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A Party in Mozambique
The inevitable day had finally arrived after months of anticipation. All it took was a plane ride from Washington DC which had been my home for the past 3 years of my life. And I landed in Africa – specifically in the country of Mozambique in southern Africa. This is where I was going to spend the last two years of high school.
I’m going to jump straight to it. It was different – loads different. Everything from what I considered basic provisions such as internet to entertainment such as a mall seemed to be lacking. I’m quick to jumping to conclusions and I restrained myself. Nevertheless, after a week it was obvious – there was nothing to do here. I wasn’t overestimating the place –I wasn’t expecting an amusement park. Yet, there wasn’t a decent cinema hall, a proper mall, a library or book store, an English newspaper service or a central park. Of course, I was in an easy position to compare but I didn’t: I tried my best to not exaggerate the issue, but it sounded pretty bad without any further details needed anyways.
There had to be something missing – something I had yet to figure out. And so, my story begins.
It was the day before I was finally going to my new school. We were moving into our new apartment while the family we were replacing was moving out. I met the girl, a year younger than me, who was leaving the country. Around the end of our conversation, I decided to ask her:
“So what do you guys do for fun here?” I think I sounded pretty lame but I believe she understood.
All she did was smile – one of those knowing smiles that you would give to a naïve person. And she replied:
“You’ll see. You’re lucky– you live in the center of town. You’re at the center of all activity.”
It took a couple of weekends to figure out what that meant. The first weekend it came as somewhat of an astonishment. It was Friday night when I finally retired to my bed room. At around 10pm, I heard loud music through my 7th floor window. Great. We figured out there was probably some sort of celebration occurring at the restaurant downstairs next to our apartment building. No sleep tonight.
I forgot about it until the following night when I woke up at the sound of Rihanna “We fell in Love” from next door. Again. Not cool. I went outside my balcony and it felt like the whole city was wide awake. Lights everywhere. We concluded there must be a festival going on.
It wasn’t until this occurred each weekend for the following month that we realized it wasn’t anything special. It was a routine! It was as if the whole city woke up during the weekend nights to party. The party next door combined with vehicle sounds, people screaming and dancing and music from every nearby bar resulted in bare sleep during the weekends. Just lovely. The number of bars in our whole street surprised me- this was going to be interesting.
That wasn’t the only thing I had noticed. Every Saturday, similar status updates on facebook would pop up such as “What a night!”, “That was the best night ever”, “YOLO!” and “Thanks for an amazing night and DJ” It didn’t take long to put two and two together. After about a month, you realize that this was it. Partying comprised of the social life here. In fact, Maputo (capital of Mozambique) is known for its nightlife. Not only that, you get facebook invites to parties such as “Farewell to so-and-so”, “New Year Blast” or “A Night to Live For” that invited practically the whole high school. I learned quickly – they usually occurred at people’s huge houses or sometimes at clubs. The written time was from 9pm to 5am. I was genuinely surprised and immediately uninterested. I knew this occurred during college but I was only in 11th grade. I wasn’t going to spend a night outside- I think it was my Indian mentality creeping on me. I never bothered to read or inquire further.
My close friends at school never discussed it or encouraged me either because they were the few people who didn’t “go out” as it was called. But the rest of them always asked: “Did you go?” “Why not?” “Didn’t you want to?” etc. I always denied and they quickly learnt to not bother anymore. The facebook invites exponentially lowered. You may ask what was keeping me. Not my parents – they were ok as long as I was back by 1am. Not only that the few friends I had made in a short time didn’t go. Not that I completely didn’t care about making a social life. I was pretty disappointed I missed my friend’s farewell party at the end of the first semester because of my SAT the next day. It was what I learnt comprised these parties without actually ever going to them.
The first time it came as a shock. A big one. I overheard a conversation Monday morning about the party last Friday:
“Yo brah! That was a good one ey?”
“The best one. I woke up the next morning with such a headache”
“The house was trashed. Apparently, he was pissed cos of the bottles everywhere. And in the pool too. He had to clean up after us.”
The friend of mine (the one who left later) explained to clear the confused look I was trying to hide.
“Why didn’t you come?”
I shrugged, “Was it fun?”
He smiled. “I was DJ. I do it for free; you should come sometime. I don’t drink like those other guys, so you can hang out with me.”
By then it was pretty obvious. I wasn’t stupid and I had watched enough movies and read enough books to figure it out from there. It explained the bottles without labels that everyone was holding in the party photos each weekend. It explained why facebook invites always said “BYOB (bring you own booze) unless you paid for it” Booze means liquor or alcohol I realized through a Google definition. To be all metaphorical, I felt like I was finally opening my eyes.
These people drink- there was nothing to be surprised about. It was normal – there was nothing to be horrified about because almost everyone did. It was assumed actually – there can be no party without alcohol, he explained. It took a while to digest all this information. It explained too many things altogether.
“Is there no drinking age here?” I asked. My friend laughed.
“Of course there is but no one follows it. You’re in Africa now – everyone’s spoiled,” she replied.
There is so much you learn in school outside class. Either from overhearing conversations or casually asking, I learnt a lot of things. I could point out which guys were always “high”, which people drank or smoked the most, which people always got into fights and which people (a total of 7 or 8 in my grade) didn’t drink at parties. I wasn’t proud of it – it was simply general knowledge. There were good things too – which people danced the most/best, which guys are the best for DJ, which people hosted the most parties, which people are the most social and which people always contributed towards the organization. To be completely honest, it was almost cultural here. Even the teachers didn’t pretend as if they had simply no idea about crazy parties and late nights.
I have said a lot. But, nothing explains it better than experience. I was ready for my first party (I must say my mum was amazed). After a whole school year, I was finally going to a party the night of the last day of school. The friend accompanying me was so surprised and excited. We got ready together and since I didn’t know what to expect, I did my best. A dress, make-up, purse, shiny sandals, loads of perfume – looking top notch. My nervous level had reached near maximum by the time our ride (another friends of ours) arrived. Bring it on.
The first scene wasn’t far from what I had expected. There was an outside lawn area where everyone hung out and inside dark room for the DJ and the kitchen containing the drinks. The garden was accessorized with a pool and trampoline. There was a crowd by the time we arrived. Almost every person was carrying a glass that I was trying to avoid getting near during each greeting hug that I was offered. The edges were lined with couples so engrossed in making out that they probably had no notion of anything else. Dressing up was pointless really – most of the girls were in booty shorts anyways. I focused on meeting and hugging everyone, all of whom were surprised to see me:
“Oh look who decided to leave the books!” one laughed.
“Hey, u want a drink?” I shook my head and moved away from the drink being shoved from my face.
The variety of drinks available was interesting too. Some looked like apple juice, milk shake, fruit juice, mint water and coca-cola (something mixed in it) too though it was all variations of the same thing. The smell was unbearable personally. I got a good idea of the tastes too:
“This is really sweet.”
“Oh this is strong!”
“I wouldn’t advice you taste this one.”
“Ugh, this tastes like s***.”
Needless to say, I was highly inquisitive. I wish I had a notebook to write down everything I heard – now that would be entertaining.
It was awkward in the beginning because I honestly didn’t know what to do. At first, I decided to tag with one or two people but it became obvious that plan wasn’t going to be successful. So, I decided to dance which happened to be something that I could do. The music wasn’t amazing but I didn’t mind it – it was good for moving with a nice rhythm. I met surprised looks there too, but it turned out to be quite entertaining. But of course, there is a limit to which you can dance. Once you start getting tired and thirsty, you have to go back out and face the crowd. I returned to a usual bunch of people who I could talk freely too.
“Are you having fun?” she asked me. I smiled enthusiastically and half-lied.
“Yes of course, I enjoyed myself dancing a ton,” I replied. I wasn’t downright lying – I love dancing. But time wasn’t exactly flying here either. She nodded.
“There’s only three things you can do here really: drink, make out or dance.” I agreed nodding.
“And I can pick the last one of course. And you dodge between the first two.” I replied, knowing she refused to dance.
“Well, it isn’t that simple for me either. Both those two things have quick limits for me too.”
I was so happy just having that 30 second conversation considering that was the most I’ve ever spoken to that girl about something outside school work. I guess this party thing has its positive side somewhere.
At about 1am, I got to see the ugly side. At this point, everyone had lost it. There was even a fight with glasses being thrown and broken that a couple of guys including the host had to stop. Many people were puking everywhere and the few “sane” people as I called them (those who had control over themselves and their drinks) were calling cabs and sending them home. Also, luckily many knew how much they could control just like any adult so that they could continue to dance, have conversation and fun despite a glass or two. But many others were the exact opposite.
“I am so blind! I can’t even see where I’m going.” That one petrified me.
“She’s lost it! I don’t know how we’re gonna get home! We can’t call her mom, what would we tell her?”
“Buddy, I suggest you stop with the booze and drink some water.”
“I wanna go home” – this girl was curled up in a ball.
What I hated most was seeing my friends tipsy. They were blurting out things that were considered top secret. It is true – you don’t have control over that stuff, that stuff controls your mind. It’s what makes the world go round just so it could quickly destroy it one person at a time. I think that’s why I’m so scared of trying out. There are some things that are best locked up in my brain.
There were some who didn’t take it too well:
“Don’t talk to me like I’m some kid, ok? I’m not drunk, I’m just tipsy. Just ask me any question!” my friend says to me.
“What’s the functional group of alcohol?” I demand. She moves her head back and blinks.
“I never knew that anyways,” comes the answer.
She is the second most intelligent girl in our chemistry class.
There were some who were lost:
“Should I go into the pool or not? Or should I take off my sandals first?”
“No, don’t do that! You’ll get wet. Here, let me take you back ok?”
There were others who were merry and cheerful:
“Look at the moon right now- it’s on the right side. By the time we are done tonight, it’ll be on the left side” he said, pointing his finger towards the dark night sky. I smiled the widest smile.
And there were others who began singing with mixed up lyrics that all you could do was laugh.
A few who blurted out their deepest secrets:
“I told him I liked him all the way back in January. And you didn’t say anything. I’ve been waiting for you,” the girl with black hair said addressing me first and then the guy next to her.
“You see, I still like my ex-girlfriend in South America. When I go back in the summer, I’m gonna meet her and we’re probably gonna get back together. So sorry,” he replied so casually as if any awkwardness associated with the subject had disappeared into the heavy air. And then he waved to another girl.
“Stop cheating on me!” says the girl with black hair.
“I wasn’t cheating on you. We’re not dating remember?”
“Oh yeah. But still, you never waved to me like that!”
Some who became angry and aggressive:
“Get the hell outta my way!”
“So what? You think, you’re better? You wanna fight!”
And others who became downright forgetful or annoying:
“What’s your name again? P..Po.?”
“Oh, here’s your bag. Does that come with a thank you?”
“ Hey, you wanna dance with me?”
What I hated the most was involuntarily losing respect for these people. These are talented individuals with great personalities. They are like any regular teenagers whose company you would enjoy at any time. But tonight, they aren’t the same because something else takes over them. Tonight, I don’t want to introduce them to you. I still love them and care for them, but there is something in the back of my head nagging me. In one night, everything I knew about them during the course of a whole year seemed to be falsified, albeit not completely. Before leaving, I don’t wish a simple good bye to my friend.
Rather I say, “I’m leaving now. Please make sure she gets home.”
I can’t say I didn’t have fun. There was some hope, something delightful that kept me from leaving early.
Over on the side stood a guy from my grade who had a lot of fun during the party. He was probably in the most pictures and danced the most. He’s a classmate of mine actually, and so I approached him.
“I can see your smirking at all those drunk people” I say.
“You don’t drink either ey? Join the club” he said shaking my hand.
“So don’t you. You still had fun,” I responded.
“Did you drink anything at all?” he said.
“Coke” I said instantly.
“I hope it was just coke,” he joked. We both laughed.
Talking to him was probably the only time that time did fly that night. Possibly the only time I laughed and truly enjoyed myself. I even remember all of it – we talked about anything and everything that occurred. Like I said, there had to be something good about coming – I met one of my soon-to-be closest friend. My happy ending to a there’s-nothing-to-be-expected night.
That following morning, facebook was again filled with notifications, status updates and photos about the previous night. Everyone was commenting on just how amazing it was even though most of them didn’t remember much at all. Apparently, that was what made it amazing – they didn’t even remember most of the photos that they were tagged in. I finally felt had the authority to “Like” those status updates because I was actually there. I was one of the few people who probably didn’t wake up with a headache. When my mother asked how it went, I replied in three words:
“I enjoyed myself.”
And yes, I will try my very best to not miss out on future parties.
You may be wondering why I related this to you. This is partially a way for me to remember one of many new experiences that moving to a whole new continent has brought. It’s not extremely typical right? An over-protected Indian girl from DC moves to Africa and describes how she develops a completely new element of her lifestyle: a social life including its bad and good side. Life, especially when you move countries, brings numerous new changes and adjustments. This was a huge one for me – one that I had never even dreamt of. Albeit late, I accepted and embraced its positive side while keeping its negative side away. It sounds too good – many wouldn’t agree that I had fun at all. But for me, it a little like Hannah Montana’s “best of both worlds.”
A year back, I couldn’t have imagined proudly saying that I went to a party, remained sane and actually had a lot of fun before coming home at 1am the next morning.
I can imagine my own reaction: So? Who cares? That’s dangerous.
I do now. To be honest, that’s all I’ve really said in these 5 pages – that I had fun in some weird way.
I smile at the thought of what my friend would say at reading this tomorrow. Or even, what I would think after reading this 10 years later while rummaging my documents for something one lazy afternoon. Cry? Remember my pride at actually trying and succeeding? For doing it but not losing myself at the same time? Possibly remember the restaurant whose music stopped bothering me after a year or so because I got so used to it? Remember the anticipated night that I came home with music stuck in my head? Remember that I had fun like never before because I felt a sense of belonging?
I truly hope so.