Monday, May 31, 2010

Munch continues his endless, fierce and exhausting war with my shoelaces. To his credit he never relents, dodging back and forth, pouncing. He has spent hours hidden in a crouch a few inches from my feet, staring them down, waiting for the perfect time to strike…
23: the year of champions. The year where I shed the inadequacies of youth behind. 23 is the year I claim the mantle of manhood. Never again will I experience self doubt or weakness. My soul is now primed for the metamorphosis to blind, unencumbered perfection. Never again will I fail at anything. Ever. 23.

I was fully prepared for my birthday to pass without note. I was ready to act like it didn’t matter, to receive the requisite call from home, to sit in my house staring at the wall playing back through the Lord of The Rings trilogy in my head.

But, as it of course turns out, my birthday was not a slow dirge of despondent misery. Firstly, I didn’t know how to tell people that it was coming up, so I tried the “hello how are you tomorrow is my birthday!” approach. I did this dozens of time, blatantly and shamelessly seeking attention, and my efforts did bear fruit.
Thursday night: Italians take me out to dinner. Eight people, TEN LOBSTERS. Ten. On top of this four fish and half a chicken. I’ve been eating cold lobster leftovers for days. I was the youngest one there.

A side note, you leave college feeling old, entering the real world, this strange place that is your birthright. Looking down on your friends behind you, you get the sensation of adulthood for the first time. It’s a sobering and unforgettable type of fear that only the unknown and sharks can generate. Then you leave college, and you are younger than everyone, utterly without experience. I’m the youngest teacher at my school and younger than any of the Italians by at least five years.

On Friday I was told to buy two cases of soda for the party. Would I be reimbursed? I was assured by several colleagues that reimbursement was theoretically possible. So I brought the sodas in at the designated time one showed. Well, my boss was there but we were having the party in her office. I found some colleagues and tried to keep my temper in check as I asked them why exactly I had spent a quarter of my monthly salary on @#$%ing sodas if no one was going to drink them. The party would happen, I was assured, at lunch.

At lunch no one showed. At my boiling point I considered sitting by the side of the road and selling the sodas for half price, but a kind colleague wouldn’t hear of it and summoned the others. A small party followed, I had even been bought a gift, a (cough) festive t shirt that would make any vacationing septuagenarian more than happy. And come cups, which I actually needed.

That day in class I gave out stickers and plastic spider to my students. That night I was invited over for dinner by a neighbor. This weekend I visited some Peace Corps peeps in our nearest big city.

So I hardly spent any time alone, as opposed to the dark loneliness I anticipated. I was reminded that my fledgling life here is developing, that I am on the right track, and that I still have a chance to live happily ever after. 23 is the beginning of all that, a life of victory and happiness and bounty and security and ease and puppies and candy and recognition and love and relaxation and...

Thursday, May 27, 2010


Munch is still alive. He can now fully see and can recognize me. He can run now, and is working on his pounce. Being needed by the little fluffball does bring a maternal feeling of warmth to my house. He follows me around constantly, tugs on the hem of my pants, my shoelaces, or gnaws on my arm. The only way I can really get him (or her) to calm down is to put him in my lap and play my guitar. He falls asleep instantly.
I have, on occasions when I am hungry, tired, and just need a minute to relax when I get in the door, lost my patience with Munch. I have honestly thought about killing him in fleeting moments when my patience wavered. So again, no kids for a long, long time.

Everywhere I go now, every day, people greet me in Shitswa. I know how to greet people at different times of the day (there is a different way of asking “how are you” in the morning, at midday, in the evening, and another at night) and how to buy things in the market. I know some basic vocab, how to say where I am going, stuff like that.
I also know how to say “I love you” (and conversely: I don’t love you, which I’ve actually used a few times), “you are beautiful,” and several other handy game-spitting phrases, just in case I became smitten with a Mozambican women within 100 miles of where I am now. This is all thanks to my best friend in the market, Orquido.
I’ve mentioned him before; the twenty year old with whom I sit every weekend, sometimes for hours, exchanging English for Shitswa, and answering his constant barrage of questions about America, music, and anything else that happens to cross his mind. He talks so fast he often trips over his words, as if so excited that he cannot possibly wait until they all file out one by one. He has an easy smile, a giggle that rivals only a little girl in its out and out silliness, and a kind, goofy disposition.
Without exaggeration I can say that Orquido is one of the kindest people I have met, here in Moz or otherwise. He is the type of friend you hope to have, whom everyone likes. Many a lonely night have been followed by long sits with Orquido, who complains when I am not there, such that when I enter the market on Saturdays people often say “Orquido was asking for you” before I can even get to his shop.
And two days ago, during class, my friend Jessica called me. She told me she had some bad news: that Orquido had died in his sleep the night before. The doctor is unsure of the cause of death.
I have little experience with death. I have been lucky thus far to have not lost any close family members or friends. I was and remain stunned. No warning, just like that? I am not sure how to react or what to do. I feel guilty when I find myself thinking of other things, how can my mind stray so easily? I haven’t gone to the market since, but I will go later today and visit his shop.
I don’t mean to overstate the importance we had in each others lives, just that he was a good friend. I am going to find out today is there is something I can or should do. I am generally shocked, what can I do? What can be done? I am sad, yes, but more than that I am stunned. The kind of heart stopped feeling akin to fear or awe.

My birthday is tomorrow. 23 years old. One of those “huh,” birthdays that doesn’t mean anything. Munch and I will be spending some quality time.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Last Tuesday night my friend Sara, an Italian aid worker who also works at my school, showed up to my house. In her hands was a bundle of fabric with a little white thing in the folds.
“Look!” she said adoringly. I didn’t know what I was looking at. “I found it on the beach, alone. I didn’t want to leave it.” It was a kitten. A tiny, tiny little kitten. “Pequeniiiiiiiiiina (veeeeery small)! I was hoping to leave it with you until I get back from Italy.”
“Sara, I can’t!” I said, “I’ve never taken care of a kitten. I don’t know how to feed it or care for it. What if it dies? I have enough going on in my life right not.”
“Ok,” Sara said sadly, “I guess I’ll go put it out on the street.” Presumambly to die a horrible, slow death freezing to death, waiting for a gigantic man-eating spider to finish it off.
And so I took it in. Such a cliché, but what was I supposed to do? That first night the little bugger, who I’ve come to call Munch, cried all night long. I gave him a box to sleep in, swathed in blankets, but he just cried and howled. The only thing that seemed to calm him was my holding him. So I held him all night. Or her. Whatever. He crawled all over and around me all night, and neither of us slept.
Now I spend every waking moment worrying that Munch is going to die. I heat up milk for it (him? Her? How can you tell with a kitten?) which it seems to like. When it fusses, which is almost always, I hold it and sometimes that calms it down. When I’m in the house it sits in a joey pouch hanging from my neck, poking its tiny little head out and looking around with its little black eyes. Is it healthy? Should I be looking for medication for parasites? Or fleas? How old is Munch? Does it miss its mom? Am I going to come home after class one day to find my little Munchkin dead on the floor?

This experience has made me decide to put off parenting indefinitely.

My birthday is coming up. I don’t know what I should do to celebrate.