5 things people never told me about Maputo…

Teardrop, Matola, Mozambique (2014)When people talk about Mozambique, they often say positive things like “The people are really friendly,” and “The seafood is really great.” Both are true, but they only take you so far. When you stick around for longer than a holiday weekend, reality starts to set in and this ole’ girl called Maputo starts to show her crow’s feet. She’s not an impressive city in comparison to neighboring Joburg, but she has charm and class. And the people are friendly, but with a healthy dose of sass and wit. Let’s just say that there are a lot of things I had to discover on my own. Here are the top 5 things that nobody ever told me about Maputo:

10402678_10101267023870802_5432848354976959553_n5- The seafood is good, but it gets boring. Most Mozambican meals boast 4 main ingredients: oil, onion, tomato and salt. Put it on meat. Put it on fish. Marinate it all day. It’s going to taste like a slight variation on the same thing every time. And most of the vegetable sides are potato, chima, and/or salad with white lettuce. I love the flavors (even when they are doused in MSG powder), but after having such culinary variety in the U.S. and India my tongue is bored.

4- Mozambican women are BAD! So…I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say this and not get my “heterosexual card” pulled, but really these women are effortlessly pretty. They are all well proportioned. Most work out actively. They have kids and still look good in bathing suits. They actually have lovely skin and awesome cheekbones. And, well, it’s all-natural (ish). People don’t believe in the botox or the injections, though they do have an affinity for new weaves/wigs every weekend. But what’s a little fake hair when your butt is real? Fair trade.

3- Nobody actually gets in the water. The drive along the Marginal every day really reminds why the hell I put myself through the torture of 9 hour workdays. But, nobody tells you that you can’t actually get in the water. It’s just decoration. It contains lots of gross matter that no one should have on their bodies, because it only recently came out of someone else’s body. The Indian Ocean looks so tempting you just might be tricked into wanting to dip a toe in on a romantic stroll on a hot summer’s day, but that would be a fool’s errand. Look, but don’t touch!

2-Maputo is everywhere you want to be. The city is only a three-hour drive to Swaziland and South Africa. Sure the roads are kinda unmarked and poorly lit, but those are no match for people with an adventurous spirit in need of widely spoken English interaction and South African supermarket products. I always thought it was the scarcity of consumer goods that drove people over the border, but it’s more than that. The grass isn’t always greener, but it’s definitely more orderly. And South African magazines like Bona and True Love are my new favorite addiction.

 

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1-Mozambicans are the biggest haters on earth. This is a real photo, from a real wall, on a real street in Maputo. No lie! I have never in my life met people who celebrate with suspicion, instinctively. Tell someone that you graduated from college or that you got a new job! It is not met with unfettered happiness and congratulations. It is met with a slow and deliberate questioning of just how you did it. Somebody must have helped you. You could have paid somebody a bribe. The very last thing that will come to people’s minds is that they should be happy for and with you. Actually, it’s as if most people don’t even think ‘positivity’ is an acceptable reaction. I chalk it up to the country’s socialist history, where having more than the next person made you the brunt of suspicion, not the example of accomplishment. The sentiment lingers on well into the present and today I wouldn’t call it socialism. I just call it hate.

Well, you’ll have to come and see for yourself all the good and bad things Maputo has in store, including the exclusive beaches and resorts throughout the rest of the country. There you can get in the water and the women are still drop dead gorgeous. It hasn’t been determined if the hater quotient is still a national phenomenon or a localized epidemic. Be suspicious ya’ll, be very suspicious.

I feel old: 30 is definitely NOT the new 20

I’ll cut straight to the chase here. These days, I’m feeling as old as Methuselah, old as molasses, and as old as dirt. For instance, I originally thought I’d type this on my IPad, but even that feels like a “young” thing to do. So, it’s back to the ole’ laptop for me (which is the 80’s baby version of this New Orleans antique Underwood right cheah). For your reading pleasure, here’s my “Reasons I know I’m old” short list for the sharing…

...How I feel lately on Facebook.

…How I feel lately on Facebook.

5 – All my friends are procreating. I’d have to count on two hands how many people I know are with child, in a family way, or have a pea in the pod at this very moment. None of them are underage or being kicked out of their parents’ houses for bringing in another mouth to feed. You know what that means? It means that we’re getting old, old enough to have children of our own. And everybody knows that the scariest people on earth are children. So, I know I must be getting old when I’m excited for my pregnant friends and not silently mumbling, “Now our clubbing days are over!”

Evolution of Mom Dancing

Evolution of Mom Dancing

4- I have to plan to go clubbing. Gone are the days when I could just start the day at work, end the day sweaty in skimpy clothes, and start the next day 3 hours later with a shower, black coffee, and a change of clothes I left at my desk. I not only don’t have the stamina, but I lack the interest. For me to go clubbing requires advance notice and a nap! My work days are longer.  My skimpy clothes aren’t that skimpy anymore (I can’t bring myself to shop at H&M with the same level of frequency anymore). And drinking black coffee stains my teeth. See, that’s even an old thing to say. Stained teeth… Sigh. Anyways, I need at least 24 hours notice of said clubbing plan, but 48-72 hours is always appreciated. Or else one of two things is likely to happen: 1) I’ll show up at the club wearing my frumpy work clothes OR 2) my pre-club power nap quickly transforms into my full night’s sleep. Speaking of which…

Photo on 4-6-13 at 11.47 PM #23- Sleep is my friend. I’ve always loved sleep, but I’ve never NEEDED sleep quite like I need it now. Sleep is not just a pastime. It is a priority. In college, I could manage to work through the night, nap from 4am to 6am, and make it through the whole day til 6pm. My voice sounded like I’d become a chain smoking, 50 year old man, but I was up and alive! Now, I’m dead. Very, very dead. Even when I have 5 hours of sleep, I look like a chain smoking, 50 year old man. It’s really a shame, but now I’ve got at least 7 hours on my calendar that can’t be interrupted or else there are grave consequences.

2- I don’t have Instagram, because I don’t want people to think I’m young. Yea, I said it. I think it’s ok to NOT have a profile on every social media outlet out there. I say no to drugs and no to Instagram, LinkedIn, Orkut, and Candy Crush. A lady must have limits. You see, I am from that first Facebook generation. I believe in Facebook. I can’t go a day without checking it. I’ve had Skype so long that my account still charges in British Pounds, because when I first got it Skype was still primarily Europe based. But, I didn’t get on Twitter til last year. I have a LinkedIn account that I check once a year and still shows me working at a job I left 5 years ago. Ehh… I’m a choosy (social media) lover … what can I say?

1- I feel old as hell! I go for a run and I feel it in my lower back – for days. If I don’t sleep I feel it – for days. If I don’t eat well I feel it – for days. I mean, really, is there anything I don’t feel these days -for days? My energy level, my pain threshold, my metabolism, and my interest in people have all shifted in the last year. I could attribute it to my constant moving, or changes at work, or… well anything other than being old… but the reality is I feel old. Feeling is being. So, there you have it…

Speechless

Sphinx in ParisI’ve been at a loss for words of my own since I came to Mozambique 8 weeks ago. What started off as a career journey, much like others before it, has turned into a much more enigmatic scene. I’m on an assignment that makes me sometimes wonder why I chose this career – sometimes that’s a good thing and sometimes it’s a bad thing. I’m struggling to make sense of the things around me, but they are not innately problematic. I just don’t understand everything that’s going on. But, I’m not the type to need to know everything, generally speaking. So, there are superficialities I’ve come to tolerate and others that raise questions I don’t have time to find answers to. Another thing I tolerate.

I’ve been in pursuit of stability, but it continues to allude me. It’s taken two months to finalize an application for a PhD program across the border. It’s taken two months to realize that my house is always going to be half complete, because I’m always in the process of packing or unpacking. I considered staying here for three years, rather than two, but many things have made me doubt that I should. I’m struggling to get to know my in-laws and at times I struggle with whether or not I should try. I’m planning a three-part wedding on two continents, all while battling a sea of people that very openly question my relationship. I’m drowning in demands at precisely the time in my life when I had hoped I could coast. And that, my friends, has given me few words to pen.

Instead I’ve called home to a sorority of sisters who have never failed to listen to my tales. While Charlie, Juanita, Leo, Elyse, Alyson and Melissa have suffered through my litany of complaints, I’ve been holding back from you. I blame myself for being too much the Capricorn, seeking perfection where it’s not necessary, making ‘appropriate’ the enemy of ‘happy,’ being demanding to a fault, and having standards for myself that far exceed realistic expectations for one life time. I’ve bored these girls to bits with the agony of things that aren’t perfect, but are absolutely fine for normal people. And I’m tired of my own stories. So, shoot me.

Some people would call this stage burn out. You know the moment right before you give the hell up. I call it being speechless. That said, you may see an awful lot of photos and videos on this blog over the coming weeks. Don’t think I’ve forgotten about you.  I very much haven’t. I’m just trying to be in the moment, be present, be here – in Mozambique – and figure out what exactly that means.  For now, please forgive me while I follow my good friend Miller’s advice to make like this sphinx and “go sit down somewhere.”

Faces and Facets of Mafalala

Miudos, Maputo, 2014Perhaps what Harlem is to New York City or, say, Rocinha is to Rio de Janeiro, Mafalala is to Maputo. The neighborhood predates the colonial era, but was defined by its colonial era evolution. In separating the natives (read: Africans) from the Europeans (read: Portuguese), the town of Lourenco Marques – common day Maputo – had a variety of Jim Crow or apartheid-like racial boundaries. One being that the Africans were not allowed in the center city – near the train station and seaport – without proof of employment in those areas. It goes without saying that Africans most certainly were not allowed to live in that area, but they needed to be close enough to work in these hubs. Bordering neighborhoods like Mafalala were just a stone’s throw from the Portuguese part of town, but a world apart.

While these barriers kept Africans out of the city center, it didn’t do much to keep Whites out of the ‘hood. So, Mafalala (like Chamanculo and other surrounding areas) became home to many mulattos - people of mixed race who often had access to educational and financial resources from their White parentage. Many were conceived in Mafalala between White fathers and African mothers (often ‘working girls’) after nights in the underground marrabenta bars. Mafalala bears its very name from the Portuguese mispronunciation of an indigenous word for a kind of folk dance, properly pronounced Um-faah-la-la.

Where conflict and cultures converge something new will always emerge. Such is the case in Mafalala. Word has it that as the city’s demand for English and French speaking workers increased, the Portuguese decided to expand their workforce by importing Africans from neighboring Comoros and Zanzibar. With them, these people brought a strong connection to Islam, which is still visible today, and the Arabic (and its Kiswahili derivative) language. It is said that over 60 percent of the neighborhood’s residents identify as Muslim and Mafalala is home to countless mosques and masjids. Imagine the trickery needed to hide a mosque from the eyes of the intolerant and bigoted colonial masters. Simply surviving was a defiant act of resistance.

In addition to the foreign residents, Mafalala is home to many internal migrants. Macua speakers from the north and Ronga speakers from the south find themselves next door neighbors in this enclave – and apparently it’s been that way for generations. Whether it be the draw of jobs in the city center, refuge from anti-colonial fighting in the interior, safety from starvation and poverty during the civil war, Mafalala has been home to many passersby with a diversity of reasons for coming. Even, poet Noemi de Sousa and ex-Presidents Samora Machel and Joaquim Chissano rested their heads there for a time.

Today, this part of town is part of legend and lure.  It is still home to many working poor and tough guys. Like in Rocinha and (what remains of) Harlem, many of it’s residents are still fighting to overcome historic external barriers, as well as just beginning to break some of the negative, self-induced behaviors that have held them back. Like any modern community, Mafalala is made up of lots of sub-communities and ethnic groups, the boundaries of which have always been in flux. Whether they arrived in the 15th century or just yesterday, the people of Mafalala help color a part of the city that deserves more kudos for its cultural contributions and recognition for it’s sheer existence after eras of extreme change.

Without further ado, the many faces and facets of Mafalala:

 

To learn more about the Mafalala Walking Tour and the Association of young people who run it, check out http://www.iverca.org

 

Bostonian meets Bedouin

JenniferJennifer Barefoot Smith is a world traveler who hails from the great city of Boston. She is a teacher  and college counselor who prides herself on making her students college-ready and world savvy. Jennifer spends her vacations traveling to far flung corners of the world – often alone. Her adventures are many and her experiences diverse. Her goal for this year is to bring her country count up to 70.  Whether she is traveling or at home, she enjoys taking pictures, talking (in various languages), dancing, cooking, and eating. The Howard University alum doesn’t shy away from the road less traveled. And somehow she always manages to return safely and with a smile!

I always enjoy traveling in predominantly Muslim areas: North Africa, Turkey, East Africa, and, this week, the Middle East, Jordan specifically. Generally, the atmosphere is family oriented, bright and richly colored, and inviting. As a woman, I always feel respected and safe—protected almost. As someone who travels frequently, and sometimes alone, this is refreshing and allows me to relax in a slightly different way. While every country is different, of course, there is something in being purposefully respectful and knowing that I will be respected in turn by choosing to be modest. It is also nice to feel that women are appreciated, as a group and as individuals, for more than just their bodies. Call me crazy, but I think that is one of the things that feminism has been arguing for and yet I find Westerners often have a problem with Muslim women covering and with respecting the norms when in majority Muslim countries. Two of my previous trips to Islamic countries have been through European tour groups where the majority of the tourists on the trip wore modest clothing (at least knee-length pants and shirts that were not revealing, i.e. sans décolletage), but there was always someone who insisted on wearing clothing that I would argue was not appropriate for walking around in public other than at a beach, let alone in a Muslim country in the middle of Ramadan. I felt offended. And their constant questions to the guide as to why he couldn’t just have some water or why women had to cover up really bothered me. They could not fathom that someone might be freely choosing to do these things, just as some Christians choose to go to church and others choose not to.

This brings me to why this trip was so great. I was able to travel in the Islamic world with others, enjoying the knowledge that no one in my party would be offensive or disrespectful. Sometimes I think I like to travel alone just to avoid having to babysit someone. This week, however, I traveled with a like-minded friend from college; traveling with friends who know how to travel makes life so much easier. What made this trip even better was that another friend, who works in tourism in Jordan, arranged my itinerary and connected me with her Jordanian friends at each point of my trip. Having personal connections in a new place always makes the experience that much better, and having personal connections in a country as hospitable as Jordan, meant that we got the best treatment ever. (Big up Janine, yuh have Jordan pon lock!) Jordan, like many of the other Muslim majority countries I have visited, subscribes to a brand of hospitality that is unknown in the U.S. I had more tea in the last week than I have had all year, and I do drink tea regularly. Anywhere you go, any store you enter, you are offered, nay, required, to partake in several cups of tea. Everyone checked in with us every day to make sure that we were still doing well and to let us know that if we needed anything they were X amount of minutes away from our next destination and they could be there if we called. Let’s just say I felt taken care of.

As a travel location, Jordan was one of the good ones. Amazing historic sites from several different periods and cultures abound. There are Roman ruins at Jerash, Castles of all types left over from the Crusades and other eras, Holy Land sites in Madaba, Mt. Nebo, Lot’s Cave, Bethany Beyond the Jordan, and of course the Jordan River itself. If it were permitted and I wanted to get my feet wet, I literally could have waded across to the Promised Land. It goes without saying that the Dead Sea is relaxing and an experience without parallel on the planet. But it also forms a unique border, the boundary between the Muslim/Arab world and present day Palestine. The West Bank is across the sea, a constant reminder of the political conundrums that occur when a colonial power does what it wants with pieces of land it controls without regard for the people within that land and the future ramifications those actions will have for its inhabitants, and in this case, the world. At the Red Sea, where the snorkeling/diving is lovely and the vibe is very nice, I kept trying to figure out where Egypt and Israel were in the skyline across the water from me, but everyone had the same answer as they pointed to the lights across the way—Eilat. Eventually I surmised that this was a way of not recognizing Israel without stepping on any toes. By only referring to the neighboring land by the name of the city with whom they shared a shoreline, rather than the state whose existence is in conflict with their beliefs, they did not have to come right out and say that the land next to them was being illegally occupied. They also did not usually refer to it as Palestine either. In fact, guides, drivers, and other people we encountered referred to the cities across the border rather than the larger political entity. At the Dead Sea, I was looking at Jericho, full stop. As a country that is immensely affected by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with millions of Palestinian refugees residing in Jordan for several decades, I am surprised it did not come up more often, but I am sure if I stayed longer than a week in the areas most affected by the conflict, it would become more apparent. When I came home, someone said to me, “Jordan, aren’t they in the middle of everything?” And yes, they really are. There is conflict occurring around them on every side except for their southern neighbor, Saudi Arabia; in addition to the decades of Palestinian refugees who have sought safety within their borders they have been receiving refugees from Syria too.

But for me the best part of Jordan had nothing to do with it being a welcoming Arab country or the site of ancient Biblical events. For me Jordan’s greatness was in the desert. The night stars, the rocky cliffs, the moon, the peacefulness, and the timelessness of it all. Petra is breathtaking and unique—a funky architectural mix of columns, cylindrical shapes, caves and amphitheaters. Nestled in a valley of equally funky rock formations rising out of the ground, these colorfully changing, soft sandstone walls and craggy formations look simultaneously smooth and like God dripped melted wax in erratic designs that solidified into odd chunks that we behold, here and there today. Nature and wilderness abound with numerous wadis, nature reserves, and springs. We stayed at Feynan Eco Lodge where everything is run by solar power, or candles, and you can hike, star gaze, or be a Bedouin goat herder for a day. We viewed Saturn and its rings in a high-powered telescope calibrated for us by a Bedouin, who then showed us where to watch Scorpio rise over the mountains and stayed up watching shooting stars while he and another friend made us tea on a fire powered by the compacted resin refuse from pressed olive oil. We were lucky that our visit coincided with a yearly meteor shower, but I have a feeling that shooting stars are not an anomaly in this landscape. And thanks to Janine, we slept in the desert, not at one of the many camps that dot Wadi Rum, but just in the middle of nowhere next to her Bedouin friend’s jeep, on a carpet, with some Bedouin mattresses and sleeping bags under the stars, with some great food, and of course, more tea.

Jennifer’s photos from Jordan:

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