Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Miss America- What Do We Miss from America?

A few weekends ago, we hosted some other volunteers for the weekend. We woke up Saturday morning to the startling surprise that someone had cut the mosquito netting on our window, reached through the bars, and stolen exactly 5 iPods and 2 sets of iPod speakers, that we had, admittedly, rather stupidly left on the table under the window. But still, there were people sleeping on the floor in this, the living room, highlighting the lidrão’s (thief’s) tremendous gall. Furthermore, this was the first time we had ever moved the table to that spot. Thus, the thief was conceivably watching our house until we went to bed so he could commit this crime. Creepy. But, we all decided if we had to have our iPods stolen, we would rather it have been done in this manner so as to avoid any confrontation that could have ended a lot worse. But also, needless to say, the rest of the weekend, and my life through now, have been quite music-less.

The theme of the weekend was Miss America, dress as something or someone you miss from America. Just to demonstrate the types of things Peace Corps Volunteers pine for, the costumes included: a traffic guard signifying pedestrian-right-of-way (though pedestrians compose the vast majority of Mozambican traffic, the bigger vehicle always has the right of way here), the food network (me!), family members, live music, microbrews, spayed and neutered pets (my friend’s dog recently gave birth to her litter of puppies my friend’s very BED), the 80s and 90s, and theatre. Other too abstract of options that I wished I could have been but didn’t quite no how to go about transforming into a costume: critical thinking and problem solving skills, being called by my name and not “Hello my sista,” punctuality, and the ability to say what I truly would like to say. Oh, and the unanimous decision was also that we missed the ostensible ability to replace stolen electronics quickly and effectively.

I have recently begun planning a science fair at my school. I have about 10 kids who are doing experiments to be judged at our local fair and the winners will go on to compete at provincial and potentially even national fairs that other Peace Corps Volunteers and Mozambican teachers are putting on. One 10th grade girl told me she wanted to make charcoal out of sugar but she needed sulfuric acid. Needless to say, I will do my darndest to get that for her, though I honestly have no idea how to help her realize her project. Because, I’m an English teacher. So here I am, using my English literature degree to help high-schoolers do science experiments. But I do honestly believe that providing the students with a forum and outlet to think critically, independently, and above all creatively is an extremely rare occurrence here and thus more than worth my time. Thank you Redwood Heights Elementary for beating the scientific method into me every year.

An update on furniture:
-Our wicker couch recently broke and despite our best efforts, we have been unable to fix it. Now, in a country without bulky waste pick-up or the dump, we are currently unsure of how to dispose of it. And thus it remains rather sadly and forlorn in our house. We are open to suggestions for disposal.
-I recently bought a new mattress in the (now failed) hopes that this would ameliorate my Mozambique-induced insomnia. Now one of my favorite Mozambican memories will always be paying a guy less than 75cents to carry it on his head for the 20minute walk to my house.

An update on seasonal produce:
-It is now tangerine season. And no, I have come to the realization that there is definitely not a maximum to the number of tangerines that one can appropriately consume in one day. Addiction #1.
-And roasted peanuts have arrived in Gurué. Addiction #2.

An update on Mozambican “white” noise:
-One of the most apparent differences to me between where I lived in training and where I live now has been that the neighborhood that surrounds my house I have been living in for the past 6 months did not have a single rooster. That is, until last week. And now I believe there are like 7. I swear, until I moved to Mozambique, I didn’t realize that roosters didn’t just crow once when the sun came up like they do in movies and children’s books. Any time of day or night is apparently prime time for rooster crowing. Who knew?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Word On...

I traveled a ways south this past weekend to celebrate Dia dos Trabalhadores (International Worker’s Day) on May 1 at the beach with a bunch of other Peace Corps Volunteers. It was a two-day travel journey each way, and thus I got a lot more time to solidify my observations on the Mozambican travel experience.

A word on Mozambican travel food:

The typical American road munchies are anything that can be found at a gas station or fast-food restaurant, preferably with a drive-through window. Mozambique, however, takes the drive-through to a whole other level. You are sitting in a mini-bus or in the back of a truck (or even in a private car) and are passing through a random town in the middle of nowhere and hoards of women and children come bombarding the vehicle yelling all the food they have for sale. So depending on the season and the region of the country you are traveling in, you can buy any number of items through the window of your car or off the side of a truck. The only hard part is to decide which of the 25 kids selling hard-boiled eggs or oranges you want to buy from. Typical fare found on the side of the road in Mozambique: cashews (but only during certain seasons and in the south/central of the country), peanuts cooked in any number of manners, seasonal fruit (but you can only buy a bunch of like 10, buying just a few is not an option), hard-boiled eggs, fried dough balls, grilled corn that is the quality of cattle feed, and soda (though then you will inevitably have to pee later in the 12 hour trip with possibly no real option of doing so not in plain site of all the people walking down the road, so purchase soda at your own risk). It is indeed nice not to have to move an inch to sample all these Mozambican “delicacies” but it also just gives the kids an excuse to stare at this weird white person for an extended period of time even though she has already politely rejected their oranges or has clearly already purchased some and doesn’t need more.

A word on Mozambican roads:

There is a road that traverses the pretty much the entire country north to south. But I use the term “road” loosely. Though it called “paved,” I had the complete joy of traveling over 1500km each way on the national road this past weekend, and got to experience several 100km stretches that more resemble one giant pothole with sparse islands of level road, which does a number on your butt when sitting in the back of a truck. Also, there are infinitely more pedestrians and bicyclists frequenting the road than four-wheeled vehicles (and most of those are moving at a snail’s pace up the hills). It may be 30 minutes before you see another car going either direction but you will most likely have to honk a child, bike, dog, or goat out of your way every few moments. A car I was traveling in yesterday along one of the worst stretches of road scared a cow that was on the side of the road and the cow ran in front of the vehicle and we just barely nicked it. Fortunately, in that instant we were traveling about 5km/hour navigating through some major potholes and therefore caused no damage to anyone or anything. Perhaps to prevent the killing of stray animals is the very reasoning for not fixing the national road? I will say, however, that I went across the brand-spanking new bridge that crosses the Zambezi River, which cuts Mozambique in half north to south. The bridge is only about a year old, but before the bridge, you had to get to the river before noon each day because that was when the ferries stopped running. The line to take your car across on the ferries apparently used to be up to a few days long, so the bridge has drastically improved transport of goods (and people) throughout the country, which is infrastructurally fantastic.

A word on Mozambican police:

Five of us were waiting to catch a ride in this town that is the crossroads between a few major cities in the central region of Mozambique. I had been warned that this town is the “asshole of Mozambique” and I would now have to say that this is a very apt description. It was 6am and we were basically hitchhiking about 1km out of town, which is totally legal and a completely socially acceptable form of travel here, especially since we were willing to pay chappah (mini-bus) price to get to our destination. And suddenly, two policemen arrived on a motorcycle. They demanded to see our documents (passports/visas) and to search our bags. Of course, having nothing to hide, we let them, the whole while, they were asking us what we were doing and saying we couldn’t be sitting on the side of the road and must go get a chappah at the bus-stop. We tried to tell them that we knew what we were doing, that we live here in Mozambique and are teachers, etc. They would have none of it, and told us we need to go to the police station with them. We had our Peace Corps boss on the phone, who told us we needed to follow along. So we went. They probably just wanted a bribe, but we didn’t offer one since we knew we weren’t doing anything wrong and didn’t want to play into that form of corruption. We probably could have also just left, but they were holding my passport hostage. At the police station, they searched our bags again and drilled us about who we were, what we doing here, etc, the whole time not telling us exactly what we had been brought in for. Ultimately, they found some AirBorne in my friend’s bag, which they claimed was drugs, so now they were holding us on “drug charges.” Even though we explained that it was vitamins and medicine, would fizz when put in water, and smelled like limes, they claimed they needed to bring in a drug expert to test it. Clearly, no such drug expert existed in this small little town, but we waited. They then found tampons in my other friend’s bag, and got freaked out when we explained what they were and what they did. Serves him right for manhandling them. At this time, another group of five Peace Corps Volunteers randomly passed by the police station on their way to get a ride down to the beach we were all meeting at, and a policeman ran after them, since they were foreigners and thus “clearly” knew us. Though it is usually a misconception here that all white people know each other, in this case, it was true. So now, there were 10 Americans quarantined at the police station. The policemen kept telling us we could all leave except the one with the “drugs.” Obviously, we were going to stick together and not give them a chance to potentially harass her. So we stayed. They also let us sit outside in front of the station for a while, during which time we heard sounds of a whip, which we can only assume were a scare tactic (that didn’t work). Finally, four hours later, we were let go with only our names taken down, once the police chief finally decided to show up to work at 10:30am and handle the situation. We can laugh about it now, though around 9am on Friday morning, it was no laughing matter. In the end, we made it to the beach and had a great weekend of beach fun.

Also on a lighter note, I was teaching clothing vocabulary in English in class today and after I did my thing, I asked if they wanted to translate any other clothing words to English. BIG MISTAKE. I then found myself writing bra and mini-skirt on the chalkboard. Not sure if that is better or worse than the time I found myself writing circumcision and menstruation on the board. Oh, the joys of teaching.