Saturday, October 27, 2012

home sweet home

October 15 marked the one year anniversary for moving into my apartment in Maputo. It also marked a new beginning that I definitively decided on as I fell asleep one night: composting. Now, I live on the top floor of a very urban apartment building, but in the last year, my apartment has seen my modest plant friend collection expand. I recently bought some new seeds and started harvesting some from the vegetables I regularly consume. Then I decided that by golly, I WOULD make my own verandah garden. I do realize that given the neighborhood threats of rats, cockroaches and ants, my venture into back verandah composting could be compromised. But I’m going to stay positive and start rotting my foodstuffs. My goal is that in time, I will create enough fertilizer and/or soil to support my garden and produce herbs, flowers and at least one avocado, pineapple, green pepper, green bean, and squash in the next year. We’ll see.

While I can’t believe it’s already been a year since moving into my humble abode, I also can’t believe my transitions and personal growth over the last year. I remember the sorry state my apartment was in when I first walked in with my suitcases. There were only two working light bulbs, which is more than could be said of the latch-less front door slamming in the breeze. But in the last year, I’ve slowly turned a grungy bug hole in the ghetto into a cute little Pintrest-inspired home. I’ve learned that living without electricity at night, water during the day, and gas for a stove over a weekend all makes me appreciate those amenities so much more. I’ve learned to embrace the satisfaction of not having ants covering every surface of my kitchen. I’ve watched holes get drilled into the walls, the kitchen floor get ripped out, pipes get exposed in every corner, and sinks get dismantled, all to learn the blessing of plumbing. Intrusion of rats quickly taught me the importance of keeping my kitchen window closed and that my boyfriend is a merciless rat-smasher. And, after many solitary evenings alone, I’ve recognized the beauty of community and hosting friends.

But I think all in all, this last year in my apartment has taught me the importance of getting dirty in order to grow. So in this concept, the composting shall commence in the hope of bringing forth new life in the next year of apartment life.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


I had been to Mozambican weddings, parties, homes, schools, and rituals, but never to a funeral. A month or so ago, I was comparing cultural experiences with some other expats, and I remember feeling low on some vague and frivolous cross-cultural point system because I didn't have funeral attendance on my list. But now, my former selfishness has rapidly faded away in the commemoration of the life and death of someone who I cared about.

My boyfriend’s father passed away on October 6th. I saw him that previous Sunday and heard his struggling voice and felt his clinging grip as he refused to let post-op complications and sickness get the best of him. He was recovering, but quickly declined in his final days. So it was quite a shock when Victor returned to the car after a routine check-in at the hospital with the news that his father was gone. I held him in the car and took him back to my place to pack my bag, but I felt so helpless. I then drove us to his home where we rocked our heads in our hands with his family, and I felt so unhelpful. In the following days, I stayed, ate, cried, talked, and stared into space with his family, and I felt so useless.

I had no words in any language, I had limited skills for hosting the communal masses, and had nothing to offer for comfort. I am not a legitimate family member, and have few memories of this man to share. I look differently, I talk strangely, and am all things foreign. But I stayed. I had no words so I was quiet. I had no actions so I was still. I took time off work so I had nothing to do. And somehow there was immense peace in just being. There was no awkwardness in silence and no longer anxiety in inactivity. I was there, and that was the biggest gift I could give.

At some points, I had time to be alone as Victor was in family meetings and guests ebbed and flowed. I read a book by Henri Nouwen in these spaces, and I came across a passage that I found fitting for my situation.

“Those who do not run away from out pains but touch them with compassion bring healing and new strength. The paradox indeed is that the beginning of healing is in the solidarity with the pain. In our solution-oriented society it is more important than ever to realize that wanting to alleviate pain without sharing it is like wanting to save a child from a burning house without the risk of being hurt.”

I had already explained to his family that I wasn't going to spend time with them only in good times when there was celebration and happy moments. I was willing to be by their sides in times of grief and pain as well.

I think that part of the cause of our suffering in moments like these is realizing that life is out of our control. We had plans of things to do with Victor’s father, places to go together, words to say, and love to show. His family strived hard to get the best medicine, talk constantly with doctors, and seek out every possible treatment. But when God allows such an interruption to the flow of our normalcy and intentions  it throws our perceptions of control out of order. The acceptance that God’s plans are better, bigger, higher, and more logical than ours is seemingly ludicrous in these situations. But while I can’t offer any other advice or wisdom or condolence to his family, I can offer solidarity in the struggle of what they’re going through, acknowledging that it’s not about me or us in the face of a larger plan. Nouwen continues to say:

 “The movement from loneliness to solitude is a movement that allows us to perceive interruptions as occasions for a conversion of the heart, which makes our responsibilities a vocation instead of a burden, and which creates the inner space where a compassionate solidarity with our fellow human beings becomes possible.”