The wanderings of a thirty-something mid-westerner
I suppose that like most linguists, I was always in love with language. But somewhere in this business of listening to people I found that I had fallen in love with humanity. - William Labov
And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it. - Roald Dahl
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? - Mary Oliver
One of the most striking things about living in Mozambique is the fact that it's so colorful. This was initially a shock to me as I had been used to the conservative darker and neutral colors of the omnipresent formal clothes in Japan. In Mozambique, the more color and loud prints, the better and it's rare to see patterns twice. The most iconic and famous examples of the color in Mozambique are the famous textiles and fabrics that are made into capulanas.
A visit to an NGO that teaches sewing - you can see some capulanas worn here
A capulana is a rectangle of material that is worn everyday by the women in Mozambique. It's like a sarong, but in heavier and thicker fabric and is worn as a long skirt, as a baby carrier or made into shirts, dresses and skirts that are even worn by professionals in the workplace. The quality of a capulana is determined by its texture, thickness and waxiness and this determines its price. Capulanas are also worn in neighboring countries like Tanzania and Malawi and Mozambican and it's currently very trendy to be seen wearing fabric from international trade rather than the local market.
Making hammocks out of capulana - that's the ambassador trying one out
One of the best places to buy capulanas in Maputo is called "Casa Elefant" though it's a bit overwhelming to step into the shop whose walls are literally covered in hundreds of brightly-covered fabric. I've had fun choosing some capulanas to take home as gifts and also to make into some different clothes for myself. Last week I had the chance to visit a local NGO that makes bags out of the colorful fabric in the hopes of selling them to interested expats - it worked for me!
One of my tour guides wearing a shirt made from a capulana
One of the places I knew that I wanted to visit this summer was Ilha de Mocambique/Mozambique Island because it was the original capital of the country before 1898 and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the farthest north that I'm planning on traveling in the country and as you can see from the map, it was quite a trek to get there. After a two hour flight from Maputo, I arrived in Nampula for about a three hour drive to the island. The drive was an interesting experience in itself because it gave me a chance to view northern Mozambique. I'm sure my driver was annoyed with my constant stream of questions throughout the voyage as I wanted to understand everything. During the three hours we were stopped by the police four times and asked for bribes, people stood on the edge of the road and shook pans of cashew nuts at us enticingly and others ran toward our car shaking dead chickens hoping for an impromptu sale.
Banana trees growing in my hostel
Some of the colorful buildings in Stone Town
Afternoon swimming at a lagoon off the beach
Mozambique Island is tiny - about 3 km long and 500 m wide - and it's hard to imagine that it was once the location of a birth of a country. Before 1498 when Vasco de Gama visited, it was an important Arab port which is still evident today in the language, religion and traditions practiced there. The name of the island and the subsequent country comes from the name of the Arab sultan ruling when Vasco de Gama visited. His name was "Ali Musa Mbiki" or "Musa Al Big" which was translated into Portuguese as "Mozambique". The Portuguese established a port and naval base in the early 1500s and built a chapel which is now considered the oldest European building in the Southern Hemisphere - so cool! The Portuguese settlement known as "Stone Town" (still called Stone Town today) became the capital of Portuguese East Africa and spread to include more buildings including the impressive Saint Sebastian Fort. Times were tough for the island when the Suez Canal opened and the Portuguese capital was moved to the south of the country, which is now Maputo.
The color of the water was incredible #nofilter
Traditional lunch of cassava leaves, cashews and coconut rice
Most of the island's inhabitants (about 95%) are Muslim and there are five fully functioning mosques which bellow the call to prayer starting at 4:30 in the morning. Portuguese is not the language of choice and the locals prefer to converse in Macua, a complex mix of Arabic and Bantu with a smattering of Portuguese words and phrases. In addition to being known as a beautiful and historic place to visit, Mozambique Island is also known for being incredibly safe and I found this to be very true. Everyone is friendly and helpful in the streets and women walk alone without fear late at night. When I asked my guide why it was so safe, he said that it was because everyone was Muslim and that it was part of the religion.
Fort Saint Sebastian
I spent my first whole day touring every inch of the island with my guide, Amir, who was very proud that he had been trained by UNESCO. He gave the tour in Portuguese and when he didn't know a word he tried Italian and Arabic. This strategy seemed to work most of the time. We visited the museums, churches, neighborhoods and finally the fort that made up the island while stopping a lot to take pictures. After a delicious seafood lunch and a nap, I watched the sunset from a cafe and retired to bed at my hostel. "There isn't much here in terms of nightlife," the owner of my hostel said apologetically. Music to my ears.
Lunch on the beach
I spent the morning of the following day exploring the beaches of nearby islands 30 minutes by boat from Mozambique Island. My guide showed me hidden lagoons and great shell collecting spots before we stopped at his aunt's home for a freshly caught fish lunch. I had just enough time for a bucket shower (power and water were out all day) before catching my ride back to Nampula for my flight to Maputo. It was a whirlwind of a trip but definitely worth it!
If you know me, you know that I am most definitely a planner. Planning for trips and thinking about where and how to spend time is just as much fun as the experience itself and I find that I learn and remember more if I prepare a lot beforehand. One of the funny incidents that has frequently occurred in Brazil and now a few times in Mozambique is when local teachers and employees see my calendar or agenda. It's just a standard, black monthly planner from Staples that I keep notes and reminders in written down in pencil. I pulled it out in the consular office the other day to write down a phone number and the two locally employed staff members immediately walked over and wanted to know what it was and where I got it. They said they had never seen anything like it and wanted to look through every page. Later that week, when our boss asked if they wanted anything from the States from a visiting colleague, they both quickly replied that they wanted a calendar like mine. Similarly, in Brazil, an agenda was the most requested item for me to bring back from home.
Beautiful afternoon drinking caipirinhas after work
Before I came to Mozambique, I reached out to the five contacts I had who had been there and asked what they recommended to do. I made a list of all of the suggestion that looked interesting which included anything from drinks at a certain restaurant to a weekend trip at a place hours away. Since ten weeks is such a short time, I've been conscious about how to use each day and weekend and have been checking off things on the list as I go. Though I was planning on doing most of the items alone, I was surprised that the more I shared about my Moz bucket list and publicized when I was doing everything, the more other embassy employees and interns wanted to join in. Last weekend, I had planned to stay in the city to check out some recommendations that were only available on weekends. It turned out to be a delightful weekend for many reasons, not the least of which was the fact that I got to sleep in for the first time since arriving.
Sunset at Dhow Cafe
Friday afternoon after work I made sure that a group of us went to the "Caipirinha Shack" right on the water. Caipirinhas are a traditional Brazilian drink that blends a type of sugar cane liquor with sugar and lime. They are known to be deliciously potent and the ones at the "Cap Shack" were no exception. We heeded the "two's the limit" rule recommended by other fans of the place and tried the lime and passion fruit flavors of the cocktail. After drinks, we took a cab to the place in the city to watch the sunset - Dhow Cafe and it did not disappoint. As the sun disappeared we were visited by a muster of peacocks which made the experience even more exotic, colorful and noisy. Peacocks are not native to Mozambique in the slightest and this particular flock roams the city after having escaped from the President's garden awhile back.
Two of the other interns that I spend time with a lot - Jess and Maddie
On Saturday a group of us visited the local fish market and spent the majority of the day there. In Mozambique, going out anywhere is quite the event and takes a long time because of issues with transportation and slow service etc. Here in Maputo, there is definitely no hurry for anything. Eating out at the fish market is not considered merely a meal but more of a dining experience. First, we picked out our freshly caught seafood at the market (I chose shrimp) and then we moved over to the restaurant side and waited while they prepared it for us and added salad, fries and coconut rice. After three beers each, we were still waiting and I went to make sure that they hadn't forgotten about us or lost our order (they hadn't). When we finally got our food it was just as delicious as everyone had said it would be and everyone was in high spirits . We bought some coconuts to re-hydrate on the way home and made plans for "beach chicken" the next day.
Lunch at the fish market
On Sunday we walked down the beach to the local stands famous for selling "beach chicken". This dish is simply grilled chicken served with a spicypiri piri sauce along with the ubiquitous salad and french fries. After finding a spot to sit on the beach, we ordered and waited for our lunch while simultaneously fending off vendors hawking sunglasses, tacky jewelry and everything in between. The chicken was divine - juicy and flavorful and a bargain at about $5 for a huge meal for two people. Going back to Tokyo prices in September is going to be a shock.
Row of "beach chicken" tents
Being a planner doesn't mean that there's never any room for spontaneity it just increases the likelihood of seeing and dong certain things within a limited time. Spending a weekend in Maputo meant that I got to check off four things that were "must sees" according to friends and past visitors: Cap Shack, Dhow Cafe, Fish Market and Beach Chicken. Using a calendar for the win!
Since the middle of June, Sean has been working with a
company called Adventure Treks as a guide and leader for groups of teenagers
participating in three week sessions called the “Colorado Explorer” trip. Each
trip includes camping, backpacking, two peak ascents, whitewater rafting and
mountain biking. I’ve been able to talk to him twice so far – once between each
trip - and the next time I’ll be able to contact him will be when his job is
done for the summer. Making sure that both of us could have access to decent
internet while having a free moment and maneuvering around time zones in order
to have a simple conversation was a big challenge, but we managed about 15
minutes each attempt which I was very grateful for.
Sean reports that he’s having an incredible summer and
loving spending time outside and being able to take part in and teach about a
lot of fun activities. He says that the middle school aged students have been
fantastic and not only very eager to learn everything but also full of energy
and enthusiasm. He also shared that it’s the most tiring position that he’s
ever had in his life as the guides go nonstop from 5am to midnight every day
with only 1-2 days off between sessions. Interestingly, it wasn’t so much of
Sean’s experience in backpacking or education that got him this job (or the job
last summer for that matter) but rather his past knowledge of food service that
gave him an edge. It turns out that food preparation and meal planning for
large groups of people is a difficult but necessary skill, especially when food
isn’t easily available such as while hiking in the mountains. Sean says that in
addition to guiding, his main duties have been meal planning, purchasing,
packaging and preparation.
He said he’s been very happy and impressed with the
organization and attitude of the company and hopes to work for them next year.
The other guides are easygoing and a lot of fun as evidenced by the costumes
and crazy outfits they all wear on the trail. Sean says that the group’s
favorite thing to do on their precious days off is to visit the especially
creative thrift stores in Boulder. He
finishes working for Adventure Treks in mid-August, then spends some time with
friends in CO and finally returns to Michigan to hang out for a couple of weeks
before flying to Tokyo the second week
of September. I absolutely cannot wait
to see him again and share stories from our respective summers.
Some welcome changes have come my way and I'm enjoying my time in Maputo more than ever. The first big change was moving from FMO (financial management office) to CONS (consular office). I've spent the last three weeks learning a lot about how consular officers decide who gets a visa to visit the U.S. and who doesn't. Through this process I've had to learn all about the different kinds of visas that are issued and how to process them. The other half of the job consists of helping Americans who have any sort of problem while in Mozambique and also with routine needs like new passports, notary services and births or deaths abroad.
The consular office in Maputo is one of the smallest in the world because there is only one consular officer. The other two employees are local staff from Maputo. Although the office is super tiny with cramped workspaces, I like it because it's easy to know what's going on with everyone all the time (I'm probably the only one who thinks this, however). Since there is only one consular officer he has to do it all himself which means that I get to see how everything is done since I'm never more than about three feet away from any person in the office at any given time. He does all of the actual visa interviews and official signatures on documents and I've been taught to do all of the paperwork and data entry that goes into every service preceding his official decision.
Ivan and Jerson are the two local staff that have taught me most of how everything is done in the office since the consular officer is so busy with meetings and briefings. One specializes in services to non-Americans and the other focuses on American citizen services. Every morning, groups of people who want a visa to the US wait for hours to have an interview with the consular officer. They hand in their paperwork and passports, pay their visa fees and then wait for their number to be called. Jerson processes all of the cash and does the initial intake and then passes all of the paperwork on to me. I enter everything into the system and prepare the documents for the officer to use for the interview. In the early afternoon, I print the visas that the officer has approved and stick them in the passports. Lastly, I wait with the guards to hand them back to the people who come to pick them up. In between those tasks, I answer phone calls and emails with questions in English and Portuguese concerning just about anything you can imagine. If I can't answer the email, I flag it for Jerson or Ivan to attend to.
I am really enjoying working in the consular office because there is always something new and always something to do. It's really interesting to be able to interact with people from all around the world who want to visit the U.S. as well as talk to Americans who are in Mozambique. The people that I talk to are always either extremely happy because we helped them with something or gave them a visa or extremely unhappy because we couldn't help them or denied them a visa. The constant navigation between extreme emotions can be a bit tiring and occasionally overwhelming. I was told right away that I needed to grow thicker skin and Ivan and Jerson never get sick of sending me out to give people really bad news. In just three weeks I've been screamed at in person and over the phone and hung up on. I've seen new levels of rudeness that I never even though possible. Sadly, however, the people with the worst attitudes and treatment are always the Americans, which is something I wasn't expecting.
The other recent change has been another move. I've spent the first four weeks of my stay in Maputo in the intern house which has been fine, but not really my scene. When a nice young couple from the embassy asked if I wanted to live with them for the rest of my time here, I jumped at the chance. Now, I'm overwhelmingly grateful for daily access to internet, hot showers, air conditioning, a clean kitchen and constant quiet. It's pure bliss.
With this new access to internet I'm hoping to be able to write a bit more in my last four weeks here. Thanks for reading and stay tuned.
The great thing about being in a location like Maputo is
that it makes for doable weekend trips in the country or to neighboring
countries like South Africa or Swaziland. The most challenging aspect with
every trip, however, is figuring out transportation. To be able to do practically
anything in Mozambique or go anywhere you need a 4x4 vehicle since the roads
are at times barely passable. There is also not a nation-wide system of
transportation which is not something I truly appreciated until now I don’t
have it. It’s quite a shock coming from Japan where it seems that almost every
inch of the country is criss-crossed by some form (if not multiple forms) of
Ready for the ride across the sand dunes to the beach
This past weekend I knew that I wanted to spend a day in
Macaneta, a nearby beach that can be tricky to reach. I reached out to the
guides-in-training at the American Cultural Center for some advice and said
that I wanted to hire someone for the day to help me make it there. Another
roommate decided to come along to make the trip which was great because it
helped share the transport costs.
First we took a taxi to the train station at 6:30 in the
morning on Sunday. There are a few trains in Mozambique but they tend to be
expensive, unreliable and low-quality. We were hoping to get on the local train
that ran to the South African border but passed through a town near the beach.
Instead of meeting our one guide at the station, four decided to come along for
practice, which was a bit hilarious but turned out to be a lot of fun. Our
guide informed us that some days the train doesn’t run, for whatever reason.
Fortunately, that Sunday it was working and although it left a half an hour
late after buying our 24 meticais ticket (37 cents) we were on our way. The train
was slow and made a lot of stops but it was interesting to see the Mozambican
countryside along the way.
When we made it to a town called Maracuene, we got off and
walked through the town about a mile to reach a river where there was a
makeshift ferry making crossings for both cars and people to the other side. We
were told again that there was no guarantee that the ferry would be running
since it tends to break down a lot. The mode of transport that moved us across
the river could hardly be called a ferry but was more like a homemade raft with
a pulley. Before we got on, I asked everyone if they could swim and thankfully,
we all could. The ride across the river took about ten minutes and cost 2
meticais (3 cents) per person.
Enjoying lunch with our four guides
Once safely across, we hopped onto a 4x4 jeep for the final
leg of the trip to the beach. As we bounced across sandy trails and hills, it
felt like we were getting an additional dune ride for free. We made it to Praia
do Peixe (Fish Beach) at around 10:30 in the morning and went immediately to
one of the beach restaurants. Since service is notoriously slow (or doesn’t
happen at all) it’s common practice to order your food hours in advance and
specify when you are going to eat. We all picked seafood and said that we would
like it to be ready at 12:30.
Amazing fresh shrimp
We spent the rest of the day lounging on the sand, soaking
up the sun and enjoying the time and quiet away from the chaos of Maputo. The
seafood lunch with a cold beer was fantastic and then at 3:30 we started the
long trek home again. Sadly, the train did not arrive at its “scheduled” time
and came about two and a half hours late. Suffice to say, after we had
exhausted all conversation with each other, I made it through a chunk of my
novel. Kate and I made it home at about 9:30pm sandy and sunburnt with just
enough time to unpack and shower before crashing in anticipation of an early
start the next day and another long work week.
As I’ve been meeting new people who work at the embassy and
getting to know the Mozambican students who frequent the American Culture
Center, I’ve been surprised at how many people recommend going “hashing.” At
first I was confused about what everyone was talking about, but after a little
research I learned that the “Hash House Harriers” is an international social
club that runs and drinks together. There are hash clubs all over the world and
the club in Maputo is alive and thriving. The club is also known by its slogan
that it’s a “drinking club with a running problem.”
The Maputo Hash House Harriers or H3 meets on Saturday at
2:30 on one of the main avenues of embassies in the city. I decided to go and
dragged a similarly introverted roommate with me to experience the weirdness that
I had been warned about. Other colleagues had cautioned me that the hash isn’t
for everyone and that the group can be obnoxious and raunchy at times so I was
a bit apprehensive and didn’t want to go alone.
We showed up at the meet-up spot, paid our 80 meticais (“hash
cash” - about $1.50) and waited for the event to begin. The shenanigans started shortly after with an introduction of the “hares” – the members who were
selected to set out that week’s trail in a secret location using flower and
chalk. The rest of us were the hounds tasked with following the trail and
eventually finding the hare. The hares wore red shirts and the hounds wore
anything from normal running clothes to strange and funny costumes. After
giving directions to the hash location, we carpooled to the site and everyone
started running around looking for the start of the trail. What’s interesting
about hashing is that it’s completely noncompetitive and set up to be social
and inclusive. One way that this is accomplished is by making false trails and
tricks that force the faster runners to run more to investigate while allowing
slower runners to catch up. There are also several check points (some with
beer) along the way to make sure nobody is lost.
Besides the drinking, socializing and exercising, the main
draw of this activity seems to be the goofy rituals and traditions that
everyone follows. For instance, every member has a special hash name that has
to be given to you and is only given after showing commitment to the club.
Names are usually embarrassing and can be inappropriate, which also reflects
the flavor of the sport. During this hash, I ran with “Swiss Pimp” and “Lip
Service” – an intern from the Swiss embassy and one from the Canadian embassy
who quickly got me up to date on all things Hash. Other members included an
extremely diverse mix of nationalities, ages and even families along for the
run or hike (there are separate tracks for each).
After the hash, everyone returned to the “hash house” for
speeches, awards, general banter, initiation, songs and chants which were all
led by the “hashmaster.” Since it was my first time at a hash, I had to answer
some horrifyingly embarrassing questions about myself in front of everyone and
then chug a beer. That part is still giving me nightmares, but the rest of the
evening was fun. To be honest, going hashing was exactly what everyone
predicted: an evening jogging outside of the city with lots of opportunities to
drink and socialize while at the same time being slightly inappropriate and
entertaining. I’ve already looked up hashing clubs in Tokyo and I’m happy to
report that there are several to choose from! I wonder if Sean will be up for it?
According to my Japanese professor, the term 'wanderlust' can best be translated as either 旅行狂 (Ryokō kiyō) which means 'travel enthusiast', 'mad for traveling', or 'travel crazy'. She also suggested 旅行熱 (Ryokō netsu) which means 'travel fever'.