Saturday, August 30, 2008

Honeymoon in Vietnam: Bat Trang Ceramics Factory

Day two in Vietnam consisted of touring the rural areas around Hanoi. We had the luxury of an English-speaking guide and a driver to accompany us the entire time, making it possible to see and understand things that perhaps otherwise would have been a bit out-of-reach. Rico and I constantly marveled at the incredible value we were getting for the reasonable price of our honeymoon.

Our first stop was the traditional ceramic-making village of Bat Trang, about 45 minutes outside Hanoi. We drove past vibrant rice fields, lumbering water buffalo, and old colonial structures - such as a beautiful but slightly crumbling Catholic church from the early 1900's - mixed in with modern constructions, all brightly colored and carefully decorated on the front façade, while the lateral walls were all left in unadorned gray concrete. We asked our guide why only the front parts of houses and shops were decorated, and he said it's in anticipation of neighbors moving in at some point, smashed in cheek-by-jowl, thus obscuring the side part of the buildings anyway. The idea seemed to be, what's the point?

At Bat Trang, we were led on a tour of one of the ceramic factories. We walked through what was essentially a big, narrow, tall house that had been converted into a workshop. We saw the giant kilns ready to be loaded with porcelain vases, and room after room of artisans working on various stages of ceramic production. The air hung thick with clay dust, and the lack of circulating air made us sweat until drops ran down our backs, legs and faces. I wondered how all of the Vietnamese managed to look so clean and composed, when Rico and I were obviously suffering in the humid heat. I suppose after enough time, humans are able to adapt to just about anything...

Entrance to the ceramics factory we visited. Our private vehicle is the one sitting in the driveway, a Toyota model that is quite popular in Vietnam but doesn't exist, to my knowledge, in the US or Brazil.

A woman making the base for ceramic tile paintings. She used pre-made concrete molds, then packed in red clay and used a wire cutter to evenly cut the back of the tile. I used a similar technique, albeit on a much smaller scale, to make relief tile murals while in college.

A man paints on a flat porcelain tile using watered-down colored slip.

Using colored glazes, this woman paints the relief surface of the tiles the woman shown in the second photo was making. She was very excited when I said hello in Vietnamese.

There were about 6 of these ladies working at one table, in what used to be the living room of this house. They worked all day sitting on plastic chairs, with a small fan in the corner to keep everyone somewhat cool. I think I would have passed out in these conditions, but they all seemed so composed.

This woman was one of the master painters at the factory. Here she is illustrating a large tile mural that would sell for several hundred dollars.

At the end of the tour we were, of course, taken to a large shop where we could purchase the pieces we'd just seen being made. This was one of the things that most impressed me and Rico about Vietnam - they are exceptionally good at integrating traditional crafts with the tourism market. Every artisan workshop we visited had a store attached ready to receive international tourists. They even had signs displayed with the per-cubic-meter price to ship a container to the principal ports of the world, as well as FedEx points for shipping smaller items. This is a massive contrast to the state of crafts and tourism in Mozambique.

Rico and I ended up practicing restraint (we got some teacups and small bows), though we were certainly tempted to buy a couple of these larger-than-life porcelain vases and have them shipped to the Casa Rosa. Apparently you can get a good-quality set of these large vases for about US$900.

Admittedly, I was happy to be back in the air-conditioned vehicle!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Honeymoon in Vietnam: Jet Lag and Extreme Humidity in Hanoi

Our trip from Rio de Janeiro to Hanoi was long, though not entirely unpleasant. We took South African Airways from Rio to São Paulo, then overnight to Johannesburg. Rico and I spent the night in Joburg and met up with friends Marcia and Dion, who kindly let us dump our giant green suitcase at their house for 16 days so that we wouldn't have to haul it all the way to Vietnam. We ate shwarmas at the Eastgate mall, then went back to the hotel and promptly fell asleep, exhausted from the trip and all of the excitement of the previous weeks.

Despite being super tired, both Rico and I were unfortunately wide awake around midnight. Damn jet-lag. Thankfully there was a good movie on tv, Seven Years in Tibet, and we watched it until the wee hours of the morning. We snacked on cheetos and chocolate from the vending machine, and struggled to get back to sleep.

The following afternoon we headed to the airport to check in for the next stage of our trip. We were flying Malaysia Airlines to Hanoi, via Kuala Lumpur. Rico and I asked for an upgrade at the ticket counter, and the smart manager behind the desk negotiated an extremely reasonable price for both of us to travel business class, as apparently Malaysia Airlines doesn't offer free upgrades, not even to honeymooners.

Rico and I decided to pay the modest fee, and it turned out to be one of the best decisions of our entire trip. Business class was fabulous! Yummy food (I had satay and shrimp curry), endless entertainment (I watched 10 episodes of Ugly Betty), and seats that reclined nearly to a horizontal position.

It was a good thing we traveled in comfort, because Rico was getting a bit of a cold, and I came down with an unfortunate stomach bug. I won't go into too much detail, but I had what my mom and I fondly refer to as 'fart burps'. It's like belching rotten eggs every five minutes for an entire 24-hour period, and is usually accompanied by other, more severe gastro-intestinal symptoms. It is true misery, not only for the person tormented by such noxious gases, but for everyone around them as well.

To illustrate: About an hour before arriving in Kuala Lumpur, Rico woke up and was stretching a bit when I let out one of my silent but rotten burps. Rico turned around and said, with a disgusted look on his face, "Algum filho da puta acaba de peidar muito mal!" Essentially, some asshole just let out a nasty old fart. He looked suspiciously at the slightly overweight gentleman in the row behind us. Unable to hide the truth, I confessed it was my burp that smelled so bad. "Porrrrraaaa!!" Was Rico's response. "Você está podre mesmo!" Good thing we were already married, because I think these burps could have seriously made Rico change his mind!!

Unfortunately, my sick state lasted well through our long layover in Kuala Lumpur and our nearly 3-hour flight to Hanoi. At this point we were both exhausted, I was feeling ill and running to the toilet every 8 minutes or so, and we had massive jet-lag. All we wanted to do was arrive in Vietnam, get some rest, and start to feel like true honeymooners.

When we finally got to Hanoi, we were in for a shock. I used to think Mozambique was the hottest, most miserable and humid place I'd ever experienced. It's much hotter and stickier here than it is on the most scorching summer day in Rio, the previous hot-weather title holder in my experience. Hanoi was on another level. It was like being in an oven, literally. We both gasped for air when we walked out of the airport - not exactly the weather we'd been hoping for, although I can't say we weren't forewarned by fellow travelers who had experienced Vietnam in July.

The air conditioning of the Sofitel was a relief, as was the beautiful marble shower. We were both finally feeling human again, and it was time for our first outing in Hanoi. Our guide, Phong, took us out to dinner at a very beautiful restaurant in the district where all the embassies are. It was in an old French building, and I fell in love with the decor. I believe the name was Studio 51. Even better than the chic decorating scheme was the food. We had a multiple-course meal including banana flower salad, fresh spring rolls with shrimp and pork, stir-friend vegetables, rice with lotus seeds, and soup with cabbage and chicken dumplings. For dessert we had fresh fruit, and a cup of the strongest, sweetest coffee I've had in quite a while.

We went back to the hotel and collapsed into bed, sadly only to wake up at 1am with good old jet-lag. Rico and I were both starving, so we ordered big bowls of pho through room service. We waited patiently until 6am, when the hotel gym opened, and went for an early morning workout. I never would have believed it had someone told me that on my honeymoon I'd be waking up in the pre-dawn hours and working out every morning!

Those first couple of days were difficult, between the jet-lag, the excruciatingly hot weather, and the general exhaustion we had accumulated from the weeks prior to the wedding. We were happy to be in Vietam, though, and had to keep pinching each other to believe that we were actually there, traveling in such luxury, so lucky to be on honeymoon!

Club 51 in Hanoi. I fell in love with the warm color scheme and the black and white photos on the walls.

Dinner was delicious, but I was sooooo tired, and a bit worried about the state of my stomach after being ill on the trip over. Turns out it was all okay, and I was able to enjoy the meal without a problem.

Rico looking tired after a long trip, but definitely satisfied after a good meal.

Our first 4am bowl of pho. I became addicted to that noodle soup! Especially delicious when eaten in the middle of a king-sized bed in a fluffy hotel bathrobe!

We're Nearly to the Honeymoon Photos!

More wedding photos from my cousin Anne-Joelle. I can't wait to get our professional ones on DVD so I can post them as well. They are soooo beautiful, though I wonder if it's not a bit tacky to post wedding photos, like, 6 months after the event? Oh, well.

Speaking of photos, I promise to start blogging the photos from our honeymoon to Vietnam today! It's going to be quite the project, as we have a ton of photos and were traveling for 16 days, but I figure if I do a little each day in about 3 week's time everything will be blogged.

Until then, enjoy more wedding images!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Hopefully My Home Cooking Will Cure My Saudades

It's a bit of a lonely night in the Amaro household. Rico is in Nampula this week facilitating a workshop and I am enjoying some alone-time, though certainly feeling his absence.

At the moment I am making butter beans with jalapeños, have just finished feeding the boys some liver, and am trying to get motivated to make some jewelry. The National Crafts Fair is just over a week away, and I am trying to get a reasonable volume of pieces together ahead of time, thus avoiding a last-minute production scramble as was the case last year. I just hope the turnout at the fair is near or above what it was the first time I participated...

I've been thinking a lot about my highschool friends these days. My very best friend from high school just got engaged over the weekend to her long-term boyfriend, and I keep meaning to call her and wish them congratulations the closest to "in-person" that I can manage from half a world away. Another friend got married on the 23rd, and I have enjoyed looking at her photos on Facebook. I wonder if she'll find photo uploading and organizing and sharing as dauting as I have.

On a more somber note, an acquaintance from the class ahead of us in school was hit by a car while crossing the street in Brooklyn a couple of weeks ago. She was a dancer, pursuing her PhD in performance arts in London, but spending the summer in New York while she attended some courses. She is incredibly lucky to be alive, but had to undergo brain surgery and has yet to regain full consciousness. She is awake and able to respond to simple commands, like "hold up two fingers", but she's not yet recognizing friends and family. A group of this girl's friends have started a blog to post updates on her recovery, and I check it every day even though we were never particularly close.

Today while at work I decided to do something useful in my idle time and donated some money to the above-mentioned girl's recovery fund (like many artists and students she has no health insurance), and also made a donation to the New Mexico Humane Society, where I adopted my beloved cat Azul in 2002. She now lives with my mom, and we have carried on the pet adoption legacy here in Mozambique with Pria and Parceiro.

I'm really looking forward to Rico coming back from Nampula. I miss him, though I admit I do enjoy the time alone, being the crafty sometimes-introvert that I am. Tomorrow I have plans to go to African Dance class again and make an utter fool of myself. Hopefully I will get increasingly coordinated as time goes on. There are also plans in the works for a girl's night centered around basil mojitos, which I am certainly excited about.

Even with things to look forward to, though, and my time occupied for the most part, I have to admit that I feel very lonely without Rico here. Maybe it's because we are married now - who knows - but I find it harder to be apart.

Ooh - there goes my cell phone ringing. And what do you's Rico!

Saturday, August 23, 2008


When I was a sophomore in college, living in Rio de Janeiro, one of my childhood friend was killed in a car accident in Albuquerque. He was driving home from a play when a drunk driver being chased by the police ran a red light and slammed into his car. He was eighteen years old.

My friend's name was Manoa. We met in elementary school, when he was in fourth grade and I was in fifth. We shared a classroom back then, as the Montessori school we attended was very small. We were both eventually accepted to the same private school, and played together in the jazz band for several years. Manoa played saxophone, and I played piano.

If I remember correctly, Manoa was half Filipino and half Isleta Pueblo Indian. My mom sent me the newspaper clipping about his death, how the community had lost such a promising young star in such a seemingly unfair way. My mom told me about Manoa's funeral, how he had a traditional Isleta ceremony and was wrapped in a woven rug. She relayed to me Manoa's mother's words, that life would never be the same without their only child, but that the family somehow was able to find solace in their spirituality.

Last night I dreamt of Manoa. It was so clear, so moving, that I actually feel that Manoa came to me in my dreams here in Mozambique, halfway around the world from New Mexico.

I dreamt I was at a house party near the beach, waiting for a group of friends to arrive. Eventually they did, and in the midst of the familiar faces was Manoa. He was dressed in jeans and his long black hair was tied back in a ponytail. He looked exactly the same as I remembered him, though somehow older and wiser.

"Are you really here?" I asked.

"Yes. I am here."

I ran and hugged him, amazed to feel the warmth of his body, and the strength of his arms as he returned the embrace.

"Can other people see you?"

"No, just you."

But that wasn't quite true. My friend Sam was at the party, a Puerto Rican santero I met a few months before moving to Mozambique. Sam wore beaded necklaces for Ogun and led weekly drumming circles.

"I can see him, too," Sam told me. I know he is here.

The rest of the party-goers were oblivious. I wondered what I looked like from their perspective, desperately hugging thin air and resting my head on a non-existant shoulder.

I looked up at Manoa and said, "I'm sorry for not sticking up for you more. I should have been there for you."

Manoa used to be quite overweight in elementary and middle school, and he wore his hair in a thick bowl cut. The popular kids used to make fun of him, especially during PE when Manoa would quickly get out of breath while running around the football field. The kids would say he looked like a gorilla, nostrils flared, dark skin and hair glistening with sweat.

I did stick up for Manoa many times, but I could have done more. I still feel bad about it.

"It's okay," Manoa told me, "you were there for me."

I hugged him even closer. It seemed like the world around us had stopped, and all I could see or hear was him, his breathing, his deep brown eyes. It was so real.

"I love you," I whispered. "I'm so glad you are here."

"I love you, too," Manoa said. "I always knew I would love you, and I always have."

I woke up and immediately felt that Manoa had come to me. I've dreamt about him before, but it was always in the context that he was still alive, had never died, was just another character in the random cast of my unconscious thoughts. This dream was different. I knew Manoa had died, and that he'd come back only for me (and Sam, the santero) to see. It was very real, very moving.

I told Rico my dream and started crying. It was a bit odd to tell my husband that I'd professed my love to another person in my dreams, but it was true. I did love Manoa, and it was absolutely the right thing to say when he appeared to me. I knew he loved me, too. A very different kind of love than the one between a couple, or even the love between family. This was almost a divine love, unconditional, forgiving, pure.

I wonder why Manoa chose to come to me. We were never that close while in school, and completely lost touch when I moved to Brazil. I suppose, should one believe that these things are real and not just a random result of brain flashes, some things we just have to accept, even though we don't understand their meaning or purpose at the time.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Humble Pie

I certainly had a slice tonight. I went to an African dance class with some friends and had my ass kicked. Usually I can pitch up at a dance class and, after a few minutes of observation, pick up the routine and hold my own with the students who have been going to the class for some time. Not tonight. Oh no, not tonight.

After the 10 minute warm-up I could already feel the sweat trickling down my back, and my hamstrings were trembling. The instructor was insane. He would do these jumps, starting from a squatting position then rocketing up into the air, and make it seem so effortless and beautiful. Then we'd try it and look like idiots, many girls losing their balance and some giving up altogether. The instructor was like a sinewy frog, full of energy and grace. We were just struggling, even the advanced students in the class.

We rehearsed some moves, which was exhausting. The whole class was done to live drumming, which at least gave me the will to keep dragging myself across the floor. I felt like an idiot for much of the class, very ungraceful. But still, it was fun, and watching the more advanced students was quite inspiring.

At the end of the class, everyone danced three dances they've been rehearsing for quite some time. Most of the students are part of a professional dance company, so they are rehearsing for an upcoming show. Us newcomers just lurked in the back and tried to pick up some choreography here and there. It wasn't easy, definitely the most challenging class I've ever attempted. Even the singing was hard to pick up, as it was all in Changana!

The class made me remember the first capoeira class I ever attended back in 1997. I was overwhelmed, felt awkward and uncoordinated, but in all was amazed by the more advanced students and what sort of beautiful movement was possible after dedication and months of practice. This class, in addition to the physical and musical components of the dance, made me excited because it seems like a great mental challenge as well as a good opportunity to meet interesting people in Maputo who love dance and who I might not otherwise come across in my regular professional and social circles.

I think I'm going to join the class. There is a 3-month package that starts in September, so my timing is good. I don't think I'll be able to make it frequently enough to really become good at the dancing, but even if I make it once a week at least it's a start.

Classes are at the electricity company's headquarters on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Cost for a month of lessons is approximately US$8. I can't believe how cheap it is...

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Swiss-Mexican Perspective

Here are some photos taken by my cousin AJ from the days leading up to the wedding, and a couple from our first days as Mr. and Mrs. Amaro. I love how each person's photos capture a different aspect of our time in Rio. There was so much going on, not even the professional photographer and his assistant managed to record all of the special moments!

My stepmom Laura and my Dad out on the town. It was their first time in Brasil, and my cousins AJ and Renaud - veteran travelers - very kindly acted as tour guides and showed them the city.

My aunt Cynthia (my dad's sister) and her daughter Libby (1 of my 3 first cousins), with a slightly hazy view of Sugarloaf in the background.

On the Thursday before our wedding, my family gathered for a lunch at Porcão Rio's, the most famous churrascaria in Rio. It was the first time in my *entire life* that all of my family members to whom I am close were sitting at the same table, not to mention it was the first time they've all been on the same continent at the same time! There were some people missing (my step-siblings, my stepdad, and a few distant cousins with whom I am in contact) but it was certainly the first time I've had all of my close blood relatives together.

My aunt Michelle and my uncle Hugh (my mom's brother - we all still call him Unc, a vestige of my childhood nickname for him). They are the coolest aunt and uncle ever. They have been incredibly supportive of me and Rico from the very beginning, and we wish so much that we lived closer to them.

While Unc and Aunt Michelle were looking very chic in black at the lunch, my Dad and Laura were fresh and clean in white. I hadn't actually noticed the color combos until I saw the photos. You can see a notebook and pen in my dad's pocket - he always carries them around to take note of movie recommendations, things to google, books to read, specs of the flash disk somebody is trying to track down, etc. It makes me laugh, because while I don't carry a notebook in my pocket, I have the same habit of list-making.

These are my other 2 first cousins, Jeff and Lauren. They are Unc and Michelle's children, and look just like their parents! Lo always jokes that we don't resemble each other, but in these photos I think I finally have the evidence to prove her wrong. :) I can't quite put my finger on it, but we definitely look like we're related.

My mom and my cousin Renaud. He is married to AJ, who technically is my second cousin once removed (yes, we did take the time one day over tea to figure out exactly how we're related). Despite the relatively distant connection, I am extremely close to AJ and Renaud. It makes me understand the practice in many cultures of designating the people you are closest to as "tio" or "tia", honorary aunts and uncles.

Three generations of women. Me, my mama, and her mother - my Grammy. My grandmother made it to Rio in all of her 86-year-old glory. She came all the way from Italy, where she lives in our family home near Trieste.

Three generations plus "tia" AJ, representing the Swiss-Mexican side of our family. My Grammy and AJ's mother are first cousins. AJ and my mom are second cousins. Did you follow that?

My Dad and Laura enjoying a lunch at Guimas in Ipanema on our second day as Mr. and Mrs. Amaro. I can't get over how happy they look in all the photos, especially my Dad. He is simply beaming!

The newlyweds: exhausted, but happy.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


- I decided to stay home from work. I've been consulting for the Big International Company since February, and in the beginning of my assignment I had enough work to merit 4 full days in the office per week. Now, the assignment is naturally coming to a close as I push the projects forward, and I find myself very, very bored at the office most of the time. So today I decided to do something productive with my day, enjoy it to the fullest...especially since I've accepted a "real" full-time job set to start on October 1st. More on that later.

- I had two cups of coffee and a cup of tea.

- I made three pairs of colorful cluster earrings with trade beads from Mozambique Island, and two pairs of big wooden disc earrings with crystals and pearls hanging off the bottom. The National Crafts Fair is just around the corner, and I'm definitely in full-on production mode.

- I made a ricotta cheese cake for an afternoon snack.

- I had a great talk with Rico about financial planning and our investment and savings goals for the short and long term.

- Rico and I took Parceiro to the vet for day two of treatment for a urinary infection. I'm so glad to have his help in taking the boys to the vet. I hate the vet almost as much as the cats do. Somehow their fear and stress and restlesness transfers straight to me, and I feel like crying every time I have to watch them be held down on the examining table. But now, I just go along for the ride and sit in the waiting room while Rico deals with the difficult parts.

- I made plans to go to an African modern dance class tonight with a new friend, which I am very excited about.

- I made fresh juice in the juicer (apple, pear and orange mix).

- I lamented the sad state of my potted plants on the verandah. The only ones doing well are the bouganvilhas; the two ficus trees have pale small leaves and refuse to perk up and grow, and the hibiscus are infested with aphids that no matter how many times I treat, they always come back with a vengeance. I'm considering throwing out the hibiscus and doing a mini herb garden in the pots instead.

- I surfed the internet.

- I enjoyed this unexpected, self-granted present of a day off!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Master Goal List for August 2009

I'd like to look back at this one year from now and see that I managed to accomplish most of these objectives.

1. Contribute $xxxx per month to savings, so that I am on track to having the equivalent of 3 month's salary available by October 2009.

2. Contribute $2,000 to IRA by December 2008. Self-employment in a foreign country = no reliable pension fund unless I create one myself.

3. Visit Kruger Park. It's 2 hours away, and we've yet to go.

4. Visit Ilha de Moçambique. One of my dreams is to sift through the sand and find some of the trade beads I use so often in my jewelry.

5. Take a proper holiday to celebrate our 1-year wedding anniversary. Plan ahead, book tickets, hotel rooms, etc.

6. Maintain my health and fitness level so that my wedding dress still fits on our anniversary. Try it on and enjoy the memories!

7. Submit a piece of my writing for publication.

8. Donate at least $200 to an animal shelter.

9. Send the thank-you notes for our wedding by November 2008.

10. Legally change my name on all pertinent documents by November 2008. This will be a bit of a nightmare, but I must make the effort.

11. Remodel the kitchen in our flat. At the very least, change the cabinets.

12. Paint all the walls in our flat. We've already done the living room, and it made a giant difference. Totally worth the effort.

13. Learn how to parallel park in a right-hand-drive car. I can't really do it well with the wheel on the other side either, but not knowing how to properly park causes me daily stress.

Perhaps I will add to this list with time, but these are the big ones that come to mind at the moment.

Monday, August 18, 2008


Yesterday the clouds rolled in, bringing with them a fine mist and what most likely will be the last cold spell of the year here in Maputo. Yes, cold is relative, but nonetheless this chilly-enough-to-wear-a-sweater weather is delicious preparation for the hot winds and sticky humidity I know are lurking right around the corner.

My friend Lindsey had spent the night after an incredibly fun birthday celebration for Zé Curral on Saturday, and we enjoyed the change in the weather with big mugs of coffee and freshly baked biscuits (American-style southern biscuits, not what we call cookies). We sat around the living room in our pajamas and gossiped, enjoying our girl time.

I offered to take Lindsey back to the house where her host family lives, as it's hard to get a taxi on a Sunday, plus she didn't really know the way home and is still in the process of learning Portuguese. I vaguely knew the way out to Malhazine, the suburb where Lindsey is staying, and figured that we'd managed to find our way somehow.

We drove towards the airport, then onto the continuation of Av. Julius Nyerere, past the rows of informal sellers of wooden planks and intricately carved headboards. The road got increasingly worse as we drove through the heart of the Xiquelene marketplace, bumping through potholes and puddles of rainwater, avoiding the mad chapa drivers, and weaving through the throngs of children, chickens and ladies with basins on their heads. Past Xiquelene, we drove to the Magoanine roundabout, then towards the national highway. There were increasingly fewer private cars on the road, save for the occasional tricked-out 4x4 zooming by, filled with partygoers just returning home from a good Saturday night. We followed the Malhazine chapas, and finally got to a point where Lindsey recognized her surroundings and was able to pinpoint the turnoff to her host family's house.

The road from that point on consisted of sand, so soft in some places I became worried that our car would get stuck. We drove slowly, past groups of men drinking beer, women selling vegetables, children chasing homemade balls down alleyways. We turned at the One Cell umbrella where a fat woman sat waiting for someone to use the public phone. Everyone stared. We were a novelty for multiple reasons: we were in a car in a point of the suburb where few vehicles pass; we were white; we were unaccompanied women; we were strangers, though seemingly not lost and heading towards a specific destination.

Finally we pulled up to the host family's house. It is nice, painted light pink on the outside with a wall and a gate. Lindsey told me that, despite the fact that the house is surrounded by simple shacks, the family seems to be reasonably well-off. They have a TV and a stereo system. They have running water and electricity. Just like in Rio's favelas, there is an amazing range of constructions and many different types of families living in the perceived-to-be-poor suburbs of Maputo.

We said goodbye, and I started on the long drive back to the city, the concrete city that makes up my daily reality. We live in Polana Cimento, the sturdy, rich, recent part of the neighborhood. On the other side is Polana Caniço, a reference to the reeds used in the construction of traditional huts in this region. Although many buildings in Polana Caniço are now made of bricks and blocks, the name remains, along with its connotations of a city divided.

The drive back was pleasant. I listened to The Police and rolled down the window to get a bit of cool, fresh air. I knew the way back, and that satisfied me. Even in the outskirts of the city, I can find my way around, such a contrast to the first 6 months of living in Maputo when I was perpetually disoriented, unable to wrap my mind around the way the cidade alta (upper city) and the cidade baixa (lower city) connected.

Despite knowing my way, I managed to get lost while driving through Xiquelene. There were so many people, so many market stalls, so much general chaos that I couldn't tell where the road was. I decided to follow the flow of "traffic" (i.e. several chapas and the odd private car) creeping through the market, figuring that they would likely be going to the city. After a few minutes of increasingly worse road conditions and the realization that I was headed deeper into the neighborhood around Xiquelene, I knew I had to turn around. Where, though? And with what strategy in mind? There was no room to maneuver, and I was quite disoriented. I continued to follow the cars and chapas in front of me, and to my relief saw an opening in the market stalls up ahead where I could turn around the car and head back to the main "road". After a while, I saw what looked to be a main path, decided to take it, and finally ended up on the continuation of Av. Vladmir Lenine, definitely not the route I'd taken previously, but a familiar street that would lead me back to the city.

I made it home without further incident, and made it upstairs before the rain started. I spent the rest of the day watching TV, using the internet, having tea with a friend, eating leftover curry. I couldn't get the differences between my Maputo experience and Lindsey's out of my head. Maputo is a place of massive contrasts - in my opinion, even more striking than those you see in Brazil.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Amor Amaro

I love these photos of Rico. They capture him so well. I could stare at them all day. They make my heart swell. Actually it's not the images; he makes my heart swell.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Wedding Memories

I find it incredibly difficult to describe our wedding using words. Even the photos don't seem to capture it all, though they certainly give an idea of the warmth and positive vibrations of the evening.

Instead of trying to tell you about our wedding in a chronological, narrative fashion, I will simply list some of the moments that stick out in my memory. To those of you who attended, maybe you can add to the list in the comments, as we certainly have different perspectives on the event.

The things I remember most about our wedding are:

- Not knowing if my wedding dress would fit! I bought the dress over a year before the wedding on a trip to visit my mom in California. For various reasons (insane humidity that makes clothes mold over, Rico and I sharing a small flat with no hiding places, our empregada's frequent clumsy tendencies), we decided the dress would be best off left in the climate-controlled safety of my mom's closet. I went back to California in December, but didn't try on the dress specifically because I knew I'd put on a bit of weight and knew that at that point I wouldn't fit in the tight, custom-tailored gown. I didn't want to make myself unnecessarily depressed. So, starting around May, Rico and I started on a bit of a fitness kick. I knew roughly my weight when we'd bought the dress, and that became my goal. However, once in Rio, we didn't go to the gym and I wasn't near the scale. I just had to watch what I ate and pray to God that the dress would zip. For some reason I didn't try it on before the big day. I have no idea why I created such suspense for myself. Anyhow, literally hours before the ceremony, the makeup artist and my mom helped me into my wedding dress. It passed over my hips without a problem (the area I was worried about), however the makeup artist let out a groan as she realized there was no possible way it was going to zip around my chest! Thankfully I had on a bustier (a little lift and filling had been necessary when we purchased the dress) and I breathed a giant sigh of relief when, after removing the undergarmet, the wedding dress zipped without a problem and actually fit better then when I'd had it custom-tailored the year before!

- This was the first time I'd had my makeup professionally done. It turned out beautiful, but it was not a painless process. I had a really difficult time letting Alessandra put the eyeliner on me, especially when she rimmed the inside of my eyes. It was a good thing everything on my face was waterproof, because I had tears flowing even before I was dressed (not from emotion, though, it was a reaction to having someone mess with my eyes).

- My mom and I had our makeup and hair done together, also a first. It was a really nice bonding experience, and she looked absolutely gorgeous.

- I had a personal attendant for the night, a girl called Giselle. She followed behind me all evening with tissues, lip gloss, breath mints, aspirin, band-aids, and anything else I could possibly need. She also made sure I had enough water to drink, that I was able to eat the delicious food at the reception, and that I had someone to hold my pro secco while we took photos and danced.

- I was very relaxed in the hours leading up to the ceremony. I was definitely in the moment, but I wasn't nervous or concerned about the details or stressed about anything. I was just excited for it all to happen. Giselle and the makeup artist commented that I was the most chilled out bride-to-be they had ever seen.

- Emotion did strike, though, as I was walking out of the Casa Rosa on my dad's arm. There was a giant crowd of people outside the house, as that weekend there was an art festival in Santa Teresa called Arte de Portas Abertas. The streets tend to get packed with people doing the arts crawl, dancing to live music, and having a beer as they wander around the old neighborhood and chat with friends. The crowd had realized there was a wedding, and that the wedding party was walking across the street to the church from the Casa Rosa. There were about 30 people gathered when I walked out of the gate with my dad. They all cheered, many took photos, and it was a true feeling of celebrity as I walked across the trolley tracks in my gown, Giselle holding up my train so that it wouldn't get dirty dragging along the cobblestones.

- The high point of emotion for me was entering the church to walk down the aisle. Everyone was there! I didn't cry during the entire ceremony and reception, but I did let out a weird murmur-moan-sigh noise while walking down the aisle, as if there was simply too much emotion inside me and it had to escape somehow since I wasn't giving in to tears.

- We had a live quintet at the church, and I entered to Villa Lobos. I was somehow aware of the music, but it was as if I was walking through water, because I really didn't hear it in detail.

- Speaking of music, ours was as follows:
Entrance of bridesmaids and groomsmen: Divertssiment by Saint-Preux
Entrance of parents and groom: Brandemburg Concert by Bach
Entrance of bride: Bachianas no. 5 by Villa Lobos
Blessing of the rings: Aria on the 4th chord by Bach
Signatures: Canon in D by Pachelbel
Exit: Brother Sun, Sister Moon by Riz Ortolani

- We got married in the Anglican Church, which meant we could choose any music we wanted for the ceremony. Still, we stuck to classical music instead of going with bossa nova or popular songs done instrumentally.

- Our ceremony was bilingual and bicultural. We did the church entrance in Brazilian style (bridesmaids and groomsmen walk in first, as couples; followed by the groom's father and the bride's mother, then the groom and his mother; finally the bride enters with her father). On the altar, all the bridesmaids and groomsmen, as well as the bride and groom's parents stand together for the ceremony. The bride's parents stand arm-in-arm, as do the groom's parents. Rico and I were very grateful our parents all get along well despite the fact that we come from a long line of divorces.

- As for the ceremony, our very cool, young, female Reverend did half the prayers and blessings in English, half in Portuguese. Rico and I had prepared booklets to be distributed among our guests so everyone could follow along in the language he or she understood. In the middle of the ceremony, Jenny, our maid-of-honor, read a passage from Corinthians in beautiful British English. At that point I nearly cried, but for some reason the tears weren't inclined to gush forth.

- One of our bridesmaids fainted at the altar! Good thing Rico's family has several medical doctors. His uncle Marcelo rushed to the rescue, and in a few minutes time, the bridesmaid was back in action. It served a good lesson - I realized I'd been locking my knees, and apparently my dad told my mom to unlock hers as well.

- Rico looked sooooooooo handsome!!!

- We had a total of 8 witnesses sign the book at the altar. Rico signed with his father's Mont Blanc pen, then without thinking slipped it in the pocket of his blazer. When Rico realized what he'd done, he made a joke and handed the pen back to his dad. Instead of accepting it, Rico's dad decided a Mont Blanc would make a nice surprise wedding gift so his son could continue to sign important contracts in style.

- Walking out of the church, once all was said and done, Rico and I were greeted by a massive crowd of people. They all cheered and whistled and took photos of the new couple. One guy hollered out, in good cynical Brazilian style, "Meu irmão, daqui pra frente só piora!" Essentially, my brother, from here on out it's all downhill!

- The security guards we hired for the party had to stop traffic and make a human corridor for us to be able to leave the church and get back to the Casa Rosa. It was a very cool feeling.

- The house looked incredible. Our wedding planner really did a fabulous job with the decorating. There were colored lights in all the right places, furniture from Mineirarte, this shop that does antique-style bar furniture with mosaic tops in the design of the boardwalks on Copacabana and Ipanema. It was perfect, as we'd just redone the courtyard to have that exact type of paving stones.

- In Brazil, you cut the cake right after the ceremony is over, not towards the end of the party like in the US. Rico and I made the initial cut, and I waited silently to see if smashing cake in each other's faces was part of the Brazilian tradition. Thankfully for my makeup, it wasn't. :) Our parents gathered around the cake and we took the first set of formal photos of the evening.

- The cake was gorgeous, and delicious to boot. It was essentially a copy of the famous Lalique cake, but with an ivory background and terracotta leaves and scroll designs, with some gold accents and a cluster of white flowers on the top. We happily left out the cartoon bride and groom on top of the cake, as it fits with neither my style nor Rico's. The cake itself was like a vanilla pound cake but with a spongy texture, filled with a layer of apricot and a layer of brigadeiro branco (like caramel made with condensed milk).

- And then there was the party. The reception was so much fun, so classy, so unique. I could go on for ages. :) I will dedicate a different post to the food and general ambience of the reception as it really deserves photos for you to get the idea.

Phew!! There is so much to remember, so much to write about...

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Day After Becoming Mrs. Amaro

It was one of Rio's finest days - clear deep blue sky, warm winter sun, relatively empty beach, and all the bliss of having no obligations whatsoever besides eating a sandwich, enjoying a cold beer and reading the Vietnam guidebook while sunning by the pool at the hotel.

Rico and I couldn't stop talking about the highlights of the wedding and how much fun we had at the reception. The general consensus was this (excuse my Portuguese): Que casamento foda!!

Monday, August 11, 2008

More Rehearsal Dinner

This time from my little camera, though several of these were taken by people other than me (obviously).

My bridesmaid Gaby, whom I hadn't seen since 2000.

Jenny (my maid of honor) and I painstakingly made name tags and did a seating chart for the dinner. After a certain number of drinks, we noticed the boys had reappropriated the name tags to identify everyone's glass of wine or beer.

Gaby and groomsman Mark, looking fierce.

Jenny and my cousin Lauren having a good laugh - very likely because of something said or done by our best man.

Everything about this photo perfectly illustrates El Erik, groomsman extrordinaire.

Rico translating my Dad's speech. Rico's maternal grandmother, Maria Antônia, looks amused.

Aside from the incredibly moving speech given by Rico's father, this is my main memory of the rehearsal dinner: cracking up to the point of crying thanks to the stories told by Chocolate, our best man. At this moment, I believe he was telling us about the time he fell asleep on the night bus in London, then, after a hilarious sequence of events, managed to light his hair on fire to round off the evening.

Chocolate, my cousin Jeff and El Erik. And this was just the beginning of the night!

Me and Jenny - our friendship started thanks to this blog. We are currently neighbors here in Maputo, and she managed to fly all the way across the globe to be our madrinha.

I used to hold Lauren as a baby, and now she's a good 6 inches taller than I am. Here, however, my heels make it seem nearly even.

I believe this laugh was thanks to Mark.

Rico and I took this photo when we were back at our hotel room at Praia Ipanema (we were kicked out of the Casa Rosa for the night so that the decorators could get everything ready for the big day). We looked at each other and marveled at the fact that it was our last night as single people...

View of Ipanema beach on the night before our wedding, taken from our hotel balcony.