Monday, October 29, 2012

Cooking in the Peace Corps

A few months ago an RPCV (a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, which I will also be in one month!) contacted me asking if I could help with this really neat project. He had found me through my blog and wanted my help with the Mozambique addition to this cookbook that would feature recipes from Peace Corps countries around the world. Check out to see a really neat cookbook compiled by PCVs from around the world! You can order it online for your Kindle or in print, and when you do, the picture for Mozambique is actually mine, taken of my young neighbor here in Namaacha!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


            Last night our house got hit by lightning. On Sunday when a group of the trainees were hanging out at our house, one of them asked “so with all of the houses having metal roofs, do any of them ever get hit by lightning?” “Hmm I don’t know” I responded casually, barely registering the question.
            Last night, after a swelteringly sunny and sticky day, a magnificent thunderstorm rolled in. The power kept going in and out. I sat on the couch reading by headlamp and noted that, based on the trick I had learned in grade school of counting the seconds between lightning and its thunder, the storm was…approximately four feet from our window. I was sitting on the couch in the dark and Anna was lying in her bed when suddenly our whole house went “ZZZZ-ZAP!” My phone charger was plugged in (thankfully my phone wasn’t) and at that moment it sprang a few feet up in the air, sparked, and went “ZZZ!” Anna came running out immediately yelling “DID YOU SEE THAT?!?!” because the same thing had happened in her room. Thank goodness neither of us had been touching anything metal, including Anna’s metal bedframe. I asked her if she had padlocked the metal grate on our backdoor. Thankfully she had, otherwise it would have stayed unlocked last night, I wasn’t risking touching that! 


            I officially finished and submitted ALL of my grad school applications yesterday! When I told my brother this he said “that’s awesome! I hope the fact that you’re done with your apps means you’ll get to blog a bit more now.” Noted.
Today five of the trainees came over to hang out and cook Pelmeni, Russian dumplings. I’m not exactly sure how the idea started, but two of the Moz 19s were born in Russia and when they mentioned cooking, Anna and I happily offered up our kitchen. Last Sunday after I returned from church I worked on grad school applications, took a long nap, and watched a movie. So hanging out with interesting people, learning to cook a new food, and eating that delicious new food (and chocolate chip banana bread I made) was definitely an upgrade! 
The crew in the kitchen
Men in the kitchen--I got proof! These are our two Russians who taught the rest of us the art of Pelmeni-making. 

Friday, October 19, 2012


Last flashback to Julia’s trip: Cape Town!

When Julia was here we spent three full days in Cape Town and, like the rest of her trip, everything went perfectly! We stayed in Penthouse on Long backpackers, where I stayed last year, and it was great again. Last year we had met some cool people also staying there, including PCVs from Cameroon, but unfortunately it wasn’t the same kind of crowd this year. Our first day we met up with Stephanie, a former Moz 13 (if you’ve been reading since the beginning, almost exactly three years ago I went to stay at her house for a few nights during my Pre-Service Training for my “site visit”) who was in Cape Town for a summer internship, and her roommate from the same program. We did a “hop on hop off” bus that tours all over Cape Town city and some of the surrounding areas and there are many buses running throughout the day so you can hop on and off multiple times. We went to a museum, stopped and had a picnic on the beach, walked around a few other touristy areas, and ended with Thai dinner at the V&A waterfront.

Since we had three full days, our plan had been to do this bus tour one day, do a wine tour the second day, and then climb Table Mountain the third. I kept checking the weather and it looked like it was going to be really nice the second day, then rainy the third day. I didn’t want to be hiking a mountain in the rain and I figured the weather didn’t really matter for the wine tour, so last minute we switched our wine tour to the third day. Like everything else on the trip, it worked out perfectly, our second day was sunny and dry, while our wine tour was cold, rainy, and overcast (which would have been particularly problematic, since many days Table Mountain’s top has a “table cloth” of cloud cover). Things so rarely work out this nicely here in Africa, so it was a pleasant surprise!

The next day Julia and I set out to climb Table Mountain. Somehow I came to Cape Town at exactly the same time two years in a row—right when the cable car was shut down for re-servicing. Last year we had seen the cable car schedule and gone up Table Mountain the very first day, because it was shut down the rest of the time we were in town. I was actually glad the cable car was out this time while we were there. I don’t fancy myself a “hiker” or “mountain climber” and Table Mountain is fairly intimidating looking, so I don’t think it ever would have occurred to me to hike it if the cable car was an option, but climbing it was a truly wonderful experience. We left the hostel right as the sun was coming up, so we got to watch it rise and witness the day come to life as we were climbing. It took us about 2.5 hours to get to the top, then we found a nice rock at the top and had a wonderful picnic overlooking the city of Cape Town. Since the cable car was out for re-servicing, everything else (the gift shop, restaurant, etc) on top of the mountain were closed too, including the bathrooms. There were no bathrooms on the whole of the mountain—even the port-a-potties were locked. I thought this was pretty strange, since there were still tons of hikers that day, even without the cable car. Good thing I had a friend with me to stand watch while I squatted behind a rock.

I found the hike down the mountain rather unpleasant. Sure, it was much physically easier, but I didn’t like staring down my potential fall to death with every step. Julia laughed good-naturedly at my suddenly manifested fear of heights, of which I had had none on the climb up. At one point we were going down a narrow series of steps straight down. Since the path was too narrow for two people to pass, a man waited at the bottom for us to pass, getting a chance to catch his breath. This was one of the points where I could just picture my misstep and roll/plunge hundreds of feet down the mountain, so I was a little stressed out. “You look scared” the waiting man said to me. I’m not sure if I got momentarily distracted in responding to him, or if his timing was perfect, because in the next instant my foot slipped and I landed right on my butt. The man of course felt like he had caused my fall and felt terrible—Julia laughed hysterically at me. Over the next two days, she took many opportunities to tell me that “I looked scared.”

When we got down to the parking lot we were instantly accosted by the taxi drivers waiting there. One man wanted us to pay 80 Rand. We had only paid 60 Rand to get up there that morning, so I was trying to argue him down. But since we were stuck on top of the mountain and we were running late to meet our friends for dinner, we didn’t have much bargaining power. I argued with him for a few minutes, demanding only a 70 Rand trip. Finally his friend, who has stepped in to mediate, suggested “70 Rand with a 10 Rand tip?” I shrugged and we were on our day.

Our last full day we did a wine tour, coincidentally (and luckily, because I had loved them) with the same company/guy as last year. It was a great day—our tour guide and the other five people on the tour were really cool, including one PCV from Swaziland. There was one more girl who was supposed to come, but before we left the city she changed her mind, since she didn’t like drinking or being around drunk people. Obviously wine tours are about tasting lots of different kinds of wines, but we thought it was a little strange that she had signed up in the first place. By the end of the day we counted—we had sampled 42 different kinds of wines, and had learned all about the wine-making process and the art of wine-tasting, and had filled up on delicious cheeses too. At one winery we were standing at the counter choosing our next wine to sample and chatting with the middle-aged white South African woman working. She commented on our matching scarves—which I had gotten at the Bushfire music festival back in May. I explained that I had gotten them in Swaziland, one for myself and one for Julia, since I knew at that point that she would be visiting. “Oh, it’s so nice of your daughter to come visit you!” she responded. There was a confused silence and then Julia and I smiled and said “okay…” The woman then must have realized that I was clearly not Julia’s mother, because she then got extremely flustered and apologized profusely. Luckily, after being in Mozambique for years, I am used to people thinking—and telling me—that I am fat, have a dirty face (freckles), and am well into my forties, so there’s no offending me anymore.

The last day I caught a taxi back to the airport by myself, since Julia’s flight was a few hours after mine. The taxi driver chatted with me on the drive to the airport, asking where I was flying to. “Are you going home?’ he asked me. I hesitated, then responded “yes…I’ve been living there for three years.”

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Denim Day: extremely classy.

What happens when you've been in the Peace Corps a long time....

Last week there were a group of girls from Moz 15 who were finishing their service--they are the first from that group to leave. A lot of them happened to be my closer friends here, so we designated Tuesday as "Denim Day" and Anna and I went into Maputo to see them one last time. See above, we were decked out in head-to-toe denim, including denim flower rings, purses, hair bows, and necklaces.


Apologies again that I have been so irregular recently. I have submitted about half of my grad school applications and should finish the rest within the next few days. Moz 19 is in their third week of Pre-Service Training (PST) and it’s been nice to have a ton of other Americans around to hang out with (as much as Anna and I love each other, it’s always nice to hang out with other people too). Also during PST each week two current PCVs come down to help out with training. It’s been nice to catch up with PCVs who live in the far corners of the country, including one who I hadn’t seen since I came down to his PST two years ago.

Speaking of how much Anna and I love each other. Some of you might already know this: but we are going to Swaziland for 3-4 months next year. Sister Diane, a long-time friend of my dad, runs a mission (secondary and primary schools, orphanage, health clinic, etc) in Swaziland with Sister Barbara, so when my dad came to visit the past two years we would go visit them. I met them for lunch when I was in Swaziland back in May and they asked me if would be interested in working/volunteering for them for a few months next year developing their youth development project. I have about 8 months to kill between when I finish my service here and when I (ideally) start grad school. I asked if they would be interested in having two of us, especially since Anna is interested in a career in youth development. They said yes, so we will be meeting in Swaziland in mid-January of next year (after I go back to the states for about a month and Anna travels Asia) and staying there for at least a school term, so 3-4 months.

Back when Anna’s parents visited we picked her father up at the airport and had the car they were renting meet us there. The plan was to drive directly up to the beach, with Anna’s newly landed father driving. It must have been a lot to adjust to—Mozambique, jetlag, Mozambican driving, driving on the left side—but Anna’s mom didn’t feel comfortable driving and PCVs aren’t allowed to. We were trying to quickly coach him on all aspects of driving here—be aggressive, honking means “move” or “I’m coming,” it doesn’t mean you’re angry, turning your blinker on tells other cars to pass you (it doesn’t indicate that you’re passing). And we warned them about the cops here—they pull the majority of cars over and then look for and point out transgressions so that people will bribe them. I reminded Anna and her father, sitting in the two front seats, to make sure they were always wearing their seatbelts. This is a particularly wicked one, since so few cars here have functioning seatbelts. “I know it’s annoying, but they are always looking for reasons to pull people over, so just make sure you have your seatbelts on.” There was a pause, then, Anna’s father said “yeah…that’s the law in America too.”

When I was in Inharrime last I noticed that one of my good friends there, one of the ladies we buy from in the market and someone we socialized with often, is pregnant. I asked Erin about it and she said she had noticed too, but the woman hadn’t said anything yet. In Mozambican culture you can’t say anything until the woman herself mentions it, no matter how painfully obvious. I just wonder who the father is and what kind of situation that is (because when I lived there she didn’t have a boyfriend). It also reminds me how much my worldview has changed since being here. When someone in the states gets pregnant, it’s a joyous, celebratory thing. In Mozambique it certainly is something to celebrate, but it’s also haunted by a shadow of danger and doubt. The fact is that pregnancy and birth here and in all parts of the developing world are incredibly dangerous for the mother and the child. Also, contraception is not commonplace or well-understood here, and abortion is technically illegal. Sure, in the states there are unwanted pregnancies, but condoms are widely taught as a contraceptive method (in Mozambique condoms are incessantly repeated as a method to prevent contracting HIV, but for some reason contraception gets left by the wayside) and women theoretically have other options. Before I left, I was instantly happy for anyone who became pregnant, as social practice dictates. Here I wonder that perhaps it’s a situation she would have rather avoided and I worry for her health and safety.

Saturday, October 6, 2012


Sorry. My life has been crazy recently. Between greeting the newest group of future PCVs (all 68 of them), doing my job (have a malaria session coming up with the newbies on Friday), and grad school applications (officially submitted my first one a few days ago!) I haven't had much time left to write. But update coming!