(I wrote most of this on New Year’s Eve)
Well, now it is officially just past midnight and the first day of this new-year. Here in Mozambique, they have a different way of saying ages. When it is their birthday, they say they have now completed [enter appropriate number here] years but before that, starting on January 1, they say they are in their [enter same number here] year. So now, in Mozambican terms, I am 23: in my 23rd year, and will complete 23 years on my birthday in 2011. Or at least I think. Don’t quote me on this, I don’t fully understand the system. But anyway, it is the first day of the new-year, my 23rd year.
And I am all alone (except for the lovely Schlesingers who called me so I wouldn’t actually have to be alone as the New Year hit…thanks!!!). This is because as dorky and un-fun, as uninteresting and dull as it is, I am a rule-follower. We have all these travel restrictions as PCVs, all are for our own safety and to ensure we are actually working and not just traveling around: we have to text a number of our travel plans and details and get it approved before we head out of site; we can’t travel the day before, of, or after a holiday because there are not really practiced controls against drunk driving and drivers are more likely to be under the influence surrounding holidays (but that means that holiday travel must be at least 5 days so no one is complaining), etc. But during the first 3 months at site we are even more restricted so that we actually attempt to meet people in the community, try to integrate, and not just skip out to see friends from training when the going gets rough. And this year, Mozambique increased the work visa fee tenfold and Peace Corps does not have it in the budget to pay this incredibly increased sum, so they have taken our passports/visas and have been working it all out for us. But that means I don’t have official documentation on me proving I am legally living here so they have restricted our travel even further. New Years travel has been banned this past week so that we don’t risk a run-in with the cops. All of these restrictions make sense to me. Except that in our first month at site, there are 2 major holidays for Americans, Christmas and New Years. Luckily I had a great Christmas and got my one holiday in before the ban because New Years was a little anti-climatic. A few of my friends were supposed to come to visit me for New Years but Peace Corps kept saying they needed to deliver some paperwork to our sites but couldn’t specify an actual date. Therefore, they couldn’t risk leaving site without potentially getting caught. So I was going to be all-alone. But then, last minute one of the Peace Corps staff was coming to my site on December 30 to give me the paperwork and then heading out the next day and driving through the town where my friends happened to be. So he would take me and I would make it just in time to bring in the New Year. Sweet! I asked my friends if I should bring anything they couldn’t find there, they said potatoes (usually a staple food but for some reason couldn’t be found there this week) and peanut butter (many places in Mozambique don’t have it, and it is a PCV necessity, but I can find it at my site). So I went out and bought a huge thing of peanut butter and a huge bagful of potatoes. But as Peace Corps flakiness would have it, the staff member realized I was not technically allowed to travel and backed out. Damn. Like I said, I am a rule-follower so I couldn’t bring myself to catch a last minute chappah and head out against Peace Corps policy though I know many people were probably going to. So, not only would I have to spend New Years alone, but I had also just purchased an unreasonable amount of potatoes for one person to ever consume. I was reminded of my squash exploits a couple of weeks ago. I had asked how much it cost and the lady said 10 meticais (30 cents), which is the price for a bushel of bananas so I reasoned that since squash was a much less available item than the ever-present banana, it was fair. So I took out some money while the lady put my squash in a plastic bag, but apparently, 10 meticais was not the price for 1 squash. No no no. It was the price for 5 squash. I couldn’t back down now, as the lady was so happy to have made a sell, so I paid my 10 meticais and took home my squash. After making every concoction I could think of with it over the next few days, sautéed stir-fry-esque thing (successful), squash latkes (not successful), squash mash (even less successful), etc, I was sick of it and still had 2 huge squash left. I gave it to my empregada (maid). So similarly, I gave the majority of my massive potato purchase to her as well. Happy New Year Ana (yes, we share a name, but we definitely don’t share liking to start work at 4:30am, which is when she arrives each and every of her three prescribed mornings at my house).
But I have learned one thing from my solitary New Years: it’s not so bad, especially when you treat yourself to a few of the good, expensive beers and a $10 Neapolitan ice cream tub (I make only $187/month so that’s a huge purchase because ice cream is a rare delicacy here, and this is the only ice cream available in my town). And this first day of 2011 also gave me a chance to reflect on a few other firsts I have experienced recently:
My first day in Mozambique, we were staying at a hotel in Maputo to get some initial training before heading off to our home-stays. I woke up that first morning, that first full day in Moz, and my face was absolutely covered in some sort of mosquito-bite rash allergy thing. One of my eyes was swollen shut (the other only half open) from the swelling, I had a fat lip so that I couldn’t properly close my mouth, my whole face was puffy and red and had bites all over it. And of course, that day we took photos that they use for everything: our Peace Corps IDs, all forms, etc, not to mention this puffy face was the first impression I was making on the 70 other volunteers who would be my family for the next two years.
My first day at my home-stay, I was so nervous, I felt sick all day. Am I being culturally appropriate? Do they like me? Am I cut out for this? Will I ever be able to communicate with them? I started setting up my room and began by assembling my water filter. I am horrible at tasks like that and broke it. It was very hot that day and I had no water, and now no filter with no way of telling my host-mom so. I brought her to my room and made some gestures to show her it was broken, and she took my hand in one of hers, the filter in the other, and dragged me to some neighbor who fixed it after about 2 hours of us watching him. Then, while my first batch of water was boiling before I filtered it, she gave me lanche (snack): dry biscuits and to drink, milk. But it wasn’t milk. Oh no, it was full fat cream (gross). But I was so thirsty, and the dry biscuits didn’t help, that I downed the whole thing.
My first day in Gurue, I woke up starving having arrived in the pouring rain at 10pm the night before and fell into a bed without even putting sheets on it (I threw down a blanket and fell on top of it). I was starving, starving and terrified. Where am I? Can I live on my own? Will I ever meet anyone to be friends with? So I got out of bed and immediately left the house because I couldn’t stand to be alone in it. And I wandered around aimlessly for 5 hours, getting lost, trying to work up the courage to talk to someone and buy some food and thus have to really put my meager 9 weeks of Portuguese to the test.
But now, as 2011 comes into view, I think I am on the right track. I still get an unbelievable amount of bites from every possible insect that could ever possibly bite you (I am apparently a magnet) even though no one else around me, Mozambican, American, or otherwise, seems to be getting bitten. I still have trouble communicating some of the things that I want to say (which is incredibly frustrating for someone who enjoys and appreciates being able to manipulate words to get at the exact, desired meaning). And I still don’t really have any real Mozambican friends. But yesterday, I tried to buy eggs from the only guy at market who happened to have any. He tried to charge me 5 meticais each. The price I have consistently paid is 4 mets for the smaller, what I believe to be guinea fowl eggs, and 7 mets for the bigger, chicken eggs. These were guinea fowl eggs and thus should be 4 mets, not 5, each. I told him this and he didn’t lower the price. Not wanting to be ripped off and wanting to only be treated like everyone else and not some dumb, rich white girl, I went on my way, and bought a few other items from other vendors. I was a good distance from the market when I heard, Mana! (big sister). I turned and it was the egg man running after me. He said I could buy the eggs for 4 mets each. I had just effectively bargained and shown that I knew what was up. So maybe I have learned something, can get across my point, and can actually subsist here. Success (and some delicious egg and tomato sandwiches to show for it as well).
MOZAMBIQUE: 8. ANNIE: 11.
Side-note: I had heard about the fact that insects, bugs, and reptiles were bigger and better in Africa. And so far I have found this to be true: the spiders in my room are the size of my palm, there are all sorts and types of annoying bugs flying everywhere, and huge lizards creep all over my walls. But by far the grossest are these giant snail-slug things. I have only spotted a few over the past three months but they are quite shocking: they are the size of a softball. On New Year’s Day, I had left my front door open, which I hardly ever do, for just a few moments. When I went back to shut the screen-door, I heard a crunching sound: a giant snail was lodged in the top left corner of the door-frame, and it was now wounded because I had smashed it. It was leaking gross snail-liquid onto my porch and wouldn’t move even when I attempted to scare it into moving by closing the door on it again. So finally I killed it with the handle of my broom and swatted it into my yard. Welcome to Africa.
While walking home from the market yesterday, I came upon a group of boys playing soccer. They kicked the ball (and by ball, I mean round-ish object made out of reeds and other random materials) out of bounds near where I was walking so I ran and picked it up. I proceeded to drop kick it back to them. All twenty boys stared at me, jaws dropped. The white girl plays soccer?
And I also would like to add that I hope that pineapple season never ends.