Are we THAT couple now?

Turns out, after two years of wedded bliss and occasional blunders, a lot of my friends have now decided that I’m one half of an old married couple. I’m not sure when it happened, or why. But, I find now that my husband and I are often the most senior married couple in any room of our peers. Weird… Some of this is because here in Maputo the couples we know have been together for ages, but haven’t gone through the cumbersome feat of planning an African wedding. Most of my friends in New Jersey are singling and mingling. In short, we get asked about relationship and marital advice a lot. By no means, should we be asked. We don’t know anything about relationships, we just know a lot about each other. But, because I know we’ll get asked many times of the next year, as our friends and siblings get married one by one, here’s a short list of lessons I can share about transitioning from girlfriend to wife.

1f803ad34b2dd53f6f0ac81417fb88e5.jpg1 – Living together isn’t the same: Remember, girl friend, when it used to be exciting to sleepover at his house? The joys of the scent of his cologne on the sheets. Or better yet, before he said he’d come to your place, you cleaned up and put flowers everywhere. Oh, the staging! Staying in to cook dinner together was sweet and cozy then.When we were dating it was like sleeping over was the equivalent of staying in a nice Air BnB with benefits.  Now, wife, no matter where you go – he’s there. All the time. There’s no prep time. No down time. You’re not sharing his space and he’s not sharing yours. You’re both entitled to the same space. EEK! I died a thousand deaths at the beginning of our genuine cohabitation. I thought it’d be the same as before and it wasn’t. But the silver lining is that once I dawned on me that we’re both entitled and both responsible for the space we share. I stopped thinking I had to be the keeper of the house. His household chores have mounted! I’m his wife, not his maid.

30a1988f60fe3a530e297ac5520e9c4c.jpg2 – Honesty is the best policy: It’s so much harder to lie when you’re married. Remember, girl friend, when you would spend days apart and just meet up a few days a week for dates or cuddle sessions? You both had separate lives then. He was busy. You were busy. You both were broke.  You casually omit that your ex drunk dialed you, because you were in bed alone that night any way. You could say with a straight face, “I didn’t spend that much on shoes yesterday,” because you didn’t go over your household finances regularly. He could say, “I was at soccer,” and you wouldn’t have a clue if he actually went. You didn’t experience the confirmation funk after he came home from a friendly match. Now, wife, you both know too much. Even little white lies are hard to tell and personal secrets are hard to keep. We have managed to keep a pretty uncensored relationship and I don’t know how anyone could survive any other way. “I know your grandmother doesn’t like me. The feeling is pretty much mutual,” has been heard at our dining room table with multiple furrowed brows. “Quit complaining about being fat, you aren’t doing anything about it” has been said about 3 times in the last month – not that I’m counting. In any case, there’s a bit of thick skin that’s acquired, but the active listening skills improve. When you’re married you’ve got to listen to and live through the whole truth, not just the pretty parts.

4fed46be6744ee5704980e3718161437.jpg3 – “You’re on the same team”: We have 2 married couple role models, both couples were families I worked with in India and whose advice has been absolutely invaluable. (#couplegoals that are attainable and proximate are important for us.) This nugget came from the husband of one of these patron saints. And he said it to me, not us. At a farewell dinner, he said (with caution), “you have to remember that no matter what, you’re on the same team. I know you, and you’ll need to remember this.” And he was right. Not just right, but really right. Remember that honesty thing I said before, well that’s hard to stomach. It’s so much easier said than done. When somebody tells you things you don’t want to hear or when their support doesn’t look the way you planned, it can definitely feel isolating and oppositional. I’ve learned over the last few years that being on the same team doesn’t always mean being in agreement or even in sync. Sometimes it means being complimentary, using each other as force multipliers. What a relief it is to learn that marriage is like running a relay race together rather than competing side by side at a marathon.

b90ffe3084d263ae588576f23004322b.jpg4 – Be prepared to act a fool together: We struggled at the beginning to have fun together. My husband’s idea of fun sometimes goes too far and I feel like I have to be sober to make sure he doesn’t throw up in the pool. My idea of fun is best described as “0 to 100 real quick.” Either I’m absolutely boring (seriously, listening to productivity podcasts and watching paint dry boring) while recharging my introvert battery OR I’m double fisted at any bar that will let me in without a cover (after you do this enough the bar access eases) What this means is, we have seen each other at our worst – in the pursuit of trying to let off steam and let our hair down. Work hard, play hard has landed us next to each other the next day often with one of us having absolutely no recollection of the 15 hour period before. Girl friend, you might feel the need to discuss this in depth. Ask and be asked about your motivations. You think this behavior is an indication of a problem. This wife does a thorough physical check that no one has shed blood over the night before, confirms that no one has incriminating photos in their phones, says a prayer to the patron saint that keeps all fools safe, and makes a hearty breakfast to sop up the alcohol belly and shame accumulated over the night before. And then, we laugh about it and move on. Remember when I said you’ll have to “listen to and live through the whole truth, not just the pretty parts,” embarrassing yourself in front of your partner is just part and parcel.

58957daf33441420612215b7310ce537.jpg5- There are things I still don’t understand: This list is an abbreviated version of the long list of things I still don’t get about my own relationship, much less anyone else’s, i.e. farting around each other, managing finances, when/whether to have kids, intimacy, making the bed in the morning (hint: i don’t give AF about making anybody’s bed), attendance at family functions, working together, cross cultural union, inter religious union,  bilingual union, deciding where is home, retirement plans (yes, i’m thinking about it already), exes as friends, platonic friends, definitions of fun, managing a social calendar, managing my introversion, managing his extroversion… I could go on, but can you see why we’re so uncomfortable being the old wise couple in the room? We don’t know anything except our own experiences, most of which we haven’t even worked out yet.

My guess is 10, 15, 25 years down the line, the same will continue to be true. We still won’t know much, but we’ll have a lot of experience with trying to figure it out.

#musicamonday #MUSICMONDAY (55)

Welcome to the 55th installation of #musicamondays #MusicMondays, which features music from around the globe. Each song is selected to start your week off on the good foot! One still in the bed and the other in another country…

All month long, I’m bringing you artists from the  kingdom of Mutapa, the home of king Gungunyane, the gem of South East Africa… my adopted home for now… Mozambique! This is the last in the Moz series, so I have to take us back to our roots…

This marrabenta song is from the lovely Neyma. The song itself depicts rural life, which is very different from daily life in Maputo. Have a look, followed by a very good day…

Worst things I did this year while trying to be smart…

Broke Life - https://www.pinterest.com/resumeedge/jobresume-funnies/My husband, my friends, people who know me well and people who met me yesterday all know that I am the queen of doing too much. I think I deserve a medal OR a dunce cap to remind myself of this, because I am always biting off more than I can chew. I’m studying and working at the same time. I’m not just studying actually. I’m basically trying to write a book. And not only am I working, but I’m supposed to be people’s boss all day long. This is all while being an expert doggie mum, a new batch cook, and an aspiring CFR fellow. In preparation for the end of 2016 and in an effort to put all this mercury in retrograde behind me, here are my confessions.

 

money blog1 – I changed my retirement withholdings to $1 per pay period. Yup, I did that stupid $hit! Why? You might ask. I’ll tell you why. I thought I was going to overpay the maximum withholding last year. So as to avoid this, I dropped down the withholding to bare bones on the last pay period of the calendar year. And then? You might ask. I just forgot. I forgot for 10 whole months and didn’t realize until I went on vacation, came up for air and looked at my pay stub without work fog in my eyes. And so… I did that.

 

2 – I drove up the offramp from Kenneth Kaunda street. If you don’t know anything about Maputo what you should know is that there are no real street signs. Actually maybe there are 3 or 4, but they just popped up in the last few months. In any case, there was road construction, I was late to work and rather than just stopping for a sec to see which way traffic was going, I kept going straight up the ramp until I saw a car heading straight for me. Then, I turned into the UNHCR driveway to turn around and head back the way I came and start all over. I remained late.

image13 – I ordered a bottle of Veuve Clicquot at Oktoberfest. Yes, I meant to order champagne. No, I did not mean to order a bottle. For some reason, while sitting in a large tent filled with drunken Germans in Stuttgart, I conveniently forgot that the 95.00 price tag was in Euro (and not South African Rand). Why would I think in Rand? Well, because the only times I end up in a big party full of 20something White people, I tend to be in South Africa. In any case, 95.00 Rand is about $8 USD, which is about how much any bottle of anything in South Africa costs, so there was also a bit of wishful thinking to it too. I messed up, mixed up countries, mixed up currencies and a shameless friend sent back the bucket and made me order a glass of some cheap fizzy stuff. It cost about $8 per glass.

14581584_10102690261571042_941430723435017587_n4 – I bought and read Mindy Kaling‘s book “Why not me? – This book is horrible, but it sounded like a great idea because I love “the Mindy project” and I had free downloads on Audible. So I’m not sure if I’m more upset that I had to listen to her voice for 5 hours OR if I’m thankful that at least I saved hours of life minutes I never would have gotten back if I had read it myself. In short, her retelling of her life experiences is boring. Maybe she does fun things in real life, but she didn’t talk about them in this book. And then she gave a revisionist telling of advice about being a confident woman years after actually having been asked. And even after years of rumination… her answer was still lackluster. I want my money & my life minutes back.

 

5 – Batch cooking – Ok, so this is actually smart. But, since we have no legit tupperware (just old plastic ice cream containers), I have no place to store the food except in the pots I cooked them in. They fill up my fridge and seem appealing & edible for dinners (though they were intended for lunch) and by Wednesday at 11am, I have officially ran out of meals for the rest of the week. I’m still working through this one, because I think it’s redeemable. I’m trashing the repurposed ice cream tubs and investing in glass containers with snap on lids… I’ll keep you posted on how that goes.

Hope you enjoyed my  “doing too much” calamity confessions. Laugh @ my pain…

#musicamondays #MusicMondays (49)

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Welcome to the 49th installation of #musicamondays #MusicMondays, which features music from around the globe. Each song is selected to start your week off on the good foot! One still in the bed and the other in another country…

Let’s throw it on back to one of my favorite soup songs from India. I have no idea what ever happened to this guy, but even though its a sad song about a boy not getting the girl he wants it gets me bopping. And I hope it does the same for you. Have at it – all day long!

Swaziland’s Reed Festival, Feminism, Monarchy and other Africanisms…

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P1090220.jpgSince I moved to Mozambique, I had heard that travel in neighboring countries was one of the best advantages of adopting Maputo as home. And since I’d started traveling outside of Maputo, I had heard that one of the most fascinating cultural experiences in the region was Swaziland’s Reed Festival. In layman’s terms, it is an annual festival where all the girls and women in the Kingdom of Swaziland dance and sing for the royal family, in the hopes of being chosen as the King’s next wife. Yes, I said “next.” The current King has 14 wives and each year that he is alive he is able to choose another.

My human rights and feminist mind said this would be a sad festival to witness. After all, Swaziland is Africa’s last absolute monarchy and “King Mswati III has ruled the small country with its one million inhabitants since 1986. In 1973, Mswati’s father Sobhuza II banned all political parties and declared a state of emergency, which is still in place today. The king governs the country’s 55 administrative divisions, known as Tikhundla, through its chiefs.” According to avert.org, Swaziland has the highest HIV prevalence rate in the world, with 27% of their 15-49 age population infected with the deadly virus. “Heterosexual sex is the main mode of HIV transmission in Swaziland – accounting for 94% of all new HIV infections… In the context of the entire population, 31% of all women are living with HIV, compared to just 20% of men.”

So, what exactly did this festival promote? Traditionalists said it continued centuries old practices that insured clan linkages and promoted population growth to ensure ethnic survival. How could that be relevant in the context of contemporary realities? Democracy and political participation are non-starters, deadly STIs and STDs plague the country, polygamy remains prominent and partially explains the disproportional prevalence rate in women (42% of pregnant women are said to have the virus) , 63% of Swazis lives below the poverty line, and life expectancy is 48 years old.

I went in with an open mind. I knew that to most outsiders’ gaze this would be just a chance to see topless women or a condemnation of Swazi’s “backwardness” in the face of all the above, but for me this was an opportunity to see contemporary Africans performing and preserving what they considered to be an important cultural practice.

 

What I found was a mixed bag of emotion and observation, culminating in extreme gratitude. First, it’s important to know that the festival goes by multiple names, Umhlanga (officially), Reed Festival or Reed Dance. The festival is about 8 days long and it’s never the same dates each year. It’s typically at the end of August, but no one really knows until much closer to the date when the Royal Family announces the festival dates. The open space at Ludzidzini Field, the Queen Mother’s land, becomes the stage for scores of childless, unmarried, (I believe also virgin) girls and women dressed in traditional clothing, but bearing their breasts.

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Second, in the sequence of the dates of the festival, I visited on Day 6 and all photos here were taken from that small component of the entire event. We arrived at the field around 3pm to find that many of the dancing groups had already assembled and were making their way through the arena. The girls were jubilant and seemed to be having a really great time. As most people note that Swaziland is pretty boring most times of the year (except for Reed Dance and Bushfire), it came as no surprise that these young ladies were just enjoying the excitement of being together, dressing up and having something to do.

Since Swazis speak English it was a photographer’s dream! I asked them if I could take their picture before doing it and they all obliged. Some really enjoyed being the center of attention, posing in groups and staging themselves.

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Last, we left early to get back before dark. The drive from Swazi’s Ezulwini Valley to Maputo is about 3 hours, there are no street lights and Day 6 fell on a Sunday. Leaving after only an hour and a half felt like peeling myself away from something great that was just beginning to erupt. The press started to come and shoo us out of the way. More people started to arrive, including an aggressive group of Indian men who looked way too excited to be there for the festival’s intended purpose and seemed focused on a field full of breasts (…just the kind of creepy guys I expected might be drawn to such an event). More fashionable African women started to come too. Their breasts were covered, though they wore fashionable elements incorporating their traditional fabric (with the face of the King or the royal shield) with modern hipster jeans and sneakers.

As I left the festival with my 3 travel companions, we all walked away with different feelings. I was excited for having been able to take such interesting and intimate photos. My husband was sad realizing how young most of the girls were and constantly being reminded of the event’s purpose. One friend was excited to be back in Swaziland after having been gone since high school. He remembered places, recalled words and practiced recalling what he knew of Swazi. And his girlfriend observed, enjoyed and shared in the colors and styles of the fashion inspiration. So, we all left with our expectations shifted and perhaps a lot of food for thought, in all kinds of directions.

Turns out the festival is less about selecting a new wife for the King and more to “preserve the women’s chastity, provide tribute labour for the Queen Mother, and produce solidarity among the women through working together.” For me, it was one of those rare opportunities to see African people living their culture without caveats. There were no explanations or excuses, just Swazis being Swazis as they saw fit. While they spend the rest of the year shuffering and smiling, surviving in the face of historical and actual challenges, this festival felt like one of the few times they got to live out some form of vanity and celebrate themselves… in all their glory.

I was thankful to be able to catch a glimpse.

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Photos are the author’s own. Please request permission to reproduce elsewhere.

 

 

#musicamondays #MusicMondays (47)

Welcome to the 47th installation of #musicamondays #MusicMondays, which features music from around the globe. Each song is selected to start your week off on the good foot! One still in the bed and the other in another country…

So if you listened last week, then you know who Sauti Sol is, and if you know me by now you already love and worship Mi Casa. Ok, they had a musical baby that is this morning’s song. And if you play it on repeat this week, you are highly likely to have an awesome experience doing just about everything…🙂

Have a great day ahead!

musicamondays MUSICMONDAYS (42)

Welcome to the 42nd installation of #musicamondays #MusicMondays, which features music from around the globe. Each song is selected to start your week off on the good foot! One still in the bed and the other in another country…

For my lovers of house music, I think you will enjoy South Africa’s DJ Mobi Dixon and Msaki combo of Bossanova and South African house.

Enjoy the day ahead friends!