K. is in Honiara (Solomon Islands), Z. is in Melbourne, H. is in Bogotá, J. is in London and I am here in California. There is only one special time that will work for all of us, and we manage to make it happen about once a quarter. We're incredibly scattered about the world and I haven't seen any of my girls in nearly 2.5 years, but we have one of those magic friendships where we gossip and philosophize and plan our lives as if we were simply having our weekend catch-up, poolside at Hotel Cardoso or possibly Clube Naval with a gin and tonic in hand.
(On a related note, check out this snarky gem of expat writing if you haven't already.)
In my last chat with the girls, the topic turned to whether or not we miss Mozambique. The answer, it seems, is totally dependent on where we all ended up post-Maputo. I have a similar perspective to Z. in that we are both very content with our new homes, our new occupations, our new lives. We are both putting down some solid roots in cosmopolitan cities with good weather, in which we have family and where our partners are content. Neither of us really misses Mozambique, in the sense that it was good while it lasted but we are glad to have moved on. Of course we feel moments of nostalgia and saudades. But in general we wouldn't want to go back, perhaps not even for a visit.
K., on the other hand, really misses Mozambique. Nothing like the perspective of living on a small, quiet island in the middle of the South Pacific to make Maputo seem like the most fun, fantastic, fast-paced and flavorful city ever invented for expats. K. and her husband miss the restaurants, the international crowd, the easy access to nearly everything, the endless opportunities for weekend trips, the (relatively) good connections to major cities on other continents, the solid group of friends... I'm not sure if they could go back if they had a chance, but Maputo understandably has become a grass-is-greener sort of place for them.
H. also misses Moz quite a bit and has already traveled back once to spend the holidays. She still has very close friends there, the kind that will likely never move away, so it's like a homecoming of sorts in that she is greeted with familiar faces and can easily slip back into the life she'd established there. Or so I imagine.
J. is somewhere in the middle I suppose, enjoying her life back in the UK and the excitement of a post-grad-school job search, but also ever-open to the possibility of traveling again. I'd guess that given the chance she'd travel back to Mozambique, but that it's perhaps not at the top of her priority destination list.
What's strange for me is that Mozambique had such a huge impact on me and yet I don't think I'd return if given the chance. I prefer it as a memory, preserved in time, protected from the inevitable disappointment and depression that I would feel if we ever went back. I don't really know how to explain this, especially because there *are* still people there I'd love to see again. Zeca and his family, for sure. The handful of friends in Maputo who call the city their permanent home. Hugh Marlboro. The guys from the local crafts council. Dona Lídia.
I suppose it's like returning to your hometown after many, many years away (Maputo isn't my hometown but it's the place where I spent the most time of my adult life - nearly five years). Everything has changed, and that is depressing. Nothing has changed, and that is depressing, too. People have left, and that makes you long for the good old days when you all used to hang out. People have stayed, and that makes you sad, too.
More than anything, a trip back to Mozambique would make me recall in vivid color the person I was back then. Not that I was a bad person or anything, but I was a *different* person. More immature. More insecure. More arrogant. More idealistic. Still figuring out an awful lot about who I am... There were good times - amazing times, for sure! - but I have a general bittersweet taste when I think back about the Moz years.
Rico and I often reminisce about how unhappy I was there. I know I cried often, that I had stress-induced allergy attacks every week, that I grew to hate the "development" work that had at one point been so inspiring, that I became so cynical I'd force myself to keep my mouth shut when meeting new people because I didn't want to come off as a total asshole and tell them their water sanitation project was doomed to fail.
I remember these things but they often seem like false recollections, like I'm telling the story of how someone else felt, not how I felt. It was bad but I don't remember the details. It was good, but I also don't remember a lot of the details.
For me, our time in Mozambique was characterized by an awful lot of gray areas. Swinging emotions. Sick feelings about what it means to be white and/or foreign and/or rich in a country where so many are born into situations of need. Questions about "development" and what motivates us to "help" others. Questions about who my local friends were and who their families were, realizing that all of that corruption and willingness to turn a blind eye comes from somewhere...Exciting, fun times in the midst of all that gray. Meeting incredible, smart, genuinely kind people from Mozambique and all the corners of the globe. Feeling humble. Feeling like a know-it-all. Living the jet-setting life. Longing for home.
I guess it's only fitting that my feelings post-Moz continue equally gray.