Sunday, January 31, 2010


To celebrate Emma’s birthday which will be on Wednesday, a whole bunch of us got together for lunch at Hotel Inharrime today (yep, our town has a hotel, we’re living the high life). We ended up being a group of 14 with PCVs coming in from Quissico, Cumbana, Maxixe, Cambine, Inhambane, Chicuque, and Panda. We enjoyed a fun couple of hours of catching up on everyone’s first weeks at school, or the progress of the health volunteers’ jobs (or lack thereof for some), and stories from the Moz 13ers of Midservice Training. I found that Becky and Stephanie, who I visited on site visit, got broken into which was a shock to me because I thought they lived in one of the most secure houses and environments here. It just goes to show that, regardless of your situation, it’s probably a question of when, not if. At the end of our meal the waitress brought out our check which was labeled “brancos” (whites). Completely unnecessary considering that not only were we the only table eating in the restaurant at this point, but we were clearly the only party of 14. But hilarious nonetheless.


At lunch today I happened to ask why they were baking an incredibly large cake. They responded that tonight we were celebrating the day of Dom Bosco, the man who founded the order of Salesians (to which the sisters at my mission belong, as do the priest across the street). They were quite incredulous that I didn’t know this. Mozambicans have a way of not explicitly telling you anything, and then being very surprised when you have no idea what is going on. We held a mass in the girls’ cafeteria because it was just us from the mission: the sisters, the girls in training, and the girls from the orphanage; and the priests from across the street. The power went out (like it always does in Mozambique) at the beginning of mass, but it actually made for a wonderfully beautiful ceremony in the fading twilight and then by candlelight after the sun had set. Then we had a wonderful meal followed by the large chocolate cake that was brought in, as always in Mozambique, with a procession of singing and dancing.
Every night this week I have stayed up to help some of the girls with their chemistry, math, or English homework. There will probably be nights when I will wonder, in frustration, why they waited until 9pm to ask me for help, but right now I am loving it.


I asked my colleague today if the homeroom books that still don’t have class lists in them will be getting class lists (because without them we can’t take role). He said “yeah, they will get them…eventually. Sometimes things at this school happen a little slowly.” I said, “at this school? I think everything in Mozambique happens really slowly!” At this two of my colleagues laughed heartily and said “ah, now she’s got it!” One of them said, a little more seriously, “but Mozambique has got to change someday. I think it will change…someday.”
Last night we were sitting around the tables after dinner, when all the girls and two of the sisters came in singing and dancing. From the way they were singing to two of the girls (in training to be sisters) and what they were saying, I pieced together that these two girls were leaving our mission to continue their studies in Maputo province. I was devastated because I had no idea (I tend to be told very little here, but just expected to kind of know things. This is a common complaint of Mozambique PCVs) and they were two of my favorite people at the mission. The send-off was nice, but they left at 6am the next morning, giving me very little time to process any of this or say goodbye to my new friends.
One of the girls was combing my hair today. “Your hair doesn’t stay standing up when I brush it up!” she accused. No it doesn’t, I agreed. “Well why not?!?” she asked indignantly. I have just resigned myself to the fact that I will suffer from many small-child-infections during my two years here. One of the girls here has a fungal infection on her head and some of her body that is fairly harmless, but highly contagious. She is also the most physically affectionate girl here. And how do you not hug back an orphan who runs up to hug you, yelling your name every time she sees you and wants to tell you all about her day? And so every day I have tons of grimy little girls climbing all over my lap, playing with my hair (they are still quite mad at me that it is too short to properly braid and play with), combing my hair with the same comb they just brushed their own hair with, holding my hands, etc. I suddenly have 45 younger sisters. And I love it.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


Today in all of my classes, each time I asked for a volunteer there was a huge commotion as 8 different people would jump out of their seats, trying to be the first one to start reading. It was a wonderful feeling. One girl also asked a question today in class. It wasn’t subject related, but I’ll take it!
With about 15 minutes left in my last class it started pouring and I had my first experience with trying to teach a class of 45 students (absurdly miniscule by Mozambican secondary school standards let me add) in a cement room with a metal roof. I ended up letting them go 5 minutes early because attempting to teach was just futile.
Natalia and I had our first Portuguese tutoring lesson today with one of the Salesian priests across the street. It’s funny because Natalia (who is Spanish) speaks much more fluently than I do and can converse much better than I can. But what she actually speaks is a mixture of Portuguese and Spanish without realizing it, and nobody bothers to correct her because they can understand perfectly. And thus I actually speak and write much more grammatically correct Portuguese than she does, because I actually received some formal formation in Portuguese, I have read a lot of text books and written out word-for-word many class lessons, and because I am not hindered by all the Spanish pronunciations and rules that she has ingrained in her.
Last week during some of the interminable hours I spent sitting under the trees outside my school with my colleagues, one of my colleagues brushed a very large and colorful spider off of my shoulder. He said “now you will have 6 months of good luck!” but our other colleague sitting nearby said “no, that’s in Gaza province, here it’s only 3 months of good luck.” I asked “so in Gaza province when a spider is on you, you get 6 months of good luck, but in Inhambane province you only get 3 months?” He laughed because he knew how ridiculous that sounded, but still responded yes quite seriously.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The view from Baobob's, where we spent New Year's. High tide comes almost all the way in to that sign and low tide goes out farther than one can see. In the distance you can see the many small islands along of the coast of Vilankulos to where tourists pay to be taken out in idyllic sailboat rides.


In the Peace Corps people talk a lot about how the most meaningful things are the little day-to-day victories. Today in one of my classes I asked for a volunteer to read a definition written on the board. I was answered by blank stares. I waited and asked two more times before a girl finally stood up (in Mozambique students stand to answer questions or otherwise speak in class). The next time I asked for a volunteer, after a slight pause the same girl started to stand again. I thanked her, but told her I wanted a new person. I waited again and asked two more times before another girl finally stood. The third time I asked for a volunteer a girl stood up right away. The fourth time I asked for a volunteer six students jumped up at the same time, making me laugh out loud. On the walk home from town one day some girls came running out from a house with their hands extended, asking for money. When I told them I wasn’t giving them money they yelled at me in Tchopi. A week later I walked by the same house and the girls yelled “Oi, mulungo!” I responded “ I have a name, but it’s not mulungo.” They giggled at this idea. About ten seconds later a girl hesitantly asked “what’s your name?” So they called “goodbye Anata” after me as I walked away. The following week when I walked by one of the girls yelled, “hey! I forgot your name, what is it?”
Every morning before school the students and teachers convene for one or some of the following: announcements, the national anthem, a prayer, or a parable. This morning my director addressed the students (who are just the 8th and 10th graders in the morning), “you guys all look very nice this morning. I like the beginning of the year, all of the students look so well put-together. But after three months this is going to look like a maternity clinic. This is a school for serious students. If you guys aren’t serious about studying, if you want to get pregnant, go to a different school. We want only those students who are serious about studying here.” The Mozambican manner of speaking is much more blunt than the American manner of speaking. Mozambicans will say out loud what Americans would generally say only behind closed doors or peoples’ backs. At the opening ceremony for the school year, a woman walked by with a baby on her back and one of my colleagues said to her and our other colleagues standing nearby “have you no shame? Four babies and four different dads!”
This afternoon I used a capulana to carry a child on my back in the manner of Mozambican women for the first time! The youngest girl in the orphanage who is three was incredibly tired and cranky, but refused to lie down to take a nap, so I put her on my back where she quickly fell asleep.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Yesterday when I was teaching I kept telling my students that they needed to write everything that I wrote on the board. Then I would begin writing on the board and turn around to see if they were writing too, and they wouldn’t be, so I would ask them to please write everything I wrote on the board. Then five minutes later we would go through the exact same thing. I was getting pretty frustrated and didn’t know how else to make it clearer that they needed to take notes everything, and I really didn’t want to spend the entire year asking them to write every five minutes. After my classes were over I watched my colleague give a lesson. He would write on the board, talk about what he had written, and then after he was done speaking, say “now you can copy” and they would all write diligently (though painfully slowly). Today I tried that and it worked brilliantly. I realize that I was expecting my students to behave like American students who (in my experience) write as the teacher is writing. On the other hand, as my director told me when I talked to her about this, students here are expected to be attentive and not write while the teacher is speaking. She said that the students always responding “yes” when asked if they understand, regardless of whether they do or not, is a problem all the teachers encounter and complain about. Today I thought one boy raised his hand in class. When I asked if he had a question, he hesitated for a moment, then put his head down and shook it “no.” Hopefully with time they will be less afraid of me.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The secondary school of Laura Vicuña. It is U-shaped with 15 classrooms here, two more newer ones past what is visible here, and three more makeshift ones up near the orphanage. Under the tree some of the girls from the orphanage are ransacking the tree for its plum-like fruit.

The view from the main house of the mission. The building on the left with the mural is where I live! The other buildings past it and to the right are the secondary school. So I literally live at my school.


Today I gave my first real math lessons. In retrospect, one of my “real life examples” was completely over their heads, but I will get better with time. In school here kids are very seldom expected to apply material learned to new or real life situations, so I probably shouldn’t have paired this with completely new material on the very first day! Also, when asked if they understand, Mozambican students are culturally expected to respond “yes.” So they always do, regardless of whether they actually understand or not. I couldn’t get anyone to actually ask a question on the material today, but I was able to get them all responding loudly (this is a big deal, Mozambican kids speak so softly!) to my questions! After my classes I watched one of my colleagues who also teaches eighth grade math give a lesson. It was incredibly helpful because Mozambican teachers have quite a different style than my American colleagues did during model school. It also gave me insight into why my students were behaving a certain way, because they were reacting to me as if I were a Mozambican teacher.
My Portuguese has improved a ton since model school, during which I felt I had to write out every word I wanted to say during class. This afternoon I went into town and got greeted “professor Anata!” by a couple excitedly beaming students which felt really good.

The view from my mission of Lagoa Poelela, the huge lagoon near Inharrime where Ann and I went on Saturday.


Finally! I taught my first classes today. I didn’t actually teach any material, just introduced myself, asked the kids to introduce themselves, talked a little bit about my rules and expectations, and then gave the kids a mini-test. I wanted to know what the base knowledge level of my students was because I don’t have any personal experience with what sort of instruction the kids receive in primary school here, and also there can often be a large discrepancy between what kids know in theory (meaning what they were taught in the previous grades that they passed) and what they are actually able to do. Homeroom classes in Mozambique are arranged by age, so for each grade the lower numbers are the younger kids and the higher numbers are the older kids (who likely have failed more often or are otherwise the “indisciplinados”). I teach eight grade, homerooms 1-5, so I have the youngest kids in the secondary school. This means that my students are probably the best students, but also the youngest, most timid students. I am pretty sure today they were all pretty terrified of this white lady with a funny accent who can’t make her words agree.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


I had picked out my favorite capulana dress especially for today, the first day of classes. Imagine my disappointment then, when I put on my bata (white lab-coat that teachers wear here) only to find that it goes down far past my knees, completely covering all of my beautiful dress!
I showed up to school at 6:40am this morning, nervous but excited for my first day of teaching here in Mozambique! We all convened at 6:55am for some announcements and to sing the national anthem, and then I thought we would be told our schedules after. The schedules weren’t done yet. The only time I went into a classroom today was to take attendance for one class. I finally left at 12pm because one of my colleagues who also teaches in the afternoon told me he would call if the schedule got finished. I had just returned to my room when my director called me and said they were having a computer problem, could I come help? They were using a computer program to make the class schedule that, like many computer programs, is very useful and helpful, but also very inflexible and won’t work if all the conditions aren’t completely right. It took me about an hour to figure out a way to work around problem, and finally create the class schedule! It was wonderful to finally do some work and actually feel like I was doing something worthwhile with my time. At lunch my director asked me if I had figured it all out. When I said yes she rolled her eyes and said, “I have been telling them all week to ask you for help but they were too proud. It took you an hour to do it. If they had asked you when I told them to, we would have had the class schedules done on Monday.”
So tomorrow!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Classes start tomorrow! The schedule wasn't done at the end of today, so tomorrow I will just show up in the morning and hopefully find out then what times I am teaching!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


This morning at work there wasn’t even attempt to pretend that any work was being done, all the teachers were just sitting on the benches under the trees. After three hours of this, when I, someone who loves to read, couldn’t read anymore, I asked what we were going to do today. My colleague said we didn’t have anything to do today. I asked “so why are we here?” He said “this is our job, we have to be at our job.” “You have to be here, even if there is nothing to do and you do nothing?” “Yes.” I left.
This afternoon one of my colleagues asked me where in Spain I was from. When I told her I was American she apologized and said that she thought I was Spanish because I had a Spanish accent. I am not sure it was meant to be a compliment, but I took it as one since I imagine having a Spanish accent must be better than having an American accent.
In Mozambique most of the streets don’t have names. Only in the big cities do the streets have names and all of the cities have the same 8 or so street names. These street names include important dates in Mozambican history, important African leaders, and (to quote another PCV) “pick your favorite communist leader.”

Monday, January 18, 2010


All of the girls who live at the orphanage (about 45) have begun to return from holidays. We have a few one new girls, one of whom is only 3 years old. She doesn’t speak Portuguese, but only speaks Shitzwa (a Bantu language spoken in northern Inhambane province) and seems completely overwhelmed by all of the other very loud girls, the young women who take care of the children, and the couple white women. Yesterday morning during mass (quite possibly her first mass ever) she got up during the sermon, wandered around a little, and then burst into tears. Our once-serene mission compound has now been filled with the loud sounds of 5-12 year old girls singing, yelling, playing, fighting, and occasionally crying. Since school doesn’t start until Wednesday, they are left to their own devices during the day which I think is just wonderful. As is customary in Mozambique, the older girls are expected to help take care of the younger ones.
This morning the teachers were to be at school at 7am. At 7:20am there were three teachers (including me) there. We began at 8am by being told officially what we will be teaching, as there were a few changes since Friday. My plan didn’t change, I am still teaching 5 homeroom classes of 8th grade math, which meets 5 times per week (certain subjects meet 3, 4, or 5 times per week, depending on the grade level). The advantage of this is that I only have to lesson-plan for one class, but the disadvantage is that I have to give the same lesson 5 times. One of my colleagues had received training to be a biology teacher, but when he arrived here two years ago the school was short on math teachers, so he has taught math for the past two years. This morning he found out that he will be teaching biology as well this year.


This morning at breakfast Irmã Lucelia told Natalia that there was a baby at the hospital that was really sick (they suspected the baby had HIV/AIDS) and needed milk, so she should take some and go with Irmã Claudina (who works at the hospital) when she goes. I had never been to the hospital, so I asked if I could go as well. When we got there we asked a few of the women who were waiting around where the baby was. It had died during the night. Natalia asked Irmã Rosália (one of the other sisters, who had come with us to the hospital) if she worked at the hospital too. She responded “No, it takes a lot of courage to work at these hospitals. I would like to, but I couldn’t handle it.”

Friday, January 15, 2010

This was too good not to share. I was in the school library today collecting 8th grade math books when I happened across a "Thailandia" guidebook in Portuguese, so I took it as well. I was sitting here with it next to me and three sisters in a row walked in, looked at the book, and asked if the Asian girl on the cover was me. Mozambicans think all Asians look alike and all "whites" look alike, volunteers are constantly asked if they are sisters.


Yesterday Ann, Emma, and I attempted to make our own peanut butter for the first time as some of our colleagues here have done in the past. Peanut butter is quite expensive here so I thought it could be a fun way to be thrifty during the next two years. Here’s how we were instructed: roast the peanuts in sand, then remove all the skins, then shake all the skins out, then crush/mash the peanuts with vegetable oil, salt, and sugar. And my conclusion is that it’s not worth all the work for what just tastes like crushed peanuts, and not quite peanut butter. Maybe I’ll try one more time.
This morning at school the kids came and cleaned around the school grounds for a little while, but left by 10am. I asked two of my colleagues if they knew yet what they were teaching and they said “no, nobody knows yet, it is the suffering of all of us.” It made me feel slightly better that nobody knew, although it’s a little different for me as the only new faculty member and the only person who has never taught before and will be teaching in a language she just learned. I asked if we would find out today what we were teaching. One colleague said “yes this afternoon” but the other said “supposedly, but I don’t have faith in that.” So all day while the homeroom classes were being put together there was nothing for the teachers to do but just sit around and wait. I read for a while and then, seeing my other colleagues doing it, I put my head down on the table and slept for a while. At 12:30pm we were still waiting, so one of my colleagues told me to go eat lunch and come back after. At 3pm we were finally given the homeroom lists to work on and at 4pm I was finally told I will be teaching 8th grade mathematics.
The good news is that I have always liked math and it has always made a fair amount of sense to me. The bad news is that biology textbook, chemistry textbook, teaching science book, and molecular model set that I lugged over here as part of my Peace Corps allotted 80lbs will be of very little use now.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


This morning all the teachers from my school and the other secondary school in town had a meeting at 8am at the other secondary school in town (where Emma teaches). The other school is a good half hour walk out of town in the other direction, so a full hour trip from my house if I am not able to get a ride. Yesterday, against my better judgment, I agreed to meet one of my colleagues who lives near me to walk with him. We made plans to meet in front of the bakery at 7:30am. At 8:10am I was still waiting and the pedagogical director came by and simply said hello, not why aren’t you at the meeting? He had my colleague’s phone number so he called him and my colleague was still at home. I waited until 8:20am when some of my other colleagues offered me a ride to the school so I decided to just leave. We finally arrived at 8:40am which is about when everything started. The colleague I had planned to walk with showed up at 9:45am.
Because our mission school is a private school, we have the option of closing our doors once we have reached (or let’s be honest, passed) capacity. And since our school and Emma’s schools are the only two secondary schools in the district of Inharrime, all the kids who didn’t fit into our school end up at the other school, which is crazy over-full this year. For the eighth grade at Emma’s school there are 30 homeroom classes of ~80 students. And the school has 5 English (a mandatory subject) teachers. Do the math. And my school is the only school in our district offering 11th grade for the first time this year, and there is nowhere in our district for kids to attend 12th grade, they have to go to Maxixe or Inhambane. During training an official from the ministry of education told us that Mozambique would have to build three times as many schools as currently exist to meet the needs of all the kids here.
One of the English teachers gave me a ride back to town after I was finished with my planning. I asked if he had finished all of his work and he said “no but I think I have malaria so I asked if I could leave early to go to the hospital,” very matter-of-factly.
Today Ann and I were in the market looking at adorable baby outfits for her counterpart who just had a girl on Sunday. The vendor came up and began to try to speak English to us, per usual. I said “não entendo ingles, só falo português” (I don’t understand English, I only speak Portuguese), so he apologized and switched to Portuguese, despite the fact that Ann and I continued to speak in English to discuss which outfit to choose.
We are experiencing a mini-drought here. In the market, on chapas, everywhere you hear people talking about how we need it to rain. Water is incredibly expensive and hard to come by here and farmers don’t have sprinkler systems like in the states, so when it doesn’t rain people’s entire incomes just die. Hopefully it will rain soon.
Tomorrow is inauguration day and everyone is really excited because the president will be giving a televised speech and it’s a holiday for everyone. I have asked a number of people, however, and nobody actually knows what time the president’s speech is at. Emma said that’s probably because either they don’t care, they are just happy they have a holiday, or because it’s scheduled for 12pm but won’t actually happen until 4pm.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Today all the kids came to school and about half of them were carrying hoes and machetes. At first I didn’t think anything of it because it’s quite common to see people walking around town carrying machetes here, but then I realized it was far too many of them to be a coincidence. The pedagogical director gave them a little speech, welcoming them back from holidays and then telling them that this is their school and it’s their responsibility to upkeep their school. All the kids were split into groups and set to work weeds, cutting the grass, and raking into piles all the dead leave and grass that were then put into the trash pits to be burned.
It seems that Mozambicans are much more likely than the Americans I know to get into really deep and philosophical conversations on a regular basis, or perhaps when talking to an American they feel pressured to impress them intellectually. I have on numerous occasions (much more often than when I was in America, and I went to a pretty nerdy college!) found myself discussing the affects of global warming and what man can do to counteract it, the philosophies of teaching, the need for development in countries like Mozambique and the role of outside aid and volunteers, the differences in economic opportunities between countries like Mozambique and South Africa, the philosophy behind volunteering, etc. And this is with a huge range of people, my new colleagues at the secondary school, the guard outside the bank who I strike up conversation with as I am waiting for my friend, the man who sits down next to me while I am having a cold drink in the shade, the person giving us a boléia, etc.

Monday, January 11, 2010


Last night my director wasn’t around after dinner because she had to take a girl with malaria to the hospital. I wanted to talk to her about the schedule for today because she had said the pedagogical director would be here this week, but I toyed with the idea of just going to bed and asking in the morning since I didn’t know how long she would be. I decided to wait for her and when she came back and I asked if the pedagogical director would here. She told me yes he would and so would all of my colleagues, we were starting work at 8am in the morning. Good thing I asked.
Had a staff meeting this morning with our director (the sister) and our pedagogical director. I was the only new staff member (as if I didn’t already stick out like a sore thumb) so I had to give myself a short introduction. My school is offering 11th grade for the first time this year (it only went through 10th grade before) and it was already overcrowded, so we are now facing a major shortage of classrooms and teachers. Since matriculation is still going on through tomorrow, nobody knows for sure what discipline or grade they are teaching, so at least I am not the only one. All of my colleagues were really nice and interested in talking to me. One colleague said “oh Chicago! Is that close to San Francisco?” Another colleague said “oh, you’re a child of Obama!” Another was very intrigued by how many people of different ethnicities live in America and how we don’t have one history, but many different ones. She called America the country of the future and stated that the problems with the world are Asia and Africa.
Our director is a woman (obviously) and I have at least five female colleagues, which is a ton for the secondary level. There wasn’t a whole lot of work to be done today since we don’t know yet what we are teaching, so we did a lot of sitting around. And for the few tasks we did have, my colleagues were pretty content to just shoot the shit and were not consumed as I was by the need to get everything done as quickly as possible. Tomorrow we will be split into disciplines to plan the curriculum for the year.
After work I took a nap. It’s too hot to lie in bed today, so I aimed my fan at me and just sprawled on the floor on my straw mat.


Last night one of the stories on the nightly news was that a baby was born weighing 3.6kg and all of the sisters were amazed by how heavy the baby was. I pulled out my phone which has a converter to see how much that was in pounds: 7.9lbs! In the states a baby would have to weigh twice as much at least to make the news.
Emma, Ann, and I caught a boléia up to Tofo beach this morning where we met up with Becky and Stephanie, who I visited for my site visit, as well as Matt and Alicia who were there to swim with whale sharks. On the drive up we passed a chapa completely flipped over, lying on its roof. We discovered an ice cream shop there that actually had real, delicious ice cream. I didn’t think I would be having real ice cream for the next two years. It was amazing, I had two cones. We pretended that we didn’t understand English every time a vendor would come up to us on the beach. We would tell them that we were volunteers and didn’t have any money, but that the other mulungos right over there were South African tourists who definitely had some money to buy their things.

Friday, January 8, 2010


Mozambican time is unlike any other time I am aware of. Paz, a Portuguese girl who begins working as a nurse in Maputo soon and has been visiting the mission the past week, said that the Portuguese are notoriously late, yes, but not Mozambican late. It is perfectly normal for people to show up one, two, or three hours late for appointments. One of my colleagues had an appointment with a student the other day to which the student showed up 2.5 hours late. After a couple encounters with her counterpart I asked Ann, “is she a flake, or is she just Mozambican?” And the idea of leaving before the start of something, in order to arrive when it begins, is foreign. If something (such as church) begins at 8 o’clock, you leave for church at 8, not at 7:45. I am reading Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin (a really wonderful book so far) and came across a line that was especially pertinent to me. Referring to the main character who was raised in Mozambique’s neighbor Tanzania, “Greg has never been on time in his life. Ever since he was a boy, Greg has operated on African time.” So perhaps it’s not just Mozambique. It certainly must be a negative for Mozambique when doing international business though.


My director gave me my bata today, which is the white lab coat-looking things that teachers wear at most schools. Apparently they came out with new models though, because the one she gave me is much lighter and less starchy than the ones I have seen—much better. It was so exciting to receive! It kind of makes things seem more real. I still don’t know what I’m teaching, but the pedagogical director is back from holidays so hopefully I will meet him next week and find out. Emma, my sitemate who has been here for a year already and teaches English at the public high school in town, said that she didn’t know what grade she was teaching until two days before school began last year, but not to worry because most kids don’t show up for the first week of classes anyway.
I was sitting in the shade reading today when two men came up and started talking to me. Reading for leisure is a pretty foreign concept here and people have a hard time wrapping their minds around WHY in the world anyone would want to do that. One of the men asked if I was reading a dictionary. I said no, it was just a book for reading. “Just for reading?” he gave me a puzzled look, like what a strange idea. They talked to me for a while and asked why, if I wanted to learn Portuguese like I said, I was sitting here reading a book in English which I already know. I pulled out of my bag the book in Portuguese I am reading. Two books? That was too much for them. They were also asking me about language in America. In Mozambique Portuguese is the official language, but everyone (or at least all the African Mozambicans) speaks their local language as well and a lot of kids don’t even learn Portuguese until they start school. And there are over 20 Bantu languages spoken in Mozambique. In my town the language is Xichopi, in Maxixe and Inhambane about 80K north of here they speak Gitonga, in Namaacha my host family spoke Changana, etc. One thing that’s really hard for Mozambicans to understand is that there is no equivalent to this phenomenon in America.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


When we arrived in Mozambique in September, one of the first things our training director Claudia said to us was “wow, your feet are so clean!” I didn’t understand then, but I do now. In the states, unless you are at the beach or in the park, one never walks in the dirt, but always, always on a paved surface. Well good luck finding a paved surface in Mozambique. The only paved surface in our town is the national highway that runs through it. No other pathways, sidewalks, or roads are paved. So all your walking is done in the dirt and when it’s really hot, like now, your sweaty feet just collect all the dirt within a mile radius.
There have been six home robberies of PCVs since we moved into site three weeks ago.
We have one other colleague who lives in our town, Emma, who is a Moz 13 and has been living here for a year already. She came back into town this week, so today we met up with her. She is an English teacher at the local public secondary school and all the kids in town call her “teacher Emma.” This town isn’t going to know what hit them with all these white girls walking around.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


Happy birthday Da! While up in Vilankulos, one day we were all sitting at tables in the shade at the backpacker’s hostel just reading and playing cards. There were two Mozambican men sitting at another table and one of them yelled to their friend to get his attention (in English) “hey my N*****.” I was appalled and turned to my friends to see if they had heard it too. Then they did it again a few minutes later and I must have obviously reacted because they asked us why we didn’t like when they did that. Trying to explain 200 years of culture, events, and history in a language you are still learning is really difficult. We tried relating it to apartheid in South Africa which made a bit of a connection. They said that a black American Peace Corps Volunteer from a few years ago had actually taught them to say that. They asked if it was the kind of word that whites can’t say to blacks but that blacks can say to each other. I said that in America blacks do say it to each other sometimes, but that I personally didn’t think anyone should use it because of all the negative connotations it holds. And I told them that especially since they aren’t American and so don’t really have the experiences and knowledge to make the decision for themselves whether or not they want to use that word, I don’t think they should. It makes me really angry that a PCV would teach people that who have no understanding of all the history behind that word.


Today was Ann’s birthday, feliz aniversário Ann! I baked her a pineapple cake because she loves pineapples and it turned out so well even though I baked it myself (anyone who knows me and my cooking understands why this was a major feat)! We watched Cinderella in Portuguese this afternoon. It was a fun way to practice our Portuguese, but I forgot how hard the mice are to understand in Cinderella, even in English. I was walking down the street today and walked by two kids who were playing. When they saw me their faces lit up and they got up to run towards me with huge smiles on their faces. It made me feel extremely happy and special that I could cause such a reaction! Then when they got near me they held out their hands expectantly. It was disappointing to realize that they only reason they smiled at me was because someone had taught them that white people will give them money. I was quite deflated and to make it worse they yelled at me xopi when I told them I wasn’t going to give them anything.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


Today while in the market I overhead a boy say something about my being Chinese (all in the local Bantu language, except “chinesa”). So I took the opportunity to educate him on how my mom is actually from Thailand and how not all Asian people are Chinese because there are a lot of countries in Asia other than China. He certainly will never talk about me within earshot again, if only to avoid another lecture.
I bought pineapples from an older woman who was able to tell me in Portuguese how much the pineapples cost. But once I started asking questions about the pineapples it became clear that she doesn’t speak any Portuguese, only xichopi, so a boy had to come over and translate between us.


I had assumed that today it would be easy to catch a ride home from one of the many South Africans headed home, but like many things in Mozambique my logic didn’t apply and I was dead wrong. There very little traffic and not even chapas seemed to be running. At one point a semi pulled over with bunch of people in the back headed south for Maputo. The driver told us it would cost 1000 Meticais when at most even a closed chapa should be around 200 Meticais. We kindly told him to go to hell and that we didn’t need his ride (even though we weren’t completely sure that was true). We ended up getting picked up a little while later and actually passed the same semi, so I cheerily smiled and gave him the finger as we passed.
How many adults can you fit in the bed of a pickup truck? I was one of 18 adults and two babies today, so whatever you guessed was probably wrong. But other than the fact that the American conception of personal space never exists here, it was actually quite comfortable. The only downside was that we had to drive the part of the EN1 that is in such bad shape that everyone drives in the sand next to the road, so after the trip we were covered by a layer of orange dust.


We all crammed into our colleague’s house on the other nights to stay within our Peace Corps budget, but we spent New Year’s eve and New Year’s day at a wonderful backpacker’s hostel on the beach called Baobob’s, so called after the tree with an absurdly huge trunk, I have never seen anything like it in my life. We really won the lottery of Peace Corps. I could be stuck in the middle of the Sahara for the next two years and instead I am spending my holidays at world-famous beaches. 12 out of the 14 of us in the province came and it was great to see everyone after being at our sites for three weeks and to see how everyone is settling in and to hear all the stories. Some stories are hilarious, other make you cringe. Colin was robbed on Christmas Eve while he was at mass in the church about 100m away from his house. They busted in his front door and took about everything (computer, ipod, clothes) but Colin was extremely positive about it because they didn’t take his guitar, books, or camping stuff which are the things really essential for maintaining sanity here.
This story brings me to tears every time. Two of our colleagues inherited a house with a huge bat problem. Everything in their house was covered by a layer of bat poop, the bats would just swarm the house every night—it simply wasn’t fit to live in. So they did a ton of research and tried every method possible to remove the bats. They tried making one-way exits, per the instructions of every expert on the web. They removed and redid their ceiling, sealing it with caulk all the way around. Etc, etc. After trying every existing humane method with no apparent success, they were lying in bed one night. The bats liked to land on the mosquito net, but this night when a bat did, one of them had had enough and in frustration hit the bat with the flashlight they had in bed with them. A light bulb went off in their minds. The next night they went to bed with frying pans. It took them just four nights to get rid of the bats.
One male colleague is living in basically a homestay situation again, magnified by the fact that he is male in a very Muslim community, so nobody wants to let him do anything. He has day-to-day frustrations: cooking is not acceptable for a man to do, he unknowingly pulled down the electricity wire the third time he did laundry (also not acceptable for a man to do) because he had assumed that since his house doesn’t have electricity and in Mozambique many people use different kinds of wire to make their clotheslines and nobody had bothered to tell him the first two times he did it, he hung his clothes on the electrical wire. He also told an amazing story about being asked if he wanted to go to a naming ceremony and accepting, thinking nothing of it. He ended up leaving with his host at 9pm and walking four hours into the bush with no lights of any kind (in a country where landmines are a huge problem). He also got invited to a funeral and went in order to observe the ritual, only to find himself helping bury the body.
We were told a story about two girls who were from previous groups, who people from our group had replaced. They lived in a house that didn’t have electricity, but for some reason was completely wired with light bulbs and outlets. They were sitting in their house one evening about one year into their service, when suddenly the lights came on. They didn’t even know the wires in their house were connected to anything. The lights stayed on for about half an hour, went out again, and never came back on again during the rest of their two year service.


Ann and I headed up to Vilankulos today to spend New Years with all the other Moz 14s in Inhambane province. With six different boléias we were able to get all the way up to Vilankulos (my guess is it’s about 300K) for free. I love catching boléias because you get to meet a ton of people and hear their stories, and they are always interested to hear what two white girls are doing in Mozambique. I always get mistaken for Spanish or Portuguese now which makes me so happy because it means that my Portuguese is getting good enough to be mistaken for an almost-native speaker. And let’s be honest, American and South African tourists don’t bother to learn the language. One man asked me if I was Spanish and when I said no he seemed really disappointed and asked “why not?” We met an Italian woman and her Mozambican boyfriend who had moved here from Italy because getting jobs here is easier after the economic crisis. They will be opening a bed-and-breakfast in Maputo soon so we got their contact information. We met a couple who knew Ann’s boss and had actually had dinner with her the previous night. We met a man who knew a handful of Peace Corps volunteers from previous years, and knew our colleagues who currently live in Massinga. We met a Portuguese woman and her Italian boyfriend who were tourists and completely appalled by the idea that we would ever take a chapa because they are so dangerous. We met a man who lives in Maputo but also has a house in Vilankulos, and also has relatives living in New Jersey.
The EN1 (the main national highway that runs north-south along the coast), for about 70K north of Massinga, is in the worst condition I have ever seen a road in my life. There are potholes that are six inches to one foot deep and anywhere from one to four feet across. And these aren’t lone potholes. There are ones just as bad to the right, to the left, behind, and in front of it. My explanation can’t do it justice because nobody will picture it as bad as it really is. But for this stretch of road, everybody drives in the sand/dirt next to the road because it is actually better than driving on the road itself. And this is not a rural or remote road, this is the major national highway.
We saw a great sign as we were almost to Vilankulos. There was a gas station with the typical gas station sign that lists what they have. This sign listed the following. “Gasoline” (with an arrow pointing right), “Diesel” (with an arrow pointed right), and “Muslim Prayer” (with an arrow pointing left.