Miracles and Maybes in southern Africa

DSCF2492Last week was one of loss. A coworker lost her unborn child. One of my staff members, lost his 8-year-old daughter (after having lost 2 daughters some years before). And a colleague lost her life and was laid to rest on Tuesday. I reached out to a woman who has been a priceless resource for my archival work and she recounted that she, too, had lost someone – her father.  As a distant bystander to it all, these past few days have taken a lot out of me, so I can only imagine the loss of those more immediate.

India was full of near tragedies. Almost collisions were saved in the nick of time by a ‘Sai Ba Ba’ or a ‘Hail Mary.’ Lives lost had some kind of meaning – disease or illness or some sick twisted bastards brought together by male bonding turned on its head. Senseless death is something I understood from Newark, not from New Delhi. Some idiot with a gun can steal you away in an instant. A misfit with a death wish can definitely take you with him or her whenever they so choose. But, even that kind of death still has an explanation that you can sleep with at night. Wrong place, wrong time, but there is surely someone to blame. Those deaths leave a cause in their wake – something to fight for, or better yet, something to fight against.

Random death, however, with no explanation or sense of understanding, is not something I’ve ever known until I arrived here.

On my very first visit to Maputo, I was greeted by what would soon (-er than they thought) become my family. Drunk on laughter and cheap South African wine, we awoke jet lagged the next day to hear that a cousin – who had been present just the night before – had woken this morning only to lose her life just hours later. In a battle with what exactly? No one seems to know. Just in her third decade of life and with only so much as a stomach ache to show as a preamble to death, she was snuffed out and there was no one to blame. There was no autopsy to understand. There were no inquiries to explain. We never found a smoking gun. She was gone in an instant and everyone seem to accept it without question. The requisite week long death ceremonies began at once.

I had forgotten that sense of emptiness and fatigue. But it all came back with a vengeance.

What can you say to someone who lost an 8-year-old to a choking accident? Do you blame the maid who wasn’t watching? Or the mom who decided to leave for the market and thought she could trust the maid for just a few short hours? (Can you ever really trust the maid?) Do you blame the object itself and risk blaming the kid in the process?

There is no cause to rally behind except, perhaps teaching the Heimlich in grade schools. But, then again, most school-going 5 year olds here don’t recognize even one letter from the alphabet, so that’s an idiotic ambition. You get no peace no matter which way you manipulate your well-intentioned mind and your dear creative heart.

Here in Mozambique, I find people who are deeply religious and deeply reckless. There is the sense that you can go at any time and it will be when you least expect it, and probably for reasons you least deserve. You can be taken for reasons that have nothing to do with your will to live or your exposure to nefarious elements or your contribution to society. Mozambicans aren’t likely to die from some senseless act of preventable gun violence, like their African neighbors to the South. Actually, with the proliferation of free ARTs, Mozambicans are more likely to thrive with HIV than to die of AIDS than ever before in the nation’s history.  So, when death does come it comes like a thief in the night, into the homes of people who until that moment thought they were too poor to steal from.

In a place with no police protection; where ambulances are only available from private clinics and, even then, it’s a taxi for a gurney not a life saving vehicle; where power cuts plague the country, but the government is negotiating to export electricity to South Africa; where Julius Nyerere Road looks like the pock-marked face of a hormonal 14 year old boy with acne, rosacea and eczema topped off with sunburn… people pray.

They pray for everything and nothing, at the same time.

This is a place where luck, steeped in religion, lives supreme. Every day that one wakes up alive, is a day worth celebrating to the tilt. Those that drink until the wee hours of the morning in celebration, also tend to wake up at the crack of dawn to pray. They find their solace in believing that a God somewhere has spared them. These people have a faith unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s not about knowing God, or even loving God – really. It’s about begging for an other worldly protection, since it sure as hell isn’t going to come from the living.

I’ve heard people ask if God has forsaken Africa. For their sakes (maybe our sakes?), I have to hope not, but my own observation leaves me pondering.  Until I came here I didn’t fully understand the question.

Of all the quick saves. All the split second decisions. All the life saving measures that I’ve seen spare human life its final phase. I’ve never seen it happen here – not ever. Not once have I heard someone say, “You won’t believe what happened…” end with a positive outcome. Every car accident I almost saw happen, happened. Every coma wasn’t followed by an other-worldly recovery. In my humble experience, miracles don’t exist for Mozambicans.

Why not here? Why not now? Why not these people?

There have been so many maybes in our whirlwind of goodbyes.
Now I understand the question.

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Descanse em paz nossa Rabeca e Teresa

Dear Husband,

I’m new to this. I don’t know the rules. And maybe things we said before we got married were all bullshit. But, this thing isn’t easy. At least, it hasn’t been for me.

Trying to form an identity with someone isn’t something I know how to do, but I hope you see I’m trying. But you have to imagine how hard that is for me. You eat meat. You don’t like people who yell. You watch lots of BET. Can’t you see how different we are?

Culture is something that I’ve grappled with my whole life – What is a sense of belonging? What are the traditions we carry to stay connected? Am I part of a Diaspora now? This, we, aren’t an academic exercise, though. Right? I can’t figure us out in a transnational paradigm of contemporary globalization. Or perhaps I can…

But that doesn’t make me understand things like why the towels never make it back on to the racks after you take a shower. Or why I’m the only one who seems to SEE the food rotting in our fridge. You know when something is fermenting in our kitchen, right? I mean, when I married you your nose was working fine. Has it broken since then?

And some of this is just about space. How to share it. When to invade it. Who has a right to it. And I think we both need a gender neutral “cave.” Me? Because I’m an introvert, I do my best thinking alone and being around lots of people (even you, my love) can be draining. You? Because you’re a dude and you want to do dude things that I frankly don’t want to see. You could also do all the running you wanted in there, esp. while watching youtube videos and world star hip hop clips. I mean, this could work.

Does this sound like I’m pushing you away? I hope not.

I’m just trying to figure out strategies to make it a lifetime. We made it longer than Kim and the guy before Kanye, so I guess that counts for something. But, doesn’t forever seem like a really long time to you?

I’ll be old and wrinkly. Things will sag. You might want that cave then. So, it’s now or never baby.

No, seriously.

Like I said, I’m new to this. And I’m willing to make mistakes. But one thing you’ll never be able to say is that I didn’t try. I’m trying every day in ways you don’t even see. I’m trying to be a reliable part of this team. I’m trying to be an independent person who can rely on another person for help, regularly.

I am not from your rib. I was a whole person before I met you. I wasn’t incomplete before us. You rely on me to be whole. You expect me to be more than a fragment of a person without you. You expect me to represent you and us and me all at the same time, even when I’m not with you. You expect great things from me, with little more than a hug and a few pep talks along the way. You realize that you didn’t make me who I am, but that you are valuable part of everything I’ll be. You don’t see yourself as in contradiction with my ambitions. And you can’t see a future for either one of us without the other. You believe in us. I believe in your faith.

Sometimes I need you more than I admit. You don’t yet read my mind, but when you do… because someday you will… you’ll understand how embarrassed I feel to ask. You’re laughing right now. (I know this because, I just read your mind.) But you shouldn’t. You know that only compounds the original embarrassment. I’m weird.

Now you’re stuck and I guess you’ve got to come up with some strategies of your own. So, like they used to do back in the day, I’m going to have to ask you a few questions to see if you’re on team us:

  • Do you like me? – YES or NO
  • Can you agree to a cave? – YES or NO (if no, explanation required)
  • Do you promise to love me when I’m old and naggier? – YES or NO
  • Can you try to laugh at me less? (I’m sensitive!) – YES or NO
  • Can you remember who I was when you met me? – YES or NO
  • Can you agree to forgive me, in advance, for stupid things I’ll do through the rest our lives together? – YES or NO
  • Will you sign my friend contract? – YES or NO
  • Do you still like me? – YES or NO

If you can’t agree to all of the above, I think we’re days shy of being able to apply for annulment.

Think it over. No pressure.

With love,

XOXO

 

Minus work, my life is balanced…

Kiss Him, Johannesburg (2015)

Kiss Him, Johannesburg (2015)

Since the clock struck 12, just 25 days ago, much has happened. Yet for weeks, I’ve felt that not so much of it has been worth writing about. I went to Joburg for my poor, poor friend’s wedding (you remember her, right?). I went to Durban to celebrate my birthday. One of my very best friends came to town to enjoy it all. I went to work a lot. I met exciting new people for my research. I made a few new friends. I bought the Minaj’s album (as well as that of Mafikizolo, Chris Brown, Drake and Liquideep). I even made my first donation, as promised, to the Whitman Walker Clinic. All  great things…I tell you. And none of that has seemed worth writing about.

I’m jaded.

IMG_1541I’ve always been a bit of an Eeyore, i.e. the cynic (borderline pessimist) who never understands what the big deal is about things that other people considered big deals. But the problem now is that I feel like I’m doing so much that I just don’t get a chance to stop and smell whatever this flower is called, much less appreciate it enough to write about it. My whole life my parents have reminded me that I’m “never satisfied.” No matter how much they tried to make me smile or enjoy a good day, I was always looking for more of a good thing, so much so that it negated their efforts in the moment. And what’s worse, I think I’ve lost the ability to understand how stressful chasing the next satisfaction really is on me and the people I love.

What most might call “a first world problem,” has followed me wherever I’ve lived, wherever I’ve gone, no matter how much I try to run away from responsibilities. So, maybe it’s just a character flaw? I don’t know how to relax. I never have. Is it possible that I never will?

I’ve spent much of my adult life talking with counselors and therapists, friends and people who probably didn’t really care enough to listen with both ears, simply trying to find outlets to vent. But it has occurred to me now that talking about all the things I do, rather than actually limiting those things, will not offer much relief. I watched a really great Ted Talk on ‘work/ life balance’ a few weeks back and I thought “shit, so a gym membership won’t fix this?” (Nigel Marsh: How to make work-life balance work).

When I originally heard the term back in 2009, I was a skeptic of the value of ‘work/life balance’ debates. First, I didn’t have much of a family and I’d just started my job, so work was still exciting for me. Almost 6 years down the line, I’m figuring at this rate either my body or my brains will fight against any willful efforts at procreation, so there’s nothing to balance there. According to the IRS, my husband and I make a family. That should be enough to tear me away from my office, except my sense of work ethic keeps me attached to my seat complaining about people I don’t particularly like and work I don’t find particularly meaningful. Not to mention that at this very moment, my work eats a piece of brain and two pieces of my soul on a daily basis.

My poorly thought out solution was to chase my dream of completing a PhD.  But, there’s a fundamental problem here. I didn’t actually quit my job. How many more hours of the day did I gain by pretending that work isn’t the real focal point of my life? Negative 8 hours.

I genuinely feel like out of a 9 hour work day, when I add the time I spend without my spouse and the time I should be working on my PhD, and divide that by the time I spend complaining, I end up losing 8 hours of life energy per day. The 1 hour retained was lunch.

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So, of all the awesome things I’ve done in the past few weeks to take my mind off things and to relax, much of it – like my PhD – seemed to be fulfilling, but still stress-inducing.  I made work out of relaxing and certainly didn’t take the time to stop and enjoy each moment.

Nigel Marsh says that even adding a gym work out to the mix won’t help me be more balanced, just more fit. And I’m inclined to believe him. It’s already one more thing on my lengthy and never-ending to do list… just above “read.”

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Obviously, for me the question isn’t so much about the tension between work and life, but finding value in both accomplishments and happiness. Being a glutton for work punishment may be an outgrowth of my own inability to separate the two. My own personal sense of achievement comes from seeing something through from start to finish. I value measurable accomplishments. Taking the time to live out my own happiness is hard thing to step back and admire. I’m not sure how to celebrate my days spent at the pool. But, it sure makes me feel energized for the days ahead and it just feels good.

Perhaps 2015 is the year to figure it all out…

The week(s) from Hell!

IMG-20141024-00067These past few weeks have been so bad that it’s taken me a week to recover and even begin to start writing about it. After coming back from a grueling 2 week trip to the U.S., I head back to Southern Africa for what I hope will be a relaxed reintroduction to the joys of home. But, alas, the queen of doing too much did just that… too much and the wheels fell off…almost literally.

IMG_1302I arrive back from the U.S. on a Sunday and I, the dum-dum pop that I am, decide to go to work on Monday. This results in a drowsy, sick, achy, painful, grumptastic first day back at the office. I confirm that I do, in fact, have some kind of illness that requires antibiotics and I commence a course of the dream drug that is cipro. I’m feeling particularly bad for my co-workers who are excited to see me back, but are eagerly met with my stank face.

I decide that I am definitely going to Johannesburg for a seminar on Friday, which means that I actually need to leave on Thursday. Just 4 days after my 22 hour flight ordeal. Nothing but pure genius is at work here, when I convince a friend to come with me on Thursday to drive to Nelspruit after work and then wake up at 4am the next morning to drive the rest of the way to Jozi. Sure enough, I convince this poor sucker and what he doesn’t realize is that he has just joined my week(s) from hell. We end up leaving town early, because Mozambique’s national election results are coming out and we decide to clear out-of-town as soon as humanly possible. We’re on the road from Maputo to Matola for about an hour stuck in the slowest moving traffic since Driving Miss Daisy. Aside from the one time that I turn off the headlights (by mistake) on a winding pitch black road, we finally get some clear road and head to Nelspruit to a cute little hotel that’s a hospitality training school. All seems well that night when we’re greeted by really lovely people at the hotel, but the next day is when everything heads south.

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The next morning we head out at 4am, with my friend driving my old jalopy, and we actually make it to the seminar on time. I have a great day reading and writing and feeling like my life has some meaning!

And then we head to Sandton mall. I do some shopping, get my hair done, and buy new tires for the Jalopy. All seems right with the world…

IMG_1355…until I start to feel like something isn’t right. And by 7pm I’m back in the Jozi hotel feeling like I’ve been hit by a Mack truck. I end up crashing that night with paracetamol and ibuprofen cocktail in quantities that the CDC would not recommend. Mind you I’m still on this antibiotic thing that’s apparently not curing sh*t!

I wake up the next day for a long overdue meeting that turns out to be quite productive. I’m hopped up on so much drugs it’s amazing that I even understand what’s being said. My meeting ends, friend and I hit the road back to Maputo. It’s only 11:30am and we’re thinking we’ll get back before dark. Not so, friends. Not so…

IMG_1353We’re on the road for about 20 minutes when the car stops accelerating on the highway. So, I’m pretty convinced that my friend who is driving my car, must have done something stupid to cause this. But, his face is in genuine shock. We switch seats and, yea baby, this car is f*cked up. We plug in the nearest coordinates for a mechanic and head straight there. Luckily, it’s only 2 blocks away from my friend’s place and I know the neighborhood. We get there, the mechanic tries a bunch of things only to find that after 2 hours, 1 hour after the shop was supposed to be closed, he can’t figure out.

I call my friend – my poor, poor friend – who bails me out every time I need something in South Africa and she lets us regroup from her apt. My friend who drove with me decides to hitch a bus back to Maputo.

By this time, my OTC drug cocktail is being consumed at paces that cause liver damage, so I call my doctor who tells me to go to the emergency room at the nearest hospital to rule out bacterial meningitis. Bacterial meningitis?! When someone thinks you have bacterial meningitis, even when you’re sure there’s no way in hell you have it, you go to the hospital. QUICKLY!

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We go and wait in the lobby, pretty uneventfully. Until this happens…. which is also pretty uneventful until you watch the face of the man seated on the right get progressively more annoyed and disgusted. ROFLMAO

IMG_1327IMG_1325IMG_1322IMG_1321IMG_1331I end up getting blood drawn and waiting in the hospital for an hour, catching up with my friend – my poor, poor friend. And I’m sent home with a new cocktail of drugs that includes new antibiotics and no more answers on a diagnosis.

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We decide that I’ll stay in my poor, poor friend’s apt til Monday. My husband takes a bus down from Maputo. My poor, poor friend takes me to a pharmacy where I get my drugs in a locked shower caddy.

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And once again, I’m one big happy imposition.

Come Monday, hubby and I are at the mechanic bright and early. They say they need to order a part that won’t come until Wednesday earliest. So, we pack up and take the bus back to Moz to wait it out. I’m pretty f*cking sick at this point and I decide I’m taking the week off, because if I don’t I just may pass out or growl at someone.

IMG-20141104-00085The mechanic says we can come back on Saturday because all is well and they’ve fixed the car. We actually go on Monday, because there was no way to get there before the shop closed on Saturday. So we actually waste our long weekend for Veteran’s day inside our house doing all sorts of nothing. But we’re super excited to get this car back on the road, so we take the bus back down to Jozi. Get to the bus station at 4am and wait until the mechanic shop opens at 8am. We take a quick test drive because traffic is way too packed to really get up to any speed or go for long distances. So, we’re sufficiently satisfied with the results, pay the people at the shop and get on the road for some shopping before heading back to Moz.

In addition to spending about $300 on groceries, we get some much-needed retail therapy and by 3pm we’re on the road back to Moz. (I can’t help but laugh at the fact that in South Africa, the non-Christian customers & staff are welcome to have a crap a$$ New Year!)

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We’re happy. We’re smiling. We’re singing. And then… the car stops accelerating on the highway. We’re 2 hours outside of Jozi, which is also 3-4 hours outside of the nearest real city, and the car is finished. We pull over. Give it a rest and realize that we can go 30 kms/hr (and no faster). So we get the hell off the side of this road, put the hazards on, and drive to the nearest gas station outside of Belfast.  A really interesting duo of Boer dudes arrive to look at the car and they can’t figure out what’s going on, but it’s not engine or anything that they can actually see. It’s 8pm and we’re desperate. They say, go to the dealer. “Your car will get you there, but really, really slowly.”

IMG-20141101-00075What’s normally a 45 minute drive, actually takes 3 hours. By 11pm, we’re parked at a Mercure hotel to spend the night in Nelspruit. Luckily, hubby realized that there’s no way we could keep $300 worth of frozen meat in the hotel fridge, so his awesome friends drive 3 hours from Moz to meet us in Nelspruit to take the food back. Hubby also goes back, because he’s got to work the next day.

The next morning I get up and drive the jalopy to the dealership, where they tell me that no one can look at the car until 5 hours later. And that… I shouldn’t wait. Luckily, I have some more friends in Nelspruit who are on their way back to Maputo, so I hitch a ride with them back to town.  Fast forward, I’m back in  Maputo – working like a rabid dog – without a car and still kinda sick, and I’m on the verge of an emotional breakdown. I have to remember that no matter how bad things have been, I’ve been very lucky. I’ve never had to ride in  one of these…

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and I’ve never been seen wearing these pants…

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I head back to my doctor who proceeds to tell me that they think I have (or maybe had) mononucleosis, but can’t confirm. (WTH?!) And now, I’m on “watch” for a disease they don’t even know if I have. The worst part is that I can’t get an excuse from the doctor to NOT show up at work the next day.

After a week of chasing the mechanic, they say that they need to get a part from Japan and the estimated bill will be about $2000. Mind you, we spent about $1000 at the shop in Jozi. I complain to the place in Jozi and they tell me to bring the car back… to Jozi. I live 6 hours away and my car is broken down in the middle. I decide these people are f*cktards (which means that this week I’m in the process of writing a formal complain to the South African Consumer Complaints Commission). Anyways, so the bills are mounting, work’s still sucking, and my health is mysteriously evasive.

During all this mayhem, I get an email saying that a piece I worked on a year ago was accepted for publishing. Awesome! I’m thinking… maybe things are on the upswing. But, I’m weird like that so I only tell a few people, because I don’t believe this is really going to come to fruition. And guess what? It fell through within a matter of days. The publication (which shall remain nameless) comes up with some crazy deadline that makes no sense to get signed documents scanned and returned to them. Of course, the deadline comes and goes. They rescind their offer for publication and I’m now convinced that they got scared away because of some references in my piece, which have only recently become more nationally relevant. Whatever…

IMG-20141104-00084So, it turns out that 2 weeks later, I’m having what I call a “curtailment” day, which is one where I decide that I should just high tail it out of this place. Pack up all my stuff, find a new job in NYC – which is where I ultimately want to land anyway – and be the free-spirited, artsy academic that I know I’m supposed to be. But I’m carless, so how exactly would I get to the airport?

Then my husband’s family comes over for family dinner and I have to think… what’s it all worth?

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Snippets from my life as a Mozambican-in-law

I owe you a really long post about the semi-disaster that was last week, but in the mean time, I hope I can tie you over with some videos of the good times a’rollin’ with my in-laws. Never a dull… or quiet moment with this crew!

Video clips from our Xiguiane 

The xiguiane is a traditional ceremony in southern Mozambique, held after the wedding. It is usually held in the home of the groom’s parents, where people of the family of the bride, are presented with gifts typically needed in African home, like pestles, belts, graters, mbengas (large earthen bowls), cooking utensils and cloth. This ceremony is very important particularly among people who, for various reasons, could not be present at the wedding . This wedding party is fully paid for by the family of the groom, which is why it is also called the “wedding feast at the groom’s house.”

At a cousin-in-law’s graduation, this happened… there’s no explanation. It’s just awesome.

They were trying to imitate the popular music videos like these:

TTYS XO,

Moz-in-law

Let’s talk money!

linhas de mocambiqueI am known for being a jet setter for reasons that are only partially attributable to me. Frankly, all of my recent voyages (for the last 5 years) can be 90% attributable to my profession. When at 19, I signed up for a career I didn’t really understand, I certainly didn’t realize the impact my career choice would have on many aspects of my life. My last thought was how it would affect my finances. I mean, I was excited about stable income, since I was a hustling nanny trying to live in New York City. So, now, it’s almost a decade later, and reality is settling in. What the Facebook pictures don’t say is that I am a glorified postal worker. I get to scan the world while doing, largely, menial tasks. But, when I walk out of my office to find myself looking at the sunset on the Indian Ocean, I’m reminded that this is what my 19 year-old self signed up for. The travel adventure!

But this isn’t about silver linings. And I can’t eat adventure. Let’s talk money.

People really don’t realize how financially stressful it is to live a constantly oscillating life abroad. Let me explain: When you have no idea where you’re going to live 2 years from now, it certainly makes keeping a budget difficult. I can’t talk to financial planners, because they want me to budget my groceries and stick to that level forever. They treat travel as a luxury, instead of a source of income. They want me to keep a log of my spending habits, but I struggle to keep track of the currencies and exchange rates. How much is South African Rand in dollars today? And the Indian rupee last year this time? They don’t understand what it means to have to travel to another country to get cheaper groceries – do I add in the cost of 2 tanks of gas and tolls to my grocery bills? My situation is abnormal, but not unusual. Just ask my military friends – they get it! Anyway, my world is one of feast and famine.

I am recognizing the patterns of my travel transitions. I arrive in a new country. I spend 6 months going places, buying things, traveling with new friends, and paying for it all on my credit card. Mind you, I have no clue what this funny money is really worth and I’m working like a dog during the week. I tell myself I have to enjoy this. I, You, WE only live once! Who knows when I’ll be back here again? And, did I mention, I’m working like a dog during the week? Let’s call this a 6-month feast of fantasy. At some point, I wake up and realize that I’m over my head in credit card debt and that something has to give. Usually, I find some finance clean up book (think Suze Orman, The Budgetnista, Personal Finance for Dummies, I could go on…), steal some tips, get a plan together, work all 7 cylinders for about 1 year to get my act and my credit together. Great, so now there’s 6 months left in this country of my career’s choosing and I want to take full advantage. So, I hit the bucketlist – hard! I depart for the continental United States with what seems like a reasonable amount of debt for a woman of my age and station in life.

But now I’m back in America, where my job forces me to NOT work for a month. LOVELY! Finally, one Congressional mandate I believe in. I’m not used to living on my mom’s couch for 30 days straight, so I travel for about half of it. (Add up the cost of these plane tickets and “I’m back in Amurikah” spending sprees). I end up back in Washington for light work before I leave for the next destination. In Washington, I’m paying for expenses I’ve forgotten exist. Yoga classes? Gym membership? Cellphone bill? I’m not even sure how to use these services, but its nice to have the option again, so why not? Can you hear the happiness of my credit card companies growing? Oh! I forgot to mention that I took a pay cut for coming back to the U.S. of A., even for this brief respite. So, I’m spending like a princess, but my salary is that of an entry-level trainee at McDonald’s. This goes on for about 6 months or so. I tell myself that when I go to my next country, I’ll be able to catch up.

I get to the next new & exciting place. Trailing behind me are all the debts I’ve wracked up from leaving the last amazing city and floating my broke, overspending ass in DC for 6 months, and I still want to spend the next 6 months going places, buying things, traveling with new friends, and paying for it all on my credit card. You see this vicious cycle growing out of control? Well, I sure as hell do! And I’ve decided to stop this shit. Really!

How exactly? Basically, by going into my 7-cylinder year clean up sooner in the cycle. Why wait a whole 6 months before I realize that CapitalOne is milking me like a cow? And, by realizing that spending money is something I do, but I have to do more purposefully and carefully.

One thing that always worked for me when I was in college is the reminder that money is just a form of currency. It’s meant to move. It doesn’t grow unless it’s given and received. Life isn’t about hoarding – cash, experiences, or possessions. So, every time I needed my income to grow, I did something counterintuitive. I took it upon myself to give. I gave to charity, to the guy on the street I normally walked right past, to the kids raising money for their basketball team. Sometimes it was just a dollar. Other times more. But, it reminded me that not having money was never my problem. Having it and spending purposefully, instead, has been a life long struggle.

On this, my latest trip across the Atlantic Ocean, I decided not to wait for a whole 6 months or even a New Year to resolve to make a change. It’s time for me to go back to giving, rather than spending. And when it’s not purposeful or meaningful, it’s time for me to go on a fiscal fast. Oddly enough, most people don’t know what my fasts look like. And that’s part of why I’m sharing this lesser known part of my journey.

I don’t take travel out of my budget, because for me it’s not a luxury, it’s a fact of life. But, that’s my reality. In times like these, I’ve turned off my cable all together. I only put $20 of gas in my car and made myself make it work each week – to/from work only. I bought only fresh vegetables from the local market, rather than going to the overpriced supermarket with lots of variety, but imported packaged prices. And as I say it now, I know some people are saying, “what kind of fast is that?” The point here is that my fast is my fast. I have to do what works for me, not the cookie cutter budget from a book for people who lead a more predictable life than mine. Being a nomad is how I make my daily bread, but it’s up to me to decide how I slice it and if I can afford to butter it.

“So what’s the point of this long rant?” you may ask. Well, it’s 2 fold:

1 – I’ve found myself in many conversations lately where money was a topic. Particularly in Mozambique, people count your money for you. They ask what brand you’re wearing. They would rather travel to South Africa for an afternoon to shop for food than to spend the night on the same trip and see a nature park. It’s all about letting people see what you have, not about enjoying 1) what you have, 2) who you are, or 3) what your money can afford you. In this space (and even my hometown in New Joizey) being humble doesn’t translate. And no matter how honest I am, people always I assume I have money – lots of it. Let’s be honest. Since I’ve become a career woman, I’ve become part of the working middle class, who – once you actually count their incoming/outgoing cash flow – is actually cash poor. BUT my profession provides the basics in fabulous fashion. Read: Don’t be fooled. If you walk into my house, none of this shit is mine!

A lot of people’s self worth is tied to how much money they have and how much money others think they have. We are all victims and perpetrators. But, this is my latest attempt to shake myself free. This is my attempt to remove the veil that social media and distant allure perpetuate. Remember? My McDonald’s sized paychecks are provided by the employer that let’s me be a glorified postal worker in cities you’ve never heard of. It’s as simple as that.

Financial freedom is an individual road that we can all travel. Mine has taken me to two countries on the edge of the Indian Ocean, but yours may take you just down the street. Both are valid. Either way, walk your own path and be honest in that truth. Cash rich, debt free, and all the ebbs and flows between.

2—I haven’t been giving like I should. I haven’t been giving, in any real sense of the word. I’ve been spending. And it’s time to make a change. I thought about doing this in 2014, but somehow my own wants got in the way. But 2015 is a different time and yet another opportunity to be better than I’ve ever been. Each month I will give $25 to a different charity in honor of or in support of people/causes that have touched me. Let’s be clear, I’m declaring this publicly not show off (or even inspire, frankly), but to hold myself accountable to a group of peers and family members whose opinion of me I value. Sometimes declarations said in silence are all too easily forgotten. A la 2014. So listed below are the 12 charities that will receive a donation from me next year.

1- Whitman-Walker Clinic, DC

2- Community Foodbank of New Jersey

3-Livro Aberto, Children’s Literacy in Mozambique

4-Newark Arts Council

5-The City School, Boston

6-The Susan G. Komen Foundation

7-Deepalaya Foundation

8-The Newark Museum

9-Harlem Children’s Zone

10-Children’s Aid Society

11-American Civil Liberties Union

12-Common Good City Farm

In 2015, I’ll be sure to send you a monthly update reminding you of the month’s chosen charity AND the connection I have with its cause.

Here’s to keeping me honest (Maybe that’s something else I can attribute to my profession) and showing the reality behind the passport stamps. May my journey be one you grow context from and one you see as a source of ideas. And may my every day as a public servant jet-setter continue to be as fun and exciting as the 19-year-old in me had hoped it would be.

Here’s to toasting up Martinelli’s instead of Moet… for at least another year.

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.