Monday, August 31, 2009

Things I Am Looking Forward to in the US

Perhaps the most common question I get these days is, "Are you happy about moving back to the US?"

It's a deceptively simple question. I feel like many people expect me to say 'no', or at least 'mais ou menos' and give some sort of politically or culturally inpsired response about how life outside the US is more inspired/less materialistic/more authentic/more spontaneous/more-or-less whatever. Even with Obama, there is still a lot of stigma associated with the US and the American lifestyle and frankly, I'm over it!

I am very happy to be going back to the US, and although there will certainly be reverse culture shock and the requisite ups and downs, I can't imagine a better next chapter to follow this Mozambican experience.

Here is a little rundown of things - superficial and not - that I'm looking forward to:

1. Reliable emergency response. If you call 911, someone will show up to help you within minutes.

2. Being anonymous, even if for a limited time.

3. Escaping the mulungo identity. Walking down the street, chatting with someone, talking about my life and profession without immediate assumptions being made because I am a White Foreigner.

4. Whole Foods, farmer's markets, specialty food shops.

5. Talented hairdressers.

6. Online shopping, especially Sephora, Overstock, Victoria's Secret and Nordstrom's.


8. Access to continuing education in any field imaginable.

9. Being able to shop for beads and jewelry supplies on demand.

10. Safe, reliable public transport.

11. Urban bike riding, hiking trails, public parks.

12. Wine tasting in Napa.

13. Cheap tickets on Southwest to visit family and friends. The idea that I can go back to New Mexico for a weekend is incredibly exciting.

14. Having my cousins come to stay with us - the cool aunt and uncle - for a couple weeks.

15. Decorating Casa Cali, even if it means finding a way to work with wood paneling.

16. Veterinary services that are up to par and available 24/7. I am still traumatized by Parceiro's death.

17. Bookstores!

18. Road trips through National Parks.

19. Weather cold enough to merit knee-high boots and overcoats.

20. Do-it-yourself culture.

21. Open discussions about politics, economics and religion.

22. New Mexican food - chile rellenos, enchiladas, sopaipillas, biscochitos.

23. Christmas in the winter, like it's meant to be. :)

24. Our first Christmas tree, complete with all the family ornaments that have been passed down to me over the years.

25. Discovering the endless possibilities of Craigslist.

26. Allowing myself to write more freely about my experiences in and opinions of Mozambique - I've met incredible people through my public blog, and truly enjoyed being a resource for life in Maputo/Moz, however I reached a point where I no longer felt comfortable writing candidly about certin subjects because of my readership. Once in the US, the distance makes it easier to reflect upon certain experiences, as well as perhaps the courage to put my opinions out there, even if they are not 100% "politically correct" or popular.

27. Taking art classes.

28. Starting a proper jewelry business, complete with a website with e-commerce.

29. Foods that I can't find or am unwilling to spend an arm and a leg on here: green chile, blueberries, figs, raspberries, different varieties of cheese, deli meats, toffee, packaged tortillas, multi-grain bread, roasted red peppers...the list is long!

30. Reconnecting with friends. Even with Skype and Facebook, there is something about physical distance that has made several - if not most - of my friendships back 'home' weaken. I look forward to nurturing them again.

31. Halloween.

32. Thanksgiving with family.

33. No more LAM (Mozambique's national airline, and currently the only option for domestic travel)

34. Speaking Spanish on a regular basis. I fear it's been somewhat compromised by my time in Mozambique.

35. Having more visitors. In my 4+ years here, I can tally my visitors on one hand: my mom, my Brazilian friend Heleno who was living in China, my childhood friend Hallie and her friend Cheryl...and that's it. I realize Moz is an expensive and complicated destination, but I also feel that a lot of people simply weren't interested in visiting or were concerned (about perceived health risks, lack of development, etc.) Already for our house in Casa Cali we have 4 visitors lined up!

36. Getting to know our neighbors and neighborhood. Becoming part of a community.

37. Feeling like I 'belong', even though I am aware this is an elusive concept for me. Still, there is something about returning to your home country that helps further define your identity, your sense of community, your sense of roots.

38. Being able to register and open a business in 1 week.

39. A justice system that works, contracts that can be enforced, infractions that are punished regardless of the person's influence or wealth. Yes, there is a flip side to this all in the lack of 'jeitinho' and spontaneity, but there are many, many benefits to rules and systems that are clear and enforced.

40. Nia classes.

41. Pilates studios.

42. Beaches that are not used as collective toilets or contaminated by sewage.

43. Being 20 minutes away from my mom's house.

44. Internet that is fast enough to download tv episodes and watch videos on You Tube uninterrupted.

45. Witnessing and participating in a culture of entrepreneurship, pride, hard work and optimism...even in the face of severe economic crisis and personal/financial setbacks.

46. Camping with my dad.

47. Meeting blog friends in 'real life'.

48. Driving on the left again, and finally learning how to properly f'ing parallel park!!

49. Dishwashers and clothes dryers.

50. Being proud to be American. It's been a long road through teenage cultural identity issues and nomadic wanderings in my 20's, but I've come full circle. I'm excited to be in the US without the feeling that I want to be someone or somewhere else. Yes, the urge to travel and experience life in far-flung places will remain - it's in my blood - but it is also incredibly nice to find peace in coming Home.


I can't believe it. No longer can I say we leave 'next month' or 'at the end of September' like it's ages away. September is here. We leave in 23 days.

Santo Cristo.

Our lovely friends here in Maputo threw me and Rico a going away party on Friday night. It was at the Eiffel-designed train station downtown, by far my favorite building in all of the city. It was a wonderful despedida, complete with a dj, dancing, lots of friends, two of the most delicious cakes I've had in Maputo (usually they look pretty but taste of either cardboard or margarine), and a hand-painted banner hanging in the middle of the station wishing us farewell, reminding us that there will be many saudades.

In good Moz fashion, the night extended far beyond what we'd originally planned for, and Rico and I made it home around 5am. We ate some leftover goodbye cake, then went to bed with 3 purring cats sprawled around us. Vida boa, for sure.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Soaking Up Our Maputo Home

On Saturday it hit me like a ton of bricks: We are leaving Mozambique in less than one month.

Suddenly I feel the slight panic of not enough time to see friends, suntan at the beach, eat prawns, dance until dawn, purchase souvenirs at the wood market. There will never be enough time, I suppose, but it is sad when you start to think about the "last's" of a particular experience.

People keep asking if I am excited to move to the US. The answer, unequivocally, is yes. I can't wait to move to the Bay Area, to be near family, to be anonymous in a city (even if for a short time), to experience a new and vibrant community, to build a new home and life together with Rico.

Part of me is also bittersweet, though. We have such a nice lifestyle here, fabulous friends, good work (although both Rico and I are severely burned out at the moment). Perhaps one of the things I will miss the most is the wonderful comfort I feel being at home in our flat, hanging out with the cats, watching something trashy on tv. I know with time a similar and even more comforting feeling will appear in our new home at Casa Cali, but our apartment here in Maputo holds a special place in my heart. It was here that Rico and I first lived on our own together, where we established sustainable careers, where we started our lives as a married couple.

I'm enjoying these moments in the flat (and in Maputo) as much as possible, all too aware that they will soon be part of the past.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


i currently am typing with one hand, a last visit to the laptop before i shut down for a few days. i have terrible tendonitis in my right forearm, the result of overuse of the mouse and too much typing. i am off to the physiotherapist tomorrow, and am taking off work.

see you all in about a week's time, hopefully with some new stories about our moving preparations.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The End of an Era?

In the wake of multiple fatal traffic accidents involving chapas, it looks like the days of this ubiquitous sardine can on wheels are numbered:

Mozambican private transport operators have 90 days to replace 15 seater minibuses with larger passenger vehicles, under new transport regulations approved by the government. According to Olivio Pinto, national director of road transport, interviewed by the independent television station STV, the growth in the urban population demands the use of larger and more comfortable vehicles. Three months from now, only buses that can carry 40 or more passengers will be allowed on the roads of Mozambican cities."Compulsory timetables seek to discourage operators from starting the journey whenever they see fit, and leaving citizens waiting at bus stops for hours, without knowing when the bus will appear", the deputy national director of road transport, Taibo Issufo, told reporters at a seminar to publicise the new regulations.
("15 Seater Passenger Vehicles to be Banned, AIM NEWS)

Banning small chapas seems highly unlikely given the reality of public transport in Mozambique, but moving toward safer vehicles and actually enforcing operating regulations is definitely a step in the right direction.

I don't take chapas. I've done it a few times, either out of total necessity or when riding with a local friend, but they make me claustrophobic and I find the safety issues to be quite terrifying. Before we had a car, I was happy to save money on food, entertainment, electricity consumption - just about anything - rather than be forced to take a chapa for budget reasons.

For many foreigners, riding chapas has massive "authenticity appeal," so I suppose it's time to take advantage of the experience while it is still around. After all, nonchalantly telling friends back home at a dinner party that you rode to work every day in Maputo in a regular bus really doesn't have the wow-factor of saying you were shoved in a Hiace with 25 other passengers, someone else's snotty baby on your lap, a chicken between your feet (not yours either, of course), and the guy who makes change discreetly trying to cop a feel while you struggle to the front of the vehicle after having yelled "Paragem!" in a desperate attempt to get the bloody thing to stop within walking distance of your destination.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Relaxing Thoughts

I have been so swamped with work lately - not to mention the stressful process of buying the house - that I need to find a few minutes to relax amid the chaos. Here are some photos from my archives that hopefully will lull me into peace.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Home Is Where I Want to Be*

After an insane month of calls with real estate agents and financial institutions, credit checks, lamenting over tax returns and the general feeling of being on a roller coaster 24/7, we did it.

We managed to get a mortgage. The dream home will be ours.

This happpy result is due to the incredibly hard work of Rico, my mom and the brilliant broker and agent we ended up working with. It is also thanks to the phenomenal generosity of our families, who put 100% of their time and resources up to help us make this a reality.

We have the closing scheduled in about 10 days, and the actual move-in will take place on September 23rd. From then, it is on to the fun part: decorating!

*from my absolute favorite song of all times, "This Must Be the Place" by Talking Heads