Thursday, 14 January 2010

A Visit to the Tailor

I was told before coming to Moçambique that I would have to turn down marriage proposals left and right. This is not completely accurate. Men here do not propose marriage. They simply inform.
Take for instance, a recent conversation with my tailor, translated into English:
Tailor: Good afternoon!
Me: Good afternoon? My dress is ready?
T: Just a moment while I fix up the zipper. So, do you live here in Chokwe?
M: Yes, I moved here a few weeks ago. I like it here. But I don’t like the heat.
T: Yes, it is hot. So, do you have a namorado (boyfriend, husband, lover, etc.) here in Chokwe?
M: (realizing exactly where this conversation is headed and jumping to evasive action) No, my husband is in the United States right now. Have you always lived in Chokwe?
T: (repeating the line all men in Moçambique recite and are convinced of) But no namorado living with you here? You’ll go crazy!
M: No, I’m okay. How about you? Do you have a namorada?
T: (clearly congratulating himself on this opportunity) No, not here, just in Bilene. (pause) I’m going to make you my wife.
M: Um, I have a husband. And you have a namorada, no?
T: In Bilene (roughly an hour away – clearly this is an excusable distance). But you will be my wife. I like you.
M: How’s that zipper coming along?
T: It’s good! Would you like to try it on?
M: (acknowledging we’re in the middle of the market and Moçambique does not believe in dressing rooms) No thank you, I’ll just take it. Good bye!
T: Can I have your phone number?
M: No.
T: What?! Why not?
M: I’m going now. Have a nice day.
T: Okay! See you soon! Just bring it back if there’s any problems and I’ll fix it. Tchau.
M: Okay, thank you. Tchau!
And we part ways.

"Estou a pedir..."

“Estou a pedir” literally translates into “I am asking for.” It’s roughly equivalent to “please.” On a cultural level, however, there’s no comparison.
A founding father once said something along the lines of “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.” He would never have survived in Moçambique. Moçambicans “estou a pedir” for anything and everything. It makes sense in this culture – no one has everything one needs, so people think nothing asking a neighbor or friend for it, knowing that neighbor or friend won’t hesitate to ask for something when they need it as well. Tomatoes? Clothing? Stove? Children? No problem.
However, it’s a little more complicated for Americans to get accustomed to this concept of “estou a pedir”-ing…especially in certain circumstances.
People along the side of the road will estou a pedir you for a sip of water. Kids will estou a pedir you for your shoes. And worse.
For example:
I was peacefully enjoying my bucket bath one morning in Namaacha in our outdoor “bathroom” next to the house. Just as I was bent over filling up a cup to rinse off, I heard Mama Celeste approach from the house. I looked up from my bucket just in time to see the curtain that serves as a door pull back and Mama C stick her head in. Confused, I froze, bent as I was over my bucket, wearing nothing but suds, and blinked.
“Estou a pedir tesoura.”
At this point, my Portuguese was still a work in progress, so I wasn’t entirely sure I’d heard correctly.
“Esta a pedir…tesoura?” I repeated. Literally, “You’re asking for…scissors?”
She replied with a grunt – which translates into “yes, please” in the local language of Xangana.
I stood there a moment longer, racking my brain for any possible way that this request could make sense at the present time. Nothing.
Finally, I said “Não tenho agora” – “I don’t have them now.”
She grunted again – this time meaning, “Oh, okay.”
She remained standing in the doorway. We stared at each other. The soap was starting to dry on my skin. I wondered if perhaps I’d been too obliging in the past.
“Umm…depois.” I finally said. “After.”
Her next grunt (meaning “fine”) sounded a little disappointed.
Another uncomfortable and soapy moment passed. Then she disappeared back behind the curtain.
I stood there blinking for a bit before finishing my banho. Afterward, I went to my room and fetched the scissors for Mama C.
“Muita obrigada,” she said. Which confirmed that, for better or worse, I’d heard her correctly.
Another night, I was awoken by a knock and my door and Mama Celeste calling my name (kind of… “Valer” is close enough). In a sleepy and worried daze, I stumbled out of my sleeping bag and mosquito net to open my bedroom door.
“Estou a pedir lanterna.”
At this point, I still didn’t know what the emergency was, but I understood that it required a light – in this case, my cell phone that doubled as a flashlight.
I went to my bed, retrieved my cell phone and handed it over to Mama C. I watched from my doorway as she walked to her room, peeked through a stack of clothes, and get a pair of socks out of the bottom. Then she came back and handed me the cell phone.
“Muita obrigada. Vou dormir.” Thank you. I’m going to sleep.”
I took my cell phone, saw her go back to her room and heard her climb into bed.
Then I looked at my cell phone. 3:30 a.m.
I didn’t say a word. I just went back to bed.

Monday, 4 January 2010


They have an incredible invention here in Mocambique called the empregada.
An empregada is a woman (always) who helps take care of the house. It’s almost like a maid or a nanny, except that they’re commonplace here. Stay-at-home-moms as well work-outside-the-house-moms (they do exist here!) both utilize empregadas. I’ve heard empregadas employ empregadas, but this has yet to be seen.
Clancy and I were blessed to inherit a wonderful empregada who’s worked with the previous four volunteers. Josefa comes for a couple hours in the morning four days a week, and she is a huge help to us. In fact, the other night, Clancy and I talked about how we miss her on days when she doesn’t come in, and we wondered how we ever survived in the states without one.

Who pumped and carted our water from the well every other day? And then helped boil, cool and filter it so we could drink it?
Who spent four hours washing our clothes in tubs with a bar of soap and hung them to dry on the line? Then scrambled to take them in during sandstorms?
Who washed our floors every other day to get rid of the dust from keeping the doors and windows open constantly?
Who showed us how much faster it is to heat bath water on the gas rather than electric stove?
Who burned our garbage in the backyard?
Who killed the cockroaches in the refrigerator and knocked the termite mounds out of the extra bedroom?
Who corrected our Portuguese and told us daily we needed to fatten up, find a nice Mocambicano boy and live in Mocambique forever?

…anyway, long story short, we’re very fortunate to have Josefa.

And the best part?

Clancy and I both pay her $10.

…a month.

I <3 Mocambique.