So, it’s been an interesting week here in Maputo and both sides of my split personality have been fully present.
The side of me that comes alive in foreign climes and gets a buzz from the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, beautiful colours and idiosyncrasies of a different culture has had a really good dose of what she loves. Although I’ve been working all week – training African journalists – and haven’t had much time to explore, there have been many small, daily encounters with the local culture that have brought a smile to my face and reminded me how privileged I am to have so many opportunities to travel, to explore, to teach, to learn from others and to mix with people from around the world.
It’s been great fun trying to communicate in Portuguese all week – laughing at my own errors but also noticing the improvements that come with eight days of practice. It’s been amusing trying to navigate the broken pavements and chaotic traffic of Maputo on a 10-minute walk every morning to catch a minibus to work. And the locally caught shrimp has tasted great. I’ve also been blessed by the friendliness and hospitality of so many people and have chuckled at some of the peculiarities of the Mozambican way of life (a rather relaxed attitude to time keeping by some of my dear local friends, for example – this blog post was possible because a friend was over three hours late picking me up! – or not being able to leave the store without showing my receipt to the man on the door whose job it is to look at it intently, check I haven’t stolen anything and scribble his approval on it).
At the same time, however, I’ve struggled to sleep in unfamiliar beds, surrounded by unfamiliar noises and with light streaming in from outside (I have blackout blinds at home!). This lack of sleep has meant I’ve been in a permanent state of exhaustion. I’ve also missed being able to wander into my own kitchen and eat what I feel like – despite all the tasty food here – or make regular cups of peppermint tea. And over the last few days, I’ve suffered with eye irritation and woke up this morning to find one of my eyelids so swollen that I looked like one of those close-up images of a fly. While this could be a highly serious and life-threatening condition (according to my Internet research), it’s more likely to be a mild allergy that will soon go away. But when I looked at my puffy eyelids in the mirror this morning and felt rather distressed, I did wonder whether my body and mind are really up to any more of these exhausting weeks spent working away from home.
Of course, the worst thing for me about feeling exhausted is that it generally leads to overeating – I foolishly think that excess food and sugar in particular are the answers to tiredness and stress – and that has been the case this week. Of course, my intelligent self knows that the answers to tiredness and stress are sleep, rest and relaxation. A few more hours spent sitting in the sun on the tranquil terrace of my hotel would have helped. But when sleep isn’t possible and there’s no time for relaxation, my old habits kick in and I assume food will do the trick. And unfortunately, sugar has been readily available all week (in the form of cans of Coca Cola – I can’t remember the last time I drank a can of full-sugar coke – and sweets and cakes at morning and afternoon break during my journalism course). Of course, I wasn’t the only one indulging in the daily sweet treats that were on offer and I wasn’t the only one acknowledging that all the junk food wasn’t healthy or good for the figure. But given my history with overeating and my battles with negative body image, I know I’m not like other people when it comes to over-indulgence. It messes with my head, it affects my mood and I dwell on it for far too long. That said, I can also see my progress. In the past I would have over-indulged in much larger quantities and then found a way to continue to eat in private. At least this time I managed to moderate my food intake to a degree and while I feel a little larger, rather unhealthy and full of sugar, I can learn from the experience and get on with my day instead of beating myself up or continuing the cycle of self-harm.
Now, if I look back at what I’ve written, I can see there are more words about the negatives than the positives. I’m not sure that’s a fair representation. The jury is still out. I’ve met some wonderful people, laughed a lot and had the privilege of imparting what I’ve learned over 16 years in journalism to bright, willing and enthusiastic reporters from Mozambique, Angola and Cape Verde who haven’t had the opportunities to learn, train and travel that I have had. I think I know I don’t want to give up doing these foreign trips – it’s about finding a way to do them without ending up so exhausted and stressed. I know that I also tend to take life, and my work, too seriously. I’m not sure how to get the balance between being professional and maintaining high standards of work and chilling out, giving myself a break and taking it easy now and then. I’m hoping I’ll get there in the end but for today, I think I still take things too seriously and push myself too hard.
All that said, the world is too big and too colourful and there’s too much to see and experience to stop travelling. And work is definitely a cost-effective way to travel that brings me into contact with the local culture more than a short holiday might. I realise, though, that I deserve to find a good balance between travel for work and travel for pleasure and fun. Right now, it seems to be too much about work and not enough about fun. I hope that next time I come to Mozambique, I’ll have time to explore its beaches and enjoy more of its amazing colours, sights, sounds, music and culture – that it will be less work and more play.