As I learned first-hand in my recent, 3 week, too short, stint in America, the difference between life in the two countries in which I have lived is vast in many ways. Immediately after my last post, I became grossly aware of this fact. In no way is this variance more acute than in the way we get around and travel. Inherent in the word “accident,” car accidents happen. But that does not mean they are ok. On December 21, five Mozambique Peace Corps Volunteers were in a fatal car accident. Three were seriously injured but survived. Two others were killed. Though I never had the great pleasure of meeting either of these I’m sure awesome girls, who were sworn in as volunteers only a few weeks prior, as with all volunteers, we consider each other family. This tragic loss has deeply affected the whole Peace Corps family and beyond, to their families and communities back home. It is intensely sad and a tremendous loss; they were only 22 and 23 years old. It is thus with an incredibly heavy heart (this in addition to saying “until 2013” to my family and friends) that I begin my second year as a PCV.
Not to dampen or diminish this well-deserved and admittedly short shout-out to these volunteers, and to elucidate my point about the differences in life in America and in Mozambique, I have included the following comparison between America and Moz.
Say what you will about Mozambican life, but, far and above, it is uncomplicated. The most complicated technology with which one has to combat is the ATM, and I am hands down, absolutely always, the most competent ATM user in the 40-person-long (and ever-elongating) bank line. The most complicated questions of social concern (“will this person be mad if I…” or “how do I break this bad news,” or “I have a complicated question that I am unsure as to how exactly I should phrase in Portuguese) are easily remedied by the simple fact that Mozambicans have relatively short memories when it comes to usually grudge-inducing situations. Furthermore, in an overwhelmingly generalizing sense, they are surprisingly forgiving and have the overall attitude that “everything is fine, it isn’t a big deal.” “There’s no problem” is a major sentiment here and necessary sentence to have at your disposal. A simple smile and “how are you” goes a really long way as well. The most complicated aspect of travel in Mozambique is securing a ride, but once accomplished, the rest is rather simple: just make friends with the other passengers, hold the babies they place on your lap without asking, sit, and wait for arrival.
My main motto and mantra when in America last month, was “America is rough.” For example, using a debit card and figuring out tip is rough. Also, stairs. And iPhones (c’mon people, let’s play scrabble together and not sit on the couch, next to each other, playing Words with Friends, with each other, on our various Apple devices). Cutting large, genetically engineered produce into small pieces can be rather problematical. Burners actually give off legitimate heat and actually have the ability to burn your food (is that where they got their name??) The facility to trick an automatically flushing toilet to flush when it is being stubborn is not an inherent trait though it may at first glance appear to be. Forgetting that a thumbs-up is not a universally used or cool gesture can make for some awkward moments. Not being able to employ the excuse, “Sorry I didn’t return your text/call/email. The cell service/internet has been slow/shotty/down,” forces one to be social. Airport security and remembering all the rules is difficult. Actually, extend that to the rules in general of standard American society. Traffic. Remembering that being white no longer entails me to practically do anything ridiculous or strange that I want without fear of societal judgment or rejection was a quite grim realization (that and the fact that I can’t say inappropriate things in English without anyone understanding). Conservative politics. And, malls (though that isn’t new for me).
On the whole, however, it was great to visit with everyone in DC, Florida, and California. And despite everything, the awesome-ness of the land of plenty was definitely not lost on me. A three-week eating binge is not only expected, but inevitable. Grocery stores go on forever, and restaurants actually serve every single dish they boast on their menu. Other music exists besides Shakira, Akon, and Brazilian/Portuguese emo love ballads. Beer is served in pitchers and the water never stops running. TV is in English and the advertisements do not appear to have been made on the side of a bush/dirt road or in someone’s front yard. You can just hop into your car and the world magically becomes your oyster. Cars make a sound when someone is not wearing their seatbelt and people generally obey traffic signals and laws (pedestrians even have the right of way!) Your clothes traverse the spectrum of dirty to spick, span, and DRY in an hour’s time. Bathrooms are most commonly stocked and equipped with toilet paper, soap, and working locks. A night’s sleep during the month of December does not entail waking up in the middle of the night bathed in sweat. Sleeping curled under a blanket is not only possible and enjoyable without dying of heat stroke, but it is also necessary. Books stores. Stores and restaurants return correct change to you in a timely manner. Floors are dirt-free and the strength of your water-carrying muscles can deteriorate without repercussions. And I can watch TV marathons on an HDTV sitting in a reclining chair rather than a rock-hard wicker couch or a mattress with a Teacher Ana- shaped divot in the middle of it. And possibly the best parts of America aside from food items and individuals that I love, are three simple words: The Food Network. Maybe America is not so rough after all.
And last, the substantial differences of life between the US and Mozambique can be highlighted in the following anecdote, which was related to me by a former Mozambique PCV: I went home to America last year for a Christmas visit and I guess the variation in food and the proximity of my site to the beach really paid off. Everyone said, “Oh, you look so great! You’re so thin and tan!” Then, after three weeks eating American food and living through the snow, I returned to Mozambique to the joyous response of “Oh, you look so great! You’re so fat and pale!” Awesome...