Tuesday, August 28, 2007
I will be participating in this national crafts fair starting Thursday the 30th and running through Monday, September 3rd. This is one of the best and largest crafts fairs in Mozambique, and participants must go through a juried selection process. I'm happy to report that I made it in!
I've been in full production mode for the last month, and am very satisfied with a lot of the fusion pieces I've created, especially the ones using trade beads from Ilha de Moçambique. I still need to make some more necklaces and a couple of chunky rings before the fair kicks off.
I'm really excited about the event, as it is by far the largest fair I've ever participated in. Part of me is a bit wary, though, as I anticipate receiving comments or more subtle "vibes" about the fact that I am not Mozambican and am nonetheless participating in the national crafts fair, billed as a "Made in Mozambique" event. Technically my pieces are made in Mozambique, using some local materials, but I am definitely the odd one out when it comes to the participants. Hopefully everyone will be cool with it (at least I know the organizers are, we've established a good professional and personal relationship over the past months); still, I'm preparing myself for what may be an uncomfortable situation.
I'll let you know how it goes!
Thursday, August 23, 2007
What is it?
Not surprisingly, something a bit hard to describe.
Basically, since arriving in Mozambique 2.5 years ago, Rico and I have been working on an expansion project for a client who is the largest commercial producer of bananas in the country. In order to prepare the fundraising proposal, I had multiple work sessions together with the client so that I could understand what was in his head and subsequently translate it onto paper in appropriate "business plan" language.
Through this process, I really came to admire this person. Not only has he created a massively successful agricultural operation, he has also established several other complimentary businesses on the side that are doing quite well. He is an amazing strategist, and perhaps the best businessman I've ever come across in my life.
The icing on the cake is that I also really like him as a person. He is interesting, personable, funny, and always keeps you on your toes. Honestly, who wouldn't be drawn in by the man who is formally trained as a medical doctor, served in the South African special services, and then went for a complete career and life change and became a commercial banana farmer in Mozambique?
The other night, our client stopped by to drop off some papers related to his project. I was in the middle of cooking a lasagne and ran downstairs in my apron to meet his car. He gave me a hug, we chatted for a while, then he looked me straight in the eye and held my gaze, saying nothing. This is a habit of his, staring deep into your eyes as if to test if you can stand the pressure. You never know what he is going to say in these moments, and have to prepare yourself to hear anything from "This work is terrible!" to "You know, for a young person you are quite impressive."
After what seemed like an eternity, he finally spoke in the South African accent I've grown quite fond of.
"Ali, do you want to work for me?"
"No, Ali. Do you want to work for me, seriously?"
"Yes, I seriously want to work for you."
"Okay, we'll talk about it then soon."
I was incredibly excited after that proposal the other evening, but kept in mind that it was informal and tried not to get my hopes too high. Still, I couldn't get my mind off the offer. I even called the client about the fundraising project that is being evaluated to see if, perhaps, he might mention our conversation the other day. He didn't, and I tried to prepare myself for the reality that the opportunity might not manifest itself before the end of the year. This client works on his own timetable, and I realized that it would do me no good to force the issue.
Then, last night, he called and suggested a dinner meeting. Ricardo and I went to meet him, and we started out with all the usual chit-chat that precedes an important business discussion here. Then, the client finally touched on the issue at hand.
He made me an offer for a full-time position, outlined all the reasons a young person like me might choose to work with him instead of a big-name international company, went over what the benefits of our relationship would be from his perspective, and gave his reasons for wanting me to work with him. All of this made me beam with pride. I needed no convincing - it was the professional equivalent of "You had me at 'hello'."
Essentially, I will be his apprentice over the next 2 years. I will be his shadow in all aspects of the business, with the idea that I will be able to substitute him in any area necessary after some time. We will go together to the plantation, to the bank to negotiate loans, to the fresh produce markets in Johannesburg, to the border and to the ports. He will show me the ropes of running a multi-million dollar group of companies, and I will get to know exactly how his mind works when making decisions and determining strategies.
However, the relationship as his right-hand woman will go both ways. I will act as a sounding board for his ideas, giving him feedback and representing someone with whom he can have an intellectual discussion about the situations at hand. I will also put my other consulting-type skills to use, helping him analyze the different aspects of his business and put on paper the fantastic ideas he has in his head.
I will start this new position next month. Needless to say, I am out-of-my-mind excited. I don't care how much I make as a salary - this is one of very few full-time opportunities that I'd accept in a heartbeat. Interestingly, a position related to commercial agriculture was on my List of 5 Dream Internships, as was logistics work. This opportunity represents both! Strike 2 off the list!
Friends, this is undeniably the start of a new chapter. I can't wait to begin.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
I went to the gym and managed to run 20 minutes on the treadmill without stopping. This is unbelievable progress for me, as I can run okay on the street, but feel like it is death in a chronometrized form when I am up on that machine.
Happy with my gym results, I went to treat myself to a manicure, pedicure and wax at one of Maputo's nicest salons, the Nail Spa in the Jardim dos Namorados. After a couple hours, I was ready to go and reached into my gym bag for my wallet and phone. The wallet was in the usual place, but my phone was missing. The receptionist called my number, and it was turned off, a sure sign of a robbery. We turned the salon upside down looking for my phone, and the manager even made all the girls who work there show me the inside of their purses. Nothing turned up. I was livid. My phone had been stolen literally from underneath my nose.
I have a theory as to who did it - the lone client in there with me at that relatively late hour on a Friday evening - as she sat next to my backpack for a while and then, when I realized my phone was gone, was a little too helpful and concerned for my well-being. Suspicous behavior for sure, but I won't bore you with my sleuthing details.
I called Jenny, whose number I thankfully happen to know by heart. She came to the salon and kept me company as we tried to get everythign sorted out. Then, she accompanied me to the police station where I filed a formal complaint. The process was unreal - a policeman wrote everything out painstakingly by hand, in s-l-o-w cursive, pausing every once in a while to verify a street name or the proper format for the claim.
In good Portuguese-bureaucratic style, I had to give all of my personal information for the report, as in my parents' full names, my place of birth, occupation, office address, home address, country of residence, visa type, etc. It was unreal, and there were several moments in which Jenny and I had to bite our lips to keep from bursting out laughing. Imagine me trying to explain what my father's completely un-latin-language-friendly name is, or that yes, I do have the same name as my mother, and yes I know this is not exactly common. But, all things considered, it was somewhat efficient.
As Jenny and I were in the police station, a couple of guys in soccer uniform were robbed on the street RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE STATION! Literally right beneath the armed officer's watchtower. Instead of walking home, we decided to be prudent and get a ride home from Jenny's boyfriend.
Of couse I had tons of plans with friends for Friday night, none of whom I had any idea how to get in touch with (they are relatively new friends, and the other people I know here in Maputo don't have their numbers or e-mails). I figured it would all work out somehow, and decided to have a good night despite it all.
We went to the Clube Naval and listened to some cool live music. One band was from Mozambique and reminded me of Chico Science. The other was actually a mix of guys from Brazil, South Africa and Mozambique. They are called Napalma and were cool, sort of an electro-world-reggae beat.
I drank a lot of vodka that night and danced nonstop. I figured, the more I drank, and the more I danced, the more I had a chance of getting rid of my bad karma from earlier in the night. It was a lot of fun, the best part being that at one point in the night I felt someone hugging me from behind as I danced. It was Francesca, one of the friends I was meant to meet up with and had no way of tracking down. She showed up at the Naval with our other 2 friends, D. and T., and we had a very hugg-y, alcohol-fueled reunion. Good times.
Later that night, unfortunately, Francesca lost her cell phone in a taxi on the way home! Apparently we didn't dance enough to shoo away the bad karma.
Francesca came over unannounced, as we were both without phones, and we went for some lunch and had a good gossip. We also bought pre-paid lines so that we could have minimal phone access again. I am so dependent on my phone it is ridiculous.
That night, Jenny had a massive housewarming party at her flat. There were easily 75 people in her house, from several dozen different countries. We danced, took lots of funny photos, ate delicious barbecue and, once again, drank a lot. The night ended with the last remaining warriors packed into Jenny's kitchen having a dancing party where a hand blender was passed around for use as a microphone, and the soundtrack ranged from Buena Vista Social Club to Malaika to Lionel Richie.
After the kitchen party, a few of us went out for some more dancing at a couple of local clubs, one called Xima and the other out near the beach, a place called Tara. I got my high heels full of sand, used an absolutely filthy bathroom, and spoke tons of Spanish.
Unfortunately, one of my friends also managed to have his cell phone stolen or lost. Of course I got the blame, as I seem to have enough bad phone luck to go around this weekend.
Despite that, this past Saturday was one of the best nights I can remember in a long time, certainly the best in the last 6 months. I got home at nearly 8am, exhausted, but satisfied.
Ricardo arrived from Brazil at 11am. Given my crazy weekend, I had quite a struggle trying to look presentable when he got home and woke me up. It was wonderful to see him, though we've not really been away from each other that long.
We met Jenny and a group of friends at Mundo's for hangover cure nachos, pizza and drinks. Then we went for ice cream at a nice place down the street. We spent the rest of the day watching dvd's at Jenny's house, hanging out with our friend El Erik, and eating leftovers from the party food.
Friday (again - I forgot a big detail):
I finally heard back from the consulting firm. They rejected my counter-proposal, and we both agreed that it is best for us to keep a relationship where they subcontract with me for specific projects when necessary. They don't want to pay me what is, in my opinion, an appropriate salary for their expectations; I don't want to accept a job that fundamentally doesn't interest me, but that also would create resentment for me starting at Day 1 because I'd feel my value as a worker is not being recognized. Best solution for all. Honestly, I can't say that I'm at all sad.
And...the cool opportunity that I am hoping, crossing my fingers, praying works out seems to be moving forward. Ricardo and I have a dinner meeting tomorrow night to speak more about it with the person who is making the offer. :)
Friday, August 17, 2007
Remember this opportunity I was so excited about last week?
I just talked on the phone (about an unrelated subject) with the person who made me the informal offer, and he asked if I was still interested in working with him. Yes, I most certainly am!!
This is the type of opportunity that I believe will not materialize tomorrow, but perhaps for the new year. At least it gives me something to look forward to.
In other work-related news, the consulting firm still hasn't responded to the counter-proposal I sent them on Monday. Yesterday, at least, they acknowledged that they recieved my e-mail, and promised to respond by today at the latest. It's still relatively early here, so we'll see if they keep their word.
In the meantime, I'm off to the gym for a workout and possibly a little time at the pool just because it's a beautiful Friday and I don't feel like being inside at the computer anymore!
Thursday, August 16, 2007
For some mysterious reason, my Skype has decided to stop working today.
It's been funky for the last several days, dropping calls and flat-out refusing to connect half the time, but today it simply won't work at all.
Not seeing the little "connected" icon at the bottom right of my screen makes me feel so incredibly lonely. This is ridiculous, really, because I never actually put my status as Online, rather I lurk as Invisible day after day so that nobody will call me and I won't feel the guilt of being Online and not making a call myself.
I don't really like talking on the phone, and find it even more overwhelming to speak to people now that I've been living in Mozambique for 2.5 years. How do I begin to have a conversation with someone? How do we catch up without the usual difficulties of such interactions. The questions I get are usually all the same, and the answers I give, no matter how much I might downplay certain aspects of my life, make me feel marginally guilty, as if I shouldn't be entitled to such a good hand when everyone else is just plodding along for the most part at their regular jobs in their regular towns.
Actually, I'm generalizing quite a bit here. I have lots of friends that lead similar lives to mine, traveling the world and always having something new and exciting to report about in a mass e-mail.
Funny, it's the friends that I identify with the most, the ones with whom I am capable of speaking for hours and hours on the phone and truly enjoying myself, that I don't feel at all compelled to talk to on a regular basis. We always seem to pick up just where we left off with no problem.
It's the acquaintance-type friends that I have a hard time with. The old classmates or neighbors or simply nice people I met at whatever point in the past that I feel quite guilty about not holding up my end of the friendship bargain. These people are *nice*, and I genuinely enjoy their company in person. But I find it so difficult to maintain the relationship over the phone, or even over e-mail. It is overwhelming, really.
Moments like these I realize what an introvert I am.
Still, the possibility of connectivity is comforting, despite the fact that I seldom actually "reach out". Just knowing that I have a list of contacts that I can click on and instantly be speaking with a long-lost friend or family member makes it seem that I'm not at all alone in the world, no matter how far I manage to travel.
I suppose I don't quite realize how reassuring it is to have the ability to call anyone at anytime (for free!) until it is temporarily suspended.
And, even after this, you can be certain that once Skype returns to its normal funcioning, I won't make any calls other than to say hi to my mom, my dad and Ricardo, as I do every single day. For all the other friendships and relationships that I neglect, at least I am really good about keeping up ties with my nuclear family.
Edited to update:
1. Skpye is apparently having global problems. Such is technology...we complain about its inconveniences when it's available, then absolutely are beside ourselves when it's not.
2. I got an e-mail from a very good friend alerting me to the fact that I might be interpreted as arrogant in this post, and not to discredit the lives of those people that do not travel and move through international circles as I do.
I'm so glad he wrote, because as I don't edit my posts, sometimes I'll write on the blog and then leave the house (as was the case tonight) without re-reading what I've just published. Perhaps if I'd edited a bit, I'd have added a disclaimer of sorts to leave my readers clearer about what I'm trying to express.
I certainly don't think another's life is less fulfilling for them if not lived according to my tastes, or that someone can't be happy just because they prefer a life that doesn't involve the things I appreciate (i.e. travel).
I just look at my dad as an example - he doesn't travel much, has a life completely different than mine in terms of lifestyle/rhythm, and yet is absolutely content with his decisions as far as I know. I have many friends like this as well - blog friends, even - so I hope that it is clear that I'm not trying to put down any other lifestyles here...
What I am trying to say is that sometimes - often times - it is hard for me to relate, and that makes keeping in touch a challenge for multiple reasons, many of which are obviously my issues to work on. :)
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
I was put in a delicate situation last weekend. I don't usually tell other people's stories here, but this one affected me greatly, so I feel compelled to speak/write.
My friend S. had been talking all month about this cute guy from her work who she had a crush on. According to S's nightly swoons, he was intelligent, politically conscious, motivated and, not least of all, they had amazing chemistry.
The object of S's desires was a young Mozambican who dreamt of being an actor and continuing his education outside the country. His current position was as the driver for the international NGO where S. was doing a short-term public health internship. It was the best-paying job he could get, though it capitalized on little of his past experience in theater and as an activist.
S. is a student finishing her Master's degree at a prominent Ivy League school in the US. She is originally from California, but has traveled extensively and called places as diverse as New York, Santiago and Rio de Janeiro home. She speaks 3 languages and wants to pursue an international career.
The first time S. and her crush finally went on a date it went spectacularly well. He even took her to his home province of Gaza, 300km north of Maputo, so that she could meet his family. S. had quite the experience in the campo, where the family spoke primarily Shangaan and initiated her into traditional women's work. During that visit, S. pulled the hard roots of a mandioca plant out of the family's machamba (vegetable plot), learned how to have a bucket shower, and cooked rice over an open flame - all "tests" of whether or not she would make an adequate wife for her man.
They had a wonderful time together on this first date, and S. came back to Maputo gushing about what a connection she felt with this guy from her work.
I felt excited by the idea of S. and her friend getting along so well. What a message they were sending, breaking down cultural and social barriers right and left by pursuing their attraction!
Not everyone shared this feeling, however; S. received multiple comments about how it would never work between them. There were also many wagging tongues behind her back, commenting about how scandalous it was that S., the "rich", educated, white American would fall for the driver, of all people. If she'd perhaps become enamored of the Mozambican financial officer at the organization, that would be fine, but to stoop to the level of a motorista? Unthinkable. She must be out of her mind!
Last weekend, I had invited a few girls over for dinner. I was making tacos and other traditional New Mexican fare, and S. asked if she might invite her crush over to share the meal. I said there was no problem whatsoever, and we buzzed about the kitchen getting the food ready, S. excited by the idea of being able to give him a taste of her world as he'd done for her during the trip to Gaza.
J. and F. came over with some wine, and helped us finish up the final preparations for dinner.
Finally there came a knock on the door, and S. squealed and ran to receive her man. He'd brought along his cousin, a sweet teenage girl, and the two of them stood a bit awkwardly outside the door to the flat. S. unlocked the door, and I stood behind her in the hallway and welcomed our visitors. "Come it! I'm so glad you were able to come. Please make yourselves at home."
We all sat in the living room - me, S., our 2 girlfriends, the crush and his cousin. I started making smalltalk, pulling out all the stops as a hostess. I told the crush and the cousin a bit about the food I'd prepared, then chit-chatted about all of the delicious Mozambican food I've tried to date. We were having a nice time, and the conversation was beginning to flow naturally.
Then S.'s man made a comment that was so off-color it stopped me mid-sentence. Basically, he turned to us and said, "I bet you're all thinking 'Get this [n-word] out of here. Right? Hahahah!! Kick the [n-word] out the door.'"
I was shocked, and honestly thought I'd grossly misunderstood his Portuguese because I couldn't fathom someone making such a remark, especially given the context that he was a guest for dinner in my home.
"O que??" What on earth do you mean by that?
The guy repeated the comment, stared pointedly at all of us as if waiting for some sort of reaction, then started laughing hysterically.
"Hahaha! I'm just kidding," he said, "I like to make jokes."
Yeah, fucking hilarious.
I tried to brush off that remark and not take it personally. S. had mentioned before that this guy was quite dramatic, loved to do theater, and had a way of provoking people. Perhaps this was the way his personality manifested itself when he was a bit nervous. After all, as he said, it was his first time being invited to a white person's house for a meal.
Truthfully, though, I was extraordinarily offended. Whatever the motivations for that comment, it was something that I found very inappropriate. I understand the idea of using humor to deal with complex issues, but the self-depreciating (and obviously racially charged) way this guy chose to express himself was like a blow to the gut for me.
The rest of the dinner, unfortuately, went along similar lines. S.'s man outright refused to eat my food (though his cousin happily had seconds and seemed to be enjoying herself, if not a bit mortified by her primo's behavior). I didn't take that personally either, though it's the first time I've ever had someone over to dinner who has turned down my hospitality. What would have happened, I wondered, if S. had refused to eat his mother's cooking on the trip to Gaza? I'm certain it would have caused some serious offense, but whatever.
What happened next was almost as surreal and offensive as the guy's inital race "joke". He proceeded to personally attack each of us foreigners at the table (with the exception of S., who was drinking her wine and trying to be oblivious to the situation at hand). I played the supreme role of diplomat and gracious hostess for the rest of the evening, trying to defuse an increasingly unpleasant interaction. My girlfriends took his provocations as well as possible, with F. choosing to be practically silent at the dinner table, and J. making a visible effort to hold her tongue.
He told J. that she - along with all other citizens of the UK - was chata, a bore and too serious.
He told F. that she - along with all other Italians - was aloof and uncommunicative.
I got nailed for traveling too much, and for being in a relationship with a Brazilian (not sure what that one was about).
All of these comments, of course, then brushed off as "jokes".
His insults made me tempted to blame it on ignorance, as sweeping generalizations about race and nationality are often made by individuals with no multi-cultural experience or sensitivity whatsoever. However, this guy works in an international office, and obviously was having a pleasant time hanging out with S. up to this point, so it wasn't as if he were incapable of being respectful toward foreigners. I got the distinct feeling - as did J. - that is remarks were quite calculated and intended to offend.
It seemed as if he was taking the opportunity to avenge the discrimination and lack of respect he'd felt at the hand of white foreigners in the past; or perhaps, if he'd not directly experienced such oppression, he was taking out long-harbored grievances on behalf of his brothers and sisters who did suffer at the hand of people that look and talk like "us". One certainly got the impression that his actions were representative of something much larger, much more seeped in resentment and bitterness, than could have possibly transpired in the space of a 3-hour dinner to which he had been invited and was being treated, along with his cousin, as a guest of honor.
After the meal was over, we all went out for some live music and dancing. By this point, J. and I had snuck a quick chat in the bathroom and agreed that this guy was not a positive person, that we had exhausted ourselves trying to be polite and diplomatic, and that at this point he was simply sucking our energy. So we went off and danced with F. and some other nice girls we met at the club in a little group. Interestingly, the crush's younger cousin decided to join us, and we had a fabulous time shimmying and twirling to the music.
S. and her man ended up getting in a colossal fight that evening. Unfortunately, she doesn't remember much of it thanks to the amnesia-inducing properties of alcohol.
The next day, S. and her guy made up. They came over to the flat and announced their grand plans: the crush was going to take S. to the beach for the remainder of the weekend - her last in Mozambique - and treat her to a nice hotel and lots of good times for her to take away as sweet memories. He said he needed to get a few things ready for the trip, and told S. to pack her bags, that he would be back to pick her up in 40 minutes.
S. excitedly got together a bikini, a cute outfit for a romantic dinner, her guidebook, insect repellant and all the other necessities for a weekend getaway. An hour passed, and there was no sign of her man. Two hours passed. Keeping in mind cultural differences regarding the perception of time, S. patiently waited. Three hous passed. She called her man and got no response. Four hours. She texted him, with no answer. Five hours. She started crying and decided to join me an F. for a meal at the Thai restaurant. Six hours. Seven. No sign of the guy whatsoever. It was becoming apparent that either something horrible had happened, or he had flat-out stood S. up for their date.
When he didn't show by that evening, S. and I decided to have a girl's night and stayed home watching movies and drinking wine. She was so upset by what had happened. I tried to offer comfort, but there is little to be done in such times. When the hurt is that deep, and completely unexplainable, sometimes the only thing to do is cry and cry.
The next afternoon, a full 36 hours after telling S. to pack her bags for the beach trip, the guy finally sent a text message. He said that he'd been tending to his dying uncle, that there were family obligations that he needed to respect. S. and I both understood the gravity of a sick relative; but was it not possible to share this information sooner rather than later, thus avoiding a night of tears?
S. left Mozambique yesterday. Before her flight, she allowed her man to come over one last time. Apparently he apologized sufficiently for her taste, because she gave him a "second chance". They will see what happens over the next few months, as S. has plans to return here next year at some point to do research for her thesis.
The events of the weekend left me with several thoughts:
1) I believe there is a pressure among expats in the developing world - at least a pressure that I feel as an expat in this situation - to befriend "locals" that represent the most humble levels of the socio-economic spectrum. It's as if an experience in another country is only "authentic" when one can say the've been to the shantytown, established friendships with the humble farmer, stayed in a home with no electricity or running water, had a consult with the local healer, etc.
My willingness (and sense of obligation) to be kind and patient with S.'s crush made me realize how much of that was due to the fact that he represented the elusive "authentic local person" that I've so desired to bond with here in Mozambique. Were this man an American, I'd be respectful towards him because that's the way I want to behave in general, and because he's someone that my friend obviously has feelings for. However, I'd have had much less tolerance for his insults and offensive jokes were he one of my peers, and would likely have kicked him out of my house after the infamous dinner. In the US, for me, an asshole is an asshole regardless of race or social standing. As an expat, I am much more tolerant, especially if the person is of humble origins. I don't know that this is a posture I am proud of.
2) There is significant pressure on expats to always be the representative of their home country. I want to set a good example no matter where I travel, because I don't want to become the justification for someone I encounter on my travles to develop an "ugly American" stereotype. I want to show that Americans can be cultured, aware of world events, pacifists, intelligent, tolerant, etc. I want to exemplify the best possible face of my country.
Given this desire, it makes it hard to put up limits sometimes. If I'd kicked this guy out of my house for being offensive, for example, certainly he'd add a list of expletives to his current stereotypes about Americans. I think all expats want to set a good example, but for Americans I feel, at this point in history, it is even a more critical concern. It is difficult to strike a balance between wanting to be a cultural ambassador and needing to respect your personal limits.
3) I am glad that I have my relationship with Ricardo. For multiple reasons, on infinite levels.
4) I continue to try and embody the lesson of being non-judgmental. I'm not entirely there yet, but at least I'm aware of this fact.
5) I am grateful to know the true meaning of forgiveness, that it is a decision one arrives at for one's own good, and for no other reason. To harbor hate and resentment is a recipe for wearing away at one's soul. Forgiving - whatever may be the transgression - is an act of self-love. It does not condone the actions of another, nor does it send the message that those actions did not have the capacity to hurt and poison. I am thankful to have forgiven many hurtful, hateful acts against me to this point. I feel genuine pity for those unable to let go and heal, for resentment and hate of that nature are destined to be passed on from generation to generation.
6) This is my first truly unpleasant interaction with a Mozambican. I hope it is my last, but if not, I hope to be able to deal with the next one with a better balance of self-respect and sensitivity for my position as a guest in a third-country. If that means throwing the guy out the front door, so be it. I hope to stand proud behind my decision.
Monday, August 13, 2007
I finally had THE meeting with the consulting firm that has been giving me the brush-off for the last 9 months. I showed up and the first thing the principal partner said was, "Epa, Ali, we weren't able to come up with a concrete proposal for you. Perhaps you could make an offer of what your salary expectations are."
What? Excuse me? You weren't able to come up with an offer for me? After me submitting not one but two financial proposals, only to have them poo-pooed for upsetting the "delicate salary structure" of the firm? After the e-mail the day before assuring me that you'd have a concrete proposal ready at the meeting?
You've got to be kidding.
My patience wore thin, and I gave the two partners in the meeting with me a giant piece of my mind (in a lovely, professional manner, of course, though what I wanted to do was scream at them and storm out of the office).
I also told them I'd been forced to accept another project in the time they spent dillying around and not giving me any feedback on our employment talks. Instead of 01 September, I am now available only after 10 October. And that I refused to sign anything but a 2-month contract at 75% time, because of the red flags I'd seen thus far in the process.
I think they were a bit blown away by my willingness to be candid. I suspect it may have a lot to do with the fact that I am a woman, and a young one at that. At present there are 10 men working in that office, and no women aside from the secretary. I believe I may be breaking down some stereotypes for the boys.
And, regardless of how they may have perceived my feedback, it felt GOOD to stand up for myself.
Anyhow, to make what could be a long story somewhat shorter, suffice to say that once I expressed my frustrations, the principal partner started apologizing up one side and down the other, trying to convince me that their flakiness was not at all a reflection of how much they wanted - no, needed me to work with them.
Then they gave me their concrete offer. They'd had one all along. They were just testing me to see how far I would hold out.
The strategy of negotiations can be such bullshit, always waiting for the other party to make the first offer no matter what. Granted, that can be an advantageous approach if both parties are equally interested in and in need of the deal. However, when it is an unequal situation - as is the case with this firm being understaffed and faced with the reality that there is a very small pool of available, qualified people to work in management consulting in Maputo - sometimes holding out until the last possible minute can backfire, driving away the very person you need to hire.
So now I know what they are offering. It is low, almost offensively so. But I will make a counter-offer and we'll see what happens.
Given my experience with this firm thus far, I honestly don't have interest in getting into a long-term professional relationship with them. If my experiences weren't frustrating enough, I heard similar stories from two other people here in Maputo, which tells me that this is more the norm of their operations as opposed to an exception.
However, I do want some spare cash for the end of the year. And I figure that I can do anything for 2 months, no matter how trying. Plus, this firm works a lot with the public sector here, and I have little experience working with the government, so I'm set to learn quite a bit.
I know what I'm getting myself into. I have no illusions that it will be easy to work with these people, or that their attitude will suddenly change once I sign on the dotted line.
On the contrary - I expect this to be a very trying experience. I'm sure I will play the Reality TV game nonstop, and that I will have to bribe myself through difficult workdays by thinking of my wedding dress in California, how much I want to see my parents, and how I will buy myself some hot new outfit and a ton of jewelry supplies with the extra cash. Oh, and a couple of plane tickets, as Rico and I want to go to the US for the holidays.
Also, part of me feels that this trial by fire that I'm expecting will actually be a very good thing. You see, I've grown quite comfortable in my professional position. Sure, there are some drawbacks that come with working as a self-employed, independent consultant. I get stressed out by the uncertainty of my cash flow and the inconvenience of not having a back-office. However, it is overwhelmingly pleasant. I get up in the morning when I feel like it, break up my workday with a trip to the gym, wear pajamas all day if it pleases me, have a leisurely lunch, set my own hours, and get to say "no" to any potential jobs that I don't want.
Sometimes a tough period - where one is forced to deal with difficult people, work outside one's comfort zone, dedicate one's self to a project that is a challenge to become interested in - can be the perfect prescription for professional and personal growth by leaps and bounds.
I feel in need of such a period, if nothing else to remind me why I've chosen to work independently, and why I fundamentally do not want the corporate life, no matter how strong the allure of steady money and a status-inducing title.
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
But I miss Ricardo. He's been away for just over a week, already, and I feel his absence here in the house, in our life.
I also miss my family. And friends.
I feel like this most of the time, but never take the time to explicitly say it.
Living abroad seems to be the way my life will go; I am satisfied and excited with the situation I currently have, but it doesn't change the fact that I always long for those I have left behind.
I especially miss my parents. Some days I wonder if I am crazy spending all this time away, despite what I feel is my "life path". Two of the few people in this world that truly, unconditionally love me - and vice versa - and here I am half a world away. It's not like any of us are getting any younger...am I out of my mind to be so far from my mom and dad?
I guess not, because I am really happy here and don't know if I would be were I living in the US in a different situation right now. Not that we couldn't be happy in the US...but at the moment, we've got a unique and good situation here in Moz that isn't very sustainable in other, more developed economies.
Perhaps this saudades is brought on by the fact that I dreamt in vivid detail of a terrorist attack on the US last night. Damn subconscious.
That's right...our old friend the consulting company.
I wouldn't really mind so much that they keep flaking out if only they'd let me know ahead of time that they can't make the meeting they scheduled. I mean, is it that hard to send an e-mail or a text to say it's off and we'll do it another day?
Instead, I sat all afternoon anticipating their call, which never came. As you know, this is far from the first time this sort of thing has happened.
I vented my frustrations with a few people yesterday, and a couple of them suggested that perhpas the partners from this consulting firm perceive time in a radically different, more fluid way than I do.
I'm familiar with the whole idea, that certain cultures operate on very fixed, rigid schedules when it comes to time, while others - stereotypically Africans, Latin Americans, etc. - don't operate on the "time is money" principle and have no problem showing up for appointments or parties 1 or 2 hours late. I've been living abroad long enough that this is one of the first possibilities I consider when I become irritated because someone (in my opinion) has disrespected me and wasted my time.
This would be a plausible explanation for the way the consulting firm has treated me...if only I'd never seen how they work with their clients. When it comes to the people paying their hourly fees, they are always on time if not early to meetings, respect deadlines, show up to the office on Sundays to finish a project if necessary, and generally bend over backwards to promote a professional image and keep the client happy.
With me, however, it's been a totally different story. The way the've given me the brush-off leads me to think that I'm not a priority for the firm. That would be a fine and logical explanation, except for the fact that they keep running back to me, saying how they are so desperate for qualified people, how they are understaffed and overworked, and want to get me on board immediately. Figure it out, people!
Regardless of any cultural or time-perception differences, one thing is clear: I see a red flag. Perhaps it's a very good thing that I've seen this side of the firm before signing on the dotted line.
Monday, August 06, 2007
Despite the fact that I started my morning feeling sleep-deprived and in an awful mood (thanks to Pria opening the bathroom door about 400 times last night and causing havoc with the toilet paper), my day turned out to be quite wonderful.
I got an early start and managed to accomplish loads of work on a fundraising proposal by 11am. I suppose this is the benfit of being a procrastinator - sometimes I amazed at the sheer amount of work I am able to get done when I really sit down and go for it with no distractions. Then, of course, comes the question, "Why can't I just work at half this pace with some regularity and avoid the stress of having to rush at the last minute to meet a deadline?"
Anyhow, the feeling of accomplishment was nice.
I had lunch with Tracy and Sophia at Piri-Piri. As the name suggests, their piri-piri sauce is killer, perhaps the spiciest in the entire city. I have a high tolerance for heat, but felt my tongue on fire after just a few drops. So we had a couple of beers. That helped.
Sophia and I then took a walk and went to my favorite place, the Núcleo de Arte, then to the bank, and finally to the butcher's. I bought fresh local cheese and guava jam, along with some meat for meals this week (meat is something I don't usually buy, but I am in a food rut and need to change things up a bit).
I made a yummy spinach and ground beef lasagna for dinner. I used the fresh cheese in lieu of ricotta, and made 2 liters of homemade tomato sauce for the filling. As I cooked, I snuck spoonfulls of the guava jam, and somehow found the restraint necessary not to eat the entire jar for dinner instead of a proper meal.
Jenny and F. came over for dinner and it was a nice, laid-back girl's night. We gossipped and had some interesting conversations about our respective experiences here, the various perspectives one can have on corruption, the process of making Mozambican friends, the places we want to travel...It's good to have girlfriends, particularly when you consider that I was friend-less and lonely this time last year.
I also received an e-mail regarding my jewelry creations that has me quite excited, and admired a pair of earrings I made that Jenny ways happily wearing.
But the best part of my day happened in the space of about 2 minutes.
I don't have the details yet, but I received an offer this evening that made my entire month. Professionally speaking, it may have made my year. I have butterflies in my stomach and can't wait to find out more information about this opportunity.
I shall share more as things shape up.
In somewhat related news, tomorrow I supposedly have a meeting with the partners of a consulting firm to discuss the possibility of me working for them in a more "regular relationship." I'm not interested in full-time work for several reasons, but I am open to considering a Monday-Wednesday stint in their office or something similar.
This firm has been talking with me about how they need additional help and want me to work for them since November of last year. Each time we have a discussion of the sort, they promise to get back to me with a concrete financial proposal the next day or the next week. Inevitably, our negotiating process has stalled each time (because they've not given me a proposal, not because I've rejected their offer) and I've felt a bit as if they are stringing me along. We've been at this for 9 months, people, and I am tired of the runaround.
Tomorrow afternoon, theoretically, I will receive the long-awaited proposal. I must confess, regardless of whatever salary they might offer, I have mixed feelings about the whole deal. It's hard for me to forget what this drawn-out process has been like, and I question whether I want to get involved with a company that has such a difficult time doing follow-up.
Who knows. Perhaps I will accept the offer and subsequently edit this post to paint a prettier picture of how it all went down. More likely, I won't. Edit the post, that is. I'm at the point now where I'd be happy to spell out my grievances for all the partners instead of pretending like I'm completely satisfied with how I've been treated thus far.
However, the cool piece of news I referred to earlier makes the pending meeting with the consulting firm that much sweeter. You see, unless I'm hugely mistaken, I have a better offer coming my way. One in which I'd work with a person who I admire immensely, who makes me feel valued and competent as a professional. Best of all, I believe it's a situation in which I'd still retain my freedom to travel and to work from home part of the time.
I'd jump at this opportunity any day of the week, and it will be a satifying end to this drawn-out negotiation process to be able to tell the consulting partners, "So sorry, boys. In the time you took to get back to me, I've accepted a position elsewhere."
I'll keep you posted on how it all develops.
Friday, August 03, 2007
Over the past year, I have become increasingly serious about my jewelry-making obsession, taking it from a hobby to a fledgling business. I've been selling at local crafts fairs in Mozambique each month, and finally opened an Etsy site to try my hand at e-commerce.
In all, my experiences designing and making jewelry have been overwhelmingly positive. I have learned an immense amount about both the business and design aspects of the work. I have even developed a small reputation around Maputo as the person to see for higher-end jewels.
However, throughout the past year, I have been plagued by the disconnect between the images and inspirations for my pieces I had in my mind, and the final product. Part of the problem has been the lack of access to materials and inputs for my jewelry, as Mozambique doesn't have anything resembling a bead shop at this point. There are fabulous gems mined in the country, but they are next to impossible to get your hands on, and it is even harder to find someone capable of doing lapidary work. In all, I've been limited to what I can fit in my suitcase and informally import from the US and Brazil.
My problem hasn't only been with materials, though. I suppose this is a natural part of any artist's journey, but I'd been struggling to find my "voice", my preferred style, my unique signature look that defines my jewelry and makes it stand out in such a saturated market.
It's been a long time coming, but this past week, I finally nailed it. I've managed to reproduce the image that's been in my mind the entire past year. My work finally fits with my inspiration - fusion jewelry inspired by Mozambique, Brazil and New Mexico.
I found some local artisans (one in Manica Province, the other in Nampula) that could provide me with Mozambican materials - precious hardwood beads, soapstone components, and trade beads from Ilha de Moçambique. It was a great process to do business with these guys, who are still at a very simply level of commercialization, yet are able to use e-mail and text messages to process an order. It was a fascinating experience to go to the cargo sector of the Maputo airport and collect 2 boxes containing jewelry supplies made specially for me by local artisans.
The products I received were gorgeous, especially the wood (blackwood and rosewood). I sat down to make a few pieces, and I was on a roll. The fusion designs started flowing, and I've spent each night this week furiously bending silver wire, wrapping gemstones, and digging through bags of trade beads to find matches.
It is a nearly intoxicating feeling to have this coming together - and with fortuitous timing. At the end of the month I will be participating in a national crafts fair, to be held at the historic fort here in Maputo. It was a juried selection process, so I feel especially honored to be showing my work at the event. It will be 5 days: 30 August to 04 September. I can't wait!
Here are a few examples of the pieces I've created this week. The main materials are pau preto (blackwood), pau rosa (rosewood), trade beads found in the sand on Mozambique Island, mother of pearl, silver wire, pearls and gemstones.
I hope you like them as much as I do!
Or so you'd think after seeing these photos...
What they don't capture is the "other side" of the boys, including Pria's incessant attempts to open all of the doors in our flat starting at 5am (she does it by jumping on the doorhandles, and is increasingly efficient), Parceiro's habit of climbing up our new bedroom curtains and tearing them off the hooks because of his weight (thus letting the full sun shine in the window at an ungodly hour), and both of the boys' fascination with the trash can (as in diving head-first into the bin to retrieve any piece of crumpled paper we may have tossed away).
Our little anjinhos...
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
This evening I went out with friends F. and D. to have some dinner and a beer at a nice snack shop with an outdoor patio. F. is working here doing research in public health and trying - without much support from her organization - to do an internship. I met her through our housemate, who is also interning at the same place.
D. is a geologist working with a titanium project north of Maputo. I met him on my flight from Joburg to Maptuo last month when, coincidentally, we sat next to each other. I have good plane karma. I think each of the 25 or so flights I've taken in the last 2 years I've had lovely seat companions.
So we went out for some food and had a nice time chatting, catching up in general on the latest events in each other's lives. At the end of the meal, I ordered a last beer, the famous saideira in Brazilian Portuguese. My friend F. declined a last drink, so I offered to share my beer with her.
F. looked at me with a puzzled face. "I thought you didn't like to share drinks with people."
"Oh. You read my blog," I said.
"Yeah," she responded, "you know, the whole list of random things."
"Well, I don't mind sharing all the time. I wouldn't have offered to share my beer with you if I wasn't truly okay with it. Honestly."
Despite my insistence that I wasn't grossed out by sharing a glass, F. declined the offer and I sipped my last beer alone. Sometimes keeping a blog can backfire on you.
I am reminded of this post from last year, when shortly after writing my friend Jenny came over for dinner and was slightly, shall we say, apprehensive about the hygeine in my kitchen.
At the mention of my random list post, F., D. and I got into a conversation about why I chose to start a blog, the surprising impact it's had on my life here in Mozambique - especially in terms of meeting new friends - and the concept of blogging in general.
D. asked if I've ever written something and then regretted it, to the point of deleting the post from the public eye of the internet. It made me think. I've certainly written some spill-all posts, in particular last year when I shared a flood of carefully harbored secrets seemingly out of the blue, but I can honestly say that I don't regret anything I've written about in this venue.
Certainly, in moments of self-doubt, I've been tempted to retract some of the more intimate posts I've put on my blog, but the responses I received from family, friends (real-life and virtual), and complete strangers did away with any regrets I might have felt. If anything, it's been quite a liberating process to put myself out on the internet, with very few things held back.
I am mindful of the fact that my grandmother, Rico's mom, my parents, and a slew of other people upon whom I want to make a good impression read this blog. The fact that they have read about some of my darker, more scandalous times and still love and respect me is, in my opinion, a giant step toward self-accpetance and healing.
Regardless, there are a few subjects that I won't touch in public form - sex, the nitty-gritty of my relationship, a couple of very personal issues, and my opinions of other people's drama. But beyond these few self-imposed restrictions, I can honestly say that what you see here is a pretty close representation of who I am in non-virtual life.
At dinner, I asked F. and D. if they would ever consider keeping a blog. Both gave a resounding "no". I asked if they would be more open to the idea if they could write anonymously, with the assurance that nobody would ever connect their writings back to them in real life. Interestingly, both said that they'd rather write candidly, without a pseudonym or fabricated persona, or not write at all. And for now, the decision remains not to write at all. I respect that. Blogging isn't for everyone, I fully recognize this.
Not everyone can be a nerd like me!
That said, I do miss paper journaling. I used to write every single day from the time I was 15 to when I was about 22. I've talked about this before, but sometimes I worry that the more intimate details of my life in the years since I stopped journaling will slip away, be contorted or simply ommitted by the unfaithful nature of my memory. I've tried before to rekindle my journaling habit, unsuccessfully. Writing on the blog has become my new habit; I suppose I just need to have faith that the deeply personal details that I omit from my virtual audience will be there when I need to recall them.