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…