M. is my closest friend here in the Bay Area, despite the fact that we haven't really spent a lot of time together since we were 16 (I moved to Brazil to do a student exchange that year, and we subsequently lost touch for nearly a decade). Ironically, life brought both of us to California. She and her husband fled Hurricane Katrina and resettled here. Rico and I, as you know, moved here just over a year ago for his work, to be near my mom, and so I could go to school at CCA.
M. lives over an hour away, but we manage to see each other once every couple of months. I deeply miss having girlfriends nearby, and am reminded of how wonderful that kindred connection can be every time I see M.
Today she asked if I miss living in Mozambique. The answer is yes and no.
Yes a thousand times over to missing our friends, our social life, our global nomad community. The quick bonds formed with people from faraway lands, the dinner parties, the comfort in knowing that you are sharing a common experience. I miss the road trips, the Sunday lunches by the Indian Ocean, the animated discussions about how - and if - development work can really make an impact, about why projects fail, about why we were all there in the first place. Many an existential crisis was sorted out over gin-and-tonics and king prawns.
I have never felt so at home with a group of people in my life. I miss that immensely, the feeling of belonging, of understanding and feeling understood.
I miss many other things, too. The view of the Vila Algarve from our balcony, the tiles crumbling a bit more with each passing day. The streets lined with flowering trees, and the way I started tracking the seasons by what was in bloom: jacarandas, red acacias, yellow acacias. I miss catching bursts of the animated chats had by our building guards, full of whoops and hollers and shrill shrieks of excitement to punctuate the stories being told. I miss Dona Lidia's laugh. Zeca's warmth and reliability. The humility, kindness and hospitality shown by so many Mozambicans. The rich local culture. The mini global melting pot that is Maputo, and increasingly the rest of the country. I miss the pool at Hotel Terminus, site of many a sun-drenched, lazy afternoon, tanning and eating sandes de galinha maionese. I miss the piri-piri, obviously. I could make it at home in the blender, but somehow it's not the same as out of a small communal container on a wobbly restaurant table. I miss the sunrise at 4:30 in the morning in the summer. The nights spent dancing or listening to live music. The markets. I miss bumping into friends nearly everywhere we went. I miss Mozambique because it holds such a special spot in my heart as the place where Rico and I met each other again, fell in love, and started our life together as husband and wife.
Despite all of these wonderful things, there are many I don't miss: the in-your-face poverty, the inefficiency and inescapable bureaucracy, the lack of customer service, witnessing the abuse and exploitation of maids/waiters/workers and realizing that for many well-off Mozambicans that kind of treatment is acceptable, the exploitation of locals by foreigners and foreign companies, the sensation that you were always getting somewhat ripped off because you were white or a foreigner, the often false or tense relationships with the Mozambicans, the finely-tuned hate of "the stare" - an empty-eyed look accompanied by silence that became par for the course in many interactions...the frustration that the Moz experience wasn't what I'd expected - that in many aspects I'd become the typical expat I so swore I'd never be, the sad realization that I, too, looked at people in "local" vs. "expat" categories, that I was overflowing with cynicism, that I continued to do a job I didn't believe in for way too long - one of the motivations being a fat paycheck (the same fat paycheck to international consultants that was so often the topic of our rants on what was wrong with the development sector), the hypocrisy - my own and that of others...the ever-present shadow of depression...the corruption of government officials and others in positions of power, the fleets of white Mercedes and the massive mansions, the decision to give bribes to police or otherwise grease the wheels of the system - and wondering exactly how fast that particular slope would get too slippery to be controllable...the inability to ever be anonymous or feel truly comfortable living in the country.
Some days I am all the way on the "dying of saudades" end of the spectrum; other days I still feel very cynical and am glad that we left when we did. It is all very gray, even as the passing of time affords me a wiser, more objective perspective through which to view our experiences in Mozambique.