Monday, November 21, 2011

malhangalene and me


A lot can happen in a month. In this month I was without Internet access, but I used most of the time setting up my new apartment, sorting out documents and fighting off a heinous cold/flu/death warmed up thing. In this month I finally fully and cathartically unpacked my suitcases for the first time in 15 months. And in this month I’ve transformed a dusty two bedroom apartment with a hole in the wall in the Maputo ghetto into a home.

A month ago, my friend William, our MCC Mozambique mechanic, and I made the 18 hour trek from Beira to Maputo in a pickup chocked full of furniture echoing with the ghosts of service workers past. We arrived to find that the previous tenants, who were supposed to vacate the premises two weeks early so the landlord could make improvements, didn’t leave until six hours before. So not only were the lease-dictated repairs not finished (such as the aforementioned hole in the bathroom wall), we showed up to discover that the previous tenants were a quite bitter upon exiting. They purposefully clogged the kitchen sink with nearly-overflowing grossness, they slashed some mosquito screening in the windows, they carved away the front door lock so it opened with a slight breeze, they tore apart the one and only outlet in the second bedroom, they ripped out a main floorboard and they ran off with the light bulbs, just for good measure. It took two good-natured men, three shipments of furniture from Beira, four visits from a carpenter, six visits from a plumber and his sidekick apprentice, two solid weeks of hard core deep cleaning, three visits from the landlord and a whole lot more patience than I was willing to give, but the apartment is finally liveable.

But there still remains one essential piece of the puzzle yet to be filled: the roommate. Using my networks, I sent out prayers and texts saying that I was looking for a friendly girl to join me in this newly renovated place. In return I received ladies from South Korea, France, the United States, Spain, Holland, Mozambique and Kenya to chat about or tour the apartment. Each person was lovely, but the conversation eventually ended with “it’s not exactly for me” in one way or another.

One girl who visited bluntly asked: “why did you choose to live in an unsafe neighborhood?” I was floored, since she had been in Malhangalene for approximately two and a half minutes, but in that time must have derived that unpaved roads plus broken down cars must equate a lack of safety. But I mustered the response of, “well, a Mozambican family lived here for six years before me, and if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.” I was quite upset by this expatriate’s assessment of her host country’s barrios, but I think it highlighted a very profound wall that I ran into.

I’ve made a commitment to live simply. A big part of this due to me joining the ranks of MCC, but the essence is that I have concluded that simple living is the best way to live as a Christian and as a person conscious of the way my actions affect my global neighbors. But in this capital city with its embassies, boutiques and posh street-side caf├ęs, the majority of foreigners do not agree with me. Now, I do not wish to put myself on a pedestal, but rather I want to state that there is a dichotomy in standards of living. From my experience of living in Maputo, there is a tendency of expats living in Mozambique from the hours of 8-5 Monday through Friday, but returning mentally and nearly environmentally to their countries of origin the rest of the time. They tend to set up walls between where the work and where they live—both figuratively and literally—and I realized that even I cannot traverse that wall. It is much easier to talk about poverty in Mozambique than to live about it. I’m still keeping my mind open to the possibility that I will find a young lady in this city who doesn’t mind the dust, noise and occasional cockroach if it means living on the same level playing field as those who we flew thousands of miles to come serve.

My apartment has its flaws, to be sure. The electrician is still yet to grace me with his illuminated presence. The neighborhood children screaming and playing in the middle of the sweltering summer street still have yet to drive me to insanity (although they have come close). The whitewashed walls will forever hold dirt and smudges, and my parquet wooden floors will forever refuse to properly hold its wax. But it has its charms as well. I get lots of exercise and adrenaline rushes while tearing from room to room with a Chaco held high in hot pursuit of stinky cockroach invaders. I’ll never have to buy a radio since the neighborhood bars share their music quite loudly and generously each weekend. I have a space that’s uniquely mine in Mozambique, without having to share or interfere with the home of someone else. I have electricity and running water and even a wobbly ceiling fan, which the majority of Mozambicans have yet to attain. And I have two wonderful verandas where I can watch the first thunderstorms of the season unroll like an electric blanket over downtown from the ocean to the west. This past month has reminded me that in all things, no matter what, I am richly blessed.