Thursday, February 28, 2008

Full Circle

Life can be so deliciously ironic sometimes, friends. To illustrate, I give you a short summary of the events of the last 2 weeks.

Last Tuesday:

After developing a super plan with Ahmed and Paulo for turning around the local banana sales operation, I became increasingly incredulous regarding what Hugh Marlboro had asked of me. Just to refresh your memories ('cause it's been a while since I've blogged, I know...), on the heels of telling me he had no intention of extending me a contract or offering me a decent salary, and that moreover he simply "didn't know how to put me to good use in the Empire", Hugh Marlboro proposed that I be put in charge of restructuring one of the key areas of his business. He wanted an operational plan, a management plan, standard procedures...EXACTLY the kind of work that I do well. And yet, he expected me to perform this massive task in 30 days on a salary that barely covered my living costs, all the while thinking that at the end of the month I'd hand over my reports and recommendations on a silver platter, and be content to walk away?? Mmmm, yeah. I think not.

I told the boys that my work, just like theirs, had a price, and that I intended to secure fair compensation before embarking on such a project. Ahmed and Paulo agreed completely.

Before presenting the proposal we'd put together, I went in for a private meeting with Hugh Marlboro. I told him that the boys and I had a sound plan, that we were a super team, that we could definitely turn around his local banana sales. However, I explained that my leadership and skills now had a price significantly higher than what I was willing to work for before our big talk the previous week.

I asked Hugh M. if he had a proposal for my compensation in this project, and his eyes practically bugged out of his head. He was totally not expecting me to stand up for myself. After quite a pause, he said he had no idea about a proposal, and did I have something in mind. You bet I did! I'd spent the last day figuring out an amount that was reasonable in terms of the work being performed, yet high enough for me not to feel like a sucker. I did a quick calculation on Hugh Marlboro's calculator, then turned the screen around to face him. "This is what I feel is fair for my work." He stared at that number for ages, and all the while I gripped my notepad so he wouldn't see my hands shaking with adrenaline. Finally, Hugh M. spoke. "I can't afford to pay this. It's simply not a possibility." I felt a bit disappointed, but satisfied that at least I'd brought up the issue.

Hugh Marlboro may not have been willing to pay for my work in the local banana sales, but he did have a proposal of his own. "I'll pay you 3x your previous salary for the 10 days you've worked so far this month. Come tomorrow morning and I'll give it to you in cash, and you can clean out your office. Then we'll start with a clean slate. If we want to work together on a specific project in the future, we will figure out the terms. But for now, at least we have nothing pending, neither of us owes the other anything." I accepted his proposal without hesitation.

Hugh Marlboro then asked to see the proposal that Ahmed, Paulo and I had put together. "Sorry," I said. "If you want to see the details of our plan, then you can hire me as a consultant for this specific project. Otherwise, you are free to move forward with Luigi heading the operation, or whomever you see fit."

Before I left his office, Hugh M. offered me his hand and said, "You are a hell of a businesswoman. My door will always be open to you. It's been a pleasure."

I walked out feeling good. I was free to search for my next job, and even without my participation in the local banana project, Ahmed and Paulo would be moved up to supervisory positions with improved salaries. And, to top it off, I'd gained a level of respect from Hugh Marlboro that I certainly didn't have before, not that it really mattered at this stage of the game...

Last Wednesday:

I went to the Banana Empire headquarters and had the surreal experience of cleaning out my office, taking my pictures off the wall, and saying goodbye to my colleagues with less than 24 hours notice. Everyone was shocked to hear I was leaving. I was having serious bittersweet feelings about the whole thing...

I went home and started updating my CV, trying to figure out what the hell I was going to do next with my professional life.

Last Thursday:

Rico and I have been working for the last 2.5 years developing and doing fundraising for an expansion project for Hugh Marlboro's Banana Empire. We submitted the elaborate business and financial plan last year to the Big Investing Company for consideration, and it was through this process that Hugh M. got to know my work in the first place.

BIC is known for its bureaucracy, and the multi-million dollar project had to go through analysis and approval by the institution's regional office in South Africa, and by their agribusiness headquarters in the US. Several months ago, Hugh M. lost patience and got fed up with the drawn-out process. He was ready to give up, frustrated with BIC's runaround, and basically was ready to tell everyone from the institution to go screw themselves. Luckily, he confessed this desire to me before actually acting on it, and I was able to convince him to let me and Rico completely take over the process. We were close to getting the project approved, and Rico and I certainly didn't want to abandon ship, especially since we have a success fee on the line!

Last Thursday, two days after Hugh M. effectively fired me, we got some good news: BIC's credit committee in the US had approved the Banana Empire expansion project for funding! Several million dollars would be dedicated to the project pending a final review of the company's figures and Hugh M.'s acceptance of the loan terms and conditions.

As my mom put it, the timing on this news was delicious!

5 Days Later:

Ricardo and I went to have dinner with my friend T., who manages a fund that invests in local small businesses at the Maputo office of the Big Investing Company. Rico is interested in a potential career at BIC, so he wanted to do some networking. He got some good tips on an opening in their corporate division, and T. told us about her frustrations in the division she runs, namely she's lost all of her staff in the last 6 months due to local banks offering better salaries and lighter workloads. She told us how she is desperate, doing all of the investment evaluation work herself, how she has 5 projects to finalize by the end of June and has no idea how she will manage it, especially since she can't find qualified people to hire here in Maputo.

I talked a bit about how I don't want to lock myself into a full-time job before the wedding in July, that I would likely do consulting work - but where? - until then. I fretted a bit about my professional situation, then it hit us: T. and I could easily solve each other's problems! She needs help doing investment analysis (which is right up my alley!) until June. I want to work as a consultant until June, preferrably in a position that will make me good money. T. told me to send her my CV, that she would urgently push a contract for me through headquarters and that I could start on Monday.

So that is how I came to work for BIC as a short-term consultant, doing almost the same thing Hugh Marlboro had initially hired me to do yet was incapable of taking advantage of, and earning easily 4x the salary he was willing to pay me.

Today T. said that she's been praying to God for help in her program for quite some time now, but that she never imagined that help would come in the form of such a poor decision on Hugh Marlboro's part. She said she ran into him the other day on a site visit and almost gave him a hug, that's how grateful she is to have me available to work with her on the BIC fund.

I started my new job yesterday and it is going well. It's a challenge, I am busy, and I am satisfied with the conditions of my work. It's not the never-a-dull-moment of the Banana Empire, but it is definitely a good deal.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Music, 'Cause It's Easy to Write About

What's on my iTunes playlist today:

"Primer Dia" - Julieta Venegas
"Motownphilly" - Boyz II Men
"Whine Up" - Kat DeLuna feat. Elephant Man
"Be Without You" - Mary J. Blige (club mix)
"Break My Fall" - Tiësto & BT
"Doo Bee Doo" - Freshlyground
"Ermons di Terra" - Manecas Costa
"The Way I Are" - Timbaland feat. Keri Hilson
"7" - Prince
"I Fell in Love with the DJ" - Che'nelle
"Nuna Wa Mina" - Lizha James
"Babylon" - Zeca Baleiro
Some really cool passada songs whose name and artist I don't know...

Today is a day for happy music. Shame it's, like, 400 degrees outside otherwise I think I'd be dancing in the streets, or at least cruising around in a car with the stereo turned up too loud. :)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Preparing the Plan

Last Sunday, on a particularly hot and humid afternoon, I met Ahmed and Paulo at Cristal for beers and an informal discussion about work.

Ahmed was wearing bright pink Havaianas and the oversized Gucci sunglasses I'd brought back for him from the US. He made me laugh. I've grown to appreciate his unique sense of style.

"Boys," I said, "I may have opened the door to an interesting opportunity for you."

I proceeded to tell them about the conversation I'd had with Hugh Marlboro, how I'd told him about their strengths and potential within the Empire, how I'd made certain he knew who exactly was keeping the fresh produce warehouse running from day to day.

I also told them about my situation, that I'd likely be leaving the company at the end of the month.

I took a deep breath and continued, pausing to wipe beads of sweat off my upper lip. "Basically, Hugh Marlboro has proposed that in the next 30 days, you two take over the local banana sales and I manage the operation. We will make whatever changes are necessary to stop the thefts and make the whole thing more efficient. At the end of the month, if things have gone well, he will put you permanently in these new positions with salaries that are fair compensation for the work being performed."

Ahmed and Paulo looked at me, then at each other, nodding their heads in approval. "Nice," they said.

"Also," I went on, "I've told Hugh Marlboro quite honestly that you are being grossly underpaid. He's agreed to at least double your salaries, but you should ask for what you know will make you satisfied. This is your chance, put it all on the table. You guys have nothing to lose."

"Beleza!" Awesome, the said.

"I want to make it clear, though, that I don't care if you accept this opportunity or not. I'm not trying to convince you of anything. I'm just presenting a possibility; you need to see what the conditions are, whether or not you feel it is worth your while, if you want to move forward with negotiations."

"So what about you?" Ahmed wanted to know. "What happens at the end of the month?"

"Well, Hugh Marlboro wants an operational plan, a management plan and standard operating procedures prepared. However, all this has a price. I'm going to present a proposal of my own, with the amount that will make it worth my while to restructure this critical area of his business in 30 days. However, I will probably leave the company at the end of this period."

At that point, the ridiculousness of the situation hit me. How on earth could Hugh Marlboro tell me that, essentially, I was being gracefully fired because he didn't know how to put me to good use, and then turn around and put me in charge of *exactly* the kind of project through which I can truly contribute something of value to his business? And then expect me to walk away in good spirits at the end of it all? All the while knowing that at the end of the month I will hand it all over on a silver platter and walk away, no contract, no reasonable salary, nothing?

To use one of my favorite Mozambican expressions ever, Sorry, lá, pá!

Still, part of me thought this whole thing might be a test. Maybe Hugh Marlboro was just trying to get me all riled up, to see exactly what kind of work I could produce if I thought my job were on the line. I could feel the fighter in me rising to the surface. "I'll show him," I thought. "I'll show all of them! I'll do such a fabulous job that Hugh M. will have no choice but to extend me an amazing job offer, and the boys will receive the same."

I grounded myself a bit, then turned to Ahmed and Paulo. "We have a lot of work to do," I said. "We need to prepare a formal proposal for what we will do over the next 30 days to change the local banana sales. We need to figure out salaries, and deliverables. And we need to get together all of the statistics possible from the current manager - very discretely - so that we can have a baseline with which to compare our work."

We made a plan for how we'd divide the work, then scheduled a meeting for the following afternoon to pull together all of the details. On Tuesday, we'd meet with Hugh Marlboro to present our proposal.

"We can do this," Paulo said, his eyes shining. He squeezed my shoulder before getting up from the table. "Thank you," he said. "We know what you've done for us. Thank you."

Saturday, February 16, 2008


I am working on the next installment in the Hugh Marlboro saga. It is intense writing, but good, as it forces me to think back and analyze everything that happened over the last few weeks.

In the meantime, life goes on and I admit that I am struggling a bit to come to terms with the fact that I am once again adrift in the sea of consulting. Until the wedding in July, I will likely do a few odd contracts, make a lot of jewelry and continue doing translation jobs for the World Bank. I suppose I have the luxury of waiting to figure out what I want to do with myself in terms of a career or whatever until the festivities are over.

I really liked my job at the Banana Empire (correction: I really liked the idea of what my job was *supposed* to be), and it is proving to be a hard transition back to semi-structure-less, work-from-home, live from hand-to-mouth life again... Meh.

I am trying to counter the mild depression with lots of good friend time, and by trying to take advantage of all the things I missed while working commercial hours at an office in Matola. I've cooked a lot, including a delicious almond fig cake yesterday. I've been hanging out with my super-awesome new friend A., who just moved here with her husband last month. She is also struggling a bit with being without a day job, so we've bonded and are intent on keeping each other sane along the way. We went to Pilates together on Thursday, then drove through the border to Komatipoort to go to the grocery store and have lunch at Wimpy. It was a great road trip, even though Spar was the highlight, though that might tell you something about my life at this point. :)

Today Rico and I met a very nice guy and good contact who will move here with his family next month - they have been in Pakistan for the last 6 years. We had lunch at a Thai restaurant, then met with friends for beers in the afternoon.

I had plans to go for beers with Ahmed, Paulo and Raimundo in the early evening, but plans got changed a bit. Ahmed picked me up and we drove to Matola, then on the way to get Paulo, he was like, "Oh, you don't mind if we stop quickly so that I can do a little job, do you?"

"No," I said, "Not a problem."

Little did I know, said job involved driving to some random industrial lot full of half-dismantled semi-trucks where we waited for 30 minutes or so while some men unloaded bags of potatoes and onions from one canvas-covered flat bed truck. Ahmed finally got his radio fixed, so instead of the one Bob Marley cassette that was stuck inside his previous stereo, we were able to listen to some cd's. I honestly didn't mind the detour. It reminded me of the afternoons spent at the warehouse with the boys...

When the truck had been unloaded, we all went out for a drink, then I met up with Rico and our friends back in Maputo at Mundo's. The we went out for Indian food, which I ate with my hands. I only realized this has become second-nature when eating curries with apas when I saw that everyone else at the table was going at it with forks and knives, somewhat awkwardly as the food is really more suited to using yoru hands.

Hope you all are having a good weekend... Tomorrow I have a busy day ahead of me, starting with breakfast with a fellow jewelry-making girlfriend who I haven't seen in ages.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Several months ago, back when Hugh Marlboro first approached me with a job offer, I thought we had a common understanding of the direction in which he wanted to take his business(es). He spoke of massive expansion, professionalization, long-term strategy that would lead him to be one of the largest agricultural companies in Southern Africa, and an eventual IPO on the Johannesburg stock exchange.

We were dreaming big, brainstorming together. My role would be to help with strategy formulation, develop business plans, implement management and operational guidelines, and act as an MBA-educated, straight-talking sounding board for his ideas.

He told me that I would be his shadow, that he saw in me the qualities he knew were essential to be able to run something like the Banana Empire. Hugh Marlboro said that somehow, even if a bit inexplicably, he knew that I was the person that could eventually take his place.

The first few weeks of my job experience were positive. Hugh Marlboro gave me lots of personal attention. I went with him on farm visits and to negotiate new land for his projects. We spent hours talking about his vision for the various companies he owns, how to reach those goals. He assigned me a challenging task - to develop an operations plan for the clearing agency - and within a week I was up to speed on all the import and export procedures, and had put together a super plan and presentation that, according to Hugh Marlboro, was exceptional.

He never implemented the plan. Nor did he assign me any challenging work again in the following three months of my experiential period.

Somehow, due to lack of time or lack of attention or lack of ability to delegate or whatever, I slowly fell into idleness in my job. Hugh Marlboro would leave the office for extended periods and not assign me any tasks or projects in his absence. At most, he'd ask me to schedule a meeting with so-and-so at the Ministry of Agriculture, or RSVP on his behalf to Standard Bank's holiday cocktail party. Unfortunately, my position in the company became one of glorified personal assistant, and I honestly spent 90% of my time at the office searching desperately for ways to keep myself occupied.

The silver lining in this situation was that it was in these idle moments that I got to know aspects of the Banana Empire that had nothing to do with my original job description. For example, I became friends with the boys in the warehouse. It started out with me going downstairs to sit with them and pass the time. I'd ask about the logistics of the operation, where the trucks were coming from, how the clients knew that we were selling potatoes and onions, how the cash sales were recorded, what to do when a truck full of rotten product was sent up from South Africa. I got to know their operation cold, and in the process made amazing friendships that became the fodder for this blog.

Part of me truly thought that, despite the fact that I was unequivocally underutilized during my experience period, Hugh Marlboro still saw the value I could add to the Banana Empire and would extend me a contract and a reasonable salary anyway, if nothing else to keep me around for the day when he really could use my skills in the company. Part of me, however, knew that nothing was guaranteed.

What I've learned about Hugh Marlboro in the past several months is that he is extraordinarily impulsive, and has a tendency to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I still very much see the positive, near-genius, visionary qualities to his personality; however, they have been tempered by a nice sobering look at the other side of Hugh Marlboro. It was this second side, unfortunately, that dominated our conversation last Thursday.

I'd been bothering him for over a week to have the big talk about my potential contract and salary. When we finally sat down, Hugh Marlboro kept it short and to the point.

"Ali, I can't afford to pay you any more than your current [pitifully under market value] salary. The truth is, at this point you are a luxury to me and not a necessity. I still believe you are the person who can do what I do, that you have what it takes to be the CEO; however, I don't know how to put you to good use. I don't need two Hugh Marlboros at the moment. I realize that I could have hired a much less-qualified person to do the job you've ended up doing."

"I agree," I said, "You have not really taken advantage of what I can offer the company. However, we've been talking about several projects in the near future that you'd like me to take on. I think the situation can change..."

Hugh Marlboro considered my point, then proceeded to give me a pathetic excuse. "Well, a big part of the problem has been the transport issue. You have no car, so you're stuck at the office all day. It just kills me to know you are here with no work to do. I need you in the field with me, where I can say, 'Ali, go to Dr. Geraldo's office and negotiate a tax exemption for these vehicles.' But since you don't have wheels, I can't really use you."

I was tempted, but I didn't take the bait. When Hugh Marlboro originally offered me this position, he said he'd give me a car. Then, when I asked him about the details of getting me a vehicle, he backed out of his original promise and said I could use the shared company car to drive myself to and from work every day, but nothing else, no personal use. I didn't take him up on the offer because the vehicle in question is a junker and I was afraid it would break down and leave me stranded somewhere along the 25km commute. Furthermore, most of the time the company car wasn't even available for me to use during the day because Nacho would take it to the border or to the customs holding area to resolve the import/export processes with the trucks of bananas and other produce.

Instead of going into those issues, I simply observed, "It's ironic, isn't it, that I've bought a car and will have it within the next two weeks," leaving out the bit about how incompetent Miss Ludmila had stalled the import process for my car, and had she done her job properly, I'd have had my own wheels three weeks ago.

At this point in the conversation, I proposed a way for us to move forward. I told Hugh Marlboro that perhaps the best arrangement for me was not to be 8 hours per day in the office, that we should instead collaborate on a project-by-project basis where I could act as a consultant.

He agreed, and said we could move forward in that manner, that many things could change quite quickly. "Who knows," he said, "Maybe tomorrow I will figure out how to use you in my company and I will call you back to take over an entire part of the operation."

He continued, "Until then, you can work through the end of this month. After that, you can even continue to use your office for a while, to conduct whatever business you might need to. I won't even charge you rent."

At that point, I knew the conversation was drawing to a close. I wanted to give Hugh Marlboro some honest feedback from my experience with the Banana Empire, and didn't know when else I might have the chance.

"Listen," I began, "there are a few things I'd like to tell you, straight up."

His head cocked, suddenly interested in what I might say.

I took a deep breath, then went on. "First, you need a Human Resources manager. This is a critical function for a company this large, and it is completely falling through the cracks. Ludmila can't keep up with personnel issues for the entire Empire now that you've put her in charge of the clearing agency, and it is in your best interest to hire somebody to pick up the slack."

"Okay," he said, nodding.

I continued. "Second, you say that I'm a luxury and not a necessity at this point. Okay, I can accept that, especially if you truly don't know how to put me to good use within your company. However, I think you should identify the people that *are* a necessity to your operation and recognize them, invest in them, make sure they are challenged and motivated to stay with you. You have some exceptional people working for you right now, people who make this thing function on a day-to-day basis, an I can tell you that they are all looking for other jobs because they are paid such low wages for what they do."

"Who are you talking about?"

"The boys in the warehouse. Ahmed, Paulo and Raimundo. In my nearly three years in Mozambique, these guys really stand out in terms of their work ethic, their honesty, their dedication to the company and their willingness to go above and beyond their job descriptions whenever necessary."

"Tell me more about them," Hugh Marlboro said. "What do these guys do? Who are they?"

I went on to list each of their strengths, describe their personalities, recount a bit of my experiences with them over the past few months. I told Hugh Marlboro how Ahmed is a "do-er" with a gift for organizing and leading work crews, how Paulo can keep impeccable records and settle any dispute diplomatically, how Raimundo is able to do basic accounting and handle huge amounts of cash with total transparency.

"I know you are going to shut down the fresh produce warehouse," I said. "I don't necessarily agree with the decision strategically speaking, but it is your call at the end of the day, and I respect that. However, I think you'd be seriously amiss not to find a way to employ these guys in another area of the company."

"Okay," Hugh Marlboro said. "I hear what you are telling me." He stared me straight in the eyes for several minutes, lips pursed, nodding his head slowly as he gathered his thoughts.

"I have a proposal," he finally said. "As you know, I'm having problems with the local banana sales. We're having lots of thefts, the current process is inefficient, and I think Luigi is making a profit on the side."

"Go on."

"We will do an experiment for 30 days. Ahmed and Paulo will run the local banana sales, and you will manage the entire operation. This is the opportunity of their lives," he said. "Do you think they can do it?"

"Absolutely, but only if they feel it is worth their while. You must compensate them for their work."

"Okay. I will double their salaries," he proposed.

"At the very minimum."

Despite my deception and frustration regarding the conversation, I was suddenly extremely excited for the possibility that the boys could get a really good deal for themselves.

"Okay," Hugh Marlboro said, clapping his hands and getting up quite suddenly from his desk. "You talk to the guys and make a plan. We will have a meeting with everyone and talk about this tomorrow."

And with that, he picked up his keys and walked out, leaving me alone in the overly air-conditioned office. I felt dizzy, nearly sick to my stomach, not sure whether to be upset or hopeful. I could feel tears stinging in my eyes, and took a few minutes to sit at my desk and have a cup of tea before going downstairs to talk to Ahmed and Paulo...

Much more to follow... As usual, I've gotten carried away and become long-winded. I am tired of writing for tonight.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Still bored at work...waiting for a big meeting that has been rescheduled for 16h because Hugh Marlboro forgot about it...

So I've decided to go through my blog archives and select my favorite post from each month. It's a good way to make time pass, and I must say I've enjoyed reading back through the things that have happened in my life since I left the US back in April 2005.

Hope you enjoy the memories as much as I have!

April - The Swingset in the Sandias
May - Home (part 2): Santa Festa
June - Home Part 3
July - Things I Miss
August - Hazards on the Highway: goats and bicycles and Ali
September - Blessed with a Lazy Sunday
October - The Perfect Proposal
November - Purple and Dry for the Drips
December - Humble Living

January - Igreja de São Paulo
February - And Then There Were Four...
March - A Profound Moment by Ali
April - Easter
May - The Reality of Africa Finally Sinks In
June - The A-Z's of Ali la Loca
July - Bizzare-O Africa
August - Sunday Scribblings: Who Else Might I Have Been?
September - Make a Wish
October - Sunday Scribblings: If I Could Stop Time
November - The Other Side
December - Would You Like Some Cynicism with Your Development?

January - The Glorious South Africa Road Trip 2006/2007
February - Saudades Trapped in Song
March - Sunday Scribblings: Superstition
April - Rain, Dogs and Cats
May - I Belong Everywhere. I Belong Nowhere.
June - My Collection of Suits
July - Random Meme
August - Alexandra Amaro Fusion
September - I'll Love You 'Till My Heart Stops
October - The First Day
November - No, Not the Singer, the Queen
December - Estamos Juntos

January - Afternoon Portrait
February - Limits: They Do a Girl Good

Guess What? I'm Bored at Work!

And, as usually happens in these hours when I have absolutely nothing to do at the office because, ahem, *somebody* hasn't provided me with an adequate workload, I turn to my best friends Wikipedia and Google.

Today's bit of wisdom is brought to you thanks to my new South African friend A. (who is super cool and will be staying 4 years - 4 years!! - in Maputo along with her equally cool husband), who explained the origin of a word I've been wondering about for ages the other night while Rico and I were over at their house for a braai.

The puzzling word in Portuguese is babalasa. It means "hangover", and, as far as I know, is only used in Mozambique. In Brasil, you say ressaca, the same word that is used to describe the ocean when it is all choppy and full of giant swells before or during a storm. I wonder how they say "hangover" in Angola or Portugal?

Anyhow, I mentioned the word babalasa while at the braai, and A. was like, "Oh, in Afrikaans it is babalas!" Immediately the origin of the word in Mozambican Portuguese became obvious. I Googled it, and satisfied my curiosity.

I find it interesting the extent to which South Africa has influenced language in Mozambique (not to mention the influence in food, shopping habits, fashion, etc.). Other words commonly used here that come to mind are braai, bakkie, lekker, Handy Andy, Sunlight, baas, job, nice...

Monday, February 11, 2008

Being a Sucker Leads to This

Isn't he cute?

I'm calling him Pequeno for now, the latest addition to the P-family.

New (Temporary) Addition to Our Household

Saturday morning I received a text from my friend K.

Last night we found a 6-inch-long kitten behind the bar at the train station. We took him home, but I am allergic to cats and we have a puppy already. What do I do??

Sucker that I am, I told K. to bring the little cat over to our house, that we would figure out a solution.

For the better part of the day, K., Rico and I picked fleas off the poor thing, cleaned out its sooty ears with Q-tips, dusted it with flea powder, fed it chicken and canned kitten food, gave it clean water and a soft bed, and held the little thing as it slept in a way I imagine it had never slept before in its life thus far as a survivor.

The kitten is black and white, and basically all ears. It is severely malnourished, just skin and bones really, but quite spunky and certainly street-smart.

Pria and Parceiro were not at all thrilled with the new addition to our household. Pria puffed herself out and raised up all of the hair on her haunches so that she looked like a Ridgeback. Both of the boys hissed and swatted at the newcomer, though he wasn't at all intimidated by the larger cats, and just sat looking at them with his ears flattened.

For now, between the fleas and the worms and the reaction of our boys, we are keeping the new kitten isolated on the verandah. We are concerned that he is still so small that, if left alone with Pria and Parceiro, they might actually kill him...

We are looking for a good home for this little kitten. We already have several people that seem interested, which is a great thing, because we absolutely cannot have 3 cats in our flat, and the longer we raise the kitten, the harder it will be to give him away...

And no, I've not forgotten about my Hugh Marlboro update. I am still waiting on a critical meeting tomorrow before I post the story in its entirety.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

What the *F* Is Monkey Gland Sauce?

I am feeling a bit better today after a good night's cry, long talks with Rico and my mom, and emails to my Dad. Also, thank you, my blog friends, for the emails and comments yesterday. I will write more about what happened later on in the day, as I'm supposed to go on a site visit in a few minutes...

In the meantime, to satisfy your curiosity:

This very popular South African sauce is usually eaten with steaks, though it goes well with chicken and other meats too. While no monkeys or their glands are used in the sauce's preparation, it does include just about every ingredient you could imagine inhabiting one's kitchen pantry.

I've heard several versions of the origin of monkey gland sauce, but the general idea is this: at some point, French chefs came to South Africa to cook at a fancy hotel or a prominent food festival or something along those lines. The chefs tried to impress their clients with delicately flavored haute cuisine sauces. Unfortunately, they didn't go over so well with the predominately Afrikaaner palate.

Frustrated, the French chefs decided to invent the most vile sauce imaginable and get revenge on the people so obviously incapable of appreciating fine cuisine. They threw together all of the ingredients in the kitchen - garlic, onion, fruit chutney, wine, port, vinegar, chili paste, ketchup, curry, etc. and called it monkey gland sauce as a joke. To the great surprise of the chefs, instead of becoming ill at the dubious concoction, the South Africans absolutely loved the sweet-sour taste of the new sauce, and a national tradition was born.

Like barbeque in the South, or green chile stew in New Mexico, everyone has his own special recipe for monkey gland sauce. You can find a few versions here, here and here.


I'm a Bit in Shock...

...but if I'm honest, not really.

Just had the much-anticipated contract negotiations meeting with Hugh Marlboro.

I have a lot to think over right now. Big changes could be on the way, or not really any, for that matter. I've learned not to place my bets too firmly when the future is concerned, especially here in Moz, especially here at the Banana Empire.

More later. I think I need a stiff drink, then a good cry, then another drink, then a series of phone calls, then a shout of joy, then another cry, then some writing, then several hundred hours of conversations in my head...just me, myself and I, playing out the various possibilities for my life.

It's one incredible ride, that's for sure...

Limits: They Do a Girl Good

I've still not been able to sit and have the big contract and salary-negotiating meeting with Hugh Marlboro. First he was out of the office, then I went home early one day, then there were the riots, and now he is in South Africa. I am already a week over my período de experiência of 3 months, and while I was glad to accept a very low salary during this trial period, I would like to sit down and figure out just what the Banana Empire is willing to pay me for my work.

You see, I dish out this exact advice all the time to the boys in the warehouse. Don't work if you haven't already clarified your what your wages will be. Don't work overtime without compensation. Be assertive and ask for what you know your work is worth. Don't let management brush you off. Fight for your rights as a worker. Today I put my money where my mouth is, so to speak.

Ludmila, a person with whom I already have a complicated relationship for several reasons, interrupted me while I was having a conversation with Ahmed and demanded that I come upstairs with her, that she had some work for me to do. Mind you, Ludmila is not remotely my boss. The way she approached me really rubbed me the wrong way, especially since she was asking me to cover her work, do *her* a favor, with a tone of voice that was as if I'd screwed up somehow and she was now doleing out the consequences. I told Ludmila that I was in the middle of a conversation with Ahmed, that I'd go upstairs as soon as we'd finished speaking. She looked at me and said, "Make it quick," then turned and headed up to her office. Oh, that was not the way I wanted to start out my day...

When I finally went up to Ludmila's office, she handed me a stack of legal documents and told me that a group of trabalhadores would be coming into the office this morning to look for her, that I must give them the legal papers on her behalf, have them sign a receipt form, direct them to the agricultural workers' syndicate, and set a meeting for the 10th to discuss labor relations. Then I was to track down phone numbers for about 20 depot workers, call them to reprimand them for not showing up to a contract meeting, then ask them to come to the office on the 14th.

Then, once I'd received those instructions and agreed to help her out, Ludmila raised her eyebrows and said, "So, can I give you some more work?" Excuse me? No, not really. I'm currently working without a defined salary, without any job description, without having been able to sit and give input to my boss about my experiential period, and Ludmila wants to give me work that she herself can't get to? Whatever. I told her quite simply, "No, I'd rather you didn't."

She just about keeled over when I said that, then asked why I was unwilling to do her work. I calmly explained that, while I was happy to do her a favor and do the tasks she'd already passed on, I wasn't inclined to do much of anything else until Hugh Marlboro and I have had a chance to sit down and discuss my salary and contract. Ludmila said, "But we're all a family here. Nobody will give you a salary that is unfair! You shouldn't worry about it. Go ahead and keep working."

"Sorry," I said, "I have a right to know what my salary will be before taking on work. More than anything, I want to have a clear agreement about the terms of my employment so that we can avoid resentment in the future."

Ludmila looked at me as if I'd lost my mind. I didn't care. Especially after finding out yesterday what Ahmed and Paulo are being payed as a salary. I won't put the specific figure, but suffice to say it's shockingly low for what they do here at the company, especially considering that Paulo is in the midst of getting his degree in management! College, people! These are not physical laborers, yet their wages would lead you to think otherwise.

I spent about an hour in the morning resolving Ludmila's human resources problems. I made my calls, scheduled the labor meetings as requested, and attended to the 7 men who came in to receive the legal-looking notifications. I had a look at what I was giving them, and I felt a bit depressed when I saw a typical legal-ese letter, referencing articles in the Labor Code, and using archaic and complex terms that even *I* need a dictionary to understand.

I recognize the need to deliver certain information in a legally sound manner, in accordance with time-honored structures and regulations. However, why must there be such a gargantuan gap between the language used to deliver a message and the language necessary for the recipient to understand it? Is it not possible to make two versions of a notice, one that is legally sound, then one that puts the document into layman's terms so that the recipient has a fighting chance of understanding it??

The essence of the document was that these men had been caught stealing bananas from the trucks - 90 kilos, to be exact - and reselling them on the local markets for a profit. As a result, they had been suspended for two weeks, and were being fined the equivalent of 20 day's wages for the infraction. I had to give them the letter, have them sign a copy of it for our records, then direct them to the syndicate to clarify any questions before the big resolution meeting with the company next week.

One man, when it came time to sign the receipt acknowledging he'd received the document, obviously struggled to form the letter 'F', then the letter 'e', then the letter 'r' as he tried to print his name. He managed to scrawl out 'Fer', then stopped, pen hovering awkwardly over the paper. Ahmed was in the office with me (he was covering Roberto's day shift), as was another of the banana workers involved in the theft case. The guy's friend prompted him, saying "next comes 'N'", and drawing the letter on the palm of his hand. It wasn't enough, and Ahmed quickly scanned the top of my desk for something that could help. He found a report cover with big, bold letters in the title. "Here, like this one," he said, and pointed to the 'N' in 'PLANTATION'. Then came 'A'. Ahmed and I both pointed it out on the report cover, our fingers knocking in mid-air. We went on like this until the guy had laboriously printed his name on the piece of paper.

"Hey, brother," Ahmed said, pointing a finger at the guy, "you've got to copy your name 1,000 times so that you get used to writing it!"

I was incredibly humbled by the experience. This was the first time in my entire life I'd come across someone incapable of printing his own name. I've worked with many illiterate people over the years, but all of them have been capable of printing their name, even if it is just a collection of initials.

"What happens to people like him?" I asked Ahmed. "How on earth will he understand the letter I've just given him? Is there someone at the syndicate that will sit with him and explain what is in this notification, what he is being punished for?"

"In theory, yes, there should be someone available to help represent workers who are illiterate." He shrugged his shoulders, then continued, "But I don't know...I've never worked with anyone from a syndicate. I don't know if it really happens like it should."

I would be curious to know myself. Is there anyone who will sit with this man and explain, step-by-step, the process he is about to go through? Though I felt inclined to do it myself, not only is it not my job, *I* didn't even understand the full contents of the legal document.

Yet another reason I want to have this overdue meeting with Hugh Marlboro: if my job here is to include resolving human resources issues, a distinct possibility since there is nobody dedicated to that function at the moment, my salary expectations are going to go way up. While certainly an important part of running a company, especially given my recent rants about low salaries and management providing adequate compensation to the workers, I absolutely DETEST working in human resource management. We all have our price, however...

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Amidst the Chaos, Unexpected Bonds

After a day of rioting and chaos due to an approximate 50% increase in the cost of public taxis, things seem back to normal in Maputo and Matola.

Things were calm at our office in Matola for most of yesterday morning, though Paulo and Raimundo were very anxious due to the disturbances in the suburbs, and the news I was accompanying online didn't look too good, either.

We kept hearing rumors that the disturbances were coming our way, but I didn't really believe the situation would get bad. That is, until I heard about 6 shots fired too close to our office for comfort in the early afternoon!

Most of the people in the office had already gone home for the day, as they depended on public transport to get around and knew they must leave hours in advance if they wanted to get to their houses before nightfall. Those of us left in the office promptly decided to evacuate after the gunfire.

Hugh Marlboro went with Ludmila to try and fetch her young daughter from a school down the road. I quickly arranged for the JAC truck and Ahmed's car to be locked in the lot behind the warehouse (he wasn't at the office, but his car and keys were), then hopped in a truck with JR, the manager of the transport sector, and his wife June, one of the financial managers.

As we left the office, we could see burning tires on the road not 500m from where we were, and masses of people were already blocking the highway back to Maputo. It was eerie to be the only vehicle on the road - literally - and have everyone staring at you, the air thick with anticipation of something about to push past a critical point of stability.

Since most of the administrative employees live on the farms, that was where we headed, as it was in the opposite direction of the rioting, and we would be relatively well set-up to wait out the situation. As we headed out of town, things became increasingly calmer, and I could see my colleagues letting out sighs of relief.

Not that I wasn't concerned about the rioting, I was just affected quite differently by the situation compared to my Afrikaner colleagues. It was apparent that the mass protests and the violence triggered memories of past situations for them. We talked about it, how they were reminded of the "old days" in South Africa, the familiar feeling of being the odd ones out - for various reasons - and therefore some of the most apparent targets.

One of my colleagues, Chinney, became gray in the face in response to the chaos. Normally he is a tough, fat little man who compulsively smokes cigarettes and has his lip upturned in distaste whenever not curled around a smoke. Not yesterday afternoon. He just looked as if he wanted to crawl inside a bunker and drink whisky until the problems blew over.

JR, an ex-military man who admittedly did some "not-so-nice-things in Mozambique years ago, but we all have to make peace with history at some point", immediately went back into special-ops mode and started telling me about the strategies to spread cells of violence throughout the conflict area and cut off the principal access points. One couldn't be sure if he was referring to Maputo, or just remembering general bits of said not-so-nice history. [As a side note, JR is one of my new favorite people at the office. He has an intriguing past, between the military stint and working in a diamond mine, but he also is a major history buff and a great defender of the environment. I like talking to him because he breaks sterotypes right and left, especially when reflecting on how one comes to accept actions in one's past that one now recognizes as atrocious. Also, he has a wicked sense of humor, one of these people who is always friendly and always has the perfect joke ready.]

Anyhow, poor June, JR's wife, was just very talkative the entire time. She said the tension reminded her of the armed robbery that had happened last year to the family back in South Africa. She smoked long, thin, gold-tipped cigarettes and chattered away to ease her nerves.

June commented that I was incredibly calm and level-headed in dealing with the situation. I do tend to become quite rational in times of crisis, but I think what was underlying my relatively relaxed state was the fact that I am an outsider. This specific type of violence simply is not part of my past. It is not part of the collective past of my family or my peers in the US, or even in Brazil, though each of these places has their similar issues (i.e. terrorism attempts and armed assaults, respectively). The mass riots by a largely black population simply did not represent a trigger for me in the same way they did for my colleagues. That, plus the fact that I speak fluent Brazilian Portuguese, gave me a sense of calm and confidence, not that I thought I was invincible to the violence or anything, but still...

We drove out to the farm, to the house where JR and June just moved in last week. All of their things were still largely in boxes, and they were certainly not prepared for visitors. Nonetheless, they offered me and my colleague Chinney wonderful hospitality.

To "celebrate" our arrival at the farm, we all piled into JR and June's diesel-converted Kombi bus and bumped down the pothole-ridden road to the local bush bar for beers. This bar was literally one table with four mismatched chairs on a random slab of concrete, with a pretty young woman called Maria serving whatever cool drinks and alcohol had been brought out that week from Boane. This was the first time that all of us had been together in a social situation, but the conversation flowed quite nicely, thanks in part to copious amounts of alcohol and empty stomachs (I am happy to report, however, that I remembered last Friday's sad state and moderated my rate of consumption.)

June and I had the instantly bonding experience of using the makeshift toilet behind the bar together after she announced the need to pee. It was basically two reed partitions joined at an angle to create a cover for the person relieving him or herself on the red, dusty dirt. I thought it was a pretty good deal, as I was expecting a long-drop, one of the more revolting forms of toilet as far as I am concerned. June, however, was intimidated and, I think, a bit clueless as to what to do behind the screen. "Go ahead, just have a squat and go for it," I encouraged her. "I'll keep watch for you from here." Once she was done, I had her keep watch while I peed, even though I didn't really have a full bladder, just to make her feel a bit better about what I know, given her very conservative roots, had been quite the experience.

After sufficient beers and conversation, I negotiated the price of a bottle of whisky for us, bought 12 bottled sodas, and we got back in the Kombi to rustle up some dinner at the farm house. JR is a fabulous cook, I found out, and he made us pasta with a slow-cooked empty-pantry sauce made of ground beef, canned beans, garlic, fresh chilies, and a secret blend of spices that I know at least contained ketchup and monkey gland sauce. Granted, I was starving by the time we finally got around to eating, but it was an incredibly delicious meal.

All through the night, I was texting and calling Rico, Ahmed, Paulo and Luigi to get updates on the rioting in Maputo and Matola. The news was not encouraging - burning tires, throwing stones, blocked access routes, torched vehicles - and I had already resigned myself to staying on the farm for the night.

Chinney, however, who lives just one street down from our office, was intent on going back home that night. He thought that since he lived just off the highway at the entrance to Matola, he'd be okay. Despite JR's warning that it was not a good idea, Chinney got in his truck and drove back to Matola by himself around 10pm. About 45 minutes later, we got a desperate call from him on June's cell phone. "They've put a huge padlock on my gate. I can't get in my house. There are mobs of people everywhere, the streets look like a carnival party. I want to go back to the farm, but I have no petrol and no meticiais to buy some. What must I do??" I consulted with JR and Paulo, who was in Matola at his sister's house, and we came up with a plan. After a bit of wheeling and dealing with contacts, JR managed to buy some petrol using rands, and was able to head back towards the plantation.

When he arrived at the farm house, June immediately presented him with a whisky, and we all went to the lounge to play some pool, one of the few things that was unpacked and ready for use in the house. June put on a mix cd with The Eagles, The Beach Boys, The Police and some random Afrikaans rock, and cranked the volume. At that point, what with all the alcohol and nerves, we were all in altered states. Chinney and I were on a team, and got creamed by JR and June, who obviously had been getting in some good practice on the pool table. Despite our loss, Chinney played the air guitar and did the twist, while JR and June celebrated by singing along to the music at the top of their lungs, dancing as if nobody else were in the room. It was then that June announced - technically, it was her birthday, as the clock had just passed midnight.

We had some Ricoffy with milk and sugar to celebrate, then talked for another hour or so until sleep was inevitable. I slept in a twin bed with Barbie sheets, and wore one of JR's giant trucking t-shirts as pajamas. I brushed my teeth with my finger, and quenched my thirst by drinking straight out of the bathroom tap (there was, to my horror, no drinking water available in the house, and I knew that June would freak out if I told her I was ingesting farm water!). Incredibly, I managed to get some sleep, and was woken up by the constant hum of the 100,000 layer hens clucking away at the egg project site just a kilometer away from the plantation.

In the morning, all of us nursing hangovers to one extent or another, we made calls to our colleagues in Maputo and Matola to get the latest updates. Apparently, at 5am, an agreement was made with the Prime Minister for the chapa price to go back to the previous range of 5 to 7.5 meticais. To compensate for increased operating costs over the years, and to avoid backlash from the taxi drivers, the Government agreed to subsidize fuel.

As the situation seemed safe, we decided to drive back into Matola. Fortunately for me, Ahmed had gone to pick up his car from the office at just the same time, so I was able to get a ride back to Maputo with him. It was incredibly nice to be back at home, with Rico, with the boys, with no need to go out for anything for the rest of the day.

The way the streets looked this morning will stay with me for quite some time - burned out vehicle shells lying on the side of the highway, debris everywhere, the guardrails on the EN4 completely ripped out of the ground, the chain link fence that used to serve as a median twisted and bent where people had trampled over the metal, still smoldering bits of tires and tree trunks in piles on the asphalt. However, I will equally remember the way that I unexpectedly bonded with JR, June and Chinney in the midst of the confusion. I wonder how long it would have taken for us to have the kind of conversations we had last night if it weren't for the rioting, or if they would have even happened at all...

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Riots in Maputo in Response to "Chapa" Fare Increase

People in Maputo are protesting an increase in chapa fares that went into effect today by blocking highways, smashing cars, and refusing to take the semi-collective minibus taxis that are the essential form of transport here in Mozambique. The violence and rioting started in the suburbs, but news reports are saying that the chaos has spread to the city center already.

I mentioned the proposed fare increase here, while discussing with the warehouse boys how this would affect their budgets. Basically, if someone earning minimum wage has to take two chapas each day to work and back, they are literally working just to pay their transport costs!

Understandably, the people of Maputo are incredibly upset about this increase, especially since it comes without any tangible improvements in the chapa service (i.e. better safety, improved licensing, more vehicles available, better routes).

You can read updates (in Portuguese) about the situation here, at Oficina de Sociologia.

Due to the boycott of the chapas and the fact that today is a holiday in Matola , there is barely anybody in the office (unfortunately we didn't get the day off, but some people decided to observe the holiday regardless, especially since yesterday was a national holiday). So I am wondering how and when I am going to get home... The driver who usually takes me is (rightfully) concerned about how he will make it home, since there is chaos along the road he must take, and he doesn't want to risk getting in a chapa due to the potential for violence. Maputo is completely backed up with traffic, and nobody particularly wants to drive around the city at the moment, so calling a taxi is not viable.

I suppose I'll just wait it out...I've got Cup-of-Noodles in my desk drawer, and plenty of tea to last through the day. Unfortunately, I don't have any *work* to do, but whatever. I was meant to have big salary and contract negotiations with Hugh Marlboro today, which is why I came to work in the first place, but I've yet to see him today.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Cimentos de Moçambique - the Toxic Cloud of Dust Continues

Friends, I am on a mission. I may need your help, though, because while I have a good idea of how to act on this particular issue, I never underestimate the power of the blogosphere and your multiple and unexpected connections.

Here's the deal:

About 1 mile from the Banana Empire Headquarters in Matola, there is a cement factory run by one of the country's largest businesses, Cimentos de Moçambique. Every day, there is a disgusting plume of pollution billowing out of the factory. While certainly not the ideal situation, I accept that some industrial operations cannot function without a certain level of pollutants and noxious byproducts being generated; I just usually assume that there is some sort of procedure in place for dealing with said pollution, or that the company runs a social or environmental program somewhere that offsets what they are spewing into the air on a regular basis.

Unfortunately, Cimentos de Moçambique does not stop just at the daily column of pollution rising out of the factory. No, my friends, this company does a massive belching-out-of-toxic-dust once a week. They literally release a cloud of cement particules and God knows what else into the air that is so dense that it filters the sun and makes it look overcast and nasty outside.

The first time I witnessed said major-pollution-dump, I was at the office and the warehouse boys called and told me to look out my window. When they told me what was causing the hazy white-gray sky, I literally couldn't believe my ears.

Over the holidays, when the cleaning of the office became a bit lax, the dust that settled in the nooks and crannies of our filing cabinets and desks, once affected by the super humid air of this region of Moz, actually began to solidify and turn into something resembling grout! If the cement residues that are released from Cimentos de Moçambique transform in this manner inside my closed office 1 mile away from the factory, imagine what they are not doing, for example, to the lungs of the people working for that company!

So here's the thing: Cimentos de Moçambique's majority owner is Cimentos de Portugal, CIMPOR, a company that is listed on the Euronext Lisbon stock exchange, and prominently professes on their homepage to "adopt concepts of sustainable development in an economic, social and environmental way, respecting scrupulously a serie [sic] of ethical values".

Excuse me?? I see tangible evidence on a constant basis that this statement is complete bullshit. Or, perhaps this ethical, politically correct mission statement is only applicable for operations in Europe, where there are consequences and fines to pay for the blatant disregard of environmental and human welfare?

I am certainly not the first person to complain about the dust released from the ciment factory in Matola. I have heard many Mozambicans lamenting the pollution from the company, and concerned about the effects this may have on their own health. But it is always with an air of resignation, which I totally understand, because honestly, what on earth can one feasibly do to stop such things in a country where laws are poorly enforced, officials can be bought off, and the price of "development" is many times readily accepted as a necessary ill on the path to prosperity. [To be fair, this kind of thing is also an uphill battle in a country with a funcitonal judiciary system and strictly enforced environmental regulations...]

Unfortunately, this problem has been ongoing. In September 2003, at the Mozambican Foro Empresarial para o Meio Ambiente (Business Forum for the Environment), the Director of Production for Cimentos de Moçambique, one Engenheiro José Machado, spoke about the environmental challenges of producing construction materials. After his presentation, the audience presented a series of questions regarding their collective concern about the dust clouds coming from the factory. His response was that the company has dust collection filters, however given the constant oscillations in the supply of electricity in Mozambique, the filters are not effective. The Engineer then commented about the company's dedication to training, and summed it up by saying that "cement is the barometer of development." [See transcript from the Forum here, in Portuguese.]

I'm sorry, but I find it wildly difficult to believe that in the past 5 years Cimentos de Moçambique hasn't been able to find a better solution to their filter problem...

I plan on photographing the toxic cloud that is released from Cimentos de Moçambique. I want to send the photos and a description of what this company is doing to some sort of watchdog group. I'd also like to send my information to the management of the Mozambican and the Portuguese operations, because if they are not motivated by a concern for the environment, perhaps they will be spurred to act to avoid a PR fallout. I mean, it's not exactly a positive thing for your investors and shareholders to hear that you are content to operate in your ex-colony in such a hypocritcal and damaging manner...

Not to mention the fact that as a "breather" of Matola's air, I'd like to avoid the possibility of my lungs turning to cement!

So, friends, any suggestions of places where I can send my information? Greenpeace? Is there some sort of Environmental Ethics watchdog group in Portugal? Please send me your ideas...

Friday, February 01, 2008


Today, I am a bit ashamed to admit, I had such a bad hangover that I actually went home from work at 11am. When I woke up this morning and felt that taste in my mouth, you know, the one Brazilians refer to as "cabo de guarda-chuva" (umbrella handle), I knew I was in for it. My head pounded with the ring of my cell phone on its 15th alarm clock snooze sequence, and I struggled to make it to the shower.

The worst part is, last night was quite tame. No raging party, no excess drinking, no deliberate decision to make myself suffer the next day. All I did was have 2 glasses of wine at dinner with my friend T., plus a few sips of the caipirinhas we were sent by some unidentified admirers. The problem was that I had salad for dinner and, thanks to a prolonged meeting at Hugh Marlboro's house with all the farm managers, hadn't managed to eat anything during the day either. To top it off, I was seriously dehydrated from the heat and the lack of beverages served at the meeting. Not a good combination. Note to self duly, um, noted.

I got to work this morning and couldn't even manage to look at the computer screen because it made me dizzy. The cup of tea with milk I tried to drink just made my stomach flip-flop. The worst part was when my screensaver came on - you know, that one with the randomly bouncing and changing geometric shapes - and I seriously thought I'd have to run down the hall to to the water-less toilet. The prospect made me shudder and, given that I had literally no work to do for the day and Hugh Marlboro was out on the plantation, I decided to go home before my situation became urgent.

The boys in the warehouse were the only ones to whom I confessed that I was hungover and not just sick for any of the dozen reasons a mulungo could fall ill: bad water, bad ice, bad seafood, too much heat, malaria, cholera, too much air conditioning, etc. Nope, I just had a good old babalasa (or is it babalaza?), as they say here in Moz.

The driver took me home (yes, I did feel slightly guilty about using company resources to go home in the middle of the day for such a pitiful reason) and I somehow managed to get through a series of text messages while in the car - ironically enough planning a beer-drinking-afternoon for next Saturday with Ahmed and the boys - without vomiting.

On the way, we passed one of the random street markets on Avenida 24 de Julho. There is a section where they sell women's shoes, all neatly organized in pairs on the sidewalk, a section for handbags, one for men's white button-down shirts, hanging from a clothesline strung between a lightpost and a tree, another clothes line packed full of brightly colored bras, all waving in the wind like prayer flags. All merchandise either second-hand or cheap new Chinese imports, of course.

A child's backpack caught my eye in the school bags section: on the light pink background was a silkscreened image of a Barbie-type doll face wearing hijab. The man selling the backpack was leaning on a car with big letters on the back windscreen that said "BRED PITT". I smiled and wondered if it was a typo. Schoolgirls in ill-fitting uniforms walked in a group holding hands, each one with a different hairstyle and shoes to set her apart from her peers. One girl was wearing clear vinyl high heels, much more fitting for an L.A. strip club than for Maputo's obstacle-ridden sidewalks. A man on the corner held up puppies for sale, waiting for a soft-hearted motorist to rescue the poor things for a pretty penny. Horns honked, the sun beat in through the window, the distinct smell of garbage and mangoes lingered in the air. The light changed, and we were off, dodging Hiace taxis and potholes, honking madly at pedestrians casually sauntering in front of the car. I realized this very particular chaos is becoming a cherished part of my daily commute...

Now, after a good nap, nearly 2 liters of Coca-Cola and some delivery pizza, I am feeling back to normal. Just in time for an extended holiday weekend!