Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Feliz Natal! And Photos of Mana Ana (big sister Annie, as I am called here, in conjunction with Teacher Ana) Trying to Integrate by Killing a Chicken for Christmas Dinner

I hope you had a Merry Christmas! I sure did, even though the Jewish tradition of going to the movies and then getting Chinese food was clearly not able to be on the agenda. Here is the lowdown on my travel, food, and overall atmosphere of my festa (party, or because to Mozambicans, holidays necessitate drinking and you drink at a festa, the word is also just synonymous with holiday) weekend.


I got to the chappah stop at 5am. Now, in the north of Mozambique, the chappahs are generally not minibuses crammed full of people (unless you are traveling a highly trafficked route), but rather, open-backed trucks absolutely crammed full of people, luggage, animals, and anything else you can think of. People are spilling off the sides, standing up, sitting on a crate of beer on top of a suitcase, sitting on the roof of the cab; basically anywhere they can find a place. Unfortunately, I was not able to secure the one coveted seat in the cab between the driver and the guy who yells out stops, decides who gets on and off, collects money, and manages the overall ride. The lady sitting there was pregnant and had a small child so I was ok with her taking the good seat. There is a political hierarchy to these chappahs (everywhere in the country) and I still have yet to really understand it all. But it can be quite a shit show. My observations of other unlucky passengers: don’t take too long to pee while people are boarding and de-boarding or else they WILL leave you behind (safer just to hold it), and be sure to have a firm hold of the side of the truck as you jump on it because once you make the motion to get on the chappah, the driver pulls away with you hanging there and you may fall and then be left behind. You never know how long the trip will take, but a general rule of thumb is that the crappier the road you will be traveling on, the crappier condition the truck or minibus will be in and thus the longer the trip will take, though I find that logic of putting falling apart vehicles on falling apart roads a bit reversed. My seat was in the middle of the truck-bed (which I was happy about because it meant I wouldn’t fall out), between a woman and her young son who had decided they needed to bring their own live, squawking chicken on the ride, and a man sitting on his suitcase who told me (though I didn’t ask) that the suitcase was full of peixe (fish). My friend had left his vassoura (broom) he had bought in the chappah we took to arrive at site, so along with my small backpack and purse, I was also boarding the chappah with a broom to return to him. The live chicken and suitcase of fish was considered normal but I got a few too many weird glances and questions about why the white girl was traveling with a broom. By 7:30am however, we finally took off, only of course, 1.5 hours after the last passenger boarded. Soon after, the pregnant lady de-boarded the truck and the driver left to pee on the side of the road so I jumped out and asked to sit in front. Permission granted. The 4-hour ride was pretty smooth sailing after that. On the return trip, my American-ness earned me the seat in the cab the whole ride. It was glorious (gotta celebrate the small victories here in Moz).


In the Christmas spirit, the two guys I was visiting and I decided to make some delicious food, among the best was French toast. Even better, however, is the fact that the road in front of one of my friend’s houses is lined with mango trees that are absolutely dripping with delicious mangoes this time of year. So we gathered about 20, sat on the porch overlooking an incredible Mozambican view, and ate like 7 mangoes each. I didn’t think my food experience could get much more stereotypically Mozambican for the weekend than the overindulgence of small, stringy, amazing mangoes, but I was wrong. We were planning on spending Christmas day with the Peace Corps Response Volunteer (PCRV) doing food security work in town and his wife who was visiting from the US. They were part of Moz-5 (I am Moz-15), which means they were volunteers about 8 years ago. They are great, and it was fun to swap stories about the Peace Corps staff that are still around and hear how much Mozambique has changed in 8 years. We were going to eat these two chickens the PCRV had gotten from this farmer he works with, but we got a call on the way there that the maid or neighbor or someone had eaten one, so could we please pick one up? Of course we would. But the three of us had never bought a chicken before. So we run into some guys selling chickens and soon find ourselves getting live, squawking chickens thrown in our face with a variety of prices called to us. I didn’t know how much a chicken costs or how to properly choose a live chicken but I tried to pick the biggest, least sickly looking one. I ended up paying the right price (I’m always getting ripped off or think I’m getting ripped off here because I am white and thus am equated with having money and being gullible, which, I admit, is sometimes true here). So I walked about a mile with a live chicken, feet tied, swinging from my hand. After the PCRV killed one chicken he asked if we would do the honors for the other one. I must have lost nose-goes or something because I was elected. See pictures below. The PCRV’s wife came running over as I was chopping off the poor chicken’s head because she heard squealing. She asked if it was the chicken or myself; it was me. I then learned how to de-feather and gut a chicken to get it ready to be grilled.


We made chicken tacos with homemade tortillas, mango salsa, and refried beans. It was a delicious, totally from scratch Christmas feast. Though delicious, it took 6 hours to make everything and that’s when we decided we would rather have delivery than running water. We have neither (because my running water isn’t anything except unpredictable and dirty).

Overall Atmosphere:

Your really learn how to entertain yourself and be spontaneous in Peace Corps because sometimes (and by that I mean, often) you have nothing to do, whether because there just isn’t anything to do that day, or you are sequestered inside due to rain, so you can’t even go to the market, or you are sitting in the dark with your headlamp as the only light at 2pm since it is raining, or perhaps just kinda windy, and thus the power has temporarily, though frequently, gone out. Its no wonder so many Mozambicans drink too excessively: there is literally nothing else to do. So, one night we watched this fantastic lightning storm on the porch while drinking homemade sangria. It was a big highlight, even though the weather had brought out these bugs that fly until their wings fall off and we were slowly surrounded by thousands of pairs of bug wings. On Christmas Eve day, it was pouring all day (we are minions forced to submit to the will of the weather here) and we didn’t want to go get food at the market (it’s a 40min walk) so we paid the kid next door to go for us (for about 50 cents). Instead, we looked at all 1.7 million photos of my friend’s Peace Corps Niger service and watched all the Christmas episodes of all the seasons of TV shows we had on our external hard drives, all while sitting on the world’s most uncomfortable couch and straining our ears in the presence of a thunder storm louder than the computers speakers. Then it rained so hard that we thought we should catch it in buckets for use the rest of the weekend (fetching and pumping water for three is a lot of work), so we filled up every container that holds water in my friend’s house with rain water: buckets, pots, cups, the water heater, everything. Then the boys tomar banho-ed (took a bath) in the stream of rainwater collecting and falling off the roof. His neighbor came outside and told us to go inside, out of the rain, before we catch malaria from it. Right. The notions and mostly lack of knowledge of disease and disease transmission here can be baffling and usually upsetting. But you can see how we attempt to entertain ourselves here in Moz I hope. Christmas day, however, was beautiful weather-wise: the sky was so clear and blue I felt I could see forever. And as we walked to the ultimately chicken-killing extravaganza Christmas party, we were awed by the sky and the landscape and paid homage to the sometimes-annual Redwood Heights caroling party and started singing Christmas carols. A train of about 15 Mozambican women and children soon cut in front of us and were singing beautiful Mozambican church hymns, perhaps about Christmas, I’m not sure (they were in Elomwe, the local language). It was a great cultural troca (exchange) fitting in the spirit of the day, us singing Christmas songs from our culture only to be drowned out by the much more acoustically pleasing sound of theirs.

My house is clean: I have a cleaning lady three times a week and I am a pretty sanitary and neat person. But there are just cockroaches in my house and will be no matter what I do. The worst run-in I have had so far: I crunched on a small cockroach inside my pasta last night for dinner. And then looked in the Peace Corps med book to find that having cockroaches in your kitchen can cause amoebic dysentery.
Let’s hope it doesn’t. 

The unlucky chicken I bought for the equivalent of $4.28 (he doesn't have a name because I thought naming him and then cutting his head off was cruel...):

The process to matar (kill) a chicken begins with standing on his wings so he can't fugir (flee):

The cutting starts, dull-ass knife and all:
(the next photo is sort of gruesome so skip it if you get queasy)

I needed help holding the poor guy down since he was seizing. Chickens really DO run around with their heads cut off, as I was doing, and I didn't want that:

De-feathering it in a bucket of hot water:

Grilled and delicious:

Our Mozambican caroling buddies:

Now we have a few photos of the residences of Alto-Molocue, where my friends live.

Cool house. Love the door.

Pretty self-explanatory houses:

The mango tree-lined roads:

What was once probably a house. There are a lot of ruins like this, probably no one has claimed the property after the civil war that ended about 16 years ago. Gotta love Mozambican efficiency...

Cool house:

Very cool house:

More varieties of Mozambican housing:

This is my house. I realized I forgot this view in the last batch of photos. It is a duplex; this left side is mine!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


So below are some photos of my house and the scenery of my town! And I put some of my host-family, because they were fantastic and deserve a shout out!

The boredom of living alone and not knowing anyone and not working is setting in. But I try to fill my days with teaching myself to play guitar, reading, watching DVDs of seasons of shows on my computer- Modern Family is my new addiction, and passear-ing (aimlessly walking around trying to get to know the town while avoiding being called a Murungu- local language for white girl- or being hit on my random men, or stared at blatantly by hoards of children. I never thought I was that interesting, but apparently I am a spectacle. Many people are really nice though!).

I am going to visit two of my friends from training who live in the closest town to me (4 hours away if I'm lucky and the chappah stays on the road this time) to celebrate Christmas! Maybe Santa will visit me for the first time ever since I will be staying with people who actually celebrate this holiday. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

Anyway, hope you enjoy the photos!

My Kitchen: water-filter, kitchen faucet that doesn't work, stovetop with only one working burner, blender and water heater (which I am scared of because there are always cockroaches in them), bucket of water, and rarely used fagao com carvao (charcoal stove). This is my Chopped training arena. If you don't watch Chopped on the Food Network, you are missing out and should watch it because I no longer can...

My Bedroom: Yes, apparently, it is orange.

My Lovely Bathroom: The showerhead and sink faucet are just for show, they do not work. The water runs every (relative term) night from the tap at the bottom of the shower.

The buckets I fill up every night (again, this is a relative term due to Mozambique's unpredictability). You take a bucket from the kitchen and fill it up with 3 red ladles full of hot water and mix with 7 ladles full of cold water and bam, you got yourself a BUCKET BATH (use the ladle to pour water from bucket). Yes, this is a science to get the right temperature.

My Place of Employment: Escola Secundaria e Pre-Universitaria de Gurue. Apparently, they call it ESPUG.

 Early morning fog on Gurue's mountains.

One of the bairros (neighborhoods) in Gurue.

Host-fam (grandma and adorable little cousins included).

Two of my host-brothers. They are pilar-ing peanuts before dinner. Aka, using this huge mortar and pestle to crush peanuts to a powder to mix with coconut milk and greens. Mmmmm delicious. Seriously. (And nice face, Felix.)

Mama Victoria and Junior. She is rolar-ing coconut. Aka, making coconut shavings to mix with water to add to the pilar-ed peanuts above and greens.

The pilar-ed peanuts and rolar-ed coconut.

Felix and some neighborhood kids holding the baby pigs born that day. Did you know that baby pigs (piglets?) make the most terrible screeching sound? Well, they do. But they are super cute.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Happy Belated Hanukkah (which unfortunately I didn't get a chance celebrate this year because I believe me and the three other Jews in my training group quadrupled Mozambique's previous Jewish population).

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Posh Corps

Apparently Peace Corps Mozambique is considered in some circles to be the “Posh Corps” of Peace Corps Africa. I’m not sure exactly what separates Mozambique and qualifies it as such but I do sometimes feel spoiled since at my site I can buy luxury items like peanut butter and the occasional frozen chicken. And I’m not what you might call “suffering” which to some is a prerequisite for effective Peace Corps service. But to me, only a happy volunteer can be a successful volunteer, so I will relish my mini-refrigerator and my concomitant ability to preserve leftovers and drink cold water, thank you very much. After all, when you are walking home from the market and the sunny sky suddenly turns to a torrential downpour, your flip flop gets stuck in the mud and you have to fish it out with a stick, some man follows you for 10 minutes trying to get you to buy a kebab with 5 grilled rats on it, and you pass two naked men fighting on the side of the road, you realize that yes you are in a whole other place, and the fact that you can occasionally flush your toilet (only when the water happens to be running of course), doesn’t mean this isn’t Peace Corps. Besides, the heavy rain-pour could in fact lead to an interesting conversation with the lady next to whom you are huddled under a shack-roof like thing to wait out the storm. I have at least started to learn and appreciate to look for the good in an initially bleak situation. And also, there are and will always be times when I go do my nightly chore of filling up the four large buckets with water from the spigot in the bathroom to find it isn’t running (and hasn’t for the past 48 hours), is a disconcerting and uncomforting shade of brown or black, or perhaps, it is only relinquishing the slightest trickle of water, meaning I watch an entire episode of Friends and come back to find a less than half full bucket, so I trod off to bed hoping for better water pressure tomorrow. So even though I don’t have to journey a ways to pump water (or pay someone to do it for me since I have yet to master the carrying a large tub of water on your head trick), my day still revolves around the availability, or lack thereof, of water. Nothing here is very certain, or even always reliable, and I would like to work on my ability to be patient, flexible, and spontaneous in the face of this, so it looks like I will be forced to be on my way towards this goal.

In the U.S, I don’t really like farmer’s markets. I am an extremely lazy shopper so I would rather just go to the one place that I know will have everything I want. But, here, I have no such option. You have to go to one place to get pao (bread), different lojas (shops) have different items so you have to remember who carries what (as far as packaged items) and go there, and to buy produce, you either have to go to the market, which is pretty much a farmer’s market with a bunch of crowded stall all huddled together, or buy from the randoms on the side of the road. I prefer the latter option because once you buy one thing from one person at the bigger market, all the other vendors approach you and try to convince you to buy their potatoes or unidentifiable leafy green vegetable since you clearly have money and are in the market for some produce. But I learned very quickly to scope out the scene to see who has the best tomatoes that day, or the best bananas, before purchasing anything, and to not formulate a plan for a meal until you see what that’s days vendors have, since maybe the pineapples look great today, or someone actually has green pepper, cucumber, or green beans for the first time all week. I do, however, eat a lot of fruit because it is so cheap (mangoes are the equivalent of less than 1 cent, which I find awesome. Also fantastic is that avocados go for about 2 cents). But it also forces me to be a more creative cook, and a less overwhelmed one, because I have no choice in what to make: I have to come up with meals with the limited produce available that day. Quick: what can you have for dinner when all you have is pasta, peaches, onions and peanut-butter? Maybe by the time I come back to the US I will be a Chopped Champion.

People seem very concerned with the fact that I am always home alone, and most importantly for them, that I have to cook and eat by myself. They ask what I had for lunch or dinner and when I tell them, they are shocked and say it is not good enough. I however believe that my lunch of an egg and avocado sandwich with assorted fruit was delicious (I eat probably an unhealthy number of bananas a day). But they do not offer to teach me how to cook or to eat with them, so I am very confused as to what they expect. I even tell them that I don’t know how to cook Mozambican food (which is not really true, I just don’t have the desire to spend 3-4 hours preparing a dish for only myself), hoping for an invitation to a meal with them or a cooking lesson, but so far, no such luck.

I had a heart wrenching conversation today with a lady who followed me for about 10 minutes and then asked if I live at the Secondary School. I said yes (it still doesn’t cease to amaze me that people either know who I am without me ever meeting them, or that they can guess I am a teacher by the way I look- aka am white, even though I’m pretty sure my roommate and I are the only non-Africans that work at the school) and then she asked if she could work for me. When I told her that I already had an empregada (maid- most Peace Corps Volunteers have them to do random household chores, and it puts money in the community by supporting the informal economy) she said she could cook for me. When I said I knew how to cook, she protested that she has children and needs a job so they can eat. Her baby, which was wrapped to her back, was awfully cute, and stared at me. Tons of people ask me for money (and I reply that I give lessons, not meticais- the Mozambican currency- and they are usually satisfied) but this was different and I didn’t know what I could do for the young mother. So I awkwardly apologized and hurried away. I have been in Gurue for about a week and have a while still to go before I start actually doing anything. My task for now is just to start to “integrate” into the community, both that of the school and at large. But aside from awkwardly wandering around the school until some random teacher talks to me for a few minutes, integrating calls for going up to my neighbors or other people in the community who are sitting in their front yards and striking up conversation. Mozambicans don’t find this too odd, being exceptionally kind and community-minded, but I find it a tall order since I often have trouble understanding them and am not that naturally forward a person to really put myself out there; I’m more of a let the party come to me type of person. Integration is supposed to be my first goal; I have no way of actually doing anything productive or helping anyone, even this lady I met on the street. I probably wouldn’t have hired her off the street had I been looking for an empregada but I still felt for her, and others like her. This isn’t the first time I have been pedir-ed (asked) in this manner and won’t be the last, but for the first few months, I should probably focus on getting settled and accustomed to life on my own in this totally new setting, before I start any secondary projects with the students at school or a income generation project with women in the community like the one I met today. I just have to keep telling myself that that day will indeed arrive.

Highlight #1: The rain knocked out the power the other night, so I couldn’t use my little electric stove. Only one burner works, but it is still a hell of a lot easier than the charcoal option. But, because I was hungry for dinner and wanted to be able to heat up water to take a warm bucket bath, I had to go old fashioned. Using my headlamp, I stood on my front porch (which thankfully has a little covering from the rain) and eventually got the charcoal to light. The neighbors got a kick out of watching me struggle, and were obsessed with my headlamp. That’s a lesson in making “friends” in Mozambique (in this case, I mean getting them to remember I’m here and alive and enjoy the company of others): struggle at a task that is extremely everyday and routine to them so they can laugh at you, and then have some sort of ridiculous foreign gadget over which they can ogle and ask to try out.

A small cockroach just crawled out from inside my computer and onto the keyboard as I was typing. Ew.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Long Journey

Well, I made it. I made it to Gurue, what I will be able to call home for the next two years. But, it took a while to get here, both relatively in that I knew I wanted to apply to Peace Corps years ago and am now at the physical place that I will be serving, as well as the what should have been a 6-7 hour drive turning into a 17 hour extravaganza.

After arriving in the north of Mozambique, we wandered around Nampula city, the capital of Nampula province (I bought a guitar!) and had a two day conference conducted solely in Portuguese, meant to acclimate our supervisors (in my case, my assistant school director) to Peace Corps and ourselves. It was a mental workout. Then on Wednesday, myself, my supervisor, and the two guys that will be living in the closest town to me and their supervisors headed out to scour the northern area of Zambezia province towards our sites.

Our departure was scheduled for 5am, but naturally for Mozambique, at around 8am, we started packing up the rented chappahs. Because I was the only girl on the trip, I was given the front seat next to the driver so that, according to the driver, I would be less squished. I took him up on the offer immediately. But by 10am, we were still sitting in the chappah outside the hotel. I ventured inside to the air-conditioned hotel, and at 11am, my Peace Corps supervisor said that we had been waiting for a special clearance/license to take these Nampula province chappahs across the provincial border to Zambezia. We still didn’t have the license, but the driver’s now had money with which to bribe the transit cops. Sweet. And we were off (after the driver picked up his lunch from his house of course).
After taking a beautiful scenic trip through the mountains (there were at least 15 rock formations that could have been Pride Rock from The Lion King) and on a paved road, we dropped off the boys in a city called Alto Molocue. We then had a decision: there are two roads from Alto Molocue to Gurue, one is longer but paved, while the other is more direct but dirt. Our driver chose the latter. On a good day, this leg is about 4 hours. I repeat, on a GOOD day. However, this was not a good day. I was already a little nervous when the driver picked up 10 people in Alto Molocue to take them to Gurue, considering my entire life was in that chappah. Everything to my name in Mozambique (and for that matter, pretty much in the US as well) sat in that vehicle and now 10 people I don’t know could theorhetically take off with it. I gripped my backpack with my wallet and computer, and my guitar (which didn’t fit anywhere else) on my lap. About 2.5 hours into the trip, we played Oregon Trail and practically forded a portion of road over which the river had flooded. And then it started to rain. Not soon after, due to mud and hydroplaning, we skidded off the road and crashed into the ditch on the side of the road. No one was hurt (not even the chappah), but after fleeing the vehicle, I surveyed that we were stuck in the ditch at a 45 degree angle against the hillside. In a world without AAA, I could not fathom what we were going to do. Good thing, the other passengers did. We started cutting down branches and bushes with a machete and making a bridge/platform for the chappah to move on. By this time, a crown of about 50 nearby villagers had gathered to watch despite the current downpour. After about an hour and a half of bridge making, scraping away the top layer of mud off the road, and placing rocks/sticks under the chappah’s wheels, we successfully got the chappah out of the ditch. It was now dark, and we took the road at a rip-roaring 3km/hour. Soon, at the bottom of a hill, the driver got out and walked up it to check it out. He came back a while later and reported that a big rig was stuck in the middle of the road halfway up the hill. But we were going to drive up it anyway, and sure enough, we got stuck there too. All the men piled out and basically pushed the chappah the rest of the way up. As a girl, I was apparently not allowed to help, so I pushed on the dashboard and willed the vehicle up the hill. It was during this hour detour that I began to think, “What can you do?” But literally, what was there to do except to use the only tool at our disposal, ourselves, to figure out a solution to our problem. And that was the spirit the rest of the passengers had as well. They were chanting as they pushed and had a cheer of pure glee once we had safely made it out of the mud. It was a great show of teamwork, since we were all strangers, no one complained or quarreled, and everyone did what they could to pitch in. I saw first hand the great fortitude and ingenuity, I guess at least of this group of Mozambicans. The rest of the ride was relatively smooth sailing.

I arrived at my house at 10pm and immediately passed out, clearly tired from a long day in which I literally did nothing but sit on my ass. I woke up the next day realizing, holy shit, I have no food, have no sense of direction where anything is in this town, and am pretty much utterly alone (my roommate who is from last year’s group of volunteers has gone home for the holidays). First, I investigated my house: it is quite nice, cement, with electricity, and running water from night until dawn (I was able to flush the toilet once!!!). It is stocked with furniture and essentials since PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) are now on our 5th cycle here, but the kitchen and bathroom are infested with apparently immortal and permanent small cockroaches. I left a dish-towel on the counter and not hanging on its hook for literally five minutes and when I came back, it was crawling with roaches. Soon, I gathered up the courage (mostly due to hunger) to explore the city. The note that the PCV I am replacing wrote to me said that I won the Peace Corps Mozambique lottery in being placed at this site, and she is right. In colonial times, Gurue was a Portuguese resort. It is now a little more rundown, but is cradled among gorgeous mountains, the tops of which are usually covered by fog during this, the rainy season, and has some colonial style buildings, a fountain, and tree lined streets that were at one time paved, among the makeup of houses/market stalls typical of Mozambique. I live on the school grounds, and at least the first day, helped with the organization of the second round of National Exams for the 10th and 12th graders. I couldn’t figure out if I was being taken advantage of since teachers probably get paid for that type of work and I was working for free, or if I was starting to “integrate” by spending the afternoon with joking around with a group of 5-6 of my colleagues. Well, they at least were joking around, I on the other hand, was greatly struggling to keep up with their rapid Portuguese. I no longer live in the sheltered Training world of annunciation and slow speech. But as soon as lanche (snack: mini egg sandwhiches and soda) was delivered, all was good.

I can, however, tell that this is going to be a rough few months before the school year starts. I know no one in the town and am struggling with the language, but I keep reminding myself that I felt the exact same way the first week of training and ended up loving it.

Also, I will now have access to Skype, so let's set a date!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Greetings from the North

So after ten weeks of Namaacha life, we were treated to a one-night
stay in one of the nicest hotels in Maputo, the capital city. And this
place was indeed fantastic.  Not much can be better than making toasts
after our swearing-in as volunteers on a balcony overlooking the whole
city and the Indian Ocean. But, in true Mozambican fashion, in this
five star hotel, our bathroom door was broken, and my friends’ window
did not fully close. But the hot shower, air conditioning, and
non-cement, non-dirt-covered floor was well worth it.

Our swearing-in ceremony was at the ambassador’s house, which was a
beautiful three-story mansion, demonstrating the vast discrepancy of
wealth in the city, and extending to the entire country itself. The
English teachers, the science teachers, and the health volunteers all
had matching capulana (multi-purpose, bright, beautiful, Mozambican
fabric) outfits within these three sectors; the girls mostly wore
dresses with the boys in tunics. After a few speeches, and us taking
an oath, we performed a cultural segment. It had been my friend’s
birthday earlier in the week, and we had gotten a cake made for her as
a surprise. After training was over that day, the choir was going to
practice for the performance, and she wanted to attend, and since I
wanted to be there when we brought out the cake, I was thus obliged to
attend the rehearsal as well. And so somehow, even with my inability
to carry a tune, I made my way into a spot in the choir, singing a
song in Portuguese for the ambassador. Unfortunately, Obama was not at
our swearing-in, though he will be attending the one for the Ukraine
volunteers later this month. Needless to say, we feel more than a
little short-changed.

But I am now an official Peace Corps Volunteer, no more being a lowly
trainee (and recently found out my monthly paycheck will be a whooping
$187/month). And at 4am the next morning, my fellow education
volunteers in the North and I (15 of us) headed out of the lap of
luxury and to the Maputo airport. Taking a departing flight out of
Maputo International Airport was interesting to the say the least, for
someone used to flying in the US. Most notably, we walked through the
security line, did not have to remove any metal from ourselves, so the
metal detector went off for everyone, and then our bags were scantily
searched by security officials. The plane ran on Mozambique time, we
left 45 minutes late with no reason given, and the promised 1 hour 50
minute flight took closer to 3 hours, with Kenny G being blasted the
entire time. But despite the fact that Mozambique is a country that is
entirely BYOE (bring your own everything: toilet paper, trash bag,
plate, fork, cup, etc; you name it and think you might need it, you
should probably just bring it), the airplane was probably nicer than
most of the ones I have traveled on in the US.

As we descended into the Nampula airport, we got our first glimpse of
the northern part of the country. The landscape is absolutely
incredible: there are these mountains and crags that appear as if from
nowhere, and are slightly indicative and reminiscent of the
Flintstones. The whole feel of the North is more laid-back and has an
Arab tinge, as opposed to that of the Portuguese in the South. Four
whole days of hot showers and a delicious buffet at every meal (though
coupled with power surges that briefly cut off the electricity about
every 30 minutes) will be a nice little treat before we are dropped
off at our sites after a conference with our school directors. I can’t
really say why, but ever since the first day we started talking about
sites, I felt I belonged in the North, and now that I am here, I still
can’t explain why, but I know that I was correct in my initial

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

What I Learned In Training

Tomorrow is the last day of training. We arrived in Namaacha on a Saturday morning almost nine weeks ago. That weekend, where I didn’t see any other Americans, that first 48 hours here at training, were probably the worst of my life. I didn’t speak the language, had no idea what was ever going on, but since then have learned a great deal. Overall, training has been an awesome experience, but I am ready for it to end, and am ready to start doing what I came here to do, teach (and also, to a lesser degree, to be in control of my own eating habits and bathing schedule). And though most of what I have learned has been the hard skills, like Portuguese and educational technical training, but I have also learned some cultural differences and a few idiosyncrasies of living here in Mozambique. Below I tried to highlight some of the ones that have made me laugh since I arrived here, and they are in no means to speak badly of my host-family or host-community during training, they are only meant to demonstrate the occasional “is this for real?” feeling that Pre-Service Training inevitably presents.
What Training Has Taught Me:
1. If you cannot find your shoes, your host-mom has probably hijacked them from your room in order to clean off the clay/mud that resulted from yesterday’s rainstorm.
2. If you find said shoes before they have actually been cleaned by your host-mom, it is a good idea to try to convince her you are indeed capable of cleaning them yourself. But, be warned that she will intently watch you do it, and also, explaining that it is not important to you to take out the laces WILL NOT work, and similarly, explaining that you do not want to dunk them in a bucket of water since you want them to dry quickly does not mean that you will not then be made to scrub them fiercely with a sopping wet towel (aka, old shirt), essentially getting the shoes just as soaked as if you had dunked it into a bucket of water. So just giving in and cleaning your shoes more than you ever wanted to (don’t dare forget to scrub the bottoms…) is probably the best option, and you WILL in fact feel good about wearing shoes that look almost as good as new, even though they took a week to dry and will just get dirty again the moment you step outside.
3. If your house has a toilet that is manually flushed by pouring a bucket of water into it (the other option is a latrine, meaning a seemingly endless hole in the ground that may or may have a chimney like seat on it), always check to see if there is a bucket full of water in the bathroom before using it, or else, an awkward situation WILL ensue.
4. If you are offered food, EAT IT, unless you are prepared for an extremely long conversation about why you aren’t hungry that will probably end with you eating the food anyway. Saying you have diarrhea WILL NOT always get you off the hook, so it is better to only use that excuse if it is really true.
5. Lying about the American boyfriend or husband you do not actually have may help to avert some, but definitely not all, creepy men and marriage offers.
6. Saying hi to random strangers is a MUST. You may not know who they are, but, let me tell you, they know who you are (and will report back to your host-mom about how your interaction went).
7. ALWAYS peel tomatoes before cooking them here. Actually, let’s just extend that to pretty much any seemingly peel-able vegetable.
8. If you are not comfortable cutting vegetables in your hand like the majority of women here, take a flat pot top and cut them the way you are used to. It is guaranteed your host-mom will have an “Aha” moment when she realizes that yes, her houseguest is not actually totally incapable of cooking as she had appeared to be for the seven weeks prior to this momentous occasion.
9. Rats like to eat soap. They will burrow into your suitcase to find it, or also somehow pry open your plastic soap carrying/shower case and nibble at it bit by bit every day.
10. Before classes begin everyday, the students and the teachers face off and sing the national anthem. The students line up on one side, and the teachers face them (dressed of course in their batas: med student jacket meets chef coat meets lab coat that all Mozambican teachers must wear). You MUST sing and you MUST NOT smile or at all seem like you are enjoying yourself, because, after all, you need to show that you are taking the situation seriously.
11. Even half-way across the world from the site of the first Thanksgiving, somehow, 70 Peace Corps Trainees can pull off a rather successful Thanksgiving potluck. It was clear that the foods were not made in the exact manner or with the same ingredients that they would have been in the states, and of course no Grandma Ruth stuffing was to be found, but we cornered all our ingenuity and somehow made it work, even though it took bribing my host-dad’s bakery to use their oven (apparently the only workable one in town) to cook the turkeys.
And, because they have been amazingly gracious hosts, here is a little tribute to some people I will most definitely miss:
1. My host-mom: I am pretty much in awe of her. Although it seems like I give her crap for all the things she makes me do, she only wants me to be happy (aka, well-fed and impeccably clean). But honestly, I know she really cared about me, and I definitely care about her as well. Most of the time, we have an understanding, that I just don’t know how to do things they way they should appropriately be done in Mozambique but am not totally incompetent, and for the most part, she was an involved and compassionate teacher. She has expressed interest in going to night school and getting her high school diploma, which I have been promoting super hard core with her so I hope she follows this dream, or her other dream of raising chickens to sell as an income generation project. She is incredibly smart, and a wonderful wife and mother, and I hope to remain friends with here even though I will be a multi-day chappah ride away.
2. My host-dad: Though he worked ridiculous 14 hour days, the time I did get to spend with him involved watching the news, and he would patiently explain what was happening, and normally, an interesting conversation would ensue. He is a real family man, and I admire him for that.
3. My host-brothers: My host-mom has told me on many occasions that I “understand” babies very well, which I take as a compliment since sometimes I think that she thinks I am a bad woman since I don’t have a family and apparently do not know how to cook, clean, or wash clothes. But she said I should take the 1 year old to my site to keep me company. If he hadn’t taken a shit on the floor of the kitchen a few times, I might have taken her up on the offer since he is so freaking cute. And to the two older boys, I loved drawing with them, playing cards, and being absolutely goofy with them (making me the weirdest adult ever in their minds…). They are awesome kids, and I know they have big futures ahead of them if they can stay in school.
That is all. Happy World AIDS Day, and now I must go back to handing out condoms. Obviously…

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

My New Home - It's Official!

So it is now official, I am going to be living in a town called Gurue
(pronounced goo-roo-ay) in Zambezia province in the north of
Mozambique. Gurue is in the northwest section of Zambezia, nearer to
Malawi and the province of Niassa. Zambezia is the second most
populous province and the HIV/AIDS prevalence is 13% (for all of
Mozambique, it is 11.5% in comparison with less than 1% in the US).
According to everyone who I have told where I am going to live, Gurue
is absolutely beautiful: it is surrounded by mountains, making it a
lush, green kind of temperate microclimate that is one of the coolest
and rainiest in the whole country. Dating back to Portuguese times,
Gurue is a major exporter of tea and is almost entirely tea
plantations. There is also great hiking in the area, with the highest
peaks in the country. Tea and hiking: two of my favorite things so I
am set.

I am going to be living with a girl from last year’s training group
and will have a site-mate that is a health volunteer also from last
year’s group. Two of my friends actually live the next town over
(about 4-5 hours) so I am happy about that as well. I am most likely
going to be teaching 11-12th grade English and computers. I am happy
to be teaching the older grades since my school has 6000 students and
the classes for 8-10th grades have over 120 students per class whereas
11-12th grades have closer 70 or 80 (there is a National Exam after
grade 10 that you have to pass to continue on to 11th grade, so
inevitably, there is a large drop-off in enrolled students for 11th
and 12th grades). And teaching computers will be cool as well because
I will get to teach in Portuguese and these technical skills are
totally beneficial and useful for the students. If they know
computers, they have better prospects for getting a job. Additionally,
they don’t have computers in their home, so they are mostly super
excited at the prospect of using them at school. Who knew I would ever
be considered qualified to impart official knowledge about computers
to anyone? But, as with everything in Mozambique, my teaching
assignment could change a million times before the first day of school
in February.

Overall, I am definitely happy with and excited about my site
placement. I am just about ready to get a move on and move in next
week. We are finishing up Model School and have started having
language lessons in the local language of our regions, which for me is
Elomwe. Mostly all we have left of training is a Thanksgiving potluck,
a big festa (party) with all the host families, our final Portuguese
oral language test, World Aids Day activities, and some last
administrative and medical sessions. Then we swear in next Friday,
December 3 at the US ambassadors house (it will be televised here!!)
and I leave Namaacha for good and fly to a conference with all the
other North volunteers that weekend.

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Actual Hands-On Learning

Last week was probably the best week I have had of Pre-Service
Training. Now that we are winding down, we are actually able to leave
the classroom and do some stuff hands-on. On Monday, we spent the
morning at an orphanage, simply playing with small groups of kids. My
group had the little ones, like ages 2-5 which was extremely
challenging since they cannot infer what you are attempting to
say/explain through your developing Portuguese, like the older kids
can. But they were so darn cute that it didn’t really matter. One of
the orphanage employees taught us how to play the Mozambican version
of Duck, Duck, Goose, so we made it work.

On Tuesday, when I left at 7:15am, some girls showed up to braid my
host-mom’s hair. When I returned at 7:00pm, they were still there. And
not even close to being done. Probably because I was staring at them,
they asked if I knew how to braid hair, which I don’t since they were
making a weave, so they said I should learn. They showed me and then
made me do a braid. It looked terrible, and I do not think that it
stayed together so I am just waiting for the day when I see the braid
I made fall off of my host-mom’s head. But they brought us an ata
fruit, which is I believe indigenous to Mozambique and probably the
most delicious fruit ever. Too bad ata trees are super rare so you
have to know someone who has an ata tree and practically beg them to
give you one since they do not bear much fruit.

Then on Wednesday and Thursday, we learned probably the most useful
thing we have learned since arriving here: perma-gardening. A subset
of Perma-culture, perma-gardening is a way of planting food to
maximize production in minimal spaces. By using locally available
tools everyone uses in their machambas (fields- everyone here pretty
much is engaged in some sort of subsistence agriculture), and locally
available seeds/seedlings (no imported, genetically modified anything
needed), this method can quadruple the output while utilizing an
eighth of the space. Essentially, you dig the plant beds doubly deep
so that healthy roots can be established, plant the seeds or seedlings
in a bio-intensive pattern, and enhance the soil with compost, manure,
the usually thrown-away charcoal bits at the bottom of the bag (most
everyone uses charcoal to light their stoves here), and the ash from
the bottom of the stove. Also, there is a way to divert and
effectively store the rain that comes in droves one day, drowning
plants, and then is non-existent the next, starving the plants. I had
no previous gardening experience but could probably pull this off,
meaning that people who have grown up around machambas (aka everyone),
will be great at it, if they can wrap their head around not planting
in rows and putting in the extra labor at the beginning (though it is
comparably less work in the long-run). The guy who taught us, by
having us in groups of 20 each actually create a garden, works for
Peace Corps Tanzania, and has taught this technique to groups in 15
African countries. He is trying to really build this up as a method of
empowering people by showing them how to maintain their own food
security. And it is 100% sustainable.

And on Saturday, in lieu of language class, we had a cool cultural
exchange and went to visit a curandeiro (I guess the best translation
is a traditional witch doctor?). Ironically, my 101 degree fever was
clouding my ability to listen to the curandeiro’s Portuguese and glean
any info about traditional healing techniques. I did catch, however,
that there are 120 curandeiro’s in Maputo province alone (of the nine
total Mozambican provinces), and considering there are only 600
doctors in all of Mozambique, that is a pretty high differential.

And finally, after devoting my whole weekend to watching almost the
complete series of Arrested Development due to having the flu, we
started Model School on Monday. My lessons went well I think, though
the eighth grade did not make much of a showing and I only taught to 6
students in each class, different than the average of perhaps 70 I
will most likely have. The next two weeks should be very interesting.
Already I have seen what teaching here may be like. Even with only a
limited number of students, I can see that there is a significant
discrepancy in previous knowledge and ability due to so many students
being passed along to meet Millennium Goals and continue to receive
outside funding. The students do not have books so they have to copy
everything from the board into their notebooks, both meaning I must
devote class-time to have them do this, and also, I must create an
organized, pseudo-textbook chapter section on the board every rank.
There is a lot of emphasis in the school-system here on rote
memorization and less on independent thinking, so students can spout a
definition at you but may not really understand it and most likely
will not be able to explain it in their own words. But its still a
good time.

Hope you are having a fabulous week before Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Bringing it back...

Today, a few friends and I took the trek into Maputo, the capital city. The wondrous joys of chappah rides was in full force today, as at one time I counted 24 people crammed into a van that I believe was originally manufactured with enough seats for 15. We are currently at a restaurant with free, albeit slow, wifi that serves hamburgers and milkshakes, and has a bathroom stocked with real flush-toilets, toiletpaper, and soap. I have not yet been to a restroom in this country with just any one of the above. It is literally like a dream come true even though it is probably the worst tasting version of American food I have ever had. Where is some Barney’s when I need it? We are at a small shopping center at the outskirts of the city and went to a real ShopRite, which is like a Target or big Longs. It has EVERYTHING! At first, the fluorescent lighting was a little overwhelming but then, we only had to grow accustomed to the outrageous prices. Most things were the expected U.S. price if converted to American dollars, so a $3 notebook is a huge rip-off considering my paycheck during training is $40 every two weeks. We have only been here six weeks and already, a 20 minute excursion to a normal grocery store was the most unnerving experience of my life.
But, in other news, I passed my language exam. That means that after five weeks of training, I have achieved the level that they expect from us before they send us off to our sites. But, I personally, would like to be more confident in my language skills by then so I am looking forward to the next four weeks of practicing. Looking back on it though, my first few days and weeks here consisted of appearing to listen intently to what one of my family members was saying but in actuality having absolutely no idea, and then responding “Sim, sim” whenever they were done, even though I had no clue what saying yes would mean in the context of what they had said. This is why I believe my host family thought I was married for the first week. So, I now feel like I can say most of what I would like to say, even if in simple terms, and am feeling pretty good about that. And to bring it back to the original intent of my blog:
Not much exciting other than language tests happened this week. We were assigned our turmas for our Model School. In Mozambican secondary schools (normally 8-12th grades, but sometimes they only go to 10th grade) break up grades of students into turmas, of anywhere between 40-120 students, and each turma is assigned a room, and the teachers go around to the different rooms/turmas to teach their lessons while the students stay in the same place. I am teaching English to some of the 8th grade turmas. Over the two weeks I will be teaching four lessons on: classroom vocabulary and useful phrases for the classroom, superlative adjectives, vocabulary for places around the community, and making a map of the community. Should be interesting.
Last night, I was trying to explain to my host-mom that most people in America only speak one language well. She was absolutely floored and said, quite accurately, that in this sense, Mozambique is a “farther ahead,” as she put it. Most people in Mozambique are bi-lingual, if not also tri- or quatri-lingual (they can speak the local language, Portuguese, and perhaps English, French, Swazi, etc). My host-mom said she wants to learn English and is planning on going to back to school soon, within the next few years, to complete her high school degree at night school (she dropped out of the eighth grade to have her oldest son). I was totally thrilled for her when she shared this with me.
I guess I am really getting used to life here since I have no stories to share of language barriers, a lack of knowledge about cultural norms, or anything else that is potentially considered humorous, usually only after the fact. But, Happy November, Go Giants (of course, a bay area team wins a championship the moment I leave…), and I am happy to be a part of a state that did not allow a certain candidate to buy her governorship!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Training: The Half-Way Point

That’s right: 5 weeks down, and 5 to go.

As I write this entry, it is currently thunder-storming, all over the
clothes I washed and hung up to dry this morning. It will be
interesting to see what I am able to wear tomorrow to work considering
my host-mom convinced me to wash all my pairs of pants. But in any
case, it has come to my attention that I have not made it clear what I
actually do here every day. It is simple- we have 4-5 hours of
language class and 3-4 hours of technical training each day between
7:30-5:30pm. In technical training, the half of us who are education
volunteers basically learn how to teach here in Mozambique:
lesson-planning, managing very large class sizes, how to combat the
rampant and often condoned cheating, student-centered teaching
techniques, etc, etc. In about two weeks, we will start our Model
School, where we get to try it all out in front of real Mozambican
classes. Even though the task seems daunting to me, I am getting
excited about being an English as a Foreign Language here because this
skill is extremely applicable and relevant to students and they often,
so I hear, enjoy it because all five countries that surround
Mozambique are English speaking. Next week I also have my first
Language Progress Interview where they will assess my Portuguese
skills and determine how much farther I need to go to ultimately pass.
Wish me luck because I will need it!

This past weekend, my host-mom was in the capital city singing in the
choir for a wedding. She has been practicing for weeks (and has
dragged me to many a practice session) and wanted to bring me, but we
aren’t allowed to spend the night out of Namaacha so I stayed here.
But, on Sunday when she returned, I got to go to the gift giving
ceremony, though at the time, I had no idea what was happening. That
is, until they had finished serving massive quantities of food, a
literal parade of people started giving the couple gifts- buckets,
pots, serving dishes, all the things you would need to keep a
Mozambican household. One guy would call out something in the local
language and then a group of women would stand up, all don matching
capulanas (multi-purposed skirt, cloth things that women here wear all
the time and use for literally everything), sing a different song, and
parade toward the couple, hand over the gift and one of the capulanas
that matched the one they were sporting. It was very cool.

Also very cool is that in the U.S, I am not very funny. But here, with
the kids at least, I am hilarious. It is great because not only have
they never before seen all my tricks and games (many American kids
have already seen them and are not as impressed) but also, there is
less of a culture here for being goofy and playing with kids if you
are an adult. So just the fact that I am willing to play cards, color,
play thumb wars, arm wrestle, or simply make goofy faces or let them
high five me for literally 45 straight minutes, is enough for them. My
host-mom’s cousin and her 2 and 4 year-old daughters have been staying
with us and I am obsessed with them. They are so cute, and think I am
this crazy lady who wears pants and doesn’t always cook with the other
women so at first they were scared of me. But one day, I spent 10
minutes teaching the 4 year old the different colors (in Portuguese of
course) and she was so proud of herself for learning something and
getting a high-five and a good job when she got it right. No one had
tried to teach her anything academic yet (yet at just four, she can
wash clothes better than me) because here, the culture is to let the
teachers to teach at school, because at home there is another skill
set to learn. And then I realized that I am going to have upwards of
300-400 students in a few months and their parents are going to trust
me to teach their kids something. Wow.

It has been quite hot here, and yet on Monday, it hailed huge
golf-ball sized hail for like 15 minutes and then went back to being
sweltering. It was quite odd. And then my host-brother told me how he
ate the hail and “it was very delicious.”

I officially have some house guests- rats. Apparently they are
entering through a hole in my roof and they scamper across the wood
beams into other holes that lead to the other rooms in my house. I
have also seen them rummaging through things on the floor of my room,
but they have yet to actually mess anything up (fingers cross they
won’t). I have set two kinds of rat-traps, one where they eat this
poison and then once they drink water, they die, and one conventional
trap that kills them right there on the spot when they try to eat the
peanut I put there. One night, my host parents chased a rat around my
room with a big stick trying to murder it that way. It was almost like
an episode of Tom and Jerry, and like the show, the rat won and
outsmart its attackers. Not sure if the poison has worked, but the
conventional one has not yet, but that is ok since waking up to a dead
rat is not something I am particularly looking forward to. So every
night, I just extra-tuck in my mosquito net and hope I fall asleep
before I hear them rummaging about my room.

A few weeks ago, we had a cooking lesson with our language group (5 of
us and our moms) to learn how to make a few of the traditional
Mozambican dishes. To complete the cross-cultural exchange, yesterday,
we taught our moms how to make American food. Sounds fun, yes? Word of
warning, it was actually what I believe to be a set-up by the Dinner
Impossible show on the food network. The mission: cook American brunch
on one coal stove without the proper ingredients, and in the face of 5
Mozambican women who obviously know how to scramble eggs better than
you. But despite the odds and in keeping with the show’s theme, we
completed our mission, and I must say that although it may have just
been because I am craving food that is not rice, our banana
pancake/crepe concoction, scrambled eggs, and hashbrown-esque potatoes
were pretty darn good.

Namaacha has an open-air type market called ShopRite every Wednesday
and Saturday. They have everything (well, the term everything is
relative, but you get the picture). My host-mom went last Wednesday
and when I came home for lunch she was sitting in the middle of the
floor with literally 300 coconuts, 200 potatoes, and 200 onions
surrounding her. She was inspecting each and every piece of produce.
Her ShopRite purchase would have put Costco to shame. But similarly, I
went to ShopRite yesterday to find a Halloween costume. What did I
find but an 80’s bright purple, teal, and pink track jacket. Paired
with running shorts I put together some sort of costume. When leaving
for our Halloween party, however, my host-mom, who like all
Mozambicans thought the crazy Americans were being weird again, did
not think anything too unusual of my outfit except to comment on how I
had mud on my shoes and needed to iron my jacket. I wormed my way out
of fixing either and made my way to the party. Happy Halloween to

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Spiritual Side of Namaacha and Other Interesting Thoughts...

Hi everyone!  Here are some more updates about daily life in Mozambique.  Miss you all!

My host-dad’s mom has been visiting this past week or so, and I don’t
think she knows what to make of me. At first I thought she only spoke
Shingana (the local language) but I soon learned that this is not the
case. As usual, I am just this weird guest in the house and she
doesn’t really get why I am there. Also possible, however, is that I
didn’t greet her appropriately or failed to perform another cultural
norm and thus it is my fault our relationship has not gone anywhere.
But nonetheless, and I think its only because she is here, the whole
family up and went to church on Sunday. And like the good Catholic
that Bishop O’Dowd High School taught me to be, I was partly told to
go and partly just went along with the flow. They had asked me the
first day at my home-stay if I went to church and seeing as I was so
overwhelmed, I don’t really remember, or perhaps I never even knew,
the answer I conveyed. But seeing as they don’t seem to go all the
time, I was sure I could handle the occasional Sunday morning mass,
that is, as would be expected, solely presented in Shingana. A few
things about the service: the music is beautiful- tons of a capella
singing throughout the service; the men and women sit on different
sides; and people totally get down and party in church in Mozambique.
People were dancing and singing and parading down the aisles, what
would be times of silent praying becomes a cacophony of everyone’s
shouted prayers, the preacher was obviously very passionate about
whatever he was absolutely yelling about in Shingana as I think the
whole neighborhood could hear him; some women were blatantly crying,
so overcome with the emotion of the service; and a host of “Amens”
could be expected at any time at any volume, from anyone. Overall, it
was quite the spectacle. My host-mom kept nudging me to present myself
when they asked for new people to the church to stand up and I am
afraid I insulted her by trying to politely decline. At one point,
however, the preacher was saying something (positive or negative I
have no idea) about Americans, and he made all of us (there were like
7 volunteers there) stand up, say our name, where we are from and the
name of our church. Here I had come upon a roadblock: Do I lie and say
a random name of a church? Do I say I am not Christian? Or do I say
something vague that is not exactly lying but not necessarily the
whole truth? I went with the latter and said, “My name is Ana (as I
will probably be for the next two years). I am from California, and I
do not have a church, but I like to learn about all types of
churches.” All were true statements and It all seemed to go over ok,
and if only they knew I was Jewish, or even what that was…

Random Sidenotes:

-In Mozambique, they drive on the left-hand side of the road: yes, it
is not that weird- plenty of countries do. But think about this: when
you are walking down the street, you automatically move right when
someone is walking towards you, and they go to the right as well, thus
you avoid each other. This is because we drive on the right side of
the road. So here, you have to move left when about to run into
someone, because if you instead, go right, you will hit them, because
they are going left. It is confusing and for me, counterintuitive, and
leads to many an accidental bump.

-Contrary to popular belief and American children’s book, roosters do
not just crow once when the sun comes up. In fact, they crow for about
three hours in the morning, starting at about 4am, and at random
intervals throughout the day.

-You are allowed to show your boobs in public in Mozambique, whether
to breastfeed your baby, because you aren’t wearing a bra, or because
they are so big that they are apparently unable to stay in your shirt.
But, showing skin above the knee in public is practically prohibited.

-I have had 4 marriage proposals thus far. Not bad for just three
weeks work. And all have been from married members of my host-family’s
extended family.

-I got a terrible allergy attack today, and no amount of Claritin
could ameliorate it. After sneezing about 75 times in a row, Mama
Victoria told me that when I get home from school tomorrow, we will go
to church so I can get a prayer said for me so I don’t get sick. I’m
now thinking that going to that church service means I will be back
many a time over the next two months.

-Similarly, my brother Felix pretty badly burned his leg attempting to
transport some very hot water. Despite some trips to the local
hospital and a bandaged wrapped leg (I gave him some stickers to
decorate it, though), he will eventually be ok. The night that it
happened, however, the church house-visit committee paid us a call,
and as would be expected, there was some beautiful singing in
conjunction with an impassioned, shouted Shingana blessing on Felix’s
head. But it was cool to see the support of the community at this
level. And after the service, one of the ladies was attempting to chat
with me. She said quite frankly, “I am very fat, no? (I didn’t
respond). But your mom is not. Who is prettier?” Pretend I am pausing
here for dramatic effect. Needless to say I was speechless, but
managed to squeak out something about everyone being beautiful.

-If you do not take your malaria medications in the Peace Corps, they
can fire you. So, therefore, I take mine. Aside from vivid dreams, one
of the side effects is that you go from feeling normal one second, to
absolutely about to pee your pants a second later. No warning at all,
because on the “I have to pee” scale, you jump from 0-10 in an
instant. Me and my friends always joke about peeing ourselves, and the
other day, I thought it had finally happened. But nope, I was holding
the baby in my lap, and because they rarely put the one-year old in
diapers (I’m guessing they are expensive), it was him who peed on my
lap. All over my freshly washed only pair of jeans.

-In the town of Namaacha, there are thunderstorms. And they have tin
roofs, which significantly amplifies the sounds to a deafening roar.
But, when it really gets raining, I look forward to when the power
will go out because then, the blasting music from the neighborhood
bars will have to stop. And all I have to worry about is the next
day’s muddy walk to school. And by mud, I mean, the roads magically
turn from dirt roads into clay. Your shoes may get stuck in it every
other step, but don’t worry, they will wash your shoes when you get
home. The brand new running shoes I brought here are still sparkling

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Food Network and HGTV Mozambique Style

Hi everyone - I wanted to give you an inside look at my day to day life here with my host family.  Here are some of the highlights!  I hope you enjoy.

A glimpse into the food we eat here in Mozambique (or at least here at
my home stay)
1. Soup- we eat vegetable soup every day (95 degrees or
thunder-storming) at both lunch and dinner. However, it is delicious
(and allows me to eat some veggies)
2. “Salad”- and by that I mean cucumber and raw white onion with oil
(leftover from what the fish or potatoes were fried in recently),
vinegar, and a little too much salt. But it is fresh and somewhat
“green and nutritious.” Sometimes, when I am lucky, there is a tomato
cut up in there too, or perhaps a piece of carrot.
3. Soda- I have learned to be careful how I respond to the question,
“Do you like [insert whatever food item]?” because if you say no, you
will never see that food again, but if you say yes, then you will be
fed that food at probably every meal. I made this mistake at my first
meal with the family when I said that I do like soda because now I am
fed soda at every meal and snack, even breakfast. They get confused
when I say I don’t want any right now, but I do like it in general. I
know a day is boding well when I am served tea or instant coffee at
breakfast and not orange Fanta.
4. Xima (Shima)- a mashed potato look-alike that is actually just a
rather gross glue like substance with the consistency of a thick
paste. It is apparently chock full of nutrients but the texture throws
me off. But they serve it as a substitute for rice sometimes so it has
officially entered my diet.
5. Covi- cassava leaves in coconut milk over rice or xima- delicious
6. Matapa- ground cassava leaves over rice or xima- delicious
7. Cake, biscuits, bread, etc- tons of bread products all day, at all
hours, all the time. I never thought I would say too much starch!
8. Spaghetti- yes, we eat spaghetti a lot. But it is plain spaghetti,
no sauce, and served over rice, or fried potatoes. Did I mention that
Mozambicans like starch in their diet?
9. Fish- today, I learned how to debone and fry a whole fish. It was
pretty hard-core if I must say so myself. Cut off the fins, took out
the backbones, excavated all the innards, and chopped off the head
(because when asked if I liked to eat fish heads, I outwardly
politely, but inwardly fearfully, said no). As if to top the scene of
me sitting on the kitchen floor deboning a large bucket of fish, my
host father came in dangling a live chicken upside down. He asked if I
wanted to learn how to kill a chicken and then de-feather it to get it
ready to be “grilled.” I said I would watch him do it, and so it was.
No more Chicken Little. But it was definitely the freshest chicken I
have ever had.
10. Peanut Butter- Best Snack Ever
11. Powdered Orange Juice Packets- I said I liked juice during my
first few days so now I am not really allowed to simply have water
with my meal, I have to mix it with juice powder.
12. Oranges, Bananas, and Apples- very fresh and very good, except I
am not allowed to my peal oranges by hand. I must use a dull knife.
Needless to say, I stick with the latter two whenever possible.
13. Home-made French Fries- love them- just wish I didn’t know how
terrible they were for me because we eat them A LOT.
14. Pancakes- that’s right, I taught them how to make pancakes. Too
bad the stove does not emit constant fire so they burned and we don’t
have measuring cups/spoons so the ratios were off even with my best
approximations (they were quite doughy to say the least) but my host
family were troopers and ate them. According to my host brothers,
however, the pancakes were deliciosos.
15. Bleach- used to sanitize vegetables before we eat them (families
are mandated by the Peace Corps to do so) but, hello bleach poisoning.

Random sidenotes:
     1. My host father and I were discussing music artists yesterday and
just FYI, according to him, Justin Bieber is “very young and talented,
and so is Snoop Doggy Dog.” Thank you Papa Felipe for that…
     2. Something I think I will have to get used to is the amount of
“sidewalk” traffic here. The population is extremely young, I believe
it is something like 70% of the population is under 25, so needless to
say, there are a lot of kids running around everywhere. But in
addition, there are also a lot of animals roaming wherever you go. A
large pig frequents front yard area all the time, along with chickens,
roosters, turkeys, dogs, cats, and goats (baby goats are absolutely
adorable!). But, I did, however, see my first monkey today. It had a
leash around its neck and was tied to a tree. Most dogs here are
strays because, apparently, monkeys are the real pets.
     3. I decided to let my hair dry down for the first time the other day
and sat down to eat breakfast. Mama Victoria asked if I had a brush in
order to comb my hair. I guess curly hair is not presentable here.
     4. Mozambicans are extraordinarily clean. This is sort of shocking to
me considering nothing except the main road through the middle of town
is paved and thus as soon as you step outside, you are covered in a
thin layer of dust. But yet, your house, your clothes, and your
overall d├ęcor are expected to be clean. Mama Victoria is constantly
sweeping the floor (and by sweeping, I mean using this broom made from
unidentifiable tree fibers bound by a piece of rope), and mopping
after sweeping (and by mopping, I mean, getting on her hands and knees
to use a worn out shirt to scrub the floor). They even sweep the dirt
in front of their house (sometimes in cool patterns…). I am expected
to do the same with my room multiple times a day. Don’t tell her but
sometimes, I say I already did it. But I think she is catching on.
     5. I learned how to wash my clothes this weekend because despite the
all-pervading dirt/dust/mud, clothes cannot be at all dirty.
Essentially, you use three different buckets of water with varying
degrees of soap, and at each station you hold one part of the chosen
item of clothing in one hand and use the other to rather harshly rub a
portion of the item on that still hand. And I swear these Mozambican
women can get any type of stain out of any type of fabric- they are
pros; it is quite impressive. But perhaps I am on my way to joining
them, because after getting rug burn on my right wrist and dropping
two pairs of pants that were all ready to be hanged onto the dirt and
having to rewash them, I have been wearing my successfully hand washed
clothes ever since. This weekend, however, I have been told I am going
to need to wash my backpack and all my shoes. The thunderstorms and
concomitant mud did not let them make the cut this time.

Those are my updates for now.  Miss you all!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

My First Week in Namaacha

Well, it has been one week since I arrived in Namaacha, 45 miles outside Maputo. Today, we came back into Maputo to buy cell phones, and I got an internet phone so I will be able to email and eventually (once I figure it out), connect my phone to my computer and use the internet on my phone through my computer. Email me if you want my number so I don't have to post it! I only have like 20 minutes at an internet cafe so I will try my best to give a small, though probably scattered account of my experience thus far.

So, upon arriving in Namaacha, I met my host family. Briefly, they are a family of 5. Zilda Victoria is the mom and she is awesome: so nice, so helpful, so patient with my slowly developing Portuguese, and great at teaching me how to cook like a real Mozambican, mostly starchy food and a whole lot of it. I would say force feeding guests is a norm in Mozambique, and I will be a guest for the next ten weeks so needless to say, I am fed A LOT. Felipe is my host father, and he owns the bread shop at the market so needless to say, we eat a lot of bread in our house. They have three sons, Junior is 1 (so cute but probably the most slobbery baby I have ever met), Samito is 6 (a kid after my own heart who loves to play soccer monkey in the middle and suck his thumb) and Felix is 9 (he is the man of the house- he does so much to help out Victoria and is an awesome older brother).

Our house is actually pretty nice: typical in Mozambique, we have a TV and a huge stereo but no running water. But believe me, do they take advantage of that stereo. We, along with all Mozambican families blast the top 20 pop hits at all hours of the day. I go to sleep to the tune of Usher and wake up at 4am, 5am, and 6am to the sounds of the roosters and goats.

One thing I have noticed through my first week is how friendly everyone is. Mostly its just curiosity of who I am but everyone is always outside cooking, doing laundry or pumping water, and of course saying hello and having quick chats with all passersby. I went to a birthday party on Sunday (for my host-father's aunt) and it was pretty similar to one in the states- tons of family, food, and drink (beer from a home-made cooler keg thing that pumper beer but did not cool it at all. it was borderline hot in temperature), and really the only differences were that people don't smile in pictures (to show how they are taking the situation seriously), they feed cake to the birthday person (like an American wedding), the lady next to me was openly breast feeding her baby, boob out and all, a flock of turkeys barged through the middle of the tables. But other than that it felt like a typical backyard bbq.

We started language class on Monday as well as our teacher training. My language teacher is named Dinis and he is hilarious. He is helping me implement the Spanish I already know into the Portuguese I am learning. We have already gone to "see" Swaziland (we couldn't cross the border but we saw through it) and a waterfall. By waterfall, I mean 2 hour long trek downhill to see a big rock with water kinda dripping over it. Followed by a 2 hour long trek back uphill. But, it is "the site to see" in Namaacha so, we went.

I have learned so much this week about Portuguese, Mozambican culture, and teaching strategies, it feels like I have been here for a lifetime. I am definitely enjoying it so far, and I'm sure once my Portuguese comes up to speed, it will be even better.

Because of the language and cultural barrier there have been a plethora of ridiculous moments between me and my host family. To name a few:
1. My host family always asks if we have things in America: do you have onions in America, do you have soup in America, do you have rice, pasta, eggs, etc? And I say yes, but we cook them differently (I am teaching Victoria how to make pancakes tomorrow and she will teach me how to do my laundry...). But, when they asked me if we have covi or matapa (soupy green goop that looks like actual shit but tastes awesome that you eat over rice) they are shocked and cannot believe it. Once they asked if we have sweet potatoes and I said yes, we actually eat them for a holiday coming up in November. When asked how we make it I said it was sweet, like a dessert. All this was in Portuguese and apparently they thought I always eat sweet potatoes for dessert, and sure enough, that night after dinner, they served me like 5 sweet potatoes and said "dessert." Needless to say, I ate them. Just an example of how nice they are and how much they want me to feel at home. Too bad I hate sweet potatoes.
2. One day, my host mom told me I needed to learn how to pump water. So we trekked up to the water pump, and let me tell you, pumping water is HARD. She made me do 6 huge jugs of water and kept telling me I was going too slow. Then we carried them to the house and when we got there, when I could barely put my arms above my head, I was told I needed to take a bucket shower so we could eat lunch. We take bucket showers before every meal here so at least 2-3 times per day. It was actually the first thing I did after getting to my house (after she offered profusely to help me bathe, which I heartily declined). No running water means either scalding hot or freezing cold water to shower with.
3. I showed my family pictures of my family the other day. Apparently my sister should be a model or an actress. I will give myself a point for familial association.
4. I taught my family how to play Go Fish. HUGE LANGUAGE ACCOMPLISHMENT, or at least I thought. I was super proud of myself. They did, however keep calling me "espera," tricky or cunning, because I could remember when they asked each other for a card and then I would ask them for it and keep on winning.

I must go catch a chappa (van that is kinda like super shuttle that they just barrel and squish as many people as possible into) back to Namaacha. We can't be out after dark!

I love you all and can't wait to get my phone up and running to keep in contact!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Greetings from Maputo!

Well I landed today in Mozambique at around noon and am now in a nice hotel in the capital city of Maputo. I very quickly learned that this city is actually pronounced like Maputu, so for all the times I said Mapu-toe, I must recall my tally and make it:


But moving to more exciting news:

I met the 71 other Mozambique Peace Corps Trainees (PCTs) in Philadelphia on Monday at Staging. We are called Moz 15- the fifteenth group to serve in Mozambique. Staging was mostly going over Peace Corps policies and expectations. But we got to hang out and meet the half of the group with last names in our half of the alphabet (our group is so big we have mostly been split in two, but this will all move and change around soon). Essentially, they are all awesome. It is so nice to be around people who have the same questions and anxieties as you and also, it is great that you don't have to validate your reasons for being here to anyone. They all get it.

We arrived here in Maputo today after probably 27 total hours of travel. My group, however, did overcome two obstacles in the Johannesburg airport. A girl almost missed our connecting flight due to almost losing her passport and the connecting plane miraculously had the jacket of another girl in our group that had been left at security. So even though neither of these experiences were directly related to me, I told everyone I would use them as group triumphs in my battle's tally so, 


It is now all tied up, which I would say is actually very true to my experience thus far. We have yet to be really tested (though actually getting on that plane was probably test enough for now) but I have had a great time so far. If the first two and a half days are any indication of the next two and a half years, I would say (or I am hoping that) it is pretty right on that the challenges and the rewards will balance each other out in the long run.

We have the next three days in our pretty plush hotel (with free wifi at the bar) but apparently we are going to be super busy, getting up to 10 immunizations, interviewing about our language proficiency, and meeting with the medical officer, and I'm sure much more to prepare us for going to our homestay on Saturday in Namaacha, 1 hour east of Maputo. 

I think that's about it, but I love you all (friends, family, and anyone else who for some reason finds this interesting to read!!)