Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Last night I awoke with a start as thunder boomed so suddenly and violently I thought someone had fired a gun just outside the bedroom window. I took it as a warning sign and dashed to the verandah to bring in the cat boxes, lest the silicone litter become water-logged and useless. Not a minute after I’d hauled in the boxes, the skies opened with the full force of a tropical storm. Lightning cracked so close to the building I feared it might come inside the flat, perhaps attracted by the iron bars that protect every door and window. The boys crawled onto the bed with me, and I struggled to find sleep with all the thunder and gusts of wind and the occasional cat claw to the stomach, be it from torties or in response to an especially loud clap of thunder.

As a result, you can imagine that I am tired today. I have actually been tired, almost to-the-core exhausted, for the past several weeks now. If you look at my agenda, I’m not fully booked with obligations, and it seems that I should have ample time for rest and “me time”. Unfortunately, it doesn’t feel like it at all. I’ve been sleeping quite poorly for a while now, be it because of storms, naughty cats (tearing down the curtains in the bedroom in the middle of the night, Pria taking a revenge shit on the rug in the living room after being reprimanded for climbing curtains, etc.), the ridiculously high temperatures we’ve been experiencing in Maputo lately, or any other of a dozen reasons.

Also contributing to that tired feeling are:

1) Omnipresent underlying stress from wedding planning. The wedding is 3 ½ months away, people! That is nothing, especially considering we still have several financial holes to fill and a house to remodel for the reception. It will work out, I know, but I can’t help feeling the crunch of invitations to send out in a timely manner (after managing to get them out of the clutch of Mozambican customs, where they were held for over the month with the threat of $500 duty…we finally got them out by doing a temporary import declaration and paying a deposit, then sending them all to Brazil for “export” in Rico’s suitcase. It’s a long, painful saga and I won’t get into it further; suffice to imagine a bureaucracy nightmare), flowers to choose, cakes to taste, pre-wedding counseling to complete somewhere (I’m imagining with the local Lebombo Diocese), and so forth. Not to mention the million dollar question of whether or not I will manage to fit into my wedding dress and rehearsal dinner dress more than a year after purchase. I have about 3kg to lose before the big day, and that has me somewhat freaked out…

2) We finally got our car, the Honda CRV we purchased nearly 2 months ago and had imported from Durban, South Africa. Again, imagine the worst bureaucracy possible, the kind where everything goes wrong at every step of the way, and at the end of it all you are more convinced than ever that Murphy is 100% Mozambican. The idea was that Rico would get the car out of the customs lot in Matola, where all goods entering the country by road must stop for inspection and taxes, before traveling to Brazil for his father’s 60th birthday party last week. Of course, the stupid clearing process took about 10 times longer than anticipated, and I got handed the splendid task of getting the car out.

The bureaucracy was actually the least intimidating part for me. What had my stomach in a knot and my palms in a sweat was the idea of having to drive a right-hand-drive car down the left-hand side of the street in the full-on chaos that is Maputo traffic. I’ve only driven here a handful of times, and I must say I don’t have the fondest memories of those experiences.

Thankfully, Ahmed agreed to come with me to the customs lot to get the car out, with the idea that he would then drive my car down Avenida 24 de Julho, the city’s craziest, most chapa-infested street, to the shop that would make and mount my license plates. However, when it came time to leave the customs lot and I tried to hand Ahmed the keys to the CRV, he looked at me with a raised eyebrow and said, “Stop being full of shit. You know how to drive. You’ve driven my car before and it was just fine. Get in the car, you will follow me to the license plate shop.”

I pleaded with him to change his mind. “It’s not the mechanics of driving the car that I’m worried about; it’s 24 de Julho. I’m afraid of hitting someone because I can’t gauge where the car ends on the left-hand side. I can’t tell if I am at an okay distance to pass a parked car or a man on a bicycle, or whether I am going to smash into something. Please, please, please just drive there for me!”

“Get in the car,” he said. “You can do it. Just follow me, I’ll go slow.”

And thus we set off on what was, for me, one of the most nerve-wracking journeys of recent memory. I felt disoriented in the car, constantly switching on the windshield wipers when I meant to indicate an upcoming turn, struggling to translate the images I saw in my mirrors to the real-life traffic around me, and trying the whole time to remember what traffic flow rules should be while driving mão inglesa. But I managed, and in all honesty the anticipation was by far the worst part. Ahmed drove slowly in front of me, and signaled out the window whenever we needed to turn. He even led me back home after we’d put on the license plates.

It is incredibly exciting to have a car, after nearly 3 years of managing Mozambique without wheels of our own. My confidence behind the wheel is going up exponentially with each additional day of driving, and Ahmed has been a very patient teacher, riding around the city with me and giving me tips, helping me stay aligned in the lanes, and giving me just the right amount of the stern cocked eyebrow to make me suck it up and just park the car in the tight spot that requires ridiculous amounts of maneuvering, for God’s sake. It’s been an adrenaline-filled last couple of days since picking up the car on Monday, but this particular exhaustion is well worth it!

3) I had my first visitor since moving to Mozambique! (Okay, technically my friend S. stayed with us last year for over a month, but she was a friend-of-a-friend, and really only became my friend after her trip.) Anyhow, my Brazilian friend Heleno came to visit two weeks ago while on his way to Hong Kong. He was my classmate back at business school in Rio (same school where I met Rico back in 2000, and BL our old roommate from Chimoio, and at least 3 other people I can think of who have come to Moz to do volunteer consulting work – who’d have ever thought that relatively conservative school would spawn such a connection to Africa!).

Heleno was here on business, trying to evaluate the potential for goods from his company in China. We had multiple meetings and are all excited about the prospect of being able to put together some deals in the future, especially for projects that focus on the “bottom of the pyramid” consumers. It was great having a houseguest for a week, as among other things it gave me and Rico a chance to play tourist. We finally managed to go to the baixa(lower-city/downtown area) and take photos of some of Maputo’s landmarks.

I tried to post the images from our outing to the Fortaleza (old Portuguese fort built in late 1700's) and the CFM (railway station, built by the same Eiffel that did the Paris landmark), however it seems Blogger is not in a mood to cooperate this morning. I will try again later tonight and see if I have better luck.

In other news (though likely not anything that will help alleviate my tired state), I am looking forward to a good weekend. Rico comes back from his short trip to Brazil on Friday, then later that evening Lura, one of Cape Verde's best singers, will play a concert at Coconut's, and on Sunday I am making a New Mexican feast for a group of friends including June and JR, my ex-colleagues from the Empire.


Marcia said...

Poor thing! I feel for you because those 3 kg would stress me out, big-time!

And sorry, but your driving story just made me laugh because i SOOOOO relate! I used to be like that with our Louis Botha Avenue in Jhb. Now I say, "if you can drive on Louis Botha, you can drive anywhere". Hectic with taxis and buses weaving in and out of cars, with of course, no indication whatsoever. Nerve-wracking!

On the job thing...apparently there is a job offer waiting for me on my email at home....I'm not getting excited just yet because I have to see what it is.

bart said...

i can imagine exactly how you felt... the first time i was back in australia after many years, having gained my drivers license in holland, i decided to play the dare-devil and drive my fathers car from the north to the south of sydney, one of the busiest roads i've ever encountered...

by the time we got to the airport i was just more than frayed :P

well done though and congratulations, managing the bureaucratic hoops and now with your own wheels :-))

keep well...