of fabric to ship to my bridesmaids so that they can commission custom-made dresses. Arranging for color-coordinated dresses for women on 4 different continents is no easy task.

Okay. Enough about shoes and dresses and jewels and weddings. I've got a metalsmithing class to take in Palo Alto and need to have something to eat before heading into the overwhelming California traffic. Hope you all are well!

Friday, May 04, 2007

Alexandra Amaro Is (finally) on Etsy!

Friends, it's been a long time coming. I finally have set up a site to sell my jewelry online. You can visit my shop, Alexandra Amaro, on Etsy.

I decided to take advantage of the fact that I'm in the US (aka the Land of the Efficient Postal System) and sell all of the jewelry I manage to make during the 1.5 months I'll be here taking art classes.

So far there are 16 items up in my shop, including some cool wire-wrapped sterling silver rings that I just learned how to do in my class in Palo Alto on Wednesday.

I am still in the process of listing items - it is much more time-consuming than I'd originally imagined. I will also be continually creating new pieces and updating my site as they are completed. You can expect more necklaces and jewelry sets to come up in the next few days, so please check back often to see my newest designs.

All of the designs on Alexandra Amaro are one-of-a-kind. However, if you like something you see listed in the shop but want a slightly modified design or a different size, please let me know. I can usually custom-make a similar piece for you.

My mom and dad have both very kindly offered to act as my shipping agents, so basically everything I am able to make while I am in the US I will leave behind with them so that jewels can be shipped even after I leave.

If you are one of my friends in Mozambique and happen to like something on the site, please e-mail me (or convo me on Etsy) and let me know before you make a purchase. If you are willing to wait until late June, I will hand-carry the item to you and (obviously) will not charge you shipping.

Thank you all for your support. Without your wonderful feedback, it would have been much more difficult to take this step.


Thursday, May 03, 2007

Thinking Blogger

I'm playing catch-up. A while back, LacitheCat kindly tagged me as one of her 5 in the Thinking Blogger meme. Now it is my turn to single out 5 bloggers that make me think.

Here they are:

Safiya at Outlines. A mid-20's Muslim convert who recently got married. I love seeing the world through her perspective, and always learn something from her posts.

Mike Hu at Thinking Differently. A very interesting man who has a background in exercise and conditioning, but who makes some pretty profound observations about education.

Cait at Surviving South Africa. Peace Corps volunteer in rural South Africa. She talks about teaching, village life and culture shock.

Bart at Daze of Our Lives. One of my first blog friends. A sensitive, introspective thinker in the Netherlands with fabulous images in each post.

Kristine at Notes from the Laundromat. A talented wire artist (among other things) who is finishing her degree. She will soon be famous - I am convinced.


For each one of you that I've tagged: to continue this meme, choose 5 bloggers that make you think! Then link here to track the exact origin of this meme.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

I Belong Everywere. I Belong Nowhere.

It's always an interesting experience when I come back to the US (or even Brasil) for a visit. I've definitely had some reverse culture shock, but in different ways than last year.

What sticks out in my mind from previous visits to the US - bear in mind that I was still living in Chimoio - is that I was shocked by how much concrete there is in the Bay Area. I got off the airplane and was overwhelmed by the overpasses, the sidewalks, the office buildings, the parking lots. Everything was industrial-looking and developed. Even the green spaces were planned out! So different from my reality at the time, which consisted of 2 paved roads in the city and most all structures being haphazardly put together, in need of some serious paint and plaster work, everything coated in a layer of red dust.

This time, as we have now been living in the big city Maputo for over a year, my impressions are different. No longer the bustle of the city shocks me, although everything is cleaner and more organized (and, resultingly, more character-less) here in the Bay Area. I think what has struck me the most this time around is how much commerce there is around here. Literally everywhere you look there is a coffee shop, a dry cleaner's, a furniture shop, a Target, a taqueria, a kitchen utensil store, an organic market. My mom said it's as if Walnut Creek (the specific are where she lives, a pretty affluent suburb) were just one gigantic, open-air shopping mall. I have to agree...

The other thing I noticed, after an afternoon hanging out in Berkely to celebrate my mom's birthday on Monday (we went to the Scharffen-Berger chocolate factory restaurant for lunch - pity I'm not super into chocolate!), was how "California-y" everyone around here is. I guess I should say how "Bay-Area-y" everyone is, because I'm aware that California, much like Africa, is unfairly lumped into a homogenous group quite often by people that live outside these respective places.

Anyhow, what I noticed was that freaking *everything* around here is organic, yoga, vegan, raw, pilates, healing, holistic, free-trade, Tibet, green, eco-friendly, recycled, liberal, Democratic and - above all - anti-Bush. In general, I'm totally in accordance with all of these things, but here it's become this overwhelming ideology. My mom compared it with the mindset of people in the red-red-Republican areas of Texas where everyone tends to be conservative, big-hair, corporate, SUV-driving patriots. Generalizations, I know. But it really stuck out at me how much people here - despite the undeniable diversity, both ethnic and cultural - still subscribe to this mass ideology and, in the process, become somewhat closed-minded. Try having a multi-sided conversation about any of the hot issues in this country with a typical Berkeley resident...

I had a little taste of how this would go when, while browsing through stones at a jewelry shop, the owner asked what I was doing in Mozambique. I told her that I was a consultant specialized in fundraising for private-sector projects. She raised an eyebrow and puckered up her mouth as if she'd eaten something sour.

"I just went to a talk at the University last week that was an expose of private fundraisers."

"Really?" I asked. "What did they have to say?"

She looked me up and down before responding, "it was about the unethical practices that fundraisers use to charge their fees, and the lack of regulating in the industry that allows them to abuse their position."

"That's interesting."

"I can only imagine what fundraising is like in Africa," she said, with a look of disapproval. "You know, I used to live in Africa."

"Oh, wow. Where did you live?"

"Cote d'Ivoire. I was in the Peace Corps. There is so much need there. People are dying of starvation. We need to do something to help the situation, and all our Government does is spend on the war in Iraq."

"Yep. It's complicated."

I let the conversation trail off. Without a good hour-and-a-half to spend, it's not worth it to even get into the details of what I think works and doesn't work in Africa.

Anyhow, despite the differences in my perspective between this year and last, there are a few culture shock items that remain the same. I still marvel at the fact that I'm not stared at everywhere I go just because I'm white and foreign. I still laugh at the fact that I'm stuck in this Purgatory between being used to driving on the left (Moz) and driving on the right (US). I've caught myself looking the wrong way before crossing the street here a couple of times. I still marvel at the variety of fresh vegetables and fruits, and cheeses - oh, the amazing cheeses you can get here. The US really is foodie heaven, and it's such a pity that the cheapest, most advertised choices are crap-filled, processed fast food and ready-to-eat entrees. (There I go sounding like a true Bay-Area resident.)

It also continues to amaze me how much people get stressed out over little, relatively unimportant details. I know I'm not immune to this, but I believe over the past 2 years I've really chilled out when it comes to getting worked up over little things that honestly, at the end of the day, don't matter one bit. Part of it is letting go, bit by bit, of the perfectionism that has plagued me my entire life. Another part is a reorganization of priorities that has come about, almost unconsciously, as a result of living in Chimoio and Maputo.

Now, when I hear a lot of people's conversations and observe their actions, I feel like I don't belong. I can't relate anymore to what it is like to throw a fit in a restaurant because there is no more Splenda, only Equal, and that is simply not acceptable. (True story, this happened in Rio with a friend of mine when we went out for drinks last week). I don't want to develop a superiority complex or anything, or come off as pretentious, but it's true that I feel like fish out of water. Part of me hates talking about my reality because I don't want to make other people feel bad, or come off as a show-off. At the same time, remembering that speech by Nelson Mandela, I don't want to play down what I do in life, I don't want to dim my star just to spare someone else a slight feeling of inadequacy. It makes it hard to fit in, hard to relate, hard to connect. Every once in a while I run across someone that I mesh with immediately. I felt like this last week when meeting Jenna. I have several old friends like this as well. Thankfully, Rico is someone I relate to integrally. But it's hard when I have to make small-talk or revisit old friends...

My mom said yesterday that once you live in multiple places, you cease to truly fit in in any of them. This is so true. Once you leave your comfort zone, you are changed forever and never can quite recapture that blissful feeling of being accepted, of self-identifying wholly with a particular group or place. You don't even have to travel internationally for this to happen. I imagine that someone who lives across town in a community radically different from their own goes through similar changes. My mom mentioned some reality show about a group of Marines that are sent to live in the Castro for a period of time, how all of the particpants' lives are forever changed from the experience.

There is a Tribalistas song called "Ja Sei Namorar" that perfectly expresses what I feel, albeit in reference to a different concept. The chorus goes:

"Eu sou de ninguem, eu sou de todo mundo e todo mundo me quer bem,
Eu sou de ninguem, eu sou de todo mundo e todo mundo eh meu tambem."

(sorry for lack of accents) Translated, it is basically:

"I belong to nobody, I belong to everybody and everybody wishes me well,
I belong to nobody, I belong to everybody and everybody belongs to me, too."

Somehow, the larger my community becomes and the more extensive my experiences are in life, the lonelier I feel...