Monday, December 29, 2008

Mozambique Fusion Jewelry Designs

Here are some photos of my recent Mozambique Fusion jewelry designs. I combine local materials like trade beads and precious hardwoods with pearls, gemstones, sterling silver, etc. The holiday season was great for my jewelry business, despite the fact that I opted not to participate in the year-end edition of the National Crafts Fair. I thought it would stress me out too much, given that I am now trying to balance jewelry creation with a full-time consulting job!

Custom design set using 500-year-old trade beads found in Mozambique Island. These beads are incredibly special, as they are unlike any I have ever seen coming out of Ilha before. They are made of carnelian agate (semi-precious stone) and, based on my research, were likely hand-crafted in India. This type of bead most frequently turns up in West Africa, in places like Mali.

A friend bought these beads in Ilha, and the man who sold them told her they were originally found in a shipwreck off the coast. A company called Arquenautus has been exploring the shipwrecks off Ilha for several years. It is a very sensitive subject, because many of the treasures - Ming Dynasty porcelain, gold coins, beads, etc. - are either not being properly catalogued (and sold directly to international collectors), or the artifacts are put in the small museum on the island only to "disappear", or they are blatantly sold to tourists on the side.

This is a different story from the regular glass trade beads and shards of pottery that wash up on the shore. The local boys who dig for these items sell them to tourists, but they are generally of lesser value and are not being formally excavated from shipwrecks off the coast.

I have very mixed feelings about acquiring artifacts that have come from the shipwrecks - I feel they should remain in Mozambique and be part of the country's historical and cultural patrimony - however, the reality is such that the artifacts can't be properly protected or preserved in the present conditions of the Ilha de Moçambique museum (or the politics of the shipwreck salvaging trade).

The corners of the diamond shape have worn away from the beads from being at the bottom of the ocean for so many years.

Matching earrings with sterling silver accents.

Bracelet with beautiful swirled beads.

Despite the turbulent history of these beads, this necklace is one of my favorite pieces I've ever created. The client was extremely happy.

3-strand necklace with black glass Ilha de Moçambique trade beads and white pearls.

I love working with the trade beads - each one is different, irregular, but still very beautiful.

Sterling silver wire wrapped ring with blue glass trade bead from Ghana.

I made a series of necklace sets using monochrome Ilha de Moçambique beads mixed with other materials. This one features white Ilha beads made to look like porcelain with freshwater pearls and sterling silver chain.

Detail of porcelain-style glass trade beads.

The faceted transparent trade bead in the middle of this design was a treasure to come across. It's increasingly rare to get large, transparent Ilha beads in good condition with no chips.

Red monochrome Ilha de Moçambique set. I made a similar one for myself that I still need to photograph.

This set mixes trade beads with coral, handmade Indian glass, carnelian and sterling silver.

The focal trade bead in this design was stunning - the most perfect shade of cherry red.

Cluster earrings with mixed red Ilha de Moçambique beads on sterling silver chain.

Mixed turquoise-colored Ilha beads in a cluster design on sterling silver.

Pau rosa (Rosewood) discs from Nampula, finished with a 14kt goldfill wire spoke design.

Pau preto (Blackwood) discs finished with 14kt goldfill wire.

Monochrome blue set with Ilha de Moçambique beads, mixed gemstones and silver.

Along with the trade beads, I used sodalite discs, lapis lazuli tubes, and faceted iolite beads.

These faceted tube-like trade beads are known as "Russian Blues".

Cluster earrings with turquoise Ilha beads and a turquoise teardrop focal bead.

Cadet blue Ilha trade beads finished with silver freshwater pearls.

14kt goldfill wire-wrapped black trade bead tubes with rose goldfill beads, goldfill stardust rounds and swarovski crystals.

Mixed black Mozambique Island beads with Hill Tribes sterling silver beads.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Alexandra Amaro Jewelry Cluster Series

I do a lot of cluster-style earrings using trade beads from Ilha de Moçambique, but had never done necklaces or bracelets for some reason. A friend asked me to do a custom order cluster set using traditional materials, and it set off a series of pieces in similar styles. I just did one in red with garnets and carnelian for a friend, but neglected to take photos. Thankfully I see her all the time and can remedy that easily.

Custom order: set with freshwater pearls (white, pink and champagne colors), mother of pearl, stardust 14k goldfill beads, swarovski crystals on sterling silver chain.

Another custom order: chain necklace with a hammered sterling silver ring, stick pearls, swarovski crystals and a white pearl accent.

Cluster bracelet in cool gray tones: labradorite, silver and peacock freshwater pearls, swarovski crystals on sterling silver chain.

Purple cluster set: earrings and bracelet with bright amethyst, lavender amethyst, swarovski crystals, czech glass and purple/pink freshwater pearls on sterling silver chain.

This was a custom order in which the client liked an existing earring design I do (clusters of peridot and pearls with a yellow quartz focal bead), and wanted a matching necklace. I love how this turned out! The necklace features freshwater pearls, yellow quartz, peridot, green swarovski pearls, and mother of pearl on silver chain.

I confess, I was very tempted to keep this set for myself!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Happy Tropical Christmas

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas with family, friends, good food, and lots of counted blessings despite the difficult times many are facing.

Here in Maputo, it simply didn't feel like Christmas at all. It was unseasonably cold, but still, it is summer. No matter how many decorations are out, and how much holiday music is playing, tropical Christmas just doesn't feel like the real thing. Also, we weren't with family, and since Rico and I aren't really into holidays in general, we didn't do that much celebrating.

We did go out for a nice dinner with friends on the 24th. Not much was open in Maputo, but we managed to have appetizers and cocktails at M and K's house, then go for dinner at Hotel Rovuma, and later out for drinks at Dolce Vita. It's certainly the first time I've spent a good part of Christmas Eve having mojitos in a bar!

Christmas Day was spent quite lazily. Rico and I stayed in our pajamas all day and watched reruns on the Style Channel and ate leftovers. I cleaned out my closet while he napped. We played with the kittens and the big cat. It was a very relaxing day - that is, until around 3am when our upstairs neighbor had the fabulous idea to turn his stereo on full volume blasting hip-hop, then leave the house. Our ceiling was vibrating with the bass, and the music was so loud it woke me up. We ended up switching his electricity off with the support of another neighbor when we finally realized what the situation was. The disrespectful neighbor is the son of our landlady, so good old Dona Flávia will be getting a phone call later today...not only is this the second time this guy has blasted the stero then left the house, we found out he is stealing water from our tank. Grrrrrrrrrr. I'm trying to remember the Christmas message and love my neighbor, but it's hard!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Tips for Spending End-of-Year Holidays in Maputo

Mozambique is a popular destination for the December/January holidays, in particular with South Africans. Most vacationers head for the beaches, but increasingly we are seeing an influx of tourists in Maputo. Rico and I were commenting the other day that the city is positively packed with people, there is crazy traffic all over the place, and all the shops are full. This is in stark contrast to 2006, when Maputo seemed as if it had been deserted in the days before Christmas.

Anyhow, as this is our first time to pass both Christmas and New Year's in Maputo, here are a few tips we've picked up that may make your holiday a bit easier.

1. Draw cash from ATM's as early as possible. There seems to be a total lack of planning on the part of the local banks to ensure there is cash in their ATM's during the holiday season. Many of the systems are also overloaded with so many users trying to draw down cash, and we've seen multiple ATM's out of service.

Rico and I spent 3 HOURS this morning driving all around town to find an ATM that was a) working, and b) had sufficient cash. We stopped at about 6 different places before heading to the airport, and even there we had to wait in line for about 20 minutes. We will never again let our cash get so low that we are forced to withdraw on Christmas Eve!

If you are flying into Maputo, get your cash at the airport ATM's before driving into the city. Otherwise, we found the best bet was the Standard Bank ATM on the corner of Av. Kenneth Kaunda with Rua de França, just next to the World Bank. The Standard Bank ATM on Av. Julius Nyerere just across from Mundo's usually has funds, but the lines are miles long.

2. Plan for traffic jams. Maputo has it's problem spots for traffic during normal times of the year, but during the holidays it is a completely different story. There are traffic jams all around the city, drivers are crazier than usual, and many cars break down while in traffic due to their poor state of maintenance coupled with the excessive heat. Get errands done early in the day. If you are sightseeing, plan on going places where you can walk, or take a good taxi who can try to find alternate routes around the traffic jams.

3. Be aware that many shops and restaurants close for the holidays. In fact, it can sometimes be difficult to find places open between Christmas and New Year's, and it is not at all uncommon for establishments to close December 22nd or so, and only reopen around January 5th.

Do your grocery shopping early so that you can stock up on essentials. Several supermarkets stay open up to the holidays, but they are an absolute nightmare to shop in if you need something at the last minute. Also, don't count on eating at any old restaurant if you don't feel like cooking at home. Mundo's, one of Maputo's most popular restaurants, always shuts down at the end of the year. Costa do Sol seems to be open - we went there yesterday for some prawns - but I'm not sure about Christmas Day/New Year's.

If you are looking to eat out on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, be prepared to end up at an expensive, fixed-price hotel meal, though even that isn't guaranteed (Girassol's restaurant is closed Christmas Eve, for example). The best options for holiday meal/party packages are: Hotels (Southern Sun, Terminus, Polana, Cardoso), or even some of the yacht clubs (Clube Naval, Clube Marítimo) or residential condos (Kaya Kwanga). Reservations are a must, so call ahead to be sure you get a table!

4. Be prepared for serious heat. The weather this time of year is extremely hot and humid. Average temperatures are around 32-36 C, though it's not uncommon for it to go above 40 on a particularly hot day. Humidity makes the already high temperatures feel even more uncomfortable. Be sure to bring/wear loose-fitting clothes made of natural fibers. Linen and cotton are the best options. You will not want to wear anything tight-fitting, polyester or denim, no matter how cute it looks! Wear a hat and plenty of sunscreen if you are walking around or at the beach. Also be prepared for heavy tropical rains, as the hot temperatures provoke afternoon showers.

5. Don't get ripped off. Lots of tourists is a petty thief's dream. Be sure to keep your valuables safe, and only walk around with some spending money and whatever else is truly necessary. Wear a purse that crosses over your body if you must take one out. Keep small notes (20, 50, 100 meticais notes) separate from larger notes (200, 500, 1000) so that you don't have to pull out a wad of money if you want to buy a pack of cigarettes on the street or a cheap souvenir on the corner. Be aware of what is going on around you if you are walking, as well as if you are driving.

Also, be forewarned that artisans and souvenir sellers tend to hike their prices dramatically at the end of the year. You can safely assume that the first price you are quoted for a wooden carving or a t-shirt is easily double what the person actually expects to receive. Don't be reluctant about bargaining - it is expected, and definitely part of the game!

6. Make a local notarized copy of your passport and visa. It is required by law that everyone carry official ID and proof of legal status in Mozambique at all times. Usually this means carrying a passport with a valid visa, however this can be risky. Nobody wants to lose their original documents, much less while on holiday in a foreign country.

The solution? Take your passport to a Mozambican notary's office - there are several locations in Maputo, and at least one in each main city throughout the country. Get a notarized copy made of your passport ID page and your visa page (be sure your visa is valid). The way you say this in Portuguese is "cópia autenticada". It should cost less than 200 meticais. You can carry the notarized copies instead of your passport, and it is 100% legal. The police will still likely hassle you, but you are in total compliance with the law this way and can keep your original documents in the hotel safe or at home.

7. Look out for police trolling for bribes. This is always an issue in Mozambique, but it gets especially bad at the end of the year. Expect multiple police checkpoints along the highway and inside the city. To avoid hassles, make sure you have all of your documents in order - both your personal documents (driver's license, passport, etc.) as well as the car documents (import papers, registration papers, "livrete") - and the required car safety items for driving in Mozambique (safety triangle, etc.). Be aware of hidden traffic signs (for example, it is common in Maputo for a 'No U-Turn' sign to be on the opposite side of the street where you would expect it to be).

Everyone has their own personal opinion about how to handle bribe demands, but if you know you are 100% compliant with the law, it becomes much less of an issue. That's not to say that police won't try to intimidate you or hassle you regardless, but at least you know you are in the right. If you have committed an infraction, insisting on receiving a ticket ("multa") lessens the opportunity for corruption.

8. Beware of the craziness of Av. Marginal on Sundays and holidays. The Marginal is the street that runs alongside the ocean, and is a very popular spot for street parties on Sundays and holidays. Think lots of parked cars, blaring music, dancing, flirting, chatting and extreme levels of intoxication. Traffic crawls to a stop, and it can be impossible to get from Maputo through towards GAME or Costa do Sol, and just as difficult to go from a destination further out on the Marginal back to the city. Even if you don't mind the traffic jam, be aware that many of the drivers out there will be completely drunk. On New Year's and Christmas Eve, plan on things getting so crowded that you can't feasibly get through that area. If you are planning to party on one side of the city, and then want to cross to another area via the Marginal near Coconut's and the barracas, change your plans - it won't be possible!

9. Plan early for New Year's if you want to go to an organized party. Many of Maputo's residents get out of the city for the holidays - Ponta do Ouro is the most popular destination, as is Bilene. For those who want to spend the New Year in the city, there are basically two options: 1) street party along the Marginal, or 2) pay to participate in an organized meal/party at a hotel or club. Depending on what you are looking for, either of these options can be fun, but be sure to plan ahead if you want to do the organized party route as spaces fill very quickly. Expect to pay around US$80 - US$100 per person for the typical organized party at one of the hotels or yacht clubs. For this price, you usually get dinner, drinks and a bottle of champagne, and live music or a dj, but be sure to check in advance as each establishment offers a different package.

10. Have fun! Maputo is a fabulous city for a holiday, even though you may face several frustrations this time of the year. Go for some seafood at Costa do Sol. Take a walk down the beach along the Marginal. Visit the Núcleo de Arte or the National Art Museum. Have sundowners at Miramar or the bar at the Southern Sun hotel. Go for ice cream at Gelatti on Av. Julius Nyerere. Go for drinks and jazz music at the CFM train station bar. Enjoy a lazy afternoon at one of the many swimming pools in town (hotels and yacht clubs). Take a boat to Inhaca or Xefina Island. Take the ferry across to Catembe. Go to a movie at the historic Gil Vicente theater. Visit the many crafts sellers throughout the city. Eat lots of piri piri chicken....etc...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Few Maputo Beauty Recommendations

As a resident of Maputo now for about 3 years (and a resident of Mozambique for nearly 4!), here are some of my beauty recommendations for the capital city:

Best place for a haircut: Salão Olímpia Pinto (aka the salon on the first floor of the Polana Shopping). I cut my hair with a lady called São, who is the owner of the salon. She has a funny style of haircutting, much choppier and agressive than I am used to, and is really a fan of layers no matter what kind of cut you ask for. Personally, her style works for me, as it is good for cuts that look slightly messy. However, there are two things that really bother me about São: First, she always is overbooked, and ends up running late and cutting 2 or 3 ladies' hair at the same time. Second, she talks on her phone while she cuts your hair, holding the phone between her head and shoulder and merrily chopping away despite the fact that she isn't looking at you straight on. Still, it is worth it, as I've yet to find someone who cuts better in Maputo. Women's haircut and style runs around 650mt.

Best place for highlights: Salão Hera (aka the salon on the second floor of the Decali day spa on Av. Kenneth Kaunda, just down from the World Bank). I have the owner, a Portuguese woman called Isabella, do my highlights. She is good at listening, and works relatively quickly. They are some of the best highlights I've had in my life, if you can believe it. As always, however, there are some downsides. Isabella smokes inside the salon and blares out very, very loud dance music on the stero, which I find unprofessional. Also, I don't like her haircutting style (it tends to be too blunt for my taste), and I've had to correct crooked bangs and side pieces of my hair the last two times I've had a cut with Isabella. The highlights are so good, though, they keep me coming back. Highlights on short hair + women's haircut and style runs about 3,000mt.

Best place for a manicure: Salão Decali (on Av. Kenneth Kaunda in a white house with a green gate, just down from the World Bank). Dona Celeste, my favorite manicurist, is incredible. She does an impeccable job with nails, gives a mean arm/leg massage, and is so gentle and mothering she can be a temporary cure to my bouts of homesickness. All of the equipment is obviously clean and sterilized regularly, and tools aren't re-used or shared between clients. My manicures typically last 7 days, and my pedicures last 3 weeks. Cost for mani + pedi is 750mt if you pay in cash. (on a side note, Nail Spa is also quite good, but I don't go there anymore as I had my cell phone stolen from my purse while getting my nails done there last year - I think it was one of the clients, but I wasn't impressed with the manager's response to the situation and have never gone back).

Best place for waxing: As far as I'm concerned, the jury is still out on this one. I've had bad and good experiences at all the places I think are decent for waxing. Currently, I go to Dona Celeste at Decali, but I find she goes over the same areas with wax too many times, and tends to give my sensitive skin slight burns/bruises. I used to wax with the lady at Nail Spa at the Jardim dos Namorados, but she once botched a bikini was so severely (and painfully!) I never went back. I have several friends who swear by the salon on Av. Julius Nyerere just across from the Deli 951 (don't remember the name of the salon or the deli right now - sorry). It is near Taverna restaurant. Waxing costs vary depending on the salon, but tend to be pretty reasonable, and are much cheaper than in the US. Wherever you go, just be sure they don't recycle wax between clients. I had a horrifying experience once in Chimoio when I realized the wax the lady was using on my bikini line was already full of another woman's hairs!!

Best place for a massage: Salão Decali. My favorite is the hot rock massage with Dona Celeste. She is one of the few people in Maputo who can actually dig into my muscles hard enough for me to feel like it's a proper massage. There is always the Chinese place just off Av. Julius Nyerere near Mundo's, but I've not heard great reviews.

Best clothing botique: Papaia (next to Hotel Polana). The shop is overpriced, but the clothes are imported from Paris and Portugal and are generally good quality. Caters especially to women who are tall, or who have a slender build. I am average height and a bit curvy, so not everything there works on me, but it's definitely worth a look. Other options are the second-hand Mango shop on the side street just past Talho Polana (it is a Remar charity shop that, for some odd reason, only sells Mango brand clothes). I've never made it in there, as they only allow 2 or 3 ladies at a time and the wait can get frustrating. Several friends have found cute tops and dresses there, but I think it's a bit hit or miss. If you are into stereotypically Brazilian-style clothing (tight jeans, small tops, etc.), you might try somewhere like Loja das Damas or any of the small family-run shops around town, but I've never been enticed by their window displays or their advertising.

Best clothing retailer: I like Woolworth's and Mr. Price. Their clothes are cheap, but cute, and perfect for one-season pieces.

Best place to buy a bikini: Verd'Agua (aka gift shop a Southern Sun hotel, previously Holiday Inn). They have a decent selection of bikinis, ranging from brazilian-style cuts to more modest American-style ones. Patterns are cute, and the prices are surprisingly reasonable. I just bought a great bikini there for 1,250mt.

Best place to buy clothes from local fashion designers: Franco-Mozambican Cultural Center gift shop. The clothes are overpriced, but you can find some very unique pieces. Definitely not for everyone's taste, but if you are into fashion, you can find some interesting things. More basic locally made clothes using capulanas can be found at the Saturday Wood Market in the square just off Av. 25 de Setembro, down from Café Continental.

Best place to buy "ethnic" jewelry: Saturday wood market, or the shop on the second floor of Polana Shopping that specializes in African jewelry of slightly higher quality. And of course, there are always my pieces with Ilha de Moçambique trade beads and precious Mozambican hardwoods. :)

Best place to buy makeup/perfume/creams: Duty free in Joburg airport, or across the border in Nelspruit. I think these beauty items are ridiculously marked up in Maputo, and I am never confident that I'm not buying a knockoff product. If there is a good place here for makeup and perfume, by all means let me know!

Hope you find this helpful...

Monday, December 22, 2008

Mano and Nina

Friends, say hello to Mano (the white one with black spots) and Nina (the one all black on top, white on the bottom). They are just over 6 weeks old now, and we are absolutely loving them. These little kittens have, without a doubt, been the best thing possible for the hole in our hearts left by Parceiro's death.

We took the kittens home at 5 weeks, due to what we deemed iffy circumstances at the farm where they were being raised, and they have adapted beautifully to our little home. We kept Mano and Nina in isolation for the first week so they could acquire the smell of our flat and have a chance to grow a bit before being introduced to big cat Pria.

Two days ago, we took the plunge and put everyone together for the first time. We had low expectations (from the internet, and previous disastrous cat introductions, we learned that Tolerance was a reasonable hope for the cats old and new), and were frankly prepared for the worst. My mom was predicting a pissing fest, the result of all the 3-cat homes we ever had while I was a child. My dad was slightly more optimistic, but noted that it took their 3 cats quite a while before they stopped hissing and spitting.

In fact, the first moments were a bit rough. Mano was much more agressive than we'd have predicted, and hissed quite a bit in Pria's face. Pria, for her part, was not amused, and got out the old pata for a few retalliatory swipes. Nina, poor thing, is the true definition of a scaredy cat, and just froze in her tracks when confronted by Pria, tail puffed out to the maximum. For most of the afternoon, Pria just lay on the table observing the seemingly offensive intruders. Rico and I were satisfied, as at least they weren't fighting (or pissing).

What we could never have expected, however, was that it would only take 1.5 days for the kittens and Pria to get on splendidly. Last night, Rico called me excitedly into the living room where he'd found our big Gato Preto affectionately licking and cleaning Mano and Nina. Pria was playing the role of Momma Cat for the first time since Parceiro came home from Day 1 at the vet. It made me cry, from happiness, as well as from the realization that Parceiro is truly gone.

I admit I had a good cry last night missing Parceiro. He will never be replaced, and we know that. But it is wonderful to have Mano and Nina, and Pria is undoubtedly much happier as well. We sensed she had a bit of a hole in her heart as well, and it seems that was the case given how amazingly she's taken to the kittens.

Tonight we are making pizza, and watching tv on the bed as a happy family - Patrão, Patroa, Pria, and the two Gatos Pequenos.

Mano and Nina on their first day at home on our verandah (5 weeks)

Enjoying some onion-free baby food.

Not quite used to sticky foods yet, so there was a lot of lip-licking involved

This afternoon, lounging on the bed. They have grown so much!

Making pizza dough while wearing the apron my mom gave me for Christmas (I obviously didn't wait for the appropriate day to open my gift!)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Lessons to Learn, Lessons to Pass On

This is a delicate post. I freely talk about my past with eating disorders - ranging from anorexia to bulimia to compulsive eating - but it is not easy. Today I was reminded of one of the main reasons why I talk about my past struggle, and my continuing struggle, as I firmly believe that I am in recovery, and I know that one of the first things to go when I am stressed is my "control" over eating.

Anyhow, it is always hard to see a friend struggling with a similar issue. It is, although difficult to see, a firm reminder of why I talk about what I went through. I think that, once someone has been to eating disorder hell and back, she (or he) likely has something to share with others who may be suffering with those same issues. I have a friend who is in the throes of this, and I want to help, if nothing else by talking about what I went through.

I hope she knows that it is possible to live a life where your worth is not determined by your body size or shape. I hope she knows that there is a plausible end to this hell that does not involve constant preoccupation with food and eating. I hope she knows she is beautiful and worth something better, something more gentle, something that will be sustainable for the rest of her life.

I also have to remind myself of the things I've written above. I am out of the super disordered behaviors on a regular basis, but this is still my greatest battle. Food, weight, body is never-ending, always the first thing to crop up when I am stressed. I wish it were easier, both for me and for my friend who is in the midst of the real struggle, not just the interminable aftermath.

I hope she knows she is worth it...

99 Bottles of Meme on the Wall

Taken from Pea Soup.

Things you've already done: bold
Things you want to do: italicize
Things you haven't done and don't want to - leave in plain font

1. Started your own blog.

2. Slept under the stars.

3. Played in a band. Although I played piano for 15 years - not usually a band instrument - I was in jazz band in high school, and was in a side band with the bassist, drummer and guitar player from jazz band.

4. Visited Hawaii. Some of my favorite trips ever were to Kauaii with my mom.

5. Watched a meteor shower. Several, most memorably the Perseiad shower while bundled up in a sheepskin coat and lying on the hood of a car in the Sandia mountains.

6. Given more than you can afford to charity.

7. Been to Disneyland/world. Disneyworld as a child. But it wasn't a dream destination, and it's unlikely I'd ever go back.

8. Climbed a mountain.

9. Held a praying mantis.

10. Sang a solo. As the token native English speaker of Maringá, Paraná during my exchange year, I was convinced to sing "No Woman, No Cry" at my friend Ana's guitar recital.

11. Bungee jumped. (I went hanggliding in Rio, but am too scared to do any other jumping/flying related sports)

12. Visited Paris. On a 12-hour layover in 2007.

13. Watched a lightning storm at sea. Many times. Most memorable, though not at sea, was a massive lightning storm while in a river boat going down the Amazon.

14. Taught yourself an art from scratch. Jewelry-making, though I took some classes last year after 5 years of self-taught designs.

15. Adopted a child.

16. Had food poisoning. Frequently.

17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty.

18. Grown your own vegetables.

19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France.

20. Slept on an overnight train. Most recently on our way to Sapa, Vietnam while on honeymoon.

21. Had a pillow fight.

22. Hitch hiked. In Greece, on Paros island, the summer I visited Lambros. I believe I was 17.

23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill.

24. Built a snow fort.

25. Held a lamb.

26. Gone skinny dipping.

27. Run a marathon.

28. Ridden a gondola in Venice.

29. Seen a total eclipse.

30. Watched a sunrise or sunset.

31. Hit a home run.

32. Been on a cruise. To the Bahamas as a child. Not my cup of tea.

33. Seen Niagara Falls in person.

34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors. On my mother's side, yes.

35. Seen an Amish community. And eaten noodles with gravy in one of their restaurants in Ohio.

36. Taught yourself a new language. Portuguese, age 15.

37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied.

38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person.

39. Gone rock climbing.

40. Seen Michelangelo's David in person.

41. Sung Karaoke.

42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt.

43. Bought a stranger a meal in a restaurant.

44. Visited Africa. Check.

45. Walked on a beach by moonlight.

46. Been transported in an ambulance.

47. Had your portrait painted. By New Mexico artist Jane Mabry, circa 1990.

48. Gone deep sea fishing.

49. Seen the Sistene chapel in person.

50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

51. Gone scuba diving or snorkelling. (I've gone snorkeling, but seem to enjoy it less with each pasing year. Diving doesn't appeal to me.)

52. Kissed in the rain.

53. Played in the mud.

54. Gone to a drive-in theatre.

55. Been in a movie.

56. Visited the Great Wall of China.

57. Started a business.

58. Taken a martial arts class. Muay thai and capoeira.

59. Visited Russia.

60. Served at a soup kitchen.

61. Sold Girl Scout cookies. Yes, and I was damn good at it.

62. Gone whale watching.

63. Gotten flowers for no reason.

64. Donated blood. (Usually not eligible thanks to residence in malaria zone).

65. Gone sky diving.

66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp.

67. Bounced a cheque.

68. Flown in a helicopter.

69. Saved a favorite childhood toy. Several of my childhood toys are in the attic in Peci, though I didn't save them, per se.

70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial.

71. Eaten Caviar.

72. Pieced a quilt.

73. Stood in Times Square.

74. Toured the Everglades.

75. Been fired from a job. I've had non-renewal of a contract. Does that count?

76. Seen the Changing of the Guard in London.

77. Broken a bone.

78. Been on a speeding motorcycle. Dashing inbetween buses and traffic in Rio. Scary!

79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person.

80. Published a book.

81. Visited the Vatican.

82. Bought a brand new car. Technically my mom bought it for me, but I made many of the payments.

83. Walked in Jerusalem.

84. Had your picture in the newspaper.

85. Read the entire Bible.

86. Visited the White House.

87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating. Fish.

88. Had chickenpox.

89. Saved someone’s life. Not a physical feat, but I did an intervention with someone who was suicidal and addicted to pills.

90. Sat on a jury.

91. Met someone famous. I went to elementary school with Nicole 'Coco' Austin, though she definitely wasn't who she is nowadays. The famous person I was most excited to meet was Zeca Baleiro (musician) in the Rio airport baggage claim several years ago.

92. Joined a book club.

93. Lost a loved one.

94. Had a baby. Yes, people. It is italicized. Crazier things have happened.

95. Seen the Alamo in person.

96. Swum in the Great Salt Lake.

97. Been involved in a law suit.

98. Owned a cell phone.

99. Been stung by a bee. More times than I care to thing about. Wasps, too.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Countdown to Férias

Or perhaps I should say countdown to holidays, for the non-lusophone out there. Whatever the language, the point is I CAN'T WAIT!

The office where I am currently doing long-term consulting (so long-term it resembles a full-time job) is closing for 2 weeks, so that means I get to work from home for a few days to wrap up a couple of reports and proposals, then take the rest of the time off.

This is the first year since moving to Moz that Rico and I will spend the holidays here. We usually either visit family (in the US or Brasil), or take a trip on our own, like we did with the Great South Africa Road Trip of 2006/07. This year, however, with all the traveling we've already done for the wedding, our honeymoon and for work, neither of us is particularly in the mood to venture far from home. I have no idea what Maputo is like for the end of the year, but I am looking forward to it.

Here is a list I made the other day (bored at work!) of things I'd like to do while on holiday:

• Eat at the fish market
• Go to Catembe
• Go to Inhaca and Ilha dos Portugueses
• Read Nikon camera manual
• Do a photo excursion day in Maputo
• Finish Rico’s birthday dhow mosaic collage
• Bleach shower curtain
• Eat at Tio Jorge’s on road to Boane
• Go to the pool at Terminus
• Read “The Kite Runner”
• Buy small plant pots – replant herbs on verandah
• Make bulk cat food
• Blog Vietnam photos
• Exercise daily – pilates, walk/jog, squash
• Clean out closet for donations
• Hang art in guest room
• Frame Vietnam prints, rest of Dad’s photos, mirror
• Go to Núcleo de Árte
• Go to National Art Museum
• Go to National Geology Museum

In addition to all the things on this list, I'm quite excited about having friends visit over the New Year. My childhood friend H. and her friend C. - both fresh from having worked very, very hard on the Obama campaign - are coming to Southern Africa for a holiday of their own. They will spend a couple nights in Maputo, and I'm already planning the places we will visit together. It's always fun to play tourist in the city where you live!

It's funny, I can already feel the city shifting into end-of-year mode. Parking lots and offices are noticeably emptier (nearly everything grinds to a halt in Maputo between 15 December and 15 January), there are throngs of people on the beaches during the day thanks to school holidays, restaurants and malls are packed, and there are already lots of tourists milling about - mostly South Africans stopping for a jaunt in ex-LM before heading up to the beaches in Gaza and Inhambane.

Only 2 more days!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Kitty Names

Rico and I decided. Our two new kittens are Mano and Nina. Mano because we wanted something that reminded us of Parceiro's name. Parceiro means "partner", and Mano is slang in São Paulo for "brother". Nina was inspired by the stray cat we took in earlier this year, Pequena, because they look a lot alike. The diminuitive form of Pequena in continental Portuguese is "pequenina", thus Nina.

They are so cute, and it's nice to be able to call the kitties by name.

Pria, however, continues unimpressed. There have been several hissing episodes through the varanda door.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Black and White / White and Black

That is how the veterinarian described our TWO NEW KITTENS when filling out their charts yesterday. We got them from Hugh Marlboro's farm (oh, the irony), as one of the resident cats gave birth to five kittens. Last week Rico and I went to visit them, and picked out a boy and a girl (we were hoping for two girls, but alas, there was only one in the litter). They are, as the vet's assistant tried to capture on the chart, black and white; one is nearly white with black splotches, the other is all black on top, and all white on the bottom. They are 5 weeks old and very, very cute. Now all they need is names!

We took them away from the momma cat a bit early, however it seemed like the best decision as the farm where the cats were staying has 1) poisonous snakes (the end of little Pequena, as you might remember), 2) an uncovered swimming pool (our little white/black cat actually fell in the day before we picked up the cats - thankfully the daughter of the farm supervisor was swimming and promptly plucked the kitten out of the water), and 3) there are CROCODILES in a pen behind the farmhouse (a homemade pen, by the way, with 3 crocs in it already and one ready to lay eggs tomorrow!).

I asked the farm supervisor's daughter - she is 9 years old - what they were going to do with all the crocodiles, and where they would keep them (the pen isn't that big). She matter-of-factly said the crocs would stay in her room while they were small, then they would give them to the croc farm down the road. I asked if she didn't think the crocodiles would eat the kittens, or any of the small sausage dogs they have running around the farm. No, she said, they are too small. The crocs that is, not the potential pet-snacks. I could just imagine that situation going horribly wrong about 100 different ways, but chose to keep my mouth shut. If this girl's parents think it's quite ok for her to be keeping crocs in her room, then I shall stay far away from that discussion!

So, yes, it would have been nice for the kitties to get an extra week of momma's milk. However, I'm not at all confident they would have survived that week unscathed. :)

For the time being, we are keeping the kittens in isolation on the varanda. I've been doing lots of reading on how to introduce cats to each other in the least painful way possible. They say it is unrealistic to hope for new cats to bond with cats already present in the household; a realistic expectation is for them to tolerate each other. I am 100% hoping for tolerance, but I also know it will likely be a rough next month given Pria's lovely personality. That said, I think it will be a good thing in the long run for Pria to have company, as (s)he is obviously lonely, needy, craving a play partner, and generally feeling the lack of a companion cat.

We'll see how it goes. As a precaution, we've invested in lots of bleach should our mattress become the vehicle for Pria to express her distaste with our newest additions to the household.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

In a Typical Day, I...

- hit snooze for 30 minutes
- walk up at least 16 flights of stairs
- check email 80 times
- go on Facebook, Perez Hilton and Go Fug Yourself
- read blogs
- drink 1 cup of coffee
- drink 2 glasses of wine
- drink 1 cup of tea
- swear multiple times in Portuguese
- cuddle the cat
- have lunch with Rico
- watch a program on the Style Network
- write at least 1 list
- wear high heels
- listen to loud music in the car
- eat peri-peri
- clean up someone else's mess
- talk to my mom or my dad
- water my struggling houseplants
- wash no dishes
- aggravate my tendonitis through excessive computer work
- write 40 emails
- try to go to bed earlier and never do
- speak at least 2 languages
- read the news online
- procrastinate

Monday, December 01, 2008

Missing P.

Today I've been hit with a wave of grief, the strongest one since the initial sadness of losing Parceiro passed. I've felt like crying all day, and can't stop thinking about the fact that our boy suffered 3 very painful days before letting go. I know there were tons of good times, and that these years of love and enjoyment far outweigh temporary suffering, but still. God it hurts! I miss Parceiro so much, and even now can't really believe he's gone.

I won't turn this into a cat-mourning blog, but man today has been tough.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Meme: Names Deluxe

Here's the stolen name game meme, first stolen by Poppy Fields and now stolen by yours truly:

(Mother’s & father’s middle names)

NASCAR NAME: Hugh Baldwin
(First name of mother’s dad, father’s dad)

(First 2 letters of last name, first 4 letters of first name)

(Favorite color, favorite animal)

SOAP OPERA NAME: Alexandra Maputo
(Middle name, city where you live)

(2nd favorite color, favorite alcoholic drink)

(First 2 letters of 1st name, last 2 letters of your last name)

GANGSTA NAME: Nocciola Peanut
(Favorite ice cream, favorite cookie)

ROCK STAR NAME: Pria Ahmed Sekou Touré
(Current pet’s name, current street name)

PORN NAME: Lobo 47
(1st pet, street you grew up on)

Wanna play? Consider yourself tagged.

Peru Preparations

"Peru" is how you say turkey in Portuguese. We are definitely getting ready for Thanksgiving, though we are about as far away from the US as one can possibly get, geographically speaking.

Rico and I managed to find turkeys this year at our favorite local butcher, Talho Polana. The turkeys came from Brazil, specifically from the massive poultry company Saida. I know my carbon footprint this Thanksgiving is not wonderful, but we are compensating by not traveling internationally this holiday season.

Anyhow, we got two 10-pound birds to serve at our second annual jointly-hosted Thanksgiving party. We are expecting about 30 people, so this will barely be enough for everyone. We are supplementing with roasted chickens, but still, it is nice that we will have turkey at all. I know a lot of people who have given up completely on procuring the birds here and are going with fish and prawns for the holiday. But for us, it's turkeys, through and through.

Of course, while turkey #1 was in the oven, the cooking gas ran out after the first hour. Dona Lídia had to run out post-haste and buy a new canister. In all, I don't think the delay negatively affected the bird. From the smell and the crispy brown exterior, it seems absolutely delicious. Rico and I were tempted to dig in tonight, but we practiced restraint and ate bread rolls with prosciutto instead.

This evening I also made stuffing from scratch (so easy, but SO much butter, my God!), giblet gravy (yum) and chopped vegetables in preparation for turkey #2's stuffing tomorrow afternoon. It's a shame we don't get the day off tomorrow, but I think I'll be able to slink off a few hours early to go tend the bird while it cooks.

I'm really excited for our dinner gathering tomorrow. Not often I get into holidays, but Thanksgiving Maputo-style is sure to do it every year.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Non-Stop Bhangra (at least for tonight)

Tonight Rico and I attended a party put on by my new organization for a colleague that is leaving after 7 years in Mozambique. We had a dinner for 30-odd people at Khana Khazana, one of my favorite Indian restaurants here in Maputo. It was a funny event, a bit awkward as most corporate gatherings are at the beginning, but especially so given that this is Social Event #2 the organization has sponsored since, oh, I don't know, the last decade? Seriously. These people are all fun-loving and interesting and like to drink/dance/cut loose...and yet they never get together outside the office. It is bizzare.

Tonight was pleasant, though. We danced to a lot of Bollywood-style music (there was a very cheezy live band), ate good food, laughed together, took silly pictures of dancing that can easily serve as blackmail 6 months from now. Several of my seemingly-serious Indian colleagues totally broke loose and were shoulder-shimmying and heel-tapping and doing all the fab choreographies that the rest of us wished we knew.

I wonder if this will start a trend. My boss joked that I joined the organization at the right time, just before the parties and the end-of-year holidays. I certainly hope it's not a once-off event. I think I'd be happiest in an office that promotes being social after-hours...

Jewelry Sale - 20% off Everything in Etsy Site

Friends, I have decided to close my Alexandra Amaro Etsy site and am having a clearance sale on the jewelry that remains. All of my jewelry is 20% off from November 25 to December 24, including pieces that are already on sale.

You can visit my site here.

I am concentrating on my Maputo-based jewelry business, as it is increasingly difficult for me to stock my US-based Etsy shop (not to mention the fact that I'm based here, and it is much easier to run a business where you are physically present!).

Many thanks to my parents, who have kindly acted as my shipping agents thus far. It would not have been possible to do online jewelry sales from halfway across the world were it not for their help.

Perhaps at some point in the future the reliability of the Mozambican mail system will improve and I will be able to run an Etsy site from here. Until then, I will continue to do the national crafts fairs and to make custom pieces for my lovely local clients. If you are in Mozambique and are interested in commissioning some of my jewelry, let me know! :)

Monday, November 24, 2008

50 Reasons Why I Like Maputo

1. Great weather most of the year.
2. Delicious, cheap seafood.
3. Being able to procure anything you need from informal vendors on 24 de Julho (or any other street, for that matter).
4. All the art deco architecture (and the remaining colonial architecture). The Soviet-inspired buildings? Not so much.
5. Watching the tide fluctuations while driving along the Marginal.
6. Fruit and vegetable vendors on nearly every corner.
7. Everything is 20 minutes away - max.
8. Tilework on Vila Algarve (despite the horrid past of the place).
9. Flamboyants and Jacarandas lining almost all the streets.
10. Watching ladies carry insane loads on their heads: gas canisters, buckets of oranges, kettles, boxes, piles of lettuce, etc.
11. Reading the bumper stickers and window decals on the chapas (the one perpetually parked outside our flat reads "13 Missed Calls". Go figure!)
12. Speaking Portuguese.
13. Aspiring to learn a decent vocabulary in Changana.
14. Pita bread and shwarmas from Café Milano.
15. Pizza from Mundo's (our favorite is with prosciutto and rocket).
16. Malva pudding from The Meat Co.
17. Octopus carpaccio and apple crumble from Zambi.
18. Getting drunk at the fish market while you wait for your food.
19. Walking along Frederich Engels on a Sunday afternoon and watching all the Fast & Furious-inspired guys with their cars lined up, music blasting out an open door.
20. Going to the pool at Hotel Terminus.
21. Finding beautiful paintings at Núcleo de Arte.
22. Furniture shopping (or dreaming) at the Bali shop.
23. Finding antique chandeliers at Yola Mobilias, a local furniture warehouse.
24. Mangoes, litchis, pineapples and tangerines.
25. Matapa com carangueijo.
26. Capulanas, even if I just use them as swimsuit cover-ups and tablecloths.
27. Fabric shopping at Casa Paris.
28. Watching low-budget music videos being filmed on the Caracol hill.
29. Local pop music.
30. Coconuts. Occasionally. (the club, not the nut)
31. Looking in awe at the tree roots exposed from erosion along the Marginal.
32. Visiting CFM (the train station), both during the day and at night.
33. Mojitos at CFM bar.
34. Spotting donated clothes from your hometown's finest restaurants or 4-H club for sale or proudly in use.
35. Automatic vacation between December 15th and January 15th because the entire city is deserted and nothing happens in any of the offices.
36. Proximity to great beaches: Ponta do Ouro, Bilene, Ilha dos Portugueses.
37. Proximity to Kruger Park.
38. Proximity to South Africa, when a weekend away is in order.
39. Taking photographs at the Fortaleza.
40. Breakfast at Café Sol or the place near Talho Polana with the waiter that looks like a caricature of himself.
41. Large international population. Lots of diversity.
42. Film festivals.
43. Expositions at the Franco-Mozambican Cultural Center.
44. Films at the Gil Vicente theater.
45. Wood sculptures and other souvenirs at the Saturday wood market.
46. Rich local culture.
47. Being entertained by local TV, especially MiraShop.
48. Mozambican slang: "maningue nice!" "tá a bater!" "job", etc.
49. Relative safety (at least compared to Rio, Joburg, etc.)
50. It's increasingly feeling like home...

Nightmare for Some, Blessing for Me

Today we had our country-wide staff meeting at work. There were about 30 of us, and all the Directors had to make presentations about our 2008 program results and projections for 2009 activities. I prepared my requisite 45-minute presentation last night, and was all set to contribute my part to the meeting. However, when my turn was up, the projector decided to malfunction. We fumbled with it for about 10 minutes, then it became apparent that the situation wasn't going to resolve itself quickly.

Instead of further delaying our long meeting waiting for the projector to function, I decided to hell with it, I'd present improv-style. I knew more or less what was on my slides, and announced to the group what I planned to do. Despite the lack of notes or anything, the presentation went smoothly. I hit on most of the points I'd meant to cover, and best of all I managed to hold everyone's attention since I wasn't droning on or reading directly from pre-prepared slides. I think I talked too fast, and I know it was an intense presentation, but in the end it was all good. I was actually glad that I'd presented ad-lib, because it was over quickly (I only used 25 of my alloted 45 minutes) and I didn't feel limited by a bunch of boring slides. Everyone else was appreciative too because, thanks to my presentation, we were back on schedule.

I got several comments, however, along the lines of "Oh my God, how did you do that? I'd never have been able to present spontaneously with no slides!" For me, it wasn't that big of a deal. Thankfully, I was born with the Shameless-Public-Speaker-and/or-Performer gene, and none of this has ever bothered me.

My boss seemed pleased, too, and commented that I am a good communicator. He also observed that I was under my time limit, but whatever. I am the new girl, with less than 2 months with the organization. I can get away with a short presentation, especially if it means everyone going home on time.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Bunny Hop

Damnit. I sprained my ankle while Rico and I were out on a walk this afternoon. Maputo's sidewalks (a generous description, by the way) are "all terrain" in that they are broken and busted and full of tree roots and dirt patches and holes and trash. Some are patched up, but it is of private initiative, and usually in front of well-to-do businesses or nice apartment buildings. The rest is a mess. We were walking/jogging, and my foot slipped off the edge of one of the jagged sidewalks and my ankle rolled. It hurt when it happened, but then I managed to walk it off and all seemed fine. We got home, and I started working on my computer. Then the pain hit, big time. It is awful, throbbing, constant pain. I know it's not broken, but it is not fun, nonetheless. Rico tied some ice in a towel to my foot, and I'm hoping it gets better before tomorrow.

I have a big meeting, an all-day country-wide staff meeting at which I have to make a 45-minute presentation. I like to present on my feet - it helps me be more dynamic - so I'd like to be cured of my hobbling tendencies of this evening.

Today was a bit of a slow day. Other than our walk/jog, I made some trade bead earrings and cooked the latest batch of homemade cat food for Pria. I used a rabbit from Talho Polana that I'd had them de-bone when I bought it (they put the bones and guts in a separate bag for me to take home). I boiled the innards and bones of the rabbit, then pulled off what meat was salvageable and added it to the mix of the main ingredients. I had a moment of gross-out when I was pulling the meat off the head and found the eyeballs, then another ick moment when I found the rabbit's large intestine with 3 or 4 little rabbit-poos already formed and lined up to come on out. I made Rico come in and feel them, though I don't think the gesture was at all appreciated. Heheh.

I cooked the rabbit, chopped up the meat and innards, added a cup or so of brown rice and a chopped carrot, then poured in some of the broth from the boiled bones. Pria thought it was delicious. If I weren't opposed to eating things with fur, I likely would have found it tasty as well.

It's about time for our bedtime. I'm icing my ankle for a few minutes longer, and trying to get ahold of my dad to say hi, since we usually talk on weekends. It's hot tonight, and our air conditioner isn't working (due to a missing-in-action workman. Quel surprise!). Between the heat, the cat, our increasingly sloped mattress, my slight nervousness about my presentation tomorrow, and my sore ankle, I'm not optimistic about the quality of sleep I'll get tonight.

I guess that pre-justifies a glass of wine and an early bedtime tomorrow!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Moving Forward

It seems like an entire year has gone by since Parceiro died last Tuesday. We commemorated the week anniversary of his passing, and I felt mostly disbelief, not the sadness and raw emotion that marked the first days after he decided to go. I thought I'd have a transition from crying my way through the day, to feeling more-or-less sad, to bittersweetly remembering Parceiro. What has happened, however, was an abrupt jump from being devastated to feeling distant, removed, and almost numb. I recognize that I am sad, and that I am probably in the depression stage of grief, but it almost seems like the whole thing with Parceiro never even happened.

Meh. I'm trying to "snap out of it", but it's hard...I imagine that a proper ceremony to put him to rest will help, but his body was sent for cremation to some state-run institution (the Veterinary School?), and we've yet to receive his ashes. The vet seems hopeful that they will come, but I am quite cynical about the possibility that it will all work out as planned. Who knows...

This week has been a long one in other ways as well. Work was slightly stressful, with a quarterly program report and an extension proposal to prepare. It is hard depending on other people for the inputs you need to do your own job properly, especially when you feel like some of them have it out for you. In general I really like my colleagues at the new job, but there is one guy in particular who has a personality and general attitude towards work (and/or towards me) that I find exasperating. I know it's part of an office job that you have to learn how to work with difficult coworkers and bosses, but it's been quite a while since I've worked at a real, honest-to-God, full-time job. I forgot what drama can occur.

It's been raining a lot in Maputo lately, realy dreary weather. It's common this time of year, at the beginning of the rainy/monsoon season. Still, the gray-blah outside doesn't really help my mood. It's been good for the farmers, though. They were expecting a drought in Southern Mozambique this year, and I heard many people say the rains would't come until January (they're meant to arrive in October). They were a bit late, and I'm not sure how total rainfall for the year measures up, but at least there is some moisture for the crops. The rain is not good news, however, for my struggling veranda garden. My pots are soaked through from the sideways rain that makes its way in, and I'm worried I will lose the chocolate mint, hibiscus and basil I just planted last week, despite the fact that they are water-loving plants.

Rico and I continue to do home improvements. We had our kitchen and bathroom painted this week. For the kitchen, I chose a pale green (creatively called "Pastel Green" by the manufacturer). We have gray-toned tiles and marble countertops, and the room tends to be hot, so I knew I needed a cool color. I've never had a green kitchen before. I rather like how it turned out. It has a retro feel that is going to be fun to work with. For the bathroom, I chose a tan-ish pinky beige color called "Pale Mushroom" (they were more inspired with this name). It transformed what was a grotty, dirty-looking, 70's-leftover bathroom into one that is almost spa-inspired. Now my next project is to bleach our nice heavyweight cotton shower curtain so that I get rid of the blue and purple print. I think I can do it, though my last experience trying to bleach something tured out disastrously, with a stained red Banana Republic shirt disintegrating instead of just fading to white. I may have to experiment a bit until I get the right proportion of bleach:water.

Tonight Rico and I are going to a braai with friends. I'm not feeling particularly social, but I know once we are there I will enjoy myself. I also plan on making a lot of jewelry, as the year-end demand for pieces is picking up faster than I can keep up!

Hope you all are well...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Home Improvements

They say one of the best ways to manage grief is to keep yourself busy. We've certainly been trying...

Last night we went to a birthday party at Rodízio, which was super nice in terms of the company and the food, but the service was lamentable. When you are paying about US$35 per person in Maputo, you expect the service to be decent, but this was really a let-down. Still, it got us out of the house, which was good.

Today Rico and I ran errands. We bought paint for the bathroom and kitchen (pale mushroom, a tan-pink color for the former, and pastel green, a spring green with a bit of yellow, for the latter) from my old paint client from my days doing investment analysis at the BIC. We went to Casa Paris and bought fabric to re-upholster our living room chairs (heavy brocade with shiny tan stripes - Rico is doing the work himself). We went to the plant nursery at Kaya Kwanga and I bought rosemary, chocolate mint and parsley for my herb garden, as well as a beautiful oversized orange hibiscus. We also stopped by GAME for some wine, an upholstery gun, and toilet paper.

This evening we are going to go for a drink at this new bar/café that opened on Av. Julius Nyerere with a few friends...keep ourselves busy.

I am still super sad about Parceiro, but am over the hump of crying every minute of every day. Now, I miss my boy, but I'm mostly worried about Pria. She's definitely realized that Parceiro is gone, and wanders around the house crying and trying to find him. It is heartbreaking. I can't wait for the requisite 1-2 months to pass so we can get a new kitten. It will not be a replacement for Parceiro - far from it - but I think a new spirit in our lives will be a good way to move on. I just wish it could be now!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Parceiro, Muito Obrigado!

Rico wrote this tribute to Parceiro this afternoon. We are making a real effort to concentrate on the positive, and on the good times shared together. Thank you all for your kind comments. We will get through this!

Hi my gray baby. Thank you for being part of my life. Thank you for bringing so much joy to our house and making Ali so happy. Thank you for showing me how nice cats can be. If your purpose in life was to make me like cats, you did a superb job. I am sure you enjoyed your life as much as we enjoyed having you playing around, sleeping inside drawers, running desperately for your food – like it was always your last meal – especially junk food. And, of course, your face with your eyes closed in ecstasy when making torties in fleeces. It’s been only two days since you left us and the house is pretty sad. But it is time to move on. I am sure that’s what you want. And you want us to remember how happy you were here and keep in our minds the great moments we had together. We will, Parceirinho! Thank you my companheiro.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Denial / Guilt / Depression

My waves of grief are oscillating between these three stages right now. I don't really feel anger yet, unless you count grief as the by-product of anger turned inwards.

The mornings are especially hard. I miss Parceiro cuddled up next to my stomach. His sweet face and torties would help dissipate my morning grouchiness without fail. I miss him dashing between my legs at feeding time; I noticed that I'd adapted my way of walking and widened my steps almost like a cowboy so that Parceiro could run through my legs without me kicking him or tripping over my own feet.

I am a bit in denial in the sense that I keep expecting to see Parceiro throughout the house. I see the mirage of two hungry cats crouched over the food bowl. I see his presence waiting outside the bathroom door while I have a shower. I keep waiting for him to walk around the corner, or to hear the sound of him sharpening his claws on the wicker furniture.

The guilt mostly revolves around not having made more of an effort to get him on the proper treatment as soon as possible. When his first crystal episode cleared up, I figured he'd be fine. We kept him on the regular food until it was convenient for us to purchase the prescription food in South Africa. We didn't make the effort to cross the border ourselves, and instead relied on friends to try and find the food when they'd go across for work or visa renewals. Finally it was my old boss, Hugh Marlboro, who got Parceiro's food. He only managed to get the C/D, because the S/D - what our boy really needed - had to be special ordered in Nelspruit. Hugh Marlboro got the S/D food finally, and in a terrible irony, we sent our taxi driver Zeca to Matola to pick up the food the morning Parceiro died.

I know we did the best we could with the information and resources we had available. Still, I know that if we'd known how serious Parceiro's condition was (or could have become), Rico and I would have dropped everything to go across the border and find the food he needed.

More than anything, I feel depression and numbness creeping in. I have no appetite, and have lost several pounds since Sunday when this all began. I remember sitting at the new vet's office during one of Parciero's treatments. I was meditating, praying and bargaining with the universe for our baby to get well. At one point I offered up the following deal: if Parceiro gets well, I will stop worrying about my weight and be happy with an extra 5 pounds. I was at the point where I was willing to accept gaining weight - one of my greatest fears and causes of depression in life - in order for our Gato Gray to pull through. Now, I don't even care about my weight loss. It seems so futile in the face of what has happened.

All I want to do these days is watch mindless tv and surf the internet. It helps to be distracted. Blogging helps, too, though every time I read my posts about Parceiro - especially the comments - I start crying again. Having your support is wonderful, but it reminds me that this is all real. I know accepting what has happened and acknowleging your feelings is part of making it through grief, but it hurts so much.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The First Morning

Yesterday was such a hard day. Rico and I are both completely devastated by the loss of Parceiro, and we've been struggling with intense waves of grief.

Friends poured in as they heard the news. Jenny and Paco brought us flowers and chocolates and beer. Lindsey brought beer and food. Kelly and Marcos brought a beaded wire angel for us to remember our boy (which Pria immediately batted off the table and began chasing around the living room). Sheila and Deepak brought sandwiches and cookies from Nautilus, and more beer. It was actually really nice to be in the company of so many people, especially since they are all animal lovers and a couple knew Parceiro pretty well.

Rico had an especially tough night. He talked in his sleep nonstop, and kept repeating scenes aloud from the vet, or as if he were talking to Parceiro. At one point he even slapped my face (in his sleep, mind you), as if trying to wake me up, and kept repeating "hang on! hang on!".

The thing I am struggling the most with at this point, beyond the sheer sadness of not having our boy around, is guilt. I know it's not helpful to beat one's self up over the past, over things that cannot be changed. Still, I keep thinking about the last few weeks. Parceiro was already on his C/D diet, and seemed to be his regular playful, sweet self. He was eating and drinking, and didn't appear to be sick. However, I saw him a couple of times straining to pee while in the litter box, lingering in there much longer than normal. I just assumed that he was peeing okay, albeit with some difficulty, and that the prescription food would do the trick. He was also licking himself a lot, but I just figured it was part of the process. My warning sign that would trigger a trip to the vet was when Parceiro would pee outside the box. Since he hadn't gone outside the box, I thought we were okay.

I know now how horribly wrong I was. I wish I'd taken him to the vet sooner. I wish we'd known about Dr. Isabel and Dr. Sergio earlier, so that perhaps we would have understood better Parceiro's condition and whether it was serious a few weeks ago, and if there was something that could have been done. It kills me to think that I was in some way negligent, ignoring the cries for help from our boy.

He's gone now, and in a better place, and I just have to keep thinking about that. Last night Rico and I imagined Parceiro in a world filled with fleece blankets and packaged cat treats. The land of fleece and junk.

I miss him so much. I know with time this will get easier, but right now I am completely overwhelmed by our loss.

Remembering Parceiro

This afternoon our sweet Parceiro knew it was time to let go. After the long road we've been on, he had a heart attack at the vet's office, and died in Rico's arms. We are unspeakably sad, but take comfort in the fact that Parceiro is no longer suffering.

We thought he was doing better. He made it through the night, and woke up this morning meowing and howling and complaining about his pain. Rico and I thought this was a good sign, as it meant he was reactive and had some energy to spare. Rico took Parceiro to the vet for a consult at 9am, and while his bladder was pretty full, it wasn't necessary to do a catheter or give him anesthesia again (he'd already had 5 doses since Sunday). Rico took him home, with instructions to come back at 6pm for another checkup and an enema.

After the trip to the vet, Rico met me at the coffee shop downstairs from my office for some juice and a sandwich. Things seemed normal. We chatted. We talked about how grateful we were that our Gray Baby was going to be okay.

A few hours later, Rico called me, his voice full of worry. He said Parceiro was purring softly, and making subtle torties (what we call that kneading cats do - a derivative of making tortillas, from my childhood). Rico said it seemed different from the purring Parceiro had done on Sunday in the throes of the blockage, but wasn't sure. We decided just to keep an eye on our boy, to see if there were any other signs that he was getting worse. A while later, Rico noticed Parceiro's back legs seemed like they were giving out when he tried to walk. He knew it was time to go back to the vet.

It was time. Parceiro knew. His little heart gave out while on the clinic table. He had seizures, and the vet did CPR (brining him back several times), but it was just too much. He let go while in Rico's arms, knowing that he was surrounded by people that loved and cared for him.

Rico came to my office to tell me, and I burst into tears. It was all so surreal. Sunday, when we first thought we were going to lose our Gato Gray, seems light-years away. Thankfully my boss understands what it means to have a pet you love very much pass away, and he let me go home for the rest of the day.

Rico and I cried - and continue to cry - over the loss of our boy. The flat seems empty. I feel lost, overcome with grief. Perhaps one of the worst parts of this is that Pria and Parceiro were so close. I don't think poor Pria fully understands what has happened yet, and I'm worried about the effect losing his brother will have on him.

Still, while there is a gaping hole in our hearts, the flat is still full of Parceiro's spirit and reminders of the good times we had together. For someone who started out life in a plastic bag in a dumpster in Maputo, I think he had a pretty delicious run.

We will always remember Parceiro for being the sweetest cat to grace our lives. He was a true companion, companheiro, following us around and always eager to curl up in a lap or in the bend of a knee. One of my favorite things to do was pile onto the single bed in our guest room - me, Rico and Parceiro - all cuddled up together with him doing endless torties on the soft parts of my stomach, or on the fleece blanket we'd use to cover ourselves on chilly nights.

Parceiro had such a love for fleece. It was like a beacon, calling him to make torties. He'd sit and knead, a look of complete ecstacy on his little face, eyes half-shut in pleasure.

We used to call him Meiote, a funny nickname that came from the fact that Parceiro's favorite spot to sleep was shoved inbetween me and Rico, no matter how small the space. Every night he'd come searching for his meio, his middle spot. He was our Filhote Meiote, our baby-cat who loved his nest.

He also loved toilet paper, and between Parceiro scrabbling the entire roll whenever given the opportunity, and Pria opening the bathroom door, we had to switch the lever knob for a round one so the boys couldn't do their damage.

Parceiro and Pria had a beautiful relationship, having started life at the bottom of the bin and surviving because of each other. When our friend Brooke first found them as kittens, Parceiro had managed to chew a hole in the plastic bag where they'd been tossed out to die, and had made it onto the ground outside the bin. But what caught Brooke's attention as she walked by was an insistent mewling. It was Pria, still in the bag, crying out for someone to save them.

They had a special connceciton from the very beginning. The would play together, friendly tail-chasing sessions frequently turning into full-on feline jiu-jitsu, madly tumbling around the carpet and scrambling across the house like they were posessed. The jiu-jitsu would then turn into grooming, as if someone had flipped a switch. The would lick each other's faces simultaneously, grooming each other with much love until the switch would go again and it would be back to the wrestling on the rug.

Parceiro had the sweetest meow. It was like "maow-maow! maow-maow!", cute and high-pitched, while Pria has an ambulance drone of a meow, one you simply can't ignore. Parceiro loved stretching out in the sun, cramping himself into boxes, lounging on the sofa next to me or Rico while we worked. He was an incredibly sweet boy. He will truly be missed.

While we are grieving Parceiro, our worry is also with Pria. We are concerned about what her reaction will be once she realizes that her companion is gone. We think that, once we've had a chance to grieve and once Pria has ahd a chance to realize what the situation is, we will start to look for a new kitten. Companionship is good, even if it might start off a bit rocky. A new kitty will not be a substitute for our Gato Gray, but it will help to heal the void in our hearts and lives.

Parceiro brought us immense joy and happiness. He was one of the reasons I looked forward to waking up every morning, and coming home each night. He was our beautiful gray baby, and will forever be remembered fondly. We are going to do a small ceremony with his ashes. Rico and I will go to the seaside and prepare a farewell care package for our boy. We will put some toilet paper, a canned food treat and a square off one of our fleece blankets in a small paper package - all of Parceiro's favorite things. We will put our gray baby to rest at sea with everything he loved so much in life. I hope it bring us come closure and some peace. I hope Parceiro is looking over us, knowing he will be present always in our lives.

I loved him dearly, and miss him with all my heart. I hope he is in a better place, and am grateful that he chose to go on his own. It was time, and if he knew it, then we must accept it.

Thank you all for your kind thoughts and prayers. They were greatly appreciated, and I am sure they helped make Parceiro more comfortable in his last days.