Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Beet It

Roasted beet and feta is my favorite salad ever. I can't get enough of it. Definitely worth the work, and the cerise color is to die for.

You will need:

1kg of beets
1 disc of feta (approx 1/2 cup), cut into cubes
olive oil
balsamic vinegar

Trim the tops off the beets so that you have just a little tuft of green remaining. Wrap each beet in aluminum foil and put on an oven tray.
Roast at 200C for about 55 minutes, or until tender when poked with a fork.
Once the beets are cool, peel and cut into cubes.

Toss cubed beets with feta and about 2 tbsp of chopped parsley (or to taste). Drizzle over some olive oil and balsamic, and finish off with freshly ground pepper and just a pinch of salt.

Heaven! And healthy!

I just made some and had to put it away before I spoil my dinner at the Macau restaurant later this evening with friends.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Visit from my Sogra

My mother-in-law came to visit for the first time a couple weeks ago, and we had a great time showing her Kruger Park and our daily life in Maputo. Unfortunately both Rico and I were quite busy that week, so Emilia really got a chance to know our flat and work routine as opposed to far-flung tourist hideouts, but it was still a great way to catch up and 'matar as saudades'.

Bonus points for a trip to Barberton en route to Johannesburg. Barberton is where my favorite novel, "The Power of One", is set. I felt like Peekay and Grandpa Chook might be around the next corner!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

How Have I Changed? (the superficial version)

How have I changed since moving to Mozambique? Significantly, I imagine. I get glimpses of the magnitude when I go home, when I visit old friends, when I am reunited with old stomping grounds and memories suspended in time.

There are many significant layers to this change, and others quite superficial. This post is about the latter.

1. I use semi-rotten vegetables in my cooking, carefully cutting around the spoiled bits and putting to good use the parts that are still firm and of their original color.

2. I use the last drops of soap, face cream, lotion, perfume and laundry detergent, whereas previously, sick of the texture or scent, I would have tossed them out when it became necessary to store the containers upside-down in order to coax out the final, lazy bits of product.

3. I have come to peace with having a maid.

4. I am prone to stare back at those staring at me.

5. I eat a variety of canned foods, on a regular basis.

6. My definition of a treat includes: cheese, real vanilla or lemon extract, cold cuts, granola, bacon, nuts, grapes, peaches, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, microwave popcorn, black beans, etc.

7. I no longer think it is strange to iron every single article of clothing that I own (rather, to have every single article of clothing that I own ironed).

8. I wear a jacket, scarf and boots in 22C weather, and still feel cold.

9. I eat Indian and Thai food on a weekly basis.

10. A trip to the hick-ridden mall in Nelspruit is a treat.

11. Having the indicators/tail lights/mirrors stolen off our car is not a motive for anger, rather just a trip by Zeca to the Mercado Estrela on our behalf.

12. The phrase, "Se faz favor," is firmly incorporated in my vocabulary.

13. I think 2pm is a normal time to have lunch.

14. The prospect of a bucket shower is not horrifying. Rather, I know the exact proportion of hot to cold water necessary for a relaxing cleanse.

15. I can speak pidgin Portuguese without thinking.

16. I have minimal brand loyalty.

17. I send all my "good" clothes to the dry cleaners, or simply don't wear them at all.

18. I am used to mold, cockroaches and rats.

19. I don't feel right traveling without a capulana.

20. I have developed a bladder of steel, and am able to go over 6 hours without peeing if necessary, a skill finely honed while doing fieldwork in rural Zambézia and Nampula.

21. My definition of a toilet too gross to use has changed significantly. Long drop? No problem.

22. I can eat a chicken so the bones are clean at the end.

23. I am willing to eat a fish head.

24. I no longer think the word "Nice" used in a Portuguese context sounds bizzare.

25. Coconuts really can be a fun night out.

26. Every time I pass a wedding party, I look for the personalized license plates on the front and back of the car carrying the bride and groom.

27. I actually like xima, as long as it has some tomato sauce.

28. I have become immune to the magnitude of donations: 25 million no longer seems like an impressive number for a 5-year project.

29. Cynicism is second-nature, in particular when it comes to humanitarian aid and NGOs.

30. I am not ashamed to ask for help when parallel parking.

31. I gladly let the guard carry my heavy suitcase up the stairs, and don't feel at all guilty.

32. I let the dishes pile up over the weekend, again absent of guilt.

33. Not having internet is no reason for a panic.

34. I can hold my own in a meeting with government officials.

35. My need to shop for clothes and shoes has reduced drastically.

36. It's not at all odd to have people from 15 different countries in my living room for a dinner party.

37. I now understand that nothing is too old, too worn, too seemingly useless to be passed on or donated. Even the most tattered pair of shoes can be of use to someone.

38. I regularly run red lights while driving and don't realize I am doing anything out of order until someone (i.e. my mother) comments.

39. I am more prone to shouting obscenities at fellow drivers.

40. I spend 10+ hours a day on the computer.

41. I drink on weekdays without a second thought.

42. I complain about the dry weather when the humidity drops below 50%.

43. I read celebrity gossip every single day. Perez Hilton, I love you!

44. I place immense value on each piece of furniture in our home.

45. I am willing to buy expensive art.

46. Business class on a flight to the US seems a necessity, though I'm more than willing to take a bus to Joburg if the ticket on LAM seems absurdly expensive.

47. I can spot a South African accent a mile away.

48. A quick way to annoy me is to refer to "Africa" as a whole, rather than recognize there are multiple and diverse individual countries on the continent.

49. I would never, ever wear my hair in braids or dreads, even if you paid me.

50. I am happy to have a complicated background and life story.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


I feel like I am riding waves each day, some moments a definite rush while on top and optimistic about things to come, others an unexpected low when the swell falls out from underneath me without warning.

Most of this is linked to the drama of trying to buy a house. It's the most intense experience of "two steps forward, one step back" that I've ever been through. Except these days it feels like one step forward, five steps back. I am trying to visualize the progress, and more than anything the end result, but it is frustrating and tiring and definitely not a guaranteed outcome. I am grateful to have Rico and my mom leading the process, as I can't imagine a more competent team to deal with the hurdles we face.

I suppose we've learned that it's not enough to get preapproved, make an offer, and come to an agreement on price with the seller. In fact that's the first baby step of the process. The real trick is to actually get a mortgage, especially if you have somewhat of a non-traditional situation.

We knew all along that the initial promising events didn't guarantee the house would be ours. I guess I just didn't anticipate how difficult it would be to wait, and to deal with the apparent setbacks along the way. Still, there is hope. I shall leave it at that for now.

In other news, Rico had his residency visa interview, and it went like clockwork. Seriously, if only buying a house were that simple. ;)

Of course the process was bureaucratic and expensive, but given that we had all of our papers in order, Rico had his compulsory medical exam results in hand, and we were generally organized and prepared for the interview, I must say that the process was very smooth. We received great service from the US Consulate in Johannesburg, had the luck of being assigned nice people to review our paperwork and conduct the actual interview, and had the added blessing that Rico's visa was granted within 30 minutes of the conclusion of his interview.

In all, the process cost close to US$2,000 considering:

1) the actual fees for submitting a petition for the residency visa, and then getting said visa processed ($355 + $400);
2) the medical exam ($150 - extraordinarily cheap for a chest X-ray, vaccinations and a physical thanks to super affordable medicine in South Africa, even for those with no health insurance);
3) FedEx cost for sending original documents from Brazil and US ($200);
4) Sworn translation of all documents in Portuguese ($100); and
5) car trips to Johannesburg since they don't process residency visas in Maputo, and the closest approved doctor for the medical exam was there ($250 + $450, for fuel and accomodations each trip).

It's certainly one way they screen who can become a Resident Alien...

I found it fascinating to see who our companions were in the Immigrant Visa waiting room. One South African guy - a lawyer with a fancy watch and very nice clothes - had been waiting 2.5 years to get his visa approved. There was a couple next to us from Eritrea - apparently the man was already a US citizen residing in Denver, CO and was trying to bring his fiancee over - who spoke barely any English and looked as if their entire lives depended on the granting of the visa. Another couple - both South Africans - left the building cursing the Consular Officer after having their petition denied, presumably due to the guy's criminal record from a fight he got into with his dad outside a bar when he was 17.

One of the most interesting things to me was that they didn't take you to a private room for the interviews. You just stood at a counter and spoke through a prison-visit style telephone to the interviewer behind the glass. Everyone in the waiting room was therefore privvy to all of the details of your life story. It was heaven for me, given my terrible habit of eavesdropping and observing (my favorite context being, of course, airports).

In our interview, we were asked about how we met, what we did for a living, why we wanted to move to the US, details about our wedding, and when we plan on relocating. It was all very easy, just like answering questions at a dinner party. There was only one misstep, when I accidentally said that we met in 2008 instead of 2000. I guess it was nerves, although consciously I didn't feel at all anxious about the interview.

So we have the visa, now it would be wonderful if we could get the house...

My mom has been compulsively lighting incense for good luck the past few days. I'd appreciate any similar votes of positive energy you would be willing to cast for us, as we still have a long road ahead towards the Casa Cali.

Friday, July 17, 2009

It's Ours (almost)

Two days ago, Rico and I made an offer on the house (with my mom's help as a co-signer). Yesterday, we got a very reasonable counter-offer back from the current owner.

We accepted it.

Now we just have to actually *get* a mortgage, get our downpayment cash into the proper accounts, and close the deal in 45 days. With a bit of luck, we'll be able to move into our own house when we relocate to California at the end of September.

I am a bit in shock - this is all so surreal, it almost seems like a dream - but quickly coming to terms with the fact that we will be doing some humble living going forward now that we've got a mortgage to pay off. ;)

I feel like such an adult!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Long Road to Our New Home

Friends, it's been a crazy past couple of weeks. Here's the lowdown on what's been going on in our corner of the world lately:

- Endless paperwork and bureaucracy has been the definite theme. Rico is applying for his US residency visa, and we are trying to purchase a house in California prior to our move. I believe Rico and I now have notarized, sworn translations of every official document issued to us from birth, as well as a full picture of our financial standing thanks having to cough up tax returns, account statements and employment contracts seemingly from the beginning of time.

- A word to the wise: You know that old song "If you wanna be happy for the rest of your life, never make a pretty woman your wife"? Well, here's my 2009 version. If you wanna have a straightforward, paperwork-free, easy life, never make non-resident alien your wife. Or in my case, husband. Seriously, I don't know how people who aren't compulsively organized and perfectly bilingual make it through this process. Totally worth it though. Obviously.

- Rico went for his compulsory health exam last week in Johannesburg as part of the visa application process. I am happy to report that, as evidenced by a chest X-ray, my husband doesn't suffer from TB.

- My mother-in-law is here for a visit, her first time in Africa. We picked her up at the airport in Joburg, then promptly proceeded to get lost downtown while trying to find the medical clinic. We had a GPS, and it was useless thanks to the Wiki-style maps we have for South Africa that didn't recognize our intended destination. We circled nervously and aimlessly for about an hour, with my MIL in the back seat. Apparently she later confessed to Rico that she thinks we are a great couple with a promising future because we didn't kill each other in the car.

- We went to Kruger park with my MIL, and it was fabulous. We saw a pride of 8 lions, and every other animal imaginable except for the reclusive leopard.

- Rico and I put an offer on a beautiful house yesterday, along with my mom who has helped us beyond measure in the prequalification process. Now we wait. By the end of the week, we will know if the house is to be ours. This is a very tidy way to sum up what has been weeks of high stress, all leading to the biggest decision in my and Rico's life since marriage. We are all praying this house works out, because it is an incredible opportunity and we are totally in love with it already.

- We are starting to sell our furniture and other posessions here in Maputo. It's a strange process, and a daunting one for sure, but I find it quite appealing. Although I cling to certain objects, I find it cleansing to have a big purge of posessions every few years. We will leave Moz with 2 suitcases each, 3 cats and 1 cargo box containing an antique chandelier and an old wooden trunk. That's it. Chega.

- The prospect of starting fresh in a new house is thrilling. I loved putting together this apartment, making it our home. We started with next to nothing, and used wicker furniture and slept on a mattress on the floor for nearly 2 years. Now our flat is comfortable and beautifully decorated. I know we will be starting close to zero again with the new house in California, but I am not at all regretful because the process is so satisfying, and starting humble really makes you appreciate every little improvement, every new piece of furniture or painted wall.

- Rico and I have the big visa interview on Monday. Please keep us in your thoughts.

So that's it in a nutshell. I am also currently working 3 jobs, but I won't even go into the details because more than anything, I need to get off the blog and get them done.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

First Year of Forever

Photos by Leandro Joras.

My plan was to upload multiple photos from our wedding in commemoration of our first anniversary - you know, the getting ready shots, the church shots, the party shots, the after-party shots...but my damn computer is *so* slow that I've only managed to do the first bit. You can appreciate my makeup and my shoes. Lovely, no?

Hopefully I will have a bit more bandwith (and patience) once we are back from our romantic weekend in South Africa.

Until then, here's to an incredible year as Mrs. Amaro!