Monday, January 26, 2009

Casa, Sweet Casa

I arrived back from Nairobi yesterday, and although it was an enjoyable week, I'm so glad to be home. I'm really tired - have been all week - so stories from my time away will have to come later.

For now, I'm enjoying time with Rico, tv, humid weather (really!), and plenty of sleep.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Nairobi Bound

Tomorrow I am heading to Nairobi for a week-long training to learn the new accounting system they have implemented at the organization where I'm consulting. I am the only non-financial person attending the training, which is aimed at the end-user of the system. I fear I'm in for a bit of a tedious week, but it will be a useful skill down the line (at least that's what I'm telling myself).

Good points to look forward to:

- first time in Kenya
- free day on Saturday to explore the city
- staying at a beautiful hotel with a gym that offers classes and a trainer
- a friend-of-a-friend offered to meet up one day and show me around
- cooler weather
- inauguration of President Obama!

Any Nairobi recommendations? Any ideas of where Inauguration celebrations might be happening?

In other news, I woke up this morning with what I can only imagine is a spider bite on my middle finger. It looks like a mosquito bite (no puncture marks or open sore), but is surrounded by bruising. I went to the clinic to get it checked out, and the attending doctor helpfully prodded the bruised areas with his pinky fingers, then said he thought it was a "picada de inseto" (insect bite), and proceeded to prescribe calamine lotion. It took a full 5 minutes, and was by far the most useless consult I've ever been to in my life. I don't know what I expected - antibiotics? an explanation of what to look out for if the bite worsens? - but I have to say I didn't feel like I got proper treatment this morning.

I've trawled the internet looking at photos of spider bites (there's some scary images out there!), and will look out for any signs of the bite worsening. I think what has me most freaked out is that I've never had a bite like this, and the color of my finger nearly matches my freshly painted mauvey-brown nails!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sotto Voce

I've been uninspired writing-wise lately, at least as far as the usual topics go on this blog. Life is comfortable, I've settled into an incredibly nice rhythm of married life and work, and the days tend to be smooth and enjoyable. While the lack of stress and drama is certainly welcome, it leaves me without the drive to sit down and write empassioned posts about development work, eating struggles, loneliness, job anxiety, housemates and any of the other topics that were my staple for the past several years.

It's funny, sometimes I think this lack of fire in my writing is a sign of complacency, or at the very least cynicism. Not surprising, as I suspect I suffer from both to a certain degree. Other days I see it as a gift to discover other, more subtle subjects to write about. When I'm not surrounded by drama, when I'm not on the soapbox about the inherent hypocricy of much of the "development" work that is done, when I'm not struggling with my own demons...suddenly I am free to write about days past, characters not yet fully formed, ideas waiting to sprout.

I'm not expecting anything revolutionary or genius - and am certainly trying to stay away from building those crippling expectations - but I lie awake each night, in the few intensely creative minutes before sleep sets in, and I imagine the protagonists of my future writing. Many of them are based on the very people who pushed me to write such intense posts since arriving in Mozambique, but they are developing into distinct personalities. I don't pretend to know other people's stories fully - and don't particularly want to write 100% faithfully about my friends, colleagues and foes - so it has been a great revelation to break free from the idea that I must be a biographer or an autobiographer if I am to write based on experience.

Yes, they say to write what you know, but I've understood that it is also okay to venture off and let life-based characters take on their own adventures, downfalls and triumphs on paper. I think the quiet, almost predictable place I am in at the moment allows for the imagination to spring forth, for the voice that was somewhat buried underneath all of the drama of the initial Mozambique years to come to the forefront once again, albeit with a much sharper tongue and some incredible experiences shaping the words unfolding.

I know what the next step is, but it is incredibly intimidating. To write, one must write. I need to write. It's time for a beginning.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Friends, Felines and Férias

A few photos from our life these days...

My childhood friend Hallie and her friend Cheryl came to visit over the holidays, fresh off working on the Obama campaign. We kicked things off with the requisite meal at Costa do Sol.

We also showed them a braai, in good South African style. We had a great afternoon with swimming, meat, wine and karaoke.

The food was delicious - the right mix of spicy and sweet, perfect for summer.

While the girls were here, we took them to the beach at Macaneta. It was a beautiful day, full of sun, with just a touch of wind to keep things comfortable. At one point, we spotted something strange wash up on shore. Upon closer inspection, it was a turtle shell. The insides were definitely rotten, but it was super interesting to have a look at the turtle nonetheless.

We spent New Year's in Maputo, which was pretty low-key compared to previous years in San Francisco, Rio and Cape Town. Still, we had a good time celebrating with friends. I wore white, holding up the Brazilian tradition, but was definitely not in the majority...

Hallie and Cheryl enjoy some champagne in our living room prior to hitting the town.

Ready to be out with the old, and in with the new!

Happy 2009!! (Though I must say, this toast was deceptively early. This was still around 10pm, prior to going out, though we were ready to kick things off with style.)

Onto other news, I realized yesterday marked the 2-month anniversary of Parceiro's death. It seems like it was a year ago. So strange how time works when you suffer a loss. Rico and I think of him often, and how he must be enjoying himself in the land of fleece and treats.

Much of Parceiro's spirit has been captured in our little ones, Mano and Nina. Here we are - the entire cat fam - enjoying some tv on the bed. Pria continues to be a stellar momma cat, keeping the kittens clean and sleeping with them in a protective heap. It is incredibly cute. :)

Thursday, January 08, 2009


The time of year has come when it's meltingly, unbearably, infernally hot in Maputo. Yesterday it was 45C (113F) and ridiculously humid, with no breeze. Today is not much better. The heat wave has been going on for about 4 days now, and according to the weather forecast I heard on the radio, it should last through Saturday. I had a good laugh when the radio meterologist said, with much seriousness, "Calores elevados podem provocar desconfortos humanos," as if it were some breaking new bit of news. Last time I checked, every single person living in Maputo is aware that high temperatures can cause human discomfort.

Anyhow, we are sweating here. It's too hot to do much anything except sit in front of an air conditioner, fan, or in a pocket of shade.

I can't wait until tomorrow, when I will work a half day and plan on sitting in the pool drinking shandies all afternoon to ward off the brutal heat.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Brasileirando Bureaucracy

As an American, I have always needed a visa to go to Brazil, be it for tourism or to study. Brazil is interesting in its immigration policies, taking a clear reciprocity stance to the requirements the US makes of Brazilian citizens. I have been through the process multiple times since age 15, so I'm pretty used to the runaround.

Today, however, I had a new view of the Brazilian immigration policy. Since I changed my name when Rico and I got married, and my visa to Brazil was in my maiden name, I had to get a new one issued with my new name in preparation for our trip to Rio and São Paulo in March.

The visa I am applying for is a standard tourist visa (the one for residency that comes with marrying a Brazilian citizen we will deal with later down the line). It is the same visa that the majority of the non-Brazilians who attended our wedding in July had to get, including my American family and friends.

When applying from the US, the requirements are essentially:
- fill out a bunch of standardized forms
- present passport photos
- provide copy of issued round-trip ticket to Brazil
- provide address of stay in Brazil
- pay fees

When applying from Mozambique, however, it is a much more complicated process. In addition to the standard steps above, one must also:
- provide bank statements from the past 3 months
- provide a letter from one's employer stating that the trip to Brazil is necessary, and detailing the itinerary - even for a tourist visa!
- provide proof of financing for entire stay in Brazil (a letter from family members guaranteeing support is not sufficient)
- provide copy of Mozambican work permit and residency visa (if a foreigner)
- provide copy of marriage certificate if married to a Brazilian

Interesting, no? There is obviously a big difference in how the Brazilians perceive American visitors (or those dealing with their immigration documents via the US) and Mozambican visitors. Brazil is definitely not the exception to the rule in this process - it is standard issue to make all Mozambicans (and other "poor" country citizens/residents) prove that they will not move to a "developed" destination indefinitely and become a strain on the system.

I wonder if the current state of the US economy will provoke a policy change at some point? Heh.

A funny anecdote from our visit to the Embassy this morning: the consular officer told us, "Put together as much paperwork as you possibly can. Get everything on this list and then a little more. Add in your US bank account statements. Give copies of Ricardo's passport. Essa burocracia de sistema português é um inferno...mas quanto mais papel, melhor. Os caras gostam de ver um processo bem grande.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Holiday Musings

- It was a funny holiday. It seemed very short, and very surreal. We didn't do much in terms of traditional celebrations (no tree, no wrapped gifts, no travel, no family), so I'm sure that contributed to it. was a bit of a weird one.

- I made a list prior to going on vacation of all the things I wanted to do. I accomplished about 1/4 of them, though it wasn't really that type of list where you must tick off each little thing. What they say about lists is true - keep a master list full of dreams and large-scale goals, then make smaller ones that are actually feasible for a day, a holiday, etc.

- Regardless, we did managed to go to the beach at Macaneta, go to the pool at Terminus, buy new sheets and towels, and go to Núcleo de Arte to see local paintings and sculptures.

- Maputo isn't the easiest place to have end-of-year guests, as most of the restaurants and tourist attractions are closed for the holiday season.

- Nearly a week of solid rain during said holiday season makes it even more difficult to entertain in the city.

- Despite all the challenges, it is still possible to have a great time with out-of-town visitors. You just have to enjoy drinking.

- The owners of Dolce Vita are keen businesspeople. They were just about the only bar in town consistently open. We had Christmas Eve nightcaps on the verandah there, despite the rain.

- I believe it is the first time in my life I've actually gone out for a drink on Christmas. Perhaps it will become a tradition.

- Speaking of Christmas, I learned (to my embarrassment) that it is a Christmas tree and the act of physically wrapping a stack of gifts that triggers me to remember my Dad's birthday on December 29th. As we did "virtual" presents this year - all ordered online and shipped without us seeing them - I didn't realize that something was missing until much too late. I feel terrible, but my Dad is being quite a good sport about the whole situation, saying that technically this means he is still 62 and not 63, and that perhaps he can do his own take on "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button".

- I will not forget next year, no matter where we are or how we celebrate.

- As for celebrations, Maputo is a bit of a dud as far as New Year's is concerned. Maybe it's because I've had the privilege of passing Reveillon in Rio and San Francisco, two of the most fun cities ever as far as these things go.

- I did wear white, though. At least one tradition managed to creep through!

- We went to a house party, then tried to go out dancing. Coconuts, the only nightclub that was open (and not charging US$90 for a package dinner/dance thing), was completely empty and nonetheless charging $40 per person to get in the door, with no drink credits. I wouldn't pay that to get into most clubs, much less Coconuts! We milled around the parking lot a bit, drove around searching for something else to do, then got frustrated and went home.

- Along the way, we got into a bit of a stressful situation with some acquaintances. I won't go into it, but suffice to say it's crystal clear who "nossa gente" is here in Moz, and who isn't. Again, the fact that Rico and I are not part of any of the usual expat cliques/crowds here is very apparent.

- I am not at all sad about this.

- However, I could do with having some more good Mozambican friends. I know that quality is much preferrable to quantity - at least it is in my book - but it always surfaces during party times and holidays (and when we have guests) that we don't have that many local friends. We do have a few - and they are good ones - but it is complicated. I've hashed over many times in my mind the reasons I believe are behind this, and it is pretty damn complex.

- Still, it is what it is. I'm over trying to overcompensate and force friendships, and I'm also over believing that just because we have a few local friends and are mostly loners here, we aren't having an "authentic" experience in Mozambique.

- I think with each year that passes, I become more of a loner.

- Cats, however, always cheer me up and keep me wonderful company. Especially little 9-week black and white ones, and a big black boy-cat who makes the funniest meows ever.

- As does my husband (not that there is any order to this list). It was wonderful to spend our first Christmas and New Year's together, despite the somewhat anti-climactic nature of it all.

- I didn't make any specific resolutions for 2009. The principal theme that occurred to me is that I want to be a better person than in 2008. I want to be a better wife, a better professional, a better friend, a better daughter, a better cook, a better writer, a better dancer, a better citizen of this world. Not because what I do now is insufficient or unsatisfying; I want to be better in the sense that I want to learn from my mistakes, take risks, reach new heights.

- I am fundamentally happy in Maputo, with our life as it is at this very moment, though sometimes I am at a loss to explain exactly why. We are far from family, far from friends, living in a bit of a bubble. Still, it is home, and perhaps that's what it comes down to in the end.