Tuesday, August 31, 2010

How to lose weight and find peace.

I don't think I have ever paid a close attention to the link between my bloat episodes and the outwardly 'stable' and 'happy' life I led at the time. You know, the imagined bliss that supposedly comes with having found the love of your life, work/financial stability, having a car and sorted work/residency permit, all stable and balanced life. Soon as life is 'comfortable' and I have nothing to worry about, my body goes on a freaky strike and I have to dust out the size 12 denims and my tummy-concealer black tops! I jump from my usual size 8 to size 12 without a warning...Well, I get few month's notice but I am too slow to pick up the signs till the normally shy cashier lady at the supermarket 'compliments' me in a typical Mozambican style: "wow, you look so fat."...WTF!

Then I have to undo the damage caused by stability and comfort, and run myself to the ground again. My 6-steps-detox-from-happiness goes like this:

1 - break-up and move out
2 - drink like a fish till skin and hair get truely fucked up
3 - close down business or quit job
4 - work myself into a homelessness, no money, then sell the car and spend it all
5 - Skip 6 months visa stamps at the border and become illegal immigrant
6 - Socially withdraw, isolate myself and chop off hair.

Then magic happens, I fit perfectly into size 8, I feel more alive and content with life. I then turn around my life again and in 4 months, I have a place to live, a second business, my hair grows, I cut down alcohol and get into serious yoga.

There must be a less taxing way to feel and stay alive.

If your visa runs out, just breakdown and cry

At my last visa run to the border last month, I was asked to go to the immigration office after 30 days to explain why I have been in the country for 2.5 years on a tourist visa! Fair question, no idea how I was going to explain. They suggested I took a lawyer along as things were serious enough to be kicked out of the country if I can't justify my "over stay"...Shit, I thought.

I never met this 'lawyer', the guy dealing with our company registration process provided him and said he is "very good". We sit in this cold room with a stiff-looking immigration officer and the lawyer and my hangover makes me super patient, I was proud of myself for looking totally unmoved by the whole thing. I calmly explained to the officer that I had my old passport stollen and it had a residency permit (a big lie and praying he doesn't dig into my file to look for the evidence), and I act all victim and poor-me, I have worked damn hard to set up companies in this country with no support and created jobs and the visa and residency permits have gone up a 1000% and what am I suppose to do now, bla bla bla. I figured if I am gonna get kicked out, I might as well exit with a bang (pathetic loud cry, in my case).

Poor officer fell for this and was totally kind and sympathetic and asked if there was anything he could do to help!! What? This is so cool. He was trying to calm me down and offered to charge me the old visa price of $25 instead of the current $82 fee!! Wow! My day is suddenly much brighter and I feel like I have just won the lottery. One more worry-free month in Maputo. Gives me time and space to focus on a more basic challenge of sorting out a housing arrangement.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Something I wrote last Ramadan.

I hope this Ramadan is different.

I just read the British Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary’s Ramadan messages and I was both impressed by their decision to send such a touching message to Muslims around the world and felt the need to reply.

According to their messages, “Ramadan is a time for family and friends. A time when Muslims around the world focus on more than themselves. It is a time for charity and giving – the outward expressions of faith through acts of kindness and love, to complement the inner devotion and prayer.” I agree it all a time for all the above and equally wish all the Muslim everywhere a blessed Ramadan.

Having said that and speaking from experience, Ramadan is not necessarily a blessed month for every Muslim. I wish I experienced any kind of blessing growing up in a Muslim family. Sadly, Ramadan was more like a cursed month for me and probably for many other Muslim women and young girls around the world. In the house I grew up, it was a month from hell for the younger girls, we cooked, cleaned and slaved for all the adults sometimes for more than 16 hours a day with little rest! We worked under harsh conditions while fasting in the African heat.

Every time I think of Ramadan instead of missing it and wishing I was a practicing Muslim, I am so grateful I never have to cook and clean after almost 20 adults while fasting and in a way if is partly why I have not fasted for the last 10 years. I have a nasty memory of it all and it is a real shame I associate pain with a month that is suppose to be a spiritual and cleansing experience.

I can’t think of a crueller thing than making a fasting child shop for food everyday of Ramadan and walk for miles to the market, carrying a heavy basket back to the house to spend hours in the hot kitchen cooking in over 35C heat! What is so giving and charitable about that? Growing up we were brainwashed with stories like all ‘kind’ acts, including cooking for fasting people is supposedly a religious act and God will reward you for it. I always wondered why it was that adults did not volunteer to get a share of this reward by doing some of the endless domestic chores.

The work load was punishing. It started early in the morning around 2am cooking “Suhuur”, the last meal before sunrise. We cooked anything from: rice and stew, pasta and source, rice and yogurt or maize meal. We made coffee, tea and variety of natural juices, in the middle of the night! After cleaning up we took few hours nap before getting up again around 4:30 to wake everyone up and feed them. Imagine the responsibility not only to cook but also to make sure everyone is woken up before 5 and then served, one by one. No one ever showed up in the kitchen to pick up their meal either. They would reluctantly get up, wash their faces and pick a seat in the living room or outside and wait for their meals. Once we finished serving everyone between 4:30 and 5:00, we ate our meals and of course, cleaned all the dishes as no one was going to clean theirs. Especially the boys, they practically had a free life with no responsibility beyond looking after themselves.

On top of the cooking and cleaning duties, we did all the household chores while fasting. There were no machines to make the work load easier, no washing machine, dish washer, vacuum cleaner, nothing. Everything was done manually by the youngest and physically weakest, the girls. Act of kindness, did they say? Is Ramadan really a time of giving spirit and thinking of others and those less fortunate or has it become a routine thing you do without thinking the harm your actions might do to others? Looking back I can not believe this was (and still is) an acceptable practice among some Muslims. I am sure not every Somali or Muslim families behaved that way.

People looked forward to Ramadan but us girls dreaded it and could not wait for it to end. We had to steal sleep here and there to make sure we got at least 5 hours sleep in 24 hours.

I hope this Ramadan, no little girl will be weighed down with domestic work and deprived of sleep looking after the grown ups in the name of Allah while everyone else focuses on ‘cleaning their sins’ for the previous 11 months.

Ramadan Karim to you all and especially to all the little girls out there.

Poverty and 4x4s

Wealth in Maputo might not make it to the pavements and public trash collection system but you can tell there is money just by the number of flashy 4x4 creating traffic havoc during rush hours…And yes, there is a rush hour, even in the “poorest country in the world”.

Isn’t it funny how majority of the 54 countries in Africa are all referred to as “the poorest country in the world”? Surely even 40 countries can’t take that same award home, there must be some more befitting of the title than others. But hey, I stopped watching news so who doesn’t care.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Homeless again!

I am homeless again! Well, I am sleeping at friends’ houses while they are away on holidays, buying myself time to search for a place. Good thing about this experience is that I am getting better at handling it emotionally. After all, it is a choice I am making and I am glad to be out of that beautiful prison. Shame things had to end like that but life goes on. In a way, there is nothing personal about it, apart from losing a friend. Shit happens and you learn to stay focused on solutions and try not to dwell on the past.

I think if you are not happy about a situation you do something about it at any cost. So last Wednesday after a couple of heated SMS exchanges with my housemate I finally had enough and decided to hell with the house and him. I packed my stuff in 2 hours not having a clue where I will go. I called friends to see where I can leave my bags and maybe camp while I looked for a place. Not the ideal way to deal with a fall-out but sometimes you hit a wall and there is no happy ending.

Having said that, I am constantly kicking myself for being impulsive and impatient, putting myself thru difficult situations. I guess I will never change and when I am fed-up I need to act and deal with the consequences later. It is hard but I am slowly learning to accept who I am.

I crashed at a friend’s house first 4 nights as his new roommate didn’t move in till Sunday, just in time for my other friend to go on a week’s holiday! It is a bit rough moving 3 times in a week but at least I have a bed and time to search, so am grateful.

Great thing is I don’t really have time to wallow in this and feel depressed about it as Pili Pili Designs must go on. In the middle of these moves we managed to organise 2 sales and promotion events and they went really well. One was a private sales dinner party to 10 visitors from Spain and they bought lots of stuff. Better even, 2 of them liked our bags so much they want to be our agents in Barcelona and Madrid! How cool is that? Who cares about homelessness when things are going this well with business? And on Saturday we had a Pili Pili picnic at a really cool underground venue. The turn out was OK but that was coz I didn’t have time to publicise the event well with everything going on but we had a great day and almost everyone who turned up bought stuff. I think we will repeat the picnic this coming weekend with a better publicity.

An eventful week with ups and downs but pressure is important to get me focused and do better. I am excited about what happens next!

Friday, August 6, 2010

An African entrepreneur

I read Sylvia's story on the BBC News website and I am inspired. I guess the only difference between her and the million other African women working just as hard is in her self believe.

Sylvia Banda, Zambia
Sylvia Banda's first restaurant had no tables. She now owns 16 eateries.

My advice - persevere.

I remember very well the first day I opened my restaurant.

I did not have any chairs. I did not have any tables.

My customers had to eat in a standing position. I told them - you're going to have a "standing buffet".

They laughed and continued eating, and that's how my catering business was born.

Today, we have 16 eating places in Lusaka and we have opened a college training students in hospitality.

It is important to say to yourself - I am as good as the other person. If that person can do it, then so can I.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Derelict Delight Tour of Downtown Maputo

Today was a venue hunting day as we have realised we need our own space where clients can buy directly instead of only supplying shops. This will also work as a show space for our new Pili Pili Home collection. I actually enjoyed the 6-hour walk thru countless derelict buildings. There is something both stunning and ugly about downtown Maputo.
I found the ideal place, totally perfect for Pili Pili but I know it will be way out of our budget but it is good to dream. And I know one day that place will belong to Pili Pili, maybe not this year.
I spent the day with Stelio, our informal estate agent. We have very different style of working. He likes to talk for 10 minutes asking all about the receptionist’s and her family’s well-being before he asks the simple question of whether a building is for rent! I had to be very patient not to snap at him. On the other hand, I can get too direct that it comes across rude sometimes. Maybe together we do a better job.
I spent 3 hours on my own walking around downtown Maputo (Baixa) to find an interesting place and to make sure some meetings I attended alone, couldn’t bring myself to bring Stelio to important ones. He joined me for the next 3 hours, after I had already identified the buildings I like and wanted him to find the owners and negotiate on my behalf. In Maputo, as soon as you speak English or appear foreign, the prices shoot up. So, better to find what you like and send a ‘local’ to speak for you.
One of the places I fell in love with is on Rua Bagamoyo, the red light district and an obvious brothel hotel probably with hourly rate but just too beautiful to pass up. I love the building and that whole area of Maputo and I find it intriguing that right next to that hotel is the biggest mosque in Maputo, my kind of neighbourhood.
I walked in before Stelio joined me and spoke to the person at the reception, a one legged black man with smart glasses and a walking stick sitting on his own. I spoke to him in my pathetic Portuguese and he replied in English! He said he was from Namibia and was living in the hotel for a month. He is here to explore opportunities for a family run second-hand car import business. When I told him I am originally from Somalia, he switched to Swahili! I speak Swahili but most Somalis don’t so I didn’t get why he assumed. It turns out he lived for a long time in Nairobi trading in cars with Somalis there and he travels between Kenya, Namibia, South Africa and now Maputo. Interesting character, I thought. The kind you would find in Blood Diamond. I didn’t want to ask how he lost his leg, am sure there is a fascinating story behind it.
Oh yeah, he is Muslim and his name is Ibrahim. Don’t you just love Maputo? A Muslim one-legged Ibrahim living in a brothel doing car import business but doesn’t have enough credit to call an estate agent friend of his who could help me.
We go upstairs and Ibrahim wakes up Thomas, the son of the owners who can open doors, he tells me. Thomas is disorientated but is polite enough to tell me there is no space left for rent but I can have his phone number and call him at the end of the day…What for? He doesn’t have a space is all I need to know. But I took the number anyways, I might be able to make a deal with him to leave his room for Pili Pili Designs.
In a typical Maputo style, soon as you start speaking to someone few people gather around and all offer to help. 2 guys joined us and called someone on their phone to ask if so and so is renting that space behind the Ministry of something. No, that space is gone and besides it was far too expensive for our budget…Which we still have no clue what it is.
I figured there was nothing more to discuss at the brothel hotel and I better move on to a place with less characters and more people. So, I went to the train station, one of my favourite venues in Maputo. After chatting with 4 stuff members we find the right person to speak to. He is polite and speaks English with a heavy borrowed American accent. He tells us there is no space for rent at the train station but the company owns a lot of warehouses, if I know which one he can check if it is vacant. I inform him that I didn’t know they had other spaces and if he gave me list of the buildings I could check them out to see which one we like. To my surprise, he tells me they don’t have a record of all their buildings and which ones are vacant!!! I am amazed by this frank admission about something that serious. If they don’t care maybe we can squat in one of them and they won’t know? I also got another business idea talking to him, what about a property management deal with them and maybe the Moz government with massive collection of derelict buildings?…There is a free business idea you are more than welcome to run with. We parted with nothing more promising than a business card and a promise to try to find more information for me.
I feel a bit exhausted and hungry from all the empty talk and long walks so I ask Stelio if we can have a lunch break. He agrees and we find the cheapest place we can eat. For 65 mets (1.9USD), we get a large plate of rice, decent sized fried fish and salad! And it is really tasty. I know where to eat when I am downtown next time. The place wasn’t that dirty either. You would be surprised how being broke impacts on your hygiene standards, lol. When the bill arrives, Stelio doesn’t offer to pay for his food and I am surprised. I don’t want to make a fuss out of this since he spent hours walking with me so I pay for it and we silently resume our derelict delight tour.
Stelio tells me there is another place on 25th September and he knows the owner. It is a short walk from where we eat so I happily agreed to check it out. It is on the other side of 25th September and I realise it is a more pleasant part of downtown and cleaner. The building is clean and newly renovated. This usually means crazy prices. The guy is asking for 700USD a month for a place big enough to have 2 desks! Fuck that.
I walk out and walk into a Pakistani-owned stationary shop and the loud and gold-clad woman behind the counter says there is a large shop space next door for rent. Price? 1000USD! What is up with this place? The shop is run down and filthy with over the top bling bling tiles, a horror. After 6 hours walking, my patience runs out and I walk out. The Pakistani guy I was speaking to comes after us and says he has another place much bigger for 800USD if I want to view it tomorrow. OK, that sounds more honest. I follow him to his office to get his business card and he shows me a picture of the “Palm” in Dubai and tells me he owns a house there…Nice to know but I care more about what price he is going to charge for the other place. Let’s see what he says tomorrow.