Julieta was my host family’s 18-year-old niece who had come to live with them from Malawi just days before I arrived. She had been orphaned and was living with other relatives in Malawi. I’m not exactly sure why she came to Beira, but I was thankful for her presence since she spoke some English and was able to translate, especially at the beginning, when my basic Portuguese just wasn’t sufficient, and when Mae Ana didn’t have the patience to try to make sense of my fumbling. Julieta was much more patient with my Portuguese and would help me sort out what I was trying to say. In the afternoons when I came home from work, she and Moises and I would watch Brazilian soap operas. I never knew what the characters were saying, but it gave me a chance to have conversations because I knew enough Portuguese to ask about which characters were related to whom, who was involved with whom, what just happened, what did he just say, why is she crying, why is he angry, etc. Julieta always patiently explained.
In exchange for the Gobas taking her in, she had to work. She cooked and cleaned and waited on the family. She didn’t go to school, and she didn’t have any friends. She was often bored at home during the day because there’s only just so much cooking and cleaning that needs to be done in a small apartment, and soap operas don’t come on until later in the day. It was interesting to watch this teenager play so many different roles and combine different life stages. On one hand, she was such a child, wanting to watch TV or play or go out and find friends. She had dreams of being on the Mozambican version of American Idol. On the other hand, she had to fulfill responsibilities of being a dutiful orphaned family member and also mother.
Julieta came with her daughter, Naoza. I have never met a child so terrified of me. She was generally scared of anyone besides her mom, but she was particularly leery of me. I spent a month encouraging her to warm up to me, and she never, ever did. I’m sure she was thankful for the day I finally moved out.
Some time after I moved into my apartment, I found out that Julieta had gone to stay with some other relatives in a town a few hours from Beira. I would hear news of her occasionally when I would see Mae Ana or Pai Goba, but I never saw her again. Just before I left Mozambique two years ago, Mae Ana told me that Naoza had been hit by a car and killed several months earlier. I got Julieta’s phone number, and the last phone call I made before leaving Mozambique was to her. She was thrilled to hear from me, but we were only able to talk briefly because of a poor connection and the arrival of my plane to board. Last summer when I was in Mozambique, Mae Ana told me that Julieta had gotten married and was pregnant again.
This photo is from New Year’s Eve. While Mae Ana spent the evening cooking in the kitchen, Julieta and I spent it on the balcony mixing up batter for different cakes.