Monday, March 30, 2009
Depending on the day, my mood, my geographic location, the latest news, etc. I can understand - and likely argue in favor of - both side of this type of story.
Be it favela tourism in Rio, visits to Khayelitsha in Cape Town, homestays in empoverished but breathtaking Sapa in the hills of Vietnam, or any other such venture offering an "authentic" experience to those willing to pay, it is hard for me to decide whether I believe the end result is exploitation or a fascinating way to bridge social differences and recognize the value of otherwise marginalized people and communities.
For each altruistic, socially conscious visitor who is truly interested in understanding how others live, I imagine there will be 10 others who are keen on staying in a favela hotel for the Experience - just so they can take the requisite photos of "innocent schoolchildren walking home past another child, only slightly older, holding an AK-47 and keeping watch over a drug sales point" or "visibly destitute but smiling favela resident dancing samba with beer in hand and view of city lights in background" - and return home to impress friends and family with said photos and tales of authenticity and how, despite the occasional brush with gun-wielding drug traffickers (referred to in a very nonchalant manner), they were truly accepted into the Vidigal community during their 4-day visit.
As much as I am annoyed by the "Quest for Authenticity" in tourism (staying in a penthouse in Barra and eating sushi every day is just as *authentic* as playing cards on a stoop in Rocinha, although it's not necessarily *representative* of the way most brasileiros live...), is it really a bad thing? Is it harmful?
Again, back to the questions I can argue either side of, depending on the day.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
This is not the first time I've observed my body totally unable to function physically on the level I know I'm capable of due to being tired and stressed. I always knew stress affected me, but now I can quantify exactly how much by comparing my pilates performance.
It's really humbling, and one can only imagine what stress does to other parts of the body.
Still, there's nothing quite like exercise - even if I shake and feel like an absolute beginner - to make me relax and forget about everything that is on my mind.
Monday, March 23, 2009
Today, on my first day back in the office in 2 weeks, I was met with a director's staff meeting.
In said staff meeting, a new organigram was passed around along with a wholehearted monologue from our Big Boss regarding how this restructuring was a good thing.
The changes, as they affect me directly?
I was bumped from the Director row, just below the Big Boss, to the bottom of the heap. No, not demoted one level, bumped to the absolute lowest rank.
I was also stripped of my title.
I was also reminded that it will not be possible to hire me full-time (as well as several other expat workers) due to the strict labor laws that impose quotas on foreign employees, although a full-time job was what was promised to me when I agreed to come onboard 5 months ago.
I was also informed, in a round-about way, that the 4 tasks that appeared on my original scope of work have now been absorbed by the other Program Directors.
Seems like the epitome of a shit meeting for me, no?
In fact, while I was slightly shocked, I wasn't really that sad or disappointed or offended.
After all, the changes our Big Boss set into motion today are the result of about a month of me giving him pointed feedback regarding what was working and what wasn't about my job. We needed to make some changes, as the previous arrangement for reporting and other tasks simply wasn't sustainable. I told him without hesitation what I thought would work, and why.
He took my advice.
It freed me from several tasks that involved constant nagging of my colleagues and a building sense of resentment on my part - and theirs! - because I felt I was being pressured to do their jobs. It freed me from a lot of headaches that bogged me down and distracted me from the bits of my work that I do honestly enjoy.
For a while I thought I might need to look for a new job, as my old tasks have been absorbed (putting accountability where it should be) and I was technically demoted and de-titled, never mind that I suspect that bit was politically motivated.
I flat-out asked Big Boss and my new immediate supervisor whether I should look for a new job.
They said, no, that they'd really hate to lose me.
That going forward we will reformulate a new job description for me, according to what I am happy doing (assuming we can make it fit in with the programs and thus be eligible for donor funding).
I feel very strange, like it could have been a terrible day but really it turned out to be a wonderful one.
They say you should be careful for what you wish for... Professionally speaking, for the time being, I think I just got mine, no matter how camouflaged the package it came in.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
- Rico and I slept late for the first time in ages.
- I confirmed our suspicion that Nina is a stinky kitten by nature, and there seems to be nothing we can do about her foul-smelling rear end since it is spotless and regularly licked clean by both Pria and Nina herself.
- I finally satiated my months-long craving for crab meat (everywhere we'd go to try and eat crab lately, they'd be out).
- I was given two really incredible hardcover books on jewelry and jewelry techniques by a friend.
- Said friend accidentally locked his keys in the trunk of his Mercedes while getting out my presents.
- Rico made friends with 2 guards and a police officer while drinking beer and standing in the parking lot of Zambi to be sure nobody drove off with our friend's car.
- Meanwhile, friend and I went on a tour of Maputo rounding up all the spare Mercedes keys at his house, his dad's house, the office, etc. to try and open his car.
- I was bitten on the hand by a miniature poodle (that belongs to the father of our friend) while minding my own business sitting in the driveway of his house during the Great Key Roundup.
- Yappy little shit (the poodle, not our friend or friend's father).
- Rico and I brainstormed and made some exciting plans for the next year or so. We always do our best scheming over a glass of wine and a meal, it happens quite naturally.
- I went to bed too late, fueling yet another cycle of jet lag for the coming week.
- I vowed to get some work done today (can't you see how well that's going given that I'm blogging right now?).
Right...I guess I really should get on that last one. Happy Sunday to you all.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
Rico and I were both very impressed with how clean the Mercado Municpal was - seriously, you could eat off the floor in that place if you were so inclined and likely not suffer any health consequences.
After the markets, we walked along Av. 25 de Março, famous for its cheap shops selling fabric, shoes, underwear, kitchen items, toys, costume jewelry, "designer" goods and everything else under the sun that can be mass-produced and hawked from a small stall. This is where many of the Angolans and Mozambicans come to stock up on Brasilian clothes to sell in botiques back home.
Here are some photos from our excursion:
Dinner at one of São Paulo's best Japanese restaurants to celebrate Rico's dad's birthday.
We spent a weekend in Angra dos Reis sailing with Rico's aunt and uncle. We stopped for a swim at this little beach called Pingo d'Agua (Drop of Water)
The water in Angra is the most beautiful shade of tealish green, and is as warm as bathwater - just how I like my ocean experience!
The pier at R and M's condo, just a minute's walk from their house...definition of "vida dura".
On this fateful day I discovered that I am a much happier sailboat passenger if I take Dramim.
Rico in his preferred natural environment.
For the past 8 months, the top tier of our wedding cake has been in Rico's mom's freezer. Since we won't be in Rio in July for our 1-year anniversary, we decided to go ahead and eat the cake on this trip. I love the fact that we were able to eat our anniversary cake in the exact same spot where our wedding reception was, while looking across the street at the church where we got married.
We all agreed that freezing actually made the cake more delicious than on our wedding night! The vanilla pound cake was super moist, and the apricot and brigadeiro branco filling had intensified in flavor.
Dinner in Rio with Rico's brother, our sister-in-law and her family - including our newest nephew, little B.
Our trip to Brasil was unfortunately shorter than we would have liked, and I had to work on a proposal for work nearly the entire time we were there. Still, at least if I had to be glued to the computer, it was with a beach in front of me and a cocktail in my hand, surrounded by people we don't see often enough.
Friday, March 20, 2009
My credit card was cloned either at The Body Shop or at Frasier's (a shop in the new part of the airport selling handbags and wallets). It was then used to make fraudluent purchases of $400 at a watch shop, $1,250 at a furniture shop, and $1.05 at a cable tv operator (watching porn with my stolen credit card info, I imagine. Fuckers.).
Please excuse my language. I'm pretty pissed off.
I suspect my card was cloned at Frasier's. Why? Because I always buy at The Body Shop when I am at the Joburg airport. I bought some creams there when we were on our way to Brazil 2 weeks ago. I remember the vendor. She was nice. No unauthorized charges appeared after that initial purchase.
Then, while in Brasil, I had the bad luck of losing my wallet while out for drinks one night with Chocolate, our best man. I went to get Rico's wallet from my purse, and probably knocked mine out and onto the floor in the process. It was dark and crowded in the Bar Informal, and we didn't notice my wallet was gone until the next day.
Since it is Rio, and since I am not an otária, I had cleaned out my wallet on day one of our Brasil trip. I took out everything but the essentials - driver's license, copy of passport, 2 credit cards and my health insurance card.
When I realized my wallet was gone, Rico and I immediately called to cancel the credit cards. On one, there were no bogus charges. On the other, someone had spent R$400 (about US$180) at a pharmacy. We entered a fraud claim, and will have to dispute the charge at the end of the month.
While I was pissed about losing my wallet - I *never* lose things, to me it is a red flag that I am under unnecessary stress - I was at least satisfied that the loss had been minimal.
I switched to using my backup US credit card, which has a very high limit but is a pain in the ass because they charge 3% on all international purchases. I avoid using the card because they will not budge on that service charge, and my other cc gave me a much better deal for foreign transactions.
Anyhow, fast forward to me in the Joburg airport on our way back to Maputo, armed only with my backup 3% charging credit card. Since I lost my wallet in Brasil, I had to buy, well, another wallet. I remembered seeing one that I'd liked a few months earlier, made of ostrich skin. Rico and I found the store - Frasier's - and I selected a beautiful pink wallet.
After buying my replacement wallet, I went to The Body Shop and purchased some body butter since I had absent-mindedly left the one I bought 2 weeks prior in my carry-on luggage and it was seized at the security check (over 100ml. I should know better).
Anyhow, the girl who helped me at The Body Shop the second time around was the same one who helped me on our way to Brasil. She was very sweet. I know this is no guarantee, but I just don't feel she was the one who commited fraud on my account.
Now the Frasier's people? They are the ones I like for the cloning. I've never purchased there before, and the first time I do, I have problems. Coincidence? Who knows. I think not.
Either way, beware. I only used my backup credit card two times after my wallet was stolen, so the fraudulent charges either came from The Body Shop or Frasier's. Please be careful in the Joburg airport. I know these type of problems are common in the Nelspruit Crossings and the Riverside Mall, but to have it happen in the secure section of an international airport is surprising.
Please be careful in your travels. Use cash whenever possible, and keep a good relationship with your card company. Take out fraudulent purchase insurance if this is an option. Call and cancel your card immediately if you suspect you've lost your card or it has been cloned or stolen.
I have certainly learned my lesson. Cash is King.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
We all snuggled together last night in our bed and watched tv. It was wonderful, despite the jet-lag that had me and Rico up intermittently at odd hours.
Today I am working from home trying to finish the draft of a big proposal for work. I spent a good portion of our time in Brasil last week stuck to the computer as a result of this proposal, and I'm looking forward to finalizing the draft for tomorrow. I still have a lot of work ahead of me, but at least the document has taken shape and I am feeling the writing groove materializing.
It seems the weather shifted while we were away. Upon arrival we were greeted with gray skies, a bit of drizzle and very mild temperatures. I am hoping this means the horrific heat waves we experienced through most of February and early March are behind us.
Photos and stories from our "holiday" to come later, once my draft proposal is finished.
Friday, March 13, 2009
Rico is drunk from the afternoon churrasco and tired from the 6-hour drive to Angra earlier that day. He is not at all interested in travel videos, especially since Brother's epic films consist primarily of an unrecognizable figure on a surfboard, peppered with the occasional unintelligible expression of awe after an especially big wave.
"Fuck, man. I'm exhausted," Rico says. "We can watch your videos tomorrow."
"But tomorrow morning we are driving back to Rio. Early." That last word is carefully emphasized by Brother, who knows Rico will be in no mood to be awake before 8am.
Brother shoots me a sideways glance, pleading for support. I know that the videos aren't from one of his trips. I am in on the secret. He filled me in earlier over a caipirinha, hushed information passed while Rico was distracted by Lara, the bumbling Sharpei his cousin got as a birthday present. We all laughed when I realized that Lara looks more like a mini-hippopotamus than a dog.
I try to convince Rico that the video will be entertaining. He isn't buying it. The siren call of a soft bed is much more appealing. My wifely attempt at making a surf video sound fun has failed.
Brother has to act fast in order to keep his attention. He shoves a last beer into Rico's hand and pops in the DVD. "Check this out, man. It's awesome. You'll love it."
Rico silently curses Brother. Typical older sibling behavior, Rico thinks, always putting his interests over other people's priorities.
His thoughts are interrupted by a grainy image of a small child in a red speedo running around a swimming pool. The child has inflatable orange swimming floats on each arm and, despite the poor focusing abilities of the obviously amateur cameraman, big almond eyes clearly brimming with excitement.
"That looks like me when I was younger," Rico says.
I am impressed that he has recognized himself so quickly.
After a few minutes, there is sound on the video. Rico's father's voice hasn't changed a bit in 25 years. "Jump in the pool so I can film you!" he says, in the same voice I know from the speech he gave at our rehearsal dinner.
Little Rico doesn't need any additional encouragement. He splashes in the water, giggling in delight. In the background, a group of adults drink beer and keep watch over Rico and what I recognize to be his siblings.
"Holy shit, that is me," big Rico exclaims. He bursts out laughing together with Brother. "I must be, what, 4 years old?"
"Yeah, something like that. I told you you'd like the video," says Brother. They clap each other on the back in a masculine hug.
"Yeah, it was worth it," says Rico. "Oh my God, look at Sissy!"
Sissy, now nearly 40, is about 12 years old in the video. She is wearing a Jane Fonda-inspired maillot and has her hair cut in big, layered waves. A close-up reveals that her front teeth are still disproportinately large for her face, albeit in an almost Lolita-like way given that the rest of her is undeniably very beautiful, very grown.
Brother is in the video as well, smiling at the camera and yelling to his father, "Você só vai filmar o Rico, é? Me filma, Papai, me filma!" Like any pre-teen, he is out for some attention while trying to look very cool at the same time. He alternates between pleading for his father to film him, and puffing out his chest and running his hands through his hair.
Little Rico jumps in the pool several more times, escaping from attempts by Brother to splash him and then dunk his head under the water. We all comment how much Binho, our little nephew and the son of Brother, looks like Rico. The resemblance is striking.
The video then turns to the adult members of the family. Everyone is displaying bad fashion choices - the men sporting short-shorts, overgrown beards and gold-rimmed aviator sunglasses; the women showing off big hair and unabashed experiments with neon, bright colors competing with the tropical foliage and flowers in the garden in the background. All of the women are chain-smoking; the men drink endless glasses of cold beer.
I recognize Rico's mom, her beauty shining through even the bad 1980's clothes. She is quiet, almost shy in the video. I can see where Rico gets his eyes. She and Rico's dad engage in the kind of banter that is familiar to couples who have been together for several years: playful, yet totally acomodados. No surprises anymore, just simple jokes, day-to-day pleasures, predictable anectdotes.
I think to myself how strange it is to see couples together on film who haven't been together in real life for over two decades. Rico's mom and dad divorced some 5 years after the video. Tia Lina and her husband, who appears in the video playing the guitar to the delight of the children, have also split. Lives are on different paths now, altered, unexpected, sometimes diasppointing, other times joyful.
Rico's maternal grandmother appears in the video as well, so young and agile I don't recognize her at first. She is sitting with her husband, the Portuguese man who came to Brazil accompanied by an uncle at the tender age of 8. Unbeknownst to the family, he changed his name for the trans-Atlantic journey so that his surname would match his uncle's and they could pass as father and son, facilitating the immigration procedures. Rico and his mom only discovered this years later, when retroactively applying for their Portuguese citizenship, a process that required obtaining Vovô's original birth certificate. Thanks to a very elderly great-aunt living in near Oporto, they tracked down the notary's office where Rico's grandfather's birth was registered and discovered his original documents. Rico later told me about this great-aunt, "Everything from 50 years ago she remembers perfectly. Yesterday? Not so much."
Rico's Portuguese grandfather died many years ago, when Rico was still relatively young. His grandmother was devastated, as was his mother. We all grew quiet upon seeing Vovô and his wife together on the grainy film, witnessing the knowing laughs and tender caresses preserved in time.
"Has my grandmother seen this?" Rico asks.
"No," Brother responds. "But I'm sure she'll love it! She'll be able to relive the good old days, see Vovô again, remember what it was like to be young. You have to show it to her when you guys go to Rio."
"I don't know," muses Rico. "What if she gets depressed? Vai acabar com ela. "
I suddenly feel sad, nostalgic for things I've not yet lost. I imagine what it might be like to watch a similar video in my old age, memories long buried in the past unexpectedly dredged up to be relived, savored, mourned. I try to imagine what I would want were I the grandmother who had lost her love, given the opportunity to see times long gone reanimated on a screen.
"I think we should tell Rico's grandmother that the video exists, and what is on it. Then she can make the decision for herself to watch it or not."
Rico and Brother agree, somewhat to my surprise.
Watching the video, I remember my journals, volume after volume of meticulously recorded experiences from my adolescence. I started the first journal at the age of 15, the day I left New Mexico for my year-long student exchange in Brazil. I wrote faithfully about each day of that year, through culture shock, homesickness, my first serious boyfriend, adventurous bus trips through the arid northeast and the verdant beaches of the South, grief, reverse culture shock and everything inbetween. After my exchange year, I continued writing. It was my way of coping, of expressing what I was certain nobody else could possibly understand. I wrote for 7 years, filled enough blank-page journals to occupy an entire shelf on my bookshelf.
I think about my journals, and how difficult it is - even now, more than a decade later - to read through some of my words from the past. There are certain episodes that I am still unable to face, let alone transcribe to the computer. (I am afraid of losing the record of my experiences (fire? theft? self-destruction?) so I am typing up all of my journals and safekeeping the stories of my teens and early twenties - such intense years - in digital form.)
I can't begin to imagine how it must be to relive those moments in video. It's complicated enough via words, in private, safe from third-party interpretation or commentary until the day I choose to share. Video is different, more accessible, more prone to judgment, both by others and by self. Words paint pictures, but images are undeniable, for better or for worse.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
The best article I discovered, by far, was this one. It's in Portuguese, but has some fabulous photos for the non-lusophone speakers out there. If you do understand Portuguese, the article references the shock-like noise we heard when trying to get the caterpillar into a jar.
Nature is truly amazing.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Meet the Automeris illustris, the most recent resident discovered in the garden of the Casa Rosa. This impressive caterpillar was hidden in an overgrown vine that Rico and I were trying to remove from the Pitanga tree in the front of the yard. We were up on the first floor veranda, level with the top of the vine-strangled branches, yanking out handfulls of unwanted foliage. Suddenly, Rico pulled back his hand and cursed, thinking a splinter had entered his finger. He inspected his hand, found nothing, and went back for another handful of vine. He buried his hand in the tangle of green leaves, then immediately jumped away, screaming in pain. "That thing stung me," he managed to say.
I looked down and saw the most horrific, shiver-inducing caterpillar I've ever laid eyes on in my life. It was nearly 3 inches long and covered in neon green fern-like spines. "Wash your hand with soap," I shouted to Rico, who was already in the bathroom and still screaming in pain. I ran to the kitchen and tore open a box of milk, then filled a plastic cup for Rico to submerge the affected are in. The milk helped somewhat, but he still had serious nettling in his fingers. We called Rico's uncle, who is a doctor, and he gave us the magic solution: urine. Rico peed on his hand, and the burning finally stopped. His hand was red and a bit swollen, with white spots where the poison had contacted his skin.
To be safe, we decided to put the caterpillar in a jar so that we could take it to the clinic if Rico symptoms worsened. There were several cases of fatal caterpillar stings in Santa Catarina state some time back, and we didn't want to take any chances. Rico broke off a branch to nudge the caterpillar into the jar, and we were equal parts fascinated and creeped out when the beast clung to the branch and started emitting shock-like static noises. We put the caterpillar in the jar, plant material and all, and sat observing it, completely transfixed, for several minutes, trying to ignore our crawling skin.For good measure, we took photos (prior to putting the thing in the jar).
Nature's way of saying "Don't Touch" For a bit of perspective, Rico's shoe is a size 40 (Brazil), 8.5 (US).
Of course, I spent 40 minutes trying to identify the caterpillar on the internet. I find it nearly impossible to stop thinking about un-named things I encouter - snakes, trees, rocks, etc. - and was going crazy with no Google access for most of the day (no signal up in Santa on the iPhone). Now we are at my brother-in-law's house, and I've finally satisfied my curiosity, and provided a great show-and-tell for the fam.
Thankfully Rico is okay, and has suddenly become - que surpresa - an avid promoter of gardening gloves, no matter how harmless the situation may seem.
Tuesday, March 03, 2009
Monday, March 02, 2009
- With my mom gone, and Rico away in Nampula on business, I've been at home alone for the past 3 nights. It's been nice, as I use alone-time to catch up on all my introverted activities that inadvertantly take a back burner when I'm with other people: journaling, jewelry design, phone calls, Etsy updates, organizing my photos, etc. However, while I've enjoyed the time to myself, it's undeniable that I prefer living with Rico, and even miss having long-ish term housemates and family in the house. This is pretty incredible coming from the girl who l-o-v-e-d her life as a loner.
- I miss cooking. We have a cook who comes 3 days a week to make us lunch, which is a total luxury and helps us avoid the trap of restaurant food 24/7, but it also means that we have a lot of leftovers and I almost never *have* to cook. I cooked this weekend for myself, and it was wonderful. Cooking for me is therapy. I love to chop, stir, spice, taste, and contemplate life, all with some good music and a glass of wine.
- I had a pilates class last night that totally kicked my ass. With Rico away, the trainer pushed me to the limit. My legs and arms trembled all night, and I slept like a rock. I am very sore today, but satisfied. I can clearly see that my body is stronger, and I am motivated to continue with pilates as it has also helped my posture immensely, not to mention my abs!
- There is a new volunteer consultant at work who looks just like John Cusack from the "Say Anything" period. I keep fighting back the urge to tell him about my realization. I'm sure he hears it all the time, though maybe not, as he is about 8 years younger than I am and maybe didn't see the classic 80's films? Who knows.
- I am swamped and overwhelmed with work at the moment. I'm in charge of writing a proposal for a multinational agribusiness company's CSR program in Northern Mozambique. It's a mammoth task, and I am on a tight deadline.
- Rico and I are going to Brasil tomorrow for a short vacation. As often happens with holidays planned ahead of time, the timing couldn't be worse. But, I know I'll manage to juggle everything, and I am really looking forward to seeing family. I'm also excited about eating the top tier of our wedding cake that has been sitting in my mother-in-law's freezer for the past 8 months. It's a bit early to eat the cake, but I'm not sure when we'll be in Rio next, so we're going to take advantage while we can (and before the cake goes off).
- I missed a big girl's weekend in Macaneta for a friend's hen party. The photos look divine, but I'm glad I decided to stay in Maputo with my mom.
Okay, back to work. Time for a presentation on proposal writing. And the whirlwind schedule continues...