Sunday, November 27, 2011


Yesterday we went shopping and a couple times I felt like I was in the scene from “Love Actually” where Mr. Bean is extravagantly gift-wrapping the necklace. I bought a pair of earrings that were already on a holder. The saleswoman put them on cotton in a box and then wanted to put the box inside a bag. I told her I didn’t need the bag. She seemed perplexed, but I just wanted her to stop making so much trash! I mean, I could have just thrown them in my purse!
This evening I went to our local honky-tonk country bar to see the country legend Billy Joe Shaver play live. He put on a great show and for me it was a crazy dose of culture shock! The funny thing was, I had a terrible time understanding his very twangy country accent when he was speaking. I haven’t heard English spoken like that in over two years.


America has been less shocking than I expected, there have just been small and strange things that I guess I had forgotten about. When I was on the Emory campus earlier this week I think I stopped to drink out of every single water fountain I walked by. Just the idea that there is this fresh, cold, FREE, potable water everywhere—it’s incredible and frankly too good to pass up. I had completely forgotten about twist-off beer bottles—in Mozambique they don’t exist. I keep wondering why all the drivers are sitting on the wrong side of their car and feel a constant general confusion about which side is the correct side to be driving on. I can’t believe how smoothly cars accelerate here! And I’m disarmed every time waiters are friendly and helpful, in Mozambique a vendor or server will often make you feel like you are a huge inconvenience.
I find it difficult to remember that I have been gone for two years. Perhaps because I went to boarding school and then away to college, since I was 14 I have constantly been leaving for short periods and then returning home. So now I have trouble convincing myself that it wasn’t just another one of those times. I keep saying things like “oh you got a new car!” or “wow that building is new!” To which people respond, “actually it’s about two years old…” The little kids have grown up into real people and many people are engaged or have more kids than when I left.


This past week a group of ten of us have been in Maputo for COS (Close of Service). Two of us are coming back for another year, but they rest of them are now RPCVs—Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. It’s been wonderful to get to spend time with these people before they all leave, I just wish it could be our whole group together. We have spent a lot of time this week reminiscing about our first days, weeks and months in Mozambique, recounting the funny stories, and speculating how so much could have happened in two years that flew by so quickly.

Saturday, November 19, 2011


Yesterday I went to church at the sister’s place that is the equivalent of where I lived for the past two years in Inharrime. The Salesian sisters in Namaacha have an orphanage, secondary school, and primary school and have been there for maybe 50 years. They are one of the main houses of the Salesian sisters in Mozambique and I think all novice sisters in the country spend a year or two there. The mission in Inharrime began construction only eight years ago, so most of the sisters I lived with the past two years have spent at least a little time in Namaacha, and some of the older ones 20 or 30 years. I was talking to a friend after church, this woman is white Portuguese and grew up in Namaacha and attended the sisters’ school. She spent Christmas and Easter with us in Inharrime and has been there one other time to visit, which is how I know her. I had stopped by to introduce myself to the sisters a few days earlier and while I was waiting, all of the girls from the orphanage huddled around to talk to me and touch my hair and skin. As soon as she heard there was an American from Inharrime she came running up to where I was sitting, “Anata, I knew it had to be you!” After church I was talking to her about finding someone trustworthy to check on our house and feed Amendoim the three weeks when Anna and I are in the states. A young woman walked over with a big smile on her face and because she was wearing a nun’s habit it took me a second to place her—she was one of the girls in training who had lived with the sisters in Inharrime the first six months I was there. I had loved her and was disappointed when she left, but yesterday I learned that she had since become a sister and I’ll be seeing a lot of her this coming year!
The neighborhood kids tease Amendoim mercilessly, standing outside the gate and barking at him. And he’s just two young to just ignore them, so he whimpers and cries and frantically wishes they would play with him. We have yelled at them multiple times, but it only makes things worse. A few days ago I got a ride with Peace Corps to my house and when I saw them outside I made an exasperated comment to Ludovina, a Mozambican training leader with Peace Corps. “I’ll talk to them” she said. She got out and yelled at them. When they started to run away (she is a fairly formidable woman) she told them to get their butts back over there, and then she gave them a thorough tongue-lashing in Xangana. It worked for a while, but the next day the little heathens were back at our gate.


Yesterday I turned in the keys to my house and drove away from Inharrime. I was able to get a ride for all of my stuff all the way to my house in Namaacha and to Maputo for me and Amendoim, Ann’s former dog and our new dog. I was worried about getting Amendoim (means “peanut” in Portuguese) to Namaacha because I wasn’t sure if I would be able to get him into a chapa. Luckily I am very persuasive. I showed up with the dog and confidently walked over to the chapa. I was told that dogs couldn’t ride on chapas, but I calmly and repeatedly assured them that it was okay. Once I had convinced them that the dog would be riding on the chapa, they told me to buy a row (four seats) and sit there with the dog. I soothingly and repeatedly told them that I would buy the two front seats and the dog would sit on the floor between my legs. They were adamant that the front seat is for humans only, but I eventually soothed them into agreeing with me and Amendoim and I got our front seat on the chapa to Namaacha.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

english theater competition last weekend

my english theater group

one last picture of Ann and me with the girls

dinner Friday night


Marcinha, the littlest one (a.k.a. the devil)

our oil/pot/stove fire on Saturday

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Tomorrow I leave what has been my home for the past two years. It sucks. The next phase, including going back to the states for the first time, will be great, but I am sad to see this part of my life ending.
My colleague said today, “you’re leaving tomorrow? But you haven’t given me your hair yet! What are you going to do with our hair?” I laughed, “oh, it’s YOUR hair?”
One of the girls appeared to get fairly mad at me today because I was leaving. I explained that I had been here for two years already. “You should have to stay for ten years!” decided another girl. The angry girl didn’t agree, “No! Thirty years!” The other girl volunteered “if not ten, at least five years.” Angry girl wasn’t having it “NO! Thirty!”


Moz 17 is now in week six of training and on their site visits this week. Erin is hosting two girls who came yesterday. The same as when I went on site visit two years ago—it’s just such a mental health check, such a relief to see volunteers living normal and fun lives and eating good foods and doing normal things. Training has its merits, but it is very orchestrated and very stressful to live as a guest in someone’s house where the culture and customs are different, therefore almost everything you do, you do wrong.
Today we went up to Maxixe to meet up for lunch with 8 other volunteers and their visiting trainees. Since Becky who hosted me on my site visit two years ago extended, she is still here and met up with us today. And we ate lunch at the same restaurant that we went to two years ago when I was just a trainee!


Last night we all went to dinner in town: Erin, Ann and me, Donna and Luis who were in town visiting, one of our friends from Inharrime, Sandra, who we buy our vegetables from, and Gil, a Portuguese guy living and working in Inharrime. Donna speaks very impressive Xitswa (the local language where she lives) so she and Sandra were speaking to each other in local language—a mixture because Sandra lives here and thus speaks Txopi, but she is originally from an area where they speak Bitonga, and both are fairly close to Xitswa. My Txopi is not conversational like Donna’s is, so I would just pick out the occasional words and phrases I knew. When we hang out with Gil we normally speak in English because his Portuguese accent is so strong it’s easier to understand his English than it is for us to understand his Portuguese. Plus, he makes fun of our “bush Portuguese.” But tonight Sandra would yell at us to speak in Portuguese so she could understand. Idurre and Oscar, two Spanish volunteers from the mission, came to the restaurant to eat so they joined our table. Donna and Luis, both Latino, love the opportunity to speak Spanish, so they kept switching into Spanish with them, though their Spanish differs greatly from Spain Spanish. And thus we had a great mixture of languages. Sandra was quizzing Ann’s Txopi and asked where she works. Ann didn’t know the word for hospital, so Sandra said it. I shook my head, “that’s not hospital in Txopi, you must be speaking Bitonga.” “That was ballsy!” Oscar said to me.
While Ann and I were waiting for the others to arrive we were sitting out in front of the restaurant on the main street. A kid selling corn on the cob saw us and started yelling at us unnecessarily loudly to buy some. I teasingly yelled back equally unnecessarily loudly and we kept this banter up for a while. “Hey hey come grab some corn” he kept yelling. Then a teenage boy selling phone credit yelled “hey mulungu, com grab this” and grabbed his balls. I jumped up “are you **** kidding me?! Do you not have any respect?!” The lady standing next to him selling things whacked him and then yelled to me “no, he doesn’t have any respect.” A whole chorus of women selling things then began to reprimand him loudly and he, apparently embarrassed or sorry, vanished within seconds. I was happy to see people defend me .
Last night Gil was using his phone as a flashlight and dropped it into Ann’s latrine. He was upset because the sim card in that phone was the one from Portugal. I called my colleague who knows everyone and the next day he came over with two guys who said they could get it would for 200 mets (about $7). They tied a hoe to a long palm tree branch and got it out—the whole process took about 4 minutes! They actually got the phone to turn on again, but we just put it quickly in a plastic bag to give back to Gil.
Tonight we were making onion rings (thus deep-frying in oil) on charcoal outside. The fire had gotten a little too hot so Erin left it to cool down for a few minutes. Then we looked outside and there was a huge fire blazing---the coals, the stove itself, the pot, the oil. Two years ago Ann and I set my wall on fire and our reaction was panic and for Ann to frantically ask where the fire extinguisher was (the only ones I have ever seen in this country are at South African houses/lodges). Tonight Ann’s reaction was to laugh out loud and shout “quick, who has a camera? Someone get a camera!”
On my way home one of my primary school REDES girls yelled out to me and waved as I passed. She was sober and didn’t seem to be up to anything too bad, but it made me feel sick to see this 5th grader (she is 14 years old) out on the street at 10:30pm on a Saturday night 3 miles from her home (she lives near the mission).

Friday, November 4, 2011

Things that didn't exist when I left America

I started this list last week (see right). This past weekend at the English theater competition we brainstormed and came up with an impressive list. To almost every item people would exclaim “What?!” or “what/who is that even?” Without fail Jasmin was a fount of knowledge and would fill us in—having left the states a mere six months ago, she was the one-eyed man in the land of the blind.


The past few days at work I have been helping with the 10th and 12th grade student files. 10th and 12th grade are exam years, so they will be taking national exams next week, thus each student needs to have a form filled out with their information. I was put on this job because my other colleagues are finishing grades, whereas I don’t have any, but I also suspect I was put on this job because everyone gets a chuckle out of hearing me say all these African last names. My Txopi lessons definitely paid off though, just helping me to be familiar with the types of sounds. My colleagues by now are pretty used to me thinking the most ordinary things (to them) are strange and taking the weirdest things for granted. And all my strange questions. The forms we fill out list their parents’ names and we copy all of the information from their birth certificates. I learned that maybe only two-thirds of kids have the same last name as their parent (father, unless he is dead or gone then mother). There are obviously a lot of kids where one parents is dead, so that part is just left blank. And some kids where the father is written as “unknown.” We had one file where the mother was written as “unknown.” “They fill these out at birth right? How can the mother be unknown?” I asked. My colleague opened his mouth to answer me and then thought about it for a second “yeah, you’re right. That is strange.”
As one of the most computer-savvy people I have also been working on digitizing the students’ grades. It’s a step in the right direction, but as of right now I am not sure why we do it because we don’t substitute the digital version for anything, we just end up making a fifth copy of the grades. Last night I was still working at 5:30pm when my director gave me a soda and an egg sandwich. “Uh oh, this cannot be a good sign” I thought to myself.


This morning I ran into Irmã Dolorinda, the head sister of the mission. “What are you doing now?” she asked. “Right now? I am going here.” I responded. “No not right right now. Are you leaving here?” “Yes, I’m leaving next week for Namaacha and then America.” I responded. “No, like today, will you be here? Can you do me a favor?” she asked, slightly exasperated. Sometimes I really miss operating in a language I feel completely comfortable in.
My colleagues continue to say things that require me to respond, “but you know I am leaving next week, remember?” Then they are shocked and say “already?!” “Yes, my contract was only for two years.” And they respond “but you haven’t been here two years already. Have you been here for two years? Already?”
One of my colleagues basically begs me daily to cut my hair and give it to her. Women here love to weave hair into their own. This doesn’t seem weird to me at all anymore, unlike when I first arrived two years ago. I am surprised because usually the red and blonde hair is coveted, mine is kind of boring because it’s already the same color as hers. But she still really wants it. And the other day an argument sparked between her and another colleague over who I was going to give my hair to.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

29/10/11--English Theater

Today was the Inhambane province English theater competition. We, my group and Erin’s, were supposed to leave at 4:30am but when the chapa still hadn’t arrived at 4:45am I called him. Obviously just awoken he asked “am I supposed to come now?” “You were supposed to come ten minutes ago!” I yelled. But amazingly he was there within 5 minutes. A few of our students showed up a little late (this is Mozambique, after all), but by the time the driver arrived everyone was there and we set off for Massinga, where the competition would be.
Most of the buses and cars in this country originally came from Japan and they have vestiges of their history like stickers or stickers, in Japanese, explaining how to open the door or the maximum capacity. The chapa driver turned on the tape in the player and suddenly I perked up—it was Hikaru Utada’s hit album “Automatic” album from 1999! In other words, it was the hit album by a Japanese pop star the year I lived in Japan with my family when I was 12 years old, an album that I still have and listen to. This tape clearly came with the bus and had been in the player, maybe stuck in there, for 13 years. I rocked out the whole ride; I don’t think anyone else enjoyed the music quite as much as I did.
There were 15 different English theater groups from around Inhambane province at the competition. Each group had between 5-10 students and it was such a pleasure to see so many students excited about speaking English. Throughout the day the students spoke predominantly English, excited to be around other speakers and proud to show off their proficiency. One group was actually a REDES group that decided that they wanted to form their own all-girls English skit.
Anytime a bunch of teenage boys (sadly most groups were about 70% boys) are writing a skit you would expect it to be pretty goofy. This is no surprise and it’s not a bad thing either. But one thing that bothered me today was how light and goofy the plays were at times when they were discussing and portraying very profound and serious topics, such as rape. And perhaps what bothered me even more was the audience’s ability to forget that they were watching the portrayal of a rape and laugh at the actors’ antics during the scene.
My group didn’t win any prizes, but I was incredibly proud of them. The performance they gave today was one of the best ones they have ever given. My colleague and counterpart had come with us, but he had an event with his wife’s family mid-morning, so we had requested the first time slot and planned for him to leave after our group performed. But unfortunately, in true Mozambican fashion, many of the groups were late and we started about 1.5 hours behind schedule, so he wasn’t able to see our group perform.
On our drive home a young man about my age was standing right on the yellow line on the left side of the road. He looked to his left, didn’t see anything, and took the first step of a sprint into the road, right where our chapa would be in a second. At the last moment (and after he had already started to move) he looked right, saw our chapa, and stopped. Our chapa missed him by feet and the mirror on the side of the bus missed him by inches. Everyone in the first two rows (all PCVs) screamed and the driver looked like his heart stopped—mine certainly had.


Yesterday during our REDES meeting some of the girls asked me if Rihanna was married. I said no so they asked if she had a boyfriend. I said I didn’t know but she used to date Chris Brown (also a very popular artist here) but she broke up with him when he hit her. “Well what happened?” they wanted to know, “did she provoke him, who started it?” I was floored. “It is NOT a question of who provoked who or who started it. There is NEVER a reason for a guy to hit a girl!” They thought about this for a second and then agreed with me. But I see this often here with people I know fairly well, who are sgood guys who would never hit a woman—unless she did something to provoke/deserve it.
Today we had our last REDES meeting and we watched “Alice in Wonderland” in Portuguese and the girls got some snacks with some of the money they have made from their earrings. After the movie a few of the girls presented me with a small necklace and earrings they had gotten me and told me that they would miss me and our group meetings. How do I even tell them that REDES was the reason I got up some mornings, and it was the best part of my experience here?
One of my English theater kids and students stopped by my porch yesterday to return an English book I had lent him. In English he said, “teacher thank you. You have given me many things and improved my life, I will not forget you.”