Mozambique, Markets, and Portuguese

I could write about my last month in Gozo.
And sailing to Sicily.
And finally getting visas for Mozambique.
And airports (so many airports)
And luggage (and luggage and more luggage).
And how much I love our new church.

But honestly, if I tried to write all of that, the sheer quantity would scare me to death and I would continue to procrastinate. I'll probably throw some pictures and commentary of those topics up here at some point, for the benefit of any who might have just given vent to a massive sigh of disappointment. In the meantime, allow me to hurl you into the hot, snail-paced whirlwind of my daily life.

I am trying to learn Portuguese. I didn't really try last time I was here, but since I'm looking at being here long-term this time around, I decided that I should make an effort. Accordingly, I have become a hoarder of miscellaneous vocabulary and bits of grammar, faithfully jotted down in my black notebook. I am lazy, and I have always disliked grammar, but I force myself to practice. I drill, translating my vocabulary from Portuguese to English and English to Portuguese. For some obscure reason, I can remember the word for 'dustpan' but rarely the word for 'Tuesday'. I construct bizarre sentences about tomatoes and milk and people sitting beneath tables. Kyran found me today, frowning and sweating over my chart for temporary 'be' verbs and muttering darkly to myself. 
K: Janie, what are you doing?
J: Learning Portuguese.
K: *Skeptical laughter*
 Fortunately, I have a fairly robust sense of humor, so all my flops and failures are not as crushing as they could be. It is, however, an established fact that as soon as anyone speaks to me in or about Portuguese, roughly 60% of all the Portuguese I've ever learned immediately decamps from my mind. I don't know exactly where it goes, but it certainly isn't accessible*. Of course, as soon as I'm no longer required to communicate, I immediately begin to think of all the things I could have said. I file these inspirations away and resolve to use them next time.

And so it goes.
Today, I undertook a solo shopping foray to the little market down the road from our apartment. 

I said I would go, and then I panicked a little.

'This could be bad.' Said the pessimistic side of my nature.

'Yes, yes it could.' My optimistic side chimed in. 'But it could also be good. And anyway, if it's bad, it will be a good story.'

I made it to the market. This was an auspicious start. One of the first times I went shopping, I very narrowly escaped being hit by a motorcycle. Traffic is like that.

There are a generous handful of makeshift stalls at our market, mostly all selling the same things. I picked one lady who was selling most of the items I wanted and launched myself into negotiations for tomatoes. The lady was quite friendly and patient, but she dashed my optimism when she began filling my order.

I asked for dez tomates (10 tomatoes). She held up three tomatoes, unleashed a string of words, and popped the tomatoes in a bag for me. I didn't understand much of what she said, but I understood that dez was used in close reference to the three tomatoes in the bag.

My internal pessimist unleashed a groan. 'Oh no! Maybe amount is determined by price! That means that your rehearsed vocabulary is useless.'

The optimist chimed in. 'Or maybe it was just a mis-communication. Try again!'

So, I tried again with the onions. Same result. My heart sank.

I took a few deep breaths and scrabbled wildly for any words that might be of assistance. I successfully asked the price of cabbage, and bought a head of it. I made my desires understood in the matter of the onions. Never once did I resort to English, sign language, or writing numbers in the dirt.

'See?' Said the optimist. 'It's not so bad! You can do it!'

I returned to the subject of tomatoes and asked, "Sete mais tomatoes (7 more tomatoes)?"in a hopeful tone.

"Sete?" Vegetable lady replied, disbelievingly.

"Sim (Yes)!" I nodded emphatically.

She counted out five more tomatoes and bagged them for me. I sighed. This had gotten beyond me. I felt that our lines of communication had been hopelessly severed by the merciless blade of Portuguese numbers.

The optimist chimed in, 'Maybe you counted them incorrectly and you actually do have ten. Anyway, even if you don't, you did get eight out of ten. It's not so bad!'

'Give up and move on!' Pessimism snorted.

I liked this advice, so I moved on to buy eggs. I fared much better with egg man. To be sure, he spent rather a long time explaining things to me. I'm still uncertain whether he was correcting my pronunciation of doze (12) or expounding the meaning of life. However, in the end, he gave me eggs, I gave him money, and everyone seemed happy. I chalked it up as a success.

The boy with the beans was my most notable flounder. To begin with, I'm not completely certain that they were beans. But I seem to remember once cooking with something like them, and they were all I could find. I asked for um kilo (1 kilo), and the boy responded with a flow of words that involved três (3) of something. He made no move to give me any beans. I had absolutely no idea what to say. We stood and regarded each other for a long time.

'Just leave!' The voice of pessimism urged.

'You can't give up now!' Optimism declared.

The silence became awkward. I had to either say something or turn and run.

"Desculpe, muito pouco Português (Sorry, very little Portuguese)." I apologized, and launched myself once more into negotiations.

I am not certain that we ever reached an understanding. Had I been in that boy's shoes, I would have probably given me what I wanted, just to escape the situation. Perhaps that is what he did. In the end, he poured three scoops of the leguminous material into a black plastic bag. I gave him some money. He scrounged up some change. We parted with what was, I fear, mutual relief.

Thus ended my marketing.

'Anyway,' I reflected, as I walked back home. 'I probably gave them all something to discuss over supper tonight.'

'Did you see that girl?'

'What was she talking about, anyway?'

I may have even provided some light humor.

Mission: accomplished.

*So if you see any spare verbiage wandering about, please do let me know. Even if it's not mine, I promise to give it a loving home until the rightful owner turns up.


  1. Haha! Regardless of the outcome of your shopping trip, that was a great blog post! Love you and praying for you, Janie...Aunt Kelly

    1. I'm glad that you enjoyed reading. Thanks so much for the prayers!


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