Saturday, January 21, 2012


Apologies for the lack of blogging. The cell phone service in our house is terrible, so internet on my phone is only possible from 2am-5am. There is a place in town that has internet but the computer is miserably slow so I have only been twice now. Peace Corps has an office here in Namaacha but until we have been granted access you probably won’t be hearing from me often.
Anna arrived on Wednesday! Luckily a Peace Corps car was driving to Namaacha from Maputo to check on the office since apparently it flooded. All of the paved roads have been turned to rivers and the unpaved roads to mudslides, but this Peace Corps SUV was able to get almost all the way to our house, essential since it was pouring and Anna had all of her big bags from America. It’s been nice to be able to share the experience of being confined to the house (when it rains hard our entire yard, including the bathroom, floods) and not having anything to do with another person finally!
Apparently there are a few cyclones in the Mozambique Channel currently. We haven’t gotten the brunt of the storms, but we have felt the effects in the way of winds and rain. And fairly regular power outages that last anywhere from 30 minutes to 15 hours. I keep putting basins and buckets out to catch the rain water and judging by how much I have been able to collect, I would estimate that we have gotten about 35 inches of rain in the past three days. Everything I touch feels either damp or cold, I can’t tell. Probably both. Even when it isn’t raining the air is filled with moisture, it’s so foggy we can’t see past the front gate and you can see the mist drifting in through the windows.


I had asked my host mom if she knew of anyone who would be interested in working for us to wash our laundry and she said she would ask around. I preferred going through her because this helped ensure that the person would be trustworthy. She told me a few days ago that a cousin (or something, some sort of family relation) who I remembered from when I lived here was interested in working for us. I got her number and we arranged for her to come by my house the next afternoon. The next afternoon she never showed so I called and nobody answered. I have been here long enough to understand that I should start looking for someone else. I finally heard from her a few days later and she explained that her husband had told her she couldn’t work for us but she had found someone else, so she would bring her by the next day. So today my host mom, this familial relation and the woman she recommended stopped by. I brought chairs out into the yard so we could sit in the shade and I offered them cold water. But things like this still terrify because I am certain I am going to mortally offend someone without even knowing it, since I am still such a stranger to their customs and don’t know how I should behave as a hostess in this situation. The good news is that this woman agreed to wash our laundry for us. Anyone doubting why Peace Corps Volunteers need to hire someone to do their laundry must understand that in countries like this where labor is so cheap and money is so scarce, people with salaries like us are expected to contribute to the community by spreading this money around in ways such as this. Also, try washing bed sheets or denim jeans by hand sometime.


Today I went into Maputo with Rosalia, my host mom, to pick up her son who had been spending the school holidays with an aunt, since classes recommence tomorrow. When we met up at the chapa stuff she handed Baby Anata to me and said, “here, you hold her.” Surprisingly, Baby Anata didn’t object or get upset. Apparently today she decided that we will be friends. The driver on the way there was pretty crazy. Scary. Just something you try not to think about and be calm because you have absolutely no control in the situation. We got off the chapa in the bad part of town and headed to where we could catch our next chapa, me with Baby Anata and Rosalia with our purses. The man in front of Rosalia suddenly yelled “Hey! Look what you did!” He pointed to his rubber sandal that had split into two layers in the sole. He demanded that she pay him for the shoe she had just broken. She said no, she didn’t have any money. He commented on the way she was dressed and said she did (she was dressed very chic—probably why he picked her in the first place). A cop passed, heard the situation, rolled his eyes and told her to pay the guy. She refused. Eventually one of the street vendors there told the guy that she wasn’t going to pay his salary and he should stop trying to take advantage of people. As we walked away we laughed that his shoe had probably already been broken and he was waiting for a well-dressed person to walk by who he could blame it on. I felt bad that I couldn’t help her or stand up for her, but getting involved would have been the least helpful thing in the world. If the man had known I was with her, me with my white skin that just screams money to everyone here, he never would have let us go. But it was kind of refreshing to see that ridiculous things happen to other people here too.
At their house we sat and chatted and they prepared lunch to serve us. Because having guests and not feeding them is basically a mortal sin here. My host aunt and her husband had just married in January, so they were showing us pictures and the DVD from the wedding. A wedding in Mozambique involves the traditional ceremony which has many steps and involves a fairly large dowry and the presentation of it to the bride’s family, the religious ceremony, and the official registering with the state. All three of these processes are fairly expensive, thus many couples here opt for what we would call common-law marriages in the states. This couple has been together for many years and they already have two children together, but had never officially been married before. It was interesting to watch the DVD and see especially the traditional ceremony which I have been told about but never seen before. Her husband and I kept asking each other questions about the other’s respective cultures and ceremonies and comparing the similarities and differences.


Great news, the last PCV involved in the car accident has been released from the hospital and is back in America and doing well. Despite suffering spinal injury he miraculously suffered no paralysis and or brain/nerve injury. It’s incredibly wonderful news and suddenly the terrible feeling of wondering, of not knowing about a friend that has haunted us for the past four weeks is gone.
Inharrime, in Inhambane province, where I lived the last two years, is often referred to as the coconut belt. Something I took for granted. A coconut there costs between 3-6 Meticais. Here in Namaacha, up in the mountains and fairly temperate, a coconut costs 12.5 Meticais!
We have running water in our yard that comes out every few days. It is turned on and off by a knob up in the front corner of our yard and comes out of a hose behind the house. The water doesn’t come out too regularly, but this week I thought it was strange it hadn’t come out in a while, so I went up and checked the knob. Someone had turned it off, most likely when I was in Maputo and Amendoim was chained and couldn’t reach anyone who entered the yard in that corner. It must have been the two girls I had been paying to cart water for me—they are the only people who have anything to gain from me not having water. I was extremely angry. Not only was it dishonest and done by two of the only friends I had made here in this new neighborhood, but I was pissed that they (or their friends they enlisted, there is a whole troupe of kids who live near us and harass the dog) had entered our yard. And my feelings still get hurt when something like this happens, even though I know I should know better by now. I am still always saddened and wonder how long I would have to be here for people to not always see me as different and try to take advantage of me?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Yesterday afternoon after I got home I went down to the Salesian sisters’ mission because I had heard that some of the Sisters from Inharrime were there. It was so wonderful to see them again and I was greeted by big smiles and hugs. Irmã Ana (Irmã means Sister in Portuguese) got moved down there, so she will be here this entire year while I am ecstatic about. She is one of the most wonderful people I have ever met. They must have had a meeting for the order within Mozambique because there were tons of Sisters there. I saw Irmãs Agnes, Dolorinda, Lucilia, and Claudina, and also Candida, the current Portuguese volunteer from the mission in Inharrime. Also there was Irmã Elizabete, my colleague from the secondary school who is a Sister of a different order in Inharrime. I was so happy to see everyone again, it was a momentary rescue from the pervading feeling of loneliness I have felt since I returned—Anna (my roommate) isn’t back yet, I don’t live on an orphanage with 65+ girls anymore, nobody knows my name here, and the Volunteers from my Peace Corps training group (Moz 14) are gone. I also got to see Irmã Rosaria who was in Inharrime for the first two months I was there and taught Portuguese in the secondary school, but then got moved up north to Pemba and I haven’t seen her since.
I then walked by my homestay house to visit the family there, I hadn’t seen my grandmother, brothers, or cousins yet, and I had been told by my host mom’s neighbors earlier that Baby Anata was there for the afternoon. As I was walking into the yard I ran into Anna’s host mom—Anna and I were technically “host cousins” because our moms are sisters and I lived with their mom (our grandmother). Sitting out in the yard behind the house were my mom with Baby Anata, my grandmother, two of my mom’s sisters I had met briefly before and another sister I had never met, a sister-in-law who had been at the lunch in Maputo the day before (she was host mom to a Moz 17er), my cousins and brothers, and two of my mom’s cousins. Turns out that the two cousins had been in my chapa that morning and they recognized me immediately and launched into the story of the chapa guy trying to make me move, me stating that I had the right to sit in that seat too and refusing to leave, and the teenage girl eventually moving up to the front the resolve the problem. One of my aunts shook her head in frustration, “I wish they hadn’t done that” she said, referring to the compromise of moving the girl up to the middle seat. “Women need to stand up for their rights and can’t give in to jerks like him who say we don’t have rights.”


This morning I left Maputo to head home to Namaacha. I went to a store on my way out to get a couple things you can only buy in Maputo, and then with these two shopping bags, my big duffle bag (I had left a few things at a friend’s house while I was in the states), and my over-sized purse, I headed to the chapa stop. When I got there nobody was in the front seat which is ideal when you have a lot of stuff because there is more leg room. Chapas, which are extended vans, have this front seat with a normal car door, and then a sliding door that opens to four rows of benches that seat people four across. The front seats are a bench seat, so there is the driver’s seat, the regular passenger seat, and then the small makeshift seat in between them which nobody was in yet. I settled into my seat, put my headphones in, pulled my book out and waited for the chapa to fill up so we could leave (the chapas here don’t run on schedules, but leave once all the seats are full). When the last person showed up, a man, the guy in charge of the chapa came over to my door and told me to move over so the guy could sit down. I said “no, the man can sit here in the middle.” He said “no, men don’t sit there. Move over.” I said “no, men can sit here in the middle too. Women have the right to sit in this seat.” He laughed as if what I said was actually funny and asked “in what country?” He told me if I wasn’t going to move over I would have to move to a different seat in the back. I said no. He said if I refused to move I would have to get out of the chapa. I said no. I told him I had the right to sit in that seat and I was going to sit in it. He left for a while and then came back and the argument repeated. He kept insisting that I either move other, move to a different seat, or get out of the car. I kept saying no. Eventually he turned back to the chapa full of people (mostly women) and started talking to them in Changana, probably telling them that I was the reason we hadn’t left yet. I turned around indignantly to defend myself: “he is saying that women don’t have the right to sit in this seat!” I could tell a couple of them were annoyed with me. But I recognized the looks on the rest of their faces—they wanted to help me but didn’t know how or didn’t think they could. Eventually an older woman who had come to drop off her teenage niece told her niece to climb up to the front middle seat and then the last passenger (the man) could sit in her seat. It was a compromise but the chapa guy and I were both pissed we hadn’t won the argument. When he came over to collect the money I said “you’re going to see that this world is changing, just wait.” “What am I going to see?” he asked bitterly. “That women have all the rights that men have.” He was too mad to even laugh at me. There are times when I get so angry at this world we live in.

Memorial Service--08/01/12

The memorial service for Alden Landis and Lena Jenison was today at the U.S. Ambassador’s house in Maputo. It was a beautiful service that commemorated and celebrated both Alden and Lena’s tragically short time in Mozambique and the commitment and spirit of all Peace Corps Volunteers. All of Moz 17 (Lena and Alden’s training group which arrived in September 2011) had been brought down to Maputo to be together in some grief and counseling sessions and for the service. There were also a handful of PCVs from other groups who happened to be returning from holiday travel abroad and were in Maputo, or lived close enough to Maputo to come in specifically for the service. And then a huge presence from the American community in Maputo. The American community in Maputo came together during this tragic time, from putting up all of the PCVs in their houses—allowing this unplanned and unbudgeted conference for 49 people to happen—to helping feed them and give them family and community in the way of evening cook outs. Many of the Foreign Service members in Maputo are RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers) and many others came to show their support. Fellow PCVs who were close to Alden and Lena shared poignant anecdotes, favorite quotes, and blog posts in memory of their friends. Our Peace Corps Country Director shared a letter from the Director of Peace Corps worldwide and spoke briefly, as did the U.S. Ambassador. The Ambassador’s husband is an RPCV from the Philippines (1967-1969) and spoke movingly about his experience and the great impact that a PCV has. A picture slideshow of Lena and Alden played before and after the service, and there were books for people to write their condolences to both families. There were also large cards for people to write words of encouragement to the other three PCVs who had been in the accident—two who have been released from the hospital and are back in D.C. and one who remains in the hospital with spinal injuries.
After the service current Peace Corps staff and volunteers went to the American School for a lunch with their homestay families from Namaacha. A few of the host parents gave speeches and we all ate and caught up with each other.
A tiring day. No matter how often you try to remind yourself that today was meant to be a celebration of their lives and experiences, it’s difficult to not get sad when you think about how full of enthusiasm and passion they were and how little time they got both on this earth and here in Mozambique. The Moz 17ers are in pretty rough shape. I think they are having difficulty differentiating between the grief they are feeling for their two friends and the general horribleness that your first few months of service generally are. Think about it—during training you have a set schedule, classes and session everyday that give you a sense of purpose. You are surrounded by 50 other Americans who share your passions and aspirations and with whom you can relate your experiences, from struggling to learn Portuguese, to frustrations with sessions or in the homestay, to things you miss from America. Then one day you are dropped off at your site where you know no one, you don’t know where to buy your vegetables, your house has rats and/or a variety of other surprises, you have no job to get up for in the morning (classes don’t begin until January 16th), and suddenly you might not have anyone to commiserate with over a beer in the evening. This time is difficult for everyone and it is meant to be a learning journey—this was the time when my Portuguese improved exponentially because suddenly I was around no other English speakers and I gained confidence as I began to master functioning as a member of my community. But merely ten days into this difficult time (and only five days before Christmas, generally a big get-together time even for those who don’t celebrate it) two of their colleagues died and three others were in the ICU. A few of the Moz 17 Volunteers will return to the states tomorrow for emergency medical leave of up to 45 days to try to deal with their grief and decide how to move on with their lives. Please keep them all in your prayers during this time. And please pray for my friend Mark from Moz 15 who is still in the hospital.

Saturday, January 7, 2012


Today I was walking to the chapa stop in Namaacha when I heard someone yell out “mana Anata!” I looked up and saw one of the girls from the orphanage in Inharrime carting water with a couple other girls. She and her sister, who also lives at the orphanage, have family here in Namaacha so they spend there holidays there with them. I was so happy and excited to see someone I knew—it’s sad moving to a town where nobody knows you—especially someone who was so thrilled to see me.
My chapa arrived in Maputo in the bad part of town so I held on tight to my bags and walked determinedly to the stop for the next chapa. Someone put their hand on my wrist so I flicked it off and continued walking. Then I heard someone say “teacher Anata!” It was one of my students from my English club in Inharrime! I felt terrible for flicking his hand away so rudely, I had just assumed it was someone trying to sell me something, so I hadn’t even looked at him. He is spending his holidays with family in Maputo.

Baby Anata with the new sunglasses i brought back for her

The view from our back step

My new house and Amendoim


This morning I ran past a man walking down the street sipping out of his beer bottle at 5:48am. Seriously?
It’s mid-summer here and it’s hot! And humid. I had straightened my hair for the flight back here and as soon as I stepped off the plane in Maputo I could feel my hair start to curl back up.
I went to visit my host family yesterday. My mom greeted me with a big smile and “you got fat!” Baby Anata is still scared of me, but I’ll be around all the time this year, so I’m sure she’ll get used to me soon enough. She had a fever on an already hot day so she was in just a diaper and my host mom wrapped her in a damp towel that kept drying too quickly. Unfortunately all of my other host siblings and cousins had gone to spend the holidays with other relatives. She asked me about the accident. Everyone in Namaacha heard about it because we all live here with families during our ten-week training. I was surprised that my taxi driver in Maputo also asked about it, but maybe he drives a lot of PCVs.


Back in Mozambique.
I got home yesterday and was extremely relieved (and perhaps a little surprised) that the dog was still alive and our house hadn’t been robbed. The good news and the bad news is that the only beings that entered our house during the month we were gone were rats. I was fully prepared to come back and have things robbed, so I guess I can handle washing rat poop and pee out of things. Amendoim (our dog—means peanut in Portuguese) is a great rat killer, this I already knew, but he really proved himself by killing seven rats in the past two days. I got the eighth myself. And now I understand why dogs like squeaky toys.
My trip back to America was wonderful. So wonderful, in fact, that I wasn’t too excited to get on that plane to come back, but I am looking forward to starting my new jobs. I found that America wasn’t as full of culture shocks as everyone and I expected, but small things that I had forgotten about, that really thrilled me or kind of annoyed me. I think the material things I miss most are the notion of customer service, the fact that there are relatively clean bathrooms everywhere, and free potable water everywhere.
I’ve spent the past two days settling into our new house here and trying to unpack everything and clean out the rat poop and dead bugs from everywhere. This is a really nice house with separate rooms, as opposed to my one room that past two years which served as a bedroom, kitchen, and living room all in one. The one thing I miss most about running water is being able to wash my hands easily and whenever I want to.
I was only in Maputo to sleep since my plane landed at night, so I haven’t seen anyone since being back. It’s a strange feeling though, the same places, the same people, the same smells—but now somehow everything is different. The memorial service for Alden and Lena will be on Sunday in Maputo.