Friday, April 26, 2013

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

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

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


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


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


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

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

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


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

Friday, April 19, 2013

One last dance party


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

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

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

Thursday, April 18, 2013


Back where I belong!

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

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

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


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

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


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

Sunday, April 14, 2013


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


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

Thursday, April 11, 2013


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

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

Monday, April 8, 2013


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

Thursday, April 4, 2013


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


            Happy Easter! Yesterday I celebrated my fourth straight Easter in Africa, though it was the first one I didn’t spend in Inharrime, which was weird. Luckily Ben and Beth offered to take baby D Saturday night, so I was able to attend Easter Vigil—my favorite mass of the year—and she didn’t have to. Easter mass is a long one anyway, and Africans have a way of making things even longer Plus we started about 35 minutes late—African time. After we had been there for four solid hours, I snuck out after communion, and the next day I heard that somehow mass had continued for two additional hours. Solid choice on my part. At one point during mass while the congregation was singing, the priest, standing in front of the altar, took out his phone and attended to a text message. I’ve gotten pretty used to African phone etiquette over the years—answering your phone while teaching or leading a meeting—but I’ve never seen that one before!
            We had a big Easter lunch with the approximately 20 people who had stayed on the mission for the weekend. I got baby D all dressed up for the occasion: a brightly-colored dress, a necklace, a bracelet, and a big bow in her hair. When Sister D saw her she said “oh look at that, she’s starting to look more like her mom!” I studied D’s face, trying to see the resemblance to her mom, until I realized that Sister had been talking about me. 


            Over the Easter holiday weekend (Thursday-Monday) all the hostel kids go back to their homesteads. Since baby D doesn’t have a place to go back to, she is staying with me for the weekend and we are LOVING being together. I’m sure it’s also nice for her to sleep in her own quiet and dark room, rather than in a room that 60 other girls pass through loudly at 9pm and 5am. On Friday we went to the country club in the nearest city, where there is a pool, playground, and restaurant. D has never been to a pool before, but her favorite activity is playing in the sink, so I figured she would like it. We didn’t have a pool diaper for her, so we put her in underwear underneath a swimsuit and crossed our fingers that she wouldn’t poop in the pool. After taking her diaper off and before putting the swimsuit on, I figured I’d try to get her to pee one more time. I took her and held over the toilet to see what would happen—and she peed right away! Just one more indication that, even though she refuses to speak, she’s always watching and paying attention.
            Last weekend we had a pig roast to celebrate a couple birthdays and some visitors from the states!

Thursday, March 28, 2013


            Today all the kids are going back to their homesteads for the holiday weekend and won’t return until Monday. This means two things: baby D will spend the weekend with me and people get rightfully nervous about the girls getting pregnant. In the history of the hostel (I believe around 10 years), they have only had three girls finish high school. With few exceptions, this is due to girls falling pregnant. In a country where the HIV prevalence rate is around 33%, nobody can deny that sex is part of the society. One of the great things about this hostel is that they strive to maintain relationships between the kids and their homesteads, familial lines, and lands. This is crucial in a culture/society where everything—land rights, community rights, etc—is tied to the family and family name. This is why kids spend as much time at their homes as possible. One of the downsides to this is the fact that they are at the hostel because their homes weren’t deemed suitable originally. For many, going home means a child-headed homestead, less supervision and structure, and poorer nutrition. And then about three months later it’s discovered that girls are pregnant. On Monday we just learned that one of the high school girls is about three months pregnant. I don’t think I will ever be able to get used to receiving this news. Each time it feels like someone is stepping on my chest. What should be such a wonderful thing is shameful and painful for the girl, and to me it feels like a death sentence for the life she could have had. I was relieved by the general staff reaction though—it was not one of punishment or teaching lessons, that ship sailed. But instead we discussed ways we could support her during the pregnancy.
            With this in mind, Christine and I took the opportunity to talk to the girls about sex and birth control in our weekly meeting with them Tuesday night. We asked them how they could prevent pregnancy, and like well-trained Swazis they all responded “abstinence!” Well clearly that’s not working for the country or you guys, so let’s try a more realistic approach. We reminded them that condoms protect them against HIV, STIs, and pregnancy, and that birth control is available for free at clinics. We answered a few great questions about these contraceptive methods, and although a lot of the girls got giggly and embarrassed, hopefully we got through to a few of them.
            D is with me for the weekend, which will be great fun. She was super disoriented and upset to be put down for her nap in a new room, but now she’s sleeping peacefully. Probably much more peacefully than in a dorm with 60 other girls. I’m looking forward to feeding her all sorts of delicious, yet nutritious, foods this weekend! 


            After a long application process, many interviews, nerve-wracking hours waiting, and even more hours of second-guessing myself, I have officially enrolled at Emory University for the fall of 2013 for an MPH/MBA dual degree. I had many fantastic options and it was not an easy decision, but I am incredibly happy about my decision and looking forward to starting at Emory in July!
            On Saturday I had printed out an Easter wordsearch to do with my educational outreach grade 7 kids. I don’t know if they had ever done a wordsearch before, but I think they really enjoyed it, and they certainly got into competing with each other, which was fun to watch. 


            Let’s call the baby “D” from now on. I just found out that D was born an identical twin, and her twin died sometime around 7 months ago. This would have been really nice to know two months ago when she arrived and was so emotionally and psychologically stunted. Not only was she incredibly sick and emotionally closed off from lack of consistent affection—she was missing her other half.
            Bad news on the baby front. The orphanage that had “promised” to take her (she had already been turned down by two orphanages, because they only take kids under two years and she is 2 years 4 months) has now communicated that they won’t take her. Their policy is that, once a kid enters, they have no further contact with the outside, including family. They don’t want to take D because her mom has stated she would like to visit her. This is frustrating because we are running out of options and I would like to see her placed in a good situation before I leave. It doesn’t make much sense because her mother already signed away her legal rights as a guardian, so it’s not like she could show up to reclaim the baby. Plus her mother is mentally unstable, incredibly poor, and lives 3-5 hours from the capital city by public transport—I really don’t think they need to be worried about her visiting too often. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013


            I read “The Little Engine That Could” with my afternoon education group yesterday. I didn’t know or had forgotten that the little engine that could was a SHE-engine. Love it!
            Many mornings when I’m teaching become take-your-daughter-to-work day, as the baby comes to play right outside the door to the classroom/dining hall, and occasionally decides to come in with her bow-legged waddle. Yesterday I was giving a test, so I wasn’t actually teaching, just patrolling the classroom. The baby came in with her arms stretched out wide and sort of fell onto my legs hugging them. She grabbed my skirt and pulled down, expecting me to pick her up, and pulled my elastic-waist skirt down a good 5 inches before I was able to react and grab it. Luckily all of my students were engrossed in their tests and I don’t think anyone noticed.
            After reading “The Little Engine That Could,” the kiddies (all 4-7 years old) did puzzles. One of the puzzles is a Winnie-the-Pooh puzzle which is great for the littler kids because it has fewer and large pieces. Unfortunately it’s missing one piece—the one with the majority of Piglet. One of the little boys who was working on that puzzle isn’t one you would label as the brightest kid and his English isn’t that great. Which was why I was so proud and impressed when he marched over to me with the picture of how the puzzle should turn out and demanded, “teacher! Where is the pig?!?” 


            This morning on my run I was a million miles away in my mind when suddenly I felt something snap against me. It was like I had run through the banner at the end of marathon. Dread and panic hit me as I realized that it was a spider’s thread, and I spun around to find the beast. Only an impossibly huge monstrosity could have spun a thread that strong. Not seeing the spider around the path, I thoroughly checked myself to be sure. Things I won’t miss about running in Africa. If I don’t get out early enough, the flies on the path are unbearable. The flies are attracted to the huge, fresh piles of cow poop along the path that I hop over and around while I’m running. And every time I go through areas where the grass is high I wonder if this is going to be the day I startle a deadly poisonous snake.
            I had to go down to the office to make some copies today, so I brought the baby—my baby, as everyone refers to her—down with me. I let her walk back by herself, transforming the 5-minute walk into a 25-minute one, but a wonderful one. Now that it seems she may actually be leaving any day, I’m cherishing these moments I have left with her. At one point she tripped and fell over a huge pile of dried cow poop. Only in Africa.
            There is a “library” here that is a huge closet full of great resources that have been largely forgotten. The past week I have been excavating puzzles, finding them to be a great educational activity to do with my grade 1s and 2s. Anytime I lift something in this room where things have been sitting for months, maybe years, I do it slowly and cautiously, ready to jump away, depending on what I might find underneath. The good news is that in all my cautious rummaging I haven’t yet come across any moulted snake skins. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


            A little health update. I tested negative for HIV, which is good news. As I’ve been teaching people here for 3+ years, you can never be 100% sure of a negative test (only a positive one), but there is little reason to worry and I will retest myself in a few months. They also tested my blood, since a side effect of the medication I was on is lowering hemoglobin levels. I’ve always been almost anemic, but we learned today that while normal hemoglobin levels are 12-18, mine is 7.6. Well at least that helps explain why I’ve been so exhausted! I’m taking iron supplements now and trying to adjust my diet accordingly.
            This past weekend I finally made it back to Mozambique. I work the education outreach on Saturday mornings, and we had to be back Sunday evening, so it was a quick trip. But nice to be back. Saturday on the way into town we stopped at a capulana shop where I got to replenish my supply of those beautifully-patterned cloths I love so much. Then in the evening we hung out with friends and enjoyed unlimited fast internet. Sunday morning we visited Café Sol, a wonderful café that is struggling right now because of road construction. Then we went to the craft market where I did some serious damage. I have always gotten gifts for other people throughout the past three years, but I avoided that kind of shopping when possible, since I hated being labeled as a tourist. But lately I’ve realized that I need to stock up on my African paraphernalia before I leave for good in a month.
Last stop before heading back to Swaziland, we went to the infamous Maputo fish market. Think the stereotype of a third-world market area—chaotic, smelly, overwhelming, pickpockets, and people scheming ways to get your money. We parked the car and chatted with a super sketchy guy who resembled something between a pirate and a gangbanger who promised to keep watch over our car and offered to wash it. Then three people immediately tried to take us to their restaurants, but I told them we wanted to talk around a bit. Then we walked through the narrow aisles between wooden tables where piles of fresh fish dripped water onto your feet as you squeezed past. Extremely fresh crabs threatened to escape from their crates and equally fresh clams squirted water into the air from their tubs. Back through the market is the restaurant area, where each row of tables belongs to a different “restaurant,” so all these people are trying to get you to sit at their table. We settled on a woman we liked, so we walked back out to the market area with her. I bought some squid and she took the bag, Joe bought some fish. Then she walked us back to our table and she took our newly purchased seafood back to the kitchen where they cooked it. It was delicious! I hadn’t been to the fish market in over three years. I had avoided going back because I had found it so overwhelming, stressful, and “touristy” the first time, but I am glad I went back, because it was a fun experience. And I was pleasantly surprised to find that on this Sunday afternoon, most the people eating in the fish market were Mozambicans, so it made for a nice environment. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Learning colors, developing motor skills, and practicing the thumbs-up in Scooter's daycare

Friday, March 15, 2013


            The baby continues to develop in all sorts of wonderful ways and along a seemingly normal trajectory. She looks awkward when she does it, but she walks all over the mission. She hums to herself often and can’t resist dancing when she hears music. She waves to almost every person or car she sees and recently learned to give a thumbs-up, so recently she’s been charming everyone with a thumbs-up and a big smile. She understands the words “no,” “hello,” “bye-bye,” “dance,” “come here” and the Swazi word for thumbs-up. This morning as I was leaving my house to go teach, I told her to get her shoes. Whether she understood me or saw where I was pointing and put two and two together, she walked over the picked up her shoes. She blows her food with me when it’s too hot and in church when she’s humming, she’ll gleefully put one finger to her lips and “sh” back at the people trying to tell her to be quiet. She also understands many Siswati words and phrases. But she—willfully it seems—refuses to talk or even imitate sounds. She imitates my movements, my facial expressions, and my singing, but not any sounds I make. She seems utterly uninterested in speaking for the moment, I’m just waiting for when her “first words” are a complete sentence. 


            On Sunday night some of us had dinner and conversation turned, not surprisingly, to the kids. We talked about a number of them, which is helpful for me because I come in blind to their history before I arrived in January. It helps guide and explain my interactions with them knowing one is HIV+ and basically deaf, due to chronic ear infections, or knowing that one girl is really old for her grade not because she failed many times (often times the oldest students are the worst, because they’ve failed the most times), but because she only recently came to us and started school. There is one girl who is particularly needy for attention. Every time I see her, she will express this strong need for attention, but sometimes it’s through hugging me or holding my hand, other times it’s in a way she knows will provoke me (hitting another child when she knows I’m watching, or grabbing my phone when she knows she shouldn’t). She also really loves the baby, which is great for the baby to get that attention, but when I’m around the baby usually only wants to be with me, so when other children come in close while I’m holding her, it only provokes and upsets her. I asked about this girl and learned that her 3-year-old brother, who many people say the baby reminds them of, died in January when their house collapsed on him during a storm. When you really take a moment and think, it’s impossible to ever be mad at any of these children, because they all have pretty horrible life stories like this. It’s hard to remember in the heat of the moment when they are being little shits, but their nastiness comes from hurt inside them that I can’t even begin to imagine. You just wonder if you could ever give them enough love to make up for all the hurt. But hopefully the little bit you give helps. 

Friday, March 8, 2013


            Scooter’s daycare continues to operate almost every day for the baby and the two siblings who we found chained to the tree and are with us for an interim period. The hostel kitchen is great, but very African in its methods, so more white carbs and fewer vegetables and fruits than I would prefer, so often I cook for them. I try to get as many vegetables and as much protein into them as possible, and of course sometimes we splurge with a little pudding. Some days I have too much work to really give them attention, but they still come in to hang out and play inside our house. The poor kids spend most of the day fairly bored to death until all the other kids come home around 2pm.
            A few days ago it was rainy and gross, so after I finished teaching in the morning I went and found the kids camped out in the kitchen. I brought them back to our house where I set up my laptop and projector for them to watch a movie. I cannot describe how ecstatic they were about this. They both kept yelling “TV! TV!” repeatedly and the girl (7 years old) was bouncing up and down on the couch. Her 4 year old little brother, on the other hand, would jump off the couch shrieking and run around, then jump back onto the couch, then jump off shrieking and run around again before returning to the couch. The enthusiasm was adorable and infectious, but after a few minutes my ears began to ring from the shrieking, so I had to plead with him to calm down a little.
            This was something that bothered me in Mozambique where they do it too—Swaziland writes their own textbooks for primary and secondary school for all disciplines. A lot of other countries have been producing decent textbooks for learning English as a second language or the basics of Algebra for many years. I certainly understand the appeal of students reading about references to local people or landmarks in their studies, and certainly examples in a textbook from the states might not make sense to students here. But these are two countries that have two of the highest HIV/AIDS rates in the world, and consistently rank toward the bottom of human rights and gender equality indexes. You have bigger fish to fry—let someone else write your textbooks for you.
            There was a Swazi woman living in the volunteer house for the past month, she had been brought in on a short-term assignment at the clinic. She works at the hospital in the city where we refer our patients when they have exhausted the local resources. It was interesting hearing her reaction to coming out to us—we are a tiny “village” (that is essentially the primary school, secondary school, clinic, and mission. Not the group of houses and shops that usually comprise a town) way way out in the bush. It’s easy for me to see how bad things are around here, but chalk it up to being “Africa.” But she seemed pretty surprised by just how bush and desolate things are out here. She was surprised by how less-educated people are here about HIV and their attitudes toward seeking real medical help. She was surprised by how poor people are here, how they can literally have nothing on their homesteads. She said there seems to be much more domestic violence out here. And we know that the HIV rates are higher. She worked here for 22 days. During that time, 10 clients of our clinic died, and all 10 were under 35 years old.  

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


            I just killed a baby Black Mamba. I had just woken up from a nap and had started doing some lesson planning when I heard Christine yell, “there’s a snake in the hallway!” I had taken off my dress to nap, so I wrapped myself in a towel and went to investigate. “What are we going to do?” asked Natalie. “Let’s go get a man to deal with it!” said Christine. I hadn’t exactly woken up this morning hoping to kill a snake, but at this point in my life I basically bristle at any mention of a man, so I responded “F--- that, I’ll take care of it.” I grabbed a push broom (for the large piece of wood where the bristles attach) and followed the snake into the bathroom where it had hidden behind the door. I scared it out into the hallway where Natalie could see it (not intended but a nice addition because she hadn’t seen a live snake yet) and beat it until I was extremely sure it was dead. Then I carried it outside on the end of an umbrella to ask my colleague to verify that it was indeed a baby Black Mamba (about 18” long) before tossing it far into the bush. 

Saturday, March 2, 2013


            On Saturday mornings we go to a nearby primary school for our educational outreach program, where I work with the grade sevens. We sing warm-up songs (my many years as a camp counselor paying off), play math games, study the world map, have dictionary races, and read, basically anything that is both fun/interactive and educational. We have a rule that we speak only English during our group time, which I constantly have to remind them about. We were doing a math game in which only two people are playing at a given time, so I let the others chat quietly as long as it’s in English. I saw a few of the girls giggling and writing something, but after I had ensured they were speaking and writing in English I let them continue. Eventually they passed the note to me (picture below) asking me if we could play musical chairs. I obviously couldn’t say no when they had asked like this, and in English, so we ended today with a lively game of musical chairs.

            One thing that is remarkable about this note is that they described the game, since they couldn’t remember the name. This may not seem like a big deal, but this is actually a skill that needs to be learned, and it’s not something that many people here can do. Last year I was reading an article in the Peace Corps office when I came across a word I didn’t know: fecundidade. I asked the Peace Corps employees in the office (Mozambicans, but highly educated Mozambicans) what the word meant. Well fecundity, obviously. I didn’t know what that meant, so I asked them to explain the concept. None of them could, they just kept repeating fecundity as if I was a moron, so I finally unearthed a dictionary. It meant fertility. I was blown away that none of my highly educated and intelligent colleagues could say something along the lines of “it’s the number of children a woman has.” There are some things I have always thought of as being inherent, not a skill to be learned. But being here has taught me that instead so many of these things are incredibly rooted in culture and the way people in a society are expected to think. So this is why I was doubly pleased by this note from my students. 


            My one-on-one tutoring is going well, the girl is bright and fun to work with when she wants to be. There is a girl who is now 12 who was a lot like her when she was younger—bright, dynamic, energetic—but now is having major behavioral and academic problems, we think largely due to this potential and energy going unused. We do some academic things—identification of letters and sounds, making the connection between written numbers and a corresponding quantity of objects—but I’ve also been trying to get her to expand her mind in ways that she never gets to in school. We have an activity book in which she colors or cut-and-pastes according to instructions. I just received a Lego set in a package, so we’ve been working with that. She’s never before had to follow instructions and look at pictures to identify the right pieces and properly assemble them. I have no idea what kind of learning that is, but it’s pretty fun to watch her in this process.
            Thanks to a new hire and the 7th graders being kept in school longer, we were able to re-divide our afternoon educational enhancement groups, making them smaller and more manageable. I have a new group and enjoy working with them, but yesterday afternoon my former group cornered me and demanded to know why I had abandoned them and begged me to come back.
            A few weeks ago I was shadowing another woman’s group and for that lesson she brought a large stack of books and the kids had individual reading time for the hour. “Looks like someone forgot to lesson plan” I chuckled to myself. But as the hour passed I realized that this is one of the best activities with the kids I had witnessed. As a kid some of my favorite times were when our class would go down to the elementary school library for a period and I would work my way through the Beverly Cleary shelf. Or tagging along with my parents to the public library and going down to the basement, the kids’ section, and plopping down on the floor next to my favorite shelf, where the Archie comics and Sweet Valley High books were. Sure, they weren’t Shakespeare, but the most important thing happened during these times, I came to think of reading as fun and I fell in love with it. Kids here (and in Mozambique) never get this opportunity. The only time they read is aloud in front of a class, stumbling over the words, or from a textbook while they’re studying. They never get to shake their heads and ponder how Gufus and Gallant could possibly be brothers; think it’s funny that Brother and Sister Berestain never changed their clothes or had names, even though their friends did; wonder why Betty and Veronica were even friends; imagine what they would do if they had a magic crayon; giggle at the idea of a helmeted mouse riding a motorcycle; marvel at the possibility of a swan learning how to play the trumpet; or wish that they had a troupe of penguins that followed them around and did tricks. To me, for people like me, this is what reading is about. But for people who don’t have books like this, reading is only a dreaded chore they do in school, from textbooks. Yesterday I mimicked my colleague and brought a huge stack of books for our afternoon hour. One of the boys made a face “we have to just read the whole time?” But by the end a few of the kids had really gotten into their stories. Three of the boys stayed to finish their books, even after the bell rang and the other children left, and one of my more shy and taciturn kids stayed an extra five minutes until he had finished his book. 


            Since a few people have asked, I am not going to post the baby’s name or any pictures of her, since I disclosed her status. But if I know you and you want to see her beautiful smile, please email me. She continues to do wonderfully, even more so now that we have implemented a nap schedule for her. After weeks of politely suggesting and asking, I went to a supervisor and pushed for naptime to be officially implemented for the baby. Not only is she a baby, but she is an incredibly sick baby (TB and HIV), so her body needs these recovery periods, especially since she lives in a dorm with 60 other girls, so waking late and sleeping early just aren’t possible most days. And for some reason this particular child hates sleeping. Until we started her nap schedule, when I could tell she was tired I would take her to her crib and gently hold her down as she screamed for about five minutes until she passed out. I get that this isn’t a fun process, but it’s a necessary one and with a schedule in place her body will become accustomed to falling asleep even quicker. I got into a bit of a blow-up with one of the aunties about this whole nap idea, but I think we’ve gotten past it finally. A few of the aunties smilingly told me that in Swaziland children don’t need to be put down for naps, they just fall asleep where they’re playing when they are tired. Luckily I have the support of our supervisor, so we smile and remind them that we aren’t telling them how to raise their own children, but this is an officially mandated policy now.
            Almost three years ago I wrote a post about my bewilderment at discovering that in Mozambique, only five continents are taught (Europe, Africa, Asia, Antarctica, and America). I had never thought this was a debatable thing. I was relieved when I pulled my map out for the first time this Saturday and learned that in Swaziland they have seven continents: North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Antarctica, Asia, and Oceania. Wait, what? But this is, of course, one of the joys of living in a foreign culture—you learn that so many of the things you took for granted as immutable, unarguable facts simply aren’t. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013


            The little 4-year-old boy threw another tantrum today (he’s thrown one or two in the past couple days, especially when he’s getting tired and cranky). Natalie, the other volunteer, sagely commented how it’s telling that he’s getting more comfortable here, that he is throwing these tantrums. And it’s so true. Sometimes when the baby is having a particularly bad day, I have the terrible thought that she was easier to deal with before she had a personality. I constantly have to remind myself to be thankful for the tears and tantrums. Our greatest blessing in disguise is that our 2-year-old and 4-year-old are behaving like normal kids, which includes occasional screaming, tantrums, and throwing of things.
            Yesterday morning the water wasn’t running and I had just gone for a run, so I was badly in need of a shower. However, I was able to collect a bucket-full of water dribbling out from different taps for a bucket bath—the RPCV in me got to shine for a moment.
            This afternoon during the educational activities we heard thunder rolling across the valley, coming steadily toward us. As the black clouds quickly approached, I finally made the executive decision to end activities 15 minutes early. I’m glad I did because two minutes later a dust blizzard attacked us. My distant memories of snow and blizzards tell me they aren’t too fun, but dust is infinitely worse. Getting pelted in the face, eyes, and mouth by dust is painful, uncomfortable and horrible. I made a beeline for my house to immediately plug in my phone and computer, then sprinted to the shower—in anticipation that the power and water would go out and I didn’t want to have another showerless morning. 


            Last Friday Sister Diane stopped by the volunteer house to tell the three of us that we would be temporarily receiving two new kids, and asking us to give them extra love and attention. These kids have no parents (they are either gone or dead) and were being raised by their grandfather. At one point the grandfather’s cousin had taken them in, but she is already taking care of a ton of other grandchildren and barely has the means to feed them. (With the HIV/AIDS epidemic primarily targeting and wiping out the generation of people 20-50 years old, suddenly all these elderly people find themselves taking care of tons of orphaned grandchildren.) Last Friday a home visit was paid to these kids’—four and seven years old—home and they were found chained to a tree. Apparently this is how the alcoholic grandfather took care of them when he left to drink. They were taken immediately and we will be taking care of them until they can be put into a proper orphanage (since they are not from our catchment area). Since they are not in school, from 8am-2pm they wander around on their own, so we have taken them in—giving them special attention and love. Someone jokingly referred to the guest house, where the three of us volunteers are living and where we entertain these two kids and the baby each day, as a halfway house, which it really has become.
            A few times with the baby I felt conflicted with how I should treat her. For example, sometimes she demands to be carried, but I worried that if I always pick her up, she will be in for a rude awakening when she arrives at an orphanage and nobody there picks her up. But with these three kids I have come to the conclusion that they have had pretty shitty lives, so I really should spoil them as much as possible in the short time I have with them. So I make them special snacks like pudding and peanut butter crackers and leftover cheesecake and I hold the baby as much as she demands it.
            Today all three kids were in the living room/kitchen area where we always hang out. I was preparing pudding when suddenly the little 4-year-old boy ran outside and his 7-year-old sister ran after him. I thought it was strange because I know they like pudding, but then I saw them out the window. At some point between our front door and the window, the older sister had gotten him out of his pants. A good thing because he started to pee shortly after. Then he started to squat, but she apparently told him not to go there, and she led him behind the latrines (most homesteads don’t have latrines or toilets, so when kids first arrive they are accustomed to, and best at, just pooping on the ground. Afterwards they came back, we washed hands with soap, and they thoroughly enjoyed their pudding. 


            The baby continues to thrive. No words yet, but in every other way she exactly resembles a normal 2-year-old. We got a new Peace Corps Volunteer here, Christine, and it has been great fun for me to be back around a PCV and that mentality. It’s hard explaining to her what the baby was like when she first arrived, Christine probably thinks we are exaggerating. But she went from almost an inanimate object to a toddler who knows what she wants and adamantly demands it. When her food is too hot to feed her, so the older children pause to blow on it, she gets angry that she’s not receiving her food immediately. When she’s happy, everyone knows, she hums and makes motorboat sounds to herself and dances to the song playing in her head. And more evidence that she is always secretly watching: the other day she was flipping through my grade 7 English book, and she kept licking her finger before she turned the page.
            Last night we hosted dinner at our house for the two Rwandan priests, Swazi sister, American sister, new Swazi employee at the clinic, and five American volunteers here on the mission. We had the traditional Swazi starch, which is the same as in Mozambique, but has a different name (the white cornmeal flour that is stirred into boiling water until it forms a solid. A little like solidified grits). We had normal dishes, some roasted chickens and a salad. Sister Diane asked us to each bring something, if possible, from our respective countries. Christine’s parents are Haitian, so she made a Caribbean rice-and-beans dish.  Beth made a blueberry crumble for dessert. I made sweet coconut rice and chicken satay with peanut sauce. I didn’t have kebab skewers so I used chopsticks, but they turned out really well and everyone liked them. It was a nice night and I really enjoyed getting to meet the priests outside the church for the first time. I find one of the priests a little intimidating, and last Sunday when the baby was happily humming and dancing on my lap I was terrified he would be annoyed and tell her to be quiet. But instead last night he kept asking where “my baby” was and commenting how happy it makes him to see me with her, because it’s obvious how much love we have for each other.
            A lot of people have asked how my time on PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) is treating me. I have heard it’s pretty terrible from the few friends I had go on it while in Mozambique. My personal experience is that it is neither terrible, nor fun. I generally feel exhausted all the time, and if I don’t eat enough I feel incredibly nauseas. The nausea I can deal with, but the constant exhaustion is really debilitating. It has certainly given me a new appreciation and sympathy for the many children in the hostel who are on ARVs and are constantly falling asleep during afternoon activities and mass. 


            On Saturday morning we held the second meeting of our educational outreach program at a school a few miles from the mission. Last Saturday had just been introductions—of people and of the program we would be running. In a typically African long-winded fashion, we took the whole three hours to do this, then at the end every kid received a two sandwiches and a cup of juice. This is honestly probably why a majority of the kids participate, and it is also probably one of the best things we can do for these kids. The program is only for grades 5, 6, and 7 (we just don’t have the staff numbers to do additional grades). Last week only three kids outside these grades showed up, but this Saturday about 10 of them did. We let them participate for the day, but then explained they couldn’t come back again. This is the hardest thing—turning away kids who have gone out of their way to learn. The Americanism of the mission means that we are requiring all participating children turn in a guardian permission slip. This is a difficult concept to get across, both to the kids and to the staff who are supposed to be mandating it. Some kids want to fill it out themselves because they assure us that their guardians said it was okay. Some kids participated last year and turned in a form then. In both cases, everyone (staff included) thinks I am crazy for being so strict about the permission slips.
            I work with the 7th graders and enjoyed it immensely. They are a very outgoing group and I was pleasantly surprised by the level of their English. As is pretty typical for Africa, some of the kids have failed grades in the past or perhaps of missed a year of school at some point, so the average age is probably around 14.  At the end, one of the older boys (17) asked me if I know his sister—I do, she is one of my best high school students in the evenings. Interestingly, at the “aunties meeting” today one of the aunties mentioned that they had recently discovered she had an older brother (with people here having multiple wives and partners, all half-siblings are considering siblings, so families can be large and people don’t always know all their siblings), so they were thrilled to hear I had met him.
            I am getting to the point in working with kids that I love most—I have started to win over the kids who initially hated me/being there/learning. It’s my favorite part because they never see it coming, and I always do. This is only in the mandatory afternoon activities and evening studies for the hostel kids. I didn’t have to work as hard to win over my eleven wonderful bridge school students. 

Friday, February 8, 2013


            I have been asked to work with one particularly bright first-grader. As one of the Sisters said, “our smartest kids are the ones we fail the most.” A place like this is aimed at rescuing kids from terrible situations in a society/culture that has been decimated by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Some of these kids have the most tragic histories I’ve ever heard, so all the resources are put into re-nourishing them physically, rehabilitating them for school, and re-nourishing them psychologically. But everyone is so busy saving the lives of these incredibly high-risk kids, that people hardly ever have the time to give extra attention to the few kids who show real potential.
            I found out today that a nurse visited the baby’s mother’s house again and was finally able to find her birth certificate. According to the birth certificate, she was born in October 2010 (this may not be 100% accurate, but it’s the best we’ve got). So that means she’s not as old as I thought. So perhaps it also means she’s not as developmentally delayed as I was afraid!
            Today one of the men who works in Child Care came in to talk to me while the baby was dancing on the counter with a big smile on her face. He said “you know, when she first came I thought she was mentally slow because she never reacted to anything. But she is so healthy and beautiful now! We really are restoring life.” Restoring Life is the catchphrase for this mission. Anyone who has lived in the area over the past 15 years knows this is true, because back before the clinic and ARVs, people were dying on a daily basis; entire families were being wiped out. So rarely do you get to witness such a tangible example of the good, life-restoring work that is done here on a daily basis—but the baby is proof.