Monday, October 27, 2008

10/27 - Dreaming Big/Putting Yourself Out There

Monday started early – we’re talking 5:30 am early (I’m not a morning person, but Africa is changing my life). We took a field trip to an HIV and AIDs clinic in the morning, and then had classes all afternoon. When 4 pm rolled around and we finished I was dreading the next activity I had gotten myself into – teaching English to the pastor’s wife. I had only met her briefly for 5 minutes, and could not remember her name though she was nice enough. She had asked for someone to practice English with and so I agreed to meet her once a week.

When I made it to the church, I met a smiling Vanessa (I had to ask about what her name was again) who had written me a two page introduction in English for this lesson. I was blown away by her preparation and resolve to learn, particularly after reading she had only studied English alone by buying a few books, listening to BBC News, and watching English movies. On paper her English was about as good as my Spanish after years of formal classes with professors. I spent the next hour learning a bit of her fascinating life story as we conversed easily back and forth in Portuguese and English. Vanessa grew up in Sao Paolo, Brazil. Four years ago she moved to Africa with her husband, a pastor in a Universalist Church, and they are frequently moved around Moz to different congregations. She left her family and was putting on hold having kids of her own to devote her life to this ministry she is passionate about, which I respect.

In the introduction Vanessa wrote for me it literally stated, “My dream is to speak, to think, to dream in English!” Vanessa eventually wants to move to an English-speaking nation to help people in communities there. I felt rewarded after helping her for an hour with English knowing that her purpose in turn was to go out and serve. We joked, laughed when we discovered her great love for Oprah, and I learned a lot about Brasil (which is rapidly moving up on the top of my list of places to visit).

The simple answer for wanting to come here was to help people, and this opportunity presented itself clearly, in the process enriching my own life. This experience caused me to reflect upon all the many times in my life I have been hesitant to begin a process, but once I jumped in ended up loving it. I’ve always been this way. When I was little and super shy (yes! believe it!) my family always vacationed to the mountains in Montreat in the summer and my parents enrolled me in the local day camp. I would always kick and scream refusing to go, but they dragged me. In the end, I enjoyed it so much I returned to be a camp counselor one summer in college.

I took home from yesterday how rewarding our efforts were - both for me and Vanessa, who had clearly spent hundreds of hours poring over English words alone. So put yourself out there, live a little, and you might just go further than you think!

Startling Stats
*According to the CDC, the latest survey estimated 25-30% of the population in Maputo is infected with HIV and AIDs.
*It is estimated that in some rural areas the HIV and AIDs infection rate is as high as 80%.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

10/26/2008 - Getting Low in Church

My favorite part of today’s church service was when the church choir processed in an hour and a half into the service clapping, singing, hooting, and hollering. Their smiles and enthusiasm were infectious and before long everyone was up out of their seats dancing, shaking those hips, twirling about. In my opinion, it was a very genuine moment of praise and celebration -- in the same way the Psalms echo the message of rejoicing in song and dance.

I particularly likes these two things:
1. Choir was full of young people, and in church choirs I know back home there are few young people. I liked seeing the young people lead us in song.
2. Although I really miss all our fancy instruments and technology which can enhance the music, people can make music sound amazing just using their voices and hands. A return to the simple way also leads to incredible creativity. This gospel choir would give the Clefs a run for their money and possibly blow step teams out of the water.

The point of this comment is just that I am enjoying parts of these other ways to worship, and realizing that just because it’s different does not mean it’s bad. In fact, it adds a little spice to my life…

Thursday, October 23, 2008

10/23 Putting a Face on HIV and AIDs

Our health session this morning was powerful because it is the first time I have come face-to-face with HIV+ people after taking many classes about this sickness in college. It is becoming no longer just numbers and statistics, but a painful reality that is heart-breaking. I have much respect for the two women who came to speak with us today about how their lives have been affected since becoming HIV+ and how they cope. I definitely cannot put into words all the emotions going through my mind during that session – frustration at how complicated it is to ameliorate the HIV and AIDs epidemic, helplessness knowing how difficult it can be to distribute resources to effectively combat AIDs, and sadness because of the pain, hunger, and stigma these two women face in their daily lives.

Maria, a 40 year old woman with 5 children was an activista in Namaacha. An activista is essentially a volunteer in the community who tries to lessen the stigma surrounding HIV and AIDs by encouraging others to get tested and being a voice in the community. Lucia. A 21 year old woman, was an orphaned girl with a one-year old baby. She came to speak of her experience as an HIV+ women and this was her first time so she was visibly nervous. I was struck by the women’s stories of how they were getting help through HIV and AIDs programs here in Namaacha for about three years, which seemed to be improving their quality of life, but how quickly that support disappeared when the coordinator changed a year ago. Currently they know of no support groups to help cope because those ended when the coordinator left. Sustainability is a huge factor, but it is not easy to translate into practice because there is no set formula on how to make a project or program sustainable. I think hospitals and NGOs should focus on training local community leaders and equipping them with at least the basic working knowledge and tools about HIV and AIDs to transfer to other community members. Some factors that could inhibit success could be lack of funding, resources, and organizational development. Other barriers arise from cultural beliefs such as the widely held practice in parts of Southern Mozambique not to circumcise males because it “makes you less of a man” although it helps prevent HIV from spreading. How to overcome that belief so embedded in the culture? That is a difficult bridge to gap in my opinion.

On the part of the people living with HIV and AIDs, it is sometimes difficult for them to even understand what health workers are telling them and how to use the services available. This is a huge problem with no easy solution because many lack education. For example, today Lucia, an orphan herself, talked of how she had a hard time following all the advice HIV and AIDs counselors gave her because she did not even have basic education. It was sad to hear that since discovering she was HIV+, she had birthed two babies, the first of who died from AIDs. I could not take my eyes off her son Jonas because he was so cute. I could not wrap around my mind that she had to breast feed him out of necessity because she had no other food options even though AIDs workers advised her not to after the first six months. A mother that is HIV+ is actually supposed to breastfeed her child for the first six months because the breast milk does not destroy the lining of the child’s stomach and can actually protect the child from contracting HIV, but after the first six months you will put your child at risk if continuing to breast feed. In spite of the AIDs education program Lucia had attended, she still might be exposing her child to HIV and AIDs. Jonas will be tested in a few months at 18 months to see if he is HIV+. That raises the question, well is it her fault? Lucia was orphaned and probably had no opportunities for education and lacked parental role models and support. Lucia could have started having sexual relations at a younger age because orphans are more vulnerable. Was she choosing risky behaviors out of irresponsibility or did she have no other options? At some point, you have to take responsibility and be accountable for your actions (but I was taught how to do that, and do it well, in the States with great education and supportive parents – where would I be without that)? I am not here to judge that, but do think that much progress will not be made in fighting this epidemic without getting people to change their risky behaviors in some capacity (maybe that is using a condom for some, abstinence for others, being faithful to only one partner at a time). It is also necessary for people to adhere to treatment and healthy lifestyle choices once HIV+ to prolong their lives. They have to do their part by regularly taking their medicines, eating nutritious foods, and staying away from alcohol/drugs. I think this last lifestyle choice might be difficult for HIV+ people who feel hopeless or angry or that dying is inevitable, and these substances could be used to cope. All of these points only scrape the tip of the iceberg, which is something I was hit hard with today because there are so many complicated dynamics that are fueling the HIV and AIDs epidemic – social, poverty-related, gender roles, and lack of education all factor into it.

On top of that our health trainer talked about how 4 of her siblings either had died from AIDs related causes or were currently infected. In spite of how sad I felt today for Lucia, her son Jonas, the other activista, and for all the losses our trainer had in her own family, it made my resolve stronger to do what I can while I am here. All the Peace Corps staff and volunteers serve as encouragement that something can be done, progress can be made, people’s lives can be improved. It was courageous of those women to come and speak with us today and important to hear their stories. Maria, the activista, at one point mobilized 80 community members to get tested, but how can this drive to encourage others to get tested be constant? (It was depressing to hear she stopped being active in the community when the director left). I have a lot to learn during training so that I can bridge the gap between wanting to help improve the HIV and AIDs crisis to actually possessing skills and knowledge to make the most difference I can.

The activista Maria told us that she was motivated to get tested by her friend years ago, an American teacher living in her community. Maria used to cart water to the school where the teacher worked and started feeling weak and sick. At the teacher’s urging, Maria went to get tested and found out her status. Maria started ARV treatment and is still around to take care of her 5 children. Although the teacher might not even know their comment resonated with Maria, it changed her life and maybe saved it. You see, a year ago Maria had TB, and the ARV treatment probably saved her. So the teacher inspired Maria who then in turn inspired 80+ more to get tested. Plus she discusses with her own children on a regular basis how they can protect themselves from HIV and AIDS. The teacher indirectly started this chain of good deeds, which was one of my motivations for coming to Mozambique. I am a firm believer that you gotta keep that every drop counts mentality when faced with such a big crisis – so I am here as an offering.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

10/22 - Differences in Gender Roles

In the US we have grown accustomed to division of the labor (household and income-generating) being around 50/50. It is fairly easy to break outside the stereotypical gender roles, although discrimination and double standards still exist at some capacity.

Life in Moz is quite different for women than in the US. They always defer to the man and often do all household responsibilities without the help of the man. Today in our session a fellow PC volunteer told a story from her host family that demonstrates how extreme genders roles can be here. Her host mom is a teacher and is always encouraging the female children to stay in school and study, which is progressive. However, when the parents come home from work, the father refuses to lift a finger. One day when it was time to gather water the women carried 25 liter jugs to the car as the father waited in the driver’s seat. The father drove the family to get water, but it was his wife and female children (including an 8 year old girl) who did all the lifting and physical labor. When they returned home, potatoes were cooking on the stove for dinner while the women were busy carting the heavy water inside. The father saw the potatoes were burning and summoned his daughter who was carrying water to stir them. Although he had two perfectly good hands, he was socialized to think women do all the household work and that he does his part during his day job. This particular volunteer is fiery and mentioned that the father could stir them pointing out he was capable. She said the next morning he was in the kitchen stirring potatoes so she must have successfully opened his way of thinking.

His way of thinking is probably tied to “that’s always how it’s done” or “that’s how my parents did it.” Also in Africa, wealth has been defined in the past by the number of wives, children, and cattle a man had so women were in a sense were commodified.

My host family is more progressive and believes in more equal gender roles. Although chores are still heavily weighted to the women, my Pai Isaias often helps cook and my brother Alberto does some chores too. In our gender role session we talked about how even though it seemed there was some division of labor among men and women, it was often out of necessity (For example, in all male households there are no women to cook so men have to learn to cook and clean). There is also difficulty in making changes to society as a whole, but starting in individuals is a promising start.

I am realizing how unique all the opportunities I was given growing up as a female in the US were – most are privileges and rights still not available to girls around the world. I am so thankful for my education and that it is a guarantee for all in the US regardless of gender because it is not the same case in Moz. Many girls drop out because their families might just have enough money to send some kids and the boys go first. Other reasons girls stop attending school are early pregnancies, to take care of sick parents, or to help around the house. Education enabled me to expand my career options and empower me. I definitely would not have been able to participate in so many sports, which is something I loved more than anything in my childhood.

Women are more heavily infected with HIV and AIDs and one of the contributing factors is lack of choice often they have no say in whether or not to use condoms in sexual relations or over their reproductive health. Although the woman may be faithful to her partner, the man sometimes has either more than one partner or outside sexual affairs. The man can contract HIV this way and pass it on to his women, thus making women more vulnerable. The biology of sex is another reason women are more susceptible because of penetration.

I am not suggesting MZ needs to necessarily go down the exact same roads the US has to break down these gender roles (b/c it’s neither the only way or the best way), but I do hope to see women less constrained and more able to choose the kind of life they want to lead for themselves.

*My observations are not meant to be complete criticisms on gender roles, but are ones I know to have some truth.

Monday, October 20, 2008

10/20/2008 - A Lesson in Serving

After a day in Namaacha, I always come home covered in red dust from the roads. Today was no exception so when I rushed home for a quick lunch break, my Mama Adelia and her friends ordered me to wash my feet. I stuck them in a bucket with soapy water and begin to scrub, but my mother’s friend took my feet and washed them gently for me. I felt humbled. I was thinking to myself, am I really the one here to serve or are they serving me?

Thanks to that good ol’preacher’s daughter upbringing, I immediately recalled the Gospel Story when Jesus washes his disciples feet. I check out John 13 and took this message away.
Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you should also wash one another’s feet. I have set an example for you that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master is, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things you will be blessed if you do them.(John 13: 14-17)
I learned what a blessing it is to be humbled sometimes. And all of my closest friends are saying as they read this, “Lord, know she needs it,”…ha

Sunday, October 19, 2008

First photos from Mozambiquie

These two photos just in from Gracey.... (Double click to see larger view.)

10/19 - The Social Network

The social network here remains a great mystery to me, although I slowly decode a bit each day.

You never quite know how everyone is related, but they all are and the whole world is either my brother, my sister, my aunt, my uncle, or my cousin. It’s awesome to see how eager they are to invite their family members over for dinner and refreshing to be surrounded by so many welcoming homes, but after meeting your father’s 20th brother it get confusing and just plain impossible to remember all their names. Also, you learn some people really do have 20 blood related brothers.

The whole community spends most of their day cooking, cleaning, and pasear-ing. Pasear means to take a walk and they literally spend hours a day making house calls within the neighborhood at all hours. We usually have guest by 6 am when I wake up and long past 10 pm when I go to sleep. It is never rude not to call before coming over or a hindrance like it can be perceived in the US.

There are no noise ordinances so there is music blaring in our bairro 24/7. I laugh thinking back to the summer when I was a camp counselor at Montreat and almost every night the police came over around 9 pm voicing complaints because the guitar jam sessions on our porches were too loud. Here it is standard to have a few houses blaring hip-hop and outdated American pop at 3 am on Tuesday night and it seems to bother no one. My life is a far cry from silent nights.

Yesterday my mom lost an earring I had given her at the Farmer’s Market. She was telling me how she lost it at the dinner table, and I was bummed because she had been wearing them around all week proudly. Mama Adelia reassured me saying, “Don’t worry, filha. Someone already found it and doesn’t know I’m the owner yet, but they were already trying to find me. It will be returned to me in two days time.” And I bet it’s true because my sister Marisa lost a flip-flop on a walk with me and someone returned it to our house before we even got home. How’s that for people looking out for one another’s best interests?

There is a huge hierarchy within the family and it goes unquestioned and unchallenged. Since I am the guest and foreigner, I am the top of the hierarchy (for the time being at least). The snapshot of a meal-time illustrates the hierarchy perfectly. I sit at the table with the adults and other guests. I am always served first and get the choice bits of meats, followed by Papa Isaias, other guests, and Mama Adelia. The kids all sit on the floor on a straw mat and are responsible for providing water to wash our hands, for clearing our plates, and they eat last. They get the leftover meat. Everyone knows where they fall in and the children do not complain and show a lot of respect to their others. I think that part is awesome and serves them well because they are hard workers and well-behaved. Sometimes though, I think it could be a little more equal.

The children are extremely sweet and take every opportunity to hold your hand, to be held, and to play with you. I have learned many simple games from them and taught them a few tricks with the soccer ball from all those years of organized sports. Every moment is a learning exchange. Thank goodness for my 7 year old brother Alberto because he has been my personal ego booster – he always runs out to carry my bookbag inside, picks flowers for me, tells me I look pretty in the mornings, and holds my hand on the way to church. (And they say chivalry is dead…I for one, still have hope).


10/19 - Ngoma Time

On Fridays all 57 volunteers gather for Ngoma time – it’s like a corss between a school assembly and pep rally. We perform skits, dances, and songs in Portuguese and English as a sort of cultural exchange in groups of 4-6. It is usually entertaining and my group is not afraid to make fools of ourselves. We performed a sweet Backstreet Boys Dance during Week One as homage to the 90s.

Each week local groups come perform African dances for us. The first week we had the opportunity to learn afterwards a group, and the second week I was picked out of the crowd to join the performers as they danced barefoot, lively, kicking up the dust. Using Michelle Pfeiffer as my inspiration (and b/c I will never live that joke down), I unabashedly danced in the middle to the African rhythm.

After Ngoma time, the PC volunteers usually lead a mass exodus to a local bar for a beer to celebrate the end of the week. I find this new tradition so much fun because we have to be home before 7 pm for the first month. We all rolled in at once the other week, literally opening the bar, socialized in rapid-fire time, and then leave for our homes before night fall for our curfew………really a perfect ending to a hard week’s work.


10/19 - To all my Disney-loving friends out there….

You would have been proud. All the PC Volunteers in my neighborhood came over on Saturday to watch an American film. We all gathered around a laptop watching Mulan, enjoying some good girl talk, giddy laughter, and relief that you are surrounded by people to share the first 10 weeks of this experience!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

10/18 - What a fantastic day!

What a fantastic day – I do not even know how to put it into words! I have been here two weeks now and at some moments thought to myself how crazy I was to come – it is difficult to learn a new language, be away from family and friends, and to meets hundreds of new people in a matter of weeks. The highlight of my day had to be our Bible Study. My friend Vic, a devout Catholic and theology major, asked around for interest and we informally decided to do a Romans study. This is a unique group because all participants come from different regions of the country and from different religious backgrounds (Luther, non-denominational, Catholic, Pres, and agnostic are some of the different reps). One of the awesome things about the Bible Study was the respect and open-mindedness everyone shared and for the most part common beliefs about the heart of the Gospel. I guess this has been a common them for me these past few weeks because I have never directly been so exposed to an organization that allows for the opportunity to break down so many barriers (gender, socio-economic, race, religion, nationality) to find all the things in common we share. I am excited about this Bible Study because it’s great to have the support and fellowship of others believers even if they see things a little differently. I look forward to getting to know PCV on another level through this group.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

10/12/08 - Church

Church here is a family affair. I think almost everyone in Namaacha goes and it’s a safe bet the services last longer than an hour. Most of the churches are Christian, but the majority take place in Xangana, the local language. My house family, however, attends a Universalist Church in Portuguese with a pastor from Brasil.

We set out as a family at 6:45 am for the two mile walk to church. Most of the walk my 7 year old brother Aleberto held my hand as we scurried up the mountainous terrain to arrive on the main road. The service was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. For one thing, it was the first time I’ve ever been in such a small space with just about 100 adults not wearing deodorant and the odor itself is something to get used to. Add to that raising hands, dancing, and moving around and that was powerful in more than one way.

The Universalist service in MZ was a drastically different worship style than my Presbyterian Church in NC. There is a strong emphasis on spirit whereas I am accustomed to a more private faith and worship with personal reflection. Today I watched the congregation cast spirits out of fellow members, and although I’m not sure what to think about it, I know it is important to keep an open mind.

At one point the pastor asked us to make a prayer to God and the next thing I knew my mother and father, along with the rest of the church were screaming out prayers in Xangana and Portuguese. Even though it may not be my personal preference for worship style, I enjoy going with the family and take it as an opportunity to learn. And more importantly, at the end of the day, we’re all praying to the same God. I did love the worship celebration when the congregation broke out singing songs of praise, dancing, and clapping in the aisles – it was impossible not to feel joy in that moment.

After the service ended, my Mama Adelia wanted a family photograph taken with me by a photographer. It reminded me of Easter pictures at church when I was a little girl and the kind gesture made me feel accepted as part of this family I’ve only been with a week.

It does not stop there because every outing in Africa is an adventure from start to finish. On our walk home a passing truck stopped to give us a ride because it was Mama Adelia’s brother. I hopped into the back of the pick-up truck with the rest of the family and was stunned by how many fit inside the bed. I had to count – 23. Most were children under the age of 10, but still I can’t imagine it happening in the US. A little further down the road we stopped to pick up 5 more so the 28 of us rode home from church together.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


Today while learning Portuguese outside my house, two border soldiers patrolled around my backyard. Everything is all still surreal – I have to remind myself that sitting under a mango tree at 8 am on a Saturday morning in the mountains of Mozambique having Portuguese lessons as soldiers mill around the house is now my reality. Meanwhile my other surrounding include but is not limited to: goats ying lackadaisically nearby, all sorts of other animals (chickens, roosters, cats, etc.) roaming about freely, and my baby siblings taking turns being sponge bathed in buckets. What a learning experience this first week has been! While on the phone with my dad tonight, I tried to explain where and how I am living.

I am living in the poorest neighborhood in the city, which I suppose resembles a slum in our eyes. BUT my family is far from starving, the people are some of the happiest I have ever seen, and the children play without much worry or stress. There is joy radiating from many of our African host mothers when they laugh as we stumble over our Portuguese and brag at our improvements.

I spent a great deal of my Saturday sitting under the mango tree on an esteira, or straw mat, with my host family and assorted neighbors showing them photos of my life back in the States (they asked, “Why would you leave all that to come here?”). I was observing all the women braiding each other’s hair and taking a break from their daily house chores. I am so accustomed to the busyness of the US (which I do rather like) that I again I was struck by this relaxed pace of life and how much Mozambicans are just able to enjoy being together. With the American college lifestyle I had almost forgotten how to rest without feeling like I should be guilty doing something/homework. Their intentional rest from their busy day of chores seems to improve their well-being and quality of life, and reminds me that it is something I always need to make time for.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Puppies and Cobras

Last night when I got home from school, Farida, my 13 year old sister, asked me to go fetch water. I obliged although night was falling and she said it was a long walk. (What else am I going to do with my time? Ya’ll are my usual social life and are further away than I like to think about). Farida handed me a 20 liter contained and carried two by herself. She and I wound up and down a mountain on a narrow path to cut through to a neighborhood with a hospital where the spring lies. I began to get nervous on our walk because I thought about three things.

1. How will I even see to walk back in the dark?
2. Whoa mama, (my new phrase of choice because my language instructor always uses it with this Portuguese accent and I laugh every time) I’ll never be able to carry this! I get out-lifted at the gym by my younger sisters…
3. Farida asked me if I knew what a cobra meant in Portuguese on my way there. I answer, “You mean the snake? They live out here in this tall grass?” She laughs, assuring, “Yes, but there aren’t many? Are you scared of them?” Uh yeah I am. Farida responds she is more scared of puppies because they bite. We both thought the others’ fear to be ridiculous.

When we reached the water spring, I could not carry my jug back because it was too heavy. (I was apparently only expected to go as her company and not to work all along). Farida put a full jug of water on her head (meaning 20 liters), and I followed her home amazed at this graceful skill. They acquire it at a young age. Farida can practically run home in the dark with a heavy weight balanced on her head for over a mile. These African women are tough, resilient, and the least complaining group I have ever heard.

*I later learned that cobra is just a general word for snake and did not mean cobra, but at the time I was terrified.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

10/8 - The Basics

I am living in Namaacha, a town in the mountains of Mozambique that borders Swaziland. From my bedroom window I can literally see the fence that marks the border and on the adjoining mountain is a little white house where a Swazi border patrol soldier lives. I can’t decide whether this fact is comforting or frightening because I hear people cross illegally often.

Namaacha has four neighborhoods and I live at the very far edge of Bairro 25 de Junio (my neighborhood is named after MZ’s Independence Day). Namaacha has one main paved road and then dirt roads/paths that curve every which way. I’m in a maze when I walk home. I weave in and out of houses made of cement or sticks and trash litters the ground everywhere (b/c they do not use trashcans much, instead they sweep it up and burn it eventually). There are no road signs and there is no pattern like square blocks to go by. Everyone greets you as you pass with a “Bom Dia!” At any particular moment, a young child I don’t know may grab my hand and walk along with me. After all, there are no strangers here. You often see two grown men just ahead of you holding hands (& no, not b/c they are gay) but because it is a cultural difference. It takes some getting used to, but I love the warm, friendly culture. It is refreshing when compared to rude people of crowded city streets and campuses closed off by people walking to class with their I-pods to distracted to acknowledge your presence (yes, I am sometimes one of those people myself).

Most houses have rudimentary electricity. Each room in my house has one dim lightbulb that often surges so that the light changes constantly very noticeably. (The lighting is always perfect for a romantic dinner – just need a good bottle of wine and the company). There is no running water and the kitchen is like a mini house of its own. Plates are washed by hand, water boiled by charcoal stove, and hands are washed by running them under a kettle.

I sleep in a nice room at the back of the house under the cover of my mosquito net, and fall asleep either to crickets chirping, very confused roosters crowing in the middle of the night, or rain on the tin roof (my personal favorite).

My host family has a TV that stays on during meal times with bad Brazilian soap operas playing. Western influences are heavy and you often see American films or hear American songs on it. The TV is a great source of news and often there are TV campaigns and ads to vaccinate babies and to encourage people to clean trash off the streets. The content of the TV matters so much. I get so excited when I see an informative ad, but a lot of it is pure junk and women dancing around in skimpy bathing suits with men in the background buying them nice things. This just perpetuates one of the biggest HIV driving factors, that of transactional sex, which I will talk about later. The basic premise is women are using sex for men to buy them nice things or give them something they could not afford otherwise, which is a huge problem here. TV is one of the best ways to inform Mozambicans if manipulated well, but often it is abused and filled with negative messages.

Cell phones are also quite popular and service is good so when I get a phone please text and call me.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Yesterday I made it to Namaacha to commence my 10 week home-stay. Although this is my 3rd home-stay in a foreign country, this will prove most challenging. Instead of an 80 year old women, I am living with a welcoming YOUNG family. My Mai (mother) Adelia is 30 and my Pai Isaias is 39. I have 5 brothers and sisters ages 2, 7, 8, 11, and 13.

I was not going to share this story, but then I wouldn’t be giving you an idea of the FULL experience. Plus, Natalie, a PCV from UNC that has been here for a year automatically starts laughing hysterically every time she sees me and swears after my unique experience I deserve to be sworn into the PC immediately instead of December. So on with it…basically, I got a lot of extra help showering for the first week.

Current PC volunteers enacted a skit the previous day before we left for home-stay demonstrating that our host families might want to show us how to do everything including bathe. Some people freaked out then and there, but I figured it must have been an exaggeration. They reassured us saying you can probably tell your host families, “Thanks, but I know how to take a sponge bath.”

The custom is that house guests take 2 sponge baths per day before meals because running water is unavailable. You are supposed to take a cup and pour water on yourself and then cleanse with a bar of soap. Easy enough. Lucky for us we arrived right before lunch so by default it was bath-time. Our bathroom is an outhouse with 2 parts. One part has a raised chimney-like hole as a toilet and the other is separated with a drain to pee and shower. Already a lot to get used to.

Not 10 minutes after I got there my host mom led me out to the bath, so I thanked her, waited for her to leave before undressing, and thought I got off easily. She re-entered soon after to assist me and took the soap showing me every place I needed to scrub imitating motions and everything, all the while chattering “Assim, assim” (Like this). My first instinct was to scream mortified, “Out,” but I realized it was just a huge cultural difference and so I just went with it. Just a human body after all and she just wanted to make sure I could get clean. To a degree the African mentality is really healthy, but I prefer more privacy than that!

I thought I was out of the clear in the morning, but my host mom went out-of-town so the 13 year old assumed all matriarchal duties. Farida brought me hot water to bathe and waited to make sure I knew how to clean – I got a little unneeded helping washing my hair and felt a little like a real live Barbie doll.

The following morning all the PC volunteers had a session discussing how home-stays went and a few other girls had persistent moms insist on helping them bathe too, but everyone decided I take the cake! Other volunteers whose families had previously hosted Americans did not have the same issue and if I was too uncomfortable I would have just spoken up by my host mom didn’t think it was a big deal, so I decided not to. I don’t want you to think everyone that joints the PC has to bare it all for strangers, that’d just be me and a few other lucky ones!

Fast-forward to Day 6 of my home-stay. When I came home for lunch that day I received a beautiful gift – it was better than Christmas, an answered prayer really. On the walk to my outhouse, I laid eyes upon a gorgeous new door constructed out of bamboo. A guarantee of some privacy at last, had the family read my mind? My mom and sister had continued to walk into my showers making sure I was scrubbing everywhere. A few times I had insisted, “Sozinha! Eu prefiro banhar-me sozinha,” & they’d leave me in peace, but I never knew when they might pop in for a random check-up.

Eventually, my point came across and now we’ve reached a beautiful compromise/successful cultural exchange. At night, I shower first while Farida (13) stands outside the door finally catching onto the fact that Americans prefer more privacy, and we chat easily (or relatively so) in Portuguese. Then we switch and I wait for her under the night sky, watching the night stars and staring into the hills of Swaziland.

So why did I come? This is not a question I can entirely answer, but last night I had a small revelation. I was walking home from Portuguese classes with 3 other PCVs when my Mai Adelia came up from behind balancing a large back of tomatoes gracefully on her head. She exclaimed, “Minha filha” (my daughter), kissed me on both cheeks, grabbed my hand, and we continued toward the house. Mainly making conversation, I told my mai that I liked the new bracelet she was wearing. Without hesitation, she slapped it on my wrist. I wore it all afternoon and tried to return it to her and she chuckled saying, “Oh no, I gave it to you. I can get thousands more and now you can tell everyone it comes from Africa.” The bracelet illustrates exactly how this host family has treated me. Although I’ve practically been given the world in America, they may not have a penny to their name and still they give freely. What a beautiful world it would be if we are all a bit more like that!

The other thing I love is bonding with Farida (13), my sister. When Farida’s mom went out of town, she completely took over the household cooking, cleaning, and sending her younger siblings off to school. Farida is tough and intelligent. MZ still has limited education, especially for girls, but Farida continues to go even though many drop out to help full-time around the house. Farida told me one day she wants to be a scientist, and since then we have started English lessons at night. Farida looks up words in the dictionary and is a quick learner. She has the ability to be such a leader and if I can transfer some skills along the way to help her, then the experience is worth it to me.

All is well! I will have limited access to internet for these first 10 weeks. I am going to add some stuff to my blog so feel free to check it out and keep reading. I know this was long, but there is a lot going on. I miss you all and keep me updated on the home-front.


The Food and Simple Life!

As Americans, a lot of us are such “softies” when it comes to food. I’m pathetic at home b/c if there is a choice I always order boneless chicken. Here, about half of the volunteers have already helped kill a chicken and I get to see a demonstration on Friday. I still am in disbelief by how much household responsibility my sisters Farida (13) and Maria (11) have – they do most of the cooking. I am getting used to being served and eating almost every part of the chicken or fish (they even eat the scales). Freshness is an advantage. Although I feel I thoroughly work the meat off the bones, my family constantly clears my plate and then finishes eating it. Seems I have much to learn.

The food has been good, but here is my main diet in about 5 foods.
1. Bread
2. Eggs
3. Fish
4. Chicken
5. Potatoes
Thus far, this experience has made me much more appreciative of all the opportunities we have in the US. I am more aware that the diversity in food is not a luxury available to most. I am so surprised at how monotonous their lives would feel to me after all the sports I’ve gotten to play, vacations I’ve been on, etc. Most of their day is devoted to household chores such as cooking and cleaning and bathing. One of the volunteers noted yesterday that because there is not much else to do around all the neighbors wander around visiting each others and families spend all day together – it reminded her of Christmas. Usually I am in such a rush in the US I almost do not make time for 3 good meals a day, but her life centers around it, which I think is another advantage to take away for their way of life. There is a lot to be said about a more simple life – they definitely co-exist better with nature in many ways.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Pre-send off Party to Host Family Stay

Keep this quick, but all the PC staff and volunteers had a party to celebrate our safe arrival and the end of orientation tonight. After dinner the music started and the DJ prompted everyone to the dance floor. I knew I was in for 2 years of fun when I saw my Zimbabwean trainer (a woman in her 40s) shaking her way to the dance floor within the first 10 seconds. Within a minute, about 60 PCV and the locals had converged on the dance floor – young and old, outgoing and shy, blessed with rhythm, and well…trying. It was the perfect way to enjoy my first Saturday night in MZ, outside with the summer breeze blowing.

Friday, October 3, 2008

First Impressions

These are the things that struck me most during my first few days of training.
1. I was shocked to discover the HIV and AIDs epidemic is the only one in the continent still on the rise.
2. That Mozambique is a country that currently has only about 1,000 college graduates (geographically, it is twice the size of California).
3. The Peace Corps trainers verified that truck drivers and mining workers are heavily affected by HIV and AIDs. Many Mozambicans are migrant laborers in South Africa for 9-10 months a year and some have extramarital sexual relations while away, and then come home and pass it to their wives.
4. We met with the charge’d affairs of Mozambique today. I learned MZ was the poorest country (per capita income) in the world in the 1970s. Currently, it ranks the 15th poorest.
5. I am grateful I have been exposed to parts of the developing world that come as a shock initially – trash lining the streets, people living in one-room shacks without decent roofs, unclean water supply. These serve as stark reminders of all the things I so easily take for granted in the US.
6. It’s powerful watching the PC staff work together because they’re of different nationalaties, education levels, and native languages but all contribute varied skills and gifts to the table. All staff and volunteers from the US have a college education and are well-equipped with book knowledge. All locals come with invaluable knowledge of the culture and the desire to be leaders and examples in their communities. I think the partnership provides for the transfer of knowledge (on both parts) and allows for more sustainable improvements in health and education.
7. In spite of the poverty, there are going to be rich people everywhere – fact of life! There was a beautiful outdoor wedding poolside under a big white went at our hotel last night. It was so Westernized it could have been a US wedding: same wedding march, service, dancing late into the night to DJ sort of reception. A Mercedes Benz limo was waiting to carry the bride and groom off to their honeymoon. Remember this is the 15th poorest country in the world! Meanwhile a slew of children in their fancy party gowns packed around us shouting basic question like “What’s your name? Age?” Totally heart-warming and our first interaction.

These next 10 weeks will be devoted to learning as much Portuguese as I possibly can, & building relationships with my host family. I am living in a town called Namaacha near the Swaziland border. That said, you’ll probably not hear much from me until mid-Dec….