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.
MOZAMBIQUE: 7. ANNIE: 10.
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).
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.
MOZAMBIQUE: 8. ANNIE: 10.
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...
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!