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.”

Rosie on life and love…

Rosie & meIn honor of my grandmother, who turned 80 this week, I’ve decided to do what I said I would start doing years ago – write the stories of the women I hail from. She let me do this interview many years back and trusted me to do something productive with it. I could call her a guest blogger now, except that she may not know exactly what a blog is and I didn’t tell her I’d be posting her words here.

I couldn’t wait one more year, one more month, one more day to give her story a home. It’s only right to use this as an opportunity to acknowledge that something great happened when she was born. When history books would have you believe that women of her time weren’t working, that sharecroppers were a cut above slaves, that Black people didn’t have much or know better, my grandmother (and, frankly, many of the women in my family) simply wasn’t living her life to fit those statistics. She defied every stereotype I’d ever been told to expect for a Black woman born in Alabama in 1934. And she didn’t do it by fighting. She did it by living fully and unapologetically.  I love her dearly, am thankful for her eighty years on this earth, and hope that this is just one of many more birthdays to come. Most of all, I hope she isn’t pissed at me for posting this. 

 

My name is Rosie. I was born May 1, 1934 in Pike County, Alabama. My mother’s name is Carrie Williams-Macon. My father’s name was Sam Simmons. My mother’s mother was Rosie Carter Starks. Her father’s name was George Carter. My father’s mother was…I can’t remember her name cause I never knew her really, but her last name was Simmons, Grandma Simmons.

I’m the second oldest of my mother’s children, which was ten. Five boys and five girls. It’s six of us alive now: four girls, two boys. I’m the baby of my father’s children, which far as I know was two boys and three girls…far as I know. And the three girls is alive. All I know is my mother and my aunts and uncles [on my father’s side] was all friends. I don’t know how [my parents] met or what brought on – if it was a love affair or whatever. I don’t know about how that happened.

We lived on a farm and I was born at my grandparent’s house. My Grandma and Grandpop. I used to walk to school at an early age. I guess 5 or 6 years old. We used to walk like three miles to school and I remember we had big farms and a lot of chickens. My one aunt, my grandmother’s baby daughter, we was raised together, so we were more like sisters than niece and aunt. And my grandmother used to raise chicken and turkeys. My grandfather raised hogs and cows. Farm – all kinds of stuff on the farm – cotton, peanuts, corn, stuff like that. They was sharecropping. No, they didn’t own it. We used to help out on the farm. Me and my aunt used to plow the plow. We was about nine years, yea.

With my grandfather, just one year, we helped him plant the crop. And we had a goat named Wild Bill. We had a lot of goats. We had a crazy goat too. He was wild! He was black. And we had a dog named Blackie, which was one of the children. He would play with us like a child. He would play house, and we had this big front porch and it had about 7 steps come up on the front porch and we would tell him we was gon’ play house, and say, “When we get on the porch, now we in the house. And you can’t come in the house with us.” We’d run up there and he’d come to the house, girl, and stop. He was a great protector. One of my cousins from Pittsburgh came and he wouldn’t let her in the yard. We had a fence ‘round the yard and she was standing on the outside of the fence hollering and fighting with her pocketbook and he was just standing there by the fence. And he just dropped the handle and sat there and waited. She was out there screaming and hollering and he wouldn’t let her in. We had to go get her.

My grandma used to come up here when my uncle and aunt was alive. My grandfather was working in the field and, well, I was still living in the house when my great grandmother died. Yea, we was still living there and my grandma was up there when she had a stroke and died.

My great grandmother, her name was Annie Warren and that was my grandmother, Rosie Starks’ mother and she was born in Alabama too. She had a stroke one Saturday. My grandmother had came up here to stay with my aunt, cause she was having a baby. She had little kids so she would come up and stay with the kids while my aunt would go to the hospital. My grandfather was in the field, as usual, and my great grandmother had washed and ironed the clothes. And I loved to read. I used to read all the time. I guess that’s why ya’ll got that. You could catch me reading at the house any minute. Everybody else would be outside; I would be in the house reading. She came out on the porch and she said to me, “Gal, you better put them clothes up.” And I said, “Ok Nana, ok, ok, ok.” And she was sitting there, and she was eating a piece of neck bone and she wouldn’t let go. She just started peeing. My grandfather had came home for dinner and he didn’t go back to the field right away. He said, “Im gon’ wait till after the mailman come.” And I started calling him, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy something’s wrong with Nana! She peeing on herself! She peeing!” But she wouldn’t let go. She was eating that meat. They say when you having a stroke or heart attack, whatever you doing, you just keep doing that.

So my brother came by and he went to town to get the doctor, cause my great grandmother had raised those children. Those white kids. That was her doctor. She raised him from a baby and his father told him to always take care of her. So, my brother went and got him. We had got her in the bed and he came and he marked an X under the bottom of her feet. He said, if she survived to the next day, she would be alright. But she didn’t.

My grandmother and my uncle came. They got somebody to stay with the kids while my aunt was in the hospital. I could hear my grandmother crying. It was in the morning, I guess two or three o’ clock in the morning, when they got there. I could hear her talking ‘bout, “I don’t have no mother now. My mother is gone.” She was coming in the door and me being sleep and young, she just sounded so far away.

Well, we moved to the city limit and that’s when my grandfather couldn’t farm anymore, because he found out he had high blood pressure. And he was sick cause he had to get rid of his mules. Then he started doing his garden and he grew a garden – all kinds of vegetables. He took them into town and sold them to the white folks. After that we moved up into the city into this house. We had a house and it was sitting right in back of a juke joint and it was a nice house. I went to school there. And that’s where when I left, yea, when I left from town, that’s where we had been living in the city. I came up here [to New Jersey] in 1952. I came up here, and up here is where I met your grandfather. And we had 4 childrens: one boy, three girls. I think it’s 9 grandchildren. My brother went back to Alabama and got my grandma and my grandfather. He lived a couple years, he lived till September 1954 and my grandma died, I think, it was 18 years ago.

Yea, 1991 she died. And that was my Mama. She raised the four of us: my oldest brother, James, myself, my brother Arnold, my sister Johnnie. We really was raised by her along with her daughter Gloria and we were like sisters and brothers instead of aunts and nieces and nephews. We was like sisters and brothers. I haven’t been home since 1952. I really don’t have no close relatives down there, because right after I came up here, my brother went back and got my Grandma and Grandpop. And all my sisters and brothers were up here.

What year we moved here? I don’t even know what year we moved here [to this house], if you want to know the truth. 1982? 81, 82? Something like that. I know it was in May, cause that was my birthday present [from your grandfather], when I moved, the first of May.

Oh God, well, I wish I would have let [your grandfather] stay with the girl he was with. (laughs) Well, we was living on East Kenny St. and he was living on Scott St. , which was the next street over. This girl she used to [date], she was living directly in front of him. Her name was Mary Anne, I’ll never forget that. We went to school together. She would be talking about him and all this stuff. I sure do wish I would have left him with her. Everybody thought that he liked my Aunt Gloria, but it wasn’t him – it was his friend Sam that liked Aunt Gloria. So, it just went from that to the prom. He took me to the prom. We had to go get his cousin’s car, to get Uncle Sam’s car, but we went.

I left high school in ’54, but I got my GED. I went back and got my GED.

Danny was born November 24, 1954, the night before Thanksgiving. I was living on Hillside Avenue and I was walking around there. I said, “Oh, I need to wash my hair.” Now let me tell you how stupid – how my mind worked back in that time. I thought, “But if I wash my hair, I might start having pains and I’m not going to feel like straightening it.” Now wasn’t that kind of smart? So I said “ok, I’m not gonna wash it.” I heard your grandfather coming up the stairs. He had got off from work early. I got down on the side of the bed and I just started having pains. And he said to this guy, his name was Al Richardson, “Al, can I borrow your car to take her to the hospital? I think she in labor.” Al said, “I was here! She ain’t tell me nothing! I coulda took her to the hospital!” I got to the hospital about 6 o’clock in the afternoon and that boy was born 9:45 at night. We was in this big ward at the city hospital, and they was up there talking bout the soap operas.

As The World Turns, Search For Tomorrow, Guiding Light, Valiant Lady, And what’s that one come on in the afternoon? One Life to Live, General Hospital, All my Children. All of them was on back then, back in that time. They been around for fifty something years. One lady from Guiding Light died a couple weeks ago, she was about 90 years old, one of the actors. And, he was born. We had Thanksgiving dinner there. We had turkey and dressing and cranberry juice.

And a lot of [women] stayed home and the husbands worked. If they wasn’t on the farms and stuff, they stayed home. You know, it’s not a long time, but it has been a long time where the women really go out into the world now and work and everything. But back in that time, if they wasn’t farming and having children, the ladies stayed home and cooked and cleaned and washed and ironed and scrubbed floors, stuff like that. Yea, kept the house clean.

Well, I had a million new jobs. Not a million. I used to work where they developed pictures on Broad Street. Really, it used to be a lot of happenings down on Broad Street, chile. And a couple times, I went and cleaned a lady’s house for my grandmother. I think the next job I got was in the dry cleaners. I stayed there for years. I was getting paid 65 cents an hour, but bus fare was like 5 cents and we lived on East Kenney. I used to go to Target on Clinton Avenue in front of the Horizon building over there. That’s where I used to work.

Then in 1960, I was working on South Orange. On South Orange Avenue, right there on the corner of Church Street, when you go up the hill. That was the cleaners where that flower shop is. That was the dry cleaners. I worked for Western Electric in Kearney for thirteen years. Then I did twelve years AT&T in Clark. I retired with 25 years’ service from AT&T and 3 years’ service from Tyco, so really it was 28 years that I worked. I started to work at Western Electric and I went out there on a dare. I went out there saying, “I know I’m not going to get this job.” But the ad had been in the paper for a long time. I had never worked in a factory before. And out of about 8 people, 2 of us passed the test. Every time they got slow, we got laid off. Every time. I think I lost about 5 or 6 years out of that 13 of layoffs. Then, finally, they closed in 1984. I left on my birthday. Your mom sent me flowers on my birthday and I left that day and – the Union paid for us – I went to school up in North Newark at the secretary school. I got a job key punching. I could key punch, girl! I go to work key punching! That’s when they started the computers. We used to go down to Essex County and work the computers. I could type pretty good. I used to do 45-50 words, no errors. And I’m ready to go back to work now, cause I’m tired of staying home. I been retired for 8 years.

The love of my life, besides my children and grandchildren and great grandchildren, is church. I enjoy going to church. I get my relief, all my pressure, my everything, when I go to church. When I first came up here, I started going to the Holiness Church. My mother used to live on South 11th. Then I left from there and I stayed out of church for a long time. But I always made sure your Mama and them went to Sunday school. I would get up and take them to church for Sunday school, go back, and pick them up. Then after that, I joined Genesis. From Genesis to First Zion Hill. So, I really wasn’t in a lot of churches.

I get such a relief from the Word of God and I’m learning more of the Bible, understanding more. It’s a lot in there to understand and when you read scriptures you can go back and if you read it five times, you get five different meanings out of that one scripture. So, I’m learning that and how to have my quiet moments. It just gives me peace of mind. I have joy. And I really love the youth choir we got over there now. I enjoy them. I only invite people to my church on 3rd Sunday, when the youth is singing. I told Reverend “First Zion Hill wasn’t short of water.” And he said “What?” People in the pulpit crying, all the kids crying! I turned around and looked and everybody in the sanctuary crying. He fell out laughing. He say, “You know we didn’t rehearse that song that way, don’t you? God, just came on in.” So, I enjoy that. I enjoy the children.

I was in the Holiness Church, but I was baptized in a Baptist Church in Alabama at the age of 9 in the river. They didn’t have pools in the church. We went down to the big river and was baptized in the river. Yep, I think the name of the river was White Water, I’m not sure. I told Reverend, “I’m going to be baptized again.” Nine years old, I ain’t know what I was doing. Yea, I want to be dipped.

You know, I’m like this – Everybody have their own belief. It’s not but one God, I don’t care what kind of religion or what name you come up with or whatever. It’s only one God and we can call him Jehovah, Allah, whatever we want to. And, as long as they are reading the Bible or the Quran or whatever it is and they try to live to the best of their abilities, that’s it. I don’t damn nobody’s religion, but I don’t want them to say they’re one thing and not believe in it and do something else. If you Muslim, do what you supposed to do. Baptists? We all sin. We all have to ask God to forgive us, cause we was born in sin. So, we not sin-free. We have to come and ask God, Allah, or whoever to forgive us for our sins, each and every day. Not when we in trouble. Then, we try and get a prayer through. We think He supposed to be a microwave God and He gon’ pop it out right like that. You gotta go through trials and tribulations. That’s when you use your faith.

 

My Best Friend’s Wedding

IMG_0367In my line of work, I miss out on lot. Often the people I care about the most are the people I see the least. Their moments of triumph are posts I “like” on Facebook. Their good days are shared over Skype. Usually, I’m able to take the good with the bad. I recognize that in doing what I love (and what I think I’m good at), I’m either on or I’m off. There is very little in between. When I am not home, I’m very much not home. I’m plane rides and calling cards and time zones away. But when I’m home, I’m very available. And I’m very committed to the little things. Yet, today – of all days – I’m not home. And I’m missing a very big thing. I can’t help but be sad about it. Today is my best friend’s wedding and I’m not there.

It would be different if I were jumping up at Carnival in Trinidad or riding in jeeps deep in a Kenyan safari. But, I’m just at my house, sitting in my dining room, reading Pearl Cleage’s ‘Things I Should Have Told my Daughter: Lies, Lessons & Love Affairs.’ Essentially, I’m just waiting for a new day. If I were out having fun maybe this event would pass with little commentary. Or if I felt like where I am is where I should be, then maybe it would soften the blow. But, alas, this is the situation and we’re oceans apart. That is the unfortunate reality.

So, next week I’ll be ready to write the happy blog post I actually intended to write when I started writing today. The one where I celebrate all the things I love about my Pumpkin. Where I tell all about how in high school I raked her over the coals for some dumb thing I can’t even remember now and how we spent months not talking. I’m not sure how we made up, but she probably initiated it. I probably didn’t say sorry, even though the whole thing was probably my fault. I was young and dumb then. I’ll talk about how she was the only reason I seriously considered going to UNC Chapel Hill. Yet I couldn’t be enticed to suppress the big city girl in my heart. I’ll say all the happy, joyous, praiseful things I should have said to her face when I last saw her in D.C. as soon as I come to grips with the reality that I’m missing out on the biggest day of my best friend’s life and what I’m doing now is definitely not worth missing that.

This is the ugly underbelly of life as I know it.

I should be in North Carolina right now. Of that, I am certain.

Bossypants for the Public Service Soul

zoraI am not an expert on how women can make the most of a twenty-year career.  However, I also haven’t had a twenty-year career yet.  Suffice it to say that I’ve looked to successful senior women to point out high points and pitfalls, but very rarely have I felt understood.  I read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In with baited breath, hoping to stumble upon tools I could employ in my workplace.  I do not, and have never, aspired to work in corporate America, however.  So, few of her suggestions apply to me – the female public servant.  To make matters more complicated, the female voices in my line of work tend to come from the top down, shrieking Ann Marie Slaughter’s declaration that, ‘Women still can’t have it all.’

Read my complete guest blog on ‘The Fly Coach’!

54 Books beyond Bombay

Stack-Of-Books-BigThe year before last, I could only manage to read 48 books. Not even one book a week! #epicfailforanerd But this year, I was determined that I would finally read 52 books and Nikki would not beat me this time. Once again, I set her in my sights and she – clearly – didn’t even know it. Surely, I’d blow her book goals right out of the water. Right?

Wrong! Once again, Nikki is not even thinking about me! While I went above and beyond, tallying 54 books this year, she’s off dressing up her daughter as a lion and going on African safaris. Sometimes, she and her husband even stage a safari in their backyard and pose their costumed daughter as the lion cub that they’re spotting in the wild. I mean, it’s pretty darn cute. And creative.  Damn you Nikki! I can’t win with you…

Alas, in 2013 I spent most of my time researching Indian culture and folklore, so a lot of last year’s books were academic in nature and/or Indian in authorship. Not all, but most. So, without further ado or more Nikki acclaim, here are my top 5 books of 2013:

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Maximum City Bombay Lost and Found is my favorite book of last year. And the irony here is that it was the very first book I read. So, it was downhill from there. But, talk about dissecting a city from its inside out! This book is a literary feat. It is a page turner that’s true to the city it preaches to know. There’s drama and sex and love and violence – all representative of a city that’s meant so much to me. I can’t recommend this book enough for those of us who have been to and enjoyed today’s Mumbai.

shantaramShantaram is Maximum City’s whorish twin sister, in book terms of course. It’s the tale of an escaped convict from Australia making his way in the Mumbai underworld. It speaks of the Nigerians and Afghanis. Drug dealers in plain sight at Cafe Mondegar. And foreigners with fake passports and friends in rat infested slums. The author claims the story is all fiction, but it’s rumored to be a memoir. I can’t imagine how anyone could make up 963 pages of this stuff without some serious life experience for inspiration.

 

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The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is the unsung story of Black motherhood – its efforts and short comings. The stories touched me on a personal level, as I felt familiar with the post-Great Migration characters and the inner city family drama. I don’t say that lightly though, because in my opinion contemporary Black protagonists often come off as overdramatized caricatures or underwhelmingly kitsch. Let’s be honest, we’re living in Tyler Perry’s wake. These historically accurate representations through Ayana Mathis’ words are long overdue, however.

 

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The Lonely Londoners is a short and easy read, but rich with texture and spirited characters. I came across it when researching the Indian Diaspora in literature. I read it not really expecting what I found. The author explores the recent immigrant experience in London, but not only from the Indian perspective. In fact, it’s primary characters are Caribbean immigrants. Like Mathis’ depiction, Sam Selvon gives short snippets of just how hard life can be for people who are trying really hard to make a dollar out of fifteen cents. Its characters are in a silent struggle, not in vocal rebellion. This read left me with a softer heart.

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Faces in the Water is where magical realism meets the unfortunate reality of female infanticide in contemporary India. The premise is that a little boy spends a summer at his family’s ancestral farm and discovers the water well that supplies the home. In it, he sees faces – female faces. More than one. You’d have to read the book to figure out who these girls are and how he resolves knowing how they got there. I loved this book not just because it tackles an issue that most people won’t even acknowledge, but it highlights that it’s not a practice that only occurs among the poor. And, more importantly, it empowers a male character – a young boy – to take action against injustice, to be a women’s rights activist, to be a better man than his own father.

2013 dud reads:

The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud: Where to begin? Maybe I’m just sad that this book is a book. It’s about a bunch of rich New Yorkers making asses of themselves and each other. It’s a New York reality – unfortunately – but the story doesn’t scream book worthy to me. And, I just found out that the author is a fellow alum of my high school, so I’m even more disappointed. The writing was convoluted and full of misplaced modifiers. If there’s one thing a Mustang can’t stand, it’s a misplaced modifier.

Arranged Love by Parul Mittal: Woe, the days of my life that I can’t get back! Maybe I need to have grown up on the Indian subcontinent to understand why this is supposed to be a love story, but this book is weird and lame. There are much better stories of arranged-come-love marriages. Read the Namesake and don’t waste your money or life minutes on this book!

Confession of a Buddhist Atheist by Stephen Batchelor: Some memoirs are just journal entries that people should later burn. This book is one. Buddhism isn’t a religion, so…. what’s this atheism schtick?  Hence, there are fundamental problems with this book and it’s premise. Sigh…