Friday, April 26, 2013

            Okay I lied. I thought it would be nice to have a last post that kind of wrapped things up. And more than anything, I wanted to say thank you to anyone who has ever read. I landed in Thailand yesterday, meaning that after three years of making it my home, I have officially left the continent of Africa. This was a wonderful and life-changing experience. To paraphrase a beloved priest in the states, it helped me to see the world through different eyes, and I am extremely grateful for the opportunity. Also thank you for ever reading. This was such a special and monumental experience for me, it meant so much for me to be able to share it with others.
            And why not finish with a few stories. Saturday when I traveled back down to Maputo from Inharrime, the rain had slowed us down so I got in around 6pm (after dark) and it was pouring. I knew that these conditions can make guys like taxi drivers be jerks—a young white girl alone in the rain after dark doesn’t have a whole lot of bargaining power—so I was dreading my interactions with the taxi drivers. I told the first car where I was going and he said a surprisingly reasonable price, so I jumped in immediately. It wasn’t until I was sitting and buckling in that I realized the windshield in front of me was shattered inward in what was the distinctly concave imprint of a human butt. “Is that from a person?” I asked. Why? Why do I ask questions I clearly don’t want to know the answer to?
            When I arrived at the stop for the overnight bus to Johannesburg (where I would fly out of) I got my credit card out and found a stupidly well-hidden 1000met bill in my wallet that I hadn’t accounted for. You can’t exchange the Metical anywhere in the world outside of Mozambique, so I was deteremined not to cross the border with it (it’s about $30), but it was 7pm and my bus was leaving soon. So I used my Africa-made Portuguese skills, charm, and perseverance to convince the guy selling cashews to exchange with me for South African Rand, including him rounding up Rand notes from his buddies selling phone credit or chips nearby so I could exchange the whole 1000. 

Also an update: baby D went to live with her paternal grandmother on Tuesday and it seems that things are going well. I think about her all the time, I hope she's happy and loved where she is and remembers somewhere inside that I love her too.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


            This is my last blog post, my taxi should be here in the next 15 minutes. So what better way to end my saga than with a blog about MALARIA?! April 25th is World Malaria Day, and sadly things don’t seem to have changed much since I was hyped up about malaria one year ago. Malaria still kills around 600,000 people worldwide, the majority of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa. And in Mozambique, malaria is still the leading cause of death, accounting for 29% of deaths in the country.
            Perhaps you remember me writing about the horrible flooding in Gaza province back in January and February. The water washed out bridges and roads, isolating towns; submerged and destroyed houses; and drove food prices through the roof. But there was another less apparent result of all this flooding. Flooding, even after the bulk of the flooding has subsided, results in standing water in unexpected places, especially when people’s last concern is getting rid of all this standing water. And all this water leads to an increase in mosquitoes, the vector that carries malaria. This, coupled with the many many displaced people who are sleeping in temporary situations, most likely without mosquito nets, will surely lead to an increase in malaria in southern Mozambique this year. I am interested to see the rates when data is collected at the end of the year. Just from speaking to people in these areas, they have told me that there has been much more malaria this year than other years.
            Hopefully, through initiatives like Stomping Out Malaria in Africa (check out the website!) and the numerous others being rolled out by NGOs, we can start to make a change for the better. Malaria is preventable and malaria treatable, we just need to continue to educate people about how they can impact and improve their own lives!


            Today I ran my last few errands around Maputo, including stopping by the Peace Corps office to say hi and bye.
            One thing I think is funny. When I meet Africans from other countries and tell them I live, they all comment on how bad the drivers in Mozambique are, and how terrible the public transport here is (as in, the cars are falling apart, and they shove a ridiculous number of people in each vehicle). So apparently everyone really thinks we’re the worst!
            When I was up in Inharrime I got to meet Jasmin for lunch one day, and she had just returned from a REDES workshop and was telling me about it. It made me smile inwardly, because I have realized now that every single year the leadership of REDES and JUNTOS (the co-ed equivalent) thinks they can do a better job than the previous year. I saw this my first year when the leaders talked about their predecessors, I felt that with confidence when Anna and I took over, I saw the changes our successors made to our work, and I see them repeating the same mistakes this year. It’s interesting because as long as leadership changes to a new group of PCVs on a yearly basis, this will never change. And it’s a horrible business model, but somehow through the perseverance and hard work of the PCVs and Mozambicans in charge, these programs continue to do really wonderful things in Mozambique. 


            Today I spent the day in Namaacha with my host family. Baby Anata is talking much more than when I left and her motor skills have noticeably improved. I’m sad I’ll miss her growing up even more. We hung out at their house for a while, then we went down to Grandma’s house, where I lived when I was in training. And I got to see a cousin, Anna’s host sister, who is now studying at a university in Maputo.

My two host brothers, Baby Anata in blue, and her best friend and neighbor in pink.
I gave her a beautiful pair of earrings that she loved (after the initial pain of forcing them in). All day she kept shaking her head to make them swish back and forth. 

Riding in the back of the truck to grandma's truck. At one point the chicken (our lunch) jumped out and made a break for it, but my host brother chased it down. 


            I had a really nice week with the girls. Who knows how big they’ll be by the time I make it back. Nothing makes me realize how long I’ve been here like seeing kids who were in the womb when I arrived, now running around and talking.
            Today I traveled from Inharrime to Xai-xai (about halfway to Maputo) to meet a friend for lunch, before continuing on to Maputo. It almost seems like some higher power wanted to make sure that I didn’t make it out of Moz without one last “true” chapa ride. Thus this day of traveling had all the components of a classic chapa ride:
·         The drunk chatty man. He was sitting in front of me in the first chapa and originally turned around to scold me for reading my book and not chatting with other people on the chapa. Then he kept turning around to repeatedly ask where I was from or where I was going. He was perfectly friendly (sometimes they can be aggressive or skeevy), but he reeked of booze and wasn’t terribly coherent. He told me about an American he knew and kept referring to her as my “cousin.” He wanted me to call her to say hi, but he didn’t have her number, so he wanted to take my number so that when he found hers, he could give it to me. I politely declined and that pissed him off a little, but he forgot quickly and then the conversation recycled again.
·         Other living creatures. The woman next to me was traveling with a live chicken (I’ve never understood this. You can buy chickens everywhere, and the maybe 5-10 Meticais you save by buying one outside Maputo are certainly negated by the annoyance of traveling with a live animal.) It was inconveniently where my feet should have been, and chicken beaks and claws are incredibly sharp, so I rode with my feet propped up on the seat in front of me, putting more pressure on my butt and causing it to fall asleep after the first hour.
·         Cozying up with your seatmates. Because I was in the front row, many larger bags were piled up in front of us and at our feet (next to the chicken). In addition to the three other people in my row, we had two kids sitting on laps, plus the chapa conductor who was squeezed semi-standing by the door. So all sense of personal space or individual seats was lost, my knees were propped against the woman next to me, the child on the lap next to me rested her hand on my knee and her head on my arm.
·         A nursing baby (a little closer to you than social norms in America would allow). Just as I’m never sure what social convention dictates about greeting someone who is peeing as you walk by, I’m never sure how to interact with babies while they’re nursing. I’m already squeezed up against the mother, but does it get weird if I play back with the nursing baby who is making eye contact with me and grabbing my arm?
·         A batshit crazy driver. I don’t think that sane people would sign themselves up to drive up and down the national highway every day, but some are crazier than others.  This guy was speeding along, weaving in between other cars, passing while going up blind hills, taking turns too quickly—your typical horrible Mozambican driver. I just closed my eyes and tried to think about other things. But then as we were getting into the outskirts of Maputo, traffic going south slowed to almost a standstill. So our driver pulled into the right lane and proceeded to speed past traffic down the wrong side of the road, and when oncoming traffic came, he made them move over for us (even though we were in their lane).
·         Poor driving conditions. In addition to large potholes, it poured for the last 130km of my trip, hiding these potholes underneath about 6 inches of standing water. It didn’t slow down my driver though! 

Friday, April 19, 2013

One last dance party


            Yesterday some of the younger girls were braiding my hair. Isaura, the really bright one who I would give English lessons to was sitting nearby, and one of the girls called her over to help. She responded that she didn’t know how to braid hair, to which all the girls responded “WHAT?!? You don’t know how to braid hair?!” Isaura very literally turned her nose up and retorted “I do well in school. It’s much more important to pass grades than to know how to braid hair.”

            One of the older girls who was in my REDES group and who no longer lives here is back visiting now. She left when I did, so I haven’t seen her in 1.5 years, so it was great to see her again! I learned last night that one of the girls from the orphanage who left pregnant last fall had her baby boy and he is healthy, though her living situation seems a little unstable.

            Today some kids from an orphanage in Inhambane city came for the day (the kids are on school holidays this week), which was a fun break in routine for all of the kids—they had so much fun playing games and dancing all day together. When I lived here, the youngest girl, who I was really close to, was Margarida. When she arrived she was a chubby little three-year-old who didn’t speak a word of Portuguese and had no idea where she was and what was going on. When she began talking, she would always chatter on about her twin brother Fabião, who was at another orphanage because ours is only girls. If she was playing with a doll, its name was Fabião. If she pretended to call someone on my phone, she called Fabião. After the holidays spent with their families, she would excitedly tell me about everything she had done with Fabião. She was super chubby and had a big belly, so I would always ask her what was inside her belly and she said it was a baby named Fabião. Well today I finally got to meet the famous Fabião himself, along with another brother who’s a year older than they are, because it was their orphanage that visited!
Above: Margarida (in blue), the famous Fabião in orange, and their older brother in the middle

Thursday, April 18, 2013


Back where I belong!

Yesterday I had my laptop, so I started showing the girls pictures from my first two years here, particularly my first year. They thought it was so funny to see everyone’s baby-faces—the way I remember them. It’s really incredible how much I’ve seen some of them grow up.
            I went into town today to meet Jasmin for lunch. The cement wall around the soccer field that we painted 1.5 years ago with our REDES girls has partly fallen down now (the day our young girls forced through singing and chanting the group of cocky men soccer players off their field, it will always be one of the greatest moments of my life). I guess the crumbling cement blocks couldn’t withstand the huge amounts of rain Inharrime has had this year.
            Before meeting Jasmin I went into the market to say hi to our two friends there who we always bought our vegetables from. One of these girls was the one who was incredibly pregnant last year, but wouldn’t “tell” me she was pregnant, so I wasn’t culturally allowed to talk to her about it. She happily told me today that her daughter was born in December and is healthy and doing well!
            The amount of development and changes in the town of Inharrime since I lived here, or even since I last visited in early November, is pretty unbelievable. Apparently Inharrime has a new administrator who seems to be really proactive about developing and cleaning up the town. The main streets used to be crowded with vendors selling everything from fruits, to grilled corn-on-the-cob, to sandals, but now all these people have been herded to designated locations. The bus rank has been cleared out and fenced off. One of the iconic symbols of Inharrime—a shop/bar/restaurant that operated out of a metal trailer—has been removed, and the park area it occupied fixed up. But aside from the proactive local government, you see signs of development and growth in the many shops and houses that have been renovated or fixed up, or the new shops that have opened.
            Another bit of reflection, or just thoughts I didn’t get to write from Swaziland. I’m not sure if it was that where I was living in Swaziland was more rural than where I lived in Mozambique, or if it’s a difference in countries/cultures, but I found Swaziland to be much more “traditional.” There is one albino boy at the hostel in Swaziland. He doesn’t actually fit the normal criteria for kids who are admitted into the hostel in terms of his family and their resources, but he is there because his family can’t properly protect him. It is a traditional belief that body parts from albinos have extra powers in witchcraft, so people try to kidnap him in order to sell him to a traditional healer for a very high price. This happened multiple times in the short time I was there. I have heard of this belief before, but I heard of it as if it were folklore, I never heard of anything like that actually happening. Albino people in Mozambique are sometimes ostracized or treated poorly, but nothing like this. Also recently baby D’s paternal family emerged from nowhere to try to claim her. We are now helping to facilitate talks between the paternal and maternal sides, as well as social welfare. One of our staff mentioned that the time of ritual killings is approaching, so we need to ensure that their motives for wanting her are pure. I have never heard of anything like this while living in Mozambique either. And this isn’t just me, I asked some Moz PCVs and they were equally surprised by these things.
            This brings me to another thing that has been on my mind: how strange it is that worlds can change with the simple crossing of an arbitrary line. Perhaps this doesn’t sound as weird to someone who didn’t grow up in America (or in the middle of America), but I find it truly strange that I could live in Swaziland less than 200km from where I lived in Namaacha last year, yet be in an entirely different world. Sure, in the States the crossing of an arbitrary line can affect the time, where and when you can buy alcohol, and who you can marry. But here we cross the border and suddenly everything changes: the language, the ethnic group (Swazis are largely one ethnic tribe). In Swaziland, like like many African countries, wealth is counted in cattle, so there are large herds of cattle everywhere, but this is not true of Mozambique*. In Swaziland, there is a familial homestead. Their traditional marriage customs are hugely different. In Mozambique every woman wraps a capulana around her waist in almost every setting—Swazi women don’t. Even something as simple and stupid as this: Beth loves to bake, but has been unable to find a good graham cracker substitute for crusts. I suggested Maria biscuits, assuming they would be as prolific in Swaziland as they are in Mozambique, but you can’t find them in Swaziland. In Mozambique at every single little selling stand (a small table beside the road where a lady or young kid sits selling phone credit, a saltine-type crackers, little sweets, and Maria biscuits. These are the basics, if you’re lucky they might have other items in addition) has them.

*disclaimer: all this is true for southern Mozambique, I know nothing about the central and north.  

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


            Yesterday I arrived right at lunch time. As I walked into the dining hall, I got lots of flashes of recognition, big smiles, waves, and whispers of “Mana Anata!” from girls. The older girls. The younger girls (7 years old and younger) mostly pretended not to see me, which is weird because I was probably closest with them. I went over to their table to bend down and greet them, and they mostly ignored me, though it was clear they were pleased I was paying attention to them. In Psychology 101, we learn that these kids are “insecurely attached,” loving someone who is inconsistent in their affection or presence, so reluctant to show too much affection, though desperately wanting it. Moments like these make me feel so sad and frustrated. Why am I spending so much time with these girls (and baby D in Swaziland), showering them with the love and affection they so desperately want and need, only to abandon them like everyone else in their lives has? I can’t decide if these relatively short times of love and friendship are ultimately worth the inevitable abandonment, and it makes me feel so guilty.
            Yesterday and today I’ve seen some cloth flowers in some of the girls’ hair—something I taught them to do. It just might be one of my biggest legacies as a PCV, but at least they look beautiful and have something to remember me by.
            One of the girls asked when I was leaving, so I told her Saturday. Instantly there was a chorus of “no, leave on Sunday!” “no leave on Monday!” With finality one girl announced “no, leave in July.”
            As I prepare to return and live in America after 3.5 years of living abroad, I will reflect on something that happened while I was back for the holidays. I was at Rockafeller Center in New York with a friend and asked a woman passing by to take a picture of us. There is a line across the display screen of the camera, but this doesn’t affect the photos. She was nice and as she handed the camera back to us she smiled and casually remarked that I should ask for a new camera for Christmas. But why? This one still works. I know she meant nothing by it, but to me it seemed to reflect this American need to constantly replace and upgrade that I find extremely disconcerting. If people in America could only see how my friends and neighbors here will use their t-shirts, phones, shoes, and cars until they literally fall apart. How some of my bridge school students (in Swaziland) took home the cardboard boxes from a new furniture delivery to put on top of their “mattresses” for extra cushioning. The idea that someone would just get rid of or stop using a perfectly functional, high-tech digital camera because of an aesthetic problem would seem completely ludicrous to people here. In a lot of the world for that matter. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


            Today I was well enough to travel and made my way up to Inharrime. As much as it seems that some external power was screwing with me yesterday to thwart my efforts to travel, it seemed like something was helping me today. I made it from the house where I’m staying in Maputo to the mission in Inharrime in 5.5 hours, which is truly incredible. Right as I arrived at the bus rank (which has been completely redone and looks wonderful!), there was a bus going north about to leave. Sometimes it seems like a bus is about to leave, but you end up sitting at the bus rank with the engine running for an hour or two. But as soon as I sat down, the bus pulled out! It was an express bus going about 3 times as far as I was, so it didn’t make many stops to drop people off or pick people up—I was going one of the shortest distances. Our bus, unlike so many heaps of metal here, was actually capable of reaching high speeds, and our driver was maniacal enough to drive that fast.
            On the ride up I was struck by how many new houses and buildings there are since I last made the trip in November, particularly cement block structures. The bus rank in Maputo used to be an overly congested sandy area next to the highway, full of people milling between busses hawking goods and trying to get you on their bus, but now it’s a fenced-in, paved area with designated spaces for buses to different locations, and the ground was noticeably free from both the hawkers and all their litter.
            Home at last, and all the girls are so grown up! It’s wonderful to see them again, though I miss them when they were shorter, chubbier, and spoke with stronger speech impediments!
            I forgot to write, over Easter one night I was heading back from eating dinner at Ben and Beth’s house. It was dark and I was mostly monitoring the ground in front of me with my flashlight, so I noticed belatedly that we (baby D was tied on my back) had made our way into the middle of a herd of cattle. Cows are pretty docile and slow-moving, but it still made me really uncomfortable in the dark, with a baby tied on my back, and bags in my hands, knowing that I couldn’t run very fast if I needed to. Also in the dark their eyes were lit up red by my flashlight, plus their horns were slightly silhouetted against the sky, so they looked like devils. I was relieved when we made it back to the house safely. 

Sunday, April 14, 2013


            I was almost out of here. After 3.5 years, I was going to finally leave Africa “for good.” Well Africa must have found out because she decided to get the last word in. After not feeling extremely well for a few days, yesterday after lunch and coffee with friends I started to feel really terrible. I went back to the house to lie down and stayed there for the next many hours, getting up only to go to the bathroom. This morning I was not feeling any better and certainly couldn’t chance sitting on a chapa without bathroom access for the 6-10 hour drive up to Inharrime. I thought maybe later in the day I could leave if I started feeling better, but this never happened, so I suppose I will try again tomorrow. Africa for the win. 


            Over the past few days, multiple kids from the hostel have assumed that I am taking baby D with me when I leave. Each time I explain that as much as I would like to, I am not allowed to, much to their surprise and concern. A few of the girls were pressing the issue, so I explained to them that the police would be very angry with me if I took her. “So what if the police say it’s okay?” the asked, no doubt thinking of going and talking to the policeman who lives on the mission. I explained that only if the king said it was okay, would I be able to take her. Sister pointed out at dinner last night that many of our kids are acutely aware of how it feels to be abandoned and probably don’t want to watch it happen to D.
Today I left Swaziland for good. In the morning I went over to the girls’ dorm to spend time with baby D and say goodbye again to the kids before the left for school. Saying goodbye isn’t fun, but that part was cheerful. They smiled as they waved goodbye to me and laughed and nodded when I told them I’d be back to see them in grade-something (a few years above what they are currently). But with D it was different. Partly because she’s non-verbal, so I had no way of explaining to her what was happening, but perhaps that was for the better. But saying goodbye to her was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. With the other kids, I know I’ll make it back here before too long and catching up with them will be fun. But whenever I come back, D won’t remember me—at least not consciously—and so knowing that this was goodbye forever to what we have is difficult. She started screaming as someone took her so I could get into the car. Who knows if she was just generally upset that I wasn’t holding her anymore, as she sometimes gets, or if she knew something was going on. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013


            This has been a week of goodbyes as I prepared to leave tomorrow. Monday was my last auntie’s meeting (which almost all childcare staff attends) so I baked an apple-cinnamon bread and made earrings or hair clips for all the aunties and childcare staff. Everyone has looked especially pretty the past few days sporting their new colorful earrings! Yesterday the hostel kids and staff threw a goodbye party for me, complete with songs, dances, and cards from the kids. At the end they dressed me like a Swazi and made me join in the girls’ traditional dance to show off my own moves.
Dancing with the girls. It's like Where's Waldo, you almost can't find me.

            This morning I made cookies and popcorn for my bridge school kids. We danced for a bit, enjoyed the snack, then I introduced them to madlibs, and we ended with hangman. Madlibs was a big hit—the kids got really into coming up with funny and creative parts of speech, and by the third time (it took them a few times to really understand the game), they were dying laughing during the reading. Teaching bridge school has been a really wonderful and special experience for me. Not only were these 11 very sweet kids, but there were ELEVEN kids! I loved teaching in Mozambique, but there are limits to what even the most motivated teachers can do with five classes of 50 kids. With bridge I could check their homework every day and make corrections. I could anticipate mistakes they would make while copying notes or doing exercises and be there to help when it happened. I’m thankful that I got to experience teaching in such a drastically different and better setting. 

Monday, April 8, 2013


            I leave Swaziland for good on Friday. Crazy that three months flew by so quickly. What’s even crazier is that I will leave Africa, my home for the past 3.5 years, “for good” in two weeks. But of course we all know I’ll be back soon.
This means the end of a huge chapter in my life and starting a new life—this time in a brand new city as a Master’s student. It also sadly means the end of the long saga of this blog. I will write through my Mozambique trip so everyone can check in with their favorite people from my time there, but as of April 23rd I will sadly be neither Scooter in Mozambique nor Swaziland. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013


            One of the hostel girls apparently knew she was pregnant, but didn’t tell any of the staff and simply didn’t return after the Easter holidays. There was one girl who never came back after Christmas break because she knew she was pregnant. And one girl who we support who was going to a private school has also fallen pregnant. So the first school term is not even over yet and we’ve already lost four girls to pregnancies. In the entire history of the hostel—11 years—only three girls have ever completed secondary school.
            In Bridge school this morning I was asking the students about their holidays. I asked the kids what they did over the weekend, and one girl told me that she had worshiped. “Who did you worship?” I asked, trying to get her to converse more. “Me” she responded, misunderstanding the question. However, the girl in front of her had understood the nuance and starting giggling uncontrollably. I was thrilled to see one of my students demonstrate a deeper understanding of English, and after she had composed herself, she explained the distinction in Siswati to her classmates.