Tuesday, November 27, 2012

It's Over...

As I sit here in the air-conditioning of the Maputo Peace Corps office, using high-speed internet, gazing at the stunning Indian Ocean through the windows of the PCV lounge, listening to some program on DSTV in the background, and knowing that once I post this blog I can retreat to what I have determined to be the world’s most comfortable couches, I can only think about how I wish I had had a site anywhere near this haven.
I kid.
Mostly, I am thinking about Invinha, and even though it was unnecessarily far from any regional Peace Corps office and the small comforts of home they strive to offer, and even though I definitely had my (VERY) despondent moments, let’s face it, I absolutely loved it. Before I go travel around Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Tanzania for almost a month, I am here in Maputo, the capital, for a few days of administrative tasks: medical exams, bank closures, a Portuguese assessment, the final filling-out of paperwork, and an exit interview with the country director. On Thursday afternoon, I will no longer be a Peace Corps Volunteer. I am not actually going back to Invinha after this trip.
Downright unbelievable.
But has to happen.
The two years are up.
“Real life” is calling.
Am I ready?
Can’t answer that.
How do you actually prepare to leave somewhere that has challenged you to go beyond your previous conceptions of where you could have possibly hoped to go, that you have grown to love and call home, that afforded you a community and a range of experiences that you will never be able to recreate even if you come back to visit or work later in life, in which resides some of the most amazing people you have ever met, that taught you 17 new things every day?
You don’t.
You can only hope to take the memories of the people and the experiences with you and trust that it is enough to sustain you through your transition back to America-land and beyond. Memories like chatting with Cristina in the shade on a hot afternoon on her reed-mat, helping to prepare the next day’s batch of Mozambican popsicles for sale. Like eating leaves and xima with your fingers out of a communal pot with Daniel’s family out in the bush. Like having a student come running and screaming up to your house to announce that he passed the entrance exam and got into a teacher-training institute to be an English teacher. Because of you, he says. Like teaching some orphans to count and add and subtract on your porch. Like having a woman hold your hand as she gives birth. Like talking to girls about women’s health issues. Like having Daniel call you his mother and say you saved his life. Like scaring the shit out of a little old woman carrying a large bundle of firewood on her head, as you run by with your pasty-white legs, showing off your knowledge of the traditional local language greetings. Like having the whole girls dorm sing the cake-cutting song to you on your birthday or the song that goes “what an immense joy it would be if you took me with you” on your last night in Invinha. Like the reactions, both positive and negative, when you make a Mozambican eat something definitively American. Like the chorus of Tia Anas that you can hear across the neighborhood as the kids come gallivanting up to your porch wanting to color. Like watching the student who had only one line to memorize and deliver in your English Theater play, and who never quite got it at rehearsal, bang out every word perfectly at the competition. Like singing REDES songs with the girls in the back of a truck on the high that only the REDES conference can exude. Like having the whole neighborhood begin to refer to you as “sister of Cristina.” Like the sun rising over the tea fields, with the majestic Gurué mountains splashing the background: an image that photography has time and again failed to sufficiently capture.
But how do you physically walk away from it all?
Apparently you have a hard time closing your door, especially since the day before, Daniel had sat on your uncomfortable wicker couch and cried for nearly an hour.
And Mozambicans don’t really know how to react appropriately to you leaving, as they are not so good with goodbyes. Not sure they really get the finality of it all as they are more community-minded than we are and create families wherever they happen to be.
So amidst the (minimal) tears, and the awkward stares and hugs and kisses that the tears caused, you wait for a ride with Daniel and Cristina and ultimately take a chapa to the provincial airport, 6 hours away, to board a plane that will take you away from what was your home and your family for two years.
You know its over.
But it doesn’t feel that way.
It hasn’t sunk in yet.
And it won’t.
Probably not for a while.
Months even.
Because when an experience as powerful and shaping as Peace Corps Service ends, there is no way to adequately ready yourself. You just have to give away all your clothes and hope for the best.
At least nowadays, I can take the phone numbers and/or emails of my Mozambican friends back with me.
As I told them, Teacher Ana will always be here for you, even when we are separated across oceans.
I sure hope I can be.
Thank you for reading my blog. If you are reading this right now, you are incredible and I appreciate you and your commitment to taking in my words and putting up with my complaining. I sometimes think that blog-writing is rather self-indulgent, but I do also think it has been a great way to think about and resolve all the craziness of Peace Corps service. Not sure if I will turn this into something beyond Peace Corps. I am open to ideas. Again, thanks so much for reading. It means a lot.
Dedicated to Grandma Ruth, my most loyal blog-fan, who from a year and a half of reading, learned that “Africa is not as backwards a place as [she] thought” and diligently printed out each entry to take to the country club and pass around to her friends. Love you Grams. Everyday.

Random comments from my last week at site:
-Mozambican nuns love matzo-ball soup (I called the matzo-balls “xima balls”) and Grandma Ruth’s World Famous Cornflake Stuffing
-Daniel does not
-Watching “Schindler’s List” for the first time ever, under my mosquito net in the dark by myself was an interesting way to spend a Friday night that I never hope to repeat
-As I learned in my two weeks of doing all the administrative preparations for the 10th and 12th grade national exams, I can organize papers in numerical order and staple at a rate that is two or three times that of the average Mozambican.
-As a parting gift, I let Daniel wash my running shoes, something he had been asking to do for months. He said, “Now people will stop thinking I am bad at my job.” His smile would have made you think I had just given him a thousand meticais.
-On Teacher’s Day, in October, Cristina and I threw ourselves a party. Cristina is not a teacher but no matter, we cooked a feast anyway. One of the neighborhood kids, who is an orphan and taken in by the secretary at the school (though she treats him horribly: withholds food, beats him, and makes him do an astronomical amount of the housework), was visiting with Cristina’s younger brother outside, so naturally, we gave him a plate full of food. And then seconds. I mean, this kid is always more dirty and scraggly-looking than any of the other kids, we had so much food, and it’s the right thing to do. The secretary, known for getting drunk and causing scenes, did just that. She stormed into the house and started yelling at Cristina and I, that we can’t give Justino food. She pulled him out by a piece of his already ripped shirt and apparently, as I learned last week, sent him away. She had been punishing him by denying food, and he knew that but ate with us anyway. When I found this out, a month and half later, I asked Cristina if we were at fault. We decided that we couldn’t let a kid go hungry, especially not with the massive spread we had to offer. But I couldn’t help but feel awful. I hope Justino, though not the world’s most well-behaved child, is being treated better and fed more wherever he may find himself now.
-After being friends this whole time, I finally admitted the other day to Cristina and Benvindo that I do not take a bath before I eat at their house. I take my daily bucket bath right before I go to bed, I conceded. They then reprimanded me, insisting that I must always bathe before I eat, not after, or I will die, like what happened to Cristina’s uncle. I am more than a little skeptical of that story, but they would not explain further.
-While going through all my stuff and cleaning out my house, I found some mascara. So I called Cristina over and taught her how to use it. Yes Neely Norris and Eileen Allen, I know more about makeup than at least one other person in this world.
-Cristina’s sister-in-law Odete, who is 17, is staying with them. When chatting one afternoon, the conversation turned to why I don’t have a husband, naturally. I then asked Odete if she “namorars” (“hooks-up” I guess is the best estimation of a translation), she admitted to doing so. I warned her about pregnancy and STIs. She confidently told me “prevenção existe” (prevention exists) and strode away. I was blown away, impressed, and proud. Well-put.
-There are often random infestations of various bugs here, asserting scientific and experiential proof of the plague of locusts in Egypt. For a few days, there was an invasion at dusk of these moth-looking bugs that formed clouds so thick and elongated that I had to walk a good portion of a run because they were entering my mouth. Other nights signal the arrival of a swarm of bugs with un-proportionally large wings that they shed overnight into piles on your porch, as the bodies lay squirming in nearby mounds. They are highly annoying. But they lizards on my walls love to eat them. After watching one lizard stalk and kill one of these bugs, I decided to open my door a peep to let in a few more. The ensuing action, live discovery channel, entertained me for a good hour. Afterwards, I decided that if I have truly come to believe that this is an acceptable way to pass a Saturday evening, I need to get the hell out of here.
-I was jokingly (sort of) telling Cristina that I would save money to send for her to come live in America with me. At first she seemed excited about the prospect, even though she realized that it was never actually going to happen. Then she thought for a moment, and asked, only half-kiddingly, “But how will I be able to make xima?”
-I have also gotten myself into conversations with Cristina recently about all the “machines” we have in America. My attempt at explaining a breast-pump failed miserably, probably because I am a little unsure how they actually work. I did successfully convey to her the idea of dishwashers, washing machines, and dryers. But then Cristina pondered for a sec, and said, “But why don’t they have a machine to iron things?” Food for thought.
-I got a ride home from town in a truck with no windshield the other day. And I didn’t realize that it was missing this, normally, essential auto-part until I was getting out of the truck. Like I said, I think its time for my jaded-ass to go home.
-I am passing my dog Devin on to the next volunteers in Invinha so I decided in my last week to renew his rabies vaccine. So I called up the vet and said I would pay for his transport and a little extra if he would come out to my house with the vaccine. After vaccinating Devin (he had been unhappily tied to my window grates for like 5 hours so he wouldn’t run away before the vet got there), the vet and I hunted down all the other dogs in the neighborhood to vaccinate them. I just kept a tally for how many I would have to pay for later (each vaccine is about $1.10) and we romped through Invinha on a mission, duping dogs into getting their shot and running away from their growls. I then had to take claim to about 8 dogs and fill out all their paperwork, assigning names, ages, and sex at random. I thought vaccinating dogs was a fitting good-bye present to the community. But tramping around a neighborhood, procuring random dogs to vaccinate while women laugh at us is something I will never be able to do in America. Oh Africa…
-My school threw me a “surprise party” to say goodbye. But, either they don’t like me that much or they decided to throw the party at the last minute because only about seven teachers showed up and the cake wasn’t ready. And you can’t have a Mozambican party without dry, sugarless “cake.” In any case, we drank sodas and ate “cake” (after like an hour of waiting around) and they criticized how I cut the cake and passed it out, naturally. The cake-cutting song, however, was sung only by men because my school only has one other female teacher, and thus it was a less than superb rendition, women normally providing the choral aspects of a party. They gave me two matching capulanas and made me wear one as a skirt and one as a head-wrap, to the chagrin of everyone involved, and then it was speech time. I’m not going to lie, I don’t have the best relationship with the teachers at my school. It’s a boys club and many of them are straight-up jerks. Some of us have had our words and of course, they decided my goodbye party was an appropriate forum to discuss our difficulties. One teacher even equated our relationship to that of the Frelimo president (the ruling party) and the opposition leader. Awkward. But still sad and I will miss my colleagues.
-I would like to make an addendum to last week’s post about things I will miss:
            1. Calling people (strangers or not) the Portuguese equivalents of mother, uncle,      older brother, son, etc
            2. The fluidity of ownership: people lend and borrow things to pay homage to the  cultural and societal collectivism that is also responsible for why Mozambicans are            bad at             goodbyes (they may love you and miss you but they become less attached to    individual people than Americans do, moving around and quickly making new     friends and “family”
3. Having a guy for everything: the peanut guy, the green pepper guy, the flour and rice guy, etc
-But my biggest accomplishment of my whole service has been securing Daniel a job at one of the biggest restaurants in the city. We had been working on it for a few months, with me pestering the owner and saying I knew a kid who was a great worker and needed a job. And finally, out of the blue when we had decided randomly to go to town to see him, the owner said, “Come back at 2pm in a white shirt with black pants, and black shoes.” Apparently an unsolicited recommendation from a white person can get you a job. So we went to the market to buy the clothes (the pants ended up being H&M women’s skinny dress pants) and get them taken in by a random street tailor. And off Daniel went to his first real day of work. They taught him to be a waiter and Daniel loved the tips he got (the restaurant is the most popular in town with foreigners and “rich” Mozambicans). In a country where unemployment is around 85%, this is an indispensable opportunity for him and I almost cried when he came by after his first day, showing as much excitement as Mozambicans ever show. Kid is legit employed now. #Proud.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

What I Will Undoubtedly Miss

Think about it. When I left for Mozambique in September 2010, the iPad came in only one size, none of this “mini” bullshit, and barely anyone had one; the Pac-12 was still the Pac-10; the Giants had never won a World Series in San Francisco, and now they have won two of the three since I have been away; New York didn’t have much personal experience with hurricanes (now they are up to two?); and Carly Rae Jepson was just an unknown Canadian pop-star. In less than six weeks I will be returning to a whole different country. And though I have done my share of bitching and complaining over these past two years, now that it is almost over, I am immensely sad. I always insist to people who challenge my leaving that I’m going home to go back to school and once I have the money to afford the expensive plane ticket, I’ll be back for a visit. But who knows? I just have to make the most of my last week at site, all the while knowing that come January, I will be devastated. It’s been a hell of a ride: the seminal experience of my life thus far. I have met amazing people, Mozambican and American, I have failed miserably and yet also felt success, I have undergone the lowest of lows and the highest of highs, and I now understand the Peace Corps advertisement: The hardest job you will ever love. Have I helped? Tough question and one I think only hindsight will be able to concretely determine. Was it worth it? Hell yes. Love you Moz, and so here is a tribute to all the things I will miss:
Speaking Portuguese
Being called Ana
Being called “shtora,” the slang, endearing nickname for “professora”
My crappy Internet phone that has veritable mood swings, often just not wanting to load gmail, or ever load pictures
Being able to sweep all the dirt and debris from my house right over the edge of my porch
My mosquito net
Agua e Sal crackers: the Mozambican version of a Saltine
Buying snacks through chapa windows and from the back of trucks
All the time in the world to read (I’m on book 124)
Being viewed as the definitive expert in English, technology, and various other things, apparently enough so that I am allowed to help deliver babies
Making friends with strangers, mostly women and their babies while traveling
Beautiful children, and coloring and learning the alphabet with them
The resourcefulness: Mozambicans can fix everything and nothing gets thrown away as it can all be useful in some way; my students are always coming over to ask for tape or glue or something to fix their falling apart shoes
The stunning scenery, especially in Gurué
A true neighborhood feel- you can just show up to someone’s house and hang out with them on the reed mat; they will always offer you food, which I sometimes deny but sometimes I take, unless it is rat, like was given to me the other day. Awkward. But I thoroughly enjoy the communal lifestyle.
Professional freedom
My English Theater and REDES kids: I threw them a small party the other day to say goodbye. We ate some chicken and drank orange Fanta, added each other on facebook, for those that had it, and in very Mozambican fashion, gave long-winded speeches about how great Teacher Ana is…
Eating random proteins: gazelle, rabbit, rat, termites, etc. The other day, my friend Cristina made me rabbit that had previously been dried (not just in a strip like jerky but the whole body). I thought it was the best meal ever. This indicated to me that it is time to come home…then the next day, my empregado Daniel made me termites. Surprisingly, they are not that bad tasting or weird texture-wise, but I could only get through a few spoonfuls because I just couldn’t shake the fact that I was ingesting termites.
Cooking and baking all day on Sundays
Waking up at sunrise (and still getting at least nine hours of sleep)
Being in bed and reading by headlamp by 8pm, Fridays and Saturdays too
The binge that is a Peace Corps Volunteer party (our lives are centered around a feast then famine mentality)
My Peace Corps uniform (skinny jeans or black pants, the same v-neck tee in any of the many colors I own, and Mozambican flip-flops)
Jeans and Toms being considered fancy attire
Riding in the backs of trucks and hitchhiking
Bringing my American consumerism to Mozambique: I have become addicted to going to the various feiras (flea-market meets farmers-market-esque experiences) that happen on different days in various locales within an hour drive of Invinha each week. It is the equivalent of going to the mall: I am bored so I get in a car going to the feira and spend an hour or two just browsing the second-hand clothes in piles and hanging on bamboo fences, the sprawls of Mozambican flip-flops, and the produce. I took Daniel last Saturday to the Saturday feira in a town called Incize and for $12 took home this haul: two baby-onsies for his unborn child, two shirts for small children for when his unborn child grows a little (one that said “Feminist-in-Training” and one with Justin Beiber’s face on it…classy), about a thousand peaches (the ensuing peach jam was awesome), clips for holding together cloth diapers (again for Daniel’s unborn child), a deck of playing cards, a bag of tomatoes, a bag of onions, some peanuts, a capulana, our chapa fare each way, and best of all, a bag of termites. At one clothing stall, I asked Daniel if he liked anything, and he started browsing the men’s shirts. I told him that if he wants to be a father, he has to start thinking of his child first and I was only going to buy baby clothes that day.Feiras are awesome.
The horrible music Mozambicans love, and that 2 years has taught me to love as well
Awkward silences being broken by a Mozambican uttering the name of the place we are currently in, letting the last sound drift off into the air and hang there
A cold bucket-bath on a hot day
The fact that once the gossip train learns you are not feeling well, everyone turns up at your door in 5 minute intervals to say hello, forcing you to drag yourself out of bed to attend to their ever-rotating visits. It’s one of those things that is really nice but also makes you want to scream at the same time. But I’ll miss it.
Watching a group of 10 men and women from the bush jog by most days at about 4pm, in a military formation, chanting, and holding sticks like they are guns. After asking my neighbors what they are doing, getting the response, “They are preparing for the next civil war…”
The fact that PCVs, Mozambicans, and in short, everyone, loves to talk about poop
Having low standards about what constitutes acceptable lodging, food, and company
Sitting: there are many types of sitting that I do in Mozambique. There is the sunrise-watching, tea-consuming, book-reading, people-watching, porch version of sitting; the Sunday afternoon beer-drinking, soup, chili, or mukapata (lentils and rice in coconut milk)-stirring over the coal-stove on the porch type of sitting; the watching kids color on my porch genre of sitting; the young-coconut snack on a hot day sidewalk-sitting; the watching of the sunset over the Indian Ocean-sitting; the waiting for the chapa to leave or while hitchhiking-sitting; the magnificent view-taking in from the car or train-sitting; the 2-hour wait for the chicken you ordered at the restaurant to be killed, de-feathered, and cooked-sitting; the waiting for the meeting to start 1.5 hours late, book-reading-sitting; the reed-mat, shooting the shit with the neighborhood women-sitting; the candle-lit dinner, no power, book-reading, listening to heavy rain on a tin roof-sitting; and so much more. If you don’t like to sit and people-watch, don’t come to Africa. Sitting is even listed in the Southern Africa Lonely Planet guidebook under actual activities to partake in when at the legendary Victoria Falls
How people hold your hand for awkward lengths of time, and hold hands with each other like it ain’t no thang
Eating so many different species of bananas
Adding pumpkins to every dish for four months of the year
Young coconuts being the best hangover cure and re-hydrant under the scorching African sun
Buying litchi by the arm-full
Fresh produce not genetically engineered and being forced to cook with whatever that day’s Markey haul could provide
How people call another member of the family or whatever person they are trying to get the attention of and that person responds not with “yes?” or “what’s up?” but with the title of the person calling them in an interrogative tone, as in my aunt will call “Ana” and I reply, “T-tia?”
Making people so happy just by taking their photo and showing them on the camera, and the poses they strike for the camera (usually with some sort of household object that is nearby)
Sentiments about things I will miss from the party I threw my English Theater kids before our competition this year: People feeling comfortable in anyone’s house; eating “American beans,” aka chili, with “cake,” aka cornbread;the kidsnot liking piripiri, aka spices other than salt; the kids having a great time because I gave them magazines, a camera, and a play-list containing only Bruno Mars and Rihanna; remembering that aside from all the crap that comes with planning events like these here, you are giving the kids an opportunity to do what they never get to do and what we did on a regular basis as young people: hang out and bond with their peers, and go on trips and compete; the girls helped me cook so I made the boys clean up and they flipped out (sorry guys, but the theme of the our play is “we are all equal”); having so much leftover food after the kids gorged themselves (the next day, they were all complaining of stomach aches…) that we started offering food to everyone who was passing by
Because they are worth mentioning twice: my English Theater kids, even though we have lost soundly each year at the competition
Also because they are worth mentioning twice: my REDES girls, even though I just found out one is pregnant at the hands of a teacher from my school (prompting me to leave all the extra condoms I had at my house leftover from various youth events in the teacher’s “lounge.” The teachers all commented that it was “the best gift ever.”)
The lizards that live and mate on my walls
Eating fresh baked bread everyday
The kid that brings by his inappropriate and slightly provocative poetry in English for me to correct
Being outside- everything happens outside here
My students funny English and the funny things they write and say. One of my 9th graders wrote the following, direct quote on his final exam this year, “Teacher Ana like estudentindeligent. Teacher Ana not like estudentstupit.” Spot on. And deserving of full credit. Sometimes, however, “What did you used to do as a child?” warrants the response, “run Maria table verb) The, boktgear am is are chak,” (essentially word vomit) from an 11th grader. Amazingly enough, a different kid wrote, “I used to do a child” as an answer. That my dear student, is a profession of pedophilia and a simple reorganization of words found in the question, but it is also a perfectly grammatical sentence, so I will award it all four potential points.
Though it sometimes makes me want to pull out my hair, I will miss the Mozambican, chill work ethic. My friend Cristina’s little brother, Sergio, lives with Cristina and her husband. The kid is 18 and in 8th grade (I know…), and helps out around the house (hauling water, sweeping, babysitting Cristina’s daughter Zuria, assisting in their new nightly ritual of popsicle-making, etc) and receives virtually nothing in return. Cristina’s husband refuses to pay for his school enrollment or school materials, even though he does so much for the house. Cristina has therefore told me that she thinks Sergio should take a year off next year and “rest.” I told her no, and that I would pay for his school if that keeps him studying. She still insisted that Sergio would get sick since he works too hard. On second thought, I guess this is one of those instances I hate. But Sergio, I will miss Sergio: he’s a sweet kid.
Saying “good morning” and “how are you” to everyone you pass
When greeting people and they say in Portuguese, translated from the traditional greeting in the local language, “I’m fine. But I don’t know from your side?” That’s right, you don’t know. And I appreciate you not assuming…though you will think I am crazy if I express any emotion in my response other than a deadpan “I’m fine.”
The thumbs-up being hip and in
Running smack into a herd of grazing cows or goats when on a run in the bush, and my cow-herding friends who direct the cows away from me so I can pass
The nuns’ inherent knack for misconstruing weight: if I have just come back from a Peace Corps party where all we did was eat and drink, they will comment on how thin I am, but if I have been diligently running and not eating rice, they will call me fat.
Teaching people how to high-five
Daniel’s daily visit to see if I have enough water in my buckets
Watching the girls who live in the nuns’ dorm be locked in on the weekends, and resort to holding hands with their boyfriends through the chain-link fence on Sunday afternoons
How my normal gait has slowed tremendously to meet that which the leisurely Mozambican lifestyle dictates
The ridiculous conversations that come out of our sex ed programming at REDES
The fact that the other day, three of the nuns ran with me for a good half kilometer
And above all, I will miss my friends: essentially Cristina, her two year-old daughter Zuria, the nuns, my smart students, my houseboy Daniel, and his pregnant 16 year-old wife Gilda. Unlike when I said goodbye to people before coming to Moz, I really don’t know when/if I will see these people again. For two years, they have been my family and even though Cristina once tried to bathe me when I was sick, I will never meet anyone like any of them, I hope we can stay in touch, and I will deeply miss not seeing them everyday.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Party It Up

I have three weeks left as a Peace Corps Volunteer and thus I have obtained graduation goggles. Everything that normally pisses me off now seems like no big deal and is something I internally mark as something I will miss. My chapa stops nine hundred times to exchange passengers and baggage and I think how great it is that people can just sit on the road and someone will come to take them to their destination. A man tries to argue about the price of all the shit he had on top of the chapa and I just ogle at how cute his 8 children are. The ubiquitous drunk man starts yelling at the driver, causing a scene, and then forgetting his rant to hit on me all because the driver had picked up three people to take them 10km for free (it was pouring rain and they said they were returning from a funeral) and I just think how it was a nice gesture. Where were these goggles in July?
I recently traveled to the central region (about a 15 hour travel day if you are lucky) to say goodbye to most of my volunteer friends. And I traveled on many different qualities of road. There was a stretch of road about 75km long that was horrendous when I first traversed it in January 2011. Half-dirt and half-pot hole, it used to take 2.5 hours. Now, because of the a year and a half road construction project, you only drive on dirt for 10 minutes and the rest is beautifully paved. It is awesome. There is a lot of road construction happening right now in Moz. Many of the previously unpaved roads are in the process of getting paved, which is highly promising. In 10 years, I bet most main thoroughfares will be paved, which will tremendously help to develop the country as a whole. But there are also some roads that are horrible but that won’t be getting fixed imminently. Many roads are essentially giant potholes, with craters big enough to swallow whole cars, and one in particular, that leads for 160km into Mozambique’s second biggest city, Beira, will remain in disrepair because during the civil war, this area was rebel territory and is still very much sympathetic to the opposition. Other sections of the main north-south road in the central have tons of potholes that won’t be fixed in the near future for the same reason. Who knew road construction could be so political?
It is also interesting, and horrifying, to note that it is these same roads that have transmitted HIV throughout the continent. Long-distance truckers are vilified as carrying the virus with them on their epic journeys to transport goods throughout their region, sleeping with prostitutes at truck stops (then their wives back at home), and condemning condoms. Their rate of infection is significantly higher than the general population, though obviously, I cannot denounce the profession as a whole. But it was transient workers: truckers, miners, traders, etc, that initially secured the virus in society and as a major contributing factor to the cycle of poverty and pain in the early years of the epidemic, the 70s and 80s. Read 28: Stories of AIDS in Africa by Stephanie Nolen if interested in the topic. It highlights 28 different accounts of people living with HIV throughout Africa and you get a real feel for the spread of the virus, the stigma that coincides with it, and the ravage it begets on those infected as well as their familial survivors. It is easy to forget about HIV amidst all the problems a PCV sees on a daily basis. No one talks about it: here, people are just “sick;” people just “die.” There is always someone going to a funeral, always someone ill who needs taking care of, always some dirty kids playing in the street that may or may not be orphaned due to AIDS, may or may not have been taken in by a family member or may or may not be living in a child-headed family. Many of the difficulties I have observed here would be greatly alleviated without the involvement of HIV: when most people in a community die before their 40th birthday, a whole generation is lost, children grow up without the intrinsic love and protection of parents, and progress is inevitably slow. But unfortunately, from two years of personal experience (though I admit I would need to stay longer to really be able to make a definitive claim), I do not believe that behavior change (getting people to use condoms, to not have multiple concurrent partnerships, to acknowledge their positive status, to eschew their denial that AIDS does in fact kill, etc) will completely conquer the epidemic. Because of the sensitive manner in which it is transmitted, HIV is here to stay until there is a vaccine. That is my personal opinion, though I still maintain that efforts should be made to save individual lives via prevention campaigns in the meantime. Due to a lack of health and science education (and understanding) as well as a downright fear of what it inescapably does to its host, HIV is not viewed the same here as in America. And I do not blame people. But it is still horrendous and upsetting and demoralizing to see it around you everyday. HIV tests are not always administered or read correctly and not many people get them, as I have witnessed in my time at the hospital. The 10-40% positive statistics of most Eastern and Southern African countries is probably low (did you know that even a 1% stat would qualify an epidemic?). But as pervasive as the virus and the syndrome are, it is easy to overlook and disregard, as I know I have done at times during my service, because there isn’t much I can do beyond conversations with individual youth. Read 28. It is highly informative, though difficult to get through. But read it nonetheless. The only problem I have with the book (aside from geographical mishaps in the Mozambique chapters) is the emphasis it shows people placing on securing money for their children’s education. Perhaps education systems are not as pointless in other African countries as in Mozambique, but education is not a magic cure, as Western aid perceives it. Yes, it is a means to a more developed end, but when so many people are sick and dying, and students are not actually learning much in school, I do not believe it should be placed at the highest of pedestals. I don’t have any idea what the answer is beyond a vaccine, and no one does, or I wouldn’t have to write this paragraph, but read the book. It will affect you and make you think.
Getting back to the lighthearted parts of Peace Corps: Overall, I had great luck hitchhiking the whole way down to central and back up, in cushy private cars that didn’t charge me: living the dream. On the way down, I traveled with another volunteer and at one point the driver of the car we were in stopped to buy some road food. I think I have mentioned it before, but Mozambique has the best road food, with venders thrusting baskets of their snacks through the windows of your vehicle. Who needs drive-through fast-food when you can get hard-boiled eggs with spicy salt, orange soda, cashews, mangos, Mozambican falafel, bananas, and my new favorite that I tried for the first and only time on this trip, grilled gazelle meat. A kid came up to us with a bucket of gazelle meat and we bought some. It was delicious: tender and with a good flavor. The whole rest of the trip we talked about how we wished we had bought more. It didn’t make us sick, surprisingly, but at this point in my service, I just eat and drink whatever I want, as I now view stomach problems as more of a minor nuisance rather than an inhibitor.
Before I came to Peace Corps, I didn’t prepare very well. I didn’t begin to learn Portuguese, I didn’t read blogs, I didn’t learn too much about the country, and it all worked out. But I also had no idea what it would be like to be a volunteer. I thought I would just sit in my town and never party with other volunteers. Boy was I wrong. Peace Corps Volunteers throw damn good parties. This time, we rented a cabana between a beautiful river and the Indian Ocean (you took a boat across the river to get to this unique strip of land, and therefore had river on one side and beautiful, white sandy beaches on the other) and 30 of us camped in the front yard. Other times, we gather at a PCVs site, but it is always a version of the same thing: to celebrate Halloween, fourth of July, the Kentucky Derby, a birthday, Christmas, Thanksgiving, or just generally, August, and we do our best to recreate American food and traditions, always with things bought from the market or sewn and somehow constructed together. Each person was in charge of bringing a certain part of a meal, and we ate well: burritos, hamburgers, potato salad, tuna salad, veggie dip, pasta with meat sauce, etc. And for the whole weekend, we just hung out, playing card and ultimate Frisbee, drinking, etc. Americans don’t usually do this: travel extraordinary distances to just be together for 48 hours. And we were the only ones there. We would walk to the beach and just stumble upon a massive stretch of unadulterated, white, sandy, Indian Ocean beach, with absolutely no one on it. It is quite stunning and a concept I will dearly miss.
One of the days, however, I was walking shoeless back from the beach mid-day (since I have developed a habit of losing my shoes at functions like this, my plan was just to put them in my backpack and not wear shoes all weekend). At first, the sand was just hot, and then it became the most unbearable pain I have ever experienced. It was like walking on hot coals, to the point where I had a meltdown halfway home and could not physically continue. I just sat down in the sand path clutching my feet until another volunteer came to my rescue. She gave me her capulana and her sundress to tie around my feet and I trekked on. I then sat in the cabana kitchen with my feet dead-set on the cool cement floor, throbbing in pain from the veritable burns I had obtained on them. And I was not the only one to have this problem, as it became a natural sight to see people running and screaming into the house because of the hellish sand. We couldn’t go to the beach after 12pm. I now have a great fear of being stranded in the desert with no shoes, as I think it might kill me.
Throughout the weekend, we had a Halloween party, bobbed for apples (which I had never done before and hated: it is unnatural to stick your head in a bucket of water and open your mouth), and just hung out together, isolated on a beach for two days. We would just sit and watch the sunset over the Indian Ocean with a beer in hand, I mean, really, what could be better? I will definitely miss the binge (food and social) that is a PCV party.
On the way back, about 15 of us were sitting on the road in the bush, willing a car to turn up to take us to the main road, when we glimpsed some monkeys in the trees. The locals also saw the monkeys and started trapping them. Upon succeeding, one of the men started killing a monkey with a machete and it screamed bloody murder. We were all shocked at seeing something so striking and new: this dude was straight-up killing a monkey like 5 feet from us to take home and serve to his family for dinner. I had never felt more like I was in Africa. And this, one month before I leave this amazing country.
And finally, Cristina went on a visit to her family out in the bush the other day. When she came to my house to say goodbye, I went with her back to her house to accompany her to the road, as is the Mozambican custom. Again in line with social norms, I offered to carry her suitcase for her on our walk, assuming she would deny me the opportunity since she generally shows deference to me as I technically hold a higher status on account of being a teacher (yes, my best friend here doesn’t address me by name, but by “professora.” Its weird). Amazingly, she allowed me to carry the suitcase, confirming our equal friendship and my integration into the community. Such a small gesture of letting me do something for someone else but it meant so much. The next day as I was enjoying my morning tea-drinking, porch-sitting, I saw Cristina’s husband bent double, washing the floor of their house with a rag. Since Cristina and her younger brother, who do virtually all the housework, are both gone, this full-grown man must now contribute, a rare sight here. I walked over, kiddingly congratulated him on his hard-work and asked him if he will succeed in cooking for himself. He replied, “No, Professora Ana will cook for me, right?” with a knowing smile.