Monday, October 10, 2011

The Sunday Wash

Today was our second Sunday in Namaacha and, as has been the case every day this week, it was nothing like a Sunday in the United States. 

Dan and I woke up at 6:30AM.  The sun had been up for at least an hour, the radio was blasting next door, and Mama Atalia was pounding away with the mortar and pestle.  Mama Atalia’s daughter (a mystery I will address soon enough) greeted us with a hearty “Bom dia!”

The plan for the day was this: learn to wash our clothes, boil water for our filter, go for a nice “passear,” and use the Internet at the cafĂ© about a kilometer away.  Alas.  We are quickly learning that tasks in Mozambique take considerably longer than one might originally suspect.  First, we set up the fire to boil water.  A Mozambican cooking fire is a brilliant thing.  Instead of building a Teepee of logs and sticks, the Mozambican woman will lay out a circle of sticks that meet at a central point, like an asterisk.

As the sticks burn and turn to ash, they are pushed in towards the heat in the center, making the asterisk smaller and smaller. 

*  *    *
In this way, the fire is small, hot, and close to the ground, allowing the trivet and pot to be close to the ground, as well.


Next, we had to pump water.  In reality, we do not use a pump.  We have an actual faucet in our yard that turns on an off during our allotted “water days”.  When I referred to this spigot as a “bomba” (pump), Mama Atalia shook her head no.

Mama Atalia:  It is not a bomba.  It is a Froopen-hoofer-crunchy.
Me:  Oh.  It is not a bomba.
Mama Atalia:  Yes.  Not a bomba.  Do not forget that it is a Mungo-Jerry-Rumple-Teaser.
Me:  Can I call it a bomba?
Mama Atalia:  No.

So, using our bomba, we filled a pot of water.   This we brought over to the fire and placed atop the trivet.  But we were not finished yet.  Next, we needed 10 buckets of water to do our wash.  Then, we needed a bucket of water to take our shower, two buckets to wash our dishes, four buckets for  cooking, three buckets for cleaning, and 5 buckets for reserves.  Our neighbor came over with two buckets to fill.  I should point out that these are not your average sandcastle buckets.  These are heavy-duty, top-of-the-line, janitor-style GIANT BUCKETS.


Next, Mama Atalia asked me to cook her something “American” for breakfast. 

“Um.  Yes.”  I said.  “Okay, I need five eggs.”  Mama Atalia obligingly retrieved five eggs from her store.  “And I need ketchup,” I added.

“Ajuvencia,” she called to her daughter.  “Da-me a TOMATIE SOUS!”

She then proceeded to watch, amused, while I beat the eggs in a bowl, fried them, and doused them in ketchup. 

“Ta-da!”  I said.  “American food!”

The truth is, I can cook.  It’s just very hard to cook in somebody else’s kitchen using nothing but what is currently visible (in this case: beets, Cheetos, ketchup, sugar, and eggs).  It is also harder when somebody is watching you. 

Every time Dan snuck over to the fire to check on the pot of water, Mama Atalia would glance at him and say, “Ainda!”  Literally translated, this means, “Still!” or “Still going!” Figuratively, it means “Stop checking!  You are like a child!”

After our All-American Grand Slam Breakfast, it was time to wash dishes.  Thankfully, washing dishes is not a big production.  We use the exact same method here as we do in the United States; that is, the two bucket method.  The only difference is that I smuggle water purifier into the rinse bucket.  Dan washed the cement floor of our house while I washed the dishes in our smuggley-clean water. 

Finally, it was time to wash our clothes, or “lavar ropas.”  This was, I tell you, the most TERRIBLE THING EVER.  It is said that man’s first invention was actually invented by a woman and was a piece of cloth used as a baby sling.  In fact, the current theory suggests that many early inventions were devised as a means of simplifying household chores and were actually invented by the women who did them.  These were things that I knew before I came to Africa, but the mind cannot fathom something so tedious until it is actually happening.  It takes just as long to wash a load of laundry in the United States as it does in Mozambique.  The only difference is, in the United States, you read a book while you do your laundry.  In Mozambique, you sweat. 

Here is how I wash my clothes at my current house in Namaacha.  First, I fill a giant cement basin with water and add powdered soap.  Then, I add clothes and let them soak for “dez minutos o mais.”  After letting them soak for ten minutes, I bring them out, one by one, onto a washboard and scrub until I feel my knuckles against the cement.  Then, I get scolded by a fifteen-year old child.  After that, I drop the clothes into another bucket with soap, scrub again, and toss them into a bucket of water and fabric softener.  Finally, I wring out the clothes and hang them on the line.  Somehow, I end up with two soapy steps and no rinse-y steps. 

“I don’t think this is right,” I said to Ajuvencia.  “Much big soap on these clothes.”

“Correct,” she said. 

Our clothes fluttered like planks of wood on the breeze all afternoon. 

I spent an extra hour in the shower today just to wash my “ropa interior.”  I crouched, naked and sweating, scrubbing soap out of ten pairs of underwear, four bras, and two pairs of socks that I’d forgotten from the last load.  I now have a bit of a sunburn, but at least I also have ten pairs of clean, crunchy panties.


We had finally handled all of our chores and refilled our water filter by two in the afternoon.  It was at this point that we decided to make our “passear” around town.  Unfortunately, Mama Atalia stopped me at the door. 

“You cannot go in that,” she said, pointing to my T-shirt.  “You do not look nice.”  Nice is italicized because it has, of all the English words, been adopted by the Mozambicans and is now widely used.   What she meant, of course, was that my T-shirt was wrinkled and needed to be ironed. 

Bless this delightful woman.  She pulled out her iron right away, took my T-shirt, and ironed it in two minutes.  In that small window of opportunity, however, Ajuvencia joined us and said, “Let’s go for a walk.”

So much for “MUCH BIG ENGLISH!”

My ability to understand Portuguese is quite hinged to my emotional state.  On my first day in Namaacha, I was too stressed to even remember the words I had memorized, much less understand Mama Atalia’s local Xangana accent.  On my second day, after 10 hours of sleep, I awoke to be a much more cheerful and fluent individual.  This day, my eighth, was one of my worst.  I had been working all morning and was feeling quite grumpy.  To make matters worse, Ajuvencia was not accustomed to speaking slowly for foreigners.  My inability to understand Portuguese was an all-time low.  Luckily, there was one topic of conversation on which we could focus.

Fifteen year old Ajuvencia is pregnant.  There is also a great mystery concerning her.

As we walked, I tried to come up with names for the baby.  That seemed like a good topic of conversation, plus I could use a lot of English words.

I also tried to make a joke in Portuguese, but it fell totally flat.  To understand where I went wrong, you have to understand that “Bolo” means cake and “Bola” means ball.  I also speak only in infinitives (to have, to know, to love, etc) which makes things hard for other people. 

What I MEANT to say was this:

Me:  You should name the baby “Cake”
Ajuvencia:  Haha, that is silly.  Why cake?
Me:  Because everybody loves Cake!

What I REALLY said was this:

Me:  You should name the baby “Ball”
Ajuvencia:  What?
Me:  For all the populations to love to have “Ball”

Here is the mystery about Ajuvencia:  We don’t know who she is.  When we met Mama Atalia on our first day in Namaacha, she told us that she had a daughter who was fifteen and visiting relatives in the capital city of Maputo.  There is a plaque on the wall commemorating the grade-school graduation of one “Ajuvencia Manhisse,” born in 1995.  Atalia’s last name is Manhisse.  So far, things are pretty clear.  Then, they start to get murky.  Mama Atalia did not greet us when we got home from school last Thursday.  A friend apologized and said that our adopted mother had gone to Maputo to “look for her daughter.”  Mama Atalia did not return until late on Friday, and when she did, it was empty-handed. 

“I am sorry it took so long,” she said.  “I had some trouble!  I feel so sorry.”

“What about your daughter,” we urged.  “Where is she!?”

“Ahh,” said Mama Atalia.  “She will come home tomorrow.  Oh, and she is pregnant.”

“What!”  We were taken aback.  “How many months?”

“Five,” said her mother.  She betrayed no emotion after disclosing this fact.

The next day, Saturday, we finally met Ajuvencia.  Standing at about 4 foot, 10 inches tall, she is the spitting image of her mother.  Clearly pregnant, she walks with a slight waddle that adds years to her youthful appearance. 

Eager for exercise, she joined us on our “passear.”  That is when she told us she was not Mama Atalia’s daughter. 

“She is my aunt,” she said, clearly.  “My father is her brother.  I do not live in her house, I live in Maputo.” 

What’s more, Ajuvencia claims that she is eight months pregnant and will have the baby next month. 

The mystery deepens.  Why would the grade-school plaque say “Manhisse” if Atalia’s maiden name (and therefore brother’s last name) is Xavier?  If it is a case of adoption, why would her “older brother” Mario, previously introduced as her “cousin,” not have been adopted as well?  Also, will the baby arrive while Dan and I are still in Namaacha?  These mysteries are more difficult to solve across the language barrier. 

As for me, I’m going to bed.  Tomorrow I will be be a much big detective.


  1. I love your blog. And I am glad things are going well there for you and Dan so far. I'm so very proud of you both!

    Lots of love!

    ~ Katie

  2. Lisa -- This blog is great! Good luck to you and Dan with everything, including the Portuguese!
    -- Stacey (Federoff)