Friday, June 25, 2010

A Few Ways in Which Mozambique Changed Me

I've written about this topic previously (here, here, here and here) but always while still living in Mozambique and without the valuable perspective that comes from being away from a place for a while. Some changes were obvious - salvaging still-fresh parts of partially rotten vegetables and fruits, becoming less wasteful in general, being more relaxed and laid-back when things don't go according to plan - but others really took leaving Mozambique and living in California for several months to notice.

Here are a few changes I've recognized since moving to Casa Cali:

- I find it really difficult to be opinionated on subjects that I haven't experienced first-hand. I remember back in high school and college, I was such an enthusiastic debater in the classroom. I'd take positions on novels, case studies, politics, ethics, etc. and passionately argue my view with classmates and even professors. It was relatively easy for me to identify what I thought was right and wrong, what I thought would work and what would fail. Not the case anymore. Living in Mozambique - and very particularly working in "development" - significantly changed many of the opinions I'd previously held dear. I used to be the typical supporter of NGOs, international development projects, humanitarian aid, etc...and now that I've experienced them first-hand, my beliefs have radically changed. My politics have also shifted as a result. I can't help but wonder how many other things I support in theory I'd view differently if only I were to experience them in person (as opposed to reading about them or hearing others' stories).

- As a result of the above phenomenon, I am overwhelmed by voting here in the US. There are a few issues I have a clear opinion on - for example, supporting our schools and a woman's right to choose - but others have me on the fence. Immigration, budget cuts, taxes, environmental protection. I can understand both sides of most of these issues, and feel like somewhat of a sucker if I'm swayed by a tv ad or political debate. I think there is so much smoke and mirrors, and apparently I've developed a big dose of cynicism about the political process in the last 5 years. I just don't know what to believe, and after my changes of heart in Mozambique, I feel like I might be wrong on a whole host of other things I currently support. I'm registered as an Independent voter because I really struggle to even choose which political party I most closely identify with and want to support.

- I also find myself avoiding controversial discussions like the plague. I think I've always been somewhat of a natural diplomat (and some would say my star sign doesn't help - I'm a Libra), but post-Moz I really don't want to get into it with people. I don't want to debate politics, religion, healthcare reform, immigration. I will, however, get on a soapbox about my experiences in international "development"...but that's only because I feel minimally qualified and entitled to an opinion because I worked on-the-ground with so many different players in the aid/development scene.

- I have become a total homebody. This makes me laugh because I was such a wanderer and adventurer for so many years. I used to think that "settling down" would mean I'd given up my dreams in life and become boring. :) Nowadays, there is nothing more that I want than to stay home with Rico, work in the garden, make jewelry, play with the cats, watch tv and cook delicious meals. It's really hard for me to get out of the house, which I'm aware can become problematic, but for the time being I'm giving myself a break. I think the move to the US and the subsequent career/lifestyle changes it brought about really took it out of me, more so than I'd ever really anticipated. We've now lived in Casa Cali for 9 months and I still feel tired and somewhat disoriented a lot of the time. I do make myself venture out - to the city to meet friends for dinner, to go to a new restaurant near the water - but it takes a colossal effort and makes me appreciate our home that much more.

- I love the anonymity that living in the Bay Area provides. I can go shopping, go for a run, go for a coffee or whatever and I blend in with everyone around me. I don't attract attention unless I want to. The flip side is that it's much harder to make friends here than in Maputo. No real surprise there, for sure, but it's sort of shocking that Rico and I have only managed to make friends with one other couple and our neighbors since moving here. We have other friends, but they are people I went to high school with and therefore only required reconnecting rather than the entire process of meeting and establishing a friendship. I'm aware that the lack of friends is tied to the homebody tendencies described above, which is fine for now. I miss having close friends, but I simply don't feel ready to put in the energy to meet a bunch of new people. I'm sure that will come, though. I remember having lived in Mozambique for 1.5 years and feeling like I had no friends. That sure changed! :)

I suppose it's hard to attribute these changes solely to having lived in Mozambique. In the last five years I also got married, did an overhaul of my professional life, and generally did a whole lot of growing up - all of which have surely influenced my personality and perspective on the world. Still, I feel it's impossible to separate "Life in Mozambique" from any of those other events - they're all so interconnected and definitely influenced by our time in Africa.

Anyhow, I have many more observations about our life in Mozambique now that we've been away for a while. Bit by bit I hope to process through them and share my conclusions here on the blog.

Edited to add:

On a lighter note, I've also stopped reading so much celebrity gossip now that we are living in California. I still enjoy an occasional visit to Perez Hilton, but I'm not checking multiple times a day for updates. I suppose it's a testament to 1) how much I procrastinated in Mozambique, and 2) how much better I am using my time here...although we do watch a whole lot of tv. :)


RD said...

This is very interesting commentary, Ali. I think it's hard for people who have a "big picture" view of the world to take one position on an issue that has so many layers and ramifications--e.g. immigration or the blessings of globalization. I also think that when someone has been wandering for a long time or when life has had upheavals, cocooning is a natural response, a safety mechanism that allows one to become grounded once again. That's been my experience, but for me it's now time to get out and make friends and return to my own identity.

Ali la Loca said...

~RD - I agree. I also think what I'm feeling now has to do with getting older. Not that I'm over the hill or anything, but five years abroad and then a big move feels very different at age 23 than at nearly 30.

Jody said...

Can I just say I am so happy I have your blog!

Ali, you have managed to put in writing exactly what I have been feeling since my own experience in Guyana with the Peace Corps. I did a complete 180 with my career in international development and international education, avoid any controversial topics (I used to love to argue) and can hardly form an opinion anymore because I just don't know (!), have turned completely inward I- spent most of the month of February talking to myself while snowboarding- and I seem to forget nouns in English....

I cannot say that my addiction to has gotten any better.

I have very much enjoyed reading about your experiences and reflections in Moz. and beyond and your new experiences in CA.

Amber said...

" I can't help but wonder how many other things I support in theory I'd view differently if only I were to experience them in person (as opposed to reading about them or hearing others' stories)."--

Amen. Sounds smart to me. ;)

Anonymous said...

I am an African, and your experiences resonate with me. I am trotted out by either side of the political debate, and when they try to bring the "African perspective", I do not deliver. I want business for Africa, but I also recognize that alot of resource business are not good for African economies. I think that the New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman is naive, and dangerously so.

Did I mention that I live in Chicago, as in Milton Friedman University of Chicago, also the soul of the Democratic Party?

Life is not black and white. It is shades of gray, and all other colors.

Welcome to the world. The world composed of imperfect human beings.

Ali la Loca said...

~Jody - It is so nice to hear that I'm not alone in this kind of experience, that we have traveled somewhat of a kindred path. It's funny, I still feel somewhat incapable of writing about the deeper, more complex experiences and thoughts I had while in Moz...definitely still processing through a lot, and it's been over 9 months since we left!

~Amber - Smart for sure, but leaves me very quiet and on the sidelines in a number of conversations. :)

~Anonymous - Amen, amen!! So nice to receive your comment, it really resonated with me.