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The New Do

My tutor, Hamida, came over to my house for a language lesson this evening. Lesson usually means we sit and chat for a while, then maybe read a few pages out of a portuguese book or my text book, then go back to talking till an hour or two has passed. Our discussions are rather desultory. We share basic information about our families, friends, favorite food, and our homes, but I am always delighted when we get to meaty topics like African witches, how to get rid of rats, what malaria feels like, the importance of quality hand-calluses, etc. Our conversations consists of a lot of me saying something in broken portuguese/spanish/english – then Hamida corrects me, I repeat the phrase 2 or 3 times, then we move on until the next solecism is committed.

Tonight’s lesson was especially funny, since Hamida arrived and immediately announced that she wanted to braid my hair. “Really? Okay!” but 20 minutes into the styling, the power went out, so Hamida continued to work away for the next hour and a half in the dark while wearing my head-lamp.

 I’ll let you just enjoy the photo of my new corn-rows. I resemble a bona fide Caribbean tourist. Perhaps a bit stupid looking, but I plan to rock them for at least a few days. I don’t really have any one to impress here, and it’ll certainly make Hamida happy.  So please, have a giggle at my expense.

 

 

 

UPDATE :

Sadly, the braids came out after just 3 days – the humidity didn’t keep them looking very classy.  However I did get to have a crimped coiffure for another day. Having naturally very strait hair, it was rather exciting to have a bit of fluff and texture but more so I looked like a flash from the 80s past. 

 

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Sorta Kinda Bush Trip

I was all excited because I was to take a few days off of work and go on a bush trip this week. The plan was for me, Andreas and Uli to make four day driving/camping trip into the very rural Mozambican back country all the way through a national park and to the border with South Africa and Zimbabwe.  I felt like I was getting to partake in a rugged boys expedition. My friend Elizabeth said my plans sounded like a scene from The English Patient;  visions of story telling and quoting Herodotus around a campfire.

However, the trip didn’t really work out quite as planned. The first attempt to go was canceled several weeks ago because Uli’s mother passed away back in Germany.  So understandably the trip was postponed. Upon his return, the excursion was rescheduled and we reorganized our provisions and loaded up the car.  

3 1/2 hours outside of Vilankulo, literally as we were passing into no cell-reception zone, Andreas received a text that his son Caspar had a fever.  We stopped for an hour, waiting to hear the results from the Malaria test. It turned out to be negative, but we still decided that we should go back just in case.

We did made one stop before we headed home at a beautiful spot called Banamana.  Drive 35 km northwest of Mabote along a single lane dirt road with tall bushes on either side, then all of the sudden the bush just stops and you’re looking out on an expansive grassland and small marshy pond.

The sky was huge and the clouds were massive and menacing.  The grass was this electric shade of green, and the rarely traversed dirt road bright rusty orange. All that was missing were the herds of zebra and a few elephants.  It was truly beautiful.

Once we got home Caspar’s fever had already subsided and he was feeling fine. A bit frustrating, but I can imagine that it could have been quite stressful for Helga if Caspar had been really sick and we were all out of contact for 4 days.   Anyway, the next day the car was still packed and I had already requested Monday off of work, so Uli and I went out to see some property he’s trying to buy.

The ride was lovely and the site is gorgeous.  It’s a hill top that looks over a flood plain and the Save River. You can see miles up the sandy banks and even a small pod of hippos. We could watch as the clouds and sheets of rain made their way down the valley to the hillside.  There’s no development way out there and only a handful of people. Just a few mud huts in the valley with little paths treaded through small corn plots, bush and grass. 

For entertainment we experienced a series of automotive breakdowns. First,   the car got stuck in a mud hole – with the help of a random man who rode past us on a bike and returned soon thereafter with a shovel, it took about an hour to get free from the sludge.  Then back at the camp site, I noticed a quiet hissing noise coming from the car; flat tire.  The next day when we decided to do some exploratory back road driving – Uli accidently drove over a cement corner stone that was hiding in the grass. We drug the block along with us a few yards, then had to dig it out from under the car. This of course, had pushed one part or another of the undercarriage together. SO, after finally resolving that last issue, we decided that it was time to head back without tempting the African car gods anymore. 

So, I didn’t get to go on our four day bush excursion, but I did get to camp one night and learned a lot about how to jack up a car and position planks behind muddy tires. 

That was how I spent my Saturday, Sunday and Monday.  No Herodotus or campfire jokes, but pleasant conversation. The most interesting revelation of this whole trip however, was that Uli told me that he thought I was 32 until rather recently. Which I guess could be taken as a compliment to my maturity, but really it makes me think that I need to boost my SPF regimen from 70 to 100.

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The Seedier Side of Life

My oh so lovely friend Maggie sent me an email the other day, telling me about a friend’s experience of traveling through Mozambique in the 80s or 90s. His tale included several riveting stories about hobnobbing at secret parties in Maputo with Soviet ambassadors and the KGB.  Glory and great stories are garnered from risky travel, but I have realized there are some adventures that I don’t seek out.

I have yet to encounter myself surrounded by any KGB thugs, and for all the past Soviet presence in Mozambique, I must say I have yet to meet a Russian here or even see any lingering indication that they once had their finger in the pot at all. Perhaps the only real Soviet marker that I have noticed is an occasional massive construction truck that looks like it came blasting out of Mad Max 50 years ago.

I am not living in a bubble and there are certainly some risks that are taken here. I have walked around Maputo alone and hitched rides to work and around town with strangers, but I’ll be the first to admit that I hardly flirt with real danger. 

I imagine that there is this underbelly to Mozambique that I have yet to scratch. As intrigued I am by the prospect, I’ve never really been one who was good at finding a culture’s real gritty, interesting backstreets.  The ability to travel more securely and discreetly in third world countries is often reserved for men. As a tall, white, freckled, red head I hardly blend in with the locals (say, unless I happen to be in Scotland). Freud would hardly be able to control himself while I say this, but when I think about this aspect of travel and society that I am cut off from, I do admit a slight tinge of penis-envy.


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Mulungu.

My life includes all these funny habits and my routine is strangely more consistent than I had expected to have here. Even on the other side of the hemisphere, in a Mozambican beach town, office work seems to dictate most of my day.  I sit here at my desk, in a little office shared with 3 to 5 people. The room is messy with too many tables, no trash can, piles and stacks of baskets, broken drawers, crossing wires and plugs, holes in the cement, a crooked portrait hung on the wall, and paper that flutters around whenever the wind decides to blow. This is my office, and I’ve claimed the desk that faces the door – I can watch and wave to anyone who comes by.

I do take an occasional trip to the field. Last week I stayed in Mabote for 4 days. It’s a small town about three hours inland from Vilankulo. We work with several rural weaving groups in the region and were there to lead training lessons and observe our Extensionists. The town is really small, not quite a village but certainly not a metropolis. In fact it looks a bit like a cement and African interpretation of an old western frontier town. There are no white people that live in Mabote- at least none that I actually saw. My presence was not shocking, but it certainly aroused lots of attention and many random shouts of “Mulungu, Mulungu!” or “white person, white person!”  This blunt acknowledgement of my skin color is nothing new. In fact, I get it all the time from almost every child while I walk to and from work in Vilankulo. But In Mabote it was not just kids, even an occasional 60 year old man would come out running from his hut to have a good look at my odd red hair and freckles.

Anyway, on my last day there I was wondering around the small market, tucked behind a cantina-esque building, perusing the second hand clothing and trying to find fashionable gems amongst the piles of polyester and worn cotton t-shirts. By the time I started walking back to the small guest house where the other CARE staff were waiting, I had a variable crowd of 10 people, giggling and talking in hushed voices, following in my wake.  There is certainly a quality of novelty and flattery to be given such attention, but it’s also a keen reminder that I am an outsider.

In all honesty I kind of anticipated that my experience in Mozambique would be more like this one in Mabote; a random, rural village where I would be the obvious foreigner, but with time and a big smile, I would find my way into the hearts and daily lives of my community.

In Vilankulo I get a mixed bag – I still get called Mulungu when i walk down the street, but because there is a relatively large expat community of white Africaners, Zimbabweans and tourist passing through I am not the only Mulungu walking around town. This certainly has it’s pros and cons. My life here is a bit of a combination of some western convinces and many African quirks. It has it’s challenges and frustrations, but really I feel like I’m learning quite a lot – especially about myself.

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the long & winding road

3 hours in the back of a truck, speeding over a muddy, rugged, dirt road, while constantly swerving around pot holes… and a tendency to get car sick.

I have NEVER been so relieved to get a flat tire.


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A Heavy Load

Today I saw woman walking down the road carrying a cumbersome, heavy looking package on her shoulder, a live squawking hen in one hand, and a breast feeding baby slung on her chest. All executed with humble strength and grace. 

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100 days. 100 nights.

As of Saturday I will have been in Mozambique for 100 days. 100 DAYS! That’s more than twice the amount of time that Noah had to theoretically cruise around in his ark with thousands upon thousands of romantic animal couples.

And while a quarter of the year sounds like plenty of time to accomplish and see many new things, somehow it feels like I just got here. At this point, a gesture of reflection seems necessary to evaluate the successes and shortcomings of this experience so far. What better way to organize my thoughts than the ever faithful exercise of list-making.

This might be a bit longwinded, so I’ll only offer my Top 3 Shortcomings, Successes and Goals:

Shortcomings:

  1. My Portuguese is still shamefully limited. While I can understand (and even translate) the basics pretty well, I still stumble on my words and can hardly carrying on a graceful conversation.
  2. One of the things I was most excited about before I arrived, was having a real community of local friends. I have befriended several great expats, peace corps volunteers and fellow VSO colleagues – however making friends with actual Mozambicans has been a struggle. It was not this way when I was in Ghana or South Africa, but the combination of the language barrier  along with the social climate of my touristy town (and admittedly, a lack of energy on my part) have proven challenging.
  3. Building a legitimately strong relationship with the artisans I am working with. I have gone out to the field to observe training, take photos, and ask questions, but I would really love to be able to know many of the women by name, be able to communicate more comprehensively and even have hands on training with their weaving technique.

Successes:

  1. My friendship with the Pehams. Helga, Andreas, Flora and Caspar have been so generous and kind. I do yoga twice a week with Helga, Andreas is my boss (at least for a few more weeks), and I spend pretty much all my weekends hanging out with the kids. They have included me in weekend trips to the local dunes, hotel pools, parties and many a meal. Their company and conversation has filled many days and evenings that would have otherwise been quiet and lonesome.
  2. Feeling at home in my cabana and housing compound with Europeans, Africans and Americans living in a beautiful and supportive community. How lucky I am to be living in my charming cabana. I wake up looking across the Mozambican channel and sleep with my windows wide open to the sea breeze.
  3. Still feeling inspired about the real potential my project with CARE. There is a lot to do, and often I feel overwhelmed with how to approach the sector, but I am not jaded about the prospect of getting it up and running more smoothly and productively. Many people say that the first year of a two year contract is often spent getting your bearings and then the second year is when you actually feel like you are getting things done. Therefore, this year I really am trying to focus on getting to know the established project and weaving communities better; being patient and observant, yet also trying to push things forward and streamline the training, design, marketing and business plans as I go. Phew…. Overwhelmed but not hopeless.

Goals:

  1. Friends – Okay. So making local friends is hard, but I am not without options. My tutor, Hamida, is great. I will make a more concerted effort to participate in her activities and include her in my own. I’m sure that she will offer new experiences and perspectives as I go. Also, every single expat that I have met has a story to tell, especially about how they ended up in Vilankulo; Margie, Uli, Michaela, Nathalie, Rex & Mica. I will have to nudge my way into their lives, little by little, until I am a instinctually included.
  2. I am living in Africa!!! While I work 5 days a week from 8 to 5 and make very little money (approximately 9 dollars a day) I will not use this as an excuse for not exploring the country and surrounding area.  Really, what’s the point of coming all this way and not traveling? Top of my list is Zimbabwe. I haven’t been to Zim since I traveled there with my family as a child, so I’m very curious to see it as an adult and bear witness to what Mugabe has done. I am saving most of my time and money for when guests visit, but my list of activities is growing.
  3. OWN IT. I guess this really is an all encompassing point. Basically, it means make the most of this time. It’s limited and two years will fly by. If I have a chance to practice a new language, I will swallow my inhibitions and attempt to communicate in broken Portuguese. If someone invites me to a party, well heck, I’ll come and participate. If the sun is shining and I’m bored – I’ll go swimming. If someone offers to teach me archery (funny story for later) then yeah, I’m gonna embrace my Amazon-woman instincts and shoot a bow and arrow. When work is frustrating, I’ll take a deep breath and try to find a solution.

My list of things I miss most from home is actually rather short. I’m sorry I am missing Marta’s pregnancy, Sam and Heidi’s homecoming, Merritt, Christmas and New Years Eve parties, and my overalls. But I am not wanting for much other than a real hug and familiar company. I am confident that these things will come to me, with patience and perhaps a few incentives. 

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Not At My Prime

What a sad sight it must be to look at me these days. A mildly pathetic attempt at maintaining some vanity here has gone to the wayside, and this week I am rather a mess to see. 

My lip is busted. 5 year old Flora had a little tumble while she was performing a harmonica song and dance and her head collided with my bottom lip. It wasn’t so bad when it happened, but when I woke up the next day, my lip was huge. Now two days later, it looks like I have a massive fever blister.  Mozambicans and local South Africans tend to be rather blunt in their observations. I have gotten several “Oh, is that herpes?” comments already.

 

I spent 2 days snorkeling out at the local reefs last week. I had been so careful about wearing a shirt and reapplying SPF, but then I hopped back into the water for one last swim before I headed home – and alas – the sun is strong here and I am pale. Well, not anymore. I got a pretty bad sun burn on my back and it’s peeling now. Rather gross. However, I like to think of it as a constant reminder of the good times had out on the open waters.

 

And here is the kicker. In this grand adventure of living in Africa and making a life here, there are certain elements that I like to refer to as apart of “The Experiment”.


 “The Experiment” does not represent the cumulative parts of my experience, but more so the random examination of odd things that occur in my life.  Currently, one of the key parts of this sector is that I have not shaved my legs since I arrived (3 months to the day). I go back and forth about whether I feel like this is a big deal. Really, it’s not. I know that. Many people don’t shave, and that’s cool. But it does kinda weird me out if I look at my legs for very long. It is useful in repelling mosquitos (really) but mostly, I like to think of this new fur as apart of a more granola lifestyle I have embraced.

From head to toe, I am not exactly the most presentable creature. But my lip will heal, I have aloe for my back, and fear not – if anyone would like to visit and stay in my bed, I would even consider shaving on their behalf.

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Xmas & New Years

Christmas Eve was really lovely and festive with the Pehams. They decorated two palm leaves and sang german carols, then we exchanged homemade gifts. Under the soft blinking glow of a single strand of orange/red/blue/green twinkle lights, it actually felt like a real holiday.

And yet, here is what I will probably remember most clearly about the my first Christmas spent away from my family:

***

For New Years we went to Casa Guci (a small local lodge) for a turkey dinner and watched distant fireworks on the beach. Fellow VSO volunteer Eep came down from Beira (the second largest city in Mozambique), so he tagged along for the evening.  There was no countdown or 12 o’clock kiss, but it seemed an appropriately calm and scenic transition into the next decade.

 

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Big News in the Vilankulo Community

Helga received a 5 AM text from a fellow ex-pat announcing that “Lichis have arrived!” So by 8:30 Helga and I had made a quick dash to the grocery store to get ourselves a boxful of the tasty little fruit.

Like much of the food here, the lichis were imported from South Africa. But what a pleasure it was to indulge. 

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