Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Thus, select pieces at my Alexandra Amaro 1000 Markets site are on sale, reduced 15% to 25%. Antique trade beads from Mozambique Island, handmade African hardwood components, turquoise, semi-precious gemstones, pearls and more!
Treat yourself to a gift for 2010, or get in some early shopping for a special someone with a January birthday. Most of these pieces are one-of-a-kind, so shop now for the best selection.
Stay tuned for the launch of alexandraamaro.com!
Monday, December 28, 2009
The most difficult part was writing about myself with a focus I've never really had before. All of my previous biographies have been about my experience as an international development consultant - fundraising, business and strategic plan development, etc. I got it done, though, with an appropriate emphasis on my creative, artsy side and am pretty satisfied.
Now to finish writing the descriptions for my product collections...
Sunday, December 27, 2009
I told this friend there was absolutely no reason to be ashamed of her work, that we all start somewhere. I showed her the photos of some of my very first pieces, and apparently they were enough to put her at ease. From that moment on, we had a great time showing each other our work, and I ended up leaving her the bulk of my glass beads when we moved away from Maputo.
This interaction reminded me of how important it is to remember our journeys, both to appreciate our progress as well as to remain humble. I look at the first booth I ever set up at a crafts fair and part of me wants to cringe, while another part marvels at how much I have learned over the past 4 years.
When I think about doing exhibitions and fairs here in the US, however, I am reminded that there is still so much to figure out, so many tweaks and adjustments to make, so many logistical and aesthetic hurdles to overcome. At least here it is easier, in the sense that there are companies specialized in exposition booth displays, you can buy tents and tables and cases and whatever else your heart desires to showcase your work.
In Maputo, it was such a challenge. I was basically working with a tablecloth and buletin board for the first year or so. It was like guerrilla fair-participation, working with whatever was available to create the best show possible despite severely limited resources.
Once I was accepted to show my work in the National Crafts Fair in 2007, I knew I had to step it up. I had a client of ours who was a woodworker design some custom displays for my jewelry. They were heavy and bulky, but a great solution for my needs.
Still, it was tricky to do these fairs because the organizers wouldn't allow the participants to bring their own tables - you had to fight it out with the other artisans to get a assortment of oversized wooden blocks and mismatched planks with which to "build" your own stand. My friend A. really saved me last year, because I got the worst set of wooden pieces imaginable. With her background in fashion design and mechanical engineering, however, she was the ideal woman for the job and managed to create a really cute and functional booth for me.
Today I am getting ready for a new phase in my work. My own website - complete with e-commerce functionality - is almost ready to launch. My task today is to write the text for the site including my artist's statement, biography, a bit about the materials I use in my designs, my shop policies and more.
I've been wanting to take this step for so long, but wasn't able due to the restrictions of living in Mozambique. Without a mail system, there really is no reason to put the time and effort into creating a website because you can't ship anything or order new materials. On the flip side, those same restrictions really pushed my creativity because I was forced to work with what I had, to find new solutions, to think outside the proverbial box. It was a very valuable time, for sure.
I'm off to get some tea and a piece of the delicious lemon curd cockaigne bars that I made a few days ago in hopes that the caffeine and sugar will inspire fluid writing. It's been quite the journey thus far...here's to the next step!
Saturday, December 26, 2009
To be honest, the culture shock thus far has been minimal. The changes are obvious - we are talking about two very different places and lifestyles, of course - but coping with said changes hasn't been traumatic at all. What we most miss about life in Mozambique is our friends, full stop. The rest is incidental.
However, this evening Rico had a eureka moment. There is one really big difference that impacts our lives and the way we interact with friends, family and the rest of the world on a daily basis.
I won't be dramatic. :)
The big innovation is that WE CAN RELIABLY SEND AND RECEIVE MAIL. Such a simple thing, but with such a huge impact. Being able to depend on the postal system (and not be at the mercy of terribly overpriced couriers) has made it possible for me to order gemstones and other jewelry supplies online, make custom designs for my customers and ship them within a few days, set up a website with e-commerce capabilites, send Christmas gifts to everyone in the family on time, send letters to friends, fill out and return assorted paperwork, subscribe to Vogue and other magazines, order shoes online and return them immediately if they don't fit, receive and recycle junk mail, pay bills by check, print photos online, order books from Amazon.com...and so much more.
I can't believe this didn't dawn on us earlier.
Watching: Nina sleeping on a pile of my (no longer) clean clothes. She is the sweetest little cat. She follows me around the house all day, just waiting for a bit of carinho.
Drinking: a Miller Genuine Draft. Not particularly glamorous, but you take what you get when it's raining outside and you can't be bothered to run to the store.
Admiring: my mother-in-law who embarked on a lifestyle change and has lost 20kg since July thanks to aqua aerobics and a healthy diet.
Smelling: my favorite incense in the world (and a big part of what helps me feel the holiday spirit) - Piñon incense from Inciensos de Santa Fe. This smell = New Mexico winter.
Wondering: if the upgrade to QuickBooks Premier will meet my needs. I originally got Pro, but it doesn't allow me to do the raw materials and finished product management that I currently do using Excel spreadsheets. I need the "assembly" function of the Premier version, it seems, to be able to manage my constantly shifting inventory and one-of-a-kind finished jewelry.
Feeling: grateful that the effects of the delicious-but-too-rich-for-my-system smoked salmon served at Christmas dinner last night have passed.
Planning: my business goals for 2010.
Wishing: I could go shopping. I recently had a style consult which involved having my colors done and I'm itching to buy clothes. It's not at the top of the old priority list in terms of how to allocate my financial resources, but a giant shopping spree would be so much fun. :)
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
I don't think a low-carb diet would go over so well here.Bonus points for identifying all the produce in this photo. I believe she's holding guavas, with pomelos in the foreground and maybe small mangoes in the basket? Various forms of piloncillo/rapadura (pressed brown sugar). Right next to what looks to be dish detergent, of course. Black seaweed jelly, anyone? One banana, two banana, three banana, four. Produce in every color of the rainbow, and a brilliant smile to match from the vendor. Without a doubt, this woman's purchases will soon be piled in a gravity-defying manner on the back of her motorbike. I spy with my little eye: dragonfruit, fruta do conde (atamoya), mangoes, the overgrown and hairy cousin of the litchi (whose name I don't remember). What are those small brown fruits? Paper money for offerings. Easy to be a billionaire. I never realized there were quite so many varieties of ginger/galangal.
As if I needed any more reason to sweat...but spicy foods really do go down nicely in a hot and humid climate. Especially with a bia hoi (draft beer) to quell the burn.In case you need another pair of slippers or plastic sandals.
Assorted natural remedies at the market in Sapa.
Incredibly, this huge blanket was covered in wild mushrooms.Spicy? Or extra spicy? When you're on a boat, the market comes to you. This particular boat offers Oreos and other packaged cookies/crackers, bottled sodas, water and candy. Do you have change for a 20? Look, ma, no hands! (This boy was incredible - he could maneuver the boat in any direction using only his feet.) Everybody texts.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
I remember the first time I spent the holidays in the Southern Hemisphere. It was 1997 and I was living in Maringá, Paraná in Brasil. My host family had taken me to the beach in Santa Catarina state, and we celebrated with the traditional midnight dinner on December 24th (in this case, on the roof of the resort town's tallest apartment building), lots of drinking, card playing and samba dancing. There wasn't really a gift exchange, which made me feel a bit like the odd one out since I'd prepared a little something for each member of the family. Most of Christmas Day was spent sleeping, then when the effects of the previous night's festivities had worn off, we all went to the beach. It was so incredibly un-Christmaslike that I was actually quite sad.
At some point over the last 12 years, I got over it.
I suppose I spent so many Christmasses on a plane by myself (always the cheapest day to travel over winter break, and every year from 1997 - 2002 I went back to Brasil for the end of the year) that the absence of a holiday tradition ceased to matter. Holidays were in my head, were easily celebrated on off-days whenever family was together, and many times simply involved a phone call or small dinner celebration. I wasn't sad anymore at the absence of a traditional New Mexico Christmas, but I also ceased to get into the spirit that much.
Now that Rico and I are in Casa Cali, back in the "cold" weather and the land of the Christmas-obsessed, we've tried to resurrect some of the holiday excitement. We had grand plans to buy a Christmas tree - a live one with a root ball, of course, to be kept on the deck semi-undecorated until planting time thanks to our cats (they'd be up in the tree and knocking off all of my precious family ornaments in no time were it left indoors as a "present" to them) - but that just didn't happen. We had other priorities, I suppose, and got busy with things like work and driving a van full of furniture back from New Mexico. So no tree this year...
However we did manage to muster up a bit of Christmas festiveness: we bough red chile lights, and fully plan to put them somewhere visible before the actual holiday has passed. That, and I plan to bake a bazillion Christmas cookies to give as default gifts to our extended family and neighbors.
The big Christmas present, however, was one that Rico and I agreed would be our one and only gift to each other (we're not really into exchanging presents à la US tradition). We purchased a Sonos, a fabulous music system for Casa Cali that allows us to listen to whatever we want in different rooms. Music was definitely one of the things missing in our life (we sold our iPods and speakers prior to leaving Maputo), and we couldn't be happier now that we have a soundtrack available for working, cooking and entertaining. Amazingly, I actually listened to holiday music the other day: a Baroque Christmas, unearthed from my huge collection of classical cd's. Baby steps to full holiday spirit, I suppose. Baby steps...
Monday, December 21, 2009
Most of my busy mind is due to my career change from full-time international development consultant and part-time jeweler and translator, to full-time jeweler and part-time translator (and although I'm not formally taking any more consulting assignments, it seems I can't get out of that role - nearly every friend I hang out with these days ends up getting advice from me about how to grow their current businesses or how to start a business they've always dreamed of). I am really taking this transition to being a self-sustaining artist quite seriously, and despite the fact that I am *tired* these days, it's really a pleasure to have so many details to sort out, so many decisions to make and plans to put into action.
The big task at hand these days is designing and launching my website. I am working with a professional web designer for this (who happens to be the husband of a girl I went to high school with) and it's been a really interesting process. Thinking about how my site will physically be laid out has forced me to re-examine and brainstorm about everything from my mission to my product collections to my brand image. Tomorrow I need to write the text for the site, but we are pretty close to wrapping everything up, and with some hard work www.alexandraamaro.com will launch in January.
As part of launching my website, I wanted to give my blog a mini-makeover so that visually it is more coherent with my site. I changed templates and made some changes to my blogroll that resulted, unfortunately, in the latter getting deleted. I tried to recreate the list to the best of my abilities, but I fear I may have forgotten someone. Please let me know if this is the case.
I am off to eat a pork sandwich, have a beer and do some sketching of design ideas for my Spring 2010 jewelry collection. Stay tuned!
Friday, December 18, 2009
You see, I am an "ambivert". I first heard this term on the personality and style questionnaire developed by Wardrobe 911 as part of their style consult (a very fun experience, by the way). It means a person who is primarily introverted by nature, but who can be extroverted in inspired little bursts or simply when the situation calls for it. What a welcome relief, after all these years debating whether I am the 'E' or the 'I' in the Myers-Briggs test, to find there is a third category, an intermediate term that validates what I've known about myself all along. (I am either an ENFP or INFP depending on the day.) There are few things I love more than to be alone with a cat in my lap and some solitary hobby with which to occupy myself, but on occasion I can be the unabashed life of the party.
Being an ambivert is great, but if I'm not careful I can slip nearly 100% into the introvert category and spend all day at home, every day, day after day. It's super easy for me to just hang out with Rico and the cats (and my Mom now that we are in Cali), ignore my phone calls and emails, and isolate myself from the rest of the world to the point that when the opportunity to go out and be social presents itself, I find it completely daunting and honestly unappealing. I love my own company, but there is a point where I nest into a cycle of isolation that, in the long run, I know isn't ideal.
I do not want to become a person who is house-bound by choice at age 30. I don't want to get into the rountine of living a limited life here in California just because it feels comfortable and is easy. The period right after a move is so critical because it establishes many of the habits and patterns you will have for that chapter in your life. I really want to approach this Casa Cali life with awareness and an open mind. I want to push my boundaries and learn new things. I wan to explore this great area with Rico and find people, places and things that we really enjoy. Part of what makes this difficult is that we have such a fabulous home and love each other's company so much that we don't feel particularly dissatisfied just hanging out at Casa Cali.
I know that having friends and a life outside my mind and my home is important, healthy (and fun!), but I'm at the point where I have to remind myself of that fact in order to branch out a bit. I want to meet friends in the city, go out for drinks, go dancing, go see live music, go to museums, go to the park, participate in art shows, see the redwoods and the beaches. All of these things and more are within reach. It's just a matter of doing them...
Thus the somewhat early resolution for 2010 to become a social-ista. I want to seek out the few friends I have here in the Bay Area and cultivate those friendships, even if it seems like an extraordinary hurdle to leave the house, get on BART and interact with other people. Just yesterday I met two friends in the Mission for ice cream and coffee. We walked around, chatted about life and business, got caught up on the 3 years or so it's been since we last saw each other. It was incredibly nice to be with them, and to venture out on my own for an afternoon. Although part of me wanted to call and cancel the morning prior to our outing (I'd already schemed a list of plausible excuses to reschedule), I'm really glad I didn't. I had a great time, and hope we can do it again soon.
So here's to being a Social-ista in 2010, to getting back to my ambivert roots and throwing off the cloak of (temporary) total introversion. School will help, I'm sure, but I also don't want it to be a substitute for getting out there on my own, or with Rico, for no reason at all but to explore and be social.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Well, what can I say? The only thing notable about my English, I believe, is that it is nearly accent-less. Not a lot of slang, no regionalisms, no twang, nothing really odd other than the fact that I pronounce my words properly, enunciate as to be easily understood, and use correct grammar. All of these years living abroad, teaching English to foreigners for some cash on the side, and interacting with people who are from different parts of the world and have different levels of fluency in English has led me to speak a seriously neutral variant of my mother tongue.
I wonder if this is one of those things that will adjust over time, or whether I will keep this CNN English from here on out...
What about you long-term expats out there? Have you had this experience, where people back "home" tell you that you've acquired a foreign or strange accent? I'd be curious to hear about your experiences.
Tuesday, December 08, 2009
Dear Blog Friends,
As you know, I have taken the plunge and quit my day job, and am now working to grow my jewelry business. I'd like to invite you to become a fan of Alexandra Amaro Jewelry on Facebook and help me grow my fan base. You will be able to see my new work as it becomes available, and will have access to special offers.
Right now, I am offering a special holiday discount to say thank you for your support. Become a fan of Alexandra Amaro Jewelry on Facebook and GET 20% OFF WHEN YOU BUY A BRACELET AND EARRINGS ONLINE at http://www.alexandraamaro.1000markets.com/. Details and an offer code are on the Alexandra Amaro Jewelry official Facebook page.
Thank you for your support. This has been a fabulous journey thus far, and I look forward to sharing more of it with you as I start school in the Spring and make this dream a reality!
Thursday, December 03, 2009
Custom designs are welcomed - email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment if you are interested in designing a piece for yourself or a loved one.
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
I remember a few years ago when the big thing was cranberry. What's next, I wonder. Fig? Satsuma? Passion fruit? We all know that açai is already on the horizon (as a weight loss supplement, no less!) so I suppose that's off the trendy list...
In other news, my mind is slowly being corrupted by commercials. Rico and I watch at least one episode of Law & Order and one of Criminal Minds each night - it's our favorite way to relax at the end of a work day - and the commercials during these shows are just terrible. They are also lamentably effective. For the last two days, the Geico commercial with the talking pothole has been stuck in my head. I have a talent for imitating accents, and I can do the ditzy Southern, "Oh, naaaaaaaaaaaoe!" spot on. "Hawld on, lemme get mah ce-lyoo-lur, call ya a wreckur." Please tell me you know the commercial I'm talking about. I did it on the phone for my friend Jenny in Moz the other day, and I think she thought I was losing it. Still, I laugh every time I see the stupid thing on tv.
Other top commercials on the mind: the whole "Love Stinks" series by Swiffer, Geico again with the Russian thug pipes the car backs into, and a top contender for my favorite ad on tv at the moment, the Mucinex animated mucus guy that dances at the Cough-a-Cabana, invites all his animated mucus relatives for the family reunion, and protests, "Twelve aowahs!" at the purported duration of the medicine.
Yes, mush. My brain is turning to mush. I should be filling my mind with QuickBooks and taxpayer id#'s and brilliant ideas for how on earth I'm going to manage being at 8am classes for the next 3 years...come to think of it, it's not surprising I want to watch trash at the end of each night. ;)
Monday, November 30, 2009
I belong to the second category. It took me twenty-eight years, a BA in Latin American Studies, an MBA in Marketing, jobs in sectors ranging from public health to agriculture, and extended residencies in seven cities on three continents to get the message. It didn't come as a flash epiphany, however, as if one day over a cup of coffee I decided it was high time to become a jeweler. Rather it was a gradual crescendo, an internal voice over the years whispering and eventually shouting that life is too precious to spend going down a path that, although adventurous and intellectually stimulating, deep down I knew wasn’t the one I really wanted to follow.
Creating art brings me an unparalleled sense of inspiration, fulfillment and joy. This is a simple realization, but one that took me quite some time to mull over, unabashedly embrace, and then finally decide to act upon. After all, it takes a healthy dose of courage and determination to announce to family and friends that one is abandoning a successful career as an international development consultant to follow the dream of making jewelry. Suffice to say I was met with more than one raised eyebrow and concerned but polite, "Oh, really?" I am confident in my decision, though, and know that my journey thus far has been essential in acquiring the tools and experience necessary to make the goal of being a full-time, self-sustaining artist a reality.
Five years ago, I was living in Austin, Texas and working as the director of an HIV prevention program for a local non-profit organization. I enjoyed - and was quite accomplished at - my job writing grants and managing a team of health educators. Still, I longed for something more. I wanted to live abroad again, a seed planted by a childhood spent between New Mexico and Italy and nourished by two fabulous student exchange programs to Brazil, one for my junior year of high school and one for a more extended period while at business school. I wanted to shake things up a bit, reinvent myself, ensure that I wasn’t on the fast-track to a string of managerial desk jobs in a field that I liked, but didn’t love.
One day I got a call from a couple of old classmates from Rio who had moved to Mozambique, a country in Southern Africa, and were working as freelance consultants supporting local private-sector development. They were in need of a partner with proposal writing experience, a background in business and fluent Portuguese, and wondered if I might be convinced to move halfway across the world to join their efforts. I jumped at the opportunity and within two months had resigned from my public health job, sold my car and the bulk of my possessions, and packed what was left into two giant suitcases, ready to dive into my new challenge.
In Mozambique, my primary focus was to help local businesses identify and obtain the resources - financial and otherwise - they needed for growth, sustainability and success. The underlying belief was that private-sector development could be a powerful tool in poverty alleviation in a country that ranks among the 10 poorest in the world and is still struggling to recover from years of civil war and colonial injustice. As a consultant, I helped clients write multi-million-dollar funding proposals, develop business plans, conduct strategic planning and forge market linkages. Together with my colleagues, I worked on projects ranging from the expansion of Mozambique’s largest commercial banana plantation to the establishment of an eco-lodge. Sometimes our work would be directly with a community entrepreneur; other times it would be through a donor or similar organization supporting private-sector development. It was challenging work, but quite satisfying.
My time in Africa was exactly what I’d hoped for: a chance to further develop my business skills, travel to exotic places, and immerse myself in a culture and context very different from my own. One of the aspects I most appreciate about living and working abroad is the opportunity it presents for examining one’s identity, beliefs and goals through a new lens. Being from an international family, I have spent countless hours pondering the expatriate experience. Questions such as, “Where am I from?” “What is my relationship to the various cultures that have shaped me?” “What are my values?” and “Where do I belong?” have been on my mind since a very early age. The answers are complex, often unclear, and constantly shifting in accordance with each additional journey.
While in Mozambique, I began to explore my ruminations on life as a global nomad through art. Specifically, I found jewelry-making to be the ideal creative outlet: it served as a delicious counterpart to the feasibility studies and financial equations that occupied the bulk of my day, didn’t require specialized equipment, was travel-friendly and, most importantly, allowed me to incorporate materials from around the world in my pieces. I discovered it was possible to express ideas through jewelry that I struggled to put into words or otherwise define. For example, I could combine 300-year-old Venetian trade beads found on the beaches of Mozambique Island with turquoise nuggets from New Mexico to create a necklace that reflects my unique experience as an expatriate. Through the provenience of the component pieces and the designs in which they are arranged, my jewelry manifests the confluence of cultures, identities and traditions as experienced on an individual level in the context of our increasingly global existence.
Friends, both locals and expats, began to take notice of my pieces. They recognized the Mozambican elements - antique trade beads, precious hardwoods, horn and soapstone - and appreciated the fusion designs and precious metal findings. With their encouragement, I began to sell my jewelry alongside local artisans at small markets and at events sponsored by the diplomatic community. Along the way I gained confidence, and was accepted to show my work at the 2007 and 2008 editions of the Mozambican National Crafts Fair, a juried event organized by an affiliate of Aid to Artisans. I was thrilled by my modest success, but far from satisfied. Each new collection was an opportunity to professionalize my jewelry a bit more, both on the creative as well as the business side.
True to my roots, I set up my jewelry business with the same critical eye and bottom-line approach I would offer to any of my consulting clients. I built a comprehensive spreadsheet to control my inventory, help with costing and track my sales. I developed formulas for pricing and profits. I put together a marketing plan, had a logo designed, and set up a small shop online. Soon I was devoting more time and energy to my “hobby” than I was my day job, not to mention deriving much more joy from the former than the latter. The day someone asked me what I did for a living and I responded without hesitation that I was a jeweler, I knew it was time to follow my heart.
In late September 2009, after nearly 5 years in Africa, I relocated to the Bay Area to be closer to family and to pursue my new career. I am still producing and selling my fusion jewelry, but again I am not satisfied. I want to take my jewelry to the next level. I want to learn how to work with silver and gold. I want to take a gemology course and do my own lapidary work. I want to learn the history of my trade and meet fellow jewelers taking it in new directions. I want to receive critiques from peers and industry veterans, and further develop my image and refine my technique.
I believe that a Bachelor’s Degree from CCA is a fundamental next step in fulfilling my vision. I greatly look forward to joining the school’s community in Spring 2010 and to sharing my experience as student with an unconventional background, an appreciation of the important relationship between business and art, and an unshakeable desire to grow and succeed as a jewelry artist.
Friday, November 27, 2009
It was really nice to be with family, but I have to confess that part of me longed to be back in Maputo to be able to enjoy the Thanksgiving tradition we established there. We'd cook a traditional turkey dinner for about 30-35 people each year, and let me tell you, the logistics of tracking down a turkey in Maputo without dropping $100 isn't that easy. I was always in charge of that part of the meal, and the logistical adventures were plentiful.
Two years ago, I couldn't find a turkey in Maputo to save my life (other than the horrendously overpriced ones at Talho Polana and SuperMares), so I gave money to a colleague at Hugh Marlboro's banana empire, who gave the money to a friend who was going to Johannesburg. That person then gave the money to an auntie who bought two frozen turkeys, only to pass them off to someone else who was taking the overnight bus back to Maputo. I got a call around 7am from an unknown number two days before Thanksgiving saying could I please go down to the bus station, that there was a package waiting for me. I sent Zeca, the taxi driver, who arrived at our flat with two completely thawed turkeys in plastic grocery bags. The person who had brought them on the bus had neglected to put them on ice, or even in a cool box. The turkeys were still somewhat cold to the touch, so I decided to cook them anyway and taste them myself prior to serving to the Thanksgiving crowd. I figured that if I got ill, then we'd have roast chicken or matapa or some alternate main dish for the holiday. If I didn't get sick, then I'd serve the two turkeys and simply not tell anyone of their thawed adventure on the bus until well after the meal was over. In fact, this is the first some people are hearing of the story, I imagine. I'm happy to report that Thanksgiving 2007 did not involve any food poisoning, and all were treated to two beautifully cooked, tasty turkeys. :)
Last year there was drama as well, of course. I ran out of cooking gas halfway through turkey #2, prompting Dona Lidia to run to the outdoor market near our house and haul a new canister home balanced carefully on the top of her head. On the heels of that fiasco, the gas ran out at K and M's house, so Rico dashed home and hoisted our new gas canister on his head and brought it over to save the day in their kitchen.
It was a very special tradition, our Maputo Thanksgivings. Somehow we always managed to get all of the traditional foods on the table - turkey, cranberries, stuffing, giblet gravy, sweet potatoes, green beans, mashed potatoes and pies galore - as well as some great multi-cultural contributions from our guests. Only a couple of us were actually from the US, but somehow everyone got into the spirit of the holiday and pitched in to make a great meal happen.
My favorite part both years was the spontaneous prayer circle that happened in the kitchen prior to serving the food. People from 20 different countries or so joined hands and said a few words about how thankful we were for the family we'd found amongst our newfound friends in Maputo, how nice it was to feel at home and part of a tradition despite being so far away from our own relatives and holiday celebrations. It was really special, something I will never forget.
Friday, November 13, 2009
Our Austrian neighbor, however, not only knew where Maputo was, he'd just been there the previous week! Apparently he is an avid birdwatcher and had taken a trip to South Africa to look at rare birds. He'd read in the Lonely Planet guidebook that Maputo is considered to be one of, if not the most beautiful African capitals, its streets lined with sidewalk cafes and acacia trees, its nights full of music and culture. Enticed by that description, he and a fellow birdwatcher drove up from the St. Lucia Wetlands to get a taste of the Mediterranean-Latin influenced city.
"Maputo is really a shithole, isn't it?" he said, sparing no judgment. "We expected something nice, but the whole city is run down, there are potholes in all the roads, there's nothing interesting for tourists to see, and we couldn't even find any good food. What a waste of a day."
I valiantly defended Maputo, saying that despite its tired infrastructure and the fact that you have to dig to find some of its most brilliant treasures, it really is a great city and that we enjoyed a very high quality of life there. Let's be honest: Rico and I - and the majority of expats and wealthy Mozambicans - lived like kings in Maputo.
It became obvious that we weren't going to convince the Austrian that Maputo was worth anyone's time, so I let the conversation die. It got me thinking, though, about exactly what makes people like a particular city or not, what things we value in our experiences, and the giant role that high expectations (or low ones, for that matter) have in finding satisfaction in the new things we do and places we visit.
Maputo, in particular, is a hit-or-miss kind of a place. I don't know that many people who feel lukewarm about the city. It seems you either love it, or are counting the minutes until you go somewhere else easier, more civilized, more convenient, more kept-up. I know plenty of people on both sides of that fence, for sure. And although Rico and I were ready to move on to the next chapter after 5.5 and 4.5 years in Mozambique, respectively, it wasn't out of dissatisfaction with the city or with our lives there. More than anything, we were burned out in our jobs and both felt the need to follow our hearts professionally speaking. For me, that meant going to art school and becoming a jeweler; for Rico, it meant a return to his roots in investment banking and finance.
But back to Maputo. I've had countless people ask me over the years if it's worth it to visit. My answer is highly dependent on the person. For example, I'd never recommend to Rico's dad that he spend time in Mozambique's capital - he's much more of a Medjumbe, Cape Town or even exclusive Kruger lodge kind of a guy. My friend H. from high school had memories of fun-filled trips visiting me in Rio in her mind and ended up sorely disappointed by Maputo, and by Mozambique in general. My mom, on the other hand, heard from the minute we set foot in Maputo how much I thought she'd enjoy a visit. She ended up coming twice, and loved both trips.
What makes someone love Maputo or not? Would you recommend it as a destination for friends or family on vacation? Would you recommend it as a place to live? I suppose these questions are at the heart of why many of you read my blog in the first place, but I thought I'd open it up to commenters to add to my thoughts.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Other than the people, there are definitely things I miss about Maputo:
- fresh, delicious piri-piri at all restaurants
- plentiful, cheap seafood
- the slang!
- grunts, groans, whistles and other exclamations that help spice up a conversation
- weekend trips to Macaneta, Bilene, Inhaca, Kruger Park
- the tropical rain and lightning storms
- looking out over Vila Algarve
- jacarandas and flamboyants thick with lilac and scarlet blossoms
- vinho verde as our summer drink of choice
- using the pool at Hotel Terminus
- pastel de natas, rissois and good curry
- having such an international group of friends and colleagues
- telling my life story and not feeling at all different or pretentious
- music at Gil Vicente, CFM, the Franco-Moçambicano and Africa Bar
- dancing (when we actually managed to stay up that late)
- eating carvoada (grill-it-yourself fillet mignon, prawns and fruit) at Manjar dos Deuses
- the Macau restaurant, still the best Chinese food I've ever eaten
- text messaging everyone, from friends to the Minister of Agriculture
- mani/pedi at DeCali with Dona Celeste
- Zeca, his wife and little Alizinha
- fantastic Halloween parties
- the cooking and logistics that went into our annual Thanksgiving celebration
- lazy afternoon braais
- relatively easy access to beads from Ilha de Moçambique
- minimal cold weather
- being 6-10 hours ahead of everyone (the time difference living in California is killing me!)
- the occasional random peacock spotted wandering around the city streets
- sundowners with friends...
I could go on forever it seems, sappy old me...
Saturday, November 07, 2009
The definite highlight of the day was touring the caves at the Del Dotto winery. We sampled various blends right from the barrel using a glass tool called a wine thief. The wines were stellar, definitely worth the price of the tour (which was small, just 8 people or so). If I had to make a recommendation to anyone wanting to do a wine tour, this would be it.Tasting at the Robledo family winery, founded by a Mexican man who came to the US and was an agricultural laborer earning less than 1 dollar per hour prior to opening a very successful wine business. Not your typical immigrant story for sure, but then again, what is a typical immigrant story? San Francisco by night, near the Ferry Building. Love all the palm trees! My best friend from high school got married and we attended the touching ceremony and great reception afterwards at the Presidio. I believe the last time I dressed up full-on was for the Marine Ball in Maputo...or perhaps the infamous Irish Ball when a gust of wind spilled Guinness down the front of my white dress? Rico even wore his suit from our wedding. Men are definitely more lucky when it comes to formal wear - the formula is the same for most events, and they can re-use their suits for work. Us girls wear a cocktail dress once, then look at it longingly in the back of the closet, waiting for enough time to pass (or enough invitations from diverse social groups to come along) to be able to use it again. Me with the lovely bride.
A couple weekends ago, our next-door neighbor organized a block party. It was such a trip! Apparently a couple of the people on our street have a 60's rock band that plays semi-professionally for events and such, so they provided some fun music for the afternoon. There was a potluck, dancing, kids drawing on the asphalt with chalk, and plenty of dogs. Everyone, it seems, has a dog. Except us. We're cat people. Dog friendly, but definitely cat people. As a congratulatory gift after my successful portfolio review, my mom and I went shopping and I found this killer purple hat. I love it, and wish that I could wear it every single day. The wool keeps my head warm, and it is the best solution ever for awkward, growing-out-highlights hair.
More photos on the way soon. Tomorrow we are getting our next round of visitors - Rico's aunt and uncle from Rio - so I'm sure we'll have some fun touring around with them. Also, we're trying to get the house clean before their visit (they are actually staying here at Casa Cali), so perhaps it will be photo-ready as a result.