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!


  1. Tiggs, It never ceases to impress me how capable people in other countries are at accomplishing things we would think impossible. It really puts ones own textbook education into perspective (especially since I just finished my LAST FINAL AT UCLA!).

    Good luck with starting a new life in Gurue. It sounds beautiful! And as hard and as slow as that first week will be, I KNOW you can do it.

    Wishing you the best!
    -Lil Dip

  2. after reading this aloud to rachel in our apt- we are seriously in disbelief. we feel like babies complaining about adjusting to this small island when you're in africa adjusting to village life. you are so freakin awesome and we're so happy you're doing this. i'm sure you'll get adjusted soon enough and get so much out of it. can't wait for our skype/google phone date!

    pebbs & rachel