Friday, May 29, 2009

Back to Life, Back to Reality

Mine, that is...

After a week of field work in northern Zambézia and southern Nampula, I have returned to Maputo. It was an intense, crazy week - much more so than I could have ever expected. I randomly met up with someone I'd not seen in 12 years, ran across a potential money laundering-type situation in the middle of rural Mozambique, had a good look into the lives of Catholic priests, ate a lot of chicken and xima, was surrounded by curious children and adults in remote communities, and honed my interview skills alongside my colleague A.

All this in the course of learning about the milling business. It was quite the trip.

More stories to come once I have decompressed a bit.

Friday, May 22, 2009

At Least I Can Work from Home...

Rico recently took over managing my IRA portfolio, as my strategy was to simply invest a couple thousand dollars in a diversified fund and not look at the money again until I was 65 years old. I'm not a motivated trader, it seems, as the fact that I lost a good 40% of the value of my IRA with the economic downturn didn't really bother me.

Rico, instead, is a huge trader at heart. He completely revamped the IRA, bought new stocks, started doing some short-term trading, and managed to totally recover my previous losses and earn a modest return on the portfolio within a few months.

These days, Rico spends a significant amount of time ferreting out new stock opportunities and honing his investment strategy. While I obviously couldn't be bothered, I do have one clear recommendation based on my state in the previous 48 hours:

Buy Kleenex or TwinSaver shares, for the love of God, because my single-handed consumption of tissues seems likely to boost the earnings of any company that turns out a nose-blowing product.

I caught a terrible cold while in South Africa, and to add insult to injury, was hit with a whopping case of allergies yesterday. I swear I went through 3/4 of a box of tissues within a few hours. My poor nose is totally chapped, and I'm still not through the thick of it.

I will be back to regular blogging once I am feeling better, once I have finished my pending translating job, and once I have completed a giant jewelry order for a colleague. Oh, and then I'm heading to Nampula and Zambézia for field work...I guess look for regular posting in June.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Cramming Time

I've been quite overwhelmed this past week, although I suppose I can't really complain because the resulting stress is of my own doing.

Rico and I clearly want to use our remaining time in Moz to make as much money as possible, so we've both taken on double jobs in the short-term. It's definitely a feasible load, but we are busy, and evenings and weekends are filled up now by work instead of 100% play.

I keep reminding myself that, in my case, this rhythm will subside on the 22nd when I turn in the massive translating job that has been the source of my overwhelmed state as of late. I also keep thinking about the dollar figure, which helps me become more motivated to do just one last page of translating before bed.

It's a strangely satisfying rhythm, being super busy for short spells. It reminds me of being in school and having to survive midterms and final exams. Except now, instead of eating dry sugar cereal out of the box and hanging out with roommates while studying, I sit at my computer with a glass of wine and a cat in my lap, with Rico keeping me company while trading stocks online. Same underlying feeling of a bit too much to do in too little time, but with a much more sophisticated exterior...

Saturday, May 09, 2009

This Pagan Life

After having spent the bulk of the day translating the most boring document I've ever encountered (Small Grants Management Policies and Procedures Manual), I'm about ready to kick up my heels and join Maputo's finest Scots for a Beltane celebration.

I am going as a White Lady (or so my friend Helen has instructed me), which involves a white dress, a red sash, flowers and greenery in the hair, and a white face with great, dramatic makeup. I am doing the makeup for my girlfriends (several other White Ladies and a May Queen), and honestly can't wait to party.

Watch this space for some great photos sometime next week.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Seen in Maputo #4: Traffic

Since moving to Maputo in early 2006, the increase in vehicles on the streets has been one of the more apparent changes. Obviously the traffic in Maputo can't be compared to that of Luanda or Joburg, but it is definitely getting bad. Whereas before I never took traffic into account when planning how much time I'd take to arrive at a meeting or to visit a friend, I now automatically factor in between 5 and 20 minutes depending on the day, the time and the route.

Particularly bad spots I frequently deal with:

- Julius Nyerere in front of Hotel Avenida
- the road along the canal that leads to Shoprite and the airport (I believe it's called Av. Joaquim Chissano, but not sure)
- Av. Salvador Allende just before Eduardo Mondlane (all the cemitery traffic)
- the Marginal along Costa do Sol on a Sunday evening
- the JAT building parking lot, and the stretch of Av. 25 de Setembro in front of the building, in particular at rush hour

People often ask me what changes I anticiate seeing in Maputo in 5 or 10 years. It's always a difficult question, but one clear answer is this: terrible traffic, the result of (seemingly) increased incomes and a population that exceeds what the city infrastructure was originally designed to handle.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

A lo Literario

Opening a new browser window, with the intention of visiting this site (one of the very few constants between one day and the next in my life - I drink coffee, take a shower and read celebrity gossip online), I hit enter too quickly and ended up being taken to the first-ranked page on a Google search that corresponded to about half of the web address I'd meant to type.

I ended up here.

Couldn't be two more polar opposites in terms of culture. I think I received a divine intervention telling me that I need less Perez and more Proust.

Monday, May 04, 2009

The Chicory Way

All I wanted was a nice, strong coffee. Espresso, preferrably.

We were pleasantly tired from a long weekend at Tofo, and had a six hour drive ahead of us back to Maputo. We'd heard good things about a litte breakfast spot in Inhambane city, however it being a Sunday (and the end of a holiday at that), nearly everything was closed. We searched for Verdinho, but no luck. We drove by Maçaroca, only to be greeted by iron bars across the door. Finally, we settled for the only open place we could find in the city: Tic Tac snack bar.

I must say, I can't give old Tic Tac a rave review. The only other patrons were beyond drunk at 10am, and still pounding the beers (perhaps this should have been a clue as to what we could expect from the place). They argued passionately but aimlessly, as only the inebriated can do. I snickered to myself as they discussed with slurred voices whether or not one's Mother is mere family or, in fact, closer to God.

The waiter finally came around, and we had some severe lost in translation moments. For a while, I thought it was our accents, with each person at the table speaking a different version of Portuguese (brasileiro, portunhol, gringo-total). After a while, we agreed that the difficulties were, in fact, not language-related. The guy was simply quite thick - or perhaps recovering from a massive night of drinking - either one a plausible scenario.

We asked for coffee, and after many attempts back and forth, the waiter finally understood what we wanted. However, instead of a strong cup of brewed bliss, we received a pitcher of hot water, a rusted can of Ricoffy and a tin of leite condensado. There was a plastic lid over the condensed milk that looked to be cultivating some mold, but I chose to ignore the moist greenish spots. I needed the stuff to make the Ricoffy palatable. Of all the foods/beverages I've tried in Mozambique, Ricoffy is most certainly in my top five most despised.

Still, coffee is coffee, even when it comes in dehydrated granular form and is mixed with chicory and potentially spoiled milk. I drank away, as did my travel companions, trying to ignore the desire to gag.

Something about the experience left me oddly satisfied, as if the disappointment of the coffee and frustratingly slow waiter magnified that which was beautiful about the moment. I was among friends, the taste of the sea still on my lips. I was surrounded by faded colonial architecture and blue skies. Stress had melted away over the course of the weekend, and I'd done much reflection on the fact that Rico and I are fast approaching the end of an era with our September departure from Mozambique, and how the prospect of finite goodbyes actually spurs me to fully enjoy every remaning moment of the experience.

What importance could possibly be held in a stale-sweet cup of Ricoffy and lamentable service? It was a good reminder about not taking things for granted, not setting expectations. Deixe andar. Seja o que for. Venha o que vier. Increasingly, I am convinced this is a key mindset to finding happiness.