Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Jazz Hands (or Why Mozambicans are Obviously Geniuses)

As I was preparing to leave for the summer and contemplating my packing list, I found myself faced with questions n’heretofore encountered: Will there be contact solution in Mozambique? Do I need to bring vitamins for the whole summer? Can I buy insect repellent when needed? What about coffee? (I am addicted whether I like it or not.)

Writing these now, they seem a little naïve or pretentious – like of course there will be a store in an entire country that will sell you these things. But others who have worked on this continent south of the equator warned me in June to err on the side of caution: it will be the little things that slow down your work in the end, such as finding a dang stapler for your surveys. So I packed and re-packed my bags (in the end falling somewhere in between Anne’s uber-efficient single hiking backpack and Yacoub’s 2 giant suitcases) and I think I managed to cover just about all of the essentials of survival for living in a foreign land. BUT! One basic and obvious omission has been costing me dearly until a few days ago: a washcloth or sponge for the shower. It had slipped my mind, and at first I thought this was no big deal, as I was fancying myself a born-again minimalist, an adventurer in the African bush for goodness sake! - and something as extravagant as a loofah was sooo United States. So it would just be me, some cheap shampoo, and a bar of soap in the shower for a while…

Well, one month has passed, and the conclusion is - Strategy Not Recommended. At least not for those who plan on working at ground level in the Sub-Saharan great outdoors for some time. You see, most of Nampula province is built upon a surface layer of bright red earth, which provides incredible visual contrast with the brilliant blue sky on most days—but also is the source of the ubiquitous layer of red dust that settles on me and everything I own by the end of every work day. It soon became clear that a minimalist’s shower was not going to do. I will spare the details, except to say that at one point I thought my forearms were getting really tan, until I looked closer…

I set out on a mission to find something, anything, that could scrub me clean, and I was willing to dedicate time to see it through. I asked around local shops – “O senhor tiene uma esponja?”- to which the reply was often a brillo pad or package of steel wool. While these options actually seemed reasonable at one point (I was getting a bit desperate), and I found myself weighing them against cutting up one of my 3 t-shirts to make some sort of washing device, I pressed on… And then I saw them—in ShopRite, the one Nampula grocery store that seems to approximate a typical chain—a package of washcloth GLOVES made precisely for cleaning humans (not cast iron pans!). Joy of joys!!




This summer I’m learning to appreciate the little things that I’ve always taken for granted. Believe me, if you’re ever as consistently grimy as I am, you will understand… But honestly, washcloth gloves: isn’t this just a genius idea in general??

2 comments:

cindyhwu said...

hahaha... this is such a great post! Who would have known that the lack of a wash cloth could cause so much agony! I'm so glad that you found them at last. :) Thanks for updating your blog, the photos are awesome!! Hope you're doing well.

stelet said...

Jazz hands!! Sara, I am using one of those gloves as well! It came with one of those body gift sets filled with overly-pungent lotions and potions I always toss or give away. But the glove? Love. I'll credit the Mozambicans :).