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.

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…

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

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

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.

P1090224.jpg

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.

P1090207.jpg

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.

P1090231.jpg

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

 

 

In Living Colour

I know it happened a few weeks ago, but I went to the Color Run…though in SA I think they really spell it British style with that silent ‘U’ – Colour… any whoo….

One of the best things about living in Southern Africa is South Africa. They say things like “shame” and “now now,” which in American vernacular means “Aww darn” and “as soon as possible, hopefully today, inshallah before the sunsets, God willing and if the Levies don’t break.” One great thing that South Africa has is the great outdoors. There are safaris and treks through the mountains and sea views. Closest to our side of the border in a town called Nelspruit, this girl walked her first 5k in about 7 years. Oh, did I mention that we threw colors on each other the whole way? Ok, well that happened and here’s what it looked like:

If every 5k I walk is this much fun, I just might be enticed to do it more often! To learn more about the Color Run nearest you, see here for the US and South Africa.

Photo and balloon styling credit to the man of the Tembe house.

 

 

Bringing Zen back…

I’ve been blog quiet lately because I’m at a crossroads. As Lil Wayne said so eloquently (that I simply couldn’t say it any better myself), I admittedly “just built a house on I Don’t Give a F*ck Avenue.” I am officially less than a year away from ending the most challenging professional experience of my life and as I wrap up projects that I started on the day I arrived 2 years ago, I realize that I’m emotionally spent and absolutely burnt out. Being invested in being drained is a business I’ve gotten all too used to.

Unfortunately, now that I’m trying to shift energy to other things I’ve neglected, I’m finding myself stalled and ill equipped. With one foot out the door of my day job and the other not coming to terms with the emotion of doing ethnographic field work, I feel stuck. After brainstorming ways to get unstuck in my last trip to South Africa, I’ve taken on a few new activities to manage my energy and get my Zen back.

I started guided meditation. It’s been a long time since I have had a regular yoga practice. And while I was anxious to get back into the yoga scene in Mozambique, I wasn’t physically ready after a recent surgery. So, I settled for guided meditation thinking I’d find a new group to get mindful with. Instead, it’s one on one meditation with a very cool thespian who is helping me connect with the elements, reunite with my inner child and interpret the images that come to me from my meditation sessions. Kinda hokey, I know, but also very powerful. Tonight, for example, we worked on 3 meditations: Kingdom, Light and Fire. In the interest of time, I’ll summarize just one. My kingdom’s castle ended up being El Mina castle in Cape Coast, Ghana (a Portuguese constructed slave fort that I visited in 2005, just as I started researching the African Diaspora in Brazil) and when I was given robes and a crown to greet my people, I was wearing my doctoral graduation cap and gown (and red Christian Louboutin pumps). When I greeted them, what I was actually seeing from the windows of the top floor was the view from Maputo’s Fortaleza, hence a view of the Port of Maputo, Maputo Bay and the Indian Ocean beyond. In so many ways, my value comes from my research and being an academic who questions African identities and presents them in all their nuance. Pretty powerful and illuminating actually – my illusions of grandeur are just within reach!

 

chat mug by vectored life

Chat mug by Vectored Life

I reserve the right to have no filter. It takes a lot of energy to try to perceive what other people want to hear and then modify speech and content to soothe them. I find that by 9am every morning I’m fresh out of that energy. So, while I was always pretty blunt, these days I reserve the right to have word vomit and forgive myself for it later. Using my energy to appease others feels like a poor use of the little energy I’ve got, but it’s totally freaking people out to get honest answers to their semi-rhetorical questions. Just today, a friend shared with me the great news of her expecting a new baby. I was delighted for her and congratulated her profusely! But, she kept talking… And then she launched into the only logical conversation from there, which is of course asking what I’m doing with my uterus. So, I gave her the no filtered version of what my reproductive organs have been doing lately and shared that I’ve been pregnant before – most recently this year. It ended in miscarriage, but it was a pregnancy nonetheless. All sorts of awkwardness ensued later, b/c I think she thought I wanted consoling. That was a really weird assumption held solely on her part, but I moved on to other more meaningful conversations and back to work. Could I have avoided the overshare? Maybe. But, it’s no secret and it brings me no shame to speak my truth. Frankly, the more I talk about my experiences the more I realize how common they actually are. So, why give the easy answer? This is just one example of my delivering a heavy dose of honesty lately to people who I knew weren’t looking for it. The best I can do is to preface every conversation with fair warnings, like “I really don’t think you want to hear what I have to say,” OR “I’m not human before 10am so if you want to talk now, it’s on you,” OR, my favorite “Do you actually want an answer to that question?” Because, for me, small talk is draining and I’m out here living real life to the fullest.

 

I concentrate on legacy, not success. I’m really into podcasts these days and my absolute favorite is “Asian Efficiency’s Productivity Show.” It’s pretty nerdy stuff on organizational development and productivity hacks, as told by various people who have concentrated on energy management, as well as professional & personal development. One of the most profound was episode TPS102 on Essentialism with Greg McKeown. And the most powerful part was his focus on a 100-year vision. Yes, you heard me right. Eff your 5-year plan. To hell with your 10 year projections. McKeown thinks it really helps people to get away from the urgent minutiae to focus on what it takes to build a legacy that lives on 100 years after we are no more. Fatalistic, I know, but it’s been very transformative for me. Thinking about what mark I want to leave on the world, not just which minor tasks I want to complete today, gives me great inspiration to trudge forward and thrive, not just survive. It’s motivation to get through and past the small stuff, so I can refocus on what matters most to me really and what will matter most for generations to come. Profound right?

 

So, these are my confessions of trying to bring my Zen back – YEAH! (a la J.Timberlake). If you have other relaxation, balance, mindfulness and/or centering techniques to share, offer them in the comments, because word vomit really isn’t very sustainable…

When I became a PhD Student…

…my entire life changed in ways I can’t quite describe, but will try to do so as accurately as humanly possible.

thealtphdplan.gif

I started off thinking that this journey would be one of accomplishment and accolades. Who doesn’t want to be a Dr.? Seriously. As far as I can tell, I’d be the first in my family – on both sides – and I could finally be like some of my colleagues at the CDC who use a whole slew of letters in their signature line. Imagine, Mrs. Government Worker, BA, MIA, PhD, BIYATCH! I thought it would feel great to say I was a no limit soldier, as far as education was concerned.

l-504.jpg

biogag

I also started off thinking that this wouldn’t be so bad. Much like how I naively thought that my Master’s program would be manageable while working a part time job, I naively thought this PhD could neatly fit into the hours after my full-time day job. I was discouraged by PhD students on 3 continents. I was warned by Professors everywhere, but I thought… pshawww… they don’t know me, like I know me. I got this.

Spoiler alert: I don’t got this.

93791989d975cdb6e68a2f2b394f29cb.jpg

pinterest

You know what else I don’t got? Any free time! An evening free of grad school guilt! Disposable income that doesn’t go to books! And, I’m going to blame my soon to be gone gallbladder on this PhD too… yup, I lost an organ, ya’ll.

Ok, so no, my PhD isn’t directly to blame, but a lot of things changed the minute I was admitted to my PhD program. I’m going to say that “bad genes,” as my surgeon put it, and bad habits brought me to this day.

gradschoolenergy.gif

1 – I eat a lot of quick and nutrition-less food these days. – When a PhD happens to you, it’s like nurturing a pregnancy, except there are no doctors to tell you what to do and you stay pregnant until you decide that you’ve gotten over the fear of giving birth. Lucky for me, I have a spouse that tells me to put the chocolate mousse down while reading the latest 20th century military war chronology. Others are not so lucky. If it has a wrapper, it won’t go bad in my bag for a day, and it can withstand tropical temperatures, I’ll probably eat it with reckless abandon. Oh, and did I mention I don’t eat meat… and I live in Africa? This means, my quick foods are highly likely to be deep fried, cheese or potato based, and/or purchased on amazon.com. Gone are my long leisurely weekends of making nutritious meals to last a week. If you find me in the kitchen NOT standing at the microwave and without a book in my hand, your eyes are deceiving you.

2 – About 6 months ago, I vowed not to beat up on myself about my weight. – This one act of self-love turned into non-exercise of all kinds. If it didn’t entail lifting a book to eye level or working while standing (b/c that’s just good for your lumbar system), I didn’t beat myself up for NOT doing. This means, all that fatty, sh$tty food I ate went straight to parts of my body that I didn’t even know I had. Who even knows where their gallbladder is? Really??

3 – I started letting other people make life decisions for me. – I realized that I needed to delegate a lot of my responsibilities to others, because there’s no way on God’s green earth it is possible to work my job, finish this PhD and live my life – succesfully – at the same time. So, to reduce stress on the latter and the former, I defered to people much less educated than wikipedia to make major decisions for me, including some about the state of my health. I let nurses tell me that I was too young for the surgery I obviously needed. I let those same people give me extended courses of antibiotics for issues they didn’t know how to treat. Essentially, I delegated the wrong decisions to the wrong people. So, I’m paying the price for breaking Management Rule #1 Delegate Authority but not Responsibility.

In short, consider this fair warning about getting a PhD and other acts of “doing too much,” which seem great on paper. I have to admit that in my attempt to get book smart, I’ve done a lot of dumb things. It makes you wonder, how they let me into this program at all. But, in any case, I hope those of you out there with academic ambitions, who still have all your organs take this as a warning. A PhD is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a game of chess, not checkers. So, train, prepare, and take care of yourself for the longhaul!

phd.jpg

FAQs on me…

I’ve been ravenously devouring a brilliant book on time management for writers by Hillary Rettig and since I’m only half way through the book, I can safely employ her tools against myself. She writes a lot about procrastination and perfectionism in the first half of the book. This really spoke to me, especially because of my tendency towards overworking as a mechanism to avoid possible failure in my writing and also as an escape mechanism for having to be socially committed to obligations and interactions I’m not really interested in any way. (I’m an introvert, damn it!)

But, now I’m on to the part about time management, which she tackles in a very pragmatic way. Oh, how she made my heart sing when she spoke about how writing terse, direct and/or logistically actionable emails is part & parcel of being a good time manager. You have to know that this runs counter to what my more “old school” colleagues would like, which is typically an email that reads like a friendly phone call. And often, getting an answer they don’t like wrapped in more than 50 extra words of fluff and flower petals goes down easier than the straightforward adult response of “No.”

Any who, one of the techniques Rettig advises is establishing FAQs and templates. And, get this, she advises using the “signatures” tool in your email to preset template responses. How effing brilliant is that?! Well, first things first. I know that I should create FAQs at work in a variety of areas (I will start promptly on Monday morning!) and FAQs for multiple facets of my personal life, so I hope you’ll bear with me as I try to tackle the latter here.  This is totally self-indulgent free writing, like most of what’s found on this blog, so if this isn’t your shtick, now would be a good to click elsewhere.

On travel:

  1. Where do you live? – Maputo, Mozambique
  2. How do you like it there? – I like it. It’s grown on me. Maputo is a small town that’s been growing very rapidly since the 1980s and there’s still a small town feel to much of what happens here. I can’t deny that I’m easily bored, so it’s been a struggle to find my balance here. But, being here has made me slow down and focus a lot more than ever before. Speaking Portuguese makes this a much easier place to live than it would be for foreigners who don’t speak it.
  3. How many languages do you speak? – I speak English natively, Portuguese fluently and Spanish relatively well. I also speak basic Hindi. The latter 2 are pretty rusty since I haven’t spoken them in a while.
  4. How many countries have you lived in? – I would say 4: the US, India, Mozambique and Spain.
  5. How old were you when you got a passport? – 15
  6. How many countries have you traveled to? – Angola, Antigua, Bahamas, Barbados, Brazil, Canada, Cape Verde, France, Germany, Ghana, Grenada, Greece, India, Jamaica, Morocco, Mozambique, Netherlands, Nepal, Pakistan, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, South Africa, Suriname, Swaziland, Switzerland, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom.
  7. Where was your favorite place to visit? – I don’t have a favorite.
  8. Are there any places you don’t want to travel? – I’m not particularly interested in Eastern Europe, Israel, or Western Sahara, so I wouldn’t go out of my way to get to these places, but if a free or convenient trip was on offer I’d likely be willing to go.
  9. Are there any places you regret going? – No.
  10. Where would you like to go that you haven’t yet gone? – Bhutan, Mexico, Sao Tome & Principe, Ethiopia and Italy.

On Mozambique:

  1. What’s there to do there? – Mainly beaches and seafood. For more details, please refer to google.com, Fodor’s, Lonely Planet, Club of Mozambique, and CNN Traveller.
  2. Where could I stay in Maputo? – Good places to stay in Maputo are the Southern Sun, Radisson, Cardoso and/or Polana hotels.
  3. What about the beaches?  – Within about 3 hrs driving distance you can reach beaches in Bilene, Inhaca, Macaneta and throughout the coast. Some can be reached by boat from Maputo port. If you have more time, Vilanculos, Bazaruto, and Mozambique islands are must-sees, I’m told.
  4. What do most people do for fun there? – Moz is best for people who like the outdoors, so that’s something to be mindful of. Maputo is not a big city, but there do tend to be nice parties at places like 1908, Coconuts, News Cafe and Silk. There’s usually no guest list or pomp and circumstance about getting in, just show up and pay the cover.
  5. How could I get around without a car? – As for transportation, cabs are available and they are easy to navigate if you speak Portuguese. There is no public transportation system. Locals use ‘chapas’ which are similar to dollar vans in NYC or ‘choupelas’ which are Indian tuk tuks.You can also rent a car at the airport. It is common for cops to stop you randomly and ask for pocket change, “refresco” (literally: ” a drink”, implication: you give them pocket change to buy a drink) if you’re self driving, so just be prepared for that.
  6. Do I need a visa to visit? – Pretty much everyone does, except citizens of the following countries: Botswana, Malawi, Mauritius, Swaziland, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe as they do not require an entry visa, when traveling to Mozambique for Tourism. If applying from the U.S., expect 4 weeks.
  7. Is it safe? – Yes, if you’re smart. It’s best to avoid night driving outside of Maputo and common sense goes a long way.
  8. Do I have to get shots? – No, you don’t have to, but it is recommended that you get all of your immunization boosters if you haven’t had them in a while. Typhoid, diphtheria, etc. Mozambique isn’t a yellow fever country, but if you’ve traveled to a yellow fever country in the past, they may ask you for your yellow fever card at the Mozambique border. Yes, you should take anti malarial medication and sleep under bed nets. And, if you plan to camp or do a safari where you expect to interact with wild animals, the series of rabies vaccine couldn’t hurt.
  9. How long do I need to visit? – If you plan to stay in and around Maputo, rent a car and self-drive, I’d say 5-7 days. If you plan to see more of the country and expect to fly to get there, I’d say at least 2 weeks.
  10. Can I stay at your house? – Maybe. Booking at least 1 month in advance is appreciated😉

On careers:

  1. What do you do exactly? – My day job is in international affairs, primarily management & operations. And I’m studying to get my Phd in Migration studies.
  2. What did you study? – For undergrad, Spanish & Latin American lit and African diaspora studies. For grad school, International Affairs w/ a concentration in Latin America and Social Policy: Race & Ethnicity. After that, I’ve studied culture, diaspora and migration.
  3. Did you know you wanted to go into international affairs right after school? – I definitely didn’t plan my career in any way. I feel like it chose me very early on and I haven’t found anything more interesting or stable to entice me away. I like living abroad and I like the challenges and variety that it presents. But, there are many careers that could be defined as international affairs or even development. I didn’t choose my career knowing all of these differences, but I think it’s been a good fit for me. Much of an international career isn’t about what you do for work, but the kinds of creature comforts or social/emotional support you’ll need to be your best at work.
  4. Is there any other career you could see for yourself? – A writer.
  5. What has been your biggest career challenge? – Trying to be adaptable and still being true to me – and not letting people walk all over me. Oh, and dealing with passive aggressive people. Oh, and supervising people.
  6. Are you afraid that your career makes you miss out on other things in life? – Afraid, no. But, I’m very conscious of the day-to-day events and happenings I miss while being away from my family & friends. I’m also thankful for the day to day spats and confrontations I also avoid by being away. Much like a long distance relationship, a career abroad has a lot of draw backs, but a lot of benefits too. When I’m home, I’m really there – there’s very little worry about the job or having emails interrupt my family time. I try to make up for my absence by being thoughtful, sending gifts, staying connected via email, etc. And one perk is that I have the opportunity to expose my family and friends to a part of the world many would have never visited otherwise. I appreciate that role and take it very seriously. I also respect the fact that many of my friendships are situational. I don’t take it personally or feel pressured by this anymore, but it used to get to me when I first started working.
  7. Will you change careers when you have kids? – No, not unless a member of my household develops health, learning or emotional impediments that would force us to stop traveling as a family.
  8. Have you found a mentor? – Yes and no. I think mentors, like friendships, can be useful in phases. I have a mentor who has been a great sounding board for the last 6 years, but she’s now retired and isn’t as in touch with the daily realities of the office.  I’d say we’re more friends that anything else now. At this time, I have secret professional crushes and most of the people I’m crushing on don’t know that I’m watching. I have found many people NOT to mimic though and that’s been a hugely important tool in my arsenal of professional development.
  9. What do you think is the key to success? – I think many people would disagree with me, but I’d say being ruthlessly honest when it matters. In my field, being diplomatic is important. But I find that people play it so safe sometimes that they have no identity, they appear to be unable to make decisions, and they allow conflict to fester when being open about their thoughts and decisive could go a long way for uniting their team. So, I think it’s important to be introspective, taking the time to formulate ideas that you can stand behind, and being unafraid to say those things to people around you. Even if you look silly or they correct your misunderstanding of events, I think you’ve gained from that exposure. And, especially when people are talking crazy, it’s important to be clear that you want off the crazy train.
  10. If you could emulate any professional who would it be? Who do you admire most? – I haven’t thought this one all the way through, but I’ve worked with and have a lot of respect for Vali Nasr and think I could really thrive in a career trajectory similar to his.

Life

  1. What do you do for fun? – At this stage in my life, this is a trick question that often makes me feel guilty about my answers. Honestly, I work on my Phd, read, and look for real estate investments, mostly.  I do a lot of other social and familial things, but I wouldn’t call them fun. Sometimes they are and sometimes they aren’t, but if the question is about stuff I do just for me, just b/c I like it… yea… those three.
  2. Why don’t you hang out as much as you used to? (and its variations: Why aren’t you so fun anymore? Why don’t you act a fool like you used to? etc. etc.) – Uhhh, on top of the fact that I think growing up is a huge part of life, I don’t find all the same things I used to do much fun anymore. Some things are fun, not because of the activity but because of your mind frame at the time or the friend group you had then. I don’t try to recreate past events, just because they were fun at one time in my life. Also, I’ve become much more selfish about the ways I use my time. If something is going to be draining, then I weigh the fun against the recovery time. And if I know that I genuinely won’t have fun, but just act as an accessory in the fun of others, I’m highly likely to bow out.
  3. What’s it like being married? – It’s a fun struggle. We laugh every day and we fight just about every other day. Our laughs have gotten longer and our fights have gotten WAY shorter, and so I think we’re doing something right. I still struggle with sharing space & delegating, we struggle with communication and verbalizing the need for support. But, we succeed in lots of things like planning together, being emotionally available, traveling together, being reliable, forgiveness, non-judgment, acting super silly and being vulnerable. It’s been a lovely, love-filled journey.
  4. How many kids do you want? – 5, adoptions welcome.
  5. What do you watch on tv? – I don’t watch much TV, but I watch the most mind numbing crap I can find, which means lots of cop and criminal investigation shows and things otherwise defined as ratchet, any kind of housewives shows or reality tv is a plus. When I’m actually trying to be dignified, I’ll watch HGTV. I rarely watch the news, (b/c who watches that stuff anymore without wanting to give up on the world… and I read the news online) unless it’s local news or the BBC.
  6. If you won the lottery today what would you do? – Buy a lot of property and start developing & designing. Gut my mom’s house and redesign it. Travel more. Fly some friends and family here for a visit. Strong arm my husband into getting an MBA. Finish out my contract here with a little more pep. Finish my PhD so much faster than ever before (b/c I’d get the research assistants and the books and the equipment that would make it happen faster). Publish this bad boy. Then go to a place where there are sidewalks, potable tap water, and there are Michelin restaurants in abundance. I’d eat and write, with equal fervor. I wouldn’t quit my job, but I’d be much more demanding about where I would accept to go next. And I’d start adopting and giving more to charities while I still had money.
  7. Is there any place you could see yourself living forever? – No. But, the closest thing to it is NYC.
  8. If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be? – Just one? Eek. Self-deprecating behaviors. I do a lot of feeling guilty about doing what I want, but then I still do it anyway. I wish I could stop feeling negative about these choices, feel less guilty and feel & act more empowered.
  9. Where do you see yourself in the next ten years? – I hate this question and I refuse to answer it.
  10. If you could meet anyone, dead or alive, who would it be? – Amilcar Cabral and/or my maternal great-grandfather, Polly.

[THE END]