Venturing Out

Maputo is full of welcoming people and we’re starting to make some good friends. Sometimes the embassy community feels a bit like college: a bunch of people thrown together for a few years – professionally and socially – possibly without anything in common. Though it’s kind of like the military in that we’re all in this same weird boat without any of our friends and family and everyone knows we need to reach out to and look out for each other. It’s nice (though I do very much miss my people back home).

We’ve been making some trips around Maputo and beyond. Awhile ago a group of us went out to the island of Xefina, a tiny speck of land in the bay, and walked around its beaches for a few hours exploring the mangroves, marvelling at the flamingoes, chasing crabs and collecting shells.

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The “pirate ship” dhow we took out to Xefina. It was a nice, few hours ride out to the island; it was neat getting to see the city from a new perspective. 

About a month ago we took a ferry across the harbor to the small town of Catembe. We walked around for hours, from the market at the docks down the coastal road, pausing to get coffee and check out a historic restaurant and then stopping at a hotel for lunch (I ordered “lulas grelhadas,” very nice grilled squid) and to swim in their pool. We saw a few large monkeys along the road – the first I’ve seen in the wild! They were too quick for me to catch a photo, though.

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View of downtown Maputo from the hotel.

 

 

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Paintings lining the main road.
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A colorful, popular restaurant in Catembe covered in some fun artwork.

The first weekend in April, six of us drove about 2.5 hours north to Bilene to spend some time on the Uembje lagoon. We stayed in a self-catering villa where the backdoor opened onto the beach. The water was calm and cool – though full of sea urchins! – and we ate a lot of good food and drank quite a lot of wine. It was the farthest we’ve been outside of Maputo and it was so interesting to drive and see some more of the countryside. Mozambique is currently suffering from a terrible drought, though the tropical vegetation doesn’t yet seem to mind and is still very lush and green. We stopped a few times to check out roadside pottery and weaving vendors and to try some fresh palm juice.

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Photo by my friend Daniel; looking out the backdoor of the villa in Bilene.
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Josh and Daniel

 

In other news, I started work two weeks ago! It was kind of like going from 0 to 100mph – I slept so much last weekend – but it is so good to learn and be responsible for things and meet and talk to new people and have a routine. My job is multi-faceted and a great challenge, I hope to serve the community well. My co-worker is leaving soon for a three-week vacation; here’s hoping I can hold everything together!

Macaneta

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Mozambican beaches are beautiful! A few weekends ago one of Josh’s colleagues invited us to join him and his family for a short trip to Macaneta. The beach is less than an hour’s drive north of Maputo and we hit no traffic on Saturday morning. We drove to Marracuene where we waited for the ferry to take us across the river to the peninsula’s beach. The ferry cost about $0.25 for Josh and I to cross roundtrip. The lodge we stayed at for the night sent a truck to pick us up from the ferry and we bounced through cow fields on sandy roads. I didn’t take any pictures (was too busy enjoying good conversation, food, and drinks) but the lodge grounds were lovely. We stayed in self-catering chalets surrounding the main building’s restaurant, lounge, and pool area all shaded by low “monkey fruit” trees.

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A short boardwalk takes you out to the beach, which is dotted with a few huts offering shade. The ocean is strong here and pretty sandy but it is warm and felt amazing! We boogie boarded and found hermit crabs and had a few drinks.

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At night we had a barbecue and then went out to the beach again to look at the stars. We were able to find our way by the moon but there were no other lights, so we saw everything. It was actually rather comforting to be able to see the Milky Way and some familiar constellations. I caught a shooting star as well, so it was pretty much perfect.

As the closest swim-able beach to Maputo I know we’ll be back. I hear sea turtle (tartaruga marinha!) season is in August and I am so excited to see them!

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This week has been good, we made some new friends and I learned more about volunteer opportunities through the Embassy’s American Cultural Center. This weekend we are visiting Catembe beach and then going to the Irish Embassy’s St. Patrick’s Day Party!

Starting to Feel like Home

We were moved into our apartment a month ago and now it feels like we’re officially living in Maputo! Settling your life back into a rhythm takes time, but so far so good. It feels a little strange to try and fall back on your routines without any of your familiar belongings (our household shipment might arrive by the end of the month) but the point is to be adaptable right? We received our air freight shipment two weeks ago and that has most definitely been a help. It was like Christmas morning! Who knew I’d be so happy to see my own sauté pan and bed sheets.

On that note, I’ve already learned a way to improve on our next move. State provides a standard Welcome Kit whenever you arrive in a new home for you to use until your household goods arrive. This includes kitchen utensils, pots, bed sheets, towels, a toaster, a broom, etc. In our first two weeks I managed to break the spatula, the sheets were giving us rashes, the shower curtain fell apart… you get the idea. So while it’s so wonderful that we have these items to do everyday things, finally having our own that we can rely on is great. Now I know that sheets and maybe a few other items should be packed in our suitcases for next time.

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The view from one of our apartment’s patios, looking towards the Indian ocean.

Probably the most important routine I’ve been trying to get us back into is our eating habits. Between the holidays, packing, and last hurrahs with friends and family at our favorite places (i.e. the breakfast pizza at Ozzie’s and the lobster mac and cheese at Cheesetique) it was wrecked before we left the country. And then we went to Italy. After ten days of delicious cheese and carbs, the first two weeks here in Maputo were spent in a hotel without even a microwave. There’s been a learning curve but I’m so happy to have a kitchen again. Even with a faulty spatula it’s been so great to cook and bake for myself. The biggest hurdle is that we don’t have a car yet so in order to actually have anything to cook with I either have to walk down to the little bodega down the street (I needed fresh ginger the other night for chicken curry soup and when I went to pay for the tiny knob the cashier chuckled and let me have it for free; while the service is great and convenient, most items are rather expensive) or convince a friend to take me on their grocery trips (mooching off of other people is a big part of this lifestyle, and I am still getting used to it). Grocery shopping here is not a one-stop deal, no Target runs are to be had. There are a few supermarkets varying in size and quality where you can find most items, but produce is best either at the open-air Central Market downtown or random stalls on the streets. For example, the only place I’ve found vanilla extract is at Woolworth’s, but the best and cheapest zucchini was purchased from a stall in the Market. SuperSpar has excellent fresh pizza dough and the most spices, but the best (and possibly only, depending on the day and what you want) place to get meat is at the little Deli 986 in town. And I can’t find dill or relish anywhere. Also, I was so excited to cook with fresh seafood but the only place you can buy it is at the fish market down by the beach, and I’m told that the language and bargaining skills required to successfully maneuver there are high, so that trip is going to have to wait. Mozambique does not produce many of its own goods so most items are imported from South Africa. Depending on changing laws or availability, things become scarce and expensive. While back home I would make meal plans for the week and shop accordingly, here I have to be more flexible and take what I can get. I’m getting better at throwing random vegetables together and experimenting with seasonings and sauces. I want to learn some Mozambican cooking and incorporate it with what I already know but that is certainly going to be a longer process. For now I will focus on learning to properly clean our fruits and vegetables with bleach (the recommended method from the embassy health unit) and adapting ingredients I can find to make some of our favorite things.

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Our search for awesome local restaurants continues. Dhow has great views of the bay and delicious Mediterranean-style food.

Another routine both Josh and I are working on bringing back is exercise. Josh has taken to running home after work a few days a week. We’re about a 20 minute walk from the embassy, so he’ll loop a couple miles around down towards the beach. I’m mostly trying to gain my strength back after spraining my ankle in January. I started seeing a local physical therapist who is wonderful and is encouraging me to do yoga and pilates to get my balance back (I mostly watch videos on Youtube – on a related note, I cheered when we got wifi two weeks ago) but it’ll be at least another week before she’ll recommend more movement. There are supposedly a few great dance and kickboxing classes in town and I’m eager to check them out.

Not working has been difficult for me. I try to set a schedule for my days but most of my time is spent alone. I’ve started taking a Portuguese class twice a week and am taking on responsibility for a weekly dinner club with other State and USAID employees. I attend embassy events and try to regularly meet Josh and others for lunch. We went on our first trip outside the city this weekend. And I’ve read eight books since we arrived. I cannot wait until my job starts! If the process continues to go well that will hopefully be in about 3-4 weeks. I’m shadowing my future co-worker and the person I’m replacing this week (not getting paid but I have some free time…) and am really looking forward to it.

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View of downtown Maputo from the Marginale, the road lining the coast.

Olá!

We have been in Maputo for just over a week now. I have to continually remind myself that yes, I am in Africa. That yes, when I open the curtains in the morning that is the Indian Ocean I see. Our first morning here, I sat on the breakfast patio of our hotel drinking coffee and looking out at the water and marvelling at the strangeness that is this new life. Constant sun and salty wind. The diversity of the people and languages being spoken. Knowing that the clams I ate for dinner likely came from the women harvesting the beach just down the street. What a crazy and amazing opportunity this is.

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The patio at our hotel

Like every new arrival we were given a social sponsor to show us around and help us get used to our new surroundings. He scooped us up at the airport along with our four suitcases and gave us a quick driving tour of the city, and then took us to dinner at his favorite Portuguese restaurant where we tried Bacalhau (codfish), fried corn and cashew tarts. He even picked us up the first morning to take us to the embassy where we’d start a long process of meeting and learning about everyone and everything. But as we walked into the building I fell and badly twisted my ankle. I was furious – this had just happened in October and I’d gone to physical therapy. I’d even navigated the giant, uneven boulders that make up the streets of Pompeii without any issues. This was the first day and I had shit to do!

I was ridiculously embarrassed but everyone was so nice about it. I joked that I just wanted to meet the med unit staff early. I was given crutches and sent back to the hotel where I have been spending the majority of my time. I hate that I’m not able to experience everything fully right now (Josh has been getting around, though: our sponsor took him to a reggae concert at the local art collective, he’s gone for a few runs along the beach, and he’s made some visits to the local stores for snacks). I have, however, made it to a few meetings at the embassy and received my badge, had dinner at the houses of a few of Josh’s coworkers, and gone out for Piri Piri chicken with our sponsor. Josh and I have ventured out to a few of the local seafood restaurants on our own where we successfully ordered delicious coconut shrimp and grilled prawns and rice with clams in halting Portuguese. One night I accidentally ordered an entire bottle of wine instead of just a glass, but it was good and I don’t regret the mistake!

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Josh at Sagres, a little open-air restaurant on the beach

I think that babying the hell out of my ankle is working, and I’m anxious to use the tools I now have – including a brace my therapist encouraged me to buy before leaving – to work on strengthening it soon. I’m itching to explore the neighborhoods and local museums and attractions. We’ll be living in the hotel for at least another week while our apartment is set up. It’s likely we’ll be moved to a different apartment later this year, as the embassy is changing leases, but I’m looking forward to settling in for the time being. It would be the greatest luxury to bake cookies in my own kitchen and do laundry!

But First, A Vacation

We have arrived in Maputo! We encountered no travel issues whatsoever (which is pretty amazing after five flights and three different airlines) and are slowly working on settling in. I’ll talk more about that later, but first I’d like to share a bit about our trip to Italy.

We are so fortunate to have wonderful friends and family in and near Naples who made our visit incredible. We were able to do a lot of sightseeing as well as slow down a little.

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The steps to the cathedral at the Abbey of Monte Cassino

Everywhere were fruiting lemon and mandarin trees. It was a mild, sunny winter yet there were hardly any crowds anywhere we went. We were treated to amazing views of the valley around the city of Cassino and explored the storied Abbey, and walked for miles around the Palace of Caserta and its enormous gardens. The amount of history at these places is staggering, from being bombed to smithereens during WWII to serving as a film location for Star Wars.

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Afternoon at the Trevi Fountain

We spent a day in Rome, marveling at the Colosseum and Roman Forum ruins, the ceiling of the Pantheon, the exquisitely renovated Trevi Fountain, and accidentally stumbling upon a church modified from an ancient Roman bath by Michelangelo. We walked everywhere, almost 12 miles.

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A square in ancient Pompeii, Vesuvius looming in the background

In Naples we stayed in a house owned by Josh’s former landlords when he lived there about nine years ago. We’d wake up slow, walk down the winding path on the hill with a view of Capri, and order a sandwich from the tiny little old man in the shop in Lucrino’s piazza. He’d offer us a piece of prosciutto crudo and fresh mozzarella di bufala to try as he was slicing it. We explored the surrounding mountains emitting sulfuric steam, and Lago d’Averno, which the Romans considered to be the entrance to Hades. We spent a day at Pompeii where I was amazed by both the lack of other tourists and the detail that still remains after over two thousand years.

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Franco was more than pleased to pose for a photo

Josh’s only wish for this trip was to eat. And to see if everything tasted as good as he remembered. We went twice to the trattoria in Lucrino for their authentic pizzas and “fried treats” where the owner, Franco, remembered Josh on sight and proceeded to serve us an intense amount of limoncello. In Cassino I ate the most amazing rotini with homemade vodka sauce and a crazy-good Nutella gelato that I will probably always dream about. We consumed an absurd amount of antipasti; the clams in Caserta were so fresh, the variety of cheeses offered at La Magnolia in a tiny village near Cassino were sinful, and I learned that I will most likely never like bruschetta with lard. While I never quite got the hang of Italian breakfast (which seemed to be either non-existent or a cornetti with Nutella) each cappuccino I ordered was better than the last. Sitting down for lunch and being immediately handed a delicious glass of prosecco – followed by an equally delicious orecchiette with pesto – was awesome. Josh said his wish was fulfilled. And now we’d both be happy to not eat pasta again for awhile.

While it’s been difficult not doing laundry the past few weeks, taking a vacation before our arrival in Mozambique was a great idea. There was a bit of a mad rush to complete final projects and tasks which left us exhausted. In Italy we were able to slow down a bit and breath before making the final journey to Mozambique.

Moving!

One of the best things about moving is purging your stuff.

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The current state of our living room! The color-coded stickers help identify where everything will go.

We are saying goodbye to so many old t-shirts and tired shoes. Consolidating endless bottles of cleaning supplies and beauty products. Recycling ancient magazines and scanning and shredding all documents. I’ve always been sentimental about this process; it can be hard to let go of certain items that remind you of a particular place and time, or of who you used to be. But now is a pretty great time to make changes and it feels good to clear out stuff we no longer need!

Deciding what to do with everything else is almost more difficult. What comes with us to Africa and what goes in a storage facility? Our weight allowance for moving household goods overseas is decent. However, we don’t need to bring any furniture (except our bed) as housing is furnished, and we don’t want to bring priceless-to-us items (like my vinyl record collection) in case of evacuation, damage or theft. It looks like our household goods shipment will primarily include kitchenware, clothes (and they say you need to bring for every season, because you never know where you’ll go), and consumables (household supplies, nonperishable food, etc.). We’re also bringing some camping supplies, lamps and books. Almost everything else we own will go into storage. Aside from the vinyl, which my parents have graciously agreed to hold onto. It was kind of weird sitting down with my Christmas ornaments and deciding which were too special to risk losing and which would help make our foreign home feel like Christmas.

The moving company sent someone over this week to identify all our belongings and ensure the movers have all the equipment they’ll need for our pack-out. Moving day is at the end of the month!

Work as a Foreign Service Spouse

The most recent big life change: my last day at work was November 20th. It is strange to be done after being with the company for almost six years! Working there was one of the most important learning experiences of my life and I will miss my great co-workers. I am, however, gleefully saying goodbye to the long commute. DC traffic might be number one on the list of things I will not miss!

Someone asked me if I was going to spend the next five weeks sitting on the couch until moving day. I laughed. Since leaving work I’ve already hosted Thanksgiving for 9 people. I’ve scrubbed the house and met with a rental property management agent. I’m attending courses on Protocol (how to address dignitaries and determine what fork to use at fancy dinners), Security Overseas, and Counter Threat Training (which is a week long trip to another part of the state and involves “advanced vehicle handling” and explosives). My Portuguese course ends in a few weeks (É muito divertido!). I’m organizing and taking inventory of all our belongings and identifying shipments for the moving company. I’ll be making at least one trip down to my parents’ to move some storage. I’ve finished all my rounds of recommended vaccines but still need to wrap up physical therapy and final doctor’s appointments. My car needs to be cleaned up and sold; we need to buy a car that can handle safaris and monsoons. We’ll be spending a few days at my grandfather’s for Christmas, and we have family birthdays to celebrate. And I’m seeing the new Star Wars movie, obviously.

All of these things are good, it means we’re making changes and moving forward. This isn’t a list of complaints, just one of many Josh and I are constantly updating to keep track of our tasks. I know that in a month, when I am sitting in a hotel room the last few days before we leave for Africa, I will wonder where the time went and how anything was accomplished.

Leaving work was necessary to prepare for our departure but it was definitely nerve-wracking to know that my paychecks would soon stop and I no longer had a responsibility to be somewhere every day. As the dependent spouse I have no guarantee of work overseas. That is pretty scary, and not all dependents are able to find work. State has a few programs – including the Family Liaison Office, which assists in all aspects of family and social life overseas – to advocate for spousal employment and offer resources and advice. They can help you get certifications that make you more desirable for embassy/consulate jobs, have partnerships with various schools to obtain teaching degrees, and can assist with remote work options. Mozambique allows spouses and family members of State employees to be employed within the country which meant a likelihood of more opportunities for me. The Peace Corps has a presence in Maputo along with a few other NGOs, and there are multiple international schools. I started by applying for jobs at the embassy and had an interview a few weeks ago. Fortunately – and amazingly! – I was offered the job last week. Details have not yet been determined but now I can relax a little. I will be employed again! I’m so looking forward to diving in to and being a part of the community. 39 dias antes de viajar para Moçambique!

It’s All About Multi-tasking

The reality of what’s happening is really settling in; about three months from now we are leaving the country!

This is how we feel about it:
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There are seemingly countless things to do but we are checking items off our lists.

We’re making progress with home renovations. We’re going to rent our house, but it needs a bit of work before we can advertise. Last week Josh recruited some friends and put in a new driveway; we didn’t have one before and this will make parking so much more convenient. This Friday we have contractors coming in to finish repairing the fireplace and chimney, which did not appear to have had any maintenance done since being installed in the 1950s. We tore down the old, dilapidated back deck and have the plans finished to build a new one. After that is done we’ll put up drywall and re-floor the attic/second level. Those are just the big projects!

The Foreign Service Institute (where Josh has been in training all these months) offers classes to spouses and family members if space is available. I signed up for beginners Portuguese (the official language of Mozambique) and have been studying for about a month so far. And I am loving it! It’s a distance learning course so I do everything online, and once a week the mentor and I have a phone call where we try to converse only in Portuguese. It is so fun to be learning a new language again, and Portuguese is beautiful. I know a bit of Spanish and the similarities have been helpful, but the sentence structure and cadence is quite different. Last week we talked about the last movie I’d seen (The Martian – it was good!). If you’re curious, the Portuguese word for rocket is “foguete.”

We’ve been making progress getting our papers and files in order. Our diplomatic passports arrived a few weeks ago which made everything feel very official. Applying for visas was a pretty painless process and we’re waiting to receive those. We met with our attorney and had new wills, medical directives, and powers of attorney drawn up and notarized. I’ve gathered my medical records and just need to get Josh’s squared away, and we’re making appointments for our vaccinations and any final doctor’s appointments.

Speaking of doctors, I severely sprained my ankle a few weeks ago and it’s really slowed me down. Thankfully nothing’s broken and I just need to be patient (ha). I was referred to physical therapy and will start that next week. Here’s hoping everything heals quickly!

Welcome!

I started this blog to document our travels and share our experiences in the Foreign Service. I hope you’ll enjoy reading about our adventures!

I’ve been living in the Washington, DC area for the better part of 15 years, and Josh even longer. He was a local hire which means we haven’t had to worry about things like packout and moving just yet. Though we are beginning to learn how to navigate that tricky process!

Josh has been through initial orientation and I’ve attended several orientations put together for family members, and it’s been a deluge of information. There’s always more to know! Now we’re trying to prioritize and get as much done as we can sooner rather than later. Because I am me this means I’ve already started shopping for Christmas presents and taking detailed inventory of my many books.

I’m still working at my job as a government contractor for a non-profit and will continue for as long as possible. Training and moving schedules have yet to be finalized so I’m trying to be flexible. I’m also working on stress management, maintaining exercise and sleep routines and adding more veggies. And wine.

We have a lot to do before we leave, including finishing some major renovations on our house (which we’ll be renting) and scheduling tons of fun things to do with our friends and family. The waiting is the hardest part!