Monday, October 22, 2012

Alone-ly lonely lone

"All Alone!
Whether you like it or not,
Alone will be something
you'll be quite a lot"- Dr. Seuss

Sometimes living so far away gets lonely.

Mozambicans are self-proclaimed "acolhedores." Gatherers. Family, a term not confined to superficial blood bonds, is everything here. So when people see that I am alone, they constantly take me in. Every week, friends invite me to baby showers, sunday brunches and birthdays.

But because my Mozambican friends have been so welcoming, the loneliness mostly hits me when I am surrounded by people, after the third glass of champagne and small talk with someone’s cousin.  I can always feel it coming on, these contractions in my stomach pulling me down, each stronger than the last. I'm trying to keep all these strange names straight. Who broke whose heart, the war, who left, who stayed. Why?

Suddenly I’m paralyzed in my loneliness, desperate for familiar eyes, a shared history. Its like I've been plunged into someone else's story.

I’m out of context in Maputo.  How can someone possibly understand me, unless they understand orange-brick Brazilian buildings, Boston winters, that time on the couch at your aunt’s house?
Where’s New York? Its swirling chaos of cabs, tears, and ambition. "Art."

I miss meat. Salty steaks, French fries so greasy they leave your fingers wet.
Being able to read body language, sarcasm; the grammatical nuances of culture.

It’s time to go. “I have things to do in the States,” I’ll tell myself. “I’ve left conversations unfinished, friendships unexplored. I’ve never been to Cony Island!”

But being plucked out of my context, my family, my history, has made me a little bit fearless.  I have more room to explore who I am.

I can be the kind of girl that takes a surfing trip to Durban. I can cut off all my hair, dance passada until 4 a.m and learn to speak Shangaan. I can cover stories about rap. Because, why not? Ultimately, being alone gives me the freedom to make more mistakes.

Then I hear Fatima sing her sad morning song and the loneliness dissipates.  I feel ready for fresh memories, different people, and new contexts. Cony Island can wait.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I have someone else’s family reunion to attend.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Prayers unspoken

Death is different in Mozambique. It is ever-present.

My housekeeper uses the phrase “a morte o levou"-  death took him. A swift decision.

Last night, some friends and I were returning from Ponta do Ouro, a touristy beach town by the South African border, where we spent the weekend basking in the early summer heat. We chased the sun out of town, but soon night fell and we had to rely on our headlights to guide us through the long, dirt road snaking its way to Maputo.

We were a group of ten, split up into three cars. It was pitch black when we realized the last car was no longer following us. We quickly doubled back to find out what was the delay.

We found the driver parked on the side of the road. There had been an accident. A car behind her ran over a man hidden by the dark. He was dead.

There was nothing any of us could do, my friend Afonso explained. Bringing the body back to Maputo, three hours away, to be documented wouldn't make sense. Plus, stopping on a deserted road is not advisable, especially in Mozambique. It was unfortunate but better to leave him here, close to his home and family, and let the car that hit him deal with the details of his death.

We hopped back on the road and drove home, the music pumping out the windows, drowning out our knowledge that somewhere on the side of the road lay a son, a husband or maybe a father, his body motionless. Road kill.

Before moving, I promised myself that I wouldn’t resist. I would let this year change me, let the chains of events crash onto me and leave their mark.

So far, the same lesson has been beat into me over and over again. I am not in control. None of us are.

My relationship with religion has always been a complicated one, but, as an agnostic, I’ve never missed being able to pray more than I have here. Being able to do something, to send out wishes of love and comfort and believe they’ll be answered. To be able pray that as those last glimpses of life fade out of someone’s body, they’ll be ushered somewhere better.