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.

1 comment:

  1. Wow. That was a great list. I can't believe you are almost done!!!! American isn't so bad, you can still wear jeans, toms, and a tshirt. And I liberally used the thumbs up after getting back from Brazil (thumbs up being cool and widely used must be a Portuguese thing). I hope you'll be able to stay in touch with Cristina and family, and Daniel and family. Also love the "I'm fine but don't know from your side".