Thursday, April 30, 2009

Felicidades, Momma Cat

My beautiful, strong, inspiring Mom celebrates a birthday today. I wish I could be together with her in California to take a walk along the beach, or that she could be here in Maputo for a meal at the Macau restaurant and a movie at Gil Vicente, or that we could meet in some third country for a proper celebration.

Next year, we will. :)

I love you, Mom. Enjoy your day.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

My 1998 Mind

When I first moved to Brasil in 1997, I started keeping a paper journal. I wrote dilligently every day for the first year I lived abroad, and then kept the habit for some 6 years after that initial exchange experience. I started transcribing my journals to the computer sometime last year, and have made slow progress since then.

Recently, I went through my journals from 1998, and found several quotes - some recorded by me, some written by friends - in the inside cover. I thought I might share...

A gente sempre destrói aquilo que mais ama
em campo aberto, ou numa emboscada;
alguns com a leveza do carinho
outros com a dureza da palavra;
os covardes destroem com um beijo,
os valentes, destroem com a espada.

- Oscar Wilde, copied from a display at the Museu do Índio in Alter-do-Chão, Pará, in the Amazon. I remember taking a photograph of the display because the quote struck me so deeply. I was 16 years old. Reading through websites about the museum, I just learned it has been closed. What a shame.


Como as mulheres são lindas!
Inútil pensar que é do vestido...'
E depois não há só as bonitas:
Há também as simpáticas.
E as feias, certas feias em cujos olhos vejo isto:
Uma menininha que é batida e pisada e nunca sai da cozinha
Como deve ser bom gostar de uma feia!
O meu amor porém não em bondade alguma
É fraco! fraco!
Meu Deus, eu amo como as criancinhas...
És linda como uma história da carochinha...
E eu preciso de ti como precisava de mamãe e papai
(No tempo em que pensava que os ladrões moravam
no morro atrás de casa e tinham cara de Pau.)

- Manoel Bandeira, as written by my high school classmate Fabiano, more commonly known as "Chato". He was perhaps the smartest person in our 200-student class. He knew poetry by heart - as exemplified by this verse he copied by memory into my diary - and scored nearly perfect on all our tests despite being a known user of cocaine and weed, and a regular sniffer of glue.

"Chato", my friend from school, wrote more in my journal, quoting poets from memory:


Eu queria ser um poeta do povo
Com o rosto queimado pelo hálito quente das multidões
Ao invés disso estou aqui
Pondo sal nesta sopa rala
Que no máximo vai dar para dois

- Paulo Leminsky, as written without effort by Fabiano Chato.

I wonder if I'd be capable of transcribing a poem by heart.

I don't think so.

Perhaps song lyrics, or a memorable quote from Subcomandante Marcos that has been at the base of my email for over a decade. But not a poem. I'm not a poetry kind of person. Nonetheless, I appreciate immensely the verses on the pages at the front and back of my precious journals.

Here are a couple more, also from Chato:

A garota protestante foi buscar água no poço
Eu disse que ela era linda
Ela disse que Jesus ia voltar
Eu disse que seus olhos eram lindos como os olhos de Jesus
Então ela me deu um beijo na boca e eu disse
[Jesus existe.]

- Manoel Bandeira

Deus dá a todos uma estrela
Alguns fazem dela um sol
Outros nem conseguem vê-la.

- Elena Kolody

Eu estava aqui amargurando
Então ela veio chorando com um leve sorriso
E nós pulamos juntos do prédio
[Morrendo felizes.]

- Paulo Leminski

Fisga a lua prata
Pescador imaginário
Deixou o mar no escuro
Pintou estrelas no muro
E sentiu o céu ao alcance
das mãos.

- N.J.

I am impressed with my old friend Chato. He wrote multiple poems in the blank pages of my journal without any particular effort. He was also 16. How many boys that age do you know now who would be capable of reciting poetry? Not that many, I imagine...He was a special kid, for sure. I wonder what happened to him.

My lyrical wisdom, at least in the end cover of that particular diary from 1998, came in the following form:

Se o mundo fosse dos jovens
Todo dia faria sol
Todo mar teria onda
Toda música seria reggae
E toda fumaça faria a cabeça.

- Bob Marley

Not quite as eloquent as the modern Brasilian masters, but it spoke to me. To this day, I've not taken the time to look for this quote in English. The Portuguese version reminds me so much of my first exchange year abroad, of my friends, of our collective adventures. Good times, for sure.

I find it funny that I went through so much trouble to record verses and poetry in all my diaries from my teens and early twenties, and now I'm essentially a poetry-phobe. I don't appreciate it (with few exceptions), I don't seek it out, and I don't feel moved to record it for later perusal. Funny how we change...

Seen in Maputo #3: Chapa Slogans

Perhaps one of my all-time favorite passtimes in Maputo is to spot funny slogans on chapa windscreens and bumpers. I often wish I had a notebook handy just to write down some of the gems that appear in the form of decals on the ubiquitous minibus taxis.

A few choice examples that I have managed to record:

Holla Back
13 Missed Calls (from the chapa owned by one of our neighbors - with time it's turned into 3 Missed Calls as the lettering has worn off)
Bred Pitt
G-Unit (very popular)
Tá Dominado
Funk Club

My favorite, however, is when you see a chapa with something like "Top Gangsta Forever" on the back window that is blasting Celine Dion at full volume on the stereo as its chain-blinging, sunglasses-wearing driver races through the streets of Maputo. As they would say here, "Nice, pá."

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


I have terrible allergies today. The attacks are getting more frequent, which is disturbing. I'm going to an allergist in Nelspruit to get another allergy test. This is becoming a stress on my quality of life again, à la Chimoio.

In other news, Rico and I are happy that one of our old favorite restaurants, Villa Itália - has reopened. It is now located on the corner of Av. Mártires da Machava and Av. Matheus Sansão Muthemba, just up from Inter Thai. Their pasta is easily the best in Maputo, well worth suffering through the bad service.

Rico and I went shopping today with our friend A. in preparation for a long weekend trip to Tofo. We bought food, drinks and entertainment, namely a paddle ball set, a frisbee, two decks of cards and Scrabble. Rico and I have been playing Scrabble all evening, and are about to start another game now along with a glass of vinho verde. At least it will distract me from my allergies for a bit...

Saturday, April 25, 2009


The birthday churrasco last night was a success. We had about 20 people over, all arriving fashionably late in good brasilian style (an Irish friend commented upon arrival that she'd read in a book on brasilian culture that, when invited to a party by a brasileiro, one must not show up less than an hour past the stipulated starting time - it's very true!).

We had tons of picanha, maminha, chicken, lamb - meat galore, essentially - and the compulsory side dishes vinagrete (diced tomatoes, onion and cilantro), maionese (potato salad that I doctored up to the point where you couldn't really taste the mayonnaise, one of the few foods I absolutely detest), green salad and garlic bread. We were missing farofa, but sometimes you just have to make do without rather than pay US$12 for one measly little bag at the import grocery.

I made a chocolate cake, then doctored it up with doce de leite and coconut frosting. I was nervous about this recipe - I'd not made it before, and it involved not one but two pre-made mixes - total sacrilege to the baker who prefers to do things from scratch. Doubts aside, I was encouraged by the rave reviews the cake got on the cooking site where I found the recipe. It took some extra work (Rico and I had to chop up 600g of chocolate candy bars to make the equivalent of 4 cups of chocolate chips), but was well worth it. By far the best chocolate cake I've ever made in my entire life. Gooey, moist, flavorful, dense. Super delicious. And it largely came from a mix. I'm still trying to wrap my head around that one...

Anyhow, the churrasco was great fun, very laid back. The weather cooperated with a cool, clear evening and we were able to sit outside and not drip sweat, a welcome change from the scorching summer months. We had a super diverse crowd in atendance, as is the norm with parties in Maputo in the expat circles, including friends that are Brasilian, American, Mozambican, Irish, British, Scottish, Australian, Spanish and Portuguese. We sang happy birthday to Rico (actually it was Parabéns), then he blew out 3 Hanukkah candles that we had to use in lieu of the sparkly birthday candles we'd bought at Shoprite that apparently sprouted legs and walked off while we were busy eating meat.

Today I am hopefully going to finish Rico's birthday present. I'm making him a ring out of fine silver for his right hand, and I need to get out the blowtorch to create the last details in the metal. After that, I am going to hop on the treadmill to compensate for last night's excess meat and beer, and then I vote we spend the rest of the day at the pool. It's a gorgeous day out again, and I can't bear the thought of spending it inside.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Happy Birthday Rico - The Big 3-0

A very happy birthday to Rico, who turns thirty today.

I have a chocolate cake in the oven, and once it is done we're going over to our friends K. and M.'s house for a celebratory churrasco.

I remember when I was a teenager thinking that thirty was positively ancient. Now, thankfully, it seems like just the beginning of true living.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Seen in Maputo #2: Vila Algarve Squatters

This is the Vila Algarve, undoubtedly one of the most beautiful buildings in Maputo despite its current abandoned state. Incredible architecture and fabulously detailed blue and white tile murals aside, the Vila Algarve has an ugly past. Apparently, according to multiple local sources, it served as the headquarters of the Portuguese secret police during colonial times. This was where political dissidents were taken, questioned and allegedly tortured. When looking closely at the building's construction, one can see "windows" just above the ground level that provide fertile fodder for the imagination to run wild with such tales of the past.

Whatever the story of the Vila Algarve, the building was an anomaly as far as abandoned structures in Maputo go in that it was completely unoccupied - no squatting families, no streetchildren, no marginais...not a live soul in the area. Sure, the corrugated metal panels surrounding the perimeter helped keep people out, but they were nothing a motivated person looking for a roof over their head couldn't cope with. I always figured it was due to some collectively-perceived bad karma, that because of the supposed atrocities that took place within those walls, Mozambicans regarded it as off-limits.

One day a few months ago, there was an impressive wind storm that blew down several of the metal panels, facilitating the entrace of passerby. For a while thereafter, the overgrown gardens of the Vila Algarve became the preferred pissing ground - literally speaking - for many a Maputo pedestrian looking to relieve himself in as private a manner as possible in the middle of the city. But other than the public urinators, the property remained unused and unoccupied.

Over the past weeks, this has changed. For the first time since we moved here over three years ago, the Vila Algarve has been invaded by squatters. Ricardo and I have watched them occupy the old mansion - first intermittently, as a place to take shelter from the rain or rest for a few hours, then with more confidence, staking claim to the residence by improvising a clothesline from which to hang a shirt or a blanket to dry, putting a reed mat down for a baby to play on, and stacking a few yellow plastic bidões full of water on the terrace.

There are four or five people who seem to stay at the Vila Algarve on a regular basis. I've not yet worked out whether they are family or simply drifters aligned in the quest to call a place their own residence, for however impermanently that may be. I watch the new inhabitants of the Vila Algarve while I run on the treadmill that we've put on the verandah. I notice their daily routines, the care with which they clean and organize the living space despite their minimal resources. Occasionally they come to a glassless window or an open doorway and gaze across the street at me, the white girl with the bobbing head and pounding feet who appears for 30 minutes each day.

It is the sociological epitome of observation of the Other. I wonder who they are and what they are doing, where they came from, where they eventually will go next. I like to imagine that they are curious about me, too. Who I am, what I am doing running in place on a machine like a crazy woman, perhaps where I am from or what language I speak. One of the women has a baby who is clearly fascinated by my daily exercise. He sits on the terrace and points at me, curious, frequently laughing and tugging on his mother's capulana insisting that she, too, gaze at the funny girl in the building across the street. I imagine what kind of life he will have, where he will end up.

Supposedly the Vila Algarve now belongs to the Mozambican Lawyer's Association. They announced in a press release quite some time ago that they intend to renovate the building to serve as their headquarters within the next two years. I believe that time has nearly come and gone. Thus far, we've seen no sign of renovations; the only change has been the arrival of the squatters, although inevitably they are sure to cross paths with Maputo's finest lawyers at some point, prompting an encounter with the Other of a more definitive nature.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Suggestions for Finding Housing in Maputo

I get many emails from readers who are planning a move to Maputo and wondering how on earth one goes about finding a place to live in this city. It can certainly be a challenge, as the market is very inflated, there are few formal real-estate agencies (and the ones that do exist are primarily geared toward letting the high-end properties), and it can be difficult to navigate the house-hunting process if you don't speak Portuguese.

That said, here are my suggestions for finding a place to rent in Maputo.

1. Go to the Club of Mozambique website ( In general, this site is a great resource for all things Moz. They also sponsor several online publications/newsletters that feature classifed ads. You can find the link to the whole array under the menu tab "Publications". You can also register on the site and browse their classifed section - occasionally people advertise places for rent, or post announcements that they are looking for roommates, etc.

2. Try to do some research regarding what part of the city you want to live in. I realize this is difficult since there aren't that many online resources regarding Maputo neighborhoods. Still, you can get an idea by visiting different parts of the city, reading blogs and talking to people who live here. Personally, I recommend Polana and Sommerchield. They are both nice neighborhoods, but you can find a mix of (relatively) affordable flats and larger, upmarket homes. There are also lots of shops and restaurants, and you can do many things on foot. Sommerschield II and Bairro Triunfo are two upper-end areas, both relatively new and primarily composed of massive, modern-style houses. Some areas are so new that the streets are not yet paved. You definitely need a car if you live in these neigborhoods. This is where a lot of the wealthy Mozambicans live, in addition to lots of Embassy housing, etc. If you are on a budget and don't mind living "student-style", you might consider a flat further up Av. 24 de Julho or Av. Eduardo Mondlane, in an area called Alto Maé. Coop is also a decent option.

3. If you are in Maputo (or can convince a friend here to act on your behalf), post a "Housing Wanted" flyer at some of the places around town that have community buletin boards, like Café Sol, Mundo's, SuperMare's supermarket, etc.

4. Ask taxi drivers if they know of any places for rent. This is obviously not a guaranteed option, and you have to have your "scam radar" set on high, but I've found that taxi drivers often have a foot in the real-estate market here and can give tips, especially for the more budget renter.

5. Work with a formal real-estate agency. I know Re/Max has representation here. There are a few other firms - some may be linked on the Club of Mozambique website or advertise in their publications. I believe there are a couple of real estate offices along Av. Julius Nyerere as well. Like I said, however, I have the distinct impression that these places cater to the upper end of the market. Essentially if you have a budget that is under US$1,500/month, I wouldn't really bother.

A few other tips:

- Most landlords require that you pay 3 month's rent up front.

- You will be very lucky if you have a landlord who pays for things to be fixed in your flat/home. Usually, if you want something repaired, the most efficient way is to pay for it yourself, then discuss the situation with your landlord and see if he is open to discounting a portion of the cost each month until whatever you fixed has been paid off. There is obviously a risk that you won't get reimbursed, but it's better - in my opinion - than living with a broken water pump or a problem toilet.

- Most contracts are in Portuguese. If you don't understand the language, get someone to help you translate the documents (even if just informally) so that you are aware of what you are agreeing to.

- The typical contract is for 2 years, although it's possible to get a contract for just 1 year. It is very, very difficult to get short-term housing in Maputo. Your best bet for housing under 1 year is to try and find someone already established here who is looking for a housemate. Either that, or stay in a hotel or a guest house depending on your budget.

- Most housing in Maputo is ultimately found by word-of-mouth. It is much easier to save a bit of cash and stay in a hotel for 2-3 weeks while you search for a place on the ground rather than try and secure something prior to moving here.

- Housing here is EXPENSIVE. You will have a difficult time finding a decent 2-bedroom apartment in a good neighborhood for less than US$800 per month. It is pretty much impossible to find a 2-bedroom house for less than US$1,500 per month. It is not at all uncommon for a new/remodeled 3-bedroom apartment to go for US$3,000 per month. A large, modern house with a yard and pool could easily go for US$4,500 per month.

- Do not be shocked by the exterior condition of the buildings in Maputo. Most apartment buildings look like absolute crap from the outside (and in the common areas inside). They desperately need a coat of paint, the stairwells are usually not properly illuminated, there are bars/gates on the outside of all the apartment doors, the elevator (if there is one) is ancient and makes you think twice about walking up 18 flights of stairs, etc. Once inside, however, the flats are usually quite nice, and most of the old places have beautiful hardwood floors and are full of light. The problem is that nobody wants to spend money to keep up the outer/common areas of the buildings.

Maputo residents...any other suggestions/tips??

Occasionally I Make Exceptions for Chartreuse

It's unseasonably cold in Maputo today, right on the heels of yesterday's extra muggy heat. The weather forecast says it will be between 20C and 24C through Thursday, with intermittent rain. I find this very exciting, as it's an excuse for me to wear fleece pants, sheepskin slippers, sip hot chocolate, eat mashed potatoes and soup, and cuddle with all three cats piled on top of me. All the beauty of winter without the actual cold. ;)

I spent the day working, sorting out a potential trip to Tofo and making jewelry. I've been doing lots of research on the various types of trade beads that wash up on the beaches of Ilha, and I had the satisfaction of identifying two types of beads that have been eluding me for quite some time.

One is these brick red tube beads that have almost a matte finish. They are called "green hearts" and, as the name suggests, have a core of green glass with only the outer layer in red because apparently red glass was very expensive back in the day. The "green hearts" are the thrifty way to get a nice red bead.

The other beads I identified are quite intriguing. They are a matte chartreuse color (greenish-yellow) and very irregular. Most are short tube shapes that have clearly been worn down over the centuries. I finally discovered that these are called Hebron beads, and were originally manufactured in Palestine using a top-secret method that included salt from the Dead Sea. Hebron beads have been made since the time of the Romans, although the ones that ended up in Africa are primarily from the 1700's. Still, the idea of 300-year-old beads is thrilling to me.

I made a beautiful necklace today using some chunky Hebron beads, small turquoise rounds and some Hill Tribes silver accents. I really love it, and despite the fact that the color chartreuse makes me look like I'm about to fall ill, I am sorely tempted to keep the necklace for myself. It has resonated with me somehow, perhaps because I've just discovered the origin of these beads.

I am off to make my third mug of hot chocolate of the day and watch whatever is showing on The Style Channel. Rico is still away in Zambézia Province, and the idea of winter-style nesting makes me feel comforted.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Seen in Maputo #1: Streetchildren Selling Condoms

This is a new little series I'm going to do to document the small, wonderful, irreverent, random things I observe from day to day that, without a doubt, define Maputo.

At the intersection in front of Polana Shopping, there is always a wide array of people trying to make some cash selling products (or begging) from people as they wait for the light to turn green. There are frequently flower vendors trying to sell bouquets of sunflowers and tired roses, fruit hawkers with cardboard boxes full of imported grapes and peaches from South Africa and an assortment of guys with mCel credit, newspapers, cigarettes and pirated DVDs.

There are also street boys who beg for change. It's usually the same few kids - as in other cities, there seems to be a territory system worked out as to who "controls" each corner - and I've come to recognize them. Today, I noticed one of the boys who usually begs was instead flashing a colored product at the passengers of idling cars, trying to make a sale. At first, I thought it was candy or gum, a common thing for kids to sell on street corners in Brasil. As the boy got closer to my car, I realized that he wasn't selling sweets at all - he was selling condoms!

The condoms were packaged in a bright purple plastic and connected to each other by a perforated strip in long snakes of about 15 to 20 units. From my days working in HIV prevention, I recognized the bulk packaging and was virtually certain these condoms were donations from some international NGO the kids had somehow gotten ahold of. The boy approached my car and enticingly waved two purple-wrapped condoms at the passenger window with a giant smile on his face, giving me an encouraging thumbs-up with his free hand. I couldn't help myself - I burst out laughing. The sight of this overly-enthusiastic 10-year old pushing condoms at 11am on a Monday morning was too much. Part of me wanted to see how much he was asking per condom, but alas the light turned green and I had to drive away.

Street vendors are a creative lot in Maputo, selling everything from puppies to used high-heels to the mirrors someone has just stolen off your car. However, these boys trying to sell donated condoms take the cake in my opinion.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The First Steps of the Next Chapter

Word gets around quickly here in Maputo, home of the ultimate gossip grapevine, so I figure it's time to officially announce our plans now that our closest friends have been been informed in person.

Rico and I have decided that our Mozambican chapter is drawing to a close. This is likely not much of a surprise to you, given recent discussions regarding my job burn-out, the changes in the labor laws for foreigners, and the fact that we've been here for quite a long time and I desperately miss my family.

We've felt for a while that it's time to move on, but now we have concrete plans. Our destination is the San Francisco Bay Area. We will hopefully move toward the end of this year. Rico has been offered an opportunity in investment management (which he is thrilled about), and I will be pursuing a serious career as an artist. I am applying for a degree in jewerly design and metalsmithing at the California College of the Arts, and hopefully will be starting my studies at the beginning of 2010. We also hope to purchase our first home before we move, likely in the East Bay.

In preparation, we've submitted the paperwork for Rico's residency visa in the US, we've applied for prequalification for a mortgage, we've looked into the logistics of traveling with the cats, and I've started putting together my portfolio for art school.

Big news, no?

I say it's time to celebrate! Here's a virtual toast to forging your own path, following your heart and finding success and happiness in the process. Cheers to all, and thanks for all the support along the way.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Path

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about the path I followed academically and professionally to get where I am today. It's incredible how everything is interconnected; choices are never made in a vacuum, they are not static in time. Each small decision, each experience affects the range of possibilities for the next step, and so on exponentially.

For example: my life path changed radically when I decided to go to Brasil at age 15 for a year-long student exchange. The first significant choice was the destination. I still don't have a good answer as to why I wanted to go to Brasil given that I have no family ties there and no specific draw to the country. I briefly considered Venezuela and Hong Kong, but in the end Brasil was always my #1 choice. I was accepted to the program, and spent a year in Maringá, Paraná. It was a fabulous year, and I fell in love with many facets of and people from Brasil. When my year was up and my visa about to expire, I cried harder than I ever have in my entire life. I wanted desperately to stay, to create a vida tropical for myself.

Alas, I had to go home to New Mexico. However, already my exchange year had altered my path. First, while abroad, I'd decided that I couldn't possibly go back to the petty world of high school for my senior year. I applied early to the University of New Mexico (yes, without a diploma or GED - it's possible!), and was accepted. I only applied to that one college. I'm not really sure why. I went to a private high school that clearly groomed its students to pursue an ivy league education. All of my friends aspired to attend Harvard or Yale or Stanford. I never thought twice about UNM. Perhaps it was because they offered me a full merit scholarship plus a living stipend, a pretty sweet deal for someone hellbent on coming back to the US and retaining the glorious independence found while living overseas. Who knows. Maybe I thought if I wasn't accepted it would be a sign that I should be normal and go back to high school. It's funny, I read back through my diaries from that period and can confirm I never even contemplated an option B.

So choice #1 was to leave high school and go to college a year early. Choice #2 was to study Latin American Studies and Portuguese. It was a no-brainer, really. At that point I was so enamored of all things Brasil that the idea of getting a degree that would permit me to speak Portuguese (and recover my Spanish after being cannibalized by it's Iberian-rooted cousin), study Latin American history and culture, and take classes like "Musica Popular Brasilera" seemed absolutely fabulous.

I enjoyed my course at UNM, and loved the college life. I hung out with a crowd of exchange students and immigrants, played capoeira, and got in the back door of nearly all the bars in Albuquerque because the guys working security were all part of the Latin American crowd, all friends more than willing to let me and my sidekick A. in despite the fact that we were drastically underage. I traveled back to Paraná to see my host family and Brasilian friends at every opportunity, racking up an impressive amount of frequent flyer miles in the process.

Still, I longed to be back in Brasil on a more permanent basis. I started to research college-level exchange opportunities, and found a business school in Rio that sent students to UNM on a fairly regular basis, but had never received an American student to date. I didn't particularly care what I was going to be studying - all I wanted was to get back to the country I so loved. One day I called up the admissions secretary at that business school, explained my situation, and asked her what I needed to do to be accepted as an exchange student. She was thrilled, and essentially told me that all she needed was my full name and address, that she'd fax over an acceptance letter immediately. I was incredibly excited, and started making plans to go abroad again that next semester.

I moved to Rio in January 2000 with two suitcases, a hotel reservation, a copy of the acceptance letter from the business school, and a good dose of courage. My first two weeks in the city I spent based at the Hotel Florida, desperately looking for an apartment to rent and trying to figure out the most efficient way to take the bus and metro downtown to school.

I lived in Rio for a year and a half. It was another great experience, despite the fact that I wasn't particularly interested in accounting or finance classes. While at the business school, I met Ricardo (the full story is elsewhere on this blog if you are interested). I also convinced my mom to buy the Casa Rosa just 1 month before moving back to the US (where my wedding to Rico took place last year).

Obviously a lot more happened in 1.5 years in Rio, but the objective of this post is not to tell those stories. The point is, my experience in the cidade maravilhosa definitively affeted my path from that point forward. Critically, my time in Rio pushed me towards getting an MBA. I'd already taken the prerequisite courses, and UNM offered a 3-2 program whereby you could double up on courses in your senior year of liberal arts undergraduate work (taking the basic MBA classes during that time), then go directly to their graduate business program and finish your BA and MBA in 5 years instead of 6.

I wasn't especially enamored by the idea of a career in business, but I figured - with encouragement from my mom - that an MBA was a good meal ticket to have. Especially since I already had one essentially useless degree under my belt (after all, what is one to do with a Latin American Studies and Portuguese degree if one is not interested in working in academia, as a researcher or as a linguist??).

So with the wholly practical justification that an MBA would open doors and get me a good job and a better salary, I started grad school. Again, I only ever considered attending UNM, a fairly mediocre school as far as business programs go. It didn't matter to me, however, because my aspirations were not at all status-oriented and my objective was not to work in investment banking or as a broker. All I wanted was a better arsenal come time to get a "real" job, and for that purpose, UNM was just fine.

I finished my MBA in 2003, at the tender age of 22. Not surprisingly, I hated business school, although I was very good at business (and at school) and had graduated in the top 5% of my class. I had no idea what I wanted to do with myself at that point.

Through a series of coincidences, that I won't get into here, I ended up moving to Austin, Texas and - after a brief stint as a waitress in an Italian restaurant - got a job as Proposal Writer and Director of an HIV prevention program at a local NGO. Again, there are hundreds of stories associated with my time in Austin (bad relationship, crazy job), but suffice to say that I burned out after working nearly 2 years with the intense, high-risk communities that were the target of our programs.

That's when I got the call, from a long-lost friend from my business school days in Rio. He was living in Chimoio, Mozambique and was working as a freelance consultant doing fundraising for private sector agribusiness projects along with another classmate of ours from back in the day. Bruno, my friend who called, wanted to know if I wanted to move to Mozambique to work with him and our other classmate, who was Ricardo. I didn't hesitate even 5 seconds. Yes. I was in for the adventure.

And so I moved to Mozambique in 2005, full of high hopes and idealism, and put my MBA and entrepreneurial spirit to good use. That led - in a nutshell - to getting married to Rico and figuring out, after a 4 year run, that I don't want to work in the development world. It also led to discovering my passion for jewelry and taking my creative side more seriously.

So, the bottom line of this rambling post is the following: without all those twists and turns, coincidences and confluences of experiences, I would not be where I am today. It all comes together, full circle. Discovering myself and my true calling is an ongoing process, impossible without the multiple wrong turns and erroneous paths of the past to shape my vision and determine my way.

Looking back, sometimes I think, "Why didn't I just study art in the first place?" The answer is deceptively simple: Because I wasn't meant to. All of the elements of my path thus far have been necessary to prepare me for a successful incarnation as an artist. I've found my creative vision (thanks to Mozambique, the trade beads from Ilha, and the cultural fusion that defines expat experiences as well as my jewelry inspiration), I've honed my business sense (thanks mostly to the experience of being a self-employed consultant for the last 4 years, but also to my MBA and my entrepreneurial bouts inbetween), and I've recognized and put all of my faith and heart in the importance of DOING WHAT YOU LOVE, not necessarily WHAT YOU ARE GOOD AT. There is a critical difference therewith, and it's taken me this long to see it, much less embrace it. However, I don't lament any lost time; things come together when they are meant to, and in that I take great pride.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Aproveitando o Fim-de-Semana

Taking advantage of a few days to myself while Rico is up in Zambézia Province working on some business plans, this weekend I am:

- baking the most delicious banana chocolate-chip muffins with soft brown sugar instead of the granulated kind;

- finishing a custom jewelry order for a friend, including a fabulous necklace of chunky Ilha de Moçambique trade beads with assymetrical accents of Hill Tribes silver;

- learning herringbone weave with silver wire;

- designing and making Rico's 30th birthday ring;

- trying to build a light box so I can improve my jewelry photos (the current quality of my photos is a massive pet peeve of mine);

- enjoying the first mugs of hot chocolate this year (granted it's still super warm out, but I'm embracing the slightly cooler weather for all it's worth);

- working on a strategic plan for my jewelry business;

- doing a few observational sketches (my goal is to learn how to do portraits decently);

- catching up with my parents on the phone;

- cuddling two kittens and a big bruiser of a cat;

- having breakfast with a girl I met through the blog who recently moved to Maputo;

- exercising on the treadmill;

- drinking vinho verde;

- sleeping.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Story of Zeca

When Rico and I first moved to Maptuo back in early 2006, we didn't have a car. We relied on taxis to go to meetings, to the supermarket on the outskirts of town, to the airport, out to dinner, to clubs - essentially anything that wasn't within walking distance.

Taxi drivers in Maputo are a notoriously unreliable bunch, and at any one point Rico and I each would have a list of about 25 drivers stored in our cell phones that we would continuously update, moving the good drivers to the top of the list and deleting the ones who would show up drunk, who would run out of gas halfway to our destination, whose cars seemed within even the Mozambican definition of "unroadworthy", who would blatantly lie and say they were on their way and then arrive 30 minutes later with an indignant look on their faces as if they were doing us some grand favor by even showing up at all. We went through a long list of drivers before settling on a marginally satisfactory rotation of two or three for the day shift, and one or two for the night shift.

Even among this group of decently reliable drivers, Zeca stood out. He always kept his taxi - a silver Toyota Corolla - in good repair and with at least a quarter tank of fuel at all times. He was courteous, a good conversationalist (Zeca lived in East Germany for several years in the 1980's, where he worked in a tire factory as part of the Mozambican government's worker exchange initiatives), well-groomed (unshowered drivers make for an unpleasant ride) and punctual. We even got to the point where Zeca would call and let us know if he was going to be even 5 minutes late.

At that point, Rico and I were using Zeca's taxi services on a regular basis. We easily spent at least 1,500mt (about US$60) per week running around Maputo, and figured he was turning quite a profit thanks to our business. Additionally, we started recommending Zeca to all of our friends here in need of a reliable taxi.

Our friend M. started using Zeca quite frequently, and made a joke one day that Zeca must be filling his pockets with money having all these mulungo clients. Contrary to what we all had assumed, Zeca proceeded to tell M. that no, in fact, he wasn't making any additional money despite the spike in his business.

Apparently, as is the case with most taxis here in Maputo, Zeca's taxi belonged to his patrão, or boss. The patrão would pay Zeca a fixed salary each month for driving, and Zeca would hand over his earnings regardless of how much or how little he'd made relative to his salary. Essentially, his patrão was sitting cool watching more and more money come in the door without lifting a finger (Zeca is very honest and would always hand over 100% of the revenues), while Zeca - who had won over all these clients because of his good work ethic and dedication - was not reaping any of the financial benefits.

M. discovered that Zeca's patrão payed him 2,000mt (US$80) per month as a salary, which made me and Rico feel extraordinarily ashamed that we'd simply assumed his situation was improving as a result of our patronage. Zeca earned a pittance of a wage, and had never once complained about his situation in the nearly two years we'd known him. He'd never had the handout attitude of "Estou a pedir-e" or "Está difícil, pá", and this very fact made us respect him even more.

Rico, M. and I hatched a plan to do something to support Zeca and help him reap the benefits of his hard work. We decided to finance a car for him. We did the math, and found that the 14,000 to 17,000mt (US$560 to $680) that Zeca averaged in revenues per month could easily cover his fuel and maintenance costs, as well as a small car payment and insurance. We decided that Rico and I would buy the car, and that M. would cover the insurance cost.

When we told Zeca about the idea, he was ecstatic. We were clear, however, that we wouldn't be able to purchase his car immediately because we didn't have the extra cash on hand. Zeca didn't mind, and patiently waited multiple months for us to save the necessary amount. In the meantime, Zeca started saving as well, as he wanted to make a contribution to the insurance cost. Even on a salary of US$80 per month, he somehow managed to save 5,000mt (US$200) by the time we were ready to purchase the car.

Zeca did all the legwork, and identified a silver Corolla that was in good condition and had a reasonable price. We gave him the money - just over US$5,000 for the car and US$500 for the insurance - and he and Ricardo went together to buy his new taxi. He asked Rico to bring a camera so he could record the day his life changed and - in his words - we became his "parents". Zeca and his wife always refer to us in this manner, and I find it funny but really endearing.

The day Zeca announced to his old patrão that he had his own car and wouldn't be working for him anymore, his patrão was in such a state of disbelief that he actually accused Zeca of stealing. He thought it was the only way Zeca could have possibly come across the necessary cash to buy a car (or get the minimum collateral for a bank loan) given the miserable salary he was paying. In order for the patrão to believe that Zeca's clients had financed a car for him, Rico had to draw up a "contract" with Zeca attesting to the loan, as well as talk to the patrão himself. I can only imagine how that man (and his wife with a hefty shopping habit) must have felt the day they saw their goose with the golden egg walk out the door, ready to become an entrepreneur.

As a guarantee, the taxi is in Rico's name until Zeca finishes paying us back. We have an arrangement whereby every Monday he deposits 2,000mt (US$80) in our account - the equivalent to his previous monthly salary - and the same amount each month in M.'s account. We charged Zeca a modest interest rate for the financing, more than anything to respect the idea that money has value over time rather than to cover our risk as lenders.

To date, Zeca has payed back over 75% of the value of the loan. He has never missed a payment or been late, and we never have to remind him that he needs to deposit the funds. He is like clockwork. Zeca has also started putting away a bit of money each month so that he has enough savings in a year's time so that he can buy a second car, or upgrade to another vehicle should he want to.

Since Zeca became self-employed, his income has increased multiple-fold and he will soon have an asset in his name. He and his wife just moved into a larger house in a better neighborhood. Because of Zeca's improved financial situation, his wife was able to leave her job as a maid in an abusive family and find a new employer. They are both much happier.

To say thank you, Zeca threw a churrasco party for me, Rico, M. and his wife K. He made it clear that he wanted to cover all the costs, up to about US$100. He bought us meat, shrimp, beer, sodas and all sorts of other treats. We had a nice barbeque in M. and K.'s backyard. Zeca and his wife gave us a heartfelt toast of thanks, we took some commemorative photos, and then settled into a comfortable rhythm of conversation, chatting about current events, sports, Maputo politics, cultural differences and whatever else came to mind.

Without a doubt, helping Zeca get his own taxi was the greatest "development" impact we have had during our time in Mozambique. Rico and I often muse about opportunities for replication of our intervention with another decent taxi driver, or perhaps something with our maid or our security guards. However it's not easy to find another Zeca. The combination of his personality, his work ethic, his line of work and the timing all made it a unique situation.

Still, we're not giving up hope. We're doing a bit of an experiment with our maid, Dona Lídia, to finance a small house adjacent to her own residence that she can rent out for a modest income. I'll keep you posted on the progress as things move forward...

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Micro Difference

In a comment regarding yesterday's post, my friend Safiya wondered what can be done to make a difference in peoples' lives if one does believe that Aid is Dead. This is a really intersting topic, because for all of my cynicism and burned-out state, I still believe there are ways to have a positive, meaningful, sustainable impact outside the traditional "development" model.

In my personal experience, the successful models are all on the micro-scale, grassroots in the true sense of the word. While the notion of micro traditionally refers to the amount of money at hand (micro-lending), or the size of a business (micro-enterprise), I believe the successful models are micro in the sense that they are from individual to individual, with two or perhaps three people involved in the "program".

Rico and I have one great, crowning "development" success story - that of our taxi driver, Zeca. In our minds, there is no doubt that the small intervention we did (with the help of our friend M.) is the most significant impact we will ever have in our work here in Mozambique.

Alas, I have to go to a meeting, so I can't tell Zeca's story right now. I will, however, as my next post.

When You Realize It's Time

Today I am feeling very impatient and cynical. It's the kind of day where I realize that there is high burn-out in certain industries for a reason...after a determined point, your heart isn't in it anymore and you can't see your work through anything but gray-colored lenses. There needs to be a reasonable level of turnover, to keep ideas fresh, motivation rolling and spirits high.

The problems start when, as I did today, you sit in a meeting and think, "I don't care about any of this, I don't believe any of it will make a difference." I don't care about soy, I don't care about small-scale farmers, I don't care about malaria, I don't care about the Gates Foundation, I don't care about new proposals or budget categories or stakeholder meetings. It's all just one big cycle - AID begetting AID - even when it is packaged in the alluring label of "private-sector focused".

I find it laughable that the people in the meeting room - including myself - are discussing the future of farmers, of industries, of countries. I can talk the talk - we all can - and some of us certainly walk the walk...but I feel a bit as if I've been tasked to conduct a seminar in astrophysics, that's how far removed I am from the plight of the poor peasant working a plot of maize in Mozambique. And, much like astrophysics, at the end of the day it's really not my passion.

I feel very bad admitting this, like I've stated that I hate kittens and small children and sunshine. Obviously it's not a black-or-white situation, this development game, and the ultimate positive impact or damage of any program is a question of perspective. However, I know that I am burned out in my work here in Mozambique, and that likely I was never the right ambassador for a lot of these projects in the first place. I feel that I am essentially at the end of my line, just as I knew I was at the end of my line when I was directing an HIV Prevention Program in Austin back in 2005. Something shifted, the frustrations became more frequent, the apathy almost constant.

Still, it's hard to make the decision that it's time to walk away. I know I do a good job, despite my bitter days. I know my work is thorough, ethical and high-quality. I know that I have something beneficial to contribute, even if if said contribution is in the context of a system I disagree with. I try to remind myself that, fundamentally, I am lucky not only to have a job, but to have one that pays decently well and offers me so many opportunities.

I need a change, though. I know it's time, and I believe it's the right thing to do. For me and for the supposed beneficiaries of this work.

Stay tuned for what's next. It won't be immediate, and I certainly don't have a plan 100% forged in my mind, but it's gotta happen. Soon!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Fallen Lilac

The seasons have changed in Maputo, the sun suddenly setting a full hour earlier than what I remember from the summer months. Although rationally I know it happens one minute at a time, it seems as if someone snapped their fingers and suddenly the sun changed its schedule from retiring at 7pm to disappearing at 6pm.

It's not just the number of daylight hours, the light is different, too. More filtered, less intense. Wholly different from the scorching days at the beginning of the year when one can't stand to be in the direct sun for more than 10 minutes. Now the weather is perfect, warm and mild, though for some reason it makes me sad. Something about the retreating days of summer, a reminder that time is passing and that we will never be able to relive this period again.

I notice other changes, too. The jacarandas, which were in full bloom in November, are now heavy with green seed pods. In a short time, the streets will be littered with these seeds, brown and dry and ready to be joined with the soil. I particularly notice the jacarandas because I would watch the lilac blossoms fall from a tree outside the veterinarian's office when Parceiro was dying. I would meditate on those flowers, ask for some divine intervention that might save our cat. It wasn't meant to be, sadly, but I will forever associate the jacaranda blooms with our gray baby. We were at the vet's on Friday to have the little ones vaccinated, and I noticed the tree that was the focus of my attention for those three long days, now full of seeds and completely absent of the clusters of lilac I so remembered.

In a few short months, there will be another change in the seasons and we will actually feel cold. Granted a mild version of cold compared to true frigid climates, but cold for us nonetheless. I will wear my sheepskin slippers and snuggle under a blanket while watching tv. We will sip hot chocolate and, on particularly chilly days, even wear scarves and jackets.

Right now winter seems at once an eternity away and just around the corner. Time is funny like that.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009


I am in the process of preparing my taxes. I thought I'd file late - and actually have an extension to do so - but since we want to buy property this year it seems having a 2008 tax return asap is in our favor. So I'm sucking it up and doing my taxes at the last minute. It's not exactly straighforward, since I married a non-resident alien and have foreign earned income and capital gains. Still, I'm plowing through it (mostly thanks to my mom's advice, who is an absolute tax genius). I'm actually filing on my own, on paper, with no TurboTax or similar software to assist me...mostly because my situation is more complicated than the Basic Tax Package will accomodate, and I'm not willing to pay $50 for somethign I can do on my own with a bit of effort.

The good news? I get a big, fat exemption for foreign earned income.

The bad news? Nobody sends me 1099's (or if they do they don't arrive!), so I have to literally go back through my bank statements and invoice records to piece together my 2008 income. So annoying! But strangely satisfying at the same time. I honestly had no idea what my yearly income was at the end of the day - and now I do - which is interesting.

I'm still plugging away at the taxes, but I did have some fun during the day. Today is a holiday in Mozambique - Women's Day - and I had two of the volunteer consultants from work over for lunch. I made homemade pizza, which was delish. On one pizza I put New Mexico green chile, cherry tomatoes and onions, and on the other I put white asparagus, mushrooms, red peppers and onions. It was a very nice treat, and the company was super enjoyable as well.

Now I have allergies - which I fully blame on my taxes, not on the wine with lunch - and am trying to make it through 1040 Schedule D without bailing out to watch the Style Channel. Wish me luck!

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Enjoying the Memories

Photo montages from our wedding, compiled by my step-brother's girlfriend (did you get that?). It was an incredible night, and these photos always make me smile.


It's been a week of reflection for me, a time for analyzing and re-analyzing the path I'm on, the steps I've taken thus far and where I believe I want to go in the future.

How does one distinguish between temporary feelings of frustration, discontent, boredom and cynicism - the unavoidable dips and lulls we experience in our jobs, relationships, friendships and vocations that we must work through and have faith that an upswing is around the corner, that it is simply part of the cycle - and recurrent streams of such feelings that signal the need for change, that are life's little clues that you are not, in fact, on the right path?

This is what I have been pondering lately, in particular with regard to my "job". This is not a new topic for me - I spent the better part of 2006 and early 2007 wondering whether I was a consultant with a writing and jewelry hobby, or whether I was a Writer and Artist who consulted to pay the bills. Ultimately, I came to the decision that it wasn't necessary to decide, that my identity didn't have to be either/or. For a while I found peace in this resolution.

However, these thoughts have flooded me again in the past several months. I feel it in my bones that a change is necessary. I wonder if I am wasting my time, despite the belief that all steps in a journey - no matter how random or misguided the may seem - are valuable and ultimately part of a greater picture. Still, I feel I am approaching the end of a chapter, without necessarily understanding all the details of where the story goes next.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Laws on Employment of Foreigners in Mozambique

There seems to be a lot of confusion lately regarding the laws for employment of foreigners. There have been several changes since I moved here in 2005, namely the establishment of a quota system for full-time foreign employees, and a limit of 90 days per year on contracts for short-term foreign consultants.

Below are links to the law, both in Portuguese and in English. I suggest that any of you concerned about how your employment may be affected by these changes read the law for yourself, as I've received (and heard of others receiving) incorrect advice from HR departments and even company directors.

Portuguese version of Law on Employment of Foreigners

English version of Law on Employment of Foreigners

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Raid at Mundo's Last Night to Find Foreigners Who Are Illegally in Mozambique

I've heard this from a couple different sources, and it seems legitimate.

If you are a foreigner living in Mozambique, be sure to carry your *original* passport and visa/dire documents with you at all times. Technically a notarized copy is sufficient, but given what has been happening lately, I no longer believe this is sufficient.

Also, if you are in an irregular situation in Mozambique, beware that crackdowns are happening on all fronts it seems, from surprise workplace inspections to last night's restaurant raid. If you don't have your papers in order, it looks increasingly unlikely that you will be able to "dar um jeito" and get by...

Here is the report from Notícias, the original in Portuguese and a rough Google translation in English below:


Maputo, Quarta-Feira, 1 de Abril de 2009:: Notícias

Entretanto, uma rusga inesperada efectuada por funcionários da Direcção Nacional de Migração contra estrangeiros em situação ilegal no país, gerou um mal-estar no seio dos utentes do Restaurante Mundo´s, na cidade de Maputo, por volta das 20 horas de ontem.

Num caso que deixou perplexos tanto os proprietários e funcionários do restaurante, que não se recordam de nenhuma visita do género desde que foi criado o sítio, os agentes da Migração invadiram inesperadamente aquela casa de pasto e exigiram que os presentes – em plenas refeições – se colocassem em dois lados, as mulheres de um e os homens do outro e que cada um devia exibir os respectivos documentos de identidade.

Xavier Mulhovo, chefe da equipa da Migração, disse à nossa Reportagem que se “trata de uma rusga rotineira ao abrigo da Lei 5/93 que visa procurar estrangeiros em situação ilegal”. Acrescentou que é uma acção legislada, que, no entanto, não tem sido efectuada por falta de meios, desconhecendo daí a última vez em que foi efectuada.

Segundo a nossa fonte, a referida lei dá a acesso incondicional ao pessoal da Migração à qualquer espaço público a verificação dos documentos dos presentes, dispensando a apresentação de credenciais para o efeito.

Entretanto, a entrada repentina daquele pessoal, acompanhado de agentes da Polícia armados de metralhadoras AK47 deixou alguns utentes do espaço, principalmente nacionais, à beira de um ataque de nervos na medida que a saída ficou condiciona à apresentação de documentos.

Raid Creates Malaise

Maputo, Wednesday, April 1, 2009:: Noticias

However, an unexpected raid by officials of the National Directorate of Migration against illegal aliens in the country, generated a malaise among the users of the Mundo's Restaurant in the city of Maputo, around 20 hours yesterday.

In a case that has puzzled both the owners and employees of the restaurant, who cannnot recall of any kind of visit of this type since the site was created, the Migration agents unexpectedly invaded that house of grass and demanded that those present - in the middle of their meals - place themselves on two sides, women on one and men on the other, and that each should show their respective identity documents.

Xavier Mulhovo, the team leader of Migration, said in our Report that "this amounts to a routine raid under Law 5 / 93 which aims to look at illegal aliens." He added that it is a legislated action, however, that has not occurred for lack of means, not stating when the last time one was made. According to our source, the law gives unconditional access to the staff of Migration to any public area for the verification of these documents, with presentation of credentials for the purpose.

However, the sudden entry of these staff, accompanied by police officers armed with AK47 machine guns left some users of space, mainly nationals, on the verge of an attack of nerves as they exited the condition was the presentation of documents.

Update: I was just at the US embassy and they confirmed the raid last night did actually happen, and said this type of thing may become more commonplace. Also, they said the police detained several foreigners who were at Mundo's without proper id.