Doing the District (plus the ‘burbs)

Things I am going to go ham *sammich* on when I get home!

People say that when you travel, you miss the weirdest things – JIF peanut butter, Kleenex travel packs, and seat belts in cars. I have got to concur fully, but I’m privileged to have the vast majority of America’s creature comforts, including working seat belts in my car. Nevertheless, there is always something worth missing about home and I’ve just built up enough homesickness to explode. Without further ado here is the list of things I miss most from home. I bet you can’t guess the order of importance!

I love you written on the sidewalk in chalk --- Image by © Tomas Rodriguez/Corbis

Image by © Tomas Rodriguez/Corbis

Sidewalks – So underrated and so essential to quality of life, sidewalks not only keep people from walking (where? you guessed it) in the middle of the road, but they also reduce my likelihood of striking an innocent person while driving to the supermarket. Phew! I can appreciate that and I can’t wait to take that daily burden off my plate. I also plan to take long walks on top of said side walks and to cross the street using cross walks (or as South Africans say ”zebra crossings”) that lead to new side walks. I have never missed cement so much in my life!

Tap water – I can’t wait to put my whole head under the faucet in my sink and drink without fear of cholera. Oh you hoity toity suburbanites will say, oh but there’s lead and there are pharmaceuticals and unfiltered fecal matter in tap water. Eff you nay sayers! If I could show you the green water that runs near my house and the trash infested sewer system that dumps right into the Maputo bay where fishermen eagerly catch seafood to later serve to unsuspecting tourists… then you’d understand that the grass (and the water) is, in fact, greener on my side of the world.

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Ethiopian food – Culinary variety is something I’d taken for granted until I moved to India and couldn’t find anything for under $50 a plate that was served sans turmeric. Now, I’m in the heart of southern Africa, where food is fresh but deliciously predictable. Mediterranean is supposed to be a variation on Portuguese fare, but it all tastes the same – full of olive oil, garlic, onion and tomato and hot sauce, if you’re feeling adventurous. Eff that! I am going to eat so much injera I burst and anything made without garlic and onions will be the dish for recurring breakfasts and I may overrate restaurants on zomato.com as a result of my palate’s pure enthusiasm for stimulation.

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Thieboudienne – benstew.wordpress.com

Haitian *Poisson frit, black rice, and green plantain* AND Senegalese *thieboudienne* food – Anyone who knows me knows that my post colonial studies have taught me a very important lesson. African people colonized by the French make the best fish dishes on earth. I don’t know why this is the case, but it’s true and I dare anyone to contest this fact with proof on a plate. Let me say that I’m not particularly fond of French food. I find it even more underwhelming than Portuguese food, but you can bet that I’ve never tried a Martinican, Haitian, Malian, Senegalese, Ivorian …I could go on… fish based dish that I didn’t like (i don’t eat other animals so I limit my praise to this narrow sliver of the culinary world). So, I plan to eat these dishes up like cookie monster before childhood obesity campaigns gave him veggies. Caution: I may need a bib.

Bookstores with chairs and a cafe – I go to South Africa and all I can think is… I wish I could sit down right here and read this book over an over priced coffee with soy milk and then put the book back before the store closes. In Mozambique, I think… I wish there was a bookstore with interesting books for leisure reading – a bestseller not by Paulo Coelho or Mia Couto would be nice. This means I order from amazon and sit at my dining room table, wishing I was in B&N at Union Square. I’m going to get hella cozy on the floor when I reach home and the only thing I’m paying for are the extra shots of espresso!

Mom’s Organic Market – They say that every cloud has its silver lining and of my 3 years stuck in DC this (among Bikram yoga, a size 4 waist, being close to my bestie Elyse, and lots of free entry to the VIP section of clubs) tops the list of positives. Mom’s beats Yes! Organic market, though Yes! has some vegan cookies that I can’t find anywhere else. I skip Whole Paycheck, I mean Whole Foods, because the prices and the self-righteous customers make me look bad. Mom’s is like a home away from home and I love discovering new things that won’t poison my body with toxins. Oh, and they give away free samples!

Shitty Day (and Night) Time Television – I am going to O.D. on Mob Wives, every Housewife series on Bravo except NJ, True Detective, Game of Thrones, Jerry Springer, Maury, anything on O! and TLC, House Hunters, Homeland, Basketball Wives, Love & Hip Hop, Empire, Power, season 6-8 of Madmen, and pretty much anything that doesn’t have a Kardashian in it!

62-KeyLimePie_1-menusKey Lime pie at Bubba Gump Shrimp – Graham Cracker crust. Period.

Face time with my Fam & Friends – I am eternally grateful to the makers of Skype, Vonage, facebook, gchat, and cellphones, but there’s nothing quite like a hug. I can’t wait to have my family and friends close enough to see their faces when I piss them off. It’s a really precious thing to know that no matter how close or how far apart we are, we can always be ourselves – face to face. No hiding behind screens or spotty phone lines. I can’t wait to poke my niece’s singular dimple and sleep in my mom’s bed! Priceless!

Ate breve U.S.A!

ladies of this land

imagemozambique is much like other countries in this region – there is rhetoric about strong women behind powerful men, with disparities and conundrums in the fore. women are perhaps the hardest working people in any society but often the least educated and the most vulnerable. in just the last 25 years, advances in mozambican development spouted gender equity in all sectors but the reality lags behind. i wont go into the details that can be found in texts by more learned scholars. stephanie urdang`s `and still they dance` tells most of the tale, and when paired with `s is for samora` by sarah lefanu, it says it all. what ive seen is my own glimpse into a more complex microcosm of the present.

being new here is a gendered experience. my male friends have a tendency to fit right in with a harem of the curious and available. i, on the other hand, have been made to silently compete with shapely women who adeptly tiptoe on cracking sidewalks in 3 inch heels. a little femme competition keeps us all young, but my experience has been made only more confusing by being the newest woman to join a family of territorial and outspoken mozambican women. their sense of conviction in rightness, traditions, unspoken family secrets are all traded as membership currency. in time ive learned to appreciate the fissures and to recognize the `in crowd.`

for the first time in my life i have sisters. i have obligations to people i havent chosen to let into my life. and some of them can relate to my feelings of being an outcast in a group i didnt choose. there are those who marrimageied into the family and their husbands have died, leaving them to deal with these battle axes alone. there are the daughters of men who never married their mothers. they, like me, have various levels of membership in this club and varying levels of interest in membership. nevertheless, we`re altogether and we`re all we`ve got at the moment.  all told, being part of this new sorority has been a learning experience. just taking a step outside of the microcosm and it seems that our internal squabbles pale in comparison to what the average mozambican woman suffers in a less metropolitan, less modern, mozambique.

a ven diagram perhaps seemed to open up this weekend, with our lil microcosm overlapping with the women in a new simageettlement in chibuene. it has no paved roads, no sewage lines (but there is a well), no electricity yet, but many families have bought land to build, in the hopes that in ten years this area will become something more than overgrown sandy forest an hour outside of the capital. as our family went to bless new land, neighbors came to play their role and thats where the following photos brought home the reality of the ladies of this land. not the ones who flounce around frelimo headquarters or in the halls of foreign cultural centers -us members of the squabble clan. here is what we are supposed to look like, when tradition calls for it and when it is convenient for the men in our lives. this is perhaps what has made these strong women so strong since a tender age in girlhood – they work harder, they live harder and they try their best to stand tall, even when sitting on the ground in their fresh capulana cloth. Life is a gendered experience and this is what it looks like when no one is looking.

 

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The life and times… since my last post.

I have to apologize for having been away so long. Let me explain. My computer has been in a state of chronic disrepair and most weekends it decides to revolt whenever I even consider using it for longer than 30 minutes. I think it reads my mind like the kids in Village of the Damned, a horrible film that I watched on crappy cable television one day when my computer didn’t work. Anywho, there’s also this pesky recurring problem of work eating my real life, which makes late night blogging nearly impossible. At this point, my maid spends more hours in my house than I do and it’s sad. Last, I’ve been preparing to come back to the U.S. in full force. This means, I’ve etched out a travel itinerary and started telling friends to prepare for my imminent arrival. And, I’ve been working on my new pet project – clothing design – in full force. The hope is that when I come back to ‘Murica, I can shop it around, get some feedback, and be inspired for new wears. Aside from the former, I can say… all good things… but that’s no excuse not to write.

I had a friend and colleague in town from India for about 2 weeks. As the hubs and I say, “we fell in love in a hopeless place,” and she reminded us of every little detail. More so than anything else, she brought some much-needed familiarity and Indian cultural references back into our lives. So, we took her out to eat king prawns and she taught us how to make chole bhature at home – it took all of 30 minutes to make!  It went a little something like this:

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Shortly thereafter, I considered writing to you all about how awesome our Indo-African meal turned out, but then my computer revolted and I slipped into a food coma.

Over the weekend, I went to the Zouk festival in Maputo where I saw Kassav live and made it a point to dance like a fool to “zouk la se sel medikaman nou ni ,” because I didn’t know any of the other songs. Then I embarked on a series of South African travels, which landed me in Durban during the xenophobic riots (which I didn’t see at all) and Nelspruit just after the Mozambique – South Africa border re-opened. Let’s say, I was freaked out more by the reports than by anything else. I honestly didn’t see anything out of the ordinary in South Africa while I was there. Most of the violence took place in what seem to be townships and the protests against xenophobia seemed to be in the city center. I saw some of the latter, but it seemed peaceful and heavily policed. There certainly were lots of South Africans apologizing for the actions of the few. They kept asking if I was ok and saying things like “we’re not all like this” and “this gives South Africa a bad name.” I can imagine it’s how my fellow Black Americans feel now with the cop killings and the protests & riots thereafter. It’s a combo of ashamed and fed up, and not always at the people the media would make out to be ‘the bad guy.’ The parallels are abundant and the acts equally as senseless.

Back to South Africa – the people in Nelspruit depend on Mozambican clients to make their living, so they were all too happy to accommodate our needs. In fact, they wanted to show us that their town was safe and welcoming, so we could encourage more of our friends and family to return to the South African side (to spend some hard-earned Meticais). My primary need when traveling is food. So, this happened at Zest:

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I eventually came back to Maputo with work pressures at an all time high and nothing but thoughts of vacation on the brain. But, you know, it sucks to always consider that you’re not fully happy where you are. I felt that I’d been running away from Maputo every single weekend just to make it to vacation in the U.S. in July. That’s no way to live. So, when the hubs decided he’d have friends over for a lunch, I went all in. When a Mozambican says they’re inviting people for “lunch,” and those people are under the age of 40 years old, assume that those people will arrive at your house around American supper time. If they happen to arrive earlier, they will likely start drinking beer and liming, but they will not consume food. So, by midnight this is what my house looked like:

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Do  you see that? That’s what fun looks like! There was even a selfie extender stick involved, which spells success as far as I am concerned. Shortly after this picture was taken, I walked my exhausted self up the stairs to my bedroom and went to sleep. Yes, I left these lovely young people in my house to play their drinking games and fill the space with laughter and good cheer. Their vibes, followed by my disappearing act, took some of the edge off of the week ahead.

This very week was filled with plans for seeing my mom and my niece in ‘Murica, as well as the possibility to help out family friends – one who recently divorced and another who recently graduated from college. So many changes, so many opportunities. Oh, and while cleaning out my closet, I found these:

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If you don’t know what these are, you better ask somebody!

No, really, you should, because a simple google search won’t help very much. First, Frank T is a classic spanish rap artist. By classic, I mean horrendous. The title of this album was so bad that we had to buy it for fear that we’d miss out on this train wreck (“Los pajaros no pueden vivir en el agua porque no son peces” – seriously?!). My friend Kelly and I bought it in FNAC when we lived in Spain 15 years ago and every few years we send it back to one another to remind each other of our crazy times. I miss my girl from Oklahoma and as a sign of our never-ending friendship, she will get this crappy cd in the mail once again! Oh and to the left, what’s that? Again, I have no idea, but it was something free that I got at Guerlain 2 years ago when I bought a horribly overpriced lipstick that I’ve only worn once. Anyways, this golden flecked situation is called L’Or and I plan to use it sometime in the next month. I have no place classy to wear it and I don’t know how to use it properly. So, be prepared for a story as I make up my own excuse to wear expensive, probably useless, make-up that I haven’t used in 2 years. It’ll be fun!

Anyways, my work week ended with a networking lunch at Zambi’s that concluded with 3 spoons and this dessert:

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In case you’re wondering that’s raspberry swirl, amarula ice cream, chocolate biscotti and a dark chocolate cake. Yup… pretty much a foodgasm on a plate and you should be jealous.

I ended the week with a sunset at a Maputo mainstay that I had not yet visited: the Naval Club.

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Who knows what the next weeks will bring, aside from the Azgo festival and Bushfire in Swazi? Hope to write more soon and to have new adventures to share!

Cheers to my freakin’ weekend (in fotos)!

I had the craziest weekend in South Africa, so I figured I’d take crappy phone pics and try to retell the happenings…

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Friday afternoon I arrive at my hotel in Jo’burg and they’re shooting a movie next door. You can’t see it but the set is staged to look like a street scene in China.

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Each floor in the hotel imparts some wisdom about a famous South African cultural icon. This floor? Writer, Lionel Abrahams.

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Ground floor? The novelist, Phaswane Mpe, who died at the tender age of 34.

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I try to check out an artsy bookstore near my hotel. It says it is open til 4pm. I get there are 3:15. No, it is (not). But it looks cool from the outside.

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I settle in for a bunnychow at R. Janas. Good decision: http://www.braamfontein.org.za/directory/view/r-janas

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I think maybe I should just stay in and sleep early. I turn on the TV and the artist formerly known as Prince beckons me out.

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FB soon reveals to my surprise that my girl Emme from NYC is in Jozi. We link for drinks, but it quickly turns into a 5am night between the Bannister & the Kitchener in Braamfontein.

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We gnom McDonalds and have the night guard get us wine. I crash at 6am…. trying to act my age, not my shoe size is starting to hurt.

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I wake up… over hung… at 8am for a 9am seminar.

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I invest in a big ass cup of coffee from Motherland Coffee.

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This campus has thought of everything. I feel like I benefited from the caution of drivers… b/c I couldn’t see anything straight. Hangovers hurt.

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As the day progresses, I sober up. My hair stops smelling like an ash tray and I get to enjoy JG Strijdom Tower from afar.

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The seminar ends and I go design store shopping.

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I take in the town before night falls.

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I end up in Melville’s hotspot Lucky Bean for an extended dinner with Jozi based friends and Emme.

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Sunday morning I decide to try to catch the Gautrain to the airport, so I can spare myself the cab fare. But the connections are too far apart and I end up in a cab anyway in a mad dash to NOT miss my flight.         

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I manage to make it to O.R. Tambo airport exactly one hour before my flight only to find that it has been delayed by 30 minutes. I have breakfast at an airport pub and it feels good.

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One whole hour later, I land. My bags arrive safely and I’m excited to see Durbz again.

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Hotel check in and my weekend is officially over.

Travel is the giving tree!

Outside of my hometown, I consider myself to have “lived” in very few cities. Soon to join New York City, New Delhi, and Zaragoza is Maputo, Mozambique, which makes for four continents over the course of 15 years!  Unlike Raven Simone, I actually know the difference between a country and a continent, so I’d say that’s kinda a big deal. I’m quickly coming upon my one year anniversary in this southern African town and it’s got me reminiscing on the biggest lessons I’ve learned since embarking on a life of travel and subdued mayhem. People often ask me for tips and tools for life lived abroad. Usually I’m stumped by the combo of negatives and positives, much like the “Giving Tree,” but for this occasion I’m going to share the top ten lessons I’ve learned from living on the road…

ID card from the Apartheid Museum, Johannesburg

 10- Race is a figment of many people’s imaginations, but it’s real.  – I’ve been stared at like I have 3 heads in India. I’ve been called “Negrita” in a loving way, really. I can speak 4 languages, but I still have very few close friends that are of a different race. There is no such thing as post-racial. No matter where you go, people codify color in ways that will make your head spin. One isn’t worse or better, it’s just the stories people tell themselves to understand where they fit in a social order that you may not yet understand. You can’t wig out every time someone does something “racist”  or else you will be the subject of multiple international incidents. I’ve learned that understanding people’s thinking isn’t the same as accepting it. Understanding is something you can achieve with time & travel.

 

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Li Kitchen Dim Sum, Johannesburg

9-  Life is better lived when you can eat everything you’re offered. – Just friday, I was browsing the menu of a hot spot in Maputo and noticed ‘hamburger de espada.’ I asked what ‘espada’ was and I was told it was a fish. “You know, it’s mainly for the vegetarians,” the waitress said with a straight face. As a person who has traveled the world with food restrictions, I can tell you that I feel like I’ve been restricted from taking full advantage of the cultural connection food offers. I’ve been handed chicken and told “but it’s not meat.” When I turn down the dish, then I feel bad and undoubtedly I’ve just offended my host. It sucks. If you can eat everything that comes your way, you’ll be the better for it.

 

Ingozi, Durban (2015)

Ingozi, Durban (2015)

8-  Being bilingual is a gift. Being multilingual is best kept a secret. – I learned my first second language when I was 15 and I always used my powers for good. I always helped the Spanish speakers who looked stranded on the subway tracks staring at the English map. But then once Portuguese and Hindi started to muck up my brain waves, I’ve become very strategic about when to reveal my tongues. Seriously, it just makes me head hurt to switch between languages, and I’m always second guessing if I said the right thing in the right language. It stopped being cool the time I went to the nail salon and could actually understand all the languages being spoken by the workers – and they weren’t saying anything worth listening to. And just last week Thursday I went to a Zumba class and knew the words to all the songs. It was pretty cool at first, then I started to trip over my own feet while trying to translate “Chori chori..hum gori se pyar karenge.” Seriously, I almost long for the days when it was ok to just listen to people talk and not know what their words mean.

 

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“Hood spot” Newark, NJ

7- Money doesn’t make the world go ’round, but you’ll never make it around the world with no money. I’ve never said that I travel on a shoestring budget. Rather, I’d say that my travel style is modest – I like guest houses and family owned B&Bs. I think my approach comes from the reality that I don’t have the luxury of treating travel as a luxury. It’s a part of my life – much like brushing my teeth twice a day and checking emails, it’s so integrated that it’s hard to consider life without it. That said, many people blame their inability to travel on money and that’s just a thinly veiled lie. Travel is not about how much money you have. It is instead about how you choose to spend it. Some people will blow all their cash on souvenirs to show others that they’ve been traveling. Some people will eat through $300 on an exotic meal and great wine. Some people will not go anywhere because they value spending their money on things rather than experiences. Either way, money isn’t what matters in life, but travel is about finding a way to be comfortable in uncomfortable settings. That doesn’t come for free. It really does hinge on a cash flow that suits your travel needs and the currency of friendship, which can help you save your tour guide money and explore the joys of couchsurfing.

 

Siren, Swazi. 2014

Siren, Swazi. 2014

6- Art is life. No one remembers a city because it looked intelligent. You remember cities when they strike you visually. Barcelona and Chicago have a special place in my heart for their artsy architecture. Bangkok’s street graffiti juxtaposed with traditional Thai residential neighborhoods left an impression on me. I fell in love with every street corner in New Orleans’ Marigny and French Quarter neighborhoods, because of how delicately history and art were interwoven. Art tells all – the cultural struggles that exist or don’t. Even the absence of art can leave an outsider with very strong impressions about how little a people value or can access this mode of communication and expression. Beyond the galleries and sculptures, a city’s art scene (or lack there of) says a lot about what is important to the city’s inhabitants.

 

Tibet 50, Dharmsala, India 2013

Tibet 50, Dharmsala, India 2013

5- You always have it better than someone else, you just may not yet have met that someone. Many cities I’ve visited have had their flashy sides of town and their gritty underbellies. Usually people in both sides have a rivalry based in their lack of mutual understanding, nevertheless this tension can really be palpable to a traveler. What comes with more time and travel to different places is this sense that the rivalries in that one small place are just distractions from bigger issues. In Dubai, I was disgusted by the labor camps and the practices to help build this town of glitz in the middle of an inhospitable desert.  But then I thought, well having seen some slums in Delhi, I can imagine why someone would choose to be the lowest in the Dubai hierarchy, rather than somewhere in the murky middle in Delhi. Even when it seems like life in a particular place is unfair and unjust, there is always another place where people have it far worse. Sometimes it’s best to focus on the positive affirmation of what’s going well where you are in that moment, rather than focusing on the negative rivalries that seem more present and palpable.

 

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Shimla

4- It’s best not to compare traumas. Piggybacking off #5, I can’t tell you much I value people who can understand history and not compare traumas. People have asked me if I think slavery was worse than the holocaust. I’ve been asked in Portuguese colonization was worse in Cape Verde or Mozambique. I actually dropped my Spanish history class in 1999, because my instructor said in class that “Spanish colonialism was better than all other kinds of colonialism, because at least the colonizers mixed with the locals.”  Whatever makes people sleep better at night is their own business, but I would caution against statements like these that pit one place/time period’s inhumane treatment against another atrocity of a different hue. Can we just all agree that none of us really know (and we should quit before someone ends up saying something hella racist)?

 

Miudos, Maputo, 2014

Miudos, Maputo, 2014

3- Friendships come (and go), but they ARE the journey. Much like seasons, friendships have their moment. Good ones are cyclical and they are consistent despite the changes. Others, not so much. Each is important in its moment, no matter whether the lesson is learned from a negative or positive experience. I’ve traveled around the world, often staying with people who I knew, but didn’t really know very well until I shared a night under the same roof with them. Some connections were brief. Others dwindled, but I do feel that the friends I’ve met and made in many towns all over the world were really the reason why I have certain travel memories in the first place. I’ve been to carnival in Bahia and I can’t separate that from having met Urania. My first trip to Jamaica was spent at Teelie and Leslie’s place in Gordon Town. Were it not for them, I suppose maybe I wouldn’t have grown this lust for travel and the assurance that no matter where I am I’ll make the friends I need to make in order to enjoy that space to the fullest.

 

IMG-20131026-000162- Social media is the best thing that’s happened to me since birth. I got my first cell phone while living in Spain. I was 15 and it was a necessity. Our school had a computer room with 2 computers with internet and 50 students had to take turns sending emails and chatting with friends between classes. I remember thinking then that one day we wouldn’t have to ration our time spent staying connected. So, long gone are the days before Skype and Twitter and Instagram. Perhaps, now, there is the opposite challenge – it’s harder to unplug while traveling these days. I doubt I could have stayed as far away for as long as I have if I didn’t have the modes of modern communication to feel that I’m not as far away as it might seem on a map. 

 

dc aids walk31- Being a critical thinker is priceless. Being judgmental is useless.  From the likes of #4, #5 and #10, I hope you can tell that I learned to form my own opinions from a variety of experiences. Being an analytical thinker is the only way you can travel, absorb, and benefit from the experience. However, India in particular taught me that it is okay to strive to respect behaviors and practices you don’t fully understand and, even from what you do understand, you don’t like.  Being overly judgmental runs the risk of having others be offended and shut you out, then you’ll never even have the opportunity to be exposed enough to learn more.  Respecting isn’t the same as accepting, it’s being tolerant. I’ve learned that I don’t always have to have an opinion about something or someone, sometimes the curiosity to continue to explore is good enough – especially in a foreign setting. I’ve become a big advocate for learning and respecting, with no strings attached.