Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Swazi Road Trip

We are headed to Swaziland today for an extended holiday weekend with friends. It will be our first time there, and Rico and I are really looking forward to it. Included in our plans: white-water rafting, mountain biking (yes, even I am going, the girl who hasn't been on a bike since 2001), hiking and adventure quad-biking. Lots of sports to justify lots of beer and good food, and a massage at the Royal Swazi Spa.

Have a good weekend, everyone!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Felicidades, Rico! (and many other random thoughts)

First of all, Happy Birthday to Rico! Today he turns 29. We had appetizers and dessert at our favorite restaurant for lunch, and I am throwing him a mini birthday party this evening with homemade lasagna and plenty of beer.

In other news, I am frustrated by technology. I now have two blogs - this one, and Alexandra Amaro where I show my jewelery. I want to have them under one account to facilitate administration, but would like to have two different profiles appear (I don't want "Ali la Loca" on my jewelry site where I'm attempting to present myself as a "serious designer"...because seriously, would you blindly purchase jewelry from someone who calls themselves Ali the Crazy One?

Unfortunately it seems this isn't possible, so perhaps I'll just embrace the Ali la Loca name and go with it on both sites.

Any help, blogspot bloggers? Is it possible to have two different profile names on the same account?

And, in other-other news, it seems poor Pequena, the little kitten we rescued some time back, has disappeared from the farm at the Banana Empire where she went to live with my ex-colleagues June and JR. She's been gone for a week now, and the general consensus is that a snake got her. There are lots of snakes at the farm - several people have had freaking Mozambique Spitting Cobras in their living rooms (!!!) - and a little Pequena-sized snack would be perfect for one of those nasty, slithery beasts.

I'm so sad to hear that Pequena has disappeared - I even cried a bit yesterday when I finally lost hope that she might turn up after several days missing. The worst part is that this is the second kitten that has disappeared/died on June's young daughter. I fear the poor girl now things she is the one making the kitties die. :(

The creepiest part is that about 2 or 3 weeks ago, I dreamed in vivid detail that Pequena was being attacked by a snake. I saw the snake sink its fangs into Pequena, and knew that she was gone even though I mercifully woke up before the end of nature's struggle.

Whatever the end was for Pequena in real life, I just hope it was quick and painless, and that she enjoyed her months of luxury while they lasted.

I suppose this means we now have a vacancy for another adopted cat...that is, if June and JR want to go through the feline drama for a third time.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Alexandra Amaro Jewelry in Maputo

I've had a terrible cold for the past few days, but at least my time in bed was put to good use. I created a website for my jewelry sales here in Maputo that works around the fact that the mail system here is not at all reliable.

Despite the fact that all deliveries must be done in person, thus limiting my customer base to people in the captial, I think this is a good interim solution so that I don't have stock sitting idly at home.

Check out the fruits of my labor:

If you are in Maputo, this means you can now get my jewelry without having to visit the gift shop at the Franco-Mozambican Cultural Center or having to wait several months for my next fair booth!

Saturday, April 19, 2008


Thankfully, Maputo was not the next port of call for the ship carrying arms from China bound for Zimbabwe. The latest news we've heard is that it is heading for Luanda, Angola. I sincerely hope that the reaction to the ship's cargo is similar in that country, and that port workers refuse to unload the weaponry, and that government officials do the right thing on a higher level and recognize that 77 tons of arms arriving in Harare right now would exponentially facilitate the human rights absuses against the Zimbabwean people by ZANU-PF.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Fridays Are All About Me

I love Fridays. When signing my current long-ish term consulting contract with the Big International Corporation, one of my conditions was that I would only work Monday through Thursday. Fridays are my day, a time for jewelry making, cooking, photography, emails, writing, errands, lunching with friends, cocktails, sleep or whatever else strikes my fancy.

Today I made a Brazilian-style carrot cake covered with homemade chocolate ganache, did some verandah gardening (my poor ficus trees had such a bad scale infestation that the only way of saving them was to cut off all the leaves and green stems), played with the cats, updated my jewelry spreadsheet and addressed some wedding invitations.

I always forget exactly how much effort it takes to do calligraphy en masse. I did the calligraphy for my mom's wedding invitations several years ago, and I vaugely remember it being a lot of work, but nothing like the mammoth task that addressing our own wedding invitations has proven to be. Granted, we have a reasonably long guest list (150 invites going out), but it's been a seemingly endless endeavour. I have to admit, though, that the hand cramps and shaky forearm are well worth it for the satisfaction of seeing a stack of envelopes with beautiful calligraphy on the outside!

Speaking of things wedding-related, Rico and I have semi-started our campaign to get in shape by July. We're playing squash several times a week with our friends A. and M., who conveniently have a squash court at their residential complex. Rico is unbelievably, disgustingly good at squash. He used to play all the time with his friend Chocolate, who is going to be our best man, and despite the fact that he's been off the courts for a while, it shows that he used to play regularly in the past. The rest of us play decently well, including me (total and utter shock), becuase I tend to suck at all sports.

I actually really like squash, to the point where I find myself looking forward to playing. The only other time this has happened to me, where I look forward to serious exercise, is with dance classes (Nia, cardio salsa). It's so nice to finally have found a sport that I can play with Rico and other friends, get a great workout, and have it be a social event in the process.

I've just had a piece of carrot cake (okay, the diet bit of "let's get in shape for the wedding" has yet to seriously kick in) and am off to play some squash and then have a beer with A., M. and Rico, followed by a barbeque at Jenny's house.

Looks like a fine start to the weekend.

Happy Friday, everyone!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Relocation Karma

I think I could put together a viable business helping people relocate to Mozambique, in particular Maputo. It's amazing to me how little resources there are on the internet regarding expat life here, and how even the professional relocation companies seem to have Moz a bit under their radar.

However, though I am completely convinced this would be a feasible business, there is part of me that is happy simply helping people and would never want to profit off these connections. I believe in karma, I believe in meetings that are meant to be, I believe that helping fellow travelers/expats without expecting anything in return only paves my own path that much smoother for future relocations and adventures.

I have met so many people through my blog since moving to Maputo last year. Some people have come and gone quite quickly; others have stayed more permanently. Regardless of actual time together in Maputo, I can say that some of my best friends today are people I've randomly met through my blog.

Jenny, Lies, Lacithecat, Marcos and Kelly, fiery little A. and her husband...

I am currently in touch with about 5 people planning to move to Maputo in the next few months. I am excited to meet them, genuine in my willingness to help them nagivate housing or finding roommates, happy to forward along CVs to my professional network. I look forward to taking these new residents out for a beer or a coffee, to sharing our stories and, perhaps, forging friendships during our shared time here.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sunday Scribblings: Fearless

I am doing a new thing for Sunday Scribblings this week. I am trying a timed piece of writing with absolutely no editing (though I must admit that I don't really edit the majority of my posts). Here goes!

I am not fearless. There is a list of situations that I dread, and that unfortunately I think about often. Obsessively sometimes. I think of snakes, and imagine their fat bodies in every shadow and curve of the path in front of me. I visualize thin green vines suddenly coming to life, slithering down to confront me, a bright blue mouth with nearly transparent fangs making me freeze in my tracks, or perhaps scream and run desperately in the opposite direction. Each step of a hike, of a bush walk, of a picnic in the woods is an opportunity for my fear of snakes to manifest itself. Thankfully the actual run-ins have been relatively infrequent, but still, I remain afraid.

I am not fearless when it comes time for dentists, or doctors, or any sort of procedure that involves prodding my body. One of the most terrifying days of my life was when I had to get my wisdom teeth extracted, all four at once. My oral surgeon was our next-door neighbor, an incredibly qualified and kind man. It didn't help one bit. I remember sheer terror, my body shaking uncontrollably, hot tears gushing out of my eyes. The nurse suggested that perhaps I should take a Valium and come back the next day if I wasn't able to control myself and sit still so that they could put an iv in my arm. Never mind the thought of someone cutting open my gums and snapping my teeth away from my jaw-bone; the idea of a needle entering my vein that would make me go unconscious was terrifying enough for me to lose control.

I made it through the surgery, though I woke up scared and unhappy. The last thing I remember is Dr. Crago asking me to tell him what I was reading in Spanish Literature class at the university. My voice trembled and I could barely stutter out Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz before going into darkness.

I am not fearless when it comes to travel (I am almost certain the plane will crash each time I fly), violence (I often imagine myself the victim of a kidnapping, or torture, or a gunshot wound) or illness (God only knows what years of worrying about the wrong things have done to my mind-body connection). I am afraid of all of these outcomes, yet I go forward, act through the motions, pretend I am on a reality tv show; whatever the trick is to get me on the plane, or across the dark parking lot, or to the gynecologist's for my annual check-up.

I wonder if it is possible to be fearless, truly, in our frail human state. Isn't fear what keeps us safe in many instances? Isn't fear - be it of a consequence or of an unrealized outcome - what moves us to act and talk and change in so many situations? What would my life be like without fear? What would I do differently?

Nothing, perhaps. Despite all of my fears - some of them obsessive and crippling - I still somehow manage to do the things I want in life, and make myself do the things I don't want to but know I must anyhow. I connect to something greater than myself, I move out of my body if necessary. I make the presentation in front of 500 people, I ask for a $20,000 loan, I read books that make me cringe because they dredge up the painful parts of my past that I seem unable to remember but 100% capable of feeling, I move halfway across the world, I write the blog post...all the while feeling my stomach in my throat, my heart thumping with adrenaline as if I were about to collapse. I don't let fear stop me, but it would be misleading to say I am a fearless woman.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Special Dates of the Fourth Month

April is a month full of anniversaries and celebrations, so I've stopped worrying if I miss a date by a couple of days...well, except for the birthdays. I try not to let those pass by unnoticed.

Thus far:

3-year anniversary of Ali's blog: April 6th
Ali's 26 1/2th birthday: April 13th (yes, I still mark the 1/2 years)
Ricardo's 29th birthday: April 24th
3-year anniversary of Ali moving away from the US: April 29th
Mom's birthday: April 30th

So, happy belated 3 years of blogging to me. In following the tradition of previous years, I shall do nothing in particular to celebrate the occasion, other than note that I let the day pass me by (again). Instead, I'll take it as a license for some serious future navel-gazing, on the date of my choice.

On another note, today I made the most delicious dinner ever: ostrich goulash with a red wine sauce, roasted butternut, and sauteed kale with garlic. Super yummy tribute to South African cuisine.


Yesterday at 6am, Rico and I were awoken by an insistent hand pounding against our front door. From the lack of subtlety, we knew the knocker was one of our building guards. Senhor Augusto and Senhor Micas have the habit of banging on our door with an urgency fit for announcing that, “Quick, the building is about to collapse, you must get out now!” when really all they want is to hand-deliver our water bill or tell us that that the cable guy stopped by while we were out.

This time, however, the level of pounding actually corresponded somewhat to the news Sr. Micas had come to announce.

“Patrão, trabalhamos mal ontem.” Boss, we didn’t do our job well last night.

“What happened?” Ricardo suddenly became alert.

“Someone stole the side mirrors off your car.”

Rico followed the guard downstairs to inspect the damage. One of the most common crimes here in Maputo is to have the mirrors, brake lights, indicator lights or spare tire stolen off your car. These petty thefts happen all the time: while you have a quick coffee in the Baixa, while parked at the supermarket on a Sunday afternoon, or – as was the case with our car – while overnighting unprotected on the city street due to the general lack of enclosed garages or parking lots in apartment buildings.

We’d left the car directly in front of the entrance to our building, not 100 meters from where the night guards sit. There are between 2 and 4 guards keeping watch over the cars and apartments on any given night. The general building guards, Sr. Augusto and Sr. Micas, are plainclothes, unarmed and wholly lack any professional training. Then there is the private security force hired by our first-floor neighbor, an extremely wealthy Indian man. There are three uniformed guards that work for his family in shifts. Depending on the day, they will be armed with a machine gun, though it seems to be on a totally arbitrary schedule.*

Unfortunately, all of this security doesn’t do much good in terms of deterring criminals, as most nights all of the guards bundle up inside the covered entrance to the building and fall sound asleep, as is the case with 99% of security guards in Maputo. It was during their peaceful slumber that the petty thieves managed to remove our mirrors and get away unnoticed. One evening last year, a gang of carjackers was able to subdue all of the guards, take the uniformed one’s machine gun and throw it in the dumpster across the street, and speed away with our neighbor’s Toyota sedan.

So, with the loss of our side mirrors, it seems we have been baptized as car owners in Maputo. It seems the only way to prevent them being consistently stolen is to have your car’s license plate number sandblasted on the mirrors, thus making them difficult to re-sell on the black market.

Yesterday afternoon we had Zeca, our favorite (but now sadly underutilized) taxi driver, search for replacement mirrors for the CRV. Apparently, it was impossible to find legitimate mirrors in any of the auto shops in the city, so Zeca was forced to buy the mirrors at Estrela, the, ahem, “second-hand” bazaar for car parts. It was unfortunate to have to resort to this option, but we needed a quick solution because I think I would be completely incapable of driving on the left without my trusty mirrors.

So we are back in business, with plans for next week to sandblast our mirrors and buy metal clips and grates to prevent the theft of our indicators and tail lights. Owning a car here certainly is a different story than back in the US…

*One day last year I had to take Pria and Parceiro to the vet. As I waited for the taxi, the uniformed guard - a tall, no-nonsense, beret-wearing man – cooed and made baby talk with the cats, scratching their heads through the spaces in the cat carrier with one hand, while clutching his machine gun in the other.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Late, But Better Than Nunca

Yes, my mom was here for a short visit two weeks ago, and yes, I have been very delayed in blogging about our time together.

To sum it up, we had an incredible time despite the fact that it was way too brief.

I think my mom was pleasantly surprised by Maputo and all it has to offer. We had delicious lunches each day she was here, drove up the coast to Costa do Sol, toured the banana plantations at the Empire (unfortunately without meeting Hugh Marlboro, as he was in Cape Town), bought hibiscus and bouganvilla from a roadside vendor near Boane, visited a local ceramics factory, went to a beautiful photography exhibition at the Franco-Moçambicano cultural center, and hung out a lot at home drinking tea while I made jewelry and laboriously did the caligraphy on the envelopes of our wedding invitations.

Easter Sunday was a highlight, though it was spent in spectacularly secular fashion. Rico, my mom and I had lunch at the Macanese* restaurant downtown and enjoyed deceptively delicious food given the shabby look of the place. We had peri-peri stir-fried chicken, rice with shrimp and squid, prawn curry, and hot and sour soup. All super delicious, and cheap to boot. Rico had said he wouldn't have gone in there on a bet, but I'll wager a dollar or two that he would go back after our lunch experience.

We rounded out the traditional Easter experience (ha, ha!) with a movie at the Gil Vicente cinema. From the look of the place, my mom estimated it was from the 1920's. Full of character, but notably empty of patrons on the holy day. We thoroughly enjoyed "Charlie Wilson's War", complete with sweet popcorn and cokes (incredibly delicious and made with real sugar, as my mom noted).

I'd like to upload the photos from my mom's trip, but unfortunately Blogger is not feeling cooperative. Perhaps tomorrow...

*proper adjective for something or someone from Macao

Vision for the Future: Project A

Today, after a very long time not feeling it, the spark inside me - the tesão I feel regarding my professional experience in Mozambique - the idea that these 3 years have not been spent here only to look back with resentment at some point in the future and think, "Damn, we were there at the right time, and we didn't make it happen,"...that spark came back full force.

I am part of a grand plan for business in Mozambique. I am part of an incredible team. We have a vision, and a real chance at making something work that would be an innovation in the country. I will call it Project A for now.

There is also a possibility that we will fail spectacularly, but at least we will have tried. One of my greatest fears is that I will look back and regret not having taken a risk. We are here at the right time. We have the experience. We have the people. We just need to take the gamble...and we are ready to do it.

Our brainstorming phase is over. We are moving forward, concretely, to put things into action.

Much more will come regarding these plans. They've been in our heads for nearly two years now. I can clearly see how everything has played its part in preparing us for this next step...our initial experiences doing consulting work in Chimoio, our freelance period in Maputo, working for various private-sector clients and donors, networking galore, my stint with Hugh Marlboro, my current consulting position at the BIC working on investment projects for local small and medium all adds up, and it all comes together as the framework for a grand plan.

Come success or come failure, I'm just glad to have the spark back. The road forward will be a challenge, but I think we are all ready to have a go at it.