Tuesday, July 31, 2012
People often ask me how I chose this job and why I stick with it. True, there are many downfalls—such as missing your family members, missing out on family events and not having access to normal American products like Zip Lock bags and chocolate chips. But sometimes I experience a day that makes all the hardship worthwhile and reminds me why I signed up for this job. Sometimes everything goes right and I remember why I joined the Foreign Service and how lucky I am.
July 28 started like any typical Saturday in Mozambique. Sunshine flooded into our bedroom window from the lovely Indian Ocean view just in front of our apartment. Unfortunately for Lee, he was unexpectedly called away to a Hash Running Club meeting, but that left me with some alone time which I used to putter around our kitchen. Our kitchen is spacious and beautiful—the best kitchen I have ever had the privilege of living in. We have granite counter tops, an abundance of white cabinets (including two lighted units which we use to show off our beautiful Polish pottery), ceramic tile floors and lots of windows. It’s really a dream kitchen and it costs nothing. Foreign Service pays our rent and all our utilities. This is a benefit I don’t take for granted and it allows us to live a lifestyle that we could not enjoy if we lived in the United States. Speaking of benefits—we also employ a maid and a cook. We hired the maid as soon as we arrived because it is sort of the “thing to do” when you live in a hardship country. The salary for a maid is so low that it becomes an act of service to help employ people in your host country. Our maid is very nice but speaks only Portuguese. We have a difficult time communicating with her but our house is immaculate. She cleans everything, washes and irons all our clothes, meets the repairman when necessary and generally takes care of us. I don’t want to disclose her salary but suffice it to say that her monthly income probably does not exceed what it would cost you to go out to dinner three times a month. We recently hired a cook two days a week. Lee was a bit resistant to this idea at first, but our cook came highly recommended. She is absolutely a master in the kitchen. She is originally from the Congo and speaks several languages, including English. On her very first day, I tried to buy apples because I heard she made an excellent apple crisp, but I could not find any apples at the local shops. I hunted around the kitchen for some random ingredients and I came up with cream cheese and eggs. She had the brilliant idea to make a cheesecake. It was delicious. I felt like I had died and gone to culinary heaven—and it was only her first day. Anyway, back to Saturday. I organized the cabinets and enjoyed listening to the birds singing on the patio outside.
Before Lee returned home, I decided to have a manicure and pedicure. The salon is located at the edge of a park, which is right next to the ocean. I can sit in my manicure chair and view the lovely trees and the ocean. Because it’s winter here, the temperatures are a bit cooler which makes it an ideal time to have a wedding. Apparently, this park is an ideal place to take wedding photos because there must have been 25 wedding parties all gathered in the same place! Finding a parking place was quite a challenge, but I got to sit in my chair inside the salon and watch all the lovely African brides and their bridesmaids and wedding guests taking photos for about two hours. All you girls out there know how fun it is to see lots of pretty dresses and happy people getting married. In Africa, things are much more colorful than in the United States and this definitely applies to weddings. I saw bridesmaids in bright green neon dresses and I do mean NEON green! There were also bridesmaids dresses in purple, red, and yellow—all the colors of the rainbow. Each bride had at least two flower girls, two ring bearers, and a host of people to hold up her gown as she trailed around the park. The whole experience was a treasure to behold and the manicure and pedicure turned out well too.
In the afternoon, Lee and I did our usual Saturday run with our Hash Running group. The Hash has chapters around the world—there may even be a Hash club where you live. There is a group for walkers and a group for runners. This week, the distance of the run was about 8k. The run took us through a small village where local kids ran along with us, shouting encouragement and laughing and chasing each other. The kids were mostly barefoot, wearing tattered and dirty clothing but their sheer joy at running was exhilarating to behold. At the end of the run, the group meets up to have a few beers, sing silly songs and generally supports each other through social interaction. Our running club is the closest thing we have to a family overseas. Everyone in the group is wonderful; we celebrate each other’s birthdays, joys and hardships, and we call upon each other for advice and help whenever we need it. The members are from around the world—all of us away from home and we share similar experiences of life in the diplomatic or foreign employment world.
After the beers and the singing, some of us go out to dinner together. This night, about 10 of us went to a local pizza restaurant. The food was delicious—you actually can get a good pizza or pasta dish here in Africa. Some of us had a few more laughs in us, so we went to a bar around the corner to continue the fun. Lee and I had not been to this bar before and we both really liked it. It was a small, cozy bar; sort of like a neighborhood bar. They were showing 1980’s videos from VH1, so if you can imagine a bunch of people from around the world (including local people) singing their hearts out to U2 and Madonna and George Michael and Whitney Houston, then you can imagine what a great ending it was to my Saturday.
As we drove home, I thought about what it’s like to live in Mozambique and how the things I experienced were unique to living overseas. I spent time with people from many different countries and I’m proud to say that many of them are my good friends. Each day I live here, I experience the rich culture that is Africa and only when you live here can you understand how vibrant and different is is from living in the United States. Come visit and find out for yourself. Open your world to new experiences. You never know what adventure awaits you.