Thursday, September 04, 2008

Yeah, Well I'm Bothered, Too

I was supposed to lead a task group meeting this afternoon at the Big International Company where I have been consulting since February. We need to provide descriptions of all the SMEs (small and medium enterprises) in which BIC has invested in Mozambique. It's not a difficult task, but it requires coordination to get all the financial, technical assistance and other information together.

Anyhow, I was just informed that we won't be able to have the meeting because my colleague Ratinha didn't come to work today.

"Ela está incomodada," my colleague Tortoise told me.

This is one of the best Mozambican euphemisms of all time. 'Estar incomodada' literally means 'to be bothered', but in this instance it is code for 'she has her period'.

That's right - lovely Ratinha didn't come to work today because of the devastatingly serious reason that SHE HAS HER PERIOD. And the whole freaking office knows. She didn't just call in sick or say she was taking a personal day. Nope, miss Rata told her boss and the secretary quite openly that she was "bothered" and they all understood immediately that the poor dear wouldn't be in today. In fact, perhaps she wouldn't be recovered from her bothersome condition until early next week.

The worst part is that Ratinha is no exception to the rule, and it seems to be standard practice here for women to call in "bothered" to work and for employers to nary bat an eyelash!

I tried to reschedule the task meeting to no avail. "Epa," Tortoise said when I suggested we hold the meeting on Tuesday (Monday is a public holiday), "talvez ela ainda esteja incomodada até lá..." Yeah, no use trying to schedule something 4 days in the future because, depending on Rata's cycle, perhaps she will STILL BE ON HER PERIOD at that point and therefore out of the office!

I used to have really painful periods, and still do on occasion. I know what it is like to want to curl up in a ball and watch tv and eat chocolate all damn day. But I cannot wrap my mind around the fact that a woman having her period in Mozambique is license for 4 to 7 days out of the office, no questions asked!!! Granted, not all females pull this card here, but still - freaking insane, no?

Anyhow, I sure feel less guilty that I've been taking half-days off to work on my jewelry business and get ready for the Mozambican National Crafts Fair. At least my time out of the office is 1) used productively, and 2) UNPAID.


Jo Ann von Haff said...

Oh waw ! I hate leaving my place on the first day (I feel like 'rain'), but... "bothered" license every month ?! Really ?! Ohmy...

--jenna said...

i find this a little in rio too. it seems to follow a pattern of backwardness though: it's the girls who are deathly afraid of getting pregnant because their towels were washed with men's underwear who are usually "incapacitated" once a month. their excuse? because they're having a period, there's less blood in their bodies, rendering them dizzy and weak...

but i can't blame them. who WOULDN'T want to spend a week every month just lounging?

MoziEsmé said...

I sadly find this very amusing! What else could you expect here? :)

NOLAGringa said...

I would perish if I had to be isolated and lazy for a week every month.


I know in some places in Africa, adolescent girls drop out of school because they don't have access to hygienic supplies. But this? That's crazy.

La Framéricaine said...


That is a wonderful story! I love the wholesale culture collision reflected in it. Two women in the same company, contemporaries in business, living in parallel universes where "never the twain shall meet." It is so fascinating in an off-kilter way.

I think that it would be a fabulous experiment if you did exactly the same thing the next time your period starts, using exactly the same vocabulary! It seems as if, as you say, the use of specific words, as code, is sufficient to bring one's workweek to a stop without anyone finding it the least bit unusual.

Slacker that I am, I'd be all over that little trick. And in your case, I'd use the time it procured me to make jewelry, read, watch TV, blog, and just enjoy the benefits of inter-cultural living;>)

What a riot!

Ali la Loca said...

~Jo Ann - wonder how this affects productivity in companies, né?

~Jenna - Have you ever heard people in Brazil say, "Incomodada ficava a sua vó"? It's from some old commercial for tampons or pads, and apparently has become a part of the vast collection of general sayings and ditados in Portuguese hoje em dia...

~Moziesmé - Epa, lá! The funniest part to me is that it's totally out in the open. The whole office knew that this woman had her period! I don't think I'd ever be able to share like that...

~Nola Gringa - I admit, the thought of a week off every month is appealing...but in practice, especially if one likes her job, I think it would be super frustrating.

~La Framéricaine - I could totally get away with it, at least in a Mozambican-dominated office. The key is being able to use the code word "incomodada". I don't think it would fly so well if the person I had to appeal to spoke English or were from a totally different cultural frame of mind.